In the modern world of “Christendom”, a conflict is occurring in many sections. Most Americans profess some level of faith in Jesus Christ; they believe that there is a God, that Jesus is His Son, and recognize the need to be “good people”, and yet the United States of America is overall in a dismal spiritual state. How can it be that so many profess having faith and yet so little seems to be done?
The Barna group recently came out with an article entitled “Americans Not Concerned About Their Spiritual Condition” (barna.org), and the research within the article is rather illuminating. Forty percent of parents who profess Christianity said that they do not face spiritual challenges in their life. Most seemed more concerned about the spiritual development of their children, their spouses, and other peripheral concerns. Only seven percent felt compelled to be more involved in a church. Eight percent felt the need to put their faith to better practice in their lives.
These statistics represent the situation on the ground, and there is much that we can gain from them. The spiritual complacency inherent in our society is clear– very few feel the intense need to obey God as He has established in the New Testament, and have satisfied themselves with the appearance of propriety. What do the Scriptures have to say regarding such things?
One of the great characteristics that ought to mark God’s people is sobriety. When we normally think of sobriety, we think about it in terms of alcohol or another drug– a sober person is free from alcohol or from some other substance. In reality, the word simply refers to one who is not intoxicated, and alcohol and drugs are not the only intoxicants present within our society. Paul says the following to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-6:
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. When they are saying, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall in no wise escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief: for ye are all sons of light, and sons of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep, as do the rest, but let us watch and be sober.
Let us not be deceived: Paul is not saying that we should not sleep in physical terms, but is speaking in spiritual terms. He would have God’s people be constantly vigilant and sober-minded, not intoxicated by popular views of religion that may sound good but are internally hollow. Peter says the following in 1 Peter 5:8-9:
Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour, whom withstand stedfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world.
The New Testament makes it very clear that Satan is always at work, seeking whom he may catch and devour. One of his greatest weapons is spiritual complacency, for when people are lulled into thinking that all is well with them, they are more easily hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12-14). In a climate where many teach that all one needs to do to be saved is to pray a prayer and then one is saved no matter what, why should we be surprised to see Satan so often victorious?
When God’s people do not remember constantly that they are at war against all the spiritual forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:10-18), it is easier for them to get complacent and then compromise with the world.
The idea of a spiritually unchallenged life is foreign to true Christianity. The Apostle Paul recognized that he himself still needed to strive for the prize (Philippians 3:10-14), and that he needed to be constantly diligent lest he would be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). Are modern Americans at a higher level of faith than he? By no means! Such people do not feel as if they have spiritual challenges because they are not challenging themselves spiritually. There is no pressing on, striving for the goal, or doing of the Word (cf. James 1:22-25). Such persons remind us of the church in Laodicea, who, in professing to have no need of anything, were actually in great need (Revelation 3:14-22)!
It is not a sign of strength, therefore, to say that one has no spiritual challenges, but in fact an indication of weakness. Such a profession belies the reality: such a one does not see spiritually, and is not aware of the conflict always besetting them (1 Corinthians 3:1-4, Ephesians 6:10-18). They, as the Pharisees, by claiming to see, demonstrate their blindness (John 9:38-41). Let no one be deceived: the person who is not being spiritually challenged is spiritually dead, and has need of repentance (cf. Hebrews 12:3-15)!
Barna’s conclusion is quite telling: “Americans focus on what they consider to be the most important matters; faith maturity is not one of them. The dominant spiritual change that we have seen – Americans becoming less engaged in matters of faith – helps to explain the surging secularization of our culture (ibid.).” As we go out and promote the Gospel in this world, we must remember that this is the way it goes for most people. Most people with whom we come into contact are going to profess Jesus, and most of those people believe that they are fine with God. We must demonstrate, from the Scriptures, the reality of the spiritual conflict that is being fought (Ephesians 6:10-18). We must make it clear that although the fight is not of our choice, we must fight it, and we either fight for the Lord or against Him (Matthew 12:30). Some may listen; in all likelihood, most, believing themselves to be healthy, will walk away from the true cure (Matthew 9:12-13). Nevertheless, let us watch ourselves, lest we likewise become complacent, and keep fighting the good fight of faith (2 Corinthians 13:5, James 1:22-25, 2 Timothy 4:7)!