We live in challenging times.
Ours is a fast-paced, stressful society where many people lack strong, long-term personal relationships. We are bombarded with so much secularism that Christian beliefs and values can become eroded. As a result, it is more difficult to deal with health problems, personal crises, and other hardships. Now, more than ever, Christians need to be solidly grounded in their faith so that they can stand firm in the face of difficulties.
Our nation is at war against terrorism. In the Middle East, changes are occurring whose implications and lasting effects are difficult to predict. We can expect the war against terrorism to continue for some time. Our enemy is very determined. This war has a profound spiritual dimension. The terrorists come from a branch of Islam that seeks to impose its religious views on the rest of the world by force, and that regards both Christians and Jews as infidels to be exterminated. They expect to succeed because they accept no limits on the tactics they use, and because they will persevere and they think that we will not.
In addition, the soul of our country is in danger. Will we be a godly nation? Or will we be a worldly nation that denies and excludes God? Will we return to the basis on which we were founded, which placed a strong reliance on the Christian faith which most of our founders shared? Or will we become a totally secular society in which Biblical principles are considered both irrelevant and inimical? We see the choice made in many areas today. I believe it is a very serious choice.
Our American culture has changed so much, and so rapidly, that things that were unthinkable 40 years ago are now commonplace. There are deadly new diseases, such as AIDS and SARS. We face the possibility of chemical and biological warfare, and nuclear bombs so small that they can be carried in a suitcase. Divorce rates are soaring, crime rates are soaring, and many children come from broken homes. Everything seems to be moving faster and more frantically. It feels as if things are falling apart.
George Washington considered that the victory of a ragged, ill-equipped American militia over the most powerful army in the world could be explained only by the intervention of Almighty God.1 George Washington also warned, “We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order which heaven itself has ordained.”2 John Adams, our second President, stated, “Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”3 Most of the other founders of our nation expressed similar principles. Yet, today, many seek to eliminate all mention of God from our public life and our schools, and they have to a large extent succeeded. Many seek the total rejection of godly moral principles, and they, too, have succeeded to an alarming degree. It seems that, as a nation, we are deliberately throwing away the source of our greatness.
These principles were well understood until fairly recently. In 1950, President Harry Truman wrote, “The fundamental basis of this nation’s laws was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teachings we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don’t think we emphasize that enough these days. If we don’t have a proper fundamental moral background, we will finally end up with a totalitarian government which does not believe in rights for anybody except the State.”4 In 1952 the U.S. Supreme Court declared, “We are a religious people and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”5
In the guise of protecting us from the “establishment” of the Christian religion, our courts have made possible, and have done nothing to stop, the effective establishment of the religion of secular humanism as the religion of our public school systems. Secular humanism, which the Supreme Court has said is a religion, asserts that there is no God, there is no absolute truth, there are no moral absolutes, the greatest virtue is tolerance (including tolerance of evil), and man is the measure of all things. We have established, as the religion of our public schools, a religion which is anti-Christian to its very core, while suppressing any reference to Christianity.
Thus far, our nation has succeeded and prospered to a remarkable degree. I believe this is largely because we have had God’s favor and protection. If that favor and protection should be withdrawn, we cannot expect to continue to succeed, and we could find our nation disappearing, as so many powerful civilizations in the past have disappeared. I believe this is the greatest danger we face today. I consider it very real.
Some Christians have fought valiantly against this strong movement to eliminate God, and godly principles, from our public life. I am very grateful to them. But I think it fair to say that the majority of those who call themselves Christians have sat by passively and allowed it to happen. There are a number of reasons for this, some theological, some psychological. I am afraid that, as a whole, the body of Christ has demonstrated the truth of the principle that the only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.
God said many years ago, “Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? Who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?” (Psalm 94:16). God repeatedly warned his people not to be enticed into following the ways of pagans. (See, for example, Deuteronomy 4:15-19.) He has told us not to conform to this world (Romans 12:2). He is calling on Christians to be different, and to stand firmly for God’s truth.
These themes have been developed by others in much greater detail.6 It is not my purpose to discuss them further in this book. They form the background for what I do want to discuss. What I am dealing with is some changes that I believe need to occur in the minds and hearts of many who call themselves Christians, if we as individuals are to survive in this challenging world, and if we, and the church as a whole, are to play an effective part in stemming the tide of secularism in our nation.
THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
Christianity is not just private faith and personal salvation. It affects our entire life. It is a framework, a world view, for understanding all of reality. I’m afraid there are some Christians whose religious faith is rather like a hood ornament on a car. It looks attractive, it may be interesting, but it has nothing to do with the functioning of the car. That is not Biblical Christianity. It is in God that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Everything we say or do is rooted in our belief in God and in Jesus Christ.
I think that God is calling on those who believe in him to move out of our comfortable church buildings and bring our faith to the world around us. This was what Jesus did. Most of his ministry was out on the streets, where the people were. We are called upon to be salt and light to the world, and we can do this only when we go out to where the people are.
When we move out of our comfort zone, however, two things happen:
One of the themes of this book is that true Christianity is not easy. It calls for effort and struggle. It is often difficult and challenging. We should not expect that it would be easy. In this life, few things that are worthwhile are attained without a good deal of effort. Jesus told his followers to count the cost of following him. For those early followers, and for the many Christians who today undergo severe persecution for their religion in various parts of the world, the cost was very great, but they were and are willing to pay it. We in America today are blessed by not having to face the cost of persecution and possible martyrdom, but there are other costs that we may face.7
Christianity expects that those who accept it will grow and change. It calls for radical change in our character and conduct. Growth and change are seldom easy. They can be quite painful.
In an effort to make Christianity appealing, some tend to make it seem easy and effortless. We should not do this. We should not water down the demands of Christ’s gospel in order to gain a nominal acceptance of it from as many people as possible. Such a nominal acceptance often has shallow roots and does not last, and it may inoculate people so as to make it harder for them to receive the real thing.
God does not want Christians whose love grows cold (Matthew 24:12), or who have abandoned their first love (Revelation 2:4). He does not want lukewarm Christians. He spits them out of his mouth (Revelation 3:15). A lukewarm Christian cannot stand up to a deeply committed atheist or humanist.
God does not want Christians “who honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me” (Matthew 15:8, quoting Isaiah 29:13). He does not want those who profess to believe him but do not do his will (Matthew 7:21). He does not want those who have a form of godliness but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). He does not want those who “…claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him” (Titus 1:16 NIV).
Some years ago, a Russian Communist said, “If you Westerners were half as committed to your beliefs as we Communists are to ours, we wouldn’t stand a chance against you.” The Communist revolution in Russia was a victory of a small, deeply committed minority (the Bolsheviks) over the majority. The radical Islamist movement today hopes to prevail because they are deeply committed and they perceive us as not committed. The early Christians, a tiny minority, turned the world around because they were committed. In the U.S. today, I think we can see that deeply committed minorities have had a disproportionate influence on public opinion and on politics. If we Christians want to affect the course of events in this nation, we need to be deeply committed.
If we are to stand firm in the faith, we need to be hot and not lukewarm.
In this book I tend to emphasize the demands of Christianity because I feel that, in our affluent society, there is great danger that our faith will be flabby and apathetic. But I must also say two other things, which I hope you will keep in mind.
First, Christianity is tremendously rewarding. To those who truly believe in Jesus Christ, it promises eternal life in heaven with God. It promises forgiveness of our sins, and freedom from many things that have held us down. It promises an abundant life on earth, in which we can overcome every adversity. It promises peace, joy and true fulfillment. These are not empty promises. I have seen them realized, in greater or lesser degree, in my own life and the lives of others around me. Whatever Christianity may cost, the rewards are much greater.
Second, God expects us to change, but he also accepts us and loves us as we are. His love is not conditioned on our changing. We don’t have to earn his love and acceptance. They are just there for us. Wherever we are in our Christian life, God is there for us.
WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Scripture speaks of the “end times,” the times just before Christ returns to earth in glory and power. Some think we are already in these end times. Others say that we are approaching them. Whichever view you take, the words of Jesus Christ, in his great end-time prophecy, are certainly relevant. I shall discuss this prophecy (Matthew, chapter 24) in more detail later. (See Chapter 22.) For now, I want to emphasize one sentence of it. Jesus described very difficult times that would come, and said that many would turn away from the faith, and the love of many would grow cold. Then he said, “but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13 NIV).
Other Scriptures repeat this admonition to stand firm. Paul told the Corinthians to “…stand firm in the faith…” (1 Corinthians 16:13 NIV). “…it is by faith you stand firm” (2 Corinthians 1:24 NIV). (Also see Galatians 5:1; Philippians 1:27, 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; James 5:8.) Peter told believers to resist the devil, “…standing firm in the faith…” (1 Peter 5:9 NIV). Paul also told believers to “…stand firm…” against the devil’s schemes (Ephesians 6:13 NIV). (See Ephesians 6:11-18.) Jude told us to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3). The Old Testament says the same. “When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever” (Proverbs 10:25 NIV). “…If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9 NIV).
How do we stand firm in the faith? We must be uncompromising about what we believe. God hates evil, and Scripture calls on us to hate evil. We must not water down the faith that Scripture declares for us. There are times when we need to take a stand publicly against that which Scripture says is evil. This may mean speaking out publicly for what is right, and taking political action to obtain election of godly men and women, and adoption of godly legislation.
In order to do any of these effectively, we need to be strong. Paul told Timothy to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:1). He told the Corinthians to “be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). He prayed that the Colossians would be “strengthened with all might, according to His [God’s] glorious power, for all patience and long-suffering with joy” (Colossians 1:11). He said, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). God wants Christians to be strong.
This includes being strong in our faith. We need to be quite clear about what we believe. We also need to believe it completely, with our whole being, and not just with our intellect. We need to believe and not doubt. Those whose faith is not deeply rooted will fall away; those whose faith is solid and who persevere will bear much fruit. (See Luke 8:13-15.)
We can stand firm on the words of the Bible. The Bible is true and reliable, and it can and should be the guide for everything we do. In Part II of this book, I give my reasons for believing this. That belief underlies everything else I say. If we accept Scripture on its own terms, as an authoritative revelation from God, then we have a solid rock to stand on. If we do not accept it as authoritative, then it becomes merely one among many expressions of fallible human opinion. It is largely because many Christians, today, do not accept Scripture as authoritative that we find such wide divergences of opinion among those who call themselves Christians.
The Bible tells us very clearly certain things about God, about Jesus Christ, and about our relationship with God. These basics of our Christian faith are things we need to stand firm on and not compromise. I shall touch very briefly on some of these in Part III.
Then we need to be able to apply what we believe to what is happening in our lives. If we can’t apply it to the life situations we face, it is probable that we either don’t understand it, or don’t really believe it, or both. It is in our actions that our faith becomes real. Faith that does not result in action, that does not make a major difference in the way we view and respond to everything around us, is not real faith. In Part IV, I shall address this issue of application. I shall identify some practical issues that arise in the lives of many of us, and shall show, I hope, how the teachings of Scripture can give us guidance, confidence and strength in dealing with those issues.
It may seem, as you read this part of the book, that the magnitude of the task is overwhelming, but remember two things. First, we don’t have to deal with all these issues at the same time. We deal with whatever God is showing us needs attention at the moment. And as we improve in one area, that will strengthen us in others. Second, we deal with all of them in God’s power and not our own. Whatever he calls us to do, he will enable us to do.
I want to say something about that word “believe.” We Americans often use “believe” to mean intellectual assent. In Scripture it means much more than that. The Biblical words for “believe” and “faith” mean to put our entire trust in, and obey. They imply a total commitment. In the Biblical sense, belief is something we do, not just with our mind, but with all of us. Jesus commanded us 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). I think it fair to say that the whole Bible also tells us to believe “with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The belief that Scripture talks about is a belief that shows itself in action. It shows itself in your whole life.
One other thing about belief should be kept in mind. It is important for us to be clear, and Scripturally sound, about what we believe. It is even more important to know whom we believe. Paul wrote, “I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12). Our Christian faith is not primarily a belief in doctrines. It is a belief in a person. It is a relationship with a person.
It is because we know who God is that we can put our trust in him. It is because we know who God is that we can say, with the Psalmist, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear” (Psalm 46:1-2). No matter what happens, we will not fear. We are not victims of the circumstances. They are temporary and God is eternal. God is greater than the circumstances, he is faithful to his promises, and he wants what is best for us. He has promised us that, in him, we can be overcomers (1 John 5:4-5). (See Chapter 11.) No matter what happens, we can depend on God.
Everything I have written in this book is written for myself as much as it is for those who may read it. I need increasingly deeper faith. All of us are working to find a deeper and solider faith. All of us need to pray, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24 NIV). Hopefully we can help and encourage each other in this process. As times get more difficult, we must succeed in strengthening our faith and learning to stand firm in it.
The stakes are high—for ourselves as individuals, for our children, for the body of Christ, for our nation, and for the world. I think we are at a point where God is saying to us, as he said to the Israelites in the time of Moses,
We have important choices to make and we need to make the right choices. But we also need to be confident that if we do make the right choices, we will prevail. Our situation in the United States today is very serious. We need to recognize its seriousness, and not shut our eyes to it. But God is greater than our situation. Our God is a great God. He is Almighty. His power will prevail. His plans and purposes will stand, and nothing can thwart or defeat them. If we put our trust in him, and act in his mighty power and not just our own, we need not fear. Those who trust in God will not be disappointed. (See Psalm 22:5.)
My wife’s poem says it better than I can.