By Richard Thetford
Have you ever wondered why many Christians don’t seem to be fully committed to following Christ and his teachings? One will be baptized into Christ, putting on Christ (Gal. 3:27), but then will soon drift back into his old ways of sin, continuing to practice those things that are to be put away. I don’t know about you, but this has always bothered me. Why is it that Christians aren’t serving Christ fully in their lives? The answer to that question has always been right here in our Bible. Let’s look at this problem and then get to “the root of Christianity.”
The very nature and unity of the Lord’s church are based upon the people who make up his church, and those people are Christians. Christians are the church. The word church means the “the called out.” It was used even before Christ by the Greeks to mean any called out assembly. But when one becomes a Christian, they leave the world, but bring many different ideas, prejudices, and other issues of life into the church. These new Christians are referred to as “babes in Christ” and need to be taught about Christ and his church. Therefore, it is very important that we understand the importance of the church that Christ built and the Christians that are in it.
“. . . I Will Build My Church”
We need to first understand that Jesus did not build many churches. He stated in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church.” The church is not a building, nor is it a denomination of people. The church is Christ’s body made up of Christians who have put on Christ by baptism (Gal. 3:27). Christ is the head of his church. In Ephesians 1:22-23 we read, “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Would Christ be head over something that is non-essential? If so, wouldn’t that make Christ non-essential? We should all realize that our Lord is most precious. We need him in order to gain eternal salvation. We must recognize Jesus as so essential to our life that we could not function without him. We further learn that those in the church are referred to as saints (1 Cor. 14:33; 1:2). A saint is one who is sanctified, meaning “set apart, made holy.” God’s people, saints, are called out of sin and are set apart for God and his use.
The Sanctified In Christ
When we are baptized into Christ, we put Christ on. We make a decision to do this voluntarily. In Ephesians 5:22-32 we read the parallel between the husband/wife relationship and the Christ/church relationship. Everyone who has become a Christian has decided to marry Christ, to be his bride. Just like in the physical marriage relationship, a man and woman decide, voluntarily, to marry each other. They have made a vow before God and each other to take care of one another and to be there for each other until death. We make the same vow before God when we confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God and then choose to be buried with him in baptism. We are now married to Christ, sanctified for his use. Therefore, it is very important that each individual “count the cost” before deciding to set himself apart for Christ’s service.
In Luke 14:26-33, we can read what we must be willing to do in order to be disciples of Christ. “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it” — “lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” Sadly, many in the Lord’s church have not counted the cost before becoming a Christian. Many in the church of our Lord are not trying to be sanctified for his service. As a result, the body of Christ, his church, is not as it should be. How should it be? In Ephesians 5:27 it says “that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” Christians, who make up Christ’s body, are doing things within his body that Christ does not accept. When Christians do not repent of these things and fail to develop a mind set to be set apart for his use, then they will be lost.
Addressing the “Symptoms”
There is a saying that I heard one time that I believe may apply to many Christians today. The saying is: “you might as well eat the devil, as to drink his broth.” Jesus taught that we cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24). There is no middle ground. If we are not serving God, then we are serving the devil. I really think that many are just trying to live up to the devil’s low expectations. If the devil can get a Christian to get to a certain point in their life where they feel “comfortable” in what they are doing, then the Christian will not strive to do any better. Many have “matured in their weaknesses” as far as service to Christ is concerned. Some Christians have done some things for so long (things not right), that they feel they are all right now. All of these things that Christians do that are not in harmony with Christ’s word, I like to refer as “symptoms.” These are symptoms of the real problem which is “the root of Christianity.” I will soon get to the root of the problem, but first, let’s look at some of the “symptoms” Christians involve themselves in.
Many must think that 40 hours at work or five days a week in school is reasonable, but four hours per week at services is not. Some Christians seem to spend more time figuring ways to be gone from the assembly rather than attending the assembly. It is sad to see congregation after congregation in this country with as much as 50% less people on Sunday and Wednesday night than on Sunday morning. When local churches host their gospel meeting, it is a discouragement for the faithful brethren to see more visit from area churches than show up from their own congregation. How do we show the visitor who may come to both services on one Sunday that we are Christ centered when half the brethren don’t bother to come back? The Bible says: “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together” (Heb. 10:25), “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matt. 6:33), “test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21), “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works” (Matt. 5:16), “to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17). A failure to attend is sin and sin is lawlessness. Those which practice lawlessness will not inherit the kingdom of God (Heb. 10:26; 1 John 3:4; Matt. 7:21).
Society’s standard of dress has infiltrated the Lord’s church. The devil gets you to reason that “everybody else is doing it” and “I can be a Christian and still dress like my friends.” Brethren, the devil will help open many doors to immodest dress for the Christian. Immodest dress is immodest no matter what the setting or event, including sports attire (or the lack of it). Our dress is a direct reflection of our heart. Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” Our dress gives identity to the wearer of “how do I wish to be known.” Let God determine what is modest or immodest, not man. The Bible says: “. . . women adorn themselves in modest apparel. . .” “professing godliness, with good works” (1 Tim. 2:9-10). “Teaching us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age” (Tit. 2:12). A Christian should resolve to reflect godliness and not worldliness in his dress. In that way, a Christian can let his “light so shine before men” (Matt. 5:16). A failure to dress modestly is sin and sin is lawlessness. Those who practice lawlessness will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 John 3:4; Matt. 7:21).
If the devil can convince the Christian that dancing is all right with God, then he can open the door for many problems in our life. He will try to get us to think that there is nothing wrong with dancing since the Bible does not say, “thou shalt not dance,” and since all of our friends are doing it. I have answered many questions by Christians asking “Is it wrong to dance?” If a Christian has to ask this question, then there must be some doubt in his mind. If our mind questions it, then it is wrong (Rom. 14:23). Dancing is lasciviousness which is lewd, lustful and produces lewd emotions. Lewd means given to lust, unlawful sexual desire. Of 1,500 men a question was asked, “How many can dance and not have any evil thoughts?” Not one hand was raised. I wonder, what man or woman among us would want their husband or wife to be embraced by another on the street or any other place as occurs on the dance floor? Dancing is worldly (fleshly) and is condemned in Galatians 5:19-21. Dancing destroys purity of thought, morals, influence, respect, homes, spirituality, and souls. Even the worldly people know exactly what dancing is for. There was a country song by George Strait that was a big hit for him a few years ago and the chorus of that song went like this:
“I want to twirl you all around the floor,
That’s what they invented dancing for,
I just wanna dance with you,
I wanna dance with you,
Hold you in my arms once more,
That’s what they intended dancing for,
I just wanna dance with you.”
Brethren, the worldly people know exactly what dancing is for. Its past time that Christians come to their senses and also realize the same thing. The Bible says: “Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). Can we honestly say that dancing does not cause others to lust? “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22). “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33). “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1). “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). Dancing is sin and sin is lawlessness. Those who practice lawlessness will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 John 3:4; Matt. 7:21).
Smoking (Tobacco Products) and Social Drinking
A Christian who smokes, uses any tobacco products, or drinks alcohol, even socially, is living up to the devil’s low expectations and not the standard of God. If the devil can get us to lean on tobacco products and alcohol instead of on God, then he has devoured us. There are some that reason, “It’s not against the law so I can do it.” Just because the law of the land allows something does not necessarily make it right with God. Is adultery, abortion, homosexuality, fornication, remarriage for any reason, etc. right with God? We know it is not. What if marijuana, heroin, LSD, or other dangerous drugs were legalized? Would we use it since it “is now legal”? The biblical principles of God have never changed, but man has changed time and time again on reasoning, laws, and standards. Here are some interesting statistics regarding the use of tobacco products. I’m not sure where I got these statistics but I know I have had them for about five years or so. Tobacco products account for 30% of all cancer deaths. Eighty-three percent of lung cancer is a direct result of smoking. There are more than two million deaths annually world wide due to tobacco products. Smoking is on the rise again, after slightly falling off. It has been proven that pregnant women who inhale second hand smoke have greater risks for fetal distress and mortality. Babies who inhale second hand smoke have breathing problems, asthma, and side effects. Three to four packs can produce an addiction. Two-thirds of all smokers started before age 18. More girls between 13-17 smoke than boys of the same age.
Here are some statistics regarding alcohol use. It is the most widespread form of drug abuse in the country today. There are more than four million alcoholics and six million problem drinkers. It is estimated that there are more than 40,000 traffic deaths annually due to alcohol use. About one-half of the people arrested have been drinking. There are about 25,000 murders and suicides per year that are associated with alcohol. Those that use alcohol have a 10-14 year shorter life span. Drunkenness is condemned in the Bible. One cannot get drunk if one never takes the first drink! The Bible says that we are not to be brought under the addiction or enslavement of anything (1 Cor. 6:12; 9:27). Tobacco and alcohol products have proven to be harmful to our health. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). It is offensive to others, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). Think about it brethren, do we feel like a part of that royal priesthood while taking another puff or drink? Peter wrote: “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Smoking and the drinking of alcohol are sin and sin is lawlessness. Those which practice lawlessness will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 John 3:4; Matt. 7:21).
Movies and Television
The one thing that most Christians engage in is the watching of movies and television. This is not bad in and of itself, however, when we preoccupy our minds with hours of television and movie watching, it takes us away from God’s word. Christians who make it a practice to watch things with bad material are not filling their minds with purity (Matt. 5:8). Television has changed drastically since the 1960s. Before 1960 there was a “code of ethics” that had to be used by the producers of the television programs. Here are some of the things that the producers had to abide by: brutal killings could not be shown in detail, crime was not to be glamorized, obscenity (words, gestures, songs, jokes, suggestions) was forbidden, blasphemy forbidden, reference to deity was not to be irreverent, nudity was not permitted, and the sanctity of marriage and the home was to be upheld. What has happened? Has God changed? No! Man has changed. Man has changed the rules of what is now “acceptable.” Unfortunately many Christians are getting caught up in the devil’s low expectations and are guilty of sin.
The movies, television, and books we read reflect the kind of person we really are. The following statistics were provided by “TV-free America”: It is estimated that Americans watch an average of 52 days of television per year. By the age of 65, the average adult will have spent nine years of his life watching television. While eating dinner, 66% of Americans watch television. Every week the average child between 2-11 years old watches 1,200 minutes of television and spends 39 minutes talking with his parents. Fifty-two percent of children between 5-17 have a television in their bedroom. Every year, the average teen spends 900 hours in school and 1,500 hours watching television. These statistics are alarming. Is it any wonder that the Lord’s church is suffering today in gaining good quality men to serve as elders, deacons, and preachers? Have we wondered why those in the church of Christ don’t seem to know their Bible like they used to? Could it be TV? Brethren, let’s be careful what we are watching. Remember that we carry a very big influence for our young people. Most all of the movies today are filled with bad language, sex scenes, and violence. Sadly, many Christians are watching the same movies that anyone off the street would watch, not even caring what kind of trash fills their mind. The Bible says: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he . . .” (Prov. 23:7). “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). “To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work” (Tit. 1:15-16). “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Christians who make it a practice to watch movies and television with things that fill their minds with impurity commit sin and sin is lawlessness. Those which practice lawlessness will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 John 3:4; Matt. 7:21).
The Root of the Problem
All of these “symptoms” (attendance, immodest dress, dancing, smoking and drinking, movies and television) that I have discussed are derived from a bigger problem. The root of the problem is that Christians are not abiding with Mark 12:30 which says: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment.” When one truly loves the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, then there is no room for worldliness. Christians are only as strong as what we feed our roots. If I were to walk into my house and notice a plant on the table whose leaves were turning brown and yellow, I would know that something was not right with that plant. The leaves are simply the “symptoms” of the real problem. The leaves are a reflection of the health of that plant. I could cut off the brown and yellow leaves, but that would not correct the problem. It would look good for a moment, but within a few days, other leaves would be brown and yellow. Why? Because the trouble with that plant is that the roots need nourishment. The roots need water and other nutrients to get it healthy again. Once the root of the plant is taken care of, then I also have taken care of the leaves. The same is true in matters of religion. For the Christian to get well, the roots need to be nourished. We must be faithful in the feeding of our roots if we want to be the kind of Christians that God wants us to be.
To turn a Christian around to live a good, faithful life for our Lord, takes some root work. But two things have to happen. (1) The Christian must have a desire to get well, to want to live the Christian life. Once we gain a desire, then we are on our way to righteous living. Peter wrote: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all guile, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:1-2). Once the Christian has desire then the second thing must happen. (2) Study is needed to gain faith in God. Paul wrote: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). These are the nutrients necessary in order for any Christian to develop and mature into a solid worker in the Lord’s kingdom. When we feed our life a steady diet of “desire” and “study” then we will become firmly grounded in Christ.
Rooted In Christ
A plant’s root system will only develop when we feed the roots with the appropriate nutrients. A Christian’s root system will only develop when we feed the roots with the word of God. Once this happens then the Christian can be firmly rooted in Christ. Notice what the apostle Paul wrote: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love.” “As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving” (Eph. 3:17; Col. 2:6-7). Once a Christian sets his roots firmly in Christ, he should never look back (Luke 9:62). The fruit of the Christian life is a direct reflection of the root of the Christian. Can it be said of us that we are grounded and rooted in the love of Christ? Jesus said: “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). If a Christian is having trouble keeping Jesus’ commandments, it’s because there is no true love. Although a Christian is sanctified in Christ through baptism, the actions tell whether or not the roots are being properly nourished. Brethren and friends, the root of Christianity is to “. . . love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
8014 County Line Rd., Sellersburg, Indiana 47172 RThetford@juno.com