The American church has a major problem. While I could certainly discuss declining attendance and many other issues, the root of the problem is focus. The American church has a spiritual maturity problem. It has nothing to do with Millennials, Gen-X, the iGen generation, or the Baby Boomers. The problem is an inherent desire to have a Santa Claus rather than a Savior.
This is a similar problem that the rich young ruler had. In Luke 18, a rich young ruler approached Jesus to inquire what was necessary for him to obtain eternal life. The young man listed all the good deeds he had performed in hopes that he would receive some special privilege from Jesus. Jesus gave the young man the answer. He was to sell everything he had and follow Jesus. It is not known if Jesus literally meant for the man to sell all he owned or if he was merely testing the man. Either way, the young man loved his possessions more than he desired to follow Jesus. The young man desired a Santa Claus rather than a Savior. Like the young ruler, the modern church also desires to have a Santa over a Savior in four ways.
- Needs over service. Notice that the rich young ruler was merely looking to have his needs met rather than seeing what he needed to do to serve the Lord. He was accustomed to living the good life and thought that following Christ would meet his personal needs. The problem was that Jesus demanded service. The man had to make God the focal point of his life. Rather than being egocentric (self-centered), he must become theocentric (God-centered). Too many Christians approach Christianity only for what they can receive than for what they can give. For this reason, many Christians church-hop (moving from one church to another) based on their perceived needs and desires. In such cases, the person wants a Santa Claus rather than a Savior.
- Works over faith. The young man thought that he could do enough things to earn his place in heaven. It is thought that if a child is good, he can make the “nice list” and receive a prize on Christmas morning. Too often, believers have accepted this mindset, believing that heaven is a thing to be earned rather than a place to be received. Yet, the Bible notes that “all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment” (Is. 64:6, CSB). Humanity does not have the ability to earn a spot in a place they don’t own. Like I could not force myself into a home that is not my own, so a person cannot work oneself into a place that cannot be possessed. Again, the placement of works over trust in Christ leads one to desire a Santa Claus over a Savior.
- Entertainment over discipleship. Modern believers often want to be entertained. Many will seek places that have the best music or preachers that provide the most theatrics. Yet, such antics seldom provides true growth and discipleship. Rather, discipleship is the process in which one grows in the person’s walk with Christ. Discipleship includes dying to oneself. That is the opposite of the desire to be entertained. The desire to be entertained indicates one’s desire to have a Santa over a Savior.
- Comfort over mission. The young ruler was comfortable with his financial status. No one likes to be uncomfortable. Discomfort is not pleasant. The young man wanted to do the very least he could to obtain eternity. However, Christ was calling him to become missional. The young man could not accept this because he was hoping Jesus to be more like a Santa Claus figure than he was a Savior.
Believers face many challenges. Some challenges could be resolved by simply following the will of the Lord. When a person’s emphasis is placed on the self, it can lead to all sorts of unhealthy practices. Furthermore, a person may find that one has not placed genuine faith in the risen Lord Jesus, but rather in an ideology comparable to Santa Claus rather than the historical and biblical Jesus of Nazareth. So as Jesus asked his disciples, we must ask ourselves, who do we say Jesus is (Mt. 16:15)?
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