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A heartbreaking reality of the local church is the presence of merely temporal, temporary faith. That is, an empty profession of faith because of no real grasp of Jesus Christ crucified. A crossless faith will always prove to be a useless faith, regardless how long it is professed. It is possible for church members to profess faith in Christ for five or ten or twenty years or more and yet for their profession to be merely faith in “the wisdom of men” rather than “the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5). But though this sad and sobering reality of temporary faith is, in some ways, inevitable, the local church is nevertheless tasked to be on guard against it.

I’ve been at BBC long enough to carry painful memories of those who were at one time seemingly excited about Jesus and the gospel. They hungrily sat near the front with opened Bible and pen in hand. But over the course of time, they shifted increasingly to the rear of the hall, no longer very interested, then up to the balcony, even less interested, and eventually out the door, with no interest at all. As they left their empty profession of faith behind, they usually also left behind broken relationships, and even shattered families. I wish this was simply an anomaly but, in fact, to some degree, it is part of even healthy church life. Jesus was up front about this very thing when he told the parable of the seed and the soils (see Matthew 13:1–23; Mark 4:1–20).

Some who hear the message of the cross will initially respond with great enthusiasm, but over time various desires, temptations, and trials will unsettle and reveal what was in fact only a superficial commitment. It is sad to contemplate that a full three quarters—75% of the sown seed—fell on what proved to be spiritually useless soil. But while burdened by those who fall away, Jesus expects that we should be neither shocked, nor stunned into spiritual paralysis. Rather, we should continue to sow the seed—prayerfully and carefully. As Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 2:1–5, the church must beware of temporary faith and do all it can to help hearers to have saving, permanent faith in God.

One way we guard against mere temporary faith is by being careful about what we communicate when declaring the gospel, and how we declare it. Negatively, if we rely on our persuasiveness, or if we tamper with the message seeking to make it more palatable, we can expect a rotten harvest of empty, temporary, professions of faith.

But positively, we can avoid unnecessary empty professions by thoughtfully and carefully handling the dynamite of the gospel. We must thoughtfully and thoroughly evangelise (not minimising either sin or the command to repent). We must patiently disciple and lovingly confront attitudes and behaviour that are contrary to Jesus Christ crucified. In doing so, we will be better positioned to expose rather than nurture false professions. Further, as each believing church member takes seriously the message of the cross (therefore daily taking up his or her cross), the local church will become a difficult place for temporary faith to exist.

When church members are committed to a life shaped by the cross of Jesus Christ (a cruciform life), empty professions are confronted. And that is good for everyone. Indeed, the elders have a large responsibility in this area. We must be careful to do our due diligence before recommending prospective members to the congregation for their affirmation. But the congregation must also take seriously its responsibility to exercise the keys of the kingdom (e.g. Matthew 18:15–20). Each member has a God-ordained task to keep the local church cruciform. And a cruciform church is a difficult place for false faith to survive. But if false professions doenter, they are bound to be exposed. And, by God’s grace, perhaps the person will repent of their temporary faith while receiving saving faith in the permanent power of God.

Thinking much about the cross and the church.