I want to share my story of ‘getting saved’ or my ‘spiritual awakening’… however you wish to look at it.
When I was entering my sixth grade year, I attended summer camp at a place known as Lutheridge in the mountains of North Carolina. This camp was sponsored by the Lutheran church as was about as typical as any other camp. We had cabins with several boys to a room, a cabin leader, and a series of events and activities throughout the week to keep us busy. In the sixth grade I would get picked on constantly. To be fair, when I look at pictures of myself from that age, I would have been tempted to pick on myself. I can distinctly remember being constantly told that I wasn’t good enough, not smart enough, and not strong enough. While that might not be shocking for an unusually short pre-teen, it would be more shocking to hear that some of that would still happen at Lutheridge among my peers and counsellors who called themselves “Christians”. These were people who I was supposed to be able to trust. Instead, I was hit with a pretty big revelation: identification with the church is not the same thing as identification with Christ.
I am reminded of a quote at the beginning of a DC Talk track from the 1990s. I can’t recall the exact quote, but it was something like, “the biggest threat to Christianity today are Christians who acknowledge God with their mouths, then walk out the door acting no different from the rest of the world around them.” I wholeheartedly believe that and it’s been a big part of my personal ministry to focus on discipleship within the body of those who claim to ‘belong’.
Christ had several moments during His ministry where He was faced with this same paradigm between those who claim to be a part of the body of believers and those who really do belong. One situation occurred during a dinner between Jesus and the Pharisees.
As Jesus was speaking, one of the Pharisees invited him home for a meal. So he went in and took his place at the table. His host was amazed to see that he sat down to eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony required by Jewish custom. Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness! Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside? So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over.
“What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.
“What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you love to sit in the seats of honor in the synagogues and receive respectful greetings as you walk in the marketplaces. Yes, what sorrow awaits you! For you are like hidden graves in a field. People walk over them without knowing the corruption they are stepping on.” (Luke 11:37-44)
What a scolding. Jesus was highlighting the amount of concern that the Pharisees had for their appearances while simultaneously ignoring the dirt within their bodies. Their dishes appeared clean from the outside, but the insides were still dirty. So many Christians fall into this same trap. They try to sign up for all of the activities they can, go on all the mission trips they can support, and are the first in line at every charitable event. These are all good things. The problem occurs when their soul on the inside does not reflect the holy image they are portraying on the outside.
It doesn’t make any sense. It’s almost as if there are Christians running around who think that if their hearts are not in proper order, God will greet them in heaven somehow impressed that they clocked so many frequent flyer miles on their mission trips rather than actually seeking to bring God glory by their devotion of the heart.
“Good and Bad” vs “Sufficient”
Whenever you begin discussing issues surrounding hypocrisy and maintaining a pure heart, it’s easy for people to get wrapped around what appears to be condemnation of good actions. “Are you saying that I shouldn’t be going on mission trips?!” That’s not at all what I’m saying. What I AM saying is that “Good and Bad” is a completely different grading scale than “sufficient”. There is no amount of “good” that we can perform that will ever… ever… amount up to God’ standard of “sufficient”.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were great at getting “good” and “sufficient” confused. John the Baptist ran into this problem early on in Matthew.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” (Matthew 3:7-12)
What the religious leaders of the day seemed to get confused was that their bloodline didn’t make them immune from God’s scrutiny. Simply being affiliated with the right group doesn’t somehow make your sins less than those around you.
We see this in our Christian churches all the time. If I can only give enough money in the offering plate, I can make up for not really prioritizing God over my clubs and sports. If I can go on enough mission trips, it’ll make up for the fact that I’m afraid to actually live boldly in my day-to-day life around the people I see every day. We have become masters at perverting what it is God wants from us at the expense of the purity of our souls. When we try to fool ourselves that our affiliation with the church or with a demographic we call “Christian”, we don’t just miss the point of everything Christ taught on earth, we rob God of glory that he rightfully deserves. He doesn’t need you to do good things. He doesn’t need you for anything. He wants to have a personal relationship with you and to have that, He needs for you to know and trust Him.