This week I heard a great description of nominal Christianity: “Cultural Christians are those that overlay religious practices on the lives they have already chosen to live.” Reread that, let that challenge you for a moment. Are you simply overlaying religious sounding terms and routines onto a lifestyle you are already comfortably living in?
While the religious “nones” are on the rise, most of the increase is the result of nominal Christians who have come to their senses and shed the hollow categories bestowed upon them from their families of origin. They have examined their lives and realized they really were not inspired to follow the radically life-transforming call of Jesus Christ.
It reminded me of this parable Jesus uses in response to Peter. Peter wanted to know how many times does he have to forgive. Does his heart really have to change for his brother?
“The kingdom of God is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.”
–Jesus sets the scene by showing us that our sin has a generational impact. The debts (sins) bind us. They root deep down into our hearts and distort our marriages and our families.
“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, and I will pay back everything.'”
–When confronted with our debt, we beg for just a little more time, thinking that time will heal all sin. We think we will start living correctly, right now…well, right now…well, maybe Tuesday–after that business trip.
“The servant took pity on him, CANCELED the debt and let him go.”
–What the master does is far greater than what the servant could ever imagine. He was not put on an extended payment plan, but the debt was entirely canceled. He was released from the burden and pressure of those bills and the increased interest payments. His wife and children were saved from the bonds of slavery and sin. The man, his family and his life were saved.
It is here that the man has a choice…he can live into the freedom of forgiveness showing the unexpected grace and mercy he had received to others. Or he could become a cultural Christian, continuing to live a life of bitterness, anger and retribution.
“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ He demanded.
“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'”
But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘ I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger, his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
“This is how my Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
When God looks at the lives we live, he is dumbfounded like the master in this story. Jesus has done an amazing thing for us. But rather than live into the freedom promised, we allow our hearts to rot with bitterness and anger by believing that we are “owed” more.
If we are to move from cultural Christianity, we cannot overlay some religious prayers and practices on top of the lives we are already living. We must allow Jesus to transform us at a heart level and watch as our Christian faith radically reshapes every aspect of our lives.
Have you allowed Jesus to penetrate to your heart level feeling the freedom of His forgiveness?
To whom do you need to extend forgiveness from your heart this week?