I know I’m not the only one who struggles with apathy in my faith. Just to make sure that I wasn’t one of only an obscure few, I posted a poll on our WOTT Instagram to measure the amount of responders’ own professed struggle with apathy. The results were what I expected – with only one responder answering that they didn’t struggle with apathy, while all the rest were regularly struggling. Like I said the responses were expected, but the amount of interest in this topic was greater than I had predicted. It seems that many of us who struggle with apathy, actually care about this fact. How ironic! We are apathetic toward our faith, and yet we are concerned (and rightly so) about our apathy.
First, this is a grace of God. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit working in your heart will you be awakened to the ill state of your affections for Christ and God’s word. In our natural state, we have no care or concern regarding the things of God. Even more so, we care about temporal, worldly things, in their stead. So, if you saw the poll and responded that you struggle with apathy – take heart. God has shown his immeasurable grace to allow you to feel the pain of wrong thinking and lack of joy in Him. His Spirit has given you a glimpse of your sin nature, that you would trade the Creator in for the created things, the temporal for the eternal.
But this brings us to our question, why do we struggle with apathy? Now I’ve already mentioned our sinful nature and its effect on our being. However, a core aspect of our apathy lies in a misunderstanding and perhaps misapplication of the Gospel. In Psalm 51, David describes that his joy stems from knowing God and the salvation he has been given by Him. From this passage we see that our greatest joy and delight, the feelings that propel us to cheerfully serve and please God, is rooted in the salvation that He has worked for us.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Many times we can find ourselves feeling apathetic and our immediate response is that we just aren’t doing enough. But this psalm says that God delights in a broken and contrite heart, not in sacrifice – as if we can repay God. It is the condition of the heart God sees, not just the outward action. While, yes we should be doing things for the Lord, our neighbors, and for the spread of the Gospel; we must have the right type of fuel to power those good works. Our heart will be far from pleasing God if we are working out of a works-righteousness framework, or even from a far too liberal, self-indulgent, framework.
Let me explain a little more. Apathy can be a great signal to reevaluate if we are actually living consistently with the reality of the Gospel we believe. When operating from a works-righteousness framework, we often get bogged down with demands that we can’t meet, burnt out by working to gain merit that we could never earn. Conversely, from a hyper liberal Christian framework, we may indulge or excuse sin and thus become apathetic to the word of God as it convicts us – calling us to holiness, good works, and evangelism. Both frameworks fail because we are self-focused. One with earning merit and one with self-indulgence.
However, the Gospel is the cure for our apathy. When we understand the full Gospel, we see that we are incapable of earning righteous standing by our own efforts, and that left to our own devices we are consumed with self and worldliness. But in the midst of our rebellion and apathy toward our Creator, the Son of God condescended to human frailty, to give us unspeakable joy, assurance, righteousness, holiness, and freedom. When we see that we have been given such an immeasurably rich gift in Christ, while we were not just neutral, but at enmity with God, it’s just the type of flame we need to consume our sin of apathy.
So as we discussed some practical tips and causes of apathy in our episode this week, know that the only cure for your apathy is repentance and belief in the Gospel. Understand that even in deep throes of apathy, we can trust God to renew our hearts and minds, because he made them alive in the first place. We can come to His word and find refreshment, conviction, and hope to combat an apathetic heart. And we can trust that the Spirit of God will finish what he started in us (Philippians 1:6) even in the midst of apathy and wrong affections. Know the truth in spite of our fleeting emotions and know that God has you brethren, He never fails, He never grows weary, and He never is apathetic toward our apathy.