The Christian Atheist series is based on a survey led by the Cultural Research Center of Arizona Christian University. They surveyed 2,000 U.S. adults from four major groups: Pentecostals, Charismatics, Mainline Protestants, and Catholics about 51 topics including marriage, absolute truth, the sanctity of human life, and the authority of the Bible.
The leading researcher, George Barna, concluded the following.
“The most startling realization is how many people in our churches are adopting unbiblical beliefs. American Christians are undergoing a ‘post-Christian Reformation.’ It certainly seems as if the culture is influencing the Church more than the church is influencing the culture.”
Let’s quickly review what we have already learned from this survey. Here are four statements based on scripture and the results from the survey.
Truth: God is the basis of all truth. Rejected by around 30% of Christians surveyed. Truth: The Bible is the word of God; it is trustworthy and reliable. Rejected by around 44% of Christians surveyed.
Truth: The Bible is the primary source of moral guidance. Rejected by around 57% of Christians surveyed. Truth: People are not basically good; we are all sinners. Rejected by around 80% of Christians. Isn’t this stunning?
This is why we created the Christian Atheist series. What is a Christian Atheist? It’s a way of living that says I believe in God, but I live like He isn’t real. I believe in God, but I don’t pursue God as my source of truth, I just go with the crowd. I believe in God, but I hate Christ’s cross.
Scriptures says this:
And so I insist – and God backs me up on this – that there be no going along with the crowd, the empty-headed, mindless crowd. They’ve refused for so long to deal with God that they’ve lost touch not only with God but with reality itself. They can’t think straight anymore. Feeling no pain, they let themselves go in sexual obsession, addicted to every sort of perversion. MSG Ephesians 4:17-19
Did those verses shock you? That’s incredible. If you walk through life and ignore God, you lose your connection with God, you lose touch with reality, and you won’t even be able to think straight anymore. That’s shocking. I think this explains what we see in the survey. Scripture is very clear. Those truth statements are right from scripture. But if we don’t pursue God, if we aren’t reading scripture, we lose touch with God and truth. Years later the survey confirms, 30% to 80% of Christians reject the truth in scripture.
Real quickly, I want to ask you, what is your source of truth? What do you base your life on? What determines how you live?
Here is today’s truth statement. People cannot earn a place in Heaven by being good or by doing enough good works.
Do you believe this? What do you think about this? Are you trying to do good things in hopes that it will balance out the bad things in your life? Here is what the survey shows.
Evangelicals 42% accept. 58% reject – you can earn your way into heaven.
Pentecostal 51% accept. 49% reject – you can earn your way into heaven.
Mainline Protestants 39% accept. 61% reject – you can earn your way into heaven.
Catholic 15% accept. 85% reject – you can earn your way into heaven.
What does the Bible say?
8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. TLB Ephesians 2:8-9
Boom. Scripture is stunningly clear. You cannot earn your way into heaven. You cannot earn your way into heaven based on the good things you do. It doesn’t work. And I like what Paul added in verse 9. If we could earn our way into heaven, knowing how bizarre people are, we would probably go around beating our chests about how we made it into heaven. We would take pride in what we accomplished, not in what Jesus did for us. To be clear, you cannot earn your way into heaven. It’s a gift from God.
Those verses I just read were from The Living Bible translation. The Message Version says it like this.
Saving is all his [God’s] idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. MSG Ephesians 2:8-9
Again. You cannot earn your way into heaven. Saving is all God’s idea. And to prove the point, you didn’t create yourself so how in the world do you think you could ever save yourself? We are 100% dependent on God.
One of the churches in the Bible struggled with this. They began to believe they could earn their way into heaven. This is part of the letter Paul wrote to them.
3 Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. 2 Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3 How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? NIV Galatians 3:1-3
The church in Galatia told people, to be right with God, they had to fall under the Law of Moses. In other words, you have to do something to earn your way into heaven. Paul started this church years earlier and found out what they were saying. He writes them this letter and really confronts them. He asks them, “Are you crazy? Where did you ever get the idea that you could earn your way into heaven based on your human effort?”
Scripture says this.
Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them – living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life. Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing. MSG Romans 8:5-8
Do you see how clear scripture is about this?
Better Together for the kids
We will have a treadmill in the front of the church. We bring the kids upfront and ask for a volunteer. We tell the child that at the back of the church is a wonderful present for each child waiting for them. To get that present, they must earn that present by walking to the back of the church.
However, there is a challenge. To get to the back of the room, they must get on the treadmill to get there. Sound crazy? Let’s try it. Have the child get on the treadmill and start walking. As they walk, ask them how they are doing? Ask them if they are getting any closer? Ask them if it seems crazy to walk on a treadmill to get to the back of the room? Stop the treadmill and have the kids sit together.
The present in the back of the room represents God’s love and heaven. The treadmill represents all our attempts to try to earn that love. Tell them that God loves them. God’s love is not something they can earn. And we can’t earn our way into heaven. Every time we try to earn that love or earn our way into heaven, it is like getting on the treadmill. It’s a waste of time. It will tire us out. And it will never work.
Why? We are completely dependent on God to save us. What we do is pray and relax. Tell Jesus, “Dear Jesus, I believe you love me.” We then relax and know that God loves you. And even if you walk through big challenges, God still loves you. We can relax and know we can’t earn our way into heaven.
I want you to think about that treadmill for a second. Think about how crazy it is to jump on that treadmill to get to where you want to go. How crazy is it to try to earn your way into heaven by working harder, following more rules, making sure your life looks perfect to others? It’s a waste of time. It will wear you out. It will always leave you feeling guilty because no matter what you do, it is never enough. Jumping on the treadmill will never work.
Now think about what God did for you. Remember, you didn’t create yourself, so you have no ability to save yourself. What does God do? God gets involved and sets things right between you and Him. He takes you off the treadmill and gets you where you want to go.
The Bible explains.
It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God – “Jesus is my Master” – embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” MSG Romans 10:6-10
This is unbelievable. You can’t earn God’s love or earn your way into heaven. All you can do is accept what God has already done for you. Imagine if you fully embraced what God has already done for you. Imagine giving your life to God in complete surrender. We would be able to get off the treadmill and enjoy God. We would be able to relax in what God has done. No guilt for past failures. No frustration over our inability to be perfect. And as we begin to relax, we would show up in how we treat people. We would be the most gracious, kind, people. Our anxiety and stress would be much less. We would be able to walk into tomorrow with courage.
Before we move on, think about it. Getting off the treadmill of activity and fully surrendering your life to God. Finally, able to relax. Have you ever experienced that?
But that’s our struggle, isn’t it? We struggle to give our lives in complete surrender to God. We don’t know if God is going to come through for us, right now, today. We believe Jesus died on a cross and was resurrected. That Easter story is amazing and true. We believe God saved us when we gave our lives to Him. We don’t know how, but God forgives us. We believe, somehow, God will get us into heaven. Again, we have no clue how, but it will be awesome. However, as great as those things are, we struggle to trust God with today, right now, don’t we? We wonder, will God come through for me today, the way I want? We don’t know, so we begin to feel fear.
And in our fear, what do we do? We stress. We panic. We feel anxiety. We try to save ourselves. We want control. We need control. We get busy making things happen. As crazy as it sounds, we get back on that treadmill and go nowhere. It wastes our time. It wears us out. It leaves us feeling guilty. And we think, ‘My life is hard.’
The Children of Israel faced war. The Assyrian army was coming to attack them. What did they do? They felt fear and jumped on the treadmill. They took control. They thought the King of Egypt and his army would protect them, so they cut a deal with him.
God said this.
1 “What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,” says the Lord. “You make plans that are contrary to mine. You make alliances not directed by my Spirit, thus piling up your sins. 2 For without consulting me, you have gone down to Egypt for help You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection. You have tried to hide in his shade. 3 But by trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated, and by depending on him, you will be disgraced…
15 This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it. 16 You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt. They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.’” NLT Isaiah 30:1-3, 15-16
I want you to know a couple of things.
First. You didn’t create yourself which means you have no ability to save yourself. You are completely dependent on God. So, it is silly to think you could earn God’s love or earn your way into heaven or take control away from God and make things happen.
Second. Every attempt you make to earn God’s love or get into heaven or take control away from God, is us getting on a treadmill to get to where you want to go. It’s a waste of time. It will wear you out. It will leave you feeling guilty. And it will never work.
Sadly, on average, 63% of Christians believe they can earn their way into heaven. I think that explains why so many Christians like activity and struggle to slow down to be with God.
Third. You don’t have to go through life by yourself. You don’t have to walk with the feeling or weight that you are alone. You don’t have to feel the stress and anxiety. Why? God cares deeply for you. The whole point of the God story, He paid the price for you, before you were born. He is inviting you to trust Him. Get off the treadmill. Embrace what God has already done for you. Completely trust Him as you walk through life today.
The God who sent Jesus to die for you, cares for you today.
The God who washed away our sins and filled you with the righteousness of Jesus, cares for you today.
The God who will bring you into heaven someday, cares for you today.
I ask you, what is your life like? Are you on a treadmill, working hard? Tired? Exhausted? Trying to keep up the image for others? Trying to take control and figure things out? Feeling alone? Stressed? Angry? Scared? I invite you to get off the treadmill and fully embrace what God has already done for you. And live every day in complete surrender to God. Allow Him to love you.
I want to close with the words of scripture.
Saving is all his [God’s] idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it.
Maybe before you leave today, stop trying to save yourself and trust God enough to save you.