Nominal Christianity


John R.W. Stott (1921-2011), Basic Christianity

The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict, half-built towers – the ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. For thousands of people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so-called "nominal Christianity." In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved; enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism.

Monday: Revelation 3:14-22
Jesus describes the state of the church in Laodicea as “lukewarm,” and He reveals His abhorrence by the promise that He will “spit them” out of His mouth. What attitudes characterize such believers? Do you think this is what Stott means when he refers to “nominal Christianity”? What are some of the things you can do daily and weekly to guarantee that your faith is not “nominal”?

Tuesday: Matthew 10:34-39; Luke 14:25-33
Jesus indicates that His disciples may find themselves “divided” from close relatives and friends because of their decision to follow Him. Has this been true in your life? Do you have family members or friends who are not Christians and who oppose your desire to live a godly life? What form does their antagonism take? How do you handle their opposition? How is God using the situation to draw you closer and to help you avoid becoming a “nominal Christian”?

Wednesday: 2 Corinthians 4:7-18; 2 Corinthians 11:23-33
Stott claims that nominal Christians treat their “religion” as a “great, soft cushion.” How is this picture of the Christian life at odds with what Jesus expects, as evidenced by Paul’s description of his life? Did God protect Paul from “the hard unpleasantness of life”? Would Paul have viewed Christianity as “escapism”? Do you expect God to shield you from life’s harsher elements? Why or why not?

Thursday: Matthew 16:24-27; Mark 8:31-38
To avoid becoming nominal Christians, we must follow Jesus, including taking up our own cross. In practical terms, what “cross(es)” have you been required to “take up”? Has there been a time when you knew Christ wanted you to go a certain direction or wanted you to give up something you valued so you could follow Him more faithfully? Did you do it, or did you turn away? What happened?

Friday: Romans 12
Paul is describing the life every Christian is called to live, a “living and holy sacrifice” type of life. We obey this command by (1) not conforming to this world, (2) by “renewing our mind,” and (3) by obeying the commands given in this passage (and other biblical passages) describing the normal Christian life. Briefly describe what you think each means. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your progress in these areas?

Saturday: Romans 6:11-14
If you desire to be something more than a nominal Christian, you will need to deal honestly and quickly with sin. How can you obey the command to present your body an “instrument of righteousness”? Consider what the following verses say:

  • Joshua 1:8
  • Joshua 1:16-17
  • 1 John 1:9
  • Philippians 3:12-17

Sunday: Hebrews 2:1-4; Hebrews 10:19-25; Hebrews 12:1-2
The greatest defense against becoming a nominal Christian is to keep our eyes on Christ – on Who He is, what He has done for us, what He intends to make of us, and what our future with Him holds. However, we also need the example of Christians who lived before us, and the encouragement and support of Christians we know now. Are you learning about Christians who lived in other times such as Saint Augustine, Saint Patrick, Hildegard von Bingen, Saint Francis of Assisi, William Wilberforce, Oswald Chambers, Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliott, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Are you regularly fellowshipping, worshipping, and praying with your brothers and sisters in Christ? Name one or two of your spiritual heroes (living or dead) and explain why you hold them in such esteem.

The Lesson from This Week:
As we saw in Revelation 3, Jesus does not approve of “nominal Christians.” Examine your own walk with the Lord to see if you fall into this category. If so, do you want to change? Do you desire a more vibrant Christian life, no matter what it costs? Then begin praying for God to accomplish this in your life, and He will grant your petition (Philippians 2:6): And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

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