Today’s post was prompted by an article in Relevant Magazine, “I Used to Be On Fire for God” and the associated reader comments. I enjoyed the article, left my own comment, and elaborate on it here.
I like Relevant’s site (self-described as aimed at the twenty-something crowd) because it’s like a finger on the pulse of the Body of believers.
As a Baby Boomer with roots in the 1970s “Jesus Freak” movement, I like seeing positive changes that younger Christians bring to the Church. Yet some things are no different today than back then.
It’s been my experience in 40+ years as a Christian that a huge segment of the Body still sees Christ’s message of new life entirely as, “Jesus is Lord!” or, “Your sins are forgiven!” or, “God loves you!” These statements are all true, of course.
But for multitudes, new life in God’s kingdom has been reduced to little more than slogans and hype. It’s sometimes called bumper-sticker Christianity. And many Christians define passion, revival, and the Great Commission as saying these as loudly and as often as possible, which is what the article touched on.
When this becomes the definition of “on fire for God,” people are inevitably let down when their faith burns out. And it surely will because it isn’t deep enough to make actual disciples or transform lives in their complex, sometimes difficult, circumstances.
Yet Christians are often told it’s their fault—they’re not passionate enough, their faith is weak, they’re not “in the Word” enough, or any number of ways that they’ve failed, when, in reality, it’s this kind of surface faith, no matter how sincere, that has failed them. It doesn’t permeate the soul in all dimensions of personhood—heart, mind, body, and behavior.
Something’s amiss when dedicated, sincere Christians have to be revived or reignited over and over. This didn’t plague the 1st-century Church, but it’s an 800-lb. gorilla in the modern Church. It’s been around for generations and should be honestly and intelligently addressed.
Proclaim and Manifest
Until we restore the actual gospel message that Jesus brought, people will burn out because they’re chasing the wrong vision. Jesus’ message is that new life, wholeness, strength, love, joy, wisdom, and complete well-being like his are available in the kingdom of heavenat hand. Partnership with God is open to anyone and everyone, not just spiritual A-listers who trumpet all the right things for everyone to notice.
Jesus didn’t simply proclaim the message; he manifested it and showed people how they could, too. It’s about more than forgiveness. It’s about moving beyond wrongness and shame into life to the full (Jhn. 10:10), lived out through the ages with God’s kind of rich character and love.
People are always passionate about something that makes a positive, practical difference in their lives; and they’re happy to share that with others naturally, without being “challenged” or goaded into noisy “witnessing.” Passion is a matter of catching Jesus’ vision of new life, yoking with and learning from him (discipleship), and doing what he says will make it reality, i.e., “made manifest in you.”
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mat. 28:19-20)
No statement, including confessions of faith or doctrine, has power in itself to impart life. The gorilla sees discipleship as the result of statements, but it’s the other way around. If we pursue life through discipleship, statements come on their own. Seek first the kingdom, and everything else will be added. (Mat. 6:33)
Have you ever felt accused of weak faith or letting God down even though you’re dedicated and doing everything “right”? If so, I’m curious whether you’re a young (or new) Christian or whether you’ve been one for a long time.