A PERSONAL NOTE FROM SHANE
Throughout my 20s, I continued to run from God; searching for identity and truth in everything but His Word. By age 28, I had climbed the corporate ladder. Money and success became my gods and ultimately controlled my life. I was driven, but for the wrong reasons. I felt a sense of purpose, but it often left me feeling empty. I was passionate, but for the wrong things. As a result of my misguided focus, my life took several unnecessary turns for the worse. By then, alcohol, anger, and arrogance had taken their toll—my life was crumbling around me. At that time, I believed I was strong because I could bench-press over 400 pounds, drink a 12-pack of beer, and win most of the fights I was in. What I failed to realize was that I was weak; I was dying spiritually. I didn’t have control of my life—my life had control of me.
Sometime later, still unfulfilled, depressed, and desperate for direction, I began to thumb through the pages of my Bible that were shelved long ago. As I read, two Scriptures seemed to jump from the pages: What does it profit you to gain the whole world but lose your soul? (Luke 9:25), and, when you hear God’s voice do not harden your heart against Him (Psalm 95:7-8). I suddenly realized just how far I had drifted from the truth. I was at a turning point. I could choose to humble myself, regain lost ground, and turn to God, or continue to reject Him. By God’s grace, I put my complete trust in Him; joy, happiness, and peace-filled my heart. Within the months that followed, my passion and purpose for life became clearer than ever.
Looking back, I realize that I had a religion but not a relationship. I lived, in what many would consider, a good Christian home. I attended a Christian school, went to a Christian church, and read the Bible from time to time, but I was confusing religion and rules with a true relationship with Christ. I thought I was a Christian because I was basically a good person. This is a major distinction between religion and a relationship. Religion focuses on what “we” do; a relationship with Christ focuses on what “He” did.
- Religion says, “I have to follow rules.” A relationship says, “Because of the price He paid for me, I want to follow His plan.”
- Religion says, “I have to go to church.” A relationship says, “I want to learn more, worship Him, and benefit from fellowship.”
- Religion lacks assurance; a relationship with Jesus offers unfailing guidance and assurance.
- Religion is man’s attempt to reach God; a relationship with Christ is God reaching down to man.
Good is never good enough. We are declared right before God when we put our trust in Christ, not in our “good” works. This is often referred to as justification by grace through faith alone. In passages where Jesus referred to helping those in need, following Him unconditionally, and dying to self, He was not saying that we are saved because we do these things, but rather, we do these things because we are saved. “My good works grow out of God’s working within me” (J.I. Packer).
Is your current belief system producing assurance, purpose, and peace, or is it bringing discouragement, disappointment, and despair? Jesus said that wisdom is proved to be right by what results from it (Matthew 11:19). Who, or what, is leading you—religious tradition, or a relationship with Jesus Christ? “There is no peace until we see the finished work of Jesus Christ—until we can look back and see the cross of Christ between our sins” (D.L. Moody).
Why do so many leave Sunday morning church services no different than when they arrived? Often, it’s because they have religion and not a true relationship with Jesus. No wonder Jesus said that many people draw near to Him with their words, but their hearts are far from Him (Matthew 15:8). A.W. Tozer states it well: “Millions of professed believers talk as if [Christ] were real and act as if He were not. And always our actual position is to be discovered by the way we act, not by the way we talk.”
Our actions, not our words, reveal the authenticity of our relationship with Christ. I don’t say this to promote a performance-based religion; I say it to demonstrate the importance of having a loyal, committed, genuine relationship with Jesus—this is how real change occurs. In Matthew 7:13, Jesus commanded us to enter by the narrow gate, as opposed to walking through the wide gate that leads to destruction. Jesus was demonstrating the importance of having a personal relationship with Him, rather than following the crowd, religious tradition, or the latest fad.
In my opinion, people often reject the Bible and a relationship with Jesus Christ not because they lack facts, but because they do not want to surrender their will and give up the so-called “good life”; they don’t want there to be a God. It’s often an issue of the heart, not the intellect.
We are sinners who need a Savior, but in our pride and arrogance, we often reject God’s gift. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. Hebrews 9:22 says that without the shedding of blood, there is no removal of sin. His blood was shed for our sins; we should be forever thankful. Jesus isn’t an option; He’s the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).
As a word of encouragement to those who are struggling, consider this comparison I heard some time ago. A pig and a lamb both find their way to the mud. The mud represents the sin we all fall into from time to time. The pig wallows in and enjoys the mud, and may even lead others in; the lamb hates its condition and cries out. That’s the difference. Do you continually return and enjoy wallowing in sin, or do you regret and hate your condition when you slip in to sin? The person who has made sin a lifestyle enjoys the sin; a follower of Christ regrets it, does what he or she can to avoid it, and cries out for forgiveness when stuck. It’s not about perfection but direction.
Although we’ve discussed personal choices and things we can do, we cannot forget the fact that we don’t choose God as if He’s sitting in heaven waiting to be chosen. He chooses us. He invites us. He calls us. In John 6:44 Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” The relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is interwoven throughout the Scriptures. Our responsibility is to repent and believe and to live a life that reflects that decision. Granted, life will seem unclear and confusing at times, but God promises that He will guide you. Don’t let discouragement and failure stand in your way. I could write an entire book on my failures, but instead, I strive to follow the apostle Paul’s advice and I encourage you to do the same: Forget about those things that are behind you. Instead reach forward to those things that are ahead of you (Philippians 3:13). Forget your past mistakes, but remember the lessons learned because of them.
If you feel that your relationship with Christ is not genuine, or if you’ve never repented and trusted in Him as your Lord and Savior, now is the time to take that step and fully commit your entire life. Romans 10:9 states that “if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” You don’t want to live, or end, your life with a question mark here.
For more information visit www.ShaneIdleman.com
PASTOR SHANE’S BIO
Shane Idleman’s passion for God’s word may well have been planted nearly 400 years ago when the Pilgrims first set foot on American soil. Interestingly enough, family tradition holds that Shane’s maternal lineage can be traced to Peregrine White, the first baby born on the Mayflower in Cape Cod Bay. As the Mayflower Compact was signed, it’s not unreasonable to believe that the signers committed America to God’s guidance, and asked that their children and grandchildren would carry biblical principles into each generation. Shane not only believes that his passion may be in answer to that prayer spoken in the early hours of America’s history, but he also believes that the spiritual baton is to pass from one generation to the next.
Today, as we continually drift away in a current of moral decline, many believe that the battle is too advanced and that we cannot make a difference. Shane, however, believes that we can, and offers his books as contributions to that commitment. He stresses: “Although a strong foundation will cost this nation something, a weak foundation may cost us everything. This battle is for the very soul of our nation. It’s our choice—do we stand or fall?”
Pastor Shane is the author of the WHAT WORKS BOOK SERIES, and ONE NATION ABOVE GOD. This compelling, biblically-based book series, and has obtained quotes from such noted pastors and leaders as Jack Hayford, D. James Kennedy, Tony Perkins, David Barton, Mike MacIntosh, Dr. Peter Lillback, and Raul Ries, and from organizations such as the National Academy of Sports Medicine, Promise Keepers, American Family Association, and Family Research Council.
What makes this story so inspiring is that Idleman had a promising career as a Corporate Executive, but he left it behind to follow a dream that God placed in his heart after he recommitted his life to Christ. In his words: “While I had focused on prosperity, wealth, and success, I had starved my soul. I tried everything that the world had to offer, but ultimately, I found that it offered little of lasting value.” When asked why he thought that his books are being so well received, he added: “The overwhelming response simply reflects the need that we all have for the truths found in God’s Word.”