If you are going to call yourself a Christian, there are non-negotiables in your contract.
When you make a commitment to a college sports team, there are things that have to be done. I have to get up early sometimes. Practice. Lift weights. Attend meetings. Maintain a certain GPA. And many more things. Without these things, I’m either performing very poorly for the team… or I’m not on the team.
Christianity is no different. Here, I’ve got a series of blogs on the non-negotiables of being a Christian. These are things that I think, based on biblical truths, almost have to (I’m talking 99.99999% have to) be present in your life and character if you are going to call yourself a Christian (think spiritual fruit– Matthew 7). Let me share with you what I think are the non-negotiables in Christianity:
- Daily engagement with Christ
- Sharing the Gospel
- Solid Witness
Let’s start off with the number one requirement for calling yourself a Christian (I say requirement and will continue to do so. But just know, this is Cooper talking… not Jesus. I find a lot of evidence for how I feel in Scripture, but I’m 20 and not an expert Christian… so take this how you will). If you are going to call yourself a Christian, there must be daily engagement with Christ. And notice the word I used: engagement.
Daily engagement with Christ is necessary. Let me give you a scenario. I walk into my house after I’ve been gone fishing all day (presumably catching nothing, as well). My mom has just come home from work, and she is sitting at the counter drinking a cup of coffee. She looks at me and gives me a 3-minute monologue on her plans for the evening. I don’t respond. I go to my room, and I don’t speak (or listen) to her again until the exact same time the next day. I do this every day for weeks. Would you say we have a “relationship?” Would you say that I’m “spending time” with my mom? No. I would say you could have a dog do the same thing I did, and there would be more of an outcome for the pooch. I never engaged with my mom. Engagement is a back-and-forth, invested, evolutionary process. Engagement creates growth and change. There must be daily engagement with Christ. And in case you didn’t pick up on my scenario, that does not amount to reading a devotional on your Bible app in 45 seconds.
First off, the long-espoused idea that “you can find 10 minutes for God every day” is true. It’s also abysmally false. I agree– you can find 10 minutes for Him every day. Easily. You can also find 10 minutes to iron your clothes or dig up a bush. The issue is not the time. The issue is the content of the time. I believe in a model I call “Jesus for President.” Our growth as a Christian should like a presidential campaign. There are effectively 4 stages to becoming president. Get on the ballot— decide you are going to run. Win a plurality— win the most votes compared to everyone else, becoming the party nominee. Gain the majority— win the general election. Then, become the totality— take the job. This is, in my view, the exact way our spiritual walks ought to look. Allow me to explain.
The first stage to spiritual growth is to get God on the ballot. When we become a Christian, we are adding a new thing to the race for president of our life. We hear the Gospel (John 3:16) and responds to it (Romans 10:9-10), choosing Jesus as Lord of our life. He is on the ballot now. God is in the picture. But He hasn’t won yet. He’s got some of our time. But only a small percentage. Ideally, we want Christ to go from unknown to everything. That’s simply not how it works because sin is a pesky devil. Growth happens over time. It’s a small start. It’s not a bad thing if it’s seen as a step. It’s bad only if it’s seen as the goal (see Hebrews 5-6). Practically, this is responding to the Gospel, beginning our Bible study and prayer, and getting involved in the Church. We decide Christianity is our new juice and we want to drink it. But this is only the beginning of the campaign.
The second stage is for Christ to win the plurality. When we look at all of our time and investment of resources, the second step is for Him to have the most compared to everything else. If I spend 30 minutes a day reading my Bible and praying, but I spend two hours watching Netflix, that’s a problem. This does not mean we must neglect our jobs, our kids, our spouses, our commitments, or other important things because we need to pray. Slowly, however, our lives as Christians ought to start being overtaken by Christ. Practically, this can be seen in “more” and “less” engagement. More prayer. More reading. More love. More patience. More cognizance of our own sins. But at the same time, less complaining. Less detachment. Less doubt. Fewer excuses. Less laziness. This is a point where we know what God is calling us to be, but often we have to make the choice to listen. It’s a fight between knowing Christ and reflecting Christ. He got on the ballot, but now He must win the party nomination. So, we have to vote for Him.
The third stage is for Christ to gain the majority. He wins the plurality by our choice to pick His will, which is choosing that path leads us closer to Him. He gains the majority. Christ’s desire is to be the Lord of our entire existence. In a very real way, He is regardless of our acknowledgment. He gains the majority of our time and resources because our faith matures. As our faith matures, we start to realize there are two choices: Christ and the world. There no longer exists that plurality we thought existed as a young believer. We will inherently want to choose the world over Christ. Christ will prove, the closer we get to Him, that He is, in fact, the better option. Practically, this is engagement in more diverse ways and engagement more often than not. Reading our Bibles becomes longer, more enjoyable, more fruitful. We don’t tithe– we give 12%, 15%, 22%. Our desire to live to serve others grows and grows. We gain strong, Christian friendships. We serve our role in the Church (notice the capital “C”). We learn to see the world as it is (broken), not as it sees itself (fixed). These things don’t happen by choice. They happen by Jesus. Once we realize Christ is the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” (Isaiah 9:6), we realize we want Him calling the shots. Once this happens, He’s effectively won the election.
The fourth stage is that Christ takes office and becomes the totality. In this stage, we no longer exist as ourselves– we are now purely Christ’s vessels (Galatians 2:20). God calls all of the shots. We bend to His desires because His desires have become our own. Practically, this is walking with Christ all day, every day. This is seeing Him in all things. This goes beyond getting our reading. This is true discipleship. This is pure hearts. This is giving it all to Christ and allowing Him to lead us. This is sharing the Gospel in word, in motivation, in action, in service, and in our existence. This is existing solely for His glory. This is humility and patience and love. This is righteousness. Christ ran for our hearts. We picked Him as the nominee, but other things had space. He gained the majority. He is now the undisputed shot-caller. And don’t forget– never forget– this is the hardest part of the job.
So, let me bring this down to earth. I said a non-negotiable is daily engagement with Christ. And then I started talking about the election cycle of faith or whatever. How do these two things go together?
First off, these stages of growth do not and will not exist without daily engagement with Christ. There must be Bible study, fellowship, and prayer. There has to be. The number one response to the phrase “God’s will” is the classic, “I just don’t know His will for me.” Did you ask Him? Do you read His book? Do you hang out with His people? Christian growth– let me emphasize this again– will not happen apart from daily engagement with Christ. Secondly, these stages represent a process. You don’t go from one to two and just drop one. One becomes two, two becomes three, and so on. God’s call is a full surrender of who you are and what you have (Matthew 10:38), but that takes more than one moment. Salvation is a moment. Christianity is a process. At various future points of the process, there should be less and less of us in the picture. Christ must increase over time (John 3:30). Campaign progress is not linear– neither is Christianity. We should not ever be discouraged by overnight stagnation, or even falter. We should be terribly disappointed in long-term stagnation and backsliding. That does not, will not, and cannot reflect Christ. Thirdly, these stages are necessary (generally speaking– my model is not the Magna Carta or anything). Growth has to happen (Hebrews 6). Growth is becoming closer to and more like Christ. This cannot happen apart from daily engagement with Christ. Growth produces fruit, and fruit is necessary for the Christian (Matthew 7/Galatians 5).
Step one, Christ changes the trajectory of your life. Step two, Christ changes aspects of your life. Step three, Christ becomes the model for your life. Step four, Christ becomes your only source of life. Apart from this growth, there’s no other way to truly feel confident in your salvation. Apart from this growth, there is no way to verify where your hope truly lies. Use my model. Trash my model. I don’t care. The principle is still the same. We can make all the excuses we want to make for why we did or didn’t do this or that. You can find 10 minutes for Jesus. We all can. You can fit Him into your schedule. Easily. Congratulations: you’re doing the bare minimum.
You can make Him a part of your life. Or you can look to Him for life. Choose this day which one you will serve (Joshua 24:15).
Oh, and I’m only getting started. You haven’t seen the preacher in me yet.