Continuing with the theme of things my high school friends have told me:
Another friend of mine once said to me, “You know, Joe, I’m not very religious.” I remember being slightly surprised by his response – not because I thought he was particularly religious, but because I was not aware that “not very religious” people self-identified as “not very religious.” I was tempted to ask him if he thought he was not very saved as well, but I decided to refrain.
Such a retort, of course, would have been in jest: Who in the world thinks that salvation comes in degrees? (Perhaps there will be different rewards in Heaven – Mark 10.29-30 (for instance) suggests as much – but no one thinks that people go halfway to Heaven.) However, genuine questions existed in my mind behind the unmade joke: If you consider yourself “not very religious,” do you think there is a point to being very religious? Are you religious enough?
Indeed, if we ask “average” Americans how to get to Heaven, we will inevitably hear responses like “By being a good person”: by not murdering or stealing, by being a relatively nice person, by (maybe) doing some community service, and by (even less likely) attending church services on a semi-regular basis. Christianity functions typically as a condiment sprinkled onto the American dream; it spices things up, but people who like it too much (like people who like ketchup too much) are weird. And religiosity exists on a spectrum, where different levels of commitment are just as accepted and expected as different levels of commitment to exercise, sports, or music. You should be Christian – but you don’t have to be that Christian.
Such an understanding of Christianity is so completely at odds with Jesus’ teachings that I can only consider the result of sin, willful self-delusion, or self-imposed ignorance – the spiritual equivalent of believing that the Earth is flat. I want to use such strong language not because I am a perfect Christian (I am not), but because such spiritual apathy and half-heartedness compromises the Church’s mission more than anything else.
Jesus spoke some of the most refreshing and invigorating words ever recorded in history. He also called his disciples to take up their crosses daily and follow him. Whatever taking up one’s cross daily means, I am certain it does not mean going to church every other week – or (for that matter) going to church every week! Of America’s millions of Christians, how many can credibly claim that they have given up their lives on Earth for true life in Heaven? (I am not sure I can.) We are instructed to lay up for ourselves treasure in Heaven, not Earth (Matthew 6.19-20): “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (v. 21). Of America’s millions of Christians, how many can honestly claim that they have spent more time thinking about their eternal destinies than about their mortgages or retirement plans (or internships or college applications or grades)?
None of this is to say that I have mastered the art of laying up for myself treasures in Heaven; it is only to say that Christianity is not a half-in, half-out sort of fair. There is no half-Christianity, just as there is no half-salvation, half-forgiveness, or half-grace. There is no middle ground. We are not called to half-faith or half-repentance. We are called to be the light of the world (Matthew 5.14).
I picked two verses out of hundreds that make this point abundantly clear; if you need more convincing, I encourage you to open up a Bible and start reading…pretty much anywhere.