This is the question that I have spent much time contemplating lately. I want to preface my thoughts by saying that I most definitely believe that the lifestyle of a Christian should be marked by Christlike behavior. And, I believe biblical separation is from the world and unto God.
But, I have, unfortunately, seen a horrifying trend amongst many churches who consider themselves to be Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB henceforth). Churches are coming to place where a list of standards (some of which cannot be proven to be biblical) has replaced a true relationship with Christ.
A few years ago, I was sitting under the preaching of a well known IFB preacher. I was horrified to witness a full sermon, during which, the Bible was never even opened, yet the audience was going wild with religious enthusiasm. The message was one I had heard hundreds of times. It involved a long list of railing against certain behaviors. Please don’t get me wrong; I am most definitely FOR preaching against sin. But, the part that horrified me was that the Bible was never used to back up the preacher’s thoughts. I later found out that the contents of the sermon actually came out of a book that I’ll not name publicly. Unfortunately, this was not the only time I experience this sort of thing. I have heard hundreds of sermons, during which standards were preached, but the Bible was not used (or used out of context). I could name some of the hot topics you could expect to hear in any typical IFB standards sermon. You would hear about abortion, homosexuality, rock music, women wearing pants, KJV-only, no movie theatres, etc. Now, before you write me off as a heretic, hear me out. I am NOT saying that I don’t agree with the standard that the Bible sets. I wholeheartedly believe that God’s Word sets a standard for His children. But, without the Bible to back up these claims, adherents are nothing more than religious moralists.
My concern is simple. Many churches have gotten to the place where they will hear about these topics week after week, but, biblical teaching and expository messages are disappearing. Christianity, to so many IFB attendees has quickly become a checklist of sins to stay away from and behaviors to work on. If you abstain from certain things, act a certain way, dress a certain way, and talk a certain way, you’re a “good Christian”. A walk with God has been reduced to something you work on when your checklist doesn’t line up just right. You see, for many, religious moralism has taken the place of what true Christianity really is supposed to be. Christianity was never meant to be a checklist; it is supposed to be a relationship with God Almighty. And that relationship is supposed to be strengthened as we ever grow in the knowledge of our Savior from dedicated Bible study and expository preaching.
In II Timothy 3:5, Paul warns Timothy of this very thing. He said that there would be people and groups of people who would be guilty of “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof”. In other words, they would have religion and an outward religious appearance, but the life-changing power of Jesus Christ would be denied. I fear that unless we heed this warning, many good Bible preaching churches could easily slip away into being satisfied with simply having a form of godliness. Having a form of godliness can be accomplished by anyone who wants to complete the checklist Christianity. But, it takes the power of Christ to truly change a person. And in the very same passage, Paul tells Timothy the answer to the problem of a Christless religion. II Timothy 3:14-4:2 tells us,
“But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word”
Paul’s answer was clear; Preach the Word. He didn’t tell Timothy to make people adhere to a list of standards; He told him to declare the Word of God. God didn’t call us to conform ourselves into the image of a cookie cutter Christian; God called us make much of His Word! He called us to read it, reread it, study it, meditate on it, follow it, and share it!
It’s about time we quit trying to conform unconverted man, and preach Christ! Man doesn’t need a list of rules, he needs Christ! The power of Christ will do so much more than conform a man; it will transform his life! A man who is in Christ, WILL be a new creature in Christ! Is morality important? Yes. But, it should never be anything but a by-product of a true relationship with Christ!