The church is wracked with a plethora of challenges in the twenty-first century, as it always has been since Jesus Christ rose from the dead two thousand years ago. Through all of these years of history, the church has been rent by heresies and schisms, weathered scandals and conspiracies, and stood in the midst of persecutions and corruption and bad press. These days like never before, the technology which allows faster communication, faster travel, and social networking puts the church in a precarious social position. Easier access to publishing and the means to effectively spread lies masquerading as truth, as well as bitter truths that do not help the church’s image at all, electronically have left the church in a tattered and worn state. Yet for all of these sins and storms, one challenge runs rampant through our hallowed halls, and much of North American Christianity doesn’t care enough to stop it. This is the sin of unbelief.
Scripture is rife with passages where God speaks harshly and decisively against unbelief. From the very beginning of mankind, when the sin of Adam’s unbelief caused the entire human race to be enslaved, humanity has had its doubts about God, and it shows. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit of God indwells each and every believer who comes to faith in Christ, and they become a new creation. Where once they were dead in sin, they are now made alive in Christ. Faith is a gift of God, and Jesus himself tells us that no one can believe in him unless they are drawn by the Father. It further teaches that the indications of the Spirit’s indwelling, called “fruit of the Spirit” by the apostle Paul, are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." These are not things which a person can force themselves to have, nor is faith something that a person can generate in their own effort or masquerade behind for very long.
The trouble arises, as it did when Constantine took away the persecution in Rome, and when the advent of the papacy strengthened the church politically, when the church becomes too strong, when she becomes too comfortable, lazy and idle because many of her members are content to be “cookie-cutter Christians” in comfort and abundance, such as we see in the North American capitalist nations. They wonder why God is not changing them, and they live lives contrary to his holiness because of the simple fact that they do not really believe in God’s power. They do not know him personally, and as such cannot be obedient and faithful. Jesus said that those who love him will keep his commandments, and that they would be given the Spirit to teach them and remind them of his commandments. To love Jesus, one must know who he is. To know who he is, is to believe that he is in fact the Son of God. To believe in him brings eternal life.
False teachers have arisen and begun to preach the “prosperity gospel,” which promises renewed health and abundant wealth for those who believe in Jesus, whom they say, “wants you to be happy with your life.” Other gospels bent on tickling ears and generating revenue are ringing from the media and the Internet into North American homes at a horrifying pace, and when the money is all spent and the promises are not fulfilled, people fall away in droves, bitter and disillusioned, blaming the church and rejecting Jesus, who has really nothing for which to apologize. They never really believed in Jesus Christ, but in a pale image of someone who might resemble him, and does not speak or move. Essentially, they worship an idol.
Again, to believe is to receive the Holy Spirit, the indication of which is the changed life which exhibits real fruit, the earmarks of the new creation. Jesus’ commands remain the same, but the ones who will not choose to repent and obey the commands of God will suffer in unbelief, and the image of the church will continue to be tarnished in the eyes of the world, who contrary to popular awareness, is most definitely always watching.