By Lane Noble
Every born-again Christian has experienced it. They’ve dealt with the frustration. Sunday rolls around and people routinely show up to church like they’re supposed to. They then proceed to sing songs that detail the truths of the glorious gospel of Christ saving them from eternal condemnation. Once they sit down, the faithful pastor gets up to preach and they either listen respectfully or in some cases don’t listen at all to the proclamation of the greatest joy any human being can experience. Then they stand up and sing some more.
Not even an hour after church is over, these same people go back to approaching their lives as though God doesn’t exist, the Bible isn’t true, and Jesus never died for the sins of the world. Of course, these people typically do believe in God. They typically believe the Bible is true. They most certainly believe that Jesus died for their sins. They believe and were baptized. They’re good, right?
If you’re reading this article more than likely you know better. The people with whom this article will resonate most are probably people who have ever lived in the states of Texas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Iowa, etc. I myself was born and raised in central Kentucky, and, not only that, but I was brought up in church and attended a private Christian school.
I know “cultural Christianity” like I know the back of my hand. I lived in it and breathed it. In fact, I was sucked in and captivated by it. I was shaped by it in dangerous ways. Yet I’ve repented of my lukewarm lifestyle and since pursued Jesus. In light of this, I’ve examined my own experience and the experience of others. I’ve watched faithful Christians successfully minister to me and others.
Many in the Bible Belt are frustrated and weighed down by the burden of trying to minister and evangelize to people who live in it. Way too many people in it call themselves Christians and actually believe themselves to be. No matter how much you confront these people. No matter how much you preach to them. No matter how much Bible they read or listen to and no matter how many songs they hear, for some reason, their need for a Savior doesn’t seem to hit them. They believe it but they don’t believe it. It’s a sort of double think that is very difficult to understand, yet so many do.
I certainly understand what this is like because it used to be me. So ho does one convert a Bible Belt Christian. What is the answer to this perplexing puzzle?
As always, the Word of God has the answer to all that we need for life and godliness. (2 Timothy 3:16) This issue is not exception. The answer lies in 1 Corinthians 3 and Matthew 5.
The Answer to the Perplexing Bible Belt Problem
In order to understand the the solution, we have to understand the root of the problem. The root of the problem has to do with the fact that, in a biblically literate place like the Bible Belt, a new worldview called “cultural Christianity” has the potential to emerge. This new worldview makes it possible to believe the Bible but still live in sin. It’s beyond the scope of this article to go into an in depth argument as to why that’s not biblical. However, I will say that works reflect the fact that we’re saved. If we’re not growing in Christ, that should be a red flag that you’re not saved. This is indicated in James 2, Romans 6, and Galatians 5.
My pain point here is that this worldview comes about from a desire to keep living in sin and not fully understand how precious Christ is. On top of this, as the years go by, people who have this worldview eventually have children, and these children, while raised to believe that the Bible is true, look around and notice that those who claim to be Christians don’t live like Christians. Therefore, they conclude, full change must not be necessary to being a Christian.
Now, they would never vocalize it in that way. They usually fear God enough to speak reverently, albeit dispassionately, about God and His Word. However, it’s essentially the worldview that they have.
Of course, born-again Christians know that this is a false worldview. It’s a Satanic religion that says God is real and important but He doesn’t demand repentance. The last premise is never vocalized, but generally believed.
So how do we as Christians engage this? In short, the answer is to live as faithfully to Christ as you can.
Now before you get angry and say, “Wow, Lane. Thanks for that profound insight! I feel so enlightened!”, let me explain what I mean.
In 1 Corinthians 3:6, the apostle Paul writes, speaking of God’s servants ministering to the city of Corinth, “I planted, Apollo’s watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants or he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.”
The Bible likes to use agricultural language when talking about evangelism. Paul says that he was the one who planted in the city of Corinth, meaning he shared the gospel. Now when it comes to evangelizing Bible Belt “Christians”, the planting part is already done. They know the Bible. They know the gospel. They actually believe it intellectually. We should never stop doing this no matter where we are by the way. When it comes to Bible Belt “Christians”, we need to proceed to the task that Apollos accomplished: we need to water. How do we do this?
This is where Matthew 5 comes in. Matthew 5:6, Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Notice the connection between people seeing our good works and then giving glory to God. When I was younger, I didn’t go to a church that had a moderate passion for God. My parents and other adults in my church had a passion for Christ. They poured into me and my friends at church. It wasn’t necessarily that they were constantly teaching us the Bible, although they did teach the Bible to us. These adults cultivated relationships with us, and, we also witnessed them being faithful to Christ. This is how we win Bible Belt “Christians” to Christ. They need to see what being a Christian is. They need to be seeing similarities between the church body they’re a part of and the ones in the book of Acts.
Solid, faithful, biblical preaching + faithful Christian living = change in the worldview of Bible Belt “Christians”
The last task mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:6 is God giving growth. All we can do is plant and water. Only God can give growth, as is indicated in verse seven. Tragically, we won’t see every soul saved. However, if we proclaim the Word of God and the gospel specifically (regardless of whether we’re church leaders or not. This task is not relegated to them.) we will see souls saved. It’s a hard mission, but it’s the one that Christ has called us to. (Matthew 28:19-20)