How to Resist the Incremental Reality of Becoming a Dull Believer

How to Resist the Incremental Reality of Becoming a Dull Believer

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Spiritual dullness in a community of Christlike disciple-makers is hard to imagine, but it happens all the time. We can lull ourselves to sleep, lose our gospel edge, and before long, we are ticking the Christian boxes without thinking. If the practice continues, we will replace the meat we enjoyed with the milk of our former newborn babe life. The solution is to surround yourself with those who have a vision and plan to spur you to love and good works within a reciprocating community.

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A Child’s Mentors

Our children have always naturally gravitated toward their peers. They find much joy hanging with kids their ages and have many contexts where they spend time with “same age” friends. What they don’t do naturally is gravitate toward those much older and wiser than they are. Realizing this, we have found it wise and practical to intentionally connect them with adults who loved God and supplemented our parental oversight and care. This method of spending time with folks more knowledgeable, maturer, and wiser has proven helpful in teaching them how to relate well with each other and the culture.

There were two fundamental reasons we have made this part of our practice. First, we knew that our children would not be young forever, and they would be adults for many decades. Our thought was that if most of their lives were in the adult world, learning how to live according to who they should be was wise. When do you want to instruct your children about being adults—after they become one? We decided to begin “adult instruction” before their entering adulthood.

Second, we did not want the blind leading the blind. Many years ago, a friend told me that he did not want any five-year-old teaching his five-year-old anything. He was not a proponent of “peer-to-peer discipleship,” especially among five-year-olds. He proved to be a wise man. His practice was to make sure his children had adequate time with adults, where they could learn from those who were further down the road. While we want our children to enjoy their peers, we also want them to learn about life from God-centered, gospel-motivated adults. We don’t want them to be slow-boil believers who drift into a dullness that later hardens them to the faith.

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Slow-Boiled Christians

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:11-14).

You’ve heard the story about the frog who jumped into the warm kettle of water. The tale suggests that as the water increases in temperature, the frog is the last to know. As the frog acclimates proportionally to the increased heat, it unwittingly boils itself to death. The claim is that the frog’s body adjusted along the way. Some churches and church members can be this way. They live in the slow grind of day-to-day church life; everyone has a zillion things to do. The church becomes used to the plates falling in the kitchen, as well as the church members falling through the cracks.

These churches and church folk do not realize the accumulative effect of sweeping things under the rug or kicking the can down the road. The church that does not deal with its problems right and promptly will experience the slow drift from the clarity of God’s Word. One day they will awaken to realize how things they would have never tolerated in the past are a usual way of life today. There is a solution for resisting potential dullness. Here are four of them.

  1. Reciprocal Care
  2. Reciprocal Confession
  3. Reciprocal Practice
  4. Reciprocal Repentance

Reciprocal Care

A small group of friends can spiral into a superficial context where people are not doing real, transparent life together. The talkers do all the talking, and nobody ever challenges the quiet people to grow. There can be steady toleration of superficiality that never gets into the nitty-gritty of each other’s lives. The leader must sharpen the scalpel of the Lord’s Word while asking Him to provide the competence, courage, and compassion to wield it appropriately among his friends.

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This responsibility is mutual and reciprocal, not a monologue event from teacher to student. Everyone must have as their goal to be intentionally intrusive in each others’ lives. You want to consider, confront, and comfort one another in the context of trust, truth, and lack of judgment. Spurring one another on to love and good works is a biblical notion that must go beyond a lovely idea (Hebrews 10:24-25). Practically caring for one another is a New Testament mandate.

I’m not suggesting that a formalized small group setting envisioned and directed by the church is the only way to do life together. It hardly matters if the church values and develops small group dynamics and practices, but every believer must have at least one other believer speaking into his life. You want a “Paul-like” person helping you grow and mature into a follower of Christ. The non-transparent church will not live this kind of robust Christian life.

Reciprocal Confessions

Brother James told us that we should confess our sins to each other (James 5:16). Something is freeing, rewarding, and binding about this kind of relationship with an appropriate and trusted friend. This human-to-human need does beg the question, who in your life can you confess your sins and struggles to so that you can benefit from a more in-depth experience in the body of Christ? Most people do not want others to have this kind of intel about their lives. No doubt, there is a risk factor when you step upon the waters of vulnerability.

The problem is that you can do many things by yourself, but sanctification is not one of those things. There are too many “one another” phrases in the New Testament for the believer to put forth an argument to isolate from other brothers. To live well in a community of Christlike disciple-makers requires that we move beyond living behind a facade of ourselves, hoping others would find that person more acceptable than the real people we know ourselves to be.

There must be a “default to truth,” which implies a transparent mentality about the Christian life. What is your other option? Default to isolation, privacy, and hidden struggles? Though there are inherent risks in being honest with folks, it’s far better to attempt building those relationships than the persistent shrinking into the darkness and loneliness of a life that drains your soul of the hope you should have in Christ.

Reciprocal Practicing

Another typical dysfunction in today’s church is the excessive number of ministry leaders who have poor marriages. They counsel others, lead Bible studies, and pastor churches, but they do not model or present their marriages as a working illustration of what the Bible teaches. Rather than running their marriages through the filter of God’s Word and realizing they need help, they either do not see their broken marriage as a problem, or these pastors accept that it is on par with others they know.

The domain of the hypocrite is not an exclusive place where the congregants can’t inhabit. There is also a temptation to preach but not practice. It’s easier to tell someone what to do than to practice what you preach. Isn’t that the parent trap? We get on our kids for getting angry; not realizing our sinful anger at them disqualifies us from being helpful disciple-makers. I’m not suggesting these leaders or followers have perfect marriages. Still, we must be honest about the state of our relationships, and we should request help from those who can come alongside us this way.

Several years ago, I was part of a local church that had a disconnect between what the pastors did for a living and the lives they lived inside their homes. It was not willful deceit. They, quite simply, had not considered the connection between marriage and ministry. They promptly created a policy that stated if any leader has marriage problems, they have options. They can get help to work on their marriage, or they can find another job. They did not expect perfect marriages, but honesty and a plan to change were requirements for this church’s staff.

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Reciprocal Repentance

A significant aspect of the gospel is the defeating of sin. The Father butchered His Son on the cross because of my sin and yours. The Father put His most profound wrath upon His Son. The sinless Son willingly chose to experience something He had never experienced before. I do not fully understand the depth of what I am saying, and I am still growing in clarity of God’s glorious gospel. But what I do know is that sin is grave. I also know that Christ conquered sin, and any person who has been born again can experience freedom from their ongoing sin and habituations.

There are two profound beneficial truths that we can tease out of this gospel worldview. First, Christ defeated sin. Therefore, there is no reason for any Christian to choose to keep their sin secret. Secondly, why would any Christian allow another believer to continue in their sinful habituations? Not responding biblically to these two points is as illogical as a doctor standing beside a patient but refusing to do anything about the patient’s problems.

I want to fight dullness in my life. Just as we intentionally placed our children with adults so they do not live in a myopic, hermetically sealed five-year-old world. I also want to make sure that I filter what I believe and practice through the lens of God’s Word rather than the status quo. I appeal to you to fight dullness too. Do not allow yourself or your friends to descend to levels of dullness that the Word of God would never condone. Ask the Spirit of God to help you filter your life, marriage, friends, and ministry through the grid of the Word of God. Do not filter your life through the lens of what everyone else is doing, especially “slow-boiling peers.” Be different. Resist dullness. You can if you continue to exercise your powers of discernment and practice.

But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:14).

Call to Action

  1. What is your primary takeaway from reading this article? What did you learn, and, more importantly, what is your plan to change? Be specific, practical, and determined.
  2. Who is that person you believe is the most appropriate to be a reciprocal friend to you? You don’t need a dozen of these friends, but you must have at least one. Will you share this article with them and discuss how you can spur each other on to love and good deeds?
  3. Perhaps you want to start sharing some of your inner struggles. If this is not your practice, go slow. Build the habit by sharing your true self consistently with the right person. This kind of communication must be reciprocal.
  4. Is there any relational context in your life where your “preaching and practice” is incongruent? If so, what is your specific and practical plan to change?
  5. Will you pray about someone who needs this kind of care in their lives? Perhaps they are heading toward spiritual dullness. What is your plan to connect and care for them?

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