No season accentuates the difference between “religion” and “faith” more than Christmas. CEOs (Christmas-Easter Only) show up at church for the first time in months. Christian symbols are brought down from the attic and placed around the house and on the tree. Believers pick up the battle where they left off the year before at the first mention of “Happy Holidays” and “X-mas”. Christians find it tougher every Christmas to find a card with religious references. TV commercials fuel rampant consumerism, luring even those who understand the “reason for the season” into their trap.
Fighting the increasing secularization of Christmas won’t put Christ back in Christmas. Revival won’t break out if more stores acquiesce to demands to say “Merry Christmas”, Hallmark offers more religious Christmas cards, and advertisers have the decency to wait until after Thanksgiving dinner is over before kicking off Black Friday.
We don’t need more religion this Christmas. We need more faith…
- Religion is Temporal – Does Christianity make our lives better? Is it a big part of our lives? Does it sustain us through the hard times? Does the Lord bless us with good things during our lives? Yes on all counts. However, a “this life” orientation dominates the thinking of too many professing believers and the teachings of too many pastors today.
- Faith is Eternal – Jesus “for the joy set before him He endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Hebrews 11 repeatedly affirms that all those enshrined in the Hall of Faith were looking forward to what lay ahead – heaven. They recognized that this is not our home, and acted accordingly. It was that same assurance of the next life (not promises for this life) that convinced Rachel Scott to proclaim her faith at gunpoint in Columbine.
- Religion Defends – What should Christians do about our nation’s crumbling moral foundation? Protests and activism have largely backfired. Name a significant recent court decision where the Christian moral position has prevailed.
- Faith Turns the Other Cheek – Christ doesn’t need us to defend our faith. Jesus never defended Himself. He was like a sheep led to slaughter. What Jesus did was to keep on serving, loving, building disciples and preaching the gospel every day of his life. We should do likewise.
- Religion Judges – Religion says, “You’re wrong” and stays at arms length.
- Faith Cares – Faith says, “You’re loved” and pursues the lost at close proximity.
- Religion Repels – Society has come to see the defensiveness, accusations and evangelism of Christians as intolerance. It’s ironic that Jesus had the biggest issue not with those the “religious” considered “sinners”, but with those who condemned “sinners”.
- Faith Attracts – Jesus normally healed and fed first, then said who He is. He had the perfect words, but knew that wouldn’t be enough to get people to listen. Today, if churches were still leading with compassion, non-believers would be much more interested in what Christians have to say.
- Religion is Transparent – Religion hinges on mankind and we screw up. It tries to cover failures and look godly – obscuring the view of the one true God. As our frailty becomes evident, Christians are seen as hypocrites, causing others weak in their faith to walk away, some never to return.
- Faith is Impenetrable – Faith’s foundation is God and He keeps his promises. God has no moral lapses. Most seekers don’t buy “religion” – they can see through it. They’re looking for truth and genuine faith that saves.
- Religion Loses the Battle – Our culture is moving away from Jesus. All of our lobbying, voting and venting on behalf of our religion isn’t turning the tide – it’s only galvanizing the opposition.
- Faith Wins the War – We know the end of the story. We’ve read the Book of Revelation. Jesus wins. In the war for the souls of men and women, faithful disciples of Jesus are much better equipped to be effective soldiers than the “religious”.
- Religion Consumes – Churchgoers look to be fed. Prayers become about blessings. Emphasis is on what God can do for them.
- Faith Dispenses – Members become the personification of church, living Prayer, Care and Share lifestyles, looking to reach others for Christ.
- Religion Clings – Focusing on the temporal causes people to hang on to what they have.
- Faith Releases – Dying to self, crucified with Christ daily, causes people to give sacrificially of their time, talents and treasures.
- Religion Holds Back – Belief in Jesus isn’t enough. Those who stop there won’t leave everything behind if that’s what Christ asks of them.
- Faith Surrenders – Satan and demons believe in Jesus too, but they won’t follow Him. Faith is belief that converts to surrender.
- Religion Puffs up – Using Christian lingo and attending church regularly, then criticizing others who don’t follow their rules, makes many feel superior. Jesus hates that.
- Faith Humbles – Realizing we’re all sinners in dire need of a Savior, redeemed solely by the grace of God, keeps Christians grounded. Humility is the essence of our faith.
- Religion Says “God will…” – Too many pastors teach that faith is having enough belief that God will give us what we want. When healing doesn’t come and the deal falls through, it’s our fault for not having more faith.
- Faith Says “God can…” – Jesus asked repeatedly, “Do you believe I am able to heal you?” Belief that He COULD was all it took. That means deferring to God’s will – whether the outcome is good, bad or indifferent. Maybe it’s best if healing doesn’t come if it will awaken others to their own mortality and thereby bring them to Christ (i.e. “next life thinking”).
- Religion Caters – Asking little of churchgoers, providing an entertaining worship experience, and promising a better life is sure to keep lukewarm Christians coming back.
- Faith Challenges – Jesus preached his most challenging sermon at the height of His popularity in John 6. Unveiling the true costs of discipleship and holding the congregation accountable to the Great Commission standard risks driving everyone away.
- Religion Builds a Church – Prevailing church growth models like Invite, Involve, Invest define pastors and staff as “church” and churchgoers as “customers”. The redefinition of those terms has resulted in reallocating funds away from local missions to member retention and from intensive discipleship to small groups. These days, growing does not always mean healthy.
- Faith Builds Disciples – The Biblical definition of “church” and its “customer” requires training and empowering members, decentralizing to reach the lost in the community where the church is planted.
- Religion Speaks – Being a Monday morning quarterback, bemoaning what’s wrong with the world, is easy.
- Faith Acts – Getting out of your armchair and serving others in Jesus’ name is hard. As the book of James says, faith without works is dead. We’re called to be more about justice than judgment and compassion than condemnation.
- Religion Keeps Walking – In the Good Samaritan story, the religious leaders were too busy doing religious stuff to stop and care for the beaten robbery victim.
- Faith Stops and Helps – Instead, a man those religious leaders reviled – a Samaritan – was the hero in Jesus’ story. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…“
- Religion Shuts Off – Private, Passive, Pensive Christians keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ to themselves.
- Faith Pours Out – Powerful Christians come to grips fully with the grace and mercy of Jesus and can’t possibly keep it in.
How Can You Live Out Your Faith This Christmas?
“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)
Christ came to bring redemption and reconciliation so that we could pass along those messages to others – that’s the real “reason for the season”. Disciples follow Jesus’ model of leading with compassion then telling them who He is. In the days leading up to Christmas, let’s remind our neighbors, coworkers and complete strangers that this season is about a Savior and not Santa Claus. #GIVEANETERNALGIFT, not temporal gifts that are quickly forgotten and discarded:
- Perform an act of kindness for a coworker, neighbor or complete stranger and watch it open the door to sharing the Gospel.
- Post a pic and tell your story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #GiveAnEternalGift to inspire others.
- Challenge 3 of your friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”.