While in the midst of preaching a series of meetings at a church the pastor came to my motorhome for a visit. He apologized for not coming by earlier but had two marital counseling sessions that took his entire morning. One of the couples had a fight the night before where they physically beat each other and bore the marks to prove it. The other couple consisted of a woman who had five affairs on her husband and he had ten on her. Obviously, both marriages were in shambles even though they all claimed to be Christian.
At another church where I ministered a woman had divorced her husband because she could not forgive his besetting sin – he was unwilling to help with the house cleaning. She believed God would never want her to be chained to such a man for the rest of her life so before the divorce was final she found another man that she hoped would make her happier.
Then there has been the string of well known “Christian” pastors and recording artists that have been practicing homosexuals. Some claim to still love Jesus asserting that God doesn’t have a problem with their homosexuality. And what about the evangelist that shot into fame but was actually a falling star? Not only was he propagating gross heresies, but within a week of his public coronation as an “apostle” by some influential leaders the facts surfaced about his adulteries, drunkenness and breakdown of his marriage. Now add to all of this the increase in adultery, pornography and divorce among spiritual leaders and we still only see the tip of the iceberg that is shipwrecking the American church.
How has the church fallen to such a low spiritual and moral condition that people can live in such blatant wickedness yet still claim to be Christian? Because growing portions of professing believers have abandoned the Biblical truths that define what it means to be Christian. Godly character is no longer thought of as a valuable prize to be passionately sought, a beautiful adornment to grace our lives and the only path in which to draw near to God (Isa. 35:8-10; 1 Thes. 4:1; Heb. 12:14). Even though most believers would assert that godly character is important, few are actually pursing it with abandon. The low spiritual condition of our churches verifies this distressing fact.
One major reason why we are having such a spiritual and moral crisis in our nation and churches is because we are failing to recognize that character matters. At one time the church knew this truth and promoted it. But the secular lies of moral relativism and tolerance have crept into our congregations stripping us of the moral absolutes based upon the Scriptures that are integral to building godly character.
THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING CHRISTIAN
It was in the ancient Syrian metropolis of Antioch where Jesus’ followers were first called Christians. This designation indicated that they completely devoted themselves to Christ’s teaching and strove to be like Him in character (Acts 11:26). We do not know if they were called Christian by their enemies as a derogatory label or if they called themselves by that name. Either way, they counted it a complement of the highest order. All who were privileged enough to receive such a title paid for it at great cost.
Those early disciples were not identified as Christians because they belonged to a particular denomination, attended a specific church or prayed a “sinner’s prayer.” They were called Christians because they bowed their will to Christ’s lordship and had a Christlike character to prove it. This caused them to experience sporadic outbreaks of persecution, some of which were widespread and brutal. They understood that to be Christian meant there was a good possibility that they could suffer for the faith, even to the point of death.
It is ridiculous to think that anyone willing to suffer persecution for Jesus would not be vigorously striving to develop a Christlike character. If we do not want to pay the price to be Christlike now, then we will not pay the price to follow Jesus in the face of persecution and suffering. Our unwillingness to suffer for Christ is one reason why we are not willing to crucify our sinful nature that destroys marriages, devastates churches and disgraces Christ before the world.
Husbands and wives that authentically love Jesus will cultivate a Christlike character so their marriage will be pleasing to God. They will crucify their hellish behaviors that devastate their marriage and children. How can people say they love the Lord yet refuse to repent of the wicked character traits that are causing their marital breakdown?
Since salvation is the gift of God we are not saved because we are Christlike. However, those who are truly born again will actively pursue a Christlike character because salvation is evident and operating in them. In other words, those who are authentically Christian will be laboring through divine grace to be like Jesus. Their lives and character will give clear testimony that they belong to Him.
On the other hand, everyone who professes to be Christian but does not bear the mark of a Christlike character is not in true fellowship with God. The harsh reality is that they do not belong to Christ. There are multitudes claiming to be Christian that do not genuinely know Jesus. Their character proves that they are of the world, and not of Christ. They act like the world because they love the world.
We always imitate whoever, or whatever, is our real spiritual and moral teacher. If Jesus is really our Savior then our character will reflect His transforming influence in our lives. But if the world is our teacher then our character will be a reflection of the world. A vast number of professing Christians are more defined by TV, movies, sports, secular music and the internet than by Christ and His Word. Since Satan is the prince and the power of this world’s systems, all who are schooled by the world bear the character of Satan, even if they call themselves Christian.
We can only be Christlike if we are truly Christ’s. Because people call themselves Christian does not mean they are the genuine artifact. Imagine the eternal horror of those who claim to be believers but in reality are not. They will stand before God and hear Him say, “Depart from me, you worker of iniquity” (Mt. 25:41). Those words will torment them forever. At Christ’s judgment bar it will be too late to develop a Christlike character, too late to repent and too late to own Jesus as Lord. Now is the time to, “Examine yourselves to see whether we are in the faith; test ourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5). To fail the test holds damnable consequences!
Glenn Meldrum has been a national evangelist since 1997. Prior to his calling as an evangelist he pastored for 15 years. He is ordained and holds an M.A. in theology and church history from Ashland Theological Seminary. Visit www.ihpministry.com for articles, sermons, books and information on Glenn Meldrum and In His Presence Ministries.