Monday, February 1, 2010

What Happens to Nominal Christians? – 1 Peter 4:17-19

For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? And "If the righteous man is scarcely saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?" Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will do right and entrust their souls to a faithful Creator. (RSV)

When Peter was writing this, Christians were undergoing some of the fiercest persecutions that occurred during the first 300 years after Christ. From Peter’s viewpoint, it was God’s judgment on the Church, not a judgment of punishment, but a judgment of refining. He started this letter explaining that the trials come so that our faith would be proved genuine. Peter could see what the members of Christ’s body were like. He knew that some were living a life that was what we would call “nominal.” That word means “in name only”. Nominal Christians are people who call themselves Christian without having any life commitment to Jesus.

How does this happen? One way is that their parents belonged to a Christian church and so they believe that they also are Christians. Another way is that they may attend a Christian church on occasion. They may live in a Christian nation – one where the majority faith is Christian – regardless of the fact that few actually are committed to that faith.

What does a nominal Christian’s faith look like? They visit a church on Easter, Christmas or even monthly. In other words, they have no commitment to worship God. After all, Sunday is the only day they have to sleep in. They own one or two Bibles but they haven’t read it in recent memory. They believe that God is real and that Jesus was somehow connected to Him. They believe that the 10 commandments are good but can’t recall more than two. They believe that they are a good person and even though they may have broken most of the commandments. In fact they see themselves as better than most people and therefore, they will be near the front of the line to get into heaven. They give very little if anything to their church. They do what they please during the week with little or no regard to how God might want them to live.

Why would God bring judgment on the household of God? If His Church has many nominal Christians among its members, perhaps He wants to wake them up. Eph 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (NIV) Jesus wants His Church to be holy, without stain, wrinkle, or any other blemish. If you look at the members of a church from Jesus’ perspective, you would be able to see into the depth of each heart. You would be able to see the nominal Christians, the weak Christians, and the strong. Would any of these be a blemish? Ask those outside the church. They see the hypocrisy. Of course they don’t like the strong Christians either, but that is their perspective.

What does God’s judgment of His Church look like? Rev 2:4-5 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (RSV) The church, that is the group of people meeting at a certain place, will eventually disappear. This is what happened to the church at Ephesus. No traces of that organization can be found. This occurs all over the US when a church abandons the Gospel and starts teaching other doctrines. The congregation dwindles and the doors are eventually closed.

If the church is strong, then it will survive the trials. Rev 2:10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (RSV) The reference to having ten days of tribulation is not necessarily a promise to us that the worst we will face is only ten days in prison. It is, however an indication that any trial is only temporary. See 2 Cor 4:16-18 where Paul assures us that our trials on earth are only temporary. Temporary refers only to the things that happen here on earth. Otherwise, we would not be able to accept Jesus’ command to be faithful unto death. A strong church is going to know that all persecutions are there for testing, to cleanse the church of those who claim to be followers of Christ or shake them up so that they will be committed to Jesus. As Peter said, when we suffer for Christ, we need to do it because we are entrusting our souls to a faithful Creator.

What about Judgment on those opposed who don’t accept the Gospel of Jesus? Ps 1:4-5 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. (NIV) There will be a time when the whole earth is judged. God isn’t going to put up with sinful mankind forever. He gives us every chance to repent. 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (RSV) Some think that because God’s judgment hasn’t happened, it never will. They can’t see beyond their own existence and measure everything by what they see. They even deny that any will perish (go to hell.) Peter is warning them that when God’s judgment starts, it may very well be too late.

John saw a vision of this judgment in Rev 6:15-17 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the generals and the rich and the strong, and every one, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand before it?" (RSV) These are afraid of God’s judgment. They are trying to hide rather than welcoming an end to sin and evil. They have made their choice to reject Jesus and therefore God and are now trying to hide. It won’t work. They can’t hide from Him.

Where will you be when God’s judgment falls? Will you be trying to hide under a rock or will you be receiving a crown of life? Jesus paved the way to that crown of life if you are willing to follow Him more than “in name only.”

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