“Do you believe?” I recently asked a room of seven Christians. Without clarification or qualification, as may be expected among a group of Christians, my question was responded to in the affirmative: “Yes, I believe.” At least that was the response shared by all in the room with but one exception when a particularly discerning individual replied, “Believe in what?” While I praised his response, I was disheartened to discover that the others in the room nevertheless went on blindly affirming belief without any concern for what it was that they were affirming. Of the seven, one was a new believer while the other six were ministers and leaders with experience serving as pastors, elders, teachers, and more. The implications are troubling if it might possibly be considered that, for many Christians, it is enough to merely affirm belief with no concern for what we believe or why.
If it might be considered that this small group of seven is somehow representative of Western Christianity, the body of Christ (and not just Western Christianity because we are, in fact, one in Christ) is in serious danger for it would mean that the general consensus among Christians (laity and leadership alike) maintains that what is important (at least in practice) is merely that you do believe but, perhaps, not necessarily what you believe much less why you believe what you believe. Worse yet, it means that what contemporarily has been packaged as belief is, more often than not, a mere nodding affirmation of belief rather than something tested. But blind affirmation is the mark of nominal Christianity and not a convictional, biblical faith which is marked by a reasoned belief that has been tested and bears evidence to its claims in a transformed life by way of a renewed heart and mind. A nominal Christian is a Christian by name only who may affirm basic Christian doctrine even while not having turned their heart and life over fully to the Lord in repentance and faith. So nominal Christianity presents its own dangers: lacking conviction, its members are bound together by association rather than as empowered by the Holy Spirit in Christ alongside other believers growing in a restored relationship with the Father, and may well remained unreconciled with God.
The pervasiveness of nominal Christianity within the church is just as overwhelming as its implications where so many of those who identify as Christian do so only in name but not in spirit. It is simply not enough to claim to know God, we must be known by God. There are many who identify as Christian that have not yet submitted themselves to the lordship of Christ. That is, there are many who have accepted what Jesus offers but reject what He commands. Christ may die on their behalf so long as they do not also have to die to themselves. We want to enjoy the good fruit of the good tree so long as the good branch requires no measure of good pruning. You see, we have bought into the lie that for love to be real it must submit to the condition that demands love be given without condition. And, so, there are many who remain Christian nominally even while not convictionally because they do not submit themselves to the conditions of God’s love whereby they may encounter conviction and be known by the God they profess.
The dead weight of its members are a burden to the body which restrict growth if unpruned. By pruning I do not mean to say that we should drag people out of the pews and throw them into the streets. Still, some pruning is required. Let’s turn toward our own hearts and minds. Because many of us don’t know why we believe what we believe, consequently, much of what often passes for belief is mere affirmation. Ignorant of what we believe, and why we believe what we believe, it is no surprise, then, that we have been so unsuccessful at fulfilling the Great Commission: making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey the commands of Jesus (Matt 28:18-20). More than merely affirming belief, we must know the whys and whats of our faith. We must know the commands of Jesus in order to teach others to obey the commands of Jesus as we engage the process of making disciples for Christ in our efforts to fulfill the Great Commission.
Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that we’re saved by any measure of our own works or knowledge. Instead, we’re saved by grace and through faith in Christ alone (Ephesians 4:8-9) through whom we are reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18). What I am talking about is the Christian life empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life that is pleasing to God. This convictional life comes by the grace of God as we grow in knowledge and understanding. For those who do believe, I encourage you toward a convictional faith as you continue to grow in your relationship with the Lord. But if you don’t know what you believe, or why you believe what you believe, if you merely affirm belief–maybe you need to give serious thought as to whether or not you actually do believe. It’s not enough to merely affirm belief. What you believe, and why you believe what you believe matters. For those who do not believe, I encourage you to ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7)–draw near to God, He will draw near to you (James 4:8).