Growing up I remember often hearing sermons about ‘plastic Christians’ or Christians that were not the real deal and wouldn’t stand up to the tests before us. Within my faith tradition, this often came in the theme of last day events which left me with a feeling of eschatological anxiety (or fear of the end.) How would I know if I was a ‘plastic Christian’ or not? Could I ever be sure I am saved and enough? As I think about the Seventh-day Adventist faith tradition and where our pioneers stood theologically and our current theologians stand theological there are key issues such as salvation that have remained constant. A result of this is being left with a beautiful image of our Christian walk and accepting the new life in Christ that Paul speaks about often.
When writing about what it means to have a new life in Christ it helps to make a couple of things clear from the outset.
1. This is not intended as a strictly theological pice of writing.
2. Our works have nothing to do with our salvation. Works and salvation occur separately to each other. Good works are a response to the gift of salvation that Christ/God has provided us. We as Adventists believe we cannot work our way into Heaven (see Zechariah 3.)
4. Any theological structure that places works at any point a means to salvation is no longer an Adventist belief structure and is instead borrowing from other faith traditions.
The idea of being a plastic Christian came from the lukewarm church of Laodicea highlighted in Revelation 3, the idea being that this church not keeping the teachings of God and not living as Jesus would intend for them. Essentially the teachings, grace and love of God had not changed them. Whilst we could look at this as talking simply about a behavioural change I have always looked at this as a heart change. When one accepts the gift of salvation by God’s grace (and are baptised as a public declaration of this) their heart, mind and desires are changed. I look at plastic (lukewarm) Christians as tradition keepers that have not truly met Jesus Christ. For if we have met Jesus Christ keeping tradition wouldn’t be our focus. Rather doing the will of God in our lives as a witness for others would be the outflow of God’s grace/love from our hearts. This could also be summed up with another cutting question, who are you when no one is looking?
When we meet Jesus and allow him into our lives we experience freedom in Christ and feel compelled to revolutionise the way we live as a witness (or testament) of the gift of salvation that God has provided us. This push for change will not and cannot result in a state of sinless perfection on this earth. After all, what would be the point of Christ’s sacrifice if I could achieve what he did achieve. Romans 3:24 notes that we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. We are freed through our acceptance of Christ and have access to a new life in Christ. Further to this 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that when we are in Christ we are a new creation and the old one has passed away. Ephesians 4:22-24 highlights the fact that we are renewed in the spirit of our minds and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. This isn’t that we are all of a sudden made sinless, but rather we are seen in the eyes of God as righteous and holy, which frees us to live our new life as a new creation. One that desires to live a life that is a witness to others of what Christ has done in our lives and can do in their lives.
We often fail to talk about what this new life in Christ looks like, are we suddenly sinless or do we even change is the two extremes most head towards. Galatians 5:22-23 speaks about the fruit of the spirit which is an important part of a behavioural standard that is brought out in believers by the Holy Spirit. We as Christians are also called into community, you would think a community that if all are experiencing a new life the arguing, bickering and politicking that goes on wouldn’t occur. Rather Churches are a breeding ground for the furthering of personal agendas. Not so unlike the world that many groups preach against. As a leader this reality has challenged me, it has also helped me to realise that the crux of at least that interpersonal dynamics is people failing to live to and understand their values. When reinventing church it is my thought that leaders must provide a structure for members to discover both their values and their spiritual gifting.
We as humans are designed to function best in community, however, the values of a community should overlap or speak into our own core values. This has brought me to a realisation that values are an essential part of experiencing a new life with Christ. When leaders appoint people into roles or make decisions there should be a discerning voice within us working out what their values and where they are best positioned in our church family to serve. Further to that, as a wider church, there must be a process to identify core corporate values and what that looks like expressed as key behaviours. When these steps are occurring the interpersonal dynamics that plague and weigh down churches will be lessened enabling the church to operate to its full potential.