“Yeah, I’m a Christian,” Amy said with a shrug, as she snuggled in closer to her boyfriend, “but it doesn’t mean anything. I mean, it doesn’t mean anything for you. I don’t care what you believe. And I don’t even mind if you keep smoking and go out to party with your friends sometimes. And I don’t care how many video games you play, or anything like that. I love you…just the way you are,” she grinned, “Just like Jesus loves me.”
Sunshine & Blue Skies
The illustration above is just one example of an all-too common mindset today – one that I see everywhere. Everyone enjoys the idea of being a Christian. It brings with it connotations of happy people, sunshine, and nothing bad ever happening. Everyone likes the thought of their prayers being answered and going to paradise when they die. Everyone wants a better life. Who wouldn’t? But, unfortunately, many of these people who call themselves Christians aren’t ready for what being a follower of Christ actually means. Are you?
Facing the Definition
“So…what is a Christian then?” you might ask. Well, Jesus Himself defines what a follower of Christ should look like. In the gospel of John chapter 14:23-24a, it clearly says: “….If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.”
A true Christian is someone who loves Jesus. And loving Jesus means keeping His words. How do we know what His words are? Good question. God has given us the Bible…and the entire book is filled with His words. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Thus, if we claim to be followers of Christ, it means turning to the Bible to find out what God thinks on anything and everything in our lives. But even more, it means acting on what we find there. So few people – especially the young people I meet everywhere – actually read their Bibles. Sure, many will get the latest “cool” Bible – ones that are designed to look like a fashion magazine or are covered in flowers and hearts. They come into their youth groups or Sunday schools toting these snazzy Bibles, or anywhere that will earn them favor with the people around them. But…how often does this generation actually open the Word of God and read an entire chapter…or two…or three? It is incredibly rare. I recently met a woman in her 60‘s who acquired a Bible when she was first married…and never once read it. It sat on her table for 40 years, but she is only now just starting to desire to know what is actually inside the covers. Can you imagine how much wisdom she could have gleaned over the past 30 or 40 years if she had been diligently studying God’s Word and praying?! She would be a dear grandmother whom all the younger ladies and girls would look up to because of her wisdom and the radiance of the Lord in her (I know because I have personally met such ladies). But instead, she is just beginning her journey in the Lord herself.
In your own quiet times, it might seem sometimes like you aren’t getting anywhere quickly in your relationship with the Lord, and you may be tempted to give up or think, “What’s the point?” But being faithful to study the Bible each day, day after day after day, actually will produce lasting spiritual fruit. That is the only way you will become one of those dear grandmothers who absolutely glow with the love of Jesus, and whose wisdom you would just love to soak in for hours upon hours. That kind of maturity and grace doesn’t happen overnight. It takes persistence and determination and a real love for Jesus and His Words. The reason God created our relationship with Him to require faithfulness, determination and perseverance is because God wants to know how serious we are about loving Him and loving His commands. God takes our relationship with Him very seriously. He weighs the motives of our hearts, testing whether we are attempting to reap only benefits or if we truly desire Him to be our King because we love Him.
The most common thing I hear when I ask girls how their relationship with the Lord is going is a slow, “Wellllllllllll…it could be better, I guess. I’m having trouble finding the time to read my Bible and pray.” And this is my own constant struggle too!
Did you know that studying the Bible and praying are two of the most essential ingredients to having a victorious Christianity? I guess that’s why it is so hard. The things that are hardest to do are often the most important. And the easiest things to do, like “vegging out”, flipping through worthless youtube videos, reading that romance novel, or going shopping, are usually the most fruitless waste of time.
Each day there are only two choices: Either we are going forward in our relationship with Jesus, or we are going backwards. There is no “static” place of apathy where we can sit comfortably and relax.
Apathy Gets You Nowhere
And yet, as rare as it is for people to read the Bible, it is even more rare to find someone who will actually obey what they have just read. Countless “church kids” have grown up hearing all about Jesus, they go to every Wednesday night meeting, they play on the worship team, all while their parents make sure they are spending at least some time reading the Bible. However, these same kids rebel against their parents’ leadership, get involved in multiple ungodly relationships, live with countless secret sins (and, consequently, the guilt that follows), all the while, drown themselves in media so they don’t have to actually face the real world or face their sin. It is a hard, but honest truth. An apathetic, un-purposeful life is not going to work. You can’t go through life calling yourself a Christian, but never actually investing time with the One you say you’re following. You can not love Jesus if you don’t spend time with Him. It’s as simple as any other real friendship. If you never hang out with your friend…well…there is no true way to have a relationship with them. If you never talk to them, listening to them when they share what’s weighing on their hearts, you have no way of knowing them. A relationship takes commitment and work. Imagine you had a boyfriend and all you wanted was to spend time with him. What if all of a sudden, he started to call you less and less? What if you went to go see him after class, but he shrugged you off saying, “I’ve got too much work,” or, “I’m going to go shoot hoops with Travis,” or just told you he was too tired. What kind of relationship would that be? That’s just it — it is not a relationship. Yet, how many of us put God in that position every day? What if God asked you why you call yourself a Christian? What would you say? “Well, I prayed a prayer once, to receive Jesus into my heart.” Ok. That is the first step. It is essential to ask Jesus to be your Savior, and to set you free from your sins. But what then? What is the next step?
Did you know that when you prayed that prayer, when you asked God to come into your life as Lord, you were asking for a heart renovation? When you asked Him to save you from your sins, you were asking that He take away your old life? Do you know that it means that you will stop your pursuit of sinful desires, and instead will chase after Jesus with all of your strength? Do you know that it means asking God to purify your heart…and that if He or another Christian points out an area of sin in your life, it is your duty to take it to the Lord in prayer and to ask Him to remove it from you, and to actually pursue change? Do you know that it means taking Jesus’ words literally when He says, “forgive….from your heart” (Mt. 18:21-35), and “everyone who looks….with lustful intent has already committed adultery” (Mt. 5:28), and “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44), and “do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Mt. 6:19), and “do not be anxious about your life” (Mt. 6:25), and “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mt. 6:33) etc., etc. Do you know that not obeying these things and not taking them seriously, is disobeying Jesus?
“He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” (Romans 2:6-8)
Jesus Desires Our Joy
Now, Jesus is very gracious, and He does not want to punish anyone! Keep in mind that every single thing God commands us to do, or asks us not to do, is always – ALWAYS – for our good. It is not because He wants to keep us from having fun or because He is a mean God who is frowning on everything we do. Quite the opposite, actually! The purpose of obeying God is to protect us from the devil, from the consequences of sin, and from ourselves! He wants to protect us, so we can be filled with true joy and have lives of purpose and fruitfulness far surpassing anything our little brains could dream up on our own! God has created us to be His own children, and what Father would not desire the best for His kids? He knows better than anyone all of the destruction that sin brings upon our lives! We may not be able to change the sin and destruction that humans have created over the whole world by disobeying God, but we can change our own personal “world”. We can start by surrendering our hearts to Him afresh and letting Him know that we actually want to follow His way, and not our own. Even if you have already “prayed the prayer”, making a fresh commitment to God with a deeper understanding of what you are actually committing to is always helpful and refreshing. As we do this, we will have the smile of God shining down upon us. And let me tell you, it is a sweet thing to know that you are walking in the smile of Jesus.
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:8-11)