Why Are You a Christian? (Blogs Revisited)

Why Are You a Christian (Originally published March 13, 2013)

“Why are you a Christian?  Do we ever stop to really think about why we profess to be a Christian?  On the surface, the answer seems to be self-explanatory.  Upon deeper reflection, I think you’d be surprised as to why you or anyone else “really” claims that title.

Some claim to be a Christian because it’s what we do.  Our nation, started on Christian principles as some would say, has claimed Christianity almost like a national religion.  Sure, other religious practices abound in America, but they are drastically outnumbered.  Christianity, in all its denominational forms, is practiced by most of us claiming a religious belief.  (I’ll go ahead and say right here that denominationalism is, in fact, not really Christianity at all but man’s feeble attempt to mold God’s law to his desires.  The church of Christ is the church of Christ and it will always and forever belong to Him.)

Some claim to be a Christian to be a part of the “in” crowd.  In many areas, one can plug themselves into the community by who they know and associate with at church.  It’s all about what they can get out of the relationship.  Networking at its finest.

Others call themselves a Christian because it’s what they’ve always done.  They were raised in the church, they were baptized, and now they just go with the flow because of its comfort level.  They have never stopped to ask why they believe what they believe.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:25-30 that we cannot be divided among different loyalties.  We cannot choose which part of God or Christianity we like as if we’re dealing with some spiritual buffet.  Verse 30 reminds us that we’re either “all in” or “all out.”  Our choice is not just to become a Christian and have our sins forgiven and that is the end of our commitment.  Our only choice is to follow God completely!  If there is not a complete commitment, isn’t it true that we are just “playing” Christian?  Christ scolds the church of Laodicea in chapter 3 of Revelation for this very thing… halfheartedness.  They showed a zeal for Christ when it met their needs and stayed quiet and complacent the rest of the time.  In fact, Christ even says He would rather us pick a side.  There is no in between.

Well?  Why are you a Christian?  If serving God and others is not at the top of your list of reasons, you might want to rethink your commitment.  And don’t forget that the choice we make has very real eternal consequences.”


I still enjoy the simplicity of this post because I think it sums up what is at the very core of religious belief or belief in anything for that matter.  We should be willing to ask the “Why” for what we do, whether it be our religious beliefs, our marriages, or even our chosen careers.  Motivation has always been an important factor for mankind and helps decide how dedicated we’ll be to any given endeavor.  There is no place where this is more important than our Christian beliefs.

Since this was written, I still stand by the assertion that our reasons for following God really matter.  Multiple times throughout God’s word we are reminded of where our heart should be when living a Christian life.  God can read the genuineness of our heart, so if we have ulterior motives for serving him, we’re really fooling no one but ourselves.  I also still stand by the fact that, in Christ’s eyes, there is but one church and that he is Lord over it.  Man’s propensity for creating false religions or other comfortable forms of Christianity that make it easy to live life with a watered-down faith really reveals our ability to serve ourselves rather than living in full submission to a sovereign God.

In the end, we need to ask ourselves the question that I posited when I first wrote this post, being “Why are you a Christian?”  To me, the only correct answer is to wholly follow and serve a God that has done everything for me.

-Joe Butler

 

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The Christian and Carnal Warfare

I don’t know about you, but there are many questions in our day-to-day lives that are just hard to answer.  Some are of little importance while others hold such tremendous theological significance that we would be wise to study and come to a godly discernment of the topic.  While reading a book outlining the sermon on the mount (“Outlines on the Sermon on the Mount” by Leslie G. Thomas), I came upon a section addressing the Christian viewpoint regarding carnal warfare.  To be honest, it’s not a subject I have spent much time studying, and yet the book opened my mind to the realization that it is a very important topic indeed.  It addresses our very real and serious command not to kill, our requirement to submit to our formal mode of government, and our job as followers of Christ to be peacemakers in the world.

I’ve spent just over a month reading and researching the different sides on the topic of carnal warfare, and I’ve poured over what the Bible has to say as well.  I’ve also taken into account the writings and examples of the early church in the hopes of presenting a well-researched and compelling treatise in regards to war in general and whether or not a Christian should participate.

I will say up front that not everyone may agree with the conclusions that I’ve drawn.  We all tend to have our own preconceived ideas on weighty topics such as these, and we tend to be swayed heavily by the popular opinion of the day.  I ask that you read with an open mind and prayerfully consider what God’s word has revealed to us regarding the life and behavior of a Christian.  I will present the topic of  “The Christian and Carnal Warfare” in three separate parts:

  • “The Case for Pacifism”
  • “The Case for Non-Pacifism”
  • “Where to Stand”

I greatly encourage you to read all three posts and weigh the facts presented before drawing a conclusion.  And as always, pray that the Holy Spirit will help you to discern the underlying meaning and intent of God’s word as it relates to war and how we live our lives in general.

-Joe Butler

 

 

 

 

 

 

Addressing the Main Problem

A popular refrain today is the teaching that Jesus came to love people and meet their needs.  I’ve constantly heard people say that religion and even Christians in general are too judgmental and restrictive.  I would never argue that much of Jesus’ ministry was about meeting people where they were.  He didn’t judge or outright condemn (John 3:17), but instead he spoke hope into people’s lives and met some of their immediate physical needs.

While all of that is true, Jesus does actually care about our sin problem and how it keeps us separated from God.  He realizes that sin is a far greater problem in our lives than what may be ailing us physically or circumstantially.  Yes, he came to sacrifice himself so we could be saved.  But his sacrifice and love should affect us in such a way that we become repulsed by our sin.  We should do whatever we can to get rid of it and not excuse our behavior because of the love of God (Romans 6:1-11).

“And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

(Mark 2:1-12)

In the above passage, Jesus heals a paralytic, but first, we see him forgive his sins.  I’m sure that when this man came to Jesus, he was only focused on his physical wellbeing.  And rightly so.  This man probably rested all his hope on being able to walk again.  For anyone who’s paralyzed, I’m sure they would give anything for that blessing.  What this man doesn’t know is that he needs spiritual healing far worse than he needs to be physically healed.  By forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus is giving him what he is truly longing for and doesn’t even realize.  He’s giving him Jesus!

There is such a powerful lesson to be learned from this story, and it’s especially applicable today in our religious landscape of love and grace above all.  Jesus is teaching that our sin does matter.  He’s teaching that our sin is the biggest problem we have and that it keeps us from a relationship with God.  Jesus doesn’t want us to build our hope on our own strength just like he doesn’t want the paralytic to build his hope on the ability to walk.  He wants us to find our identity in Christ.  He wants us to leave our life of sin behind (Ephesians 4:22-24) and quit making excuses so that grace may abound.

Jesus’ love and grace find their fulfillment when we accept those gifts with a grateful heart and are willing to do the work necessary to defeat the sin in our lives.

-Joe Butler

 

And

Words matter.

You would expect a reading and writing teacher like myself to make such a comment, but it’s true.  The word “love,” for instance, carries meaning far greater than most of us can put into words.  The word “money” has caused many a person to flood with feelings of greed, desire, or anxiety.  Or what about the word “religion?”  For some, it brings to mind thoughts of their close relationship with God, while others hear the same word and cringe with disgust.

If we’re to read the Bible, the most powerful words in existence, with even a remote level of discernment, then words and how they are collected into sentences and paragraphs and stories or letters become very important.  Take, for example, the conjunction “for” in Acts 2:38.  When Peter speaks the first gospel message at Pentecost following Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, he says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  This one little conjunction connects the two clause ideas of repentance/baptism and forgiveness.  It’s very simple to see the relationship because of the wording.

This is also the case in countless other passages in the Bible, and today I want to focus on Galatians 5:16-18.  For those who are new to this blog or who simply haven’t noticed before, the title of my site (“Faith and Footsteps”) has a very specific meaning.  Being a Christian is not simply about faith, but also about following in the footsteps of Christ.  The conjunction “and” ties Faith and Footsteps together.  You can’t have one without the other.  Let’s take a look at our passage…

 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”

(Galatians 5:16-18)

My favorite part of this text are the words, “walk by the Spirit.”  You see, when we put our faith in Jesus Christ for our salvation, when we confess his name and repent of our sins, and when we show obedience to the gospel message through the act of baptism, we’re really only beginning our Christian walk.  That’s the “faith” part of our decision to be a Christian.  The “and” part comes in when we actually walk, when we take our first footsteps in our lifelong journey to follow God.  The truth is, when we put our faith in Christ, we’re all walking somewhere.  We’re either continuing to walk our own path, serving our needs and desires, or we’re choosing to walk by the Spirit, following God’s purposes for our life.

You can see that it boils down to my tag line for this site: “to search, to learn, to follow.”  We search out for God and all the while he is actively pursuing us.  We learn about him, his love for us, and what he has done to redeem us.  Then, we choose to take the steps to follow him.  Now notice in Galatians, he didn’t say, “just walk to church and you’re a good Christian.”  He didn’t say, “just walk a little different than the rest of the world.”  We are commanded to “walk by the Spirit.”  Why?  Because the Spirit is in contrast to our own sinful nature and desires.  We cannot call ourselves Christians and continue in our sinful ways.  We must be “under the influence” of the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), so much so that he controls our thoughts and actions.  This requires a close and discerning study of God’s word and a willingness to submit to the urgings of the Spirit.

It requires Faith “AND” Footsteps.

-Joe Butler

It Doesn’t Matter What We Think

We’re pretty smart…at least we’d like to think so.  We humans of the 21st century are convinced that we’ve got the world’s mysteries all figured out.  Well, maybe not all of them, but we sure do have an opinion on everything.  And while I’ll freely admit that the combined wisdom of mankind in our age is something to marvel at, we really haven’t scratched the surface of what there is to know.

I mention this, because it always amazes me when people try to interject their opinions in matters of religion and Christianity.  People say they believe the Bible as the inspired authority and word of God, and then some go about trying to change it to meet their preconceived ideas or needs.  The truth is, yours and my opinions don’t really matter at all, at least in the sense of trying to change God’s word. What matters is what God says!  We may want to disagree with God’s view on things and say that the times have changed or that we have a better understanding of his word today than people of previous generations.  But the truth is, God’s word stands just as firmly today as it did when it was first written down.

We shouldn’t take the liberty to force our viewpoint or interpretation on God’s word.  That’s the job of the Holy Spirit.  It is He that allows us to understand the thinking behind God’s commands and promises.  It’s not fair for me to change those commands if they don’t coincide with the way I’m living my life.  It’s not right to add contingencies to God’s plan of salvation and accuse Him of not being loving if He doesn’t follow my advice (Galatians 1:6-9).  What we should do is study God’s word for what it says and pray continually that his Spirit will bring us into a better understanding of it (John 16:13).

This is probably most important as I take more opportunities to preach publicly and through this blog.  I must always remember, as does anyone who claims to teach God’s word, that it is God who does the teaching, not me (John 7:16-18, James 3:1).  I can study and use analogies to convey to others what the Bible is asking of us Christians, but I’m not free to add to or take away from God’s message (Revelation 22:19).  He knows far more that I will ever know (Isaiah 40:28).  Who am I to challenge the understanding and validity of the one who created me in the first place?

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what I think.  All that matters is that God’s truth is proclaimed!  All that matters is that He is honored and glorified!

-Joe

Self-Created Righteousness

I’ve been doing a study lately about attitudes, specifically the kind of attitudes Christians should have concerning such important things like sin, worship, or money.  This is all in preparation for a Bible class series I’m teaching soon, and one of the topics I decided to add was studying the type of attitude we should have towards ourselves.

There’s no question that God has a clear standard and that we as sinners have broken it.  Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and Romans 6:23 adds, “the wages of sin is death.”  This is not necessarily some form of self-deprecation where we demean ourselves to the point of feeling worthless, but that we recognize that our God is perfect and he has defined what true righteousness is and that we fall miserably short of that standard.  He has asked that those who carry his name remain holy (1 Peter 1:16), requires us to have a proper and humble view of who we are and where we’ve come from, and to remember that it is God who justifies (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

I think the dangerous part begins when we attempt to change God’s standard, either by making it easier for ourselves or by making it harder for others.  Sometimes we decide to create our own form of righteousness based on what we believe is fair or by comparing ourselves to others who we believe are somehow worse than we are.  God, on the other hand, doesn’t see it that way.  He doesn’t create a hierarchy of sin like we do so we come off looking better than those in the world.  He doesn’t keep track of church attendance or works completed and say, “That guy is really dedicated, I’ll make sure to give him an extra portion of grace!”  Instead, God examines our heart, our attitude towards self and decides whether we truly love him or not.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had this problem, and sadly, it’s still a bit of a problem today.  As the religious elite, the Pharisees made sure to change God’s standard to suit their needs.  They would pray openly, fast painfully, and brag loudly about their knowledge of God’s word, all the while holding everyone else to a standard or level righteousness that they themselves were unable to fulfill (Matthew 23:1-7).  But Jesus could see right to their heart and knew that their attitude was all wrong.  They looked for reasons to condemn instead of ways to show love and grace.  They did everything they could to prevent people from ever experiencing the true, merciful God.

And so it is today.  Some in the church treat people in the world as though Christians have a lock on some religious club and they can’t get in unless they follow the rules.  We can’t go around shutting people out of the kingdom of God because we falsely assume their sin is worse than ours.  We can’t take the job of judgment away from God, and anyways, that’s a very dangerous choice to make (Matthew 7:1-2).

Jesus was our physical manifestation of righteousness and he didn’t treat sinners with contempt and disdain.  Instead, he showed grace to the penitent and offered up hope for those who were searching for the truth.  If we are followers of Christ, shouldn’t we do the same?

Let’s ask ourselves, what can we do to help others come to know God and his love for them?  Let’s remember that Jesus died for WHOEVER would believe in him (John 3:16), and that we shouldn’t put a stumbling block or any form of discouragement in front of anyone searching for the truth of the gospel.  We should make every effort to live up to God’s standard of righteousness and encourage and assist others in doing the same.

-Joe

 

Spiritual Sightseeing

I simply cannot get enough of the outdoors!

It’s not just enjoying a trip to the beach or a scenic drive through the mountains.  I want to immerse myself in the environment, to enjoy everything,  noticing and savoring the sights and smells and sounds.  When I go to Washington state, I love to visit Mt. Rainier and smell the rich scent of the evergreen trees and view the powerful glaciers as they make their slow advance down the flanks of the mountain.  When I go to the beach, I love to feel the coolness of the sugar-white sand and inhale the briny smell of the salty air.  When I’ve gone hiking in the woods on the Appalachian Trail, I’ve noticed the scattering of the birds and squirrels as they explore the forest floor, the soft trickle of mountain streams cascading over rocks, and the leaves exploding into an abundance of vibrant colors in the Fall.

One thing I’ve noticed is that very few people actually see or experience any of those things.  They either miss them because they’re too busy to slow down and take notice, or they never leave their car or the parking lot when they do visit the outdoors.  The statistics even bear this out as well.  According to a recent report by the U.S. Forest Service, almost 86% of people who visit a wilderness site only use developed facilities such as park roads, overlooks, campgrounds, and visitor centers.  And of the tourists who do leave developed areas, most never get any farther away than a half mile.  That’s too bad because they have no idea what they’re missing.

If you’ve been a Christian for even a short amount of time then you’ve probably noticed how people have this same mindset towards God and religion in general.  Some people are spiritual sightseers, never going any further than attending worship services and somehow thinking they now have a deep relationship with God.  I must ask, how can you possibly think you know God if you never immerse yourself in Him?  How can you know him and his will for your life if you are not being fed by his word?  How can you experience all the goodness God has to offer if you only act like a Christian for a couple of hours one day a week?

People are missing out on so much because they’re satisfied with a surface-level knowledge of God and his love instead of desiring intimacy with him.  Like Paul, we should declare that we, “want to know Christ” (Philippians 3:10) and we can only do that if we are willing to learn about him and to make him the center of our entire existence.

Get off the beaten path and explore who God is.  Attend worship, read you Bible, pray, serve.  Go all in for God and you’ll discover far more about him than you’d ever imagine.

-Joe