This is part two of a three-part article on why 'American Christianity' is failing. Read part 1 here for the introduction and Societal Factors. In this part, we examine the Spiritual Factors involved with the struggles of Christianity in America.
The societal factors, while important, are merely the symptoms. Too often (and primarily due to the general rejection of GOD and His sovereignty), people tend to focus all attention on the symptoms of society’s issues instead of striking at the roots.
For example, the media spends countless hours discussing what “caused” a shooter to enter a school and kill dozens of people. Yet they ignore or dismiss the existence of evil and the role that temptation and human depravity play in decision-making.
Unsurprisingly, efforts that merely treat symptoms are only marginally successful.
A handful of key spiritual factors form the root issues in the decline of modern American Christianity.
Failure to Study the Scriptures
Simply stated, American Christianity is failing because too many of us don’t know the only true and living GOD—Yahweh, Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
While GOD can be seen in the beauty of creation and in many other ways, there is one way to learn about His character and come to know Him personally: Study the Scriptures and pray.
Too few Americans today know the Word.
We merely install the Bible app on our smartphones or lay our Bibles in the car’s rearview window only to be picked up at church.
And many churches today, it seems, place more emphasis on things other than helping people really know GOD—fun experiences, enjoyable music, programs, attendance and/or money.
Every message seems to have the same basic formula: three points, at least one joke and funny story, and little-to-no spiritual depth.
You know, keep their attention and such.
But when a person studies the Scriptures themselves, GOD speaks to them personally, revealing Himself and instructing about life.
Study of GOD’s Word is how we know what is truth. It builds and strengthens faith. Faith is essential for us to please GOD (see Heb. 11:6).
Faith and knowledge of truth are a person’s defense against temptation and deception. When someone knows what is right, their conscience will convict them when they are considering or have done something that is sinful.
When a person’s faith is strong, if someone tries to convince them of something that isn’t true, such as the kid in school whose teacher is pushing the Big Bang theory as fact, they are able to mentally withstand and not be deceived.
Sadly, so many Americans lack this knowledge and faith, so they are easily fooled and deceived.
Prayer is just as vital as study.
Prayer is how we open up to GOD and share our thoughts, wishes, desires and concerns with Him.
Sure He already knows. That’s not the point.
Prayer is for our benefit, not GOD’s. He doesn’t need anything, including our prayers. But He wants us to develop that openness whereby we grow close to Him, as to a friend.
Reading Scripture is GOD speaking to us; prayer is us speaking to Him.
All healthy relationships have effective two-way communication. Our relationship with GOD is no different.
Failure to Know GOD’s Character
It is vital we recognize that Bible study and prayer are not the end goal. Rather, their purpose is to help us know GOD more fully, deeply and personally.
As we read and study the Scriptures, GOD reveals His character to us.
What is GOD like? What does He value? Is He kind or mean? Is He loving or cruel? Is He honest or dishonest? What does He want from me? And on and on…
When people aren’t living guided by GOD’s revealed truth, we tend to imagine gods after our own hearts—with qualities and values similar to their own.
Scripture calls these idols and their worship idolatry.
In more modern times, common idolatrous practice (certainly in America) is to ascribe false character to a single deity and call him “God.”
Examples of such falsehoods include:
- God’s biggest concern for me is to be happy.
- God won’t love someone like me. I’m too far gone.
- Just accept Jesus as your Savior and you’re saved. There’s nothing you do from then on to separate you from God.
- God hates black people.
- God wants me to execute this suicide bombing mission in order to hurt and kill infidels.
- God accepts homosexuals without expecting them to change.
Although Americans aren’t running around holding up carved images and sacrificing our babies on pagan altars (yet!), idolatry is still going strong here, as in other parts of the world.
Scripture repeatedly says that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (see Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 15:33).
If we don’t fear GOD, we can’t be wise. One begins the journey to wisdom when they realize GOD holds and sustains their very breath and humbles themselves before Him.
The opposite of wise is foolish. There are a lot of foolish Americans today because they don’t know and fear GOD.
It is foolish to believe that America became the greatest nation on earth solely because of its own hard work, creativity and ingenuity. America became great because GOD has blessed it.
Why does GOD bless nations? There are many reasons, one of which is when a large number of its citizens humble themselves before Him and seek His guidance.
By contrast, in the Scriptures, nations that were prideful, pervert justice, flaunt their sin and take advantage of the poor were often judged and punished, sometimes even destroyed entirely.
When we understand GOD’s character, we learn how to please Him—what He approves and disapproves of. Without this knowledge, however, we set ourselves up for many problems, failure and heartache.
Today’s Popular “Gospel” Generates No Conversion
One of the biggest spiritual problems we have is that today’s popular gospel requires no real change—no conversion.
Jesus plainly and repeatedly taught that if we want to be His disciple, we must take up our cross and follow Him.
The cross is an instrument of death. Its purpose is to kill.
The apostles taught that our physical body is ruled by sin and therefore must be put to death. We must die to sin in order that we may be remade. This is the new birth.
Paul explained this process in depth in Romans 6. In order to have our sins forgiven, we must die with Jesus so that we can be raised with Him by faith.
But this process is far more than just baptism. The death of the “old man” represents a change in lordship. No longer does the individual pursue their own will and live how they see fit. Rather, they are voluntarily submitting to the lordship of Jesus for the rest of their life.
Jesus rules. He decides. He leads. Not me.
This is biblical Christianity. This is biblical discipleship. “Follow Me.”
Somewhere this concept has gotten lost.
It has been replaced with weak, watered down gospels that require virtually nothing and accomplish just as little.
When you teach people that they are “saved” and there is nothing they can do to separate themselves from GOD, what you are really telling them is that it doesn’t really matter how you live now. “Just do what you want. You’re in the club man!”
But you won’t see the apostles teaching people this in the Scriptures. Look at 1 Corinthians 10, for example. See how Paul bluntly warns the Christians in Corinth:
11 These things [i.e., the punishment of the Israelites in Moses’ day] happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!
(1 Cor. 10:11-12 NIV)
GOD isn’t messing around. Just because Jesus died on the cross doesn’t mean GOD no longer expects His children to live a holy life.
He expects our full commitment. Not perfection, (praise GOD!) just wholehearted devotion and effort.
But when we don’t fear GOD and we are deceived into thinking He’ll accept us anyway, what you get is today’s “American Christianity.”
Nominal. Superficial. Powerless. Negligible impact.
And the reason it is crumbling is because it isn’t authentic. For the problem never has been with Christianity. The problem is that we’ve traded GOD’s truth for half-true lies. We’ve invented our own god and gospel.
Lack of Wholehearted Love for GOD
Once we come to understand what GOD expects of us—that we love Him with all of our heart, soul and strength—we are then faced with a choice.
Will I choose to love GOD fully or not?
The question is easy to comprehend and even easy to verbally answer. The challenge is in the doing.
Many Americans do love GOD fully and prove their love by living for Jesus daily.
Many more try and perhaps succeed periodically, but the weakness of the flesh pulls them down and they struggle. Some fall away.
Still others have hard hearts and refuse GOD’s offer of salvation and the countless blessings that Jesus extends.
As the number of these latter two groups increases, as it has in recent times, the number of societal problems increase and Christianity struggles.
Failure to Develop Jesus-like Character
When we fail to love GOD with all of our being, we won’t grow to develop the character of Jesus. We’ll look, at best, a little like Jesus and a lot like the world around us.
The truth is that GOD is interested not just in saving us from our sins, but in changing our character. What He wants is for you and me to look like Jesus—to think like Jesus, speak like Jesus and behave like Jesus.
And GOD wants this because this is what is best for humanity. This is how we truly improve our lives upon this planet.
The nations who are the most free are not the ones with the least religion, as many would have you believe, but rather the ones whose citizens most closely imitate the character of Jesus.
We tend to think (often subconsciously) that we can have Jesus (i.e., salvation, heaven) and live however we want. This is a most dangerous lie.
For the Lord plainly said:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
(Mark 8:34b-37 NIV)
We must choose: Jesus or the world. You can’t have both.
When our lives aren’t directed by Jesus, and we fail to develop His character, we make poor decisions which lead to the societal problems previously discussed. From a societal perspective, this is the root of the matter.
The more people living without Jesus’ rule in their lives, the more problems their society will have.
Eventually, as the problem grows, it reaches the point Paul describes in Romans 1:
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
(Rom. 1:16-32 NIV)
Does this sound familiar? Oh yeah.
Let’s recap what Paul is saying.
- The righteous live by faith. The wicked live by their own desires.
- Although these people know Jehovah to be GOD, they ignored Him and served created things.
- GOD gave them over to foolish thinking, shameful lusts and a depraved mind.
- They become completely wicked, inventing new ways to do evil. They have no understanding and approve of those who do evil.
Although this passage has special meaning to its original recipients, this is the pattern that unfolds when a society rejects GOD and Jesus.
And this is precisely what is happening in the U.S. today.
How many times do you see, read or hear of something happening in America today and you think, “Why? That makes no sense. How can someone do that? How can they think that way?”
Often it is a consequence of GOD having given them over to a depraved mind, void of understanding.
All we have to do is look at the circus that is the 2016 presidential race to see the evidence. Of the two leading candidates—the 2 out of 250 million people that America chose as its potential leader—one is a businessman / entertainer with a big mouth, sharp tongue and immense pride, possessing a seemingly-ever-changing position on virtually every issue under the sun. And the other candidate is a lying, abortion-favoring feminist with a scary background, dark clouds of smoke and death surrounding her, whose positions are often directly opposed to biblical teachings.
Yet both claim to be Christians! And this is who we want leading us?!? This is pure insanity! (Kind of like a nation of debased minds, perhaps?)
And that’s where we are in America today.
Continue to Part 3 which offers some solutions—what authentic Christians, with GOD's blessing, can do to strengthen Christianity in America and save our nation.