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“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life — the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us — that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:1-4)
In these opening verses of John’s first letter, he is setting forth two realities of the Christian faith, that it is both historic and experiential, and these realities are not mutually exclusive.
For Christian faith to be authentic it must be grounded in a biblical understanding of Jesus Christ and his church as well as it being “worked out” (Phil. 2:12) in every area of our daily lives.
Authentic Christianity is grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ and will produce visible fruit in the life of the Christian. (John 15:5)
There is an obvious distinction in being a fan of Jesus and being a disciple of Jesus, between observation and participation. For example, while I am not a sports fanatic, I am a fan of UK basketball. This means I have some knowledge of the program, that I watch the games.
I do not, however, play basketball. Similarly, affirming the tenets historic Christianity apart from personal experience is like being a fan without being on the team. You may know, and even believe, the historic facts of Jesus; but head knowledge is not salvation (Matt. 7:21), just as knowing the stats of your favorite player is not the same as knowing the person you play the game with as your teammate.
Likewise, experiential Christianity that is not rooted in holy scripture leads to doctrinal deficiency and nostalgic Christianity.
It’s being a fan of “gospel” music without ever having being changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s sentimentalism without substance; it’s religion without regeneration.
Before you can play the game you have to know how to play the game; otherwise you are simply running around, getting sweaty. You are going in the emotional high, how it feels to do something.
Authentic Christianity, however, is tested by the fires of adversity. Charles Spurgeon once observed that “untried faith is questionable faith. Is it faith at all?” Faith that is grounded in the facts of history, the truth of Scripture, and the experience of God’s faithfulness to His children will withstand the storms of life (Matt. 7:24-25) and prove to be sincere.
What is your faith based on today? Are you a fan or a follower? Are you participating, or merely observing? Think about it.
Brian Owens is an associate pastor at Farmdale Baptist Church.