Why is it that so many these days seem unreceptive to the message of forgiveness and salvation through Jesus–so much so that Christians may actually be at risk of becoming a persecuted group at some point in the not-too-distant future? The first Pentecost saw two thousand converts to Christ and the revivals of previous centuries generated great spiritual awakenings, but today our culture seems deaf to the voice of Jesus–even though other parts of the world are not. Is there a reason?
“You say, ‘I am rich, and I have become wealthy and do not need anything.’ But you do not know that you are really miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17 NCV)
A distinct reason many people here are deaf to the message of salvation is because the modern church as a whole has woefully misrepresented what it means to follow Christ. To understand, let’s look at the entire paragraph this verse is found in:
““Write this to the angel of the church in Laodicea: “The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of all God has made [Jesus], says this: I know what you do, that you are not hot or cold. I wish that you were hot or cold! But because you are lukewarm—neither hot, nor cold—I am ready to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich, and I have become wealthy and do not need anything.’ But you do not know that you are really miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold made pure in fire so you can be truly rich. Buy from me white clothes so you can be clothed and so you can cover your shameful nakedness. Buy from me medicine to put on your eyes so you can truly see. “I correct and punish those whom I love. So be eager to do right, and change your hearts and live.” (Revelation 3:14-19 NCV)
Jesus’ reproach of the New Testament church–the people of God–of Laodicea is applicable to us today, because we here in the United States are also very rich. Granted, not all are equally so–some live in opulent mansions, while others do not even have their own homes (and most of us are somewhere in between)–yet few are truly destitute. As a matter of fact, according to an article by Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/06/01/astonishing-numbers-americas-poor-still-live-better-than-most-of-the-rest-of-humanity/#34668f2923c4), “…the typical person in the bottom 5 percent of the American income distribution is still richer than 68 percent of the world’s inhabitants.” No, compared to others, the vast majority of Americans are rich. Furthermore, because of the over-abundance of material goods all around us and the pervasiveness of our societal attitude that I should have it all and there is something wrong if I do not, even those of us who aren’t particularly wealthy are at risk of succumbing to the influence of greed.
Yet God says something very different. Our culture lies, “He who dies with the most toys wins;” yet Jesus corrects us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)
He goes on to explain, “The eye is the lamp [the source of light] of the body [Jesus is using the physical to describe the spiritual]. If your eyes are healthy [if you are not guilty of “the lust of the eyes” I John 2:16–if you are not greedy] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy [greedy], your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23 NIV)
He concludes, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24 NIV) Each of us is motivated by one of two opposing forces–acquiring more earthly wealth or more heavenly wealth–and we cannot be motivated by both simultaneously; it really is one or the other.
So, what do materialism and greed have to do with the indifference of the average person to the message of salvation? The reason modern post-Christian society is a relatively unfertile mission field is because we Christians can easily affirm with the Laodiceans, “I am rich, and I have become wealthy and do not [really] need anything.” Most of us have so much of every (or almost every) good thing–or at least the hope of perhaps someday obtaining it–that it doesn’t occur to us that we are increasingly “miserable, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked” as we become, in essence, indiscernible from those around us. The focus of many of our lives has shifted so far away from the spiritual to the material that we end up misrepresenting Christ to those who do not know Him yet.
Thus, it is the worldliness of the average modern Christian–our pursuit of the things of this world rather than the things of God–that is one of the reasons so many outside the church no longer see a reason to even step inside a church building on Sunday morning. It takes an effort to drag yourself out of bed, so why bother? If Christians are not qualitatively different from the rest of humanity, there is simply no reason to make the effort. Jesus referred to this when He said, “Salt is good, but if it loses its salty taste, you cannot make it salty again. It is no good for the soil or for manure; it is thrown away…” (Luke 14:34-35 NCV) Yet, what Christianity really is, is “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” He has a distinctiveness unlike anything the world has to offer, and IF WE, who claim to follow Him, ARE NOT REFLECTING HIM by living according to what we learn from His Word daily–because that is what conforms us to the image of Christ–TO WHAT WILL THE LOST BE ATTRACTED TO?
I think of those who truly “deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him.” Of those who suffer for His sake, who really give up much because having Jesus is so much more precious–in times past, in persecuted countries, even still here today. Are we among those? Do we genuinely do that? Can we honestly say that we are seeking the furtherance of His kingdom and His righteousness more than anything else? Do we really live so others see Christ in us? May we be faithful to do so!
Dear Lord Jesus,