Nominal Christians and False Declarations of Faith

I heard a very famous pastor from a large local church on the radio the other day. He was speaking about a friend of his (who is now a pastor), recalling how in the early days of this man’s walk with God that he was a “nominal Christian”.

_DSC0048.JPG by Kutless Photos

I also know a couple of pastors who were discussing people’s “false declarations of faith”.

What I would like to know is just how we can know when either one of these scenarios is the truth about someone?

 

Is there any chance that some (or all) of those in the first photo, may not be Christians?

 

How about the guy in the second photo who is shooting up in the alley?

 

I am open to any thoughts that you might have on the subject.

Thanks.

 

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31 Responses

  1. by your fruits you shall know them…

    • Matthew 7:20 – Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

      Either you’re Christ-like or you’re not. You’re either doing the works of Christ or you’re not. Either you’re living the life of Christ or you’re not.

      When I say a Russian, I’m speaking most likely of someone born and lives in Russia. A Mexican is someone who is born and lives in Mexico. A Christian is someone who is born and lives in Christ.

      A Russian in Russia will adhere to the customs and traditions of Russia. A Mexican in Mexico will adhere to the customs and ways of those in Mexico. A Christian will adhere to the customs and teachings of Christ.

      Not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doeth the will of my Father in heaven. Matthew 7:21

  2. Great question! First impression that comes to mind is the Pharisee and the Publican.

    “I just want to thank you Jesus that I’m not like all those other sinning people; I don’t drink/smoke/curse/carouse, I tithe off the top, I do all sorts of good works, and I am a respected member of my church. Thank you that I feel saved.” (Faith in my Faith.)

    versus:

    “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” (Trust in God’s mercy in the forgiveness of sins solely on account of the person and work of Jesus–not my works.)

    What is the will of the heavenly father? To trust in the redeeming work of Jesus, the Living Bread.

    Jn 6–Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing(K) the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

  3. Calledsoldiers,

    “Either you’re Christ-like or you’re not. You’re either doing the works of Christ or you’re not. Either you’re living the life of Christ or you’re not.”

    So, either you are a Christian…or you are not a Christian. No in between. No degrees of being a better Christian.

    So when Peter denied Christ 3 times, he wasn’t a Christian.

    And when we fall short of being Christ-like we are not ‘really’ Christians.

    So it’s obedience of performance vs. trusting the performance of Christ Jesus….for us.

    I’m not so sure about that.

    I think I am more inclined to Jonathan’s definition of Matthew 7:21.

    But I appreciate your ideas, my friend, it gives us much to think about, that’s for sure.

    Thanks for stopping by the blog!

    – Steve

    • Steve,
      and last week when you tried turning water into wine? Not a Christian,
      And when you tried to walk on water, without those surfboard thingies? Not a Christian.
      And when you failed to give a sarcastic remark to the pharisee? Not a Christian.
      Why is it that those who talk about being Christlike the most, don’t often come off as being very Christlike? Why aren’t their publicans etc gathering around him, and eating with him?

  4. Being a Christian depends on what Christ did for you NOT your code of conduct, so on this point…I’m with Jonathan…However I agree with Calledsoldiers in as far as you either are born of the Spirit of God, or you are not. What happens after is the new heart, giving you the possibility of following the good works you were born to, but this is where the choozy part enters as well. Before “the change” it was impossible for you to choose to do good now it may be difficult, but it is possible. Making poor choices does not make you less Christian, you are still a child of God born of His Spirit. The ultimate choice is always God’s the giver of life…Being born is not a choice we get to make.

  5. I just finished reading a slew of “Prodigal Son” sermons. And “Prodigal Father” ones, too. So after reading this, I’m thinking the first photo is akin to the elder son, and the second photo is the second son. In both cases they belong to the Father, and He is the one that loves them both, sacrifices His life for both, and forgives them both with generousity that we have a very hard time comprehending and/or accepting.

  6. Thanks, y’all for your comments.

    I’m thinking more along the lines that we just cannot know, especially by one’s conduct, if they belong to the Lord…or not.

    We can know their profession of faith, and we can know who the baptized are.

    But to say someone’s confession is a false one…boy, that’s pretty dicey. And to call someone a nominal Christain…that too is dicey.

    I mean, who’s gonna be the judge of that down here? Do any of us think we are qualified by what WE DO to make those judgements about other people?

    St. Paul reminds us that he didn’t even make that judgement about himself!

  7. Steve,

    You are right it is very dicey. In fact it’s worthless. I can no more know a man is saved by his works, even if his entire life was stellar than I can if the worst addict is saved or lost. I know many “good” atheist who are outstanding in externals.

    Yet, ironically many Christians put their assurance in these very things.

    Larry

  8. Steve,

    Yet another stark comparison between a theology of glory and the theology of the Cross. Luther once stated that indeed what you just espoused was basically that times Roman version of the “nominal Christian”. But Luther pointed out that the true nominal Christian is he/she who goes to church and receives the sacrament (which first assumes something that in our day and age of heterodoxy is not always true), then goes out into the world/his/her life and does a bunch of other “more spiritual” things to “get the real job of church/”faith” done.

    Based on Christ’s Word it is the sinners and tax collectors that will see the kingdom of God before the Scribes and Pharisees.

    It’s is as Forde points out the Cross is salvation, secondarily, but it is first and foremost that Word that is an offensive attack on our normal “religious orientation”. In fact the Cross is very little interested in what is bad about us but immediately goes on utter offense and attack on what we perceive is the “best” in our religious schemes. The Cross is literally utter wrath against our “best religious” items, after it kills, God’s alien work (Luther), then it makes alive.

    Larry

  9. Larry,

    You are right, my friend.

    There’s not much dying going on in so many churches today. It’s ‘getting better’ that’s the focus…not dying.

    Paradoxically, we are called to die. “If you would gain your life…you must lose it.

    That’s the 1st thing that happens in baptism. (Romans 6).

    But hey…that goes against all reason and the ToG (as you say).

    • Yes, and, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross–that is, take up his own death–and follow me.”

      That passage is also not about following Jesus to become more like him, to get better, or ToG. Rather it is about following him where he leads us through his death and ours, to life eternal. It *is* the ToC.

  10. Steve,
    Every day I feel as if I am a “nominal Christian” and that my failure to be “Christ-like” makes me wonder if I have a “false declaration of faith.” But it is in that humility and shame that I understand my human failure and find refuge in God’s great mercy. I eagerly await His gifts to be showered upon this lowly, undeserving servant.
    If one felt as if he/she was a great example of a Christian or had faith that could move mountains, I wonder if that hubris would show their faith lies in their own pietistic heart.
    The Law does make the Gospel sweeter, but you are right, WE can’t judge anyone’s faith.

  11. There are many aspects to this “nominal Christian” bit. For one, it is the one where people cannot be sure whether they are “Christian” or not and pointed to themselves. Bad, bad, bad.

    However, at least here in Canada, there are so many with a “Christian” background, especially RC, who have nothing to do with the church, but when push comes to shove will say that they are “Christian”.

    Dr. Patrick from Augustine College explained to an American audience: when Canadians are sent a Statscanada survey, they actually obediently fill it out and send it in and so we actually have current statistics on things like religious affiliation. Many will be declare being Christian by a process of elimination: “Zoroastrian, don’t know what that is, I’m not that” (my grocer is Zoroastrian, by the way.) Muslim: I’m not that. In the end they will check the box “Christian”. They are not atheists, either, so they think I must be a kind of Christian. Now, that is nominal Christianity. So we have a large percentage “Christians” in this country, with practically zero commitment.

    In Germany it would be the ones, who keep paying their church taxes, but never show except maybe Christmas and are this close to severing ties.

    Well, and Luther said, those who only show rarely and don’t even take the sacrament four times a year, are hardly Christians.

  12. It boils down to the Christian being the real sinner in the ever present and not a “pretend sinner”, that the Cross is first an open attack against our TOG then second salvation, that this Cross is attacks not mostly the “negative sins” but our best religion, the best in our religion, that this Cross is not a “theology” in the sense of a –ism or set of propositions but is literally a THEOS LOGOS, Word spoken from God, that it is not just a “content” word (i.e. a mere message of good news) but a creative ex nihilo Word that acts, it kills and makes alive in one fail swoop. Thus, the Christian that is really a Christian would indeed flee to that Word in the Sacrament, especially the Lord’s Supper which is as Luther said quite literally “this sacrament is the Gospel”. Not just in the sense that it is “news” (good news), which it contains that, “this is My blood…for you…for the forgiveness of sin”, but that the very and true blood shed for the very and true forgiveness of sins is verily and truly GIVEN to you and not by the hand of a mere man (the pastor) but God Himself. It is not “as if” Christ is giving you His true body and blood in your mouth at communion, but in fact of reality that it IS TRULY and REALLY Christ Who is giving you His true and real body and blood for you for the forgiveness of sins.

    The sacraments, i.e. the Gospel, is ever sweet to the real sinner, but nothing much to the fake sinner. These go in parallel. A real sinner needs and treasures a real sacrament and thus a real Gospel.

    Thus the difference in the nominal Christian.

  13. Thanks, Larry. The narrow way is really this one, that you know that you are a real sinner, as you say, treasuring a real Gospel and real sacrament. Hence one would find oneself where one can receive it.

  14. It’s been a long time, Steve, since I last commented on your blog, but I’ll give you my 5 cents:

    What if we weren’t supposed to make that judment call in the first place, particularly when it comes to the authenticity of OTHER people’s faith?

    The parable of the wheat and the tares seems to be telling me that we could be easily mistaken and therefore we should let God sort it out in the end. He knows His own – we should be more concerned about the question whether we personally know Him.

    And the separation of the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25 also cautions us to be overly certain about who will be “in” and who will be ‘out”. There will be alot of surprises on both sides.

    But maybe what you were really after, is the question: What is the definition of a “Christian”?

    One possible way to answer that question is: someone who believes in his heart and confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord, to use one of Paul’s statements about salvation.

    And if we ask ourselves whether this “heart faith” is real, John points to at least one important piece of evidence: if we love our brother / sister (and not platonically but in very practical ways). If there’s no love there, we can bet that our own faith is nothing but assent to some intellectual truths (similar to what James says about the faith of the demons).

    • Do we love our brothers (our neighbors) as ourselves?

      No, we don’t. The law serves only to convict us. If you answer honestly, you can never say that you have kept the law–never loved your neighbor (brother/sister) as yourself.

      Even the writer James, the works-law preacher, advises that if you have broken the law in just one area, then you are guilty of breaking the whole LAW.

  15. Of course there are these favorite assurance passages:

    Jer. 17:9, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

    Eccl. 9:3, “the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives.

    Mark 7:22, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness”

    Eccl. 8:11, “the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil.”

    Matt. 19:21, “Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

    And “love your neighbor as yourself”

    • I thought that faith was a mental assent. It becomes very confusing when people say “heart faith” and “head faith”.

      The faith of the demons are different than what we believe. They devils believe in one God, that alone does not save…but the faith that saves is belief in Christ’s finished work.

      • Erin,

        The Faith that the Bible speaks of is not so much ‘belief (assent) in an idea’…but rather ‘trust in someone’.

        The Bible tells us that faith is a gift of God. It isn’t something that we come to on our own. God gives faith through the hearing of the preached Word, and He gives it in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

        You are so right, Erin…even the demons believe…but they have no faith.

        Thanks, my friend!

        – Steve

  16. You’re welcome, Steve!

    You are right, it is more of a trust in someone! I stand corrected. I always thought that if you believe something is true, then you do trust it…and that would be a mental thing, no?

  17. I think you are right, Erin.

    I do think that is often how we think of it.

    But, faith ( placed in Christ Jesus) is always a gift of God, or it is not authentic faith…but something else.

  18. It helps to understand faith as a naked trust. And by contrast the demons faith is not just “one God”, as opposed only to polytheism, but expands to the concept of “sovereign God” and all those other “omni-“ traits. Now you see why Luther and Lutheran confessions puts the centrality on the revealed God and not “sovereignty”. And that “naked trust” is not generated but must come from without, one cannot trust without the “forgiveness of sin for me in actuality”. In other words other religions which would include the official confession of Rome and other Protestantism the religion of the day is a “if you believe, then you will be saved”. Luther would put it this way, “I saved you so you will believe”. In fact that’s intrinsic to Luther’s confession, “I cannot believe by my own will or strength but am called by Gospel by the Holy Spirits”. That’s why the sacraments are Gospel that come down “to the man” in particular and are actually working as works of God, i.e. “God baptized me and in such forgives me…etc….”. Faith comes from that and says, “So this is God” in stunned joy. Another way to look at it is the Gospel in Word and Sacrament literally gives faith, they do not call for it. That’s why Luther said God comes to man and finds no faith whatsoever.

    Larry

    • “I saved you so you will believe”. –sounds Waltherian also. I think he was fond of that statement as a reaction to pietists.

  19. Very well said, Larry!

  20. It’s also what lies behind Luther’s confession “I cannot believe by my own…”, “no man can know he has faith”, “baptism based on faith is idolatry” (against the anabaptist, the HD, Luther’s pastoral advice to the anfechtungen “…if God had wanted me to know some othe way He would not have given us the sacraments”, and among numerous other hymns by Luther, Luther’s real primary hymn that carried the Reformation water “All Christians One And All Rejoice”…that hymn is pregnant with that thought.

    Larry

  21. Steve,

    The idea of the nominal Christian is one of the worst things that happens to you in an evangelical church. I fell victim to that and doubted myself everyday as a Baptist. It wasn’t until I returned home to a Lutheran church that I was truly set free.

    Curtis

  22. Thanks, Curtis.

    As the Father said to the Prodigal Son, “Welcome home (sinner)….welcome home,”

    The freedom of the Christian is not really at the top of the Evangelical hit parade, Nor the freedom of God to love sinners (real sinners).

    Thanks again, my friend,

    – Steve

  23. Curtis,

    You have a very interesting blog site over at

    http://lutheranbaptist.blogspot.com/

    When I get some time I look forward to looking through it and taking in your thoughts.

    And thanks very much for the plug!

    – Steve

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