Christmas In My Neighborhood: Who is a Cultural Christian?

The importance of understanding cultural Christianity.

Chuck Martin
Dec 22, 2019    30m
In this sermon Pastor Chuck Martin talks about cultural Christianity. He explains that this is the largest group that needs to hear the message and understand the hope of Jesus Christ. Cultural Christians identify as Christian, but they do not have a saving faith in Jesus. Video recorded at Frisco, Texas.

messageRegarding Grammar:

This is a transcription of the sermon. People speak differently than they write, and there are common colloquialisms in this transcript that sound good when spoken, and look like bad grammar when written.

I'm Chuck Martin lead pastor of First Baptist Frisco. Thanks for watching our online messages. It's our prayer that today's message will be an encouragement in your walk with Christ. If you don't have a church family that you're part of come join us. Thanks again for watching.

All right. Merry Christmas. Okay, have you finished all your shopping? Okay, no, no. All right. I have but what some people reminded me that since, since I tend to be male, I only have a few people to shop for because my wife handles the bulk of it, so uh man. Great to have you here. I love this season. I love the reminder of what God has done in Jesus.

If you've been with the last couple of weeks, you'll know we've been in a message series where we've been asking the question... What is it? What does it mean to love my neighbor? Jesus summarized God's will for us in really two commandments: one to love the Lord your God with all your heart all your soul and all your, your mind; and the second to love our neighbor as ourself. And so, what we've been doing is asking the question... so who is my neighbor? Who lives in Frisco? What do they believe? How can I better understand where they're coming from to share the good news of Jesus?

So, if you were here a couple weeks ago, we looked at one of the fastest growing religious groups in Frisco, which is Hinduism. And we looked at how do we share the hope of Jesus to those from a Hindu background? Last week, we looked at Islam. We heard a testimony of a member of our church, Touhami, shared what it was like growing up in Morocco where there was really no access to Bibles to churches and how he came to trust in Jesus as his personal Savior. And so today what we're going to do, is we're going to address what I think is perhaps, in many ways, probably the largest group in our culture that need to hear the hope and the message of Jesus. And that is those who are culturally Christian, and I'll define what that means in just a moment. Every year surveys are done, a number of groups have done that, Gallup, the Pew Organization, they ask questions of Americans asking what do you believe about God? What is your faith? And year after year the vast majority of Americans claim to believe in God, right? Not only that, but the vast majority of Americans, 65 percent in 2019, claim to be Christian. Now that's down about ten percent over the last decade. But here's the question, I want to ask if the majority of those who live in America claim to be followers of Jesus, then why isn't our culture any different?

Today, we're going to address, what I believe is one of the challenges and that is, familiarity with Christianity, or the church and not necessarily understanding about the gospel. And by gospel, we mean the good news of who Jesus is, his identity, and what he's come to accomplish. And so let me define what cultural Christian means; I would define a cultural Christian the following way, cultural Christian's identify themselves as Christian and they respect Christian values and morality, but they do not have a saving faith in Jesus. Cultural Christianity is religion that superficially identifies itself as Christianity but does not truly adhere to the faith. A cultural Christian is sometimes called a nominal Christian, meaning that there are Christian in name only. Reminds me of a gentleman in Houston a few years ago that needed to get a suit cleaned because he had an important function and realized that he had gotten some spots on his suit. So, he took it to the one-hour cleaner around the corner. And so, he took it in the morning said, all right, what time this afternoon? Can I have this back? How long will it take? An hour? And they said oh, they just laughed. They said no will have it to you in two days. He said two days. I thought you were one-hour cleaner and they said, "that's just a name." It's just, just a name, just a sign, right.

In kind of in a similar way, it's easy in this culture to identify as Christian. Are you a Christian? Of course, I'm a Christian... my grandfather, yeah... I mean, you know every Christmas and Easter... yeah, I'm a Christian. But what does that really mean? What does that really mean to be a Christian? That's why in this church, we speak in terms often of being a Christ follower rather than a Christian; certainly we identify as being Christians though the actual, the name Christian was first given to those who are followers of Jesus at Antioch, and it was, it was used in a derisive term in other words to mock them. I remind you that cultural Christianity is kind of unique here in America. Matter of fact, the majority of the places you would go around the world today, it's not culturally popular to be a Christian. Matter of fact, in some places to be a Christian is radically counter-cultural, whether that be communist China, whether that be in the Middle East, whether that be in India? And so, today is we address that, I just remind you that, that the early followers of Jesus were counter cultural. That if you know something about when the church was born the early followers of Jesus often times were fed to lions in the Coliseum. And if you've been to Rome and know something about the spread of the Roman Empire, you'll know initially Christianity was persecuted and the early Christians would gather in the catacombs in the tombs to worship. Because of the superstition of the Greek and Roman mindset, they wouldn't go there, they were safe to worship there. And there are today around the world Christians who huddle sometimes in secrecy, in fear, because following Jesus comes at a cost to them.

In this country, it doesn't cost to identify yourself as a follower of Jesus, it's easy to do. And therefore, sometimes it's difficult to distinguish the genuine from the false. From the sign that says one-hour cleaner from the reality of three-day cleaner. And so, as we address this today, you just need to know the spirit with which I do it. I am not in any way shape or form, in a position to judge anyone or their relationship, faith in God. The Bible is very clear that each of us will give an account of ourselves to God, right. And that God knows our hearts. 1 Samuel says, man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. So, God knows what we believe regarding him and his place in our life today; but I want to be clear where scripture is clear. And in so doing we need to understand that it is possible in America, actually, I'd say it is popular in America, to be Christian by culture rather than conviction.

And so, this morning I just remind you one of my favorite quotes related to that comes from Russell Moore. He says, "The world of nominal cultural Christianity that has taken the American dream and added Jesus to it, in order to say you can have everything that you've ever wanted in heaven to is soon to be gone." In other words, it is becoming increasingly less popular in our culture. To which he adds good riddance and I would as well. Because I believe cultural Christianity is a stumbling block for many who are on the outside looking at Christianity. They look at those who claim to follow Jesus, an example of their life, and oftentimes a lack of love or a lack of reflection of the person of Jesus and say if that's Christianity then count me out. We've looked at that the last couple of weeks that for our Hindu neighbors one of the unfortunately in our Muslim neighbors some of the associations with Christianity is very negative rather than positive. And so, we must address this in the church. 2 Timothy 3:5 speaks of that when he says that many, he says they hold to an outward form of religion but have rejected his true power. What is Paul saying there? He's saying that it is possible for us to claim or to practice something that is not transformative in our life.

And so, this morning I want to begin just so we'll have clarity in sharing with you some characteristics of cultural Christianity, four characteristics. The first is they're familiar with the church, but not necessarily the gospel. And the way we know that is when you ask someone about what they believe or their identity they will often times answer by church they attend, or church background, rather than a faith in Jesus. Jesus is not necessarily part of that conversation. The second thing is they identify themselves as Christian because of family heritage, we'll talk about that or tradition rather than a personal faith. Third characteristic is they see themselves as good people; and many are good people in the sense of morality or moral standards or social status. But the fourth is they believe that good people go to heaven.

Good people go to heaven. We all want to believe good people go to heaven, but the Bible says forgiven people go to heaven. And there's a world of difference between the two because when we say good people we tend to identify or measure what good is by whatever standard we have and certainly I'm going to consider myself good you may not make my cut. You know conversely, I might not make yours. But the Bible is very clear that we have a different standard and that standard is a holy God; that is his standard of morality his standard of goodness. That Jesus came to save good people because good people also are sinners.

You know, as a pastor from time to time I'm asked to do I'm asked to do funerals of all kinds; and over the years I've had some very interesting funeral experiences. And there is that part of you that wants to speak well of those who've died, right. Because it does no good to bring up hurt or painful things. So, I always like to celebrate the person's life and speak well of them. So one of the things that I try to do if I do not know the person is find out, well tell me a little bit about their faith, tell me about who they were, tell me about their life. And sometimes it's so easy and it's pleasant and sometimes I sit down and I'm like, wow, I wish I had known them. And it just you know in family members and it's just you know, you you're able to do that and other times you get kind of a blank stare.

And sometimes there's very little when it comes to faith. They'll go, 'well, he wasn't particularly a religious person.' I remember a funeral that I did a number of years ago and the gentleman who died had absolutely no connection that I could tell with the church or Christianity. And I remember asking that of the family in and the family was like well, I think like well when he was younger... I'm, you know, and they were all at a loss and so I'm like, 'Okay, well, I'm still going to share the hope of the gospel and God's love and the person of Jesus. I won't necessarily say that was their experience, but...' I got a call that week after I was putting the that week as I was putting the message together. That's a good news pastor. Good news. I said, okay. Well what? We found his baptism certificate. And I think what they were expecting me to say it so that changes everything, right? I'm like, I also kind of wanted to say, 'So?' I mean, you know.

Tim Keller puts it this way, Cultural Christians do not see themselves as sinners but instead they view themselves as good people who make occasional mistakes. They believe that Jesus died on the cross, in a generic sense rather than as a substitute for the sins of the individual. Cultural Christians view those who are passionate followers of Christ as a bit extreme, or perhaps more needy or emotional, right? That's kind of your crazy Aunt Helen, right? Well, she just was just more - she was more into it, right? She just takes her faith a little more... she's just a little odd or she... and certainly there're odd people that that would apply to. But I think you and I know those that there is a marked difference that when they say they are a follower of Jesus; you see that in the kindness of their life. You see that in the goodness that flows out of a personal faith, and you see an example that is attractive, and then you perhaps see others who claim that, that you're like see at times even the opposite, and sometimes that's you and I when we're honest and look in the mirror.

This morning if you have your Bibles, I want to address a passage where Jesus speaks to this very issue. It's in Matthew chapter 7, Matthew chapter 7, if you have a phone that you use to access scripture or if you have a printed copy, we will start there this morning. Matthew chapter 7... when I was in school, they used to teach me as you went over you would study the Bible is that context was king that you had to understand what Christ was teaching or what the Bible is saying. You need to understand a little of the background, the context, and certainly that's true of this passage. This comes from a section of scripture called The Sermon on the Mount where Jesus really challenges us to a wholehearted commitment to God. And in the context of that, in this passage, it helps to begin looking at verse 13 and 14 before we get further down. So, let's start there. Jesus says, Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. Now, what is he saying? He's saying, most people in the course of their life are on a trajectory that is not moving them closer to God. That's what Jesus claimed. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life and only a few find it. Jesus is just saying this is life, this is reality, okay. This is spiritual life. And then the next thing he does in, is he speaks of those that are true or false prophets. You know, how can you tell the truth? And he says one way that you can know the truth, in verse 18, he says a good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. Look at the fruit. Look at the fruit of their life. Look at their character; look at what comes out of that faith so to speak. And then it's really interesting, if you think in the context of Jesus and Jesus claiming to be God's son, and Jesus claiming to be here to die on a cross for our sins, and claiming to be the way to God, you would think that Jesus then if he's talking about a wide road and a narrow road would have then said so don't follow the wrong beliefs, don't, don't follow the idolatry of his day and he could have listed the religions of his day. He doesn't do that. Instead he addresses those who claim to be Godly or Christian and are not.

Look at verse 21 with me for just a moment. He says, “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. But only the one who does the will of my father who is in heaven.” And then he says, “Many will say to me on that day Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? And in your name drive out demons”, in other words they were very involved, “and in your name perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!”

What is Jesus saying there? What Jesus is simply saying, among other things, is that there is a world of difference between something we claim to be true of us and sometimes reality. It's fascinating that he doesn't talk about other competing belief systems. Instead, he's talking to those who claim to be followers of him. And what he is saying there is that it is possible to claim to believe rightly and it not be reality. And this is one of the more challenging passages... and you think, Pastor Chuck that’s such an odd Christmas message to give. But it's really not. Because the message of Christmas, the good news, is that God has entered into this dark world on a mission to set us right. But in order to be set right we must clearly understand ourselves rightly, and Jesus rightly, and respond rightly.

Titus chapter 3 verse 4 and 6 notice what it says, it says, but when the kindness and love of God our savior appeared, notice here's how we're right with God, here's what Christianity means, he saved us. I love that word saved. That means he set us right, he rescued, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we've done, we're going to see cultural Christianity believes that somehow, we can earn our forgiveness, earn are standing before God. And notice what he says, he saved us not because of the righteous things that we've done but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal of the Holy Spirit. In other words, that's the description of God's work on the inside, whom he poured out on us generously in Christ Jesus. You see it's, it is our faith in what Jesus has done and who he is that makes us Christian. It's not our morality.

So, this morning what I want to do, I want to adjust a few barriers to reaching those who are culturally Christian. The first of those is the barrier of belief. You see when you think in terms of cultural Christianity, it's a somewhat ill-defined belief. It is a general belief in God rather than a specific belief in the person of Jesus.

A number of years ago. I remember watching a program; I very seldom ever watch religious television because it's awful for the most part... but there was a program on, and I don't know how many of you familiar with a gentleman by the name of Tommy Lasorda. Tommy Lasorda for years had been the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. And I remember watching the program and he was, he was up to give his story, his faith story in this particular program, and I'm like, I did not know, I'm not trying to be critical of him... but I'm like, I didn't know that Tommy Lasorda claimed to be a Christian. I was like that's interesting. So, I stayed watching the program for a moment and he got on there and he was like and he got up and here's how his face story went, something like this... He said, 'You know God has blessed my life.' I was like great I'm tracking with him. And he said, 'And you know, the man upstairs has been really good to me.' I'm like man upstairs, okay. And he said, 'I like to think of God is the great Dodger in the sky.' And I remember going, What? Dodger in the sky?

God has revealed himself in Jesus. God is the creator of that sky, come in the person of Jesus. You don't have to guess what God's like; you can know what God's like. We base what we know about God on how he has revealed himself. You don't just make it up. You don't just say, well the god I view, my view of God, my concept of God. Do you see how shaky that ground is?

Hebrews chapter 1 says as following, In the past God spoke to our ancestors, in other words, God has revealed himself through the prophets at many times in various ways, in these last days, he has spoken to us through his son whom he appointed heir of all things through whom he made the universe. The son, meaning Jesus, is the radiance of God's glory. If you want to know what God's like, look at Jesus and the exact representation of his being sustaining all things by his powerful word. If you want to know what God's like, look at Jesus. If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus. God has revealed himself. It's not the great Dodger in the sky. It is God come to us in the person of Jesus. That's what we celebrate. And my question is, is that the God you believe in? Or is it a god of your own making?

James chapter 2 verse 19 says, you believe that there's one God. Good! Even the demons believe that, and they tremble. But this generic concept of I'm a good person and I believe in God therefore I must be okay... That's biblically errant. It has no foundation. It's simply not true.

The second thing this is stumbling block is morality. As I mentioned, it's the concept, it's so popular that good people go to heaven. Good people don't go to heaven. Forgiven people go to heaven. There is a world of difference and I would like to believe that all good people went to heaven. But if all good people went to heaven, why did Jesus come and die? Tell me that. If you did not need a savior, then why did God go to the trouble? He either is who he claimed to be; he was who he claimed to be, and he is the Son of God and your hope, or he's not. But your morality is a very shaky foundation to base your hope of eternity on. Because as I read scripture, it tells me that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. None is righteous. Not even one.

You know, the pride, the challenge in morality is that we use the wrong standard to determine what morality looks like. Jesus set a wonderful example of this in Luke chapter 18. Look at look at it briefly with me if you would. In verse 9 of Luke 18 it says, To some who are confident in their own righteousness, in other words in their own morality, in their own goodness, and look down on everyone else... in other words that felt they were superior... Jesus told this parable: "Two men went to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee that's a highly religious, very actively engaged, religious practitioner, you could say, and the other tax collector, that was, that was considered like a traitor of his own people. A tax collector in that day had a negative stigma, I mean dishonest, it was like the worst of the worst... you might think drug dealer or something. So, one's a Pharisee, this upright moral person, the other's a tax collector, notice how he describes it so well. Verse 11, The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: God, I thank you that I'm not like other people. Here he is, he's judging other people - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even this tax collector. In other words, well, I you know, I don't know God how I'm doing but I'm doing better in him, right? That's the idea. Okay. And he goes on to say, I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all you, look at me. But the tax collector, Jesus said, stood at a distance. He would not even look up into heaven, but he beat his breast, that was a sign of mourning in Jesus day, and he said God, here's his prayer, God have mercy on me a sinner. God, would you have mercy on me? God, I know I need you. God, would you forgive me? That's what he's praying. And then notice how Jesus sends it, I tell you that this man, this broken, immoral man, rather than the other went home justified before God, set right before God. He was saved, in a sense, for all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. And so oftentimes it's a generic belief or it's this kind of morality where I measure myself based on those around me or standard of my own making.

Or perhaps, the third is a family heritage. I think well my family identity... I have to be Christian because my parents were Christian, my grandparents... Well, I mean, you know, I was baptized in the church when I was an infant. Well our family is Baptist or Catholic or fill in the blank. We're, we're, of course we're Christian, right? But notice what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:5. He says, I'm reminded of your sincere faith, he's writing to Timothy but notice what he says next, which first lived in your mother Lois, I mean, your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am now convinced, lives in you. Notice what he's saying, he's saying there was a genuine faith in your grandmother. There was a genuine faith in your mother. And there's a genuine faith in you. But here's one thing this doesn't say, just because there was a genuine faith in your grandmother, or a genuine faith in your mother means there's a genuine faith in you. We each must respond personally to the good news of Christ. We each determine in a sense our relationship with God.

So, what do we do in response to this? Let me just mention a few things and we'll be done. First of all, we need to refuse to be in denial. Okay. In other words, being a Christian is not simply a rite of passage and it's not a box to be checked. It's not, Well I'm not an atheist, I'm not Hindu, I'm not Muslim. I must be a Christian right? No.

Second thing is we have to have clarity on the gospel. The gospel is based on our response to Christ. Romans 10:9 says, If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," in other words you believe it in you and you, you let others know you believe it, and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you'll be saved. For it's with your heart that you believe and are justified and it's with your mouth you profess and are saved. In other words, it's a personal response to Christ.

Third thing is we must follow Jesus' example, and it helps if we, if we have family members and friends that we're not sure maybe they claim to be a Christian... there's maybe a little or no evidence or you're not sure. Well are they or are they not? Well, why don't you ask them? Tell me, you know, tell me about your belief. Tell me how did you become a Christian? Tell me about what Jesus means to you? That's a whole, that's a very personal question, and a very personal conversation. But here's what Jesus would challenge, was not just assume, oh they're good, they're good, of course they're Christian. It's not our, it's not our job to judge. I'm not saying that at all. We don't sit in that seat. What I am saying... if you love someone don't you want to ask them share with him what Christ means to you? Ask them what they believe?

And so finally what I'd say is we need to focus on following Jesus rather than simply going to church. Going to church is important. I mean, it is, we're commanded to do that. In scripture says don't neglect the assembling of yourselves together some are in the habit of doing but encourage one another daily. That's Hebrews 10:24. We're commanded to gather and to worship and there's some about we are reminded of who God is and we challenge each other and that, that's important for your spiritual growth, it really is... but at the same time it's not a box to be checked it. It's about following Jesus.

Jesus put it this way in Luke 9:23 and he says, and then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves take up their cross daily and follow me for whoever wants to save their life." You want to be in control of your life. You want to sit in the seat of authority in your life, you'll lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.

So, the ultimate question is, how have you responded to the person of Jesus? Who is Jesus to you? And are you orienting your life around his true reality as revealed in the Bible? Or are you just making it up as you go?

Recorded in Frisco, Texas.
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Frisco First Baptist Church
7901 Main Street
Frisco, Texas 75034