“They will look like they are religious but deny God’s power.”
2 Timothy 3:5 (Common English Bible)
Flu shots work by placing into the body the flu virus in such a controlled manner that those inoculated experience a mild form of the virus, yet become immune to the full force of the illness. Experienced in its full force, the flu debilitates the body resulting in fever, dehydration, general malaise, and the absence from productive work. For the very young, those in general poor health, and those of advanced age, death remains a present danger of the flu. Few people would disagree that the mild form of the flu is preferable to the full force of flu symptoms. Mild symptoms can be managed with little effort. A full-on assault of the flu virus is a considerable struggle.
The second letter to Timothy wrestles with a similar phenomenon in the Christian churches of his day. Quite simply, it seems that many members of Timothy’s church have been inoculated with a mild form of Christianity and, thus, have become immune to the genuine article: “They will look like they are religious but deny God’s power.” Present in the church are those who are complacent toward the faith – they accept it, are occasionally observant of its outward expression, but show no evidence of the faith’s power in their lives. As Harry Emerson Fosdick once observed, they have the form of religion but have nothing to do with it as a force.
Fosdick once shared with his New York City congregation that the saddest failure of the church is not hypocrisy. The saddest failure of the church is seen in men and women who have not personally experienced power; people who have never gone down to the depths of their faith where the power of God becomes a reliable resource in daily living.[i]What the church has always required to be a vital, dynamic, and powerful movement in the local community are church members who, through regular study of the Bible, regular prayer, and intentional decisions each day to live in obedience to what the Bible instructs, suddenly make a great discovery – it works! There is considerable power in the Christian faith for daily living; power that is unleashed when the faith is lived intentionally.
The Christian faith was never meant to be simply a creed, a set of beliefs to be embraced. When applied to every decision of life, the Christian faith becomes an inward source of power, overcoming fear, fortifying courage, and equipping a life that endures the inevitable storms that we all will face. Personally and socially we are up against destructive forces. Discouragement is a force. Fear and disillusion is a force. Failing marriages and deteriorating relationships with children are a force. So is the fear of terrorism and gun violence. Each of these forces must be met with an equal force – the power of a risen Christ that is present in a personal faith that is deeply lived.
[i]Harry Emerson Fosdick, “Christianity Not a Form But a Force.” A Great Time To Be Alive: Sermons on Christianity in Wartime (New York And London: Harper & Brothers, 1944), 92.