CHINOs are unfashionable. I’m not talking about the pants, but CHristians In Name Only (CHINO). Maybe you’ve heard the same concept under the definition of “nominal Christian.” But what is a “nominal Christian” versus a genuine believer? A nominal Christian (Christian in name only) is someone who uses God as a means to some other end. Nominal Christians are people who may go to church and engage in religious activities, but really they are doing those things for their own selfish goals, whether it may to ensure financial prosperity, blessing upon their children or something else. Nominal Christians are much like the Pharisees who were honoring God with their lips but their hearts were far from God (Matthew 15:8). The Pharisees were attempting to use God to accomplish their own purposes. They were trapped in nominalism.
The end result of nominalism is ugly. According to Jesus, nominalism leads to hypocrisy: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27). It also leads to injustice and the exploitation of others: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, yet you have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23). The Pharisees were even using their “religion” as a cover to neglect caring for their own parents (Matthew 15:3-6)!
A genuine believer, on the other hand, is someone who trusts Jesus. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Saving faith, therefore, trusts Jesus for who he is in himself. In other words, when you come to Jesus, you don’t come to him to conform him to your agenda. Instead, we come to him on his terms, that we are poor, wretched sinners, spiritually dead, and in need of a Savior. Drowning people don’t make demands. They don’t instruct those rescuing them on the “right” way to save. All they do is reach out the lifeline and then wait to be pulled out of the water. So genuine believers engage in spiritual activities not really to “get anything out of it” but instead, to commune with Christ. Christ has to be the end goal, otherwise, we’re using him for some other goal. And the Bible has a name for trying to achieve a goal other than Christ: idolatry.
Here is a question that we can ask ourselves to continue to root out pockets of nominalism in our own hearts: Am I doing this thing to get something or to get God?