Believer Geriatrics

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”   Matthew 21:31

The longer a person is a believer the more susceptible they become to the diseases of an aging faith.  This fact is observable in real life and evidenced throughout the Bible.   These diseases attacking sustainable faith, like complacency, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, judgmentalism, cynicism and yes, even self-deception, rob the mature believer of a healthy and productive faith life.  Anyone who has been a believer for some time and honestly reckons with these type of temptations inherent in a long term faith would readily admit it is true.

An appropriate term to describe this effect is believer geriatrics.  It is interesting that the word geriatrics comes from combing two Greek words meaning “old man” (geron) and “healer” (iatros).  The term geriatrics is used to describe the branch of medicine that focuses on preventing, diagnosing and treating the diseases of old age.  Believer geriatrics then should focus on preventing, diagnosing and treating the diseases of an aging faith.

Having been a believer myself for many years I have noticed both in my own life and the lives of others how the initial conversion zeal to trust and obey God can wane. When I first surrendered my life to Jesus I committed to making Him Lord of every aspect of my life.  I thought it was a one time decision.  I sailed through the next couple of months with great joy and enthusiasm in obeying God and serving Him wholeheartedly.  But eventually as He began to deal with some untouched areas in my life it dawned on me that yielding to His Lordship was an ongoing process. 

Death to self, I discovered was on the installment plan.  At one point when I began to chaff under His Lordship, He spoke to me “You’ve given me your all and now I am slowly taking it.” 

One thing that is helpful in fighting off the diseases of an aging faith is in distinguishing between good intentions and obedient action.  Recently I read the parable Jesus told of the father asking his two sons to go out and work in his vineyard. (Matthew 21:28-31)  To be honest I was surprised to find myself identifying more with the son who said he would go but didn’t, than the son who initially refused but then went.  It caught me off guard and I had to ask myself why that was the case.

Good intentions alone do not satisfy God’s expectations.  Religious people typically have good intentions.  Motivated by noble values and a desire to please God devout people seek to make it a priority to respond positively to God’s dealing in their lives.  Christians seldom rebel against God openly.  No, our rebellion is subtle and self-deceptive.  It can take the form of a kind of passive disobedience.  We say “yes” and express agreement with the request, but then never get around to doing what we agreed to do.  In so doing we can deceive ourselves into thinking the “yes” is sufficient and pleasing God when really it is not.  Outwardly we express good intentions to obey, but never deliver on our intentions.  Outwardly we our compliant, but subtly we are actually rebellious.

This realization was both startling to me, but helpful at the same time.  Obviously no self respecting believer would want to be like those whom Jesus referred to as giving lip-service lordship “honor[ing] Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.” (Matthew 15:8)  But here is the reality.  Followers of Jesus do succumb to good intentioned professing of His Lordship but do not always prove it with action.  Jesus was addressing His very own disciples in the crowd of followers when He said “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  (Luke 6:46)  Reckoning with the commonality of this struggle, even in established believers, offers hope.

Jesus, as the great geriatric physician knows both the cause and cure of our lack of obedience.  His prescription for healing requires that we accept the diagnosis, acknowledge our sinful disease, apply the balm of His forgiveness and depend upon His grace to do what He is asking us to do.

Please share your observations or comments and add to this conversation.

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