Summary: The writer of Hebrews calls us to seize the opportunities God has set before us to grow up into the fullness of Christ. This study also deals with the ageless debate of "can a follower of Jesus ’fall’ from grace?’"
Go On To Grow Up!
The opportunities are limitless. On any given day of the week there are opportunities for people of all ages to attend a Bible study, sing songs of praise unto the Lord of glory, and spend time drinking deeply of God’s good Word. You want to study Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John...go to it. You want to learn Greek or Hebrew so that you can gain a deeper understanding of God’s Word...have at it. You want to lift your voice in song and praise God for His goodness and mercy...let’s do it. The opportunities to grow in our faith are before us in churches all across this city, and yet the evidence of our seizing those life-changing opportunities are just not present.
Just last week I was at the Governor’s Conference on "FaithLinks," an effort by our Governor to get the faith community and government to work in cooperation with one another. Governor Keating said that he has been puzzled by the perception many people across the country have that Oklahoma is a poor state. He couldn’t figure out why this has been, so he got some economists from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University to do a study. When they came back to him their report showed him that there were several reasons why Oklahoma remains low in the rankings on economic growth. Some of the reasons they stated were that Oklahoma did not have "right to work," we need more college graduates, and more high tech jobs. Governor Keating then told us that he was shocked when these economists said there are some other factors that were contributing to our economic ills. These other factors were a high divorce rate, high substance abuse rate, too much violence and abuse, and a high rate of children who die at the hands of one of their own parents. Governor Keating said that he knew that these issues were out of his league and that the faith community would be needed to address these issues and help turn our state around.
As I listened to Governor Keating speak I thought to myself, "How can a state which is the buckle of the Bible belt be so out of step with the teachings of the Bible?" God’s Word addresses all of the social issues that the economists brought back to the Governor. There is certainly no shortage of churches in Oklahoma: there are over 1200 churches in Oklahoma City and more than 6600 churches in the state of Oklahoma. How can a state that has a church on every corner be so untouched, so unchanged by the teachings of Jesus? This really is not too hard to understand when you take the time to study our culture.
Today, there are many "hearers" of the Word, but few "doers" of the Word. Jesus is an icon to most people in our society today. An "icon" is an image, a symbol, an emblem, or logo. The loving, caring, gracious Jesus is the icon or image for those who want to see themselves as basically good people. This phenomenon is really much like the young kids who want more than anything to play ball in the NBA and use Allen Iverson, Shaq, or Kevin Garnett as a projection of what they would like to be on the basketball court. Jesus is the logo for the religious crowd who would like to see themselves as noble, honest, kind, and compassionate and yet they have not bowed their knees nor crucified their will so that His will might reign supreme over all of their life. Let me give you concrete, tangible evidence of what I see happening.
Most people know Jesus’ stance on forgiveness. Jesus said things like, "Seventy times seven. Forgive your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you" - all of these phrases are recognized as coming from the lips of Jesus. These are characteristics of Jesus’ life that most of us would like to see as part of the fabric of our own character. These phrases are painted on t-shirts, made into bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, screen savers, and pieces of art to hang on the wall, but when I am the one who is being treated unfairly then Jesus’ teaching goes out the window. After all, we can’t let them get away with "that!" Who do they think they are? We can’t let people run over us, take advantage of us, or discredit our name. We must get what is rightfully ours. We must defend our honor. We must stand up for ourselves and seek vengeance when we are justified. Jesus’ teachings are more than cute clichés; they are the lifeblood of every true follower.
This type of cultural Christianity, using Jesus as an icon, a projection of what we would like to see within ourselves, rather than as the Lord and Master of our heart, is what is plaguing us today. This is why our state has more churches than a greasy spoon restaurant has roaches and yet Jesus’ message doesn’t faze us. We continue to cling to what we desire when it conflicts with what Christ demands of us. We are led by our emotions and reason rather than by the Word of God and His Spirit.