Sunday, February 18, 2007

Religious, But Still Not Christian

"having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power" (2Ti 3.5a ESV)
Did you know that you can attend worship services, try to be a good person and still not be a Christian?

Wesley carefully distinguished between a religious person and a Christian. Listen to his explanation from his Sermons, #22:

And it is as impossible to satisfy such a soul, a soul that is athirst for God, the living God, with what the world accounts religion, as with what they account happiness. The religion of the world implies three things: (1.) The doing no harm, the abstaining from outward sin; at least from such as is scandalous, as robbery, theft, common swearing, drunkenness: (2.) The doing good, the relieving the poor; the being charitable, as it is called: (3.) The using the means of grace; at least the going to church and to the Lords Supper. He in whom these three marks are found is termed by the world a religious man. But will this satisfy him who hungers after God?

Will reforming the character and doing religious observations satisfy the soul? Is it enough? Will turning over a new leaf and participating in ritual transform the soul? Wesley answers:

No: It is not food for his soul. He wants a religion of a nobler kind, a religion higher and deeper than this. He can no more feed on this poor, shallow, formal thing, than he can 'fill his belly with the east wind.' True, he is careful to abstain from the very appearance of evil; he is zealous of good works; he attends all the ordinances of God: But all this is not what he longs for. This is only the outside of that religion, which he insatiably hungers after. The knowledge of God in Christ Jesus; 'the life which is hid with Christ in God;' the being 'joined unto the Lord in one Spirit;' the having 'fellowship with the Father and the Son;' the 'walking in the light as God is in the light;' the being 'purified even as He is pure;' — this is the religion, the righteousness, he thirsts after: Nor can he rest, till he thus rests in God.

Okay, maybe you attend worship services. Maybe you tithe. Maybe you serve on a board or committee for your congregation. Is your soul satisfied?

In my evangelicalism we have a phrase--"getting saved"--to describe what Wesley is describing. It's a relationship with Jesus Christ, attended by the Witness of the Holy Spirit, in which a person knows he is a child of God. It is the title to a book that Henry Scougal wrote, The Life of God in the Soul of Man.

Do you have a relationship with God? If not, may I suggest you begin one. Pray something along these lines:

"God, I believe Jesus, your Son, died on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins. I believe he rose again from the dead. Please forgive me of my sins; I turn away from them all. By your loving power I will live for you now. Thank you."

If you've prayed this prayer, tell somebody that you did. Find a good Bible-obeying church and serve the Lord locally in that church. May God bless you!