As usual, Congress is confused. Or ignorant. Or just lying. Maybe even all three.
This time the issue is faith, specifically that 91 percent of congressional members claim to be Christians. Really? Ninety-one percent? As in, better than nine out of 10 follow Jesus? Seriously? This Congress?
The information comes from a recent Pew Research Center survey in which the overwhelming majority of those in the 115th Congress self-identified as Christians. It’s often hard to trust federal lawmakers on anything, and it’s especially hard to take them seriously on this when their words and actions routinely fly in the face of biblical teaching.
But this isn’t a column about the flaws in Congress; I’m just using these lawmakers to illustrate a greater problem that’s becoming more and more apparent in U.S. faith circles: Most people have no idea what it means to be a biblical Christian. Not in Washington, not in your neighborhood, and maybe not even in your church. Yes, when it comes to biblical literacy, confusion and ignorance are everywhere.
The same Pew survey says that 71 percent of U.S. adults identify as Christians, a number that’s been on the decline for years. Still, if the survey is to be believed, the vast majority of U.S. citizens believe themselves to be followers of Jesus, theoretically on a mission to make disciples of all nations and to spread the Good News of salvation. But look around. Read your social media feeds. Watch the news. This simply isn’t the case. If 91 percent of Congress and 71 percent of regular citizens truly were following Christ, America would be a much different place.
Here’s the thing: You don’t just get to call yourself a Christian and be one. It’s not something you just decide to do, like taking up running or becoming a vegan. “Hey, that Jesus had some cool things to say. I guess I’m a Christian now” is not how it works.
You’re also not a Christian because you go to church. Or because you believe in God. Or because you pray. Or because you walked an aisle that time. Or because you’re nice. Or because you’re a Republican. Or because you’re a Democrat.
The Bible teaches that salvation occurs only by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8). From there, your faith isn’t just a part of who you are — it IS who you are (Matthew 16:24; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20, for example). The idea is that there’s a genuine change, one that informs everything about you — your thoughts, your actions, your desires, the way you view and treat others. Not just on Sunday, but every day.
A Christ-like love for others and a desire for holiness will abound. A willful submission to Christ and his teachings, as revealed in Scripture, also will emerge. The Bible calls this a death to self.
In Congress and in 2017 America, a Christ-like love for others and a desire for holiness definitely do not abound, and neither does a willful submission to Christ and his teachings. And certainly not a death to self.
(By the way, 99 percent of Republicans identify as Christians, according to that survey, as do 80 percent of Democrats. I laugh at both numbers, as my extreme skepticism is bipartisan.)
So, what does genuine Christian faith look like? Consider what Galatians 5:19-25 has to say:
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.
Now, which part of that passage sounds like Congress, where 91 percent of members supposedly call Jesus lord? Which part sounds like 2017 America, where 71 percent of people are supposedly busy making disciples?
Yep, there’s confusion all right.
When you consider those verses in light of others, such as Matthew 17:13-14 (“For the gate is narrow ...”) and Matthew 7:22-23 (“I never knew you ...”), you have to conclude that a lot of professing Christians — in Congress, in your church, on your street, maybe even in your house — are either deceiving themselves or outright lying about their faith. The former is the more likely culprit in most cases.
There’s just so much spiritual confusion in America, which usually stems from bad theology. In some cases, that bad theology has permeated for generations, making the confusion all the more difficult to clear up. That’s a big reason why, as I’ve written before, discernment is so important for Christians in every area of life.
Again, just because someone appears Christian-like doesn’t mean he or she is truly following Christ. Test all claims and actions against the truth of Scripture, whether these claims and actions come from your congressional representative or from your best friend. Things aren’t always as they seem.
When the vast majority of our representatives and neighbors claim to follow Christ, it shouldn’t be hard to know who’s telling the truth.