Are people reading the Bible and living by it?
The Barna research group has been collecting statistics about the state of the Christian Wordview for almost 15 years now. The summary points are astounding:
- 46% of professing Christians believe in absolute truth
- 79% of believers think the Bible is accurate
- Only 40% of professing Christians believe Satan is a real being
- 53% of professing Christians believe you can get into heaven by good works
- 62% of professing Christians believe that Jesus was sinless
These statistics beg the question: is there a difference between a true, believing Christian and one of Barnas ‘professing Christians’? Indeed, Jesus declares:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
This truly means that some people in the church are not saved, and another one of Jesus’ parables makes this same point:
Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away. But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also. The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ And he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this!’ The slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them. Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” (Matthew 13:24-30)
This concept was placed once again before my eyes as I hosted a dinner party of church-goers and the conversation turned toward scriptural concepts. I reached for the Bible and quickly opened to one verse after another during the course of the conversation. One person, and then another opened up to me that after years of church attendance, neither of these people had ever read the Bible. I was not totally surprised, as when I made my profession of faith in Christ many years ago, I had a friend whom was also raised in the church. He was shocked in unbelief that someone such as I could actually come to Christ. He glibly asked me if I had read the whole Bible, which as a young Christian, I had not yet done. But I saw him about a year or two later and he asked if I was a Christian, thinking that I would have fallen away. I told him that ‘Yes, I am still a believer’. He then again mockingly asked me if I had read the Bible yet. This time my answer was an emphatic, ‘Yes!’, then I asked in retort if he had read the whole Bible. He was silent for a moment before confessing that, no, he has never read the Bible. Sadly, this is becoming the norm in the church today.
We can hypothesize as to reasons why people are not reading the scriptures. Is is that the preacher is preaching too quickly for the people to find the verse? Is it that the church puts the verses up on the big screen? Is it that people are not bringing a Bible to church, or that they do not have one? I am not certain if any or all of these are contributing factors, but I would like to say that I think there is a little more behind it.
First, I think that many of the people in the church are not believers. After all, believers hunger and thirst for the Word of the Lord (Psalm 42). If you ask a believer that seems to have it all together, but came to Christ later in life, you will find that they tend to have gone through a period of time when they could not get enough of the Word of God. They fully relate to the author of Psalm 119. Secondly, I think that people today are over-entertained. In a message entitled Media: Friend or Foe, Stuart McAllister says that boredom is a symptom of a media-saturated culture. If you know any teenagers, you have probably heard the phrase, “I’m bored” more times than you care to. The problem is that they have been raised in a culture that is totally saturated in games, television, movies, music, and any other type of electronic media that serves the purpose to keep them constantly stimulated. If that stimulation ceases for a moment, they reach for something to stimulate them again. This same principle applies to adults as well as kids, lest you want to yell at the children and teenagers. The fact is, the television, movies, news, or general busy-ness keeps adults from reading the Word. Third, many people are intimidated by a book as large as the Bible. It is funny to me that many of the people making this argument have read entire book series that together are several times the size of the Bible. But another factor that needs to be considered is that most adults do not even read books at all during the year. If we are not reading, where are we getting our ideas about church, God, and the Christian life?
As I ponder this concept, I think about what I call the New Gospel. We are in an age where the church tries to get people to profess Christ, but does not teach what to do next. There is very little accountability in the church, and very little motivation in the members. All this leads to a shallow Gospel that leaves members unprepared for the challenges that surround us daily. The new Gospel is one where people profess to be Christians, but truly know nothing about the faith they profess. So how do we move from a Gospel where people profess Christ to a church where people actually possess Christ? I think that there are a few simple steps:
- We need a full relationship with God. The core aspects of a relationship with God are prayer and Bible study. Take some time to pray every day. Start out with only a few minutes and build up as you feel lead. Do the same for Bible study. I recommend setting aside time each day for a general overview where the Bible is read in one year, and then also setting side time a few times per week for detailed study of specific chapters.
- Do not let service pass by. We are called to do good works, not to earn salvation, but because God set them aside for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Seek out service that you can do in the church, whether it is teaching a class or cleaning the floors. You can also find work outside of the church in a para-church ministry or community service. Whatever you choose to do, do it to the glory of God.
- Engage in fellowship inside and outside the church. This is not just doing things with a group of Christians, but rather, spend time with Christians opening up the Word together. Let your friends ideas influence you and encourage your walk with the Lord.
- Focus on reducing time that you spend in secular media. I am not saying to cut it out entirely, but significantly reducing it will make your life far more interesting, and you will also find one of your barriers to reading Scripture will be fading away. You may even find that after spending so much time in the Word and in prayer will show you that the Christian life is far more exciting than any television program.
Take time to be in the Word and talking to God. Do not be among the professing Christians that are ignorant of your faith, but rather, learn and practice your faith.