Nominal No More: Pursuing a Wholehearted Faith

by Shelby Turner

A few years ago, I walked through a season of life that felt hopeless. I’ll spare you the details, but it was one of those times when you feel you can’t catch a break. My career was hard. My relationships were hard. Being a first-time mom was hard. Life was just… hard.

While that season was strenuous at the time, years later, I can look back on it and see the good that grew from it. And while there are many benefits I can see now, the one I’m most grateful for is the maturing of my relationship with God. 

For too long, I’d lived in the shallow end of faith, dipping my toes in but unready to dive headfirst into life with God. I’d mostly focused on how God could bless me, help me, and give me the things I desired. I liked the idea of God. I liked it a lot, really. But I wanted Him to stay confined to only certain areas of my life. I wanted God in small doses. Sure, I would ask for His help with things outside of my control, but overall I believed I could handle life on my own. 

If you can relate to this kind of shallow faith, then you probably know that it doesn’t work that well. It feels confusing. Sometimes I trusted God. Other times, I didn’t. When I needed answers, I spent time searching the Bible for truth, but other times I didn’t open my Bible for weeks. Living this way made me feel like a fraud. I was pretending to be more Christlike than I was.

Then life hit hard, and out of desperation, I started reading my Bible every day. It became my lifeline, my comfort, and my hope. What a sweet grace it was that God brought me there because it made me realize that up until that point, my faith had been nominal, and I didn’t want it to stay that way. 

Nominal may be a new word for you. I know it was for me, so let’s define it.

Nominal (adjective)- (1) Very small, far below the real value or cost. (2) A role or status existing in name only. Synonyms: Formal, Puppet, Simple. Antonyms: Actual, Real, Significant, True.

Every part of the definition of nominal makes me cringe when I think about it describing my relationship with God. Small? Far below the real value? Existing in name only? Those descriptors sting to read because I know they were true of me. But the part of that definition that stung the most was “puppet” as a synonym. I didn’t want to have the appearance of being a Christian while inwardly being controlled by something else. I don’t think any of us want that. We want a relationship with God that is the opposite of nominal — real, actual, significant, and true.

My difficult season was a wake-up call that my faith was only a thin facade. It didn’t penetrate to the core of who I was. From that time on, I have been on a journey to wholehearted faith. And it is a journey. Choosing to pursue a faith that is wholehearted and not nominal takes time. It involves dedication to both studying and taking action on Scripture. It involves changes in everything from what we watch, to how we talk, to how we spend our money. Genuine faith impacts everything we say and do. In my journey toward this kind of faith, I’ve continually found myself meditating on Romans 12:1. 

Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship.

These verses remind me that the reason I can have a deep and real faith in God is because of the mercy He has shown me through His son Jesus paying the debt for my sins on the cross. Through His death and resurrection, He provided a way to forgive my sins (even the sin of choosing a nominal faith) and enter into a right relationship with God. 

2 Peter 1:3 is also a great encouragement as we seek to live wholehearted lives of faith. It says, “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” God has called us to a godly life for His own glory and goodness, and He equips us with everything we need for a godly life. It is not by our own wisdom, power, or goodness that we live for Him. He started His relationship with us, He will mature it, and He will do all of this ultimately for His glory. 

In view of God’s tremendous grace toward me, I give my whole self, all of me, back to Him. I desire to live my days worshiping Him and not focus on my own goals with an occasional glance toward heaven. I want to be Christlike to my core. And I’m asking God to help me because I cannot do it on my own. 

I wonder if reading this has made you realize that your own faith is nominal at times. And if it has, I encourage you to ask God to forgive you for making Him smaller in your life than He deserves to be and then seek His help to start the journey toward a wholehearted, nothing-held-back relationship with Him.

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