I met a man from Australia and we were discussing Christianity in America vs. Christianity in Australia. He said the biggest difference is that it is unpopular to be a Christian in Australia. If you aren’t a Christian, you don’t go to church. He said in America, everyone thinks they’re a Christian and they go to church.
If you ask the majority of the people in this country if they are Christian, quite possibly, most of them will say that they are. But what does that mean, “to be a Christian?” “Well,” someone says, “I go to church every Sunday. I give money to the church I go to. I pray and help old ladies across the street.”
Sounds dandy, doesn’t it?
But Jesus has a different definition of what being a “Christian” is. There are stories throughout the Bible where Jesus takes on the Pharisees and their following of “religion.” My favorite is in Matthew, chapter 23, where Jesus calls them out on their religion but having hearts of stone.
The Pharisees were bragging about how they “follow the law.” They do everything “right,” just like the guy I mentioned earlier about going to church every Sunday. (By the way, going to church every Sunday doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than going to McDonald’s every Sunday makes you a hamburger.)
Jesus tells them, basically, you’re doing it, sure, but your heart isn’t right at all. Matt. 23:23-25: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law. Justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”
Wow, pretty scathing rebuke by Jesus, isn’t it? What’s our Lord saying in all this? He’s saying, “Hey, you think you’re doing good by tithing and stuff, but you’re missing the whole reason I’m here. You’re not showing mercy and justice and faithfulness. What you’re doing is good, so keep doing it. But without mercy, justice and faithfulness, what you’re doing is meaningless to me.”
He’s telling them that “being good” is not how you get to heaven, but faith in Christ, following him with your heart. Showing mercy to those who don’t deserve it. Fighting for justice for those who cannot fight for themselves. Being faithful to the God who called you and died on the cross for you.
In America, it’s easy to throw money at things. Starving kids in Africa? Throw a twenty at them and, man, don’t you feel good? It’s easy to give money (well, for some people; for other people it’s like paving the ocean). Seriously, if you have to ask “Do I HAVE to give 10 percent,” you got a money issue. You love money more than God. And the answer to the question is, “No, you don’t have to give 10 percent. You are instructed to give it all.” But that’s for another article.
When I went to Haiti, the man who has an orphanage we support said that Americans don’t need God. Americans are too self-sufficient. That’s true. Haitians need God to stay alive. We need God in America because we think we don’t need Him. This country has lost it’s moral compass.
Jesus wants your heart. Not a piece of your heart, but your whole heart. People in America think they’re saved because they said a prayer when they were little. They live their lives like they’ve never met God, but they said a prayer and think they’re going to heaven. That is such deception. Churches, who claim the name of Christ, putting women in the pulpits, electing openly gay bishops, supporting and performing same-sex marriages, it shows what moral decay has grown to in this country. But it’s worse than that.
Pastors, and in some cases I use that term lightly, won’t preach the truth about the need of repentance and what sinners we are. They don’t want to offend people. They don’t want to have people leave because, goodness, if they left, where would their money come from? They hate their congregation that much that they’d let them go to hell. But hey, they got a pretty building.
Children, are you a Christian? Make sure. The saying goes, “All dogs go to heaven.” But, that’s not true for people. People actually go to hell.
Joe Marzano is pastor of Grace in the Wilderness Fellowship, Shenango Township.