The World Series is approaching and for many it is a really big deal. I watch some baseball, but I’m not really passionate about any team. I’m more a spectator. I’m well-meaning, but my heart is not invested.
Are you a spectator in the Kingdom of God? Perhaps interested, at times very, but not truly invested? It’s worthwhile to ask ourselves this because the stakes are so high. A story from Acts chapter 19 highlights this point.
As the apostle Paul travels to Ephesus he comes up on a group of seemingly dedicated followers of Jesus. They must be proclaiming to be such, and I’m guessing they look the part: they are called disciples, after all. But the story takes an odd twist. Listen to the dialogue:
“Now … Paul made his way down through the mountains, came to Ephesus, and happened on some disciples there. The first thing he said was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?”
“We’ve never even heard of that—a Holy Spirit? God within us?” they replied.
“So,” Paul replied, “You mean well, but you’ve had no real heart change. You’re not yet fully invested. You’re still just spectators.” (Acts 19:1-3 The Message Paraphrased)
Now for a similar modern day example of Acts 19:
We used to host a men’s Roundtable to explore questions about the Bible and faith. We started with an icebreaker question: “Where are you in your spiritual journey, using football as an analogy?” The answers could be poignant, revealing, and downright funny. Here are a few:
“I’m on the team, but I’m playing more defense than offense.”
“I’m on the team, but I’m getting too many penalties.”
“I’m on the team, but I need to study the playbook more.”
“I hope I’m on the team, but most of the time I feel like a spectator sitting in the stands.”
“I’m not just a spectator in the stands, I’m sitting at home on the sofa with chips and crumbs on my shirt.”
One night we had this response from a judge: “I’m outside the stadium, trying to find the door in.”
Oh my, what refreshing honesty, and transparency. This man knew he was missing it, but didn’t know how to get on the team … to enter the Kingdom of God. Most of the other men were missing it as well, they just didn’t know it.
You see they were really good guys. They went to church. They were involved in the community. They cooked pancakes for the men’s breakfast, and from time to time built Habitat for Humanity houses. They were faithful to their Rotary Club. (Which deep down inside they thought was pretty much like church anyway: have some fellowship; give a little money; hear a good message; do some community service.)
But they were sure they were at least on the team. Yet they were not. They were mere spectators to the Kingdom.
Our judge friend called me the next day to say he was experiencing a heart change, and an eye-opening awakening, unlike anything he had experienced before. He was a little taken aback by this new energy infusion. From that day on my new friend retooled his life’s direction (repented), and began a heartfelt pursuit of Jesus. He was no longer a spectator; he was on the team!
One day the judge said to me, “You know, almost one year before that Roundtable I had actually prayed the sinner’s prayer. I was very sincere, and it was heartfelt. I thought I was saved then.
“Except I wasn’t so sure,” he said, with a perplexed look. “Nothing had really changed in my life. I was still the same old me: a good guy; a successful man; a well-respected man; but still fixated on Self,” he explained. “What is the difference between a year ago, praying the sinner’s prayer, and …” he hesitated, grappling for the right word, “and … this?”
My answer: Acts 19. A year ago he sincerely wanted to change, because even though he was highly successful, he kept coming back to the haunting thought, “There’s got to be more.” So he prayed the sinner’s prayer, hoping for that change.
But for him and for you the Apostle Paul’s questions still stand: “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?”
Before the Roundtable my friend knew about Jesus, but he didn’t know Jesus. He had not received the Holy Spirit. And without the Holy Spirit not much will change in your life, because nothing has changed in your life.
So I ask: “Are you a mere spectator? Did you take God into your mind only, or did you also embrace him with your heart? Did he get inside you?”