The dangers of cyclical Christianity

I saw a movie the other day.  A man left a drug and alcohol rehabilitation, supposedly clean and sober and off to face the world.  Not ten minutes later in the movie, that man was back at the clinic he had just left to start over.

He had gone from drunk, to rehabilitated, to giving in and being drunk again.  Now, back at rehab, he began the cycle again.

There is a parallel in the lives of many Christians.  It’s what I call cyclical Christianity.  That is, a faith that is revived every now and then by some spiritual high.  Those spiritual highs are good, but one must never be so unbalanced spiritually that they rely on these highs.  It’s predetermined rededication, and while it might seem genuine on the surface, it’s dangerous and unhealthy for our individual relationships with Jesus Christ.

When I was in junior high and high school I got a good taste of this in my church’s youth group, which suffered from the “last night” syndrome.

At a summer camp in 1991 our youth minister confronted the entire group on the last night of camp.  There had been a lot of misbehavior, unbecoming of Christians, and he was blunt in his assessment of where we, as a group, were spiritually.  As a result, many people saw the error of their ways and repented.  Jesus Christ was glorified that night.

A friend and I thought that message was very appropriate.  We had been discouraged by some of the things we saw, so we warmly dubbed it the “You suck” speech. The new attitude of the youth group held out for a little while, but the spiritual high wore off.

I remember an event in February 1992 called Disciple Now Weekend.  The main event of these annual weekends, so to speak, was the rally on the last night (Saturday).  That’s when the time of dedication occurred.  The weekend was very important in my life, but looking back I find another example of cyclical Christianity.

The students were dismissed by grade level, but the sophomores and juniors stayed longer than the others (I was a sophomore).  We had just been asked to consider signing a painting of Jesus, the theme of the weekend being to “Be the One,” the theme derived from Al Denson’s song of the same name.

Being the one amounted to standing firm in our faith in a world soaked with sin.  Not floundering, but standing up for Jesus Christ in our schools, with our friends, in our daily lives.  I signed it, so did everyone else in attendance.  It was special to me, but amongst most it was the thing to do.

I’m not telling this story to judge anyone else who signed the painting.  I just know the history of the youth group after that.  There had been a lot of talk at the time about cliques in our youth group.  Sub-sections of friends that hung out together.  There had been disunity.  Now people were talking about breaking down those barriers.  It was a very good thing. I had been as guilty as anyone.  I’ve never been very good at exposing myself to those who aren’t close friends.

So that night a lot of people cried.  Decisions were made, commitments determined.  However, two months later at our Spring Break retreat we needed another spiritual high.  The cliques were as real as ever.  The “last night” syndrome was in full effect once again.  That last night was a deja vu of Disciple Now, a deja vu of the summer camp.  It was cyclical Christianity.

The disease of ups and downs is by no means new.  After their exodus from Egypt the Hebrews’ obedience to God went back and forth, back and forth.

They would obey God, then forsake Him.  Before you knew it they were worshipping Baal (or insert any other false god here).  The Lord would allow them to be overtaken, either by the Babylonian empire or someone else, and they would no doubt blame Him.  They would do their time, but because God loves them, He would raise someone up to lead the people back to the narrow road.  It happened over and over.

I ask you now.  What in your life is taking the place of God?  Your job?  School?  Your own selfish desires?  Are you 100-percent dedicated to Jesus Christ right now.

Cyclical Christianity is all too familiar to me.  I don’t go into exile for seventy years or anything, but there are times in my life where my obedience to the will of God has been on a week to week basis.

I struggle with being obedient.  But then I go to church, hear someone speak, read something, or am just plain convicted.  I repent of whatever I’ve been doing and for a while I’m really walking with God, only to eventually go astray again.

I’ve got a feeling it’s like that for most Christians, and therein lies the tragedy and weakness of the church. Jesus is the Shepherd and we are the sheep.  All too often we are trying to walk off on our own.

The remedy for daily discipleship of Jesus Christ is to put on the full armor of God.  Look at Ephesians 6:10-19 and examine the things Paul instructs us to do.  Be strong.  Stand firm.  Resist.  Gird up your loins with truth.  Put on righteousness.  Prepare yourself with an attitude of peace.  Have faith.  Guard your mind with the Word of God.  Pray at all times.  Be alert.  Persevere.  Make the gospel known.

The guideline for behavior as a follower of Christ lies in the cliched question:  What would Jesus do?  It’s not about a bracelet or a bumper sticker.  It’s about obedience and the glorification of Jesus.  Does your behavior glorify God?  Are you living up to your responsibilities as a Christian (Ephesians 4:1)?

My high school chemistry teacher used to tell us to RDTP.  Read the darn problem.  That’s what we need to do.  We can read about every problem we might have in Scripture.  That’s also where the solution to all of those problems are.  After all, 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Read the darn problem, then recognize the solution so you can be the disciple that Christ wants you to be.

We are living in precarious times, which means that, more than ever, we must not live in ups and downs.  Cyclical Christianity goes against everything the Bible teaches.  God is constant, and we must be constantly seeking.

Author: Matt Privett

Christian. Husband. Father. Pastor.

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