“We have an alarming capacity to normalize sin and unbelief!”
I heard these words spoken by a fellow Bellingham pastor this past week and they got me thinking, “What have I normalized?” To some that question might not even make sense. “Normalized,” what does that mean? To normalize simply means to make something the standard. It is to make something a regularly expected part of life. To normalize is to assume that this attitude, action, perspective, etc. is the basis by which I judge all competing claims.
The Vitality Pathway has been asking us to be honest about our church and our personal relationship with God. The process of being honest with ourselves isn’t always easy, for sometimes when we are honest we see that our life isn’t as it out ought to be. Since hearing this statement, I have been asking myself a number of questions that I would like to present to you as well:
Is it normal for me not to want to get up early and pray with others, but I will get up early and go to the gym with others?
Is it normal to keep my love of Christ quiet and personal?
Is it normal not to share the greatest news I have with others?
Is it normal to think that I have a right to store up wealth for the future when brothers and sisters in need are starving today?
Is it normal to get bored reading the Word and think, I have read this before, I know what God is saying?
Is it normal to struggle with the same sinful tendencies and make so little progress in defeating them?
Is it normal for me to not want to share my struggles with others, when in fact their prayers are the key to my progress in the faith?
Is it normal to go through a day and not think about God?
The answer to all of these is a resounding, No! This isn’t normal, but it has become acceptable and hence normalized in the Church. Confessions like these are hard to make about my own life, because once one admits that these things are true, the next step after confession is repentance and that means making a change – in priorities, actions, schedule and even expectations. The comfortable will no longer be acceptable, I will need the radical pursuit of God if I am to move out from the normalized faith I currently have into the transformative faith that God wants for me.
The danger in sharing my struggles with a sub-par, but normalized version of Christianity is two-fold. First, I may be judged. Such confessions can easily turn and bite a person in the rump. This can become the fuel for others to attack, dismiss or even stir up strife against a person. Changes like these mean misunderstandings, even being labeled ‘radical’ but I think the apostles understood that and found the cost worth the benefit of pursing Christ with abandon. A failure to confess leaves me in the place of not letting others know that I need to change and giving them the opportunity to challenge me and spur me on to greater faithfulness. Without confession, I will likely just stay the same. With confession there is a chance that I can grow. But this leads me to the second danger of confession. I may find others who say, I struggle with that too but its okay. I understand the words, but in fact, it isn’t okay. Confession has a way of creating small groups who just coddle and incubate continued sin instead of rising up in revolt of sin and spurring one another onward. When we confess and find that no one else seriously wants to make progress, the danger is that we doubt whether the desires of God are really his intention for us. We think, “Maybe if no one else feels this way, I am the abnormal one.” This just thrusts us back into the abnormally normalized faith that plagues so many in the church.
So what is the solution? The solution is finding a small group of people who agree that our normals aren’t normal. After this, the next step is honestly holding each other accountable to a more passionate and vibrant walk with Christ. If you want a new normal in your faith, I would love to have you walk with me and together we can encourage one another, for if one walks alone and falls, who will pick him up, but if one walks with another, he can be raised (Ecclesiastes 4:10).