I live on Sand Mountain. Some of you who read this will have no idea what I am talking about. Sand Mountain is a sandstone plateau in Northeast Alabama on which a number of cities lie, including my own, Albertville, AL. It is really not a mountain at all, at least not in my understanding of mountains having grown up further West where the Rocky Mountains were within driving distance. There is nothing physically frightening about Sand Mountain, but it is, nonetheless, a dangerous place for a “Christian” to live. Let me explain.
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
Despite what you have heard, it is not easy to follow Christ in Albertville, AL. Sure, there are tons of churches here and thousands of people who claim to be Christians and even attend church, but it is not easy to follow Christ here. No doubt it would be difficult to live as a Christian in Salt Lake City where the vast majority of people are Mormons or Seattle or Maine where the vast majority of people are secular. However, I think we face a danger just as great and just as grievous as the false gospel of Mormonism or secularism—we here in the Bible-belt face the false gospel of religion or “churchianity” as some call it.
We are surrounded by churches, para-church ministries, Christian radio, prayer at football games, revivals services, ministry conferences, Bible studies, and on and on. Living in such a church-saturated culture, there is a great danger to attach ourselves to these things such that our hope is in our connection to a church, a connection to a Bible study, or a connection to any other religious activity we participate in rather than our connection to the Lord Jesus Christ by grace alone through faith alone.
The opportunities to plug into religion in Marshall County are bountiful, but how many are genuinely plugging into a single-minded passionate pursuit of the Lord Jesus Christ? I don’t know the answer to that, but I fear that many more are plugging into religion. It is this fear that drove me back to the Bible-belt. I grew up in Amarillo, TX which is very much a part of the Bible belt and I lived there until I went to seminary after graduating college. I lived in Louisville, KY, a city that in my estimation is not part of the Bible-belt. Living there was interesting and challenging. The last two years that I lived there, I lived downtown near the University of Louisville—I could share many stories of how I tried to preach the gospel to very secular-driven people on the campus of U of L and how difficult it was and yet how much joy it brought me, but it seems the Lord has brought me back into the Bible-belt and yet the challenges seem equally great.
I fear that much like these people that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 7:21-23, that many in Marshall County will say on the day of the Lord, “did we not go to church and did we not pray at our football games and before meals and did we not attend revivals and prayer breakfasts and did we not join a church and attend on occasion and did we not go to Bible studies and give to missions?” and the Lord will say, “depart from me I never knew you.” Let me be clear, the above list of activities are all good things and I wouldn’t condemn anyone for participating in them, but anyone, including myself who puts their hope in their connection to these things is in big trouble.
The connection that we must put our hope in is our connection to Christ who suffered “once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). And this connection to Christ inevitably and powerfully changes us. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is the community the Lord has called our church to, not just a connection to religion but a relationship with Christ that transforms us and invites us to a community that fosters real, biblical, Christ-like transformation.
New Covenant Baptist Church (the church the Lord has graced me to serve in) is the most wonderful church I have ever been a part of. I am continually reminded of how blessed I am to work with the wonderful people here, but it is my prayer for our church that we fight the temptation to put our hope in our good works, our church membership, or our religious activities. It is my prayer that we would progressively grow into a community of believers whose hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ where we are learning to be transparent about sin, engaging in ministry in our workplaces, and fostering relationships that point people to Christ and not religion. In short, my prayer is that we would be a church that seeks the substance and not the form. My prayer is that we would seek Christ himself. Will you pray with me?