How do you get people who have grown up in the church to realize that there is more to the Christian faith than going to church on Sundays and head knowledge? That there needs to be a change in the way you live your life once you become a Christian. Yes of course, ultimately it is the work of God who opens our eyes, but what sort of practical things do you suggest in the way I interact with them?
Dear friend: I realize you’re asking this because you really care about people, and we need more of you. That’s the right heart and you’re very appreciated. So please allow me some grace as I’m about to be a little rough.
Trying to open other peoples’ eyes is NOT YOUR JOB.
It’s not just ultimately God’s Work, but only God’s work. That’s not some soundbite you say “amen” to in church. That means you let go of any control-issues (we all have them) and really trust God with other people.
The only practical thing you can do is worry about yourself. You be the example. You pursue Christ, plead with the Spirit for authenticity and fruitful living, and love those halfway people. Don’t tell them what to do, don’t look over their shoulder, don’t point fingers, don’t mentally check what they’re doing wrong: just love them.
If you see some “Christians” drinking paint thinner, shooting street signs, selling meth, or peeing on Bibles — sure, say something. But if their only crime is “nominal Christian living,” well I mean jeez, give them some space. You’re seeing a tiny fraction of their lifetime and you have no idea what God can do through them.
Because really: Who even asked you? Are they coming to you about how to be sold out for Christ? If not, back up. Pray. If you start getting up in their grill about their life, they will avoid you: because you’ll become the religious nanny who raises an eyebrow and gives that critical frown. Everyone hates that person, and that person is also hateful. It doesn’t work for anybody.
If you just love on them and lead by example — not by coercion — you will be sowing seeds patiently. The church often pushes external change for short-term results rather than lovingly showing grace for the long-term. Change rarely happens overnight: it’s often a slow burn, and they need to see what a Christian looks like over time, not just what he says today.
They will notice you (and Jesus) if you’re gracious. They need to know you’ll be the one who picks them up when they’re drunk, that you will not judge their past or future, that you’ll help them up when they’re at the bottom of heartache. They need to see you serving people at your own expense, opening your home up, being genuine every day of the week.
Please remember: What we see as “lukewarm Christians” are often people who don’t get it right the first go-around, and if you think elbowing them towards “real-radical-living” is the way to go, you’ve hit Pharisee-land. In other words: a work of the flesh only incites flesh, and dies just as quickly.
Not every Christian will get beyond Phase One, either. We can only try to love them to a better place, but we cannot guilt-fear-shame them, because that doesn’t last. Yes, it can be heartbreaking to see someone waste their life: but this is God’s experience of us every single nanosecond of His eternal existence, and He patiently pursued you. He will pursue them, too. You just do your part to trust Him and obey Him.
Lastly: rebuke doesn’t work unless you’ve already established a friendship where telling-the-truth is the baseline. We make the mistake of thinking rebuke is a loaded shotgun that we can fire off at any church member who walks in the door, but that’s not biblical nor helpful.
No Christian is ever meant to rebuke someone without already first having fellowship-intimacy. If these people are hi-and-bye acquaintances, either get to know them completely or leave it to prayer. You’re not allowed the benefit of rebuke while at the same time leaving out intimacy.
Please just love them. Grace and patience. Yes, step in if they cross the criminal line. But other than that, if they’re being lukewarm, YOU show the way. You dare not ask of someone else what you are first not trying to do yourself.