Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Cheap, Easy, Believe-ism"

This post is not about what kind of clothing we wear.

It is, however, about how serious a matter it is when we think about following Jesus.

Way back when I was in Bible College, Professor Leroy Forlines spoke often about the danger of "Cheap, Easy, Believe-ism" in the church. Frankly, I sometimes passed it off as the ranting of an angry guy who wasn't happy with the fact that "The times, they were a changin'". However, after growing up a little, and having served in the pastorate for nearly four decades, I have come to realize that Brother Forlines was dead on the money.

I am not espousing legalism, here. In fact, learning more about the doctrines of grace, I have long ago grown tired of arbitrary, man made rules about dotting the I's and crossing the T's, in an effort to please God. Here in the Bible Belt it is quite common to hear regular preaching that is full of "the rules of the road" in the Christian life. Such teachings may involve certain wardrobe requirements, hair styles, warning about arbitrary "worldly activities", ritual, rants against certain types of worship music, and adherence to only one particular translation of the Bible. The "worship experience" is planned and dictated by what those in power may personally like, or dislike.

At the risk of being labeled a "liberal" or some kind of "radical", I have consciously tried to steer away from this type of 21st Century Pharisee-ism. In reality, the emphasis should not be so much on "how we live", as it should be on "who lives in us"!

Unfortunately the knee jerk reaction that some have had against such Pharisaic teaching, has contributed to what Brother Forlines referred to as "Cheap, Easy, Believe-ism". This is the attitude that basically says, "Discipleship is not important - just believe in Jesus".

Belief is, of course, the key element in coming to God. It is the first step to a relationship with the Creator. "And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (Hebrews 11:6). Belief in Christ, as the only means of coming into that relationship, is imperative. After 20 chapters focusing on the works and teachings of Jesus, the Apostle John summed up the contents of his Gospel with these words, "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:30-31)

The other apostles also taught about the importance of belief in Christ. When asked by the Philippian Jailer, what he must do to be saved, Paul replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:31).

Faith is the bedrock of salvation. Pure and simple. We are saved by believing in Christ, and not by doing certain "works of righteousness". "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9).

But saving faith is more than just a mental assent to the existence of God. James shares these sobering words with us - "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!" (James 2:17-19).

What are these "works" that James speaks of? Does this statement contradict Eph. 2:8-9 ? Of course not! The works here are exhibited as proof of our relationship with God. They come from "following Jesus".

Believing in, and following Jesus, involve so much more than what we "believe about" Him, or how we dress or how we look. It is all about allowing Him to live through us.

In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus is quoted as calling people to "Follow Him". A belief in His person and work would be necessary for one to forsake all to follow Him. Consider what he said as recorded in Mark 8:34-35 "And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."

Salvation is free, but it did not come cheap. It came at a great cost. True belief in Christ is not cheap or easy. Consider these words from 1 Peter chapter 1:14-18 "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot."

Matthew 5-7 gives us a microcosm of the teachings of Christ regarding those who follow Him. He speaks of the Christ Follower's character, influence, righteousness, piety, prayer, ambitions, and relationships.

Pretty powerful stuff. And it is not "cheap" or "easy" in any way. Check it out.

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