Are You a Cultural Christian?
Coming off last weeks message on the Parable of the Sower, we identified there were four conditions of soil or better described, there were four types of believers. The first two conditions/unbelievers were representative of those who either completely rejected God’s Word or those who have a fleeting encounter with a trial that tests them. Thus, because of that test they don’t put their trust in God’s Word and quickly turned away. And the last two conditions three & four were representative of believers. The condition four believer was the mature, obedient, living a life of sharing God’s love and His Word and producing good fruit in the process. The condition three believer even though they have received God’s Word and believe, they never mature and produce fruit. Their cares are in the world and lose focus on living in obedience and serving their Lord. They spend their time seeking the riches and rewards the world has to offer instead of seeking those things in the eternal kingdom which God has promised was waiting for all believers who serve Him and not the world.
I call the condition three believers cultural Christians because while they confess their faith in Jesus and the Father, they live a life in contrast to what they claim to say that they believe. In other words they are willfully practicing a sinful lifestyle. They follow the opinion of society. They are tolerant and are supportive of social practices that are directly opposed to God’s Word. They are also living a lifestyle that is less than obedient to what God says we should be living. By living in this way they are choked from maturing in their walk as a Christian and therefore incapable of producing any good fruit because they are not serving God.
Here is find the condition three Christian the most troublesome. They are the believers who never produces fruit. Now Jesus is transitioning out of the parable of the sower and to the application of the parable and ultimately to a warning.
Luke 8:16-18 (NKJV)
The Parable of the Revealed Light
16 “No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. 18 Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.”
Lighting in Jesus day was nothing like it is today. Light came from oil lamps. The light for the room comes from one concentrated source. Therefore, you make a great effort in placing the lamp in the right place and usually up high. Wanting not to block the light or have it casting dark shadows. Lighting a lamp in Jesus day was not necessarily difficult, but it was not trivial either. Of course, there were no lighters or matches in that day. The oil for lamps were not cheap back then and it would be costly to burn a lamp and not done without though. Not like today where we casually leave lights on for hours in empty rooms without concern.
So when Jesus says that no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container or puts it under a bed is being somewhat facetious knowing this would be a ridiculous thing to do, So natural a person would put it on a lampstand. Look how Matthew describe this light.
Matthew 5:14-16 (NKJV)
14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Here we hear Jesus say that believers, the church, have been elevated, raised up, like a city set on a hill. And in that position, you can’t help but be noticed. Just like a lamp that has been lit – and like a lamp, we are the light of the world. We are the ones through whom God will shine the light of the truth of His word to the world. We are the ones who will demonstrate by our lives the power of God to save and transform. At least that is supposed to be our purpose.
So why does Jesus feel the need to end His parable of the sower by saying that Christians, the light of the world, shouldn’t hide their light under a bed? It seems Jesus was concerned that Christians might not want the world to know they were different. And that was the main point of the parable of the sower. Do not be a condition three Christian, do not be a cultural Christian.
This is exactly what some Christians, in fact many Christians, are doing and have always done. These are the cultural Christians. They are the Christians who are hiding their light, withholding their witness to the world, thus never producing fruit, These are the Christian who hear the Word and respond with some amount of healthy growth. But the cares, the riches, and the pleasures of this world choke off the production of fruit, They are distracted by the cares and interests of this world. There is not time to be a mature Christian, no energy, no desire, and no commitment. The things of this world are just too attractive. They seem too important and too demanding. Consequently there is little energy left for spiritual development.
That is the key to understanding a cultural Christian. It is self-centered Christianity and they are self-focused, Think about it like the plant surrounded by weeds. The plant produces no fruit because all its energy is devoted to its own existence as the weeds are taking so much of the plant’s energy, the sunlight and water. A cultural Christian squanders their time, resources and energy on the cares of this world, so when it comes time to devote time and energy to things that truly matter, spiritual things, they have nothing left to give. They are selfish because they only have enough spiritual energy for themselves. This is like a field planted by the farmer, but all the plants that are produced, lack any fruit. What a wasted harvest.
Spiritually speaking, this is what a cultural Christian might look like. First, they are not necessarily devoid of any Christian-like behavior, They probably do many Christian like things.
- They go to church when it fits the schedule
- They attend Bible study now and then
- They tithe when the budget allows
- They volunteer when they have spare time
These are good things, fine things, and necessary things. But these activities are not fruit. So what is the point of the parable? First and foremost, we cannot allow ourselves to be content with being a condition three/cultural Christian. We all start there, to be certain, with our light hidden. But don’t be satisfied to be a closet Christian or a self-centered one. And it begins by recognizing as a culture we devote too much time to the wrong things, including the wrong spiritual things. And there is a price to pay for neglecting our responsibilities in this area. Jesus presents a warning in verses 17 and 18 for those who neglect to hear this message.
Luke 8:17-18 (NKJV)
17 For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. 18 Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.”
If we are content to leave our witness buried, fail to produce fruit, to remain a condition three/cultural Christian, Jesus warns us that there will be no secrets one day to come.
All things will be known –
- Unbelievers will be known for who they are
- And the Christians will have their work tested
1 Corinthians 3:9-15 (NKJV)
9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Paul reminds the Corinthian church that though they were saved by their faith and not by their works, to be sure, but much is still riding on their works. Today we live in an existence and an age where everything has a beginning and an end. We cannot begin to comprehend eternity. But when we reach the other side of this life, we enter into a time and age where we come face to face with eternity. No more death, no more transitions,,, just endless time. And Jesus says that what we experience in that immense time is dependent on what we do with this handful of decades of our earthly life, And here is the rule – whoever has, more will be given. Have? Have what? Fruit, or more specifically reward. And what will he be given? More opportunity to serve, to have responsibility and honor and perhaps other kind of privilege in some form. We cannot be sure of all that is to be handed out. Paul just calls it a reward.
But to the one who has nothing, even what he thinks he has will be taken away. What is it that this person has nothing of? Fruit. What does he think he has? Fruit. You see the cultural Christian is living a life of fooling himself. He thinks since he/she is a mainstream Christian; a regular person basically they are just killing time on Earth waiting for their reward when they reach heaven.
The cultural Christian is self-deluded because they never took the time to understand what the Word says about the expectations for fruit. So when the fire reveals the quality of this person’s work, they will be found without fruit. They were too busy pursuing what this life in the world offered. While it looked like they had everything, but in reality they sacrificed eternity for it.
Just so we can gain a better understanding of this, there is a complimentary meaning for these verses in 1 Corinthians. To those whom we identified as condition two believers. Those who initially believed and at the first confrontation of a test of their faith they fall away and run. Not putting their trust in God but man instead. We said they were in a sense a type of unbeliever in this aspect. To those who are the condition two believer the comments have a dramatically different meaning.To the one who thinks they have salvation, Jesus says what they think they have will be lacking on the day of judgement.
Out of the four different conditions we learned about in the parable of the sower, only two can learn from this parable of revealed light in Luke 8:16-18 and Matthew 5:14-16.
- The condition one believer is forever lost. They are the unbeliever who completely rejects the Word of God.
- The condition four believer is the mature Christian who is leading by their example of faith and puts their trust in God.
- The condition two and three believers are the ones with a need
- The condition two believer the need is to stop pretending and start believing.
- The condition three believer the need is to stop pretending and start maturing.
Are we taking Jesus’ warning seriously? We need to. I hope we are not too proud to stop in our tracks and re-evaluate our lives to see if they measure up. And if they don’t what are we prepared to do about it? If we do nothing, I fear the day to come when we may deeply regret our shortsighted and foolish decisions to favor the needs of this world over those of the next.
And to drive the point home on Jesus’ teaching, Luke adds a passing moment in Jesus’ ministry.
Luke 8:19-21 (NKJV)
Jesus’ Mother and Brothers Come to Him
19 Then His mother and brothers came to Him, and could not approach Him because of the crowd. 20 And it was told Him by some, who said, “Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You.”
21 But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.”
Do you think they came to hear His teaching? To be His disciples? To follow Him? We don’t know why they are trying to see Jesus. But I feel it is safe to assume they were most likely amazed at what has transpired around Him since He left their home and began His mission. Perhaps they have come to understand what is going on or be a part of it.
So why did Jesus dismiss His mother and His brothers? First of all, He is not criticizing them in the least. His comment is not a slight against them. In fact we don’t know, He may have received them eventually. Really the only reason the event even warrants mention in scripture is because of what Jesus says at the moment. He uses their arrival as a teaching opportunity.
Jesus say that those who in His family are those who hear the Word of God and do it. Jesus statement makes it even more clear that hearing the Word of God is the one and only means to becoming a part of the family of God. Paul says in Romans 10:17 –
Romans 10:17 (NKJV)
17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
In Jewish culture, family relationships were all important. So to suggest a family tie is secondary to the faithfulness to the Word of God, as it may seem strange to some of us now, would have been a radical statement back then. And even today it may still be a radical statement to many. We can expect that Jesus definitely had a normal loving relationship with His Earthly mother. And surely He had affection for His Earthly brothers. But once His ministry began to take hold, Jesus saw the things of Earth with an appreciation that there was an eternity waiting. Jesus knew He had existed before Mary and before His brothers were even born. In fact, even before Adam was created. He knew the Earth and everything in it would end one day while God’s children would continue on in eternity. There is not one who can say they were born into the family of God. At least not by flesh. We all may know people who say they were born Christian. Like many Catholics. They would say they were cradle Catholics, born Catholic. But that does not make you a Christian. Not even close.
So Jesus is saying here that His family is those who hear the Word of God and do it. Hear is “akouo” in the Greek and it means listen. But listen in the sense of heed what you hear. Not just hear it but receive it and then do it. Those who do these things are in the family of God – Those who do not are not in God’s family.
Mary and James and the rest of Jesus’ family may have been related to Jesus in an Earthly way. But that didn’t give them any special ticket into heaven. They, like every man and woman, had to believe to be saved. The only kind of relationship that matters is the one we are given by faith.
Finally, what is it that Jesus is telling us and demanding of us?
- First, we need to join His family or perish.
- And we join by faith in His Word. Faith in His claim of who He is and in His provision on the cross for our sin
- Secondly, we honor that gift of salvation by endeavoring to bear fruit
- To build the kingdom
- To spread the seed, the Word of God
Here is something for all of us to give serious thought. In each week, there are 10,080 minutes. Many Christians spend 90-120 minutes per week on the things of God. And the other 9,960 or so minutes on whatever interests them. Let’s all agree and make a personal commitment we will do better serving our Lord. And let’s agree that our reputation as followers of Christ is that we follow Him without regard to ourselves.
2 Corinthians 5:15 (NKJV)
15 and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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