Practicing Disciple or Practical Atheist?


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How about we step on some toes today?


Let me ask you, “What do you really believe?”


That’s an important question because we act on what we sincerely believe. For example, if I believe the stove is hot, I won’t touch it. If I believe I’ll have to pay to get into a movie, I’ll have money for admission. If I believe I can eat another White Castle hamburger, no one will stop me.


Believing leads to doing. Or should. Why do I say that?


Because we in the West have developed a mindset that works according to the ancient Greek way of thinking. That mindset is abstract and ideas-oriented. On the other hand, the Bible is written with a Hebraic way of thinking that is concrete and action-oriented.


For example, in our Western, Greek-thinking Christianity, we often go to our pastor and ask him, “Pastor, what should I think about this verse?” In Hebraic-thinking Judaism, the question to the rabbi would be “Rabbi, how should I do this verse?” Think vs. do. See the difference?


I’m reminded of my friend, Cheryl Hauer, and her discussion with her Jewish friend about their respective faiths. Cheryl said to her friend, “Let me tell you what I believe.” Her Jewish friend replied, “No. Let me follow you around for a week and I’ll tell you what you believe.”


Why would that work? Because there is a difference between thinking and believing. We can think about things without those thoughts becoming firm beliefs that lead us to “doing.” I know what I think, but what I really believe is shown by my actions. So, here are three thoughts about God’s existence.


· A Theist is a person who believes there is at least one god.

· An Agnostic is a person who believes the existence of any god is unknown or unknowable.

· An Atheist is a person who denies the existence of a god or any gods (per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary).


Self-professed Christians are a subset of the Theist camp because we believe there is only one God, revealed in three persons – a Triune God. He’s not a general god of the Theists. He is the specific God who has revealed Himself to us by His Word, the Bible. His clearest revelation to us was when He took on human form, Jesus the Christ (Messiah). Our moniker, Christian, comes from our claimed allegiance and commitment to our Lord and Rabbi Jesus.


Now back to my opening discussion. There are Christians whose relationship with Jesus is based on what they think about Him – what He taught and did. There are other Christians who have a relationship with Jesus based on what they believe about what He taught and did.


My dividing line here is doing vs. not doing. Some know and do. Their belief is proved by their actions. And some know, but don’t do. Their belief is not belief at all, but thoughts. In other words, just mental assent or agreement. They know what Jesus said and they agree with it, but there’s no true “belief” that moves them to act. They know with their heads, but not with their hearts.


The all-thought-no-action Christians are, in essence, Practical Atheists.


The Practical Atheist is a person who knows about God (thoughts) and professes a relationship with God, but lives (acts) as if He doesn’t exist. Here are a few hallmarks of a Practical Atheist:


· A Practical Atheist declares a form of godliness but denies the power thereof.

· A Practical Atheist proclaims the Way but lives their own way.

· A Practical Atheist talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk.

· A Practical Atheist confesses sin on Sunday but walks in uncaring sin the rest of the week.

· A Practical Atheist embraces God when needed but ignores Him when comfortable.

· A Practical Atheist has an image, but no impact.


Now I’m not talking about the genuine believer who does the above as a momentary thing like falling off a horse. A real rider gets back on. A supposed rider who is a “practical walker” claims to be able to ride a horse but just walks alongside the beast. A reasonable question would be, “then why are you involved with the horse, anyway?”


In Bible terms, the stumbling Christian is not a Practical Atheist. It’s all word, no works Christian that I’m talking about. A lukewarm Christian can easily be a Practical Atheist. They don’t reject Jesus, but neither are they concerned enough to do anything for Him. As Christians, we’re called to follow Jesus, not think about Jesus. Follow is a verb denoting action.


The Greek mindset says “I think, therefore I am.” The Hebraic mindset says, “You ain’t it unless you do it.”


It’s a documented fact that our nation was born with a firm Christian foundation of biblical principles. But can we really say the United States is a Christian nation today? Yes, we profess it, but do we show it? I’m not convinced. If we were a Christian nation, I believe we would have far greater proof by the way we all live and a far more godly impact on the world.


Jesus taught that you know a tree by its fruit (Matthew 12:33, Luke 6:44).


Then what does it say about our ”Christian nation” claim when we produce the biggest crop of pornography in the world? Yahoo Finance (August 10, 2021), said of the top 15 online pornography-producing nations, the United States held a 24.52% share. The next closest nation was the United Kingdom at 5.49%.


What does it say about our ”Christian nation” claim when the entire Democratic party (representing almost half the nation) removes any mention of the Judeo-Christian God from their party platform during their 2012 national convention? Politifact.com (Monique Curet, November 2, 2020) tried to fact-check the accusation by pointing out the new platform includes the phrase “God-given potential” and has generic references to an all-inclusive “supporting faith and service.” Wow! That’s a powerful stand for Jesus!


What does it say about our ”Christian nation” claim when the U.S. Supreme Court has enshrined into law the taking of innocent life (abortion, 1973 Roe v. Wade) and sexual immorality (same-sex unions, 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges)?


We’re a Christian nation? Really? Our actions, the lack of fruit and bad fruit, belie our claim and reveal us as more as a Practical Atheist nation. But that’s on a national level. And thankfully, a great many Christians in the U.S. don’t support those actions.


Now let’s take it down to a more personal and pointed level.


What do you REALLY believe? Are you a Practicing Disciple or Practical Atheist? Be careful. Your actions will rat you out. Every single day. Publicly and privately.


A disciple in the 1st c. was a person who devoted themselves to their Rabbi’s teaching and lifestyle to learn how to think and act just like their master modeled. It’s that simple.


Disciples would leave their family, friends, work, and everything else behind to live with their rabbi, listen to him, watch him, and then put everything they learned into practice. See? Thinking should lead to doing.


So what would happen to a disciple who refused to follow their rabbi? Then they weren’t a disciple. They would be cut loose from the cohort. Discipleship is always on the rabbi’s terms, not would-be disciple’s (Matthew 8:19-22). Period.


So I ask again, are you a Practicing Disciple or a Practical Atheist?


If you’re a practicing disciple, you’ll be committed to learning God’s word and acting God’s way. I say “God’s way” because that’s what Jesus taught and modeled, a life devoted to His Father’s Word and Will, and making it the standard for right thinking and doing.


But if you claim to be a Christian (Christian means “little Christ,” a miniature Christ, an imitation Jesus) and you don’t show it by your life daily, then you’re likely a Practical Atheist. You profess a relationship with God (Jesus) but live as if He doesn’t exist.


Are you ready for a word of warning straight from Rabbi Jesus’ lips? “Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:19). We’re to be “on fire” or risk being “fired.”


See? I told you there would be some toe-stomping today!


Don’t despair. We can change this. Let me suggest a few quick things to get you going and then gauge where you’re at as a disciple and a true believer.


First, talk to Jesus about it. If you’re truly born-again, Rabbi Jesus is with you via His Holy Spirit living in you. I sometimes refer to the Holy Spirit as our Resident Rabbi because His job is to teach us all things and remind us of everything Jesus has said to us (John 14:26). And let me say it again. Our relationship with Jesus doesn’t stop at thinking. God the Holy Spirit, our Resident Rabbi is “working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13). There’s the doing thing, the outworking of what we think based on what we are taught.


Second, make Bible reading and study a significant part of your daily life. The Bible is our first source for learning about who God is and how He wants us to live. Is the Bible your compass for life’s journey? If you had to evacuate your home and take only a backpack, could you honestly say a Bible would be in it? You can’t act if you don’t know and you can’t know if you don’t learn. I teach my students the motto, “Study to learn, learn to do!”


Third, spend time throughout the day talking with the Lord. Prayer is the time when the Written Word becomes the Living Word. If you’re afraid people will think you’re nuts because you’re “talking to yourself,” use earbuds or a cell phone earpiece. It works great! Also, when someone comes up to pester you to sign up for a new credit card at the mall, you can politely wave them off with a whispered “Not now. I’m talkin’ with my Dad.” Works every time!


And when you pray, make it more than a long list of requests (Matthew 6:7-15). Make it conversational. Just talk to your Resident Rabbi. Ask Him questions and wait for a response. It could come to you via a scripture or a thought that pops into your head. Check it with the Bible. There are many ways Jesus speaks to us. The best way to learn His voice is by experience.


Fourth, remember what Cheryl’s friend said to her, “Let me follow you around for a week and I’ll tell you what you believe.” Putting what you think into practice is where you prove you’re a Practicing Disciple and not a Practical Atheist. “Doing” is where the spiritual world invades the physical world, where inspiration translates into influence. James wrote “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). Practicing Disciples do their Rabbi’s teachings. Practical atheists think about God and His commands, but live like He doesn’t exist. They just live for themselves.


I once heard it asked, “If you were on trial for your claim of being Jesus’ disciple, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Or would you be convicted as a practical atheist?

Every day you walk out the door, the court is in session.


Pastor Jay Christianson

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