What Are We Calling "Substitutes"?
- Bible Knowledge:
more information about God, the Bible or theology
dedicated service to God’s interests in the church, the community, or the world
mutual encouragement, support and accountability
disciplined obedience to God’s rules
- Spiritual Practices:
consistent devotion to spiritual practices or disciplines (like prayer, worship, communion, witnessing, etc.)
- Church Commitment:
attendance, involvement and financial support
- Christian Values:
being an exemplary model of Christian values in my family, my job, my community, my nation, and my leisure activities
- A Profession of Faith:
a secure eternal destiny based on expressing trust in Jesus as my Savior
Why Do We Call These "Substitutes"?
You might be thinking, "Wait a minute! That list sounds exactly like what I thought being a Christian (a follower of Jesus Christ) was all about! Those are all good things that the Bible talks about as important marks of any true believer. Why are you calling them ‘substitutes’ for an intimate relationship with Jesus?"
If you’re asking that, you’re not alone. Many people think that being a follower of Jesus is about trying to do the best you can to live the way you think Jesus wants you to live. They see Christianity as a set of rules and methods. The problem is that it is quite possible to follow these rules and methods without actually having a personal, intimate friendship with Jesus as a loving Master. So, many people are content with their efforts to please God instead of giving God the pleasure of their affection and companionship. They are content to know more about God without actually getting to know God. They are content to work for him at the same time they resist the work that he wants to do in them. The disciplined pursuit of these human achievements can easily become substitutes for actually seeking God. People might feel satisfied that they are "doing the best they can", so they settle for the "substitutes" instead of the pursuit.
You might think about it this way:
Suppose you asked someone, "Do you know for sure if you will go to heaven when you die?" Imagine that they answered, "Well, I’m doing the best I can." If you understand the gospel, you would say, "That won’t work! You can never be good enough! You need to let Jesus save you! It’s a free gift—he does the work for you."
But suppose now that you asked someone, "How are you doing in your Christian life?" And imagine that you got the same answer, "Well, I’m doing the best I can." Then they rattled off the list above and told you all about their profession of faith, their knowledge of the Bible, their obedience, morality, and their dedicated involvement in church, ministry, fellowship, and spiritual activities. If you understand the gospel, you would say, "That won’t work! You can never be good enough! You need to let Jesus live his life in you! It’s a free gift—he does the work for you."
If you’ve been settling for substitutes, trying to please God with your efforts, then it’s time to give up and take on the pursuit. Come be with him, enjoy him, and let him personally tell you what he wants to do in your life and how he wants to make it happen.