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Evangelist, Baptist, Husband, Father, Mid-30's.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Practical Atheists

There is an inevitable awkwardness coming in my life when I will run into people who really don’t like me. It’s unavoidable, it will happen at a supermarket, or a gas station, or a restaurant; it’s a peril of advocating “local” churches, where members don’t have to drive an hour to get to church, and where fellow members are also neighbors.

I’m not too worried about this point, in fact, let me quote a secular sitcom,
“I hate drama!” [pause]
“No you don’t, you love drama.”
“I know; you’re right! I love drama!”
But something struck me recently, that there is one place I am safe from such awkwardness, where I can be sure not to run into certain people. That place is anywhere where ministry can be done, anywhere where people can be talked to about the gospel. They have told their Father that they will go to the nations and publish the peace of the gospel, but then have not (Matthew 21:30). It reminded me of some very harsh verses, verses like,
“They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.” (Titus 1:16)
and,
Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me…’” (Mark 7:6, Isaiah 29:13)
There is a very unfortunate theology ingrained in the church today of a people who fail to learn or love, but simply take the name of Christ without considering any of its implications. I thought long and hard on Hebrews 12:14 this morning, which calls Christians to strive to be set-apart, for without holiness, no-one will see the Lord. This is not works-righteous, it is a way to test ourselves, if we have no desire for holiness, it is most likely because we are not holy as Christ as holy, for he states very clearly, “You shall be holy, as I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16) It’s not works-righteous at all, it is a joy to be set-apart for the gospel, but so many are failing to strive for holiness, and are perfectly content living a worldly life while naming the name of Jesus Christ.

It is not nominally atheistic, indeed, many proclaim Christ to be God, but practically it is exactly atheism, because the life which most of the professing church lives today would be no different if tomorrow Christianity were to vanish from the face of the earth. How is it that Paul could wish an imprecation on himself, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:16) and yet most of the church today would say the opposite, “Woe to me if I would offend someone with intolerance or exclusivity or the cross of Christ.” Though their beliefs may be orthodox, their lives betray their beliefs.

A mere glance at any ministry opportunity in the area shows a field white for harvest, a people who are exceptionally far from Christ, who are without hope and without God in the world, a nation of idol worshippers and mammon lovers, worshippers of their bellies and sundry lusts. I lamented recently looking at a set of mammoth bleachers filled with people, thinking that with only fifty Christians we could have witnessed to all of these people in a matter of hours; but in scanning for Christians doing the will of their Father, three were found. The church was absent in its commission.

Beloved, if this is you, I pray that you are insulted. There is a very real call in Christianity to act as a priest of God, to minister in his name, to do something to proclaim his kingdom and the great love by which he loved us. I pray my attitude has not insulted you, but the words which I have conveyed. Let me quote a Psalm that hopefully will cut you to the heart; nothing is added or removed, this is God speaking to you:
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good.

The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread
and do not call upon the LORD?

There they are in great terror,
for God is with the generation of the righteous.
You would shame the plans of the poor,
But the LORD is his refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad. – Psalm 14:1-7
So many professing Christians are still in this unregenerate state; all true Christians at one time were in this state, but they have been washed, justified, and sanctified by Jesus Christ. They have been made to bear fruit through his life, and to love one another through his Spirit; they will never fall.

Notice that it doesn’t say they believe there is no God, but that they say there is no God. There is a difference, a person can utter the name of Christ and still live like Christ is neither Sovereign nor Judge. A person can believe that mankind is in desperate danger and in need of redemption, but a life that never does anything about it is proclaiming peace when there is no peace. Many study the Word of God, believing everything it says, but by failing to be doers of the Word, they make it just a book-club and a hobby.

Beloved, the Bible exhorts you to study and work that you may not be ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15); you may believe it, but if you don’t act on it, Christ threatens to remove the light from you (Revelation 2:5). This weekend myself and a small group of laborers will be going out into the harvest, we will be at a football game one night, a concert the next, and a festival the last; we will be calling as many as we can find to come into the kingdom to honor the Son. I unfortunately do not expect to see many, if any, other Christians doing the same.

Those who it would be very awkward to run into at the supermarket are among the top list of those I do not expect to encounter living their faith. But if they were to be proclaiming Christ with their life instead of just with their lips, and I were to run into them, then that inevitable meeting would certainly be much less awkward.

So, dear reader, how about you? Will you name the name of Christ only to be called a fool, a fraud, and a hypocrite? Or will you live a life worthy of his call, studying yourself approved, a workman who needs not to be ashamed? Will you be a practical atheist, one who claims to know the true God, but who lives like God has lain dead in a tomb for 2,000 years?

The call is clear, if you love Christ, you will obey his commandments. You will go into the highways and the hedges, you will go into the hospitals and the prisons, you will love the unlovable, and preach the gospel to all.

If you won’t, then I echo the sentiments of both Christ in Matthew 23 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:

Woe to you. Woe to you, indeed.

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