Summary: Casual Christianity is worthless and brings neither glory to God nor satisfaction to the soul.
I love fast food. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. Actually, I don’t really love it; I’m just comfortable with it. It’s quick. It’s easy. And it’s cheap. It’s not good for me, I know. The last time I ate a Big Mac, I checked the calorie count. If you eat just the burger itself, you’re taking in 550 calories. An order of fries adds another 230, and a twelve-ounce Coke brings the total up to over a thousand. A thousand calories – really just a bit more than that – in McDonalds’ Number One menu item! That’s over half my daily need! No wonder Good Morning America’s Dr. Richard Besser calls any food like this a “calorie bomb.” And, to add insult to injury, most of the calories in a fast food diet are empty calories with little to no nutritional value.
If you consider yourself a friend, you would probably advise me to quit eating like this. And the truth is: I know better. I know I shouldn’t eat like this! So, why do I do it? It’s quick. It’s easy. And it’s cheap. In short, it’s convenient, and it doesn’t require any effort on my part. And that’s the way I want it. Even if I know it’s not good for me – and, actually, is really bad for me – that’s the way I prefer it.
And that makes it a lot like modern-day Christianity – at least, in America. Of course, most people even here in the so-called Bible belt don’t even bother with Christianity any more, but for those who do, they increasingly want it quick, easy, and cheap. The number one requirement is that it be convenient. And if it can be entertaining as well, that’s all the better. If the modern world has done anything, it has made us all consumers. And we have come to expect our religion to be like any other product on the market. We want it cleverly packaged, attractively presented, and we don’t want it to take much time or effort. Our friends would probably advise us against expecting much in the way of value from such a spiritual diet. It’s like Michael Horton says, “If convenience, accessibility, and immediate gratification are our criteria, we’ll be left with fast food, cheap wine, and shallow lives” (The Gospel Commission, p. 148).
It’s the prospect of a shallow life that ought to get our attention. We know you can’t learn to play the piano or baseball or even how to cook if you only give it a few minutes of your time every so often, yet we expect Christian discipleship to require nothing more than sitting through church now and again.
As you might expect, Jesus counters our flabby Christianity with the truth. No one wants to wind up in the ER because they’ve settled for high-fat, fast food over the years. And no one wants to stand before the Lord of glory at the end of life and hear him say, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Believe me, in that moment there’s nothing we wouldn’t do, no amount of effort we wouldn’t exert, to hear instead, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from before the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).
I don’t want you to hear me saying that Christian discipleship is like some ladder you climb to perfection. It’s not. According to Jesus, many of those who will be surprised that they are not permitted to go into heaven will have expended their lives in apparently religious endeavors. In fact, they will protest: “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” And because they thought they could earn heaven by their own efforts, they will hear Jesus say, “I never knew you.”
You and I will enter heaven only by the grace of God. It is grace, in fact, that shows us our helpless condition before God and persuades us that we have nothing with which to commend ourselves to him. This is a blow for many people who consider themselves respectable and presentable before God as they are. But grace shows us that we must come to the end of ourselves and despair of our own ability. And it does this so that it can then drive us to Jesus, who alone can save us. Remember Augustus Toplady’s classic hymn and the line that says, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling”? That’s the change that grace makes in us: from self-sufficient to completely dependent. We rely solely on Jesus. “On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” That is what faith is, and salvation is always and only by grace through faith.