Persevering in the Faith in a Seductive World
By Nathan Clark
People of the kingdom Israel faith are walking away from their faith that they once professed invaluable to themselves and their family, and are exchanging it for a watered-down, sugar-coated, easy-believism theology that is in complete contradiction to the truth they once proclaimed. This walking away from truth is happening with both the churched and the unchurched individual. I will focus this article on the those who are part of a church body and look at the vulnerabilities that are present as well as the steps that can be taken to push back and survive the tests that Satan may place before us and those whom we love.
From my childhood I can recall security, comfort, inspiration, fellowship, support, confidence, and many more wonderful benefits of growing up part of a church family. Churches are more than just a building that a body of people assemble in once a week. The Church of Christ is a group of like-minded believers that can accomplish more together than as separate individuals. A church is much like a team where people of different skills and gifts come together to do amazing things. Like in a team, the individual often will obtain more for himself and his family than he could ever hope for going it alone. There are certain vulnerabilities that a church body helps an individual avoid in their walk of faith with God. I encourage anyone who is not currently part of a Bible teaching church to consider finding one.
These are two main reasons that someone might find themselves walking away from their church: 1) following others out of the church, and 2) feeling unfulfilled in the church.
Often one will come to a church with a group of people, and a part of that group will later decide to move on, pressuring those who accompanied them originally to leave with them. Or, one could be raised in a church from their youth, and as an adult their parents or siblings decide to find a different venue and expect you to support and follow their decision to depart. This kind of pressure can be quite strong and make one feel guilty for not sticking together with family. Although family is very important, one must rememeber that when it comes to our service to God, family should not be an excuse to walk away from God's precious truth. I'm reminded of the verse when Jesus asked and answered the question, ”Who is my mother and who is my brethren?… For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt.12:48, 50). When friends and family struggle with their walk with God, we should show them the utmost respect, but we should never surrender our walk with God.
Other family members may place guilt on one's heart to follow them, but children work with the tool of fear. When as an adult one of your children decides to walk away from his faith and church, he often places fear into the heart of the parent that their relationship will end if they do not adhere to the child's new direction in life. This fear in the parents is many times fueled by the misconception that it is the parent's responsibility to fix all their child's problems and to make them happy. In Ephesians 6:1-4, God gives some basic guidelines for parent/child relationships. For children of any age we see these admonitions: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord” and “Honor thy father and mother.” So we see here that it is the duty of the children to honor and obey parents as long as the parent's requests are “in the Lord” or adjacent to the will of God. And, the duty of the parents is to “Provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Parents are not to make unjust or unrealistic requests of their children so as not to provoke them to anger, and they are to raise their children in an environment that promotes a relationship with God and His truth. Parents are not called to chase after every whim of their adult children, but to let their children ultimately be responsible for their own choices. Parents may feel that they failed their children in some way and need to fix that. If that is true, then repair the damage by acknowledging to them you made a mistake and are working to do better in the future. You should not fix it by openly encouraging their mistakes and making those mistakes part of your own life. If you have several children and they all take a different path in their religious walk, then you will have to water down all that you believe to accommodate each one of their beliefs. You will then have no solidified material left for your own beliefs. I assure you this is a tool forged by Satan. We must not let ourselves to walk this path of destruction, for both parents’ and children's sake. The healthiest thing a parent can do is draw a line in the sand and say, “Despite my mistakes, I will stand for the truth.” Then, patiently wait and pray for the return of the wayward child. As we can see in the story of the Prodigal Son, had the father gone chasing after his son's lifestyle, to whom would the Prodigal son have returned? If parents do not stand their ground, there will be no one for the children to return home to when the Holy Spirit moves in their lost hearts.
Following the World Out of the Church
Next, consider following the world out of the church. Christians many times have the attitude of going along to get along. This may seem simple enough, but it can be a destructive doorway for many church goers worldwide. The world seems to offer many wonderful things, but they all come with a price tag. Do not be seduced by the world, for it is temporary and without any eternal reward. We are called to separate from the world because God and the world work together only when the proper boundaries are in place. An individual that is vested in the world will be temped to walk right out of his faith and church. Christians who do not prioritize their life are especially vulnerable. We must interact with the world in some ways, such as employment, shopping, etc… But the day will come when these worldly schedules will conflict with the church and God's schedule. If we do not make a decision in advance about what is most important to us, the world will always win.
Accountability is the one constant in any church. No matter what church you belong to, there will always be someone there to tell you what you are doing wrong. With the right heart attitude, this can be one of the greatest blessings a church has to offer. But, it can be a hard pill for many to swallow. It is difficult enough when we are held accountable for our own actions. But what may be harder than that is watching friends and loved ones go through it. Christians are vulnerable to walking away from their faith through third-party offenses. Many will and have walked away out of sympathy for others. The hardest of all is when our children are called on the carpet for their actions.
Spiritual apathy is a common reason why many feel unfulfilled in their church. Spiritual apathy is not something that just happens out of nowhere, but occurs over
time. When we fail to meet the spiritual needs in our life through daily Bible reading and studying, regular church attendance, and a solid prayer life, our spirit becomes malnourished and sick. When
we begin to notice this empty feeling in our life, we often try to fill it with things of the world, like a hobby or a career. This only takes us further away from the solution and further away from
Personal laziness and lack of personal discipline can set up poor habits and patterns that can pull us away from a healthy spiritual and church life. These poor habits eventually lead to guilt and resentment toward oneself. This resentment can manifest itself as deflecting, which projects guilt onto others and makes them the focus of our anger. In short, our guilt for poor church discipline can make all gestures of kindness from others look like judgment in our eyes. This is another powerful tool Satan uses to drive us away.
How, then, do we become a more persevering Christian? First, it is important to understand there are two types of people in the church: there are those who have come to the church with great sacrifice, and those who were raised in the church from a child. Both have unique areas of difficulty and vulnerabilities. But there are things we can do to help us react more successfullly to our trials from the previous exposures mentioned in this article.
First, let us look at members of the church that have come from the outside with much investment and sacrifice. Initially, one needs to shed the old life and fully embrace the new one. This often is difficult because our old ways are habits with which we have become comfortable, and we do not want to fully let go of them. The story of Israel in Exodus 32 shows the danger of holding onto the old ways. Israel resorted right back to their heathen practices from Egypt when they thought Moses had died on Mount Sinai because they had not fully committed to the new gift that God had given them. When the first sign of trouble came, they let go of their grip on the new and better and fell back to the old ways they previously had resented so much. Why? Because they did not fully let go of the old and did not go all in on the new.
Once an individual is all in, they possess an investment in the process. This is vital from the perspective that what we invest in the most is what becomes most valuable, such as when parents struggle to let go of their adult children even when it is healthy and right that they do so. That same principle can play out with the church. Like that dutiful and loving parent, when we work for our church, pray for our church, and spend time with our church, we will love and adore our church—just as a parent loves and adores their child, despite all the child's imperfections.
Some important areas that enable us to become invested in a local church include getting involved with church activities. If there is something scheduled at your church and you have no pressing appointments, go to the activity. Participate in the church service. If there is singing, sing. If there is praying, pray. Invest in the sermon, share the sermon, try to apply the sermon in your upcoming week. Have you ever noticed that the people who get the most out of any situation are the ones who are fully engaged in whatever the activity is? A baseball game will never be all it can be to you if you just play to get by. But when you give your all, then and only then does the game come alive and hold any value to you.
Get involved in people’s lives. The church will always be full of people who can benefit from something you have to offer, whether it be comfort, hospitality, encouragement, or even godly advice. Whatever the Spirit leads you to do for another, do it. It is important that we help people, but with a right heart attitude. Galatians 6:1 shows us that “if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one.” We can see that it is our duty as a mature Christian to help lift one of our church brothers or sisters up when they have fallen away, but we are to do it “in the spirit of meekness.” It is not good enough that we say or do the right things, but we must do it with the right attitude. There is a warning in this verse: “Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” By pointing out others’ faults without a true desire to help and express love to them, we set ourselves up to be tested in the very same way as the person we have judged.
Share your gifts and talents that God gave you with your church body so that others may benefit from what God is doing through you. All of us are made in a special way and have something to offer the body of Christ. By letting our light shine and not selfishly holding that light back, we begin to feel like part of the team. Expecting nothing for your efforts makes one feel vested in the bigger picture and far less vulnerable to being pulled away.
Secondly, let us consider those who were raised in the church from a child. Often they can be more vulnerable because they have endured little to be part of the congregation. It can be easier for them to walk away because they may not fully understand the value of the gift they have been given. As parents, there are steps we can take to help show them the great value of the faith into which they have been baptized.
Children struggle with being accepted by their parents. Even when children speak with contempt toward their parents, deep down inside it is the parent's acceptance they want most in the world. This journey to find that parental blessing may take them away from all that you ever wanted for them. Why would an adult child turn his back on what the parents stands for, including their church and faith, if they are trying to gain the parents’ respect? The answer is very simple yet difficult to see. From the child’s perspective, the parent will likely get
credit for what the child does well. Over time, this can develop into a belief in the child that nothing he does is valuable, because it is just the work of good parenting. This distorted belief can drive a child to reject everything the parents stand for and hold valuable. The adult child does not choose this road because he believes the parents’ values are valueless, but because they feel it is the only way to break free from the perceived chains that hold the child inadequate in their parents’ eyes. For the most part, this can be avoided by practicing one simple principle: make your beliefs your child's beliefs.
We can help transfer our values to our children by teaching them to study and find answers from the Bible. It is not good enough to teach our children what the Bible has to say. That does make the Bible our source of truth, but we need more: we must show them how to make it their source of truth as well by teaching them to use it.
We must give our children tools to openly defend their faith. When our children go out into the world and discover just how much the world rejects God and what they believe, this can quickly make them second guess what they believe. After all, the shear numbers of those who believe differently seem to work against them. No one likes rejection, and if you are not fully confident that you are in the right, that rejection can seem pointless. We can help avoid some of this doubt by teaching our children, when they are young, to express their beliefs to the world in a kind and confident way. You can do this many places, such as at the store, in the park, even at friends’ houses. If you are open to this principle, opportunities will arise. Remember to teach loving communication. One of the number one vulnerabilities in young adults is being considered hateful by the world. If they can see what they believe is not hateful and communicate it well, it will go a long way in relieving their conscience.
Teach your children the value of family and the value of church family. This will prove valuable when perhaps the prodigal child that has left sees the world for what it is. The love of family may be the first pull upon them to return. Do not hide from your children the investment that their church and church family have made in them. I've heard said before, “I don't want my child to feel guilty if they leave the church.” Although I understand their thinking, I do feel it is incorrect. There is nothing wrong with letting a young person know that the investment a church family makes in him is not so he can walk away someday and chase his own selfish desires. Rather, the investment is made so he can better serve God and the church into which God has placed him.
If we want our children to love and respect our church, we also must love and respect our church. The greatest influence a person has on another, parent/child relationships included, is leading by example. If we talk disrespectful about the leaders of the church, they will too. If we do not value church services by only attending when it is convenient, they will do the same. Every aspect of church life that is held in contempt by the parents is a road that the parents themselves have licensed, surveyed, and constructed right out of the church for their children.
Encourage your children to seek skills that will invest them in the local area. It is unrealistic to expect our children to be okay with poverty if it can be avoided. The best way to keep our children from running off into the world looking to make their fortune is to encourage them to find ways to be successful locally. Encourage investment in the land. Is there any greater financial anchor than land? There are many trades and professional positions in rural and small town environments where young adults can forge a good living. But we must help our children see the hope, because the world will paint a much different picture for them.
Whether you have been raised in your church or you have come in from the outside, you must become emotionally and physically invested in that church. Galatians 6:7-10 says, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” If we want a good harvest from our church, we must invest in a good planting. If we are only giving the bare minimum, we will always be disappointed in our church experience.
Finally, one must surrender all expectations of what they think the church should be. It is so easy to sit back and cast judgment on others and on an entire church; but that will never make one satisfied with anything. Accepting what God has given you and letting God work in an imperfect church will bring the most palatable fruit. Israel was about to enter the Promised Land that God had given them when they received a report from their scouts that discouraged and deflated them (Deuteronomy chapter one). The Israelites were given both a positive and difficult evaluation: despite the great samples they brought back and the promises God had made them, the Israelites heard a report that differed from their expectations. Because of their poor response to God's gift, that entire generation was condemned to wander the wilderness—and all because of their failed expectations.
Let us commit all that we have and surrender to God all our expectations as we serve the Church of Christ to our fullest by applying these principles. May God be praised for the Church of Christ Jesus and the benefits we receive from it.