Normal or Nominal?

Normal or Nominal?

Some 250 years ago, two young Christian men heard of an island in the West Indies which was virtually owned by one plantation master. He was a violent man who treated his slaves with complete contempt. He would not allow them to know anything of Christianity; no minister was permitted to come and form a church among them. So these two young Christian men, gripped with a burden for a group of people who might never hear about the love of Jesus, sold themselves into slavery to that plantation master. The money they received for their own lives they used to pay for their passage to get to the island. They gave up their lives to go and live among that community of slaves and bring them the Gospel.

Now when we hear of those two young men, we are tempted to think “Selling yourself into slavery? That is not normal.” Perhaps it is unusual, but if that is not normal, what IS the “NORMAL” Christian life? What does it mean to be devoted to Jesus Christ? Before answering that question, let me explain what true devotion is not.

1. Devotion does not consist of reading the Bible, nor praying, nor attending meetings. These may or may not be instances of devotion, but are they not to be regarded as devotion itself because they can be performed without being devoted.

2. Devotion does not consist of a private or public commitment of our lives to God. These are to be regarded as special acts, pledges, or promises of devotion, but not as devotion itself.

3. Devotion does not consist of individual acts or exercises of any kind. These may indeed be "acts of devotion," but no acts or exercises in themselves constitute devotion.

A man walked up to a vending machine, put in a coin, pressed the buttons labeled, “coffee, double cream, sugar.” No cup appeared, but the nozzles went into action sending forth coffee, cream and sugar. After the proper amounts had gone down the drain, the machine turned off. “Now that’s real automation,” said the man. “This thing even drinks it for you.”

Unfortunately, that is just how nominal “Christians” think. They want to put in some money and let the rest be taken care of automatically. Nominal “Christianity” is not Christianity at all, because there is no devotion.

The Bible shows us that the normal Christian life is one of FULL DEVOTION to Jesus Christ. Anything less than TOTAL devotion to Him is SUB-NORMAL, inferior, not what Jesus intends.

Mark 8:34-38 he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."

Devotion is that state of the heart in which everything - our whole life, being, and possessions - are a continual offering to God; that is, they are continually devoted to God. True devotion is the complete dedication of all we have and are, extending to all times, places, employments, thoughts, and feelings to the lordship of Jesus Christ. That is the normal Christian life.

Col 3:23-24 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

To illustrate the meaning of normal Christian devotion, let your own ideas of a pastor be the standard. You most likely believe that a pastor, in preaching the Gospel, should have only one purpose in mind - to be used by God for the salvation and sanctification of sinners. Since he professes to be a servant of God, you feel that he ought to study, preach, and perform all his ministerial duties, not for himself, not for a salary, not to increase his popularity, but only to glorify God. Now you can see that if he does not have this character, his service is not an offering to God, it is not a devotion to God, but a devotion to himself. Devotion then, in a pastor, is that state of mind in which all his pastoral duties are performed for the glory of God and where his whole life is a continual offering to God.

Furthermore, you probably feel that a minister ought to be as devoted to God in everything else as he is in praying or preaching - and in this you are right! For he not only ought to be, but really is, only as devoted in the pulpit as he is out of the pulpit. If he is influenced by selfish and worldly motives during the week, then these same motives are surely in his heart on Sunday. If during the week his thoughts are centered upon his own interests, endeavoring to promote himself, you can be sure it's the same on Sunday. You most likely also feel that if a minister's devotion is merely an outward farce - that he preaches, prays, visits, and performs all his duties mainly for the purpose of supporting his family, or to get honor and attention for himself - you would say that he was a wicked man. If these are your views on the subject, they are correct. Here, where you have no personal interest, you form a right judgment and decide correctly concerning the character and devotion of such a man. Now remember, nothing short of this standard for pastors is devotion in you!

Keep in mind, that no particular acts, or zeal, or gushing of emotion, or resolutions to change, or promises of future obedience constitute devotion. Devotion is that state in which the soul (mind, will, and emotions) has God as the object of its supreme affection, in which we not only live and move in God, but for God. In other words, devotion is that state in which attention is diverted from self and self-seeking, and is directed to God - our thoughts, purposes, desires, affections, and emotions all hanging upon, and devoted to, Him.

Therefore, to be a normal, devoted Christian, we must give up all rights, take up a cross, and follow Jesus. One example of a person who lived the normal Christian life was the Apostle Paul. Let’s read what he said was full devotion to Jesus.

Philippians 3:7-16 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

There is a lot in this passage, but we can only chew a little meat at a time. So let’s consider five things Paul says about a fully devoted follower of Jesus.

1. A Fully Devoted Follower of Jesus COUNTS ALL THINGS “LOSS”.
He says: “The things I used to count as ‘profit’ I now count as loss.” What things had Paul been counting as his “profits”? Well, it’s all listed in the previous verses, 4 through 6. He felt he’d made great advances in living a religious life. He believed he was pleasing God and he was head and shoulders above other people. He says: “I was circumcised as a baby – prepared for a God-pleasing life by my parents – I was raised in church. I had the right family connections – generations of God-fearing people. I became a Pharisee – a leader in the church. In fact, I was a faultless legalist – I paid close attention to the details of the law so that I wouldn’t do anything wrong.”

Paul said: “These are what I THOUGHT OF as my ‘profits’. I had them in the asset column of my account with God, but I’ve seen their true worthlessness and I’ve now shifted them over into the liability column and find myself totally in debt to Jesus Christ.”

After that, nothing in life was allowed to take his focus from following solely after Jesus. “It’s all rubbish!” Paul says. Career, money, possessions, houses, cars, popularity, fame, security, a “nest egg” for the future, fashion, the toys of this world – IT’S ALL RUBBISH. “And I’m not pursuing them anymore. There is something more valuable, more worth living for … that I might gain Christ.” Him, and Him alone. That’s FULL devotion and it is the standard for normal Christianity.

A normal, fully devoted follower of Jesus counts all things “loss” that he may gain Christ, become like Him, and know Him intimately. That leads us into the second characteristic.

2. A Fully Devoted Follower of Jesus HAS A PASSION TO KNOW CHRIST.
Verse 10 – Paul says: I’ve done all this “…that I may KNOW HIM.” The word “know” here means “to know personally and intimately by experience”.

Paul is saying: “I used to be content with a lot of knowledge ABOUT God.” Paul had been trained by the best. He sat at the feet of Gamaliel, the leading religious scholar of the day. Paul knew lots of Scripture from memory. He’d studied theology. He knew a lot ABOUT God. He says: “But then one day I MET Him. And you know what, He wasn’t AT ALL what I expected! For all my knowledge, I never knew Him!” When God revealed Himself to Paul in a blinding light along the road to Damascus … It was JESUS! He’d been trying to serve God by opposing Jesus, and He turned out to be the same Person! And Paul says: “NOW, having caught a glimpse of Him, ALL I want is to know Him more!” Do you have that kind of passion to know Christ?

Jesus wants us to know Him, too, now and forever. When we talk about knowing GOD – that will occupy us forever! Kathy and I have been married 44 years and I am still getting to know her. Imagine knowing God! He’s amazing! Wonderful! Awesome!

A normal, fully devoted follower of Jesus has a passion to know Christ.

3. A Fully Devoted Follower of Jesus LIVES A NEW LIFE.
Verse 10 again – “That I may know Him AND THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION.”

If you believed Jesus died for your sin and were baptized to make Him Lord of your life, then the VERY SAME POWER that came into Jesus’ dead body and raised Him to life again (the Holy Spirit) has now come into your life. He is living and active in you--convicting, leading, guiding, comforting, revealing the Truth, and giving peace, joy, love, all the fruit of the Spirit.

Romans 8:11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Paul says “I want to know in ever increasing measure that resurrecting power of God. I’m pursuing this new life.”

Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

If you’re a fully devoted follower of Jesus, you can’t live the way you used to live anymore. The normal, Christian life isn’t an “improved” life – it’s an entirely DIFFERENT life! God, the Holy Spirit, empowers us to live a new life.

Therefore, a normal, fully devoted follower of Jesus lives a NEW life, regardless of the consequences—and there will be consequences, which leads us to the next characteristic of a normal devoted Christian.

4. A Fully Devoted Follower of Jesus IS PREPARED TO PAY THE PRICE.
Paul goes on in verse 10 to say: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”

Around the world, thousands of people this year will pay the ultimate price for their faith in Christ. We don’t see a lot of that here in America yet, but I want us to be prepared! It’s not just physical death. We may never be asked to pay that price, but we are all required to die to SELF.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:31 “I die every day--I mean that, brothers--just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Paul was referring to dying to self, and living for Christ, which is sometimes HARDER than dying physically.  Normal Christian devotion is willing to go to death, but it also embraces death to self - MY desires, MY attitudes, MY thinking.

Romans 14:7-8 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.  If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

A normal devoted follower of Jesus pays the price to follow Jesus.

5. A Fully Devoted Follower of Jesus PRESSES ON TO THE FINISH. Maturity as a believer is not measured by how much we know - it’s measured by the passion with which we are committed to LIVING OUT our faith.

James 1:22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

The duties of devotion are generally assumed to be prayer and reading the Scriptures, together with singing and praying in the fellowship of God's House. However, these nominal acts of devotion do not attract people to Jesus Christ. On the other hand, a normal, fully devoted person to Jesus, acts like Jesus. He is a person that is just as devoted in his daily business as he is on Sunday. The business of the world is performed by him with the same spirit and purpose as he prays, reads his Bible, and attends worship on Sunday. This is the witness that attracts people to Jesus. Furthermore, every act devoted to God is as acceptable to God as prayer or praise.

1 Cor. 10:31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Now we should understand that if God’s providence should confine us at home to nurse the sick, or prevents us from observing those hours of worship that we are used to keeping, we are not to be brought into condemnation by Satan for this - if we are conscious that these other duties are being done for the Lord. A spirit of devotion will turn the most constant cares and the most pressing labors into the deepest and most unceasing communion with God. The more pressing and tedious our duties - if they are performed for God - the deeper and more continual our communion with Him. For whatever is done in a spirit of devotion is communion with God.

Col. 3:17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Many mistake emotion for devotion. But if our emotions are not inspired by the Holy Spirit, giving us an intense love for Jesus Christ and our fellow sinner, then those emotions show we are not devoted to God at all, but to our own self interests. The fruit of the Holy Spirit are the emotions that characterize Christ and our devotion to Him.

Be your own judge. Do you have the spirit of true devotion? Do not reply, "I hope so," for if you are devoted to God, you know it - and if you are not conscious of being devoted to God, it is because you are not devoted. My guess is we all could become more devoted than we are now.

Devotion begins when you ask Jesus to forgive your sin, take control of your life, and are baptized. Then, we are born again of the Holy Spirit to live a new life. We are powerless to be devoted to Jesus without God, the Holy Spirit, living in us.

Gal. 6:7-8 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

How about you, Christian? Have you made the conscious decision that you are DONE with sub-normal Christian living? Are all your time, talents, and treasures devoted to Him, or is there something more that the Spirit is showing you that still needs to be devoted to Jesus? That something is part of the all you vowed to give to Him when He saved you. Become a normal Christian today, fully devoted to Jesus.