Are you familiar with the term “cultural Christian”? Even if you aren’t, you are likely surrounded by them. A “cultural Christian” is a person who defines or identifies themselves as a Christian, but is not a ‘Biblical’ or practicing Christian. These are people who grew up in a society that largely identifies itself as Christian, or grew up in a family that identified itself as Christian, but they never actually embraced convictional or Biblical Christianity. And perhaps has never even taken the step of faith to profess Christ as their personal Savior. Is this starting to sound familiar? If this hits close to home, I want you to hang with me. Just hear me out on this.
Adopting the identity of “Christian” because you were born into that society doesn’t truly make you a Christian. It makes you one who conforms to what’s around you without much thought. Just as if you had been born in Utah, there is a greater chance, practicing or not, that you would identify as a Mormon, or if you were born in Saudi Arabia, you would identify as Muslim.
You can’t inherit your salvation. Even if your father was the best preacher in your town. Salvation isn’t just passed down.
And that’s the problem with the folks who identify themselves as Christians because they believe in God and, well, their family was Christian or in their mind, they’re just…Christian. They think they are, but…are they?
The thing is, it doesn’t work that way. The first part of becoming a Christian is recognizing that we have to be, as Jesus explains to Nicodemus in John chapter 3, born again. Okay so what does that mean in real words I can relate to, you ask? It means we all are unrighteous , we follow our own desires and lusts, and we don’t seek after the ways of God. (Romans 3:10-11). We have to ‘die’ to the old self so we can put on the new self (Ephesians 4:21-24). Dying to the old to be born into new life with Jesus is what it means to be born again. You’re starting again. And that’s the difference between cultural Christianity, just giving yourself the moniker of “Christian”, and Biblical Christianity–actually repenting (turning aside) from your old ways to follow Christ.
Some will say that all you have to do is say a prayer and you’re done. I know there is a verse or two that says that, but we must remember that the whole will interpret the parts, and the whole in this case is always that Jesus preached (and the apostles confirmed) that a true repentance came with a true change. Not just a prayer and back to the same you that walked in the door. But, I did not get promoted to the Judgment seat, so you can take your chances if you wish. I can pretty much promise you that if that route gets you a ticket to eternity with God, it short changes you on the abundant life Christ promises for you here. (John 10:10). And it also doesn’t set you up so well for that day when you will stand before God to give an account of what you’ve done with what you’ve been given. But that’s a different post for a different day.
See the problem with cultural Christianity is that the cultural Christian may not really be a Christian by Christ’s definition at all. Wouldn’t that be tragic to figure that one out a trumpet blow too late? So how do you transition from cultural to Biblical Christian?
Well here’s what it isn’t: it’s not about how often you go to church, how loud you sing, how many activities you join, how much money you give. All of those things are great. But that’s not what it’s all about. It’s not about going through the motions of religion.
Here it is…ready? Jesus wants your heart. He wants your mind. He wants your soul. He wants you to stop living with you as the king on the throne of your world so you can put him up there. He wants you to worship Him above everything and everyone else in your life. He wants you to take it seriously when he says to love others like you love yourself. Don’t worry, that will be a whole post, too. He wants you to open yourself up for what HE has for you, even if it’s a little scary and challenging. He wants you to follow his ways.
I know looking at that, it looks like you’re giving up every right to personal freedom. Here’s the thing though, and you may not believe me quite yet, but check out what Paul tells the Galatians. “It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm, then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatian 5:1 New International Version). The old things, those things which separated us from God, prior to our gaining righteousness through Christ, made us slaves to sin. Paul is telling the Galatians (and you and I) that Christ purchased our freedom from that burden on the cross!! See, what you might first see as giving up your freedom is really actually releasing you TO freedom! This is how things work with God. He’s just cool and awesome like that! Paul does go on to warn us that though we are given freedom, we have to be on our guard not to abuse this freedom or we will fall right back under that yoke of slavery to that sin. That’s a perfect example of why we don’t do this journey solo. We do it in a community of believers who lift each other up, admonish, teach, etc.
He gives us this handy book full of teaching and wisdom and history. It’s how He talks to us and how we figure out what following him actually looks like. It’s called the Bible. It’s kind of awesome. I’ll talk about it next time.
For now, are you ready to pick up your cross and follow Jesus?