Perhaps it comes from living in a traditionally semi-Christian culture in which people go to church, sit still for an hour or two, sing a few songs, listen to a sermon, nod their heads in agreement, assume that their agreement equals faith, and go home living just as they did before—and just as their nonchurchgoing friends do. That’s a passive kind of faith, and it keeps people in touch with cultural Christianity. But it doesn’t change lives.
An hour or two of worship and teaching on Sundays is good, but it is rarely enough to combat the steady stream of un-Christian perspectives that fill our workplaces, communities, media, and interactions with society and culture at large. And that steady stream can be seductive. Many Christians have bought into the lie that we can be satisfied and fulfilled with a little more money, a better job, a successful family with kids who excel, a coveted neighborhood, nicer clothes, a remodeled house, a better car, and better vacations. All those things can be wonderful blessings given by God, but they can also become idols that compel our hearts to keep reaching for more and never having enough. When the pursuit of bigger, better, and more dominates our thoughts and activities, it inhibits and undermines the changes God wants to work into our lives. We eventually find that bigger, better, and more never really satisfies, and the change that would have satisfied us remains elusive.
Millions of Christians have settled for the emptiness of worldly pursuits by prioritizing them over the adventure of walking with God and experiencing the transformation He gives. Jesus promised that when we seek God’s kingdom and righteousness above all else, all else tends to fall into place (Matt. 6:33). Unfortunately, passive faith tends to reverse that order. Those who seek the kingdom of God first get that and more; those who seek worldly pursuits above the kingdom of God usually miss out on the satisfaction of both. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.”1 Many Christians have found that to be painfully true.
If any of the above describes your experience, don’t despair. Passive faith is an easy pattern to fall into, and Jesus warned that it’s powerfully seductive, but it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means you’ve gradually been affected by cultural and social trends that thwart God’s transforming work in your life. There’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ. If you recognize this pattern in your life, the good news is that recognizing it is the first step to changing it. Your heavenly Father is ready and waiting for you to turn to Him and enter into a deeper and more fulfilling relationship with Him.
In my many years of pastoring and leading ministries, I have become convinced that many people are not intentionally distancing themselves from God. They just don’t understand or know how to apply biblical truth to their lives. Far too many people fit Paul’s description of “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5). The average professing believer can affirm that Jesus died on the cross, rose from the grave, and saved us from our sins. Most can point to a time when they accepted Christ by faith as their Savior and asked Him into their hearts. But many who have experienced an initial change of perspective and lifestyle ceased to grow significantly in ways that impact their core values and character. Jesus has not made a significant difference in the way many Christians live—how they spend their time, handle their sexuality, live with integrity, determine their priorities, fulfill their roles in marriage and parenting, love their neighbors as themselves, and seek to reach the world for Christ. The church as a whole desperately needs to experience the fullness of God and His power to transform us.
Receiving the free gift of salvation is a huge, foundational decision, but it is a starting point for the rest of our lives, not the culmination of our faith. The cross and resurrection save us from the penalty of sin when we believe, but they are also meant to save us from sin’s influence in our lives from that day forward. It’s great to know what we were saved from, but we also need to discover what we were saved for. God has redeemed us so He can restore us into His image. We were saved in order to experience a holy transformation that not only changes our own lives but also the lives of people around us.
Unfortunately, evangelical Christianity has developed a culture in which no one is very surprised when someone prays to receive Christ and continues in a lifestyle of minimal change. For many, this may reflect a casual approach to faith, but I think most genuine believers feel stuck in a dilemma. On one hand, they know that Christ is living within them. On the other, they continue to struggle with sin and get swept into the influences of their culture.
My heart goes out to people caught in that dilemma because I know from experience what it feels like. They go back and forth between wondering whether something is wrong with them or with the gospel itself. Many haven’t connected with other believers who could help them, developed new habits that allow transformation to occur, or learned the principles of spiritual growth. Over time, that ongoing dilemma leads to a life of resignation—Christian in name, but agnostic toward how it all works. They hope they go to heaven but wish they could experience its power on earth. Little by little, the new life fades back into the old, and even though they hunger for change from time to time, they have little hope of experiencing it. They resign themselves to passive faith.
Ingram, Chip. 2021. Yes! You Really Can Change: What to Do When You’re Spiritually Stuck. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
We have just released a new Bible Study based on Chip Ingram’s amazing book, You Really Can Change. These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.