Virtual Christians #3

I’ve been looking at how the New Testament defines a Christian and comparing that with our day, using David’s cry of Psalm 51 as our start point: ‘Cast me not from your presence’. One difference I see is that first century believers desired and sought out His presence in other believers by being around and a part of other believers’ lives. Today, many opt out of relationships with other believers.

When I first met the Lord I was a teenager, and desperately sought His presence. I sought His presence in the Word. That’s the same with disciples in Paul’s time – they sought out those who had been with Jesus to hear what He said, and they read with great hunger the writings of the apostles – our New Testament.

I sought His presence in worship. That’s the same with disciples in Paul’s time – various accounts in scripture and outside reveal their home-based meetings were full of worship, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs as they made melody in their heart to the Lord.

I sought His presence by being around and connected with other disciples. That’s the same with disciples in Paul’s time – they were involved in each other’s lives, so much so that basic needs were openly shared and met, and character was developed as they made allowances for one another and worked hard to keep the peace in love.

Again, righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ. But righteousness is only revealed in the midst of relationships, for it is in those relationships we prove Christ is in us – with all the love, patience, forgiveness and perseverance required to have close friends in the faith.

Today, Christians can seek His presence in Word and worship, but forsake His presence in other believers many ways; by electronically staying ‘in touch’ with the body of Christ, by remaining anonymous in a traditional church setting, attending various church meetings all over a city but not risking getting to know anyone beyond recognizing a familiar face here and there. They are ‘virtual’ Christians – not what the New Testament defines as a disciple, but virtually one, one in appearance but not substance because they lack the relationships portrayed in the New Testament as essential for being a disciple of Jesus.

Digging into Details

Hebrews 10:25 commands; “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another…” It is the only verse in the NT addressing those who have ‘dropped out’ of relationships with other believers, which reveals it was a relatively rare phenomenon in the first century.

The word ‘forsake’ here is ‘enkataleipo’. The word ‘leipo’ (long o) is ‘to leave’. The word ‘kata’ is bad, very bad – a strong negative. The word ‘en’ is ‘in’. Literally then, ‘forsake’ means ‘in leaving it is bad’. Also interesting is the word ‘manner’, which is ‘ethos’. It means the character of a person expressed in attitude, habit and belief.

Putting this together, the writer of Hebrews stated it is ‘bad leaving’ to have an attitude, habit, and belief of forsaking the gathering together of ourselves. Ouch. Why would someone seek only God’s presence in Word and/or worship, but be willing to give up His presence as seen in other disciples? First…

What David said in Psalm 51

The word ‘presence’ in our text of Psalm 51:11 is ‘paniym’ (paw-neem; Strong’s #6440) and is taken from the root ‘paneh’ (paw-neh) which means ‘face’. Literally it means ‘to look at’ or ‘before one’s face or gaze’. David was crying out: Don’t turn your face from me! Don’t stop looking at me Oh Lord! I hunger for your manifest presence felt by your Spirit!

That some believers would shrink back from His presence, His face, as manifest through other believers, reveals the answer: When believers get to know one another in each other’s day to day struggles, it is a form of the gaze of God looking at each other’s lives.

When others rub us the wrong way, we ask, is it me or them? What can I do in this situation to be more Christ-like? It is righteousness proven through the interaction of relationships that we actually grow and change. This is how we apply the Word – to hear and not do is to deceive ourselves. (James 1:22)

Why Do Some Become ‘Virtual Christians’?

It is often fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of opening up and maybe being hurt, sometimes stubbornness in not wanting to change. It is less work to be a spiritual island than it is to get to know people because getting to know people means change as God ‘looks at us’ through the eyes of others, it means commitment and causes us to apply the Word to prove Christ does indeed live in us.

In v6 of Psalm 51, David said, “You desire truth in the inward parts; in the hidden part you reveal wisdom.” The ‘inward parts’ means spirit and soul for the body is not hidden. The hidden part is the spirit, and where God puts wisdom. As David is about to cry out in v11 ‘Cast me not away from your presence nor take your Holy Spirit from me’, he first says ‘you want truth in my inward parts’!

A virtual Christian must be willing to face the truth of his or her own heart. They must face the issues that have caused them to become virtual instead of the Bible defined believer. They must risk entering into relationships with other believers even though that means growth and change and yes, pain.

David continued in Psalm 51:16-17: “For you don’t desire sacrifice, else I would give it. The sacrifices of God area broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart O God, you will not despise.”

In the final analysis, the Virtual Christian cannot fall back on the past: God is looking for a humble and contrite heart as a way of life, now. But for many, that would mean turning their heart to cry out for His presence no matter where it is found, in Word, in worship, and proven within relationships, no matter the cost to pride or risk of hurt – the humble heart cries out as David did: I must have His presence!

New subject next week, blessings,
John Fenn

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