Evangelism: Cultural Christianity and Matthew 7:21-23

Evangelism: Cultural Christianity and Matthew 7:21-23

If we are going to reach our city, we are going to have to learn to exegete our city’s culture and then learn how to proclaim the good news inside of that culture. 

Today, we need to do a surface level introduction to cultural Christianity (CC…some may refer to it as nominal Christianity) and see if Jesus addresses it in his Word. 

Cultural Christianity

Dean Inserra. The Unsaved Christian. Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2019.

“When we think of unreached people groups, we envision intrepid missionaries taking the gospel to a place where the name of Jesus has never been spoken. But many American pastors (Christians) are faced with a similarly daunting task: to bring Jesus to a place where He is admired but not worshiped, where God is grandpa in the sky, where many of their congregants are ‘good people” who don’t know they need to be saved.” (Inserra, p. 30) (Parenthesis mine)

CC is not new. 

CC is NOT Christianity fitting indigenously into a context. 

Rather, CC is something that looks like Christianity, but is not, because it has fundamentally denied obedience to everything Jesus has taught.

CC becomes its own subculture.  

Poor cultural expressions of Christianity are a natural human progression from passionate, accurate, indigenous and grounded belief AND practice to assumed “facts” and “foreign practices” that are passed on in unique sub-cultural language and form without any evaluation of whether or not a “fact” or “practice” is valid. 

CC is steeped in biblical illiteracy by those who claim to be insiders. 

CC is hard to spot. Its symptoms are well hidden within the fabric of assumptions of a culture that never gets questioned. 

You have to be able to exegete your city and the culture of your city and the culture of your “Christianity” in order to be able to pick up the very well disguised symptoms. 

This is hard. How do you describe water to a fish…if you could do such a thing? 

Here are some practices and phrases you may hear and witness in a cultural Christian context:

  1. Referring to someone as a “really committed Christian”. 
  2. I was saved when I was (insert age), but made Jesus Lord when I was (insert age). 
    1. I remember being shocked this was a debate as a young Christian reading my bible. People debated about being “saved” but not obeying Jesus. 
  3. Serial “rededication” as a cheap substitute for accountability and repentance. 
  4. Abuse of a believer’s security (referred to as “saved”) as a justification for an “anything goes” lifestyle. 
  5. Using church membership/attendance for social advantages or comfort before teaching and missional conviction. 
  6. Poor child evangelism based on questionable teaching and practice evidenced by the rash of “rebaptisms” among generations of people when they are truly transformed by the gospel. 
    1. “And we all got rebaptized whether we needed it or not.” – Ray Stevens, Mississippi Squirrel Revival

CC is an assumed religion, created over successive generations, with legal and transactional requirements that are paid for by minimal effort to appease the “god” of our own creation. 

CC is the result of declining biblical faithfulness, increasing adaptation of unbiblical values, becoming political pawns rather than prophets, and failure to disciple future generations in the faith. 

Matthew 7:21-23

Jesus is not addressing American CC. 

He is addressing some cultural assumptions developed in Judaism that were causing them to miss the kingdom of God, thus Jesus was addressing some core cultural/theological assumptions that would be the reason many listening to him would miss his kingdom.

These cultural assumptions that first-century Jews were prone are the same one’s we are prone to, therefore, Jesus’ words apply to us today as much as to them. 

  1. Lip service is not enough. 7:21a
    1. This is not to be seen in conflict with Romans 10:9…confess with mouth and belief with heart….belief in the Bible is always more than a mind warp…it is obedience.
    2. Jesus didn’t pull the Jedi mind trick of separating belief from practice. 
  2. Obeying God’s word is evidence we believe what we say, so obedience is central to faith in Jesus. 7:21b
    1. See 7:24-27
    2. John 14:15-25
    3. Matthew 28:20
  3. Speaking mighty words that line up with Jesus is possible even if one does not know God. This is a danger in CC. 7:22a
    1. It can be en vogue to quote Jesus and even refer to some of his teachings for a multitude of reasons beyond Jesus’ intent.
      1. This is using Jesus as a mascot rather than worshiping him as God.
    2. Philippians 1:15 (ESV) 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.
    3. We know more spiritual information personally now than at any other time in the history of the church
      1. Sermons / Blogs / Podcasts / Books / 
      2. We can know and not be transformed by the good news. 
  4. Doing mighty and supernatural works in Jesus’ name is possible even if one does not know and obey Jesus. 7:22b
    1. Simon the Magician Acts 8:9-25.
    2. We are reminded that signs and wonders can come from sources other than God, including both the demonic world and human manufacture (cf. Acts 19:13–16; Rev 13:13–14).
      1. Cited from:  Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 133.
    3. Tacking Jesus’ name onto demonic or human manufactured “wow” works is not obedience to Jesus. 
  5. Jesus’ standard is his knowledge of a person by grace through faith. Verse 23
    1. John 17:1-3 (ESV) When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
  6. Jesus knows and distinguishes those who know him by grace through faith from those who used his name to do mighty works. 

Applications to Defeat Cultural Christianity

  1. Make sure you know God through faith in Jesus Christ evidenced by joyfully obeying everything Jesus has given to obey. 
    1. Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV) Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
    2. Obeying Jesus is not earning favor with God. 
    3. Matthew 13:44 (ESV) The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
      1. Knowing God in Jesus is finding a treasure hidden in a field and in joy is doing everything they can to get all of that field and all of that treasure they can possibly stand. 
  2. Scour the Bible to know God more and find all the glorious treasures of joyful obedience that lead to human flourishing dancing in the light of the Good News. 
    1. Don’t be marked by biblical illiteracy.
  3. Make it your aim to know God better as your first priority. All of God is available to you in Jesus. 
    1. Matthew 6:33 (ESV) But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
  4. Worship Jesus as a first priority through private prayer, singing, and bible reading. 
    1. Personal worship for the follower of Jesus is the first key to being able to see your city as God does because you’ve conversed with him about it, had your heart broken for it, and been sent by God to be a prophet to it. 
    2. That personal worship leads to robust together worship. Let’s get after it. 
    3. Private worship is fruit from being a for-real citizen of Jesus’ kingdom. 

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