Some Christians retain an appearance of life but are spiritually dead. In this church, no one is coming to faith in Christ, no one is being baptized. The Kingdom is not advancing. The church members belong to Christ in name but not heart. The Church is called to authenticity.
“If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
Our work overseas limits our ability to form concrete relationships. We make friends fast and have deep conversations. We never know when we’ll see each other again.
Some people make an impression quickly. Several years ago I met such a person. His name was Stan, and he was a man who loved his wife, family, and work. A few months after getting acquainted, I received a message from him. He had Stage 4 cancer and, even with chemotherapy, was given only a few months to live. I wept for his family, prayed for healing, and struggled with what this meant for his work.
Paul declares, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Phil. 1:21-24). I knew God would be pleased having Stan in His presence and Stan would be blessed being in the presence of the Lord. He dedicated his life to and lived for Jesus. Yet those left behind would experience a sense of loss. He loved his wife, two kids, and the work God gave him to do.
His email asked for prayer. He wanted wisdom about chemotherapy. If the treatment would give additional months to tell others about Jesus, he wanted strength. If the procedure would hinder an ability to work for God, he preferred to skip it. How should someone respond to such a request?
If you spend time in the presence of Jesus, sing songs of praise, meditate on Scripture, and talk with Him regularly, you either want to serve Him or go be with Him. Stan had no regrets. His life had been well lived. His prayer aligned with a desire to have his remaining days filled with opportunities for Jesus. He maintained an authentic relationship with His Savior.
In a book that chronicles Stan’s life, Dying Out Loud, he wrote, “It’s very easy these days for American Christians to live a good life, to serve their church and their community, and do good things. But sometimes there’s a big difference between living a good life and living the life God has prepared for you.”[i]
While preparing for battle, we are called to wilderness experiences and genuine community. In a setting where believers challenge one another, described as sharpening steel, we are called to love, find value in suffering, live in truth, and walk in holiness. The letter to the church in Sardis reveals the call to authenticity.
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.’
“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Was your faith greater in the past? Are you building the future with the same Spirit-filled passion that initially established your walk with the Lord?
Have authentic faith. Be unwilling to adopt the patterns of the world. The needs of the world are so great that we cannot afford to dabble in religion or be trifle with God.[ii]
Living an Authentic Faith
About a year after receiving word from Stan about his diagnosis, my family was visiting the ancient sites of the seven churches in Turkey. An email arrived that shared Stan had passed away. The day we visited the site of Sardis, the church called to authenticity, Stan went to his heavenly home.
Stan received permission to be buried in the Euphrates Valley in the Dark Canyon region in an old Christian graveyard. No one has been buried at this site in 100 years because Christians no longer live in the area. But Jesus was preached at Stan’s memorial service in Istanbul and at the burial site in the Dark Canyon. He lived a life of authenticity, showing Turkish friends hope for the future even when facing death.
Return to authentic faith and display God to the world. Be continually filled with the Spirit, manifesting resurrection power! The reward is great—eternity with Jesus among people from every nation, tribe, and language. Stan lived for Jesus in life and death. His challenge for us is, “There is more. Regardless of where you’re at right now, God wants to do more with you.”[iii]
Small Group Discussion Starters
- Follow-up from previous discussion: Can anyone remember the five steps for renewing your mind (realize, recognize, renounce, release, renewal)? Did anyone work through this process of “active holiness” this week?” Would anyone be willing to share an area of life that you surrendered to Jesus?
- What area of your life is not measuring up to God’s standards?
- What kind of active contribution are you making to your church?
- How are you learning to daily walk in the Spirit?
- What steps are you taking to build your future with the same Spirit-filled passion with which you began?
As a group hold each other accountable to living authentic lives. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal areas in your life not measuring up to His standard. Learn to walk in the Spirit and build your future with passion.
[i] Shawn Smucker, Dying Out Loud, (Springfield, MO: Influence Resources, 2013), Chapter 4, para. 19.
[ii] John Stott, What Christ Thinks of the Church, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 95.
[iii] Smucker, Chapter 6, para. 14.