Salvation Counseling

This post is a follow-up to a note I wrote yesterday. I felt like I left several questions hanging out there with no answers, so that is why I felt the need to write this post. One of the thoughts that came forth in that note was the way we’ve been taught to “close the deal” with people when we’re sharing the Gospel or when they have doubts or questions. SO, how do you faithfully share the Gospel without trying to close the deal?

Counseling with those who have never heard or considered the Gospel

#1 Remember God is sovereign and He works in us as individuals.

We must remember that every situation and every person is unique. It shouldn’t surprise us that God would deal with us as individuals. It’s not like He has difficulty multi-tasking. Some of the problem we have in sharing the Gospel is that we have a cookie-cutter approach to making Christians of people. We also like to do it en masse. Think about that for a moment. Does God deal with us this way? There is nothing wrong with sharing the Gospel with large groups, of course, but I don’t see any situations in Scripture where a large crowd is asked to bow their heads and close their eyes and with no one looking around to raise hands, pray prayers, and come forward to receive Christ. Even in large crowds, God deals with people individually. Counseling regarding issues of salvation should be done on an individual basis and no 2 situations should be expected to be identical. Of course there will be similarities but to expect it to always be a certain way is erroneous. Just look at Scripture and you’ll quickly see that God calls people and saves people in multiple ways. Only Moses saw a burning bush. Only Jacob wrestled with God. Only Paul was blinded at noon and had Jesus speak in a vision. If you think every person should follow your steps and jump through your hoops, you’re placing a huge limit on how God can work.

#2 Some will hear and believe instantly.

You don’t have to close the deal here. They hear, repent, and believe. There are definitely some people who may hear the Gospel and God miraculously and gloriously saves them in a moment. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve heard of this happening many times on foreign mission fields. There are some who will hear and believe, asking, “what must I do to be saved?” These are like the Day of Pentecost, the Ethiopian eunuch, and the Philippian jailer kinds of situations. Praise the Lord! Some already have some kind of understanding of who God is but have never heard the good news. In America, many have heard about Jesus but some may have never heard the truth about Him. Some have heard the Gospel many times before but never TRULY heard it from within, but this time God awakened them to truly hear it. You won’t have to go find them. They’ll likely find you or they’ll shout and everyone will know it.

#3 Some will struggle with faith for varying periods of time- don’t be afraid to leave people to the Lord’s working.

For some it is a fight, a major inward battle. I’ve read John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding where he shares about his extended struggle with coming to faith. I can’t claim to understand this, but I just know that God’s timing is perfect. When we push these people and attempt to “close the deal,” we push them away. They may still come to believe the Gospel later in life or they may never believe if we push them too hard. There is a girl who grew up in our church who struggled for years with faith, but by God’s grace I didn’t try to close the deal. When faith was formed in her, a gradual transformation took place and she came to have a strong assurance of salvation based on God’s working in her life. Now she has surrendered to the Lord to become a Christian counselor. It was a struggle for both of us to leave that first conversation open-ended. I was used to wanting closure after a short time of counseling (and she wanted assurance from me), but if it’s not real, why make it something it’s not by having someone pray a prayer? God just had me to encourage her to keep calling out to Him and wait on the Lord. We left that conversation open-ended for months before she finally found peace with God.

#4 Don’t give up or lose touch with these people- and keep praying.

We are impatient by nature. We want to say, “Just pray and ask Jesus to save you and He will.” But there is a difference between mental assent and spiritual formation of faith. Just because someone understands something mentally doesn’t mean it is a reality on the inside. I heard of a pastor who prayed and read Scripture with a man for many hours. It was a man who had been given only a short time to live. They read the Scriptures and prayed, and again, and again, for several hours. Nothing happened. Both became frustrated, but they continued. Then they went back to John 3:16 one more time and the man looked at the pastor and exclaimed, “I’m saved! Have you read this? I’m saved!” The Holy Spirit had done a work in this man’s life. So, wait for the Holy Spirit to work. If it doesn’t happen at once, keep waiting and praying. If it takes several days, keep waiting and praying. If it takes a week or a month or a year, don’t lose touch with the person. They may well have to struggle through a “dark night of the soul” before faith is formed in them. I’m not saying you should sit and hold their hand every moment, but don’t lose contact and keep praying for them regularly.

Counseling with religious people

#1 Stop trying to convince people they’re saved

If I have to convince someone they are definitely saved, then there could be a problem. If I have to convince someone on an ongoing basis they are saved, there is definitely an issue. It doesn’t always mean they don’t know the Lord, but it very well could mean that. One thing is certain- something is amiss. I thank God for a brother like Paul Washer who spoke these words to me in multiple sermons: “stop telling people they’re saved- God hasn’t called us to convince people they’re saved.” If they are having doubts, there is likely some good reason. It’s likely a sin issue either way. Sometimes a person is caught in some very serious sin and won’t tell you, and this is the source of their doubt. Or it could be that the Holy Spirit is awakening them to their need for salvation.

(I’ve heard it said, “Oh, Satan is causing you to have doubts. Just tell him to leave you alone.” I’d say this might be true in some cases, when his desire is to rob your peace and joy, but it’s likely not true as a general rule. It seems this is often a cop-out of sorts. Why would Satan want people to have many doubts when those doubts often drive them to the Lord to resolve the matter? The witness of Scripture is that Satan’s attacks are often regarding God’s very existence or whether or not anything we believe is true. Long story short, I wouldn’t offer this as a valid reason for doubts until all other questions have been answered. I have heard of dear saints who hated sin so much that they seemed certain they must have lost their salvation because they don’t love God enough. They should be reassured, but this is not your run of the mill kind of doubting.)

#2 Tell the person to examine himself.

The key to examining whether or not a person is truly born from above is not found in examining a past event (Did you ever ask Jesus in your heart? Did you really mean it? Were you baptized? Did you write it down? Do you know the date?). These are useless ways of knowing anything real. If a person WAS saved, then they ARE BEING saved and they will continue in the faith. So, the key is to examine their present life. In the last few years, there was a teenage girl who came to me on several occasions doubting salvation and having trouble with assurance. By God’s grace, He had been working on me about pushing too hard. He had also been working on me about telling people they are saved, so I wouldn’t assure her. Morality is not a sign of salvation. Being a “good person” or a “kind person” is not evidence of saving grace in a person’s life. It may well be evidence of the common grace of God given to all men, but having manners isn’t salvation. Scripture tells us there will be evidence. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will know them.” Paul speaks of the fruit of the Spirit. 1 John is an excellent resource from Scripture because it offers many tests of genuine conversion. John says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Believers still sin of course. They are made aware of sin by the Holy Spirit. They acknowledge it is sin. They are brought to repentance. Lost people deny their sin. They call it by other names. They blame it on others. They don’t deal with it and let it remain. This is just one test. There are many others in 1 John. I will post some others here for reference.

#3 Spiritual rebirth trumps all other relationships

It is inevitable that when a message or the Scripture causes a person to doubt salvation that others who love the person may get upset about the very idea. “Of course he’s a Christian! What do you mean? I was the one who led him to the Lord! That’s my son or daughter! I was there for her baptism! I remember when he went forward during that revival. Stop hurting my friend or family member!” These reactions may happen, but it must be explained as gently as possible that this is more important than anything else in this person’s life. If there are serious doubts or there is little or no evidence in a person’s life of being changed, then this is the most loving thing that can be done. If a message regarding the evidence of genuine conversion brings conviction, that is a good thing. Don’t be discouraged when a parent, family member, or friend reacts this way. Just lovingly explain- and it still may not help, but that’s ok.

#4 Christians sin and fail, but repentance follows

I usually get this kind of reaction from some- “Are you saying we have to be perfect? Nobody is perfect! Come on!” It’s true that Christians sin and they are fully capable of falling into grave or serious sin at times. The distinguishing characteristic is not a lack of sin (though Scripture makes it clear that there should be a growing in purity and holiness). The distinguishing characteristic in a believer’s life is their response to the sin they commit. Believers will eventually be brought to repentance. God is a perfect Father and He disciplines His children. Hebrews 12 makes that abundantly clear. If a person can continue in sin and not deal with discipline and they’re not brought to the point of repentance over it, they can have no real assurance of salvation from a biblical standpoint.

This is certainly not intended to be an exhaustive guide of any kind, but I didn’t want to leave people hanging from that previous note, telling them that evangelical churches have flaws and there are many who are not true disciples, but offering no answer to avoiding this. So, that’s what I’ve tried to do.

Above all else my friends, pray and ask for the Spirit’s guidance in dealing with matters of salvation. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I don’t know the answer to that question.” When you don’t know, you just don’t know. I can’t explain the ways of God in every case. All I can do is point people to His Word (the Gospel) and to Him and pray. I can tell them what Scripture says but I can’t make it take root. I can share with them about faith but I can’t give it to them. I can introduce them to Jesus but I can’t give them salvation. My prayer is that, by God’s grace and mercy, we will see our churches filled with true disciples. Amen.

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What does it really mean to be a disciple?

Our church recently started studying a book entitled “Multiply” by Francis Chan. In one of the opening videos of this study, David Platt (who wrote the forward for the book and sat in on some teaching videos) related a story regarding George Whitefield during the Great Awakening in England. The question had been posed to Whitfield, “How many people were saved in your last revival meeting?” (many had come forward) His answer was, “We’ll see in about a year or so.”

I love that answer because I believe it is so true and biblical. In modern evangelical circles, reductionism is killing us. Perhaps some of our religious trappings ought to be reduced, but there is one thing we cannot reduce, and that is the message of the Gospel. Jesus told His disciples, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” The call is to follow. We say that the command of the Gospel is “repent and believe,” which is very true, but, again, we’ve boiled down that repenting part to an action that takes place in a matter of seconds or minutes. Come down that aisle, pray a prayer with the preacher, and then follow the Lord in baptism. Now, you’re in. You’re done. The microwave just “dinged” and voila! But what does repentance mean? It means to turn from one way of life toward another. That’s what Jesus said- come follow me- and right away they left their nets and followed Him. They left their old lives and began new ones- this is repentance and it is ongoing. When Jesus asked the 12 if they would leave Him even as others had left, they said, “We’ve left all to follow you.” This is the life of a disciple. They become like their master. That is their aim in life. Yet we have churches filled with people who not only look nothing like their supposed Master, they’re making no effort whatsoever to even imitate Him. Again, we’ve reduced it down- discipleship is now attending a church service once a week.  This is clearly not what Christ intended.

Now, some might cry “works-based salvation” at this point, but that is not the case. I love how Paul and James approach the topic of salvation and works from different perspectives. James says, “Faith without works is dead.” Paul says that salvation is “not of works, lest any man boast.” Both are true. James is speaking to a group of people who showed no outward evidence of having been converted and needed to understand that a salvation that produces no real change in them is useless and not salvation at all. Paul is speaking to a group that believed their good works played some role in their salvation, and they needed to understand that no amount of good works can earn the salvation that Jesus alone paid for with His own blood. Both are correct. Salvation is entirely a work of God’s grace, but the result will always be a radical life change which leads to God-inspired works. 

So, when Whitefield said, “We’ll know in a year or so,” he wasn’t saying that folks needed to earn salvation over the next year or that they must prove themselves in some way to be worthy of salvation. No, he is simply saying that the evidence of genuine conversion will come forth over time. Our problem today is that we like quick fixes and we like to be able to count decisions for the latest denominational report. Evangelists like to say, “50 people were saved during my last crusade and I’ll come do the same at your church!” Pastors like to say, “We baptized X number of people last year.” And so we press to “close the deal.” I was taught this as well. All of the evangelism stategies that were hot in my college and seminary days (in the 1990’s) pushed people to close the deal. And how do you close the deal? You get the person to pray a prayer to ask Jesus into their heart. We’ve been turned into used car salesmen my friends. I’ve known guys who were so adept at this that they could get an entire room full of people to repeat a prayer and “get saved” before they even knew what hit them. I’ve known evangelists who could tell some sad stories and then say some things that would even make a devout believer have doubts and then get them to all repeat a prayer. A good salesman in this instance can be a dangerous thing indeed. What is there of God in such a technique? When did “slick” and “flashy” become the best descriptors of a soul winner? God has not called us to close the deal. God closes the deal or it’s not done. Salvation is about a God-given repentance that results in a new birth and a changed life. It’s not about a one-time event or a one-time prayer. That could well be the first step in the journey, but if it’s the last step, it’s worthless.

The implication of Whitefield’s statement is that the best way to know who is truly being saved is that they will continue in the faith. I truly believe that if a person is genuinely saved, you can’t keep them away from the church, the Scriptures, times of prayer, times of worship, and so on. Like a newborn baby, they crave to be fed and to grow. This is a messy process. They are becoming disciples of Jesus Christ. They, like the disciples of Jesus’ day, follow Him. They no longer live for themselves. They live for Him. They live for the Kingdom of God. They do not live for the things and the system of this world. They live for Jesus Christ. They are not perfect. They stumble, they fall, the may even fall into grave sin, but they are disciplined, they are pruned, they are put back on their feet, and they repent once again. They are different. They are a peculiar people because they do not fit into this world’s system very well. They are not at home here. They are not comfortable in American culture. They long to be fed from God’s Word. They long for times of prayer. They are becoming conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. They have been created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God prepared beforehand that they should walk in them. This is a disciple. 

Orthodox Christianity vs. Modern Heresies

1 Timothy 1:3    As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines,

Titus 1:9    holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.

I know it’s not very popular today because our society has become so anti-theological and anti-doctrinal, but it’s past time that Christians return to studying why we believe what we believe. The opponents of orthodox Christianity have been massing for some time in this nation and, for the sake of peace, pastors and teachers have simply left things unaddressed which should have been addressed. Because of this, many have been led astray. The reason I’m writing this note is to attempt to help anyone interested to understand why the doctrine of the Trinity is so important to orthodox Christianity and the errors that can occur when we misunderstand and twist the truth. In the last 120 years or so, this most basic understanding of the nature of God has come under attack once again. The names of these groups who deny the Orthodox view of God are well-know. They are Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and various Oneness groups, whether they call themselves Pentecostal, Aposolic, or various other random names. I’m placing this picture I’ve created here so that you can have a visual image of what I’m saying. You might want to take a moment to look this picture over. (I made it with “Paint” so it’s far from perfect)

Please note, in this first triangle I have illustrated Orthodox Christianity. This is what Scripture has revealed to us regarding the nature of God. First of all, God is ONE. This was revealed from the beginning of Scripture. The theological word for this is Monotheism. I say “Absolute Monotheism” because this doesn’t change when we begin speaking about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One of the most well-known passages in Deuteronomy states it this way: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! (Deut. 6:4) Other passages that make this clear are Deut. 4:35 & 39, 1 Corinthians 8:4, and Ephesians 4:6, among many others. This never changes because God never changes.

On the left-hand side of the triangle, we have 3 Divine Persons. Please note, there is a difference between “Being” and “Person.” For example, a rock or a tree have being, but not person. In His Being, God is One. Yet, in His persons, He is 3. According to the Scriptures, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all referred to as God. He is one in being and three in person. This is the way God has revealed Himself. A great example is the baptism of Jesus, where the Father speaks from heaven, the Spirit descends like a dove, and Jesus is there in bodily form. So, we have 3 divine persons here.

On the right-hand side of the triangle, we have 3 Co-Equal Persons. They are co-equal and also co-eternal. The Scripture, in John 1:1 where John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes these words: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And then later in the same chapter, he says, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John *testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ ” It’s clear here that John intends to express here that the Father and the Son are co-eternal and co-equal. Jesus made this even clearer in His priestly prayer in John 17:3-5   “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. 4 “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. 5 “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. So, the doctrine here is clear.

So, what happens when one of these is left out. Let’s take them one at a time. What if you leave out Absolute Monotheism?

As you can see, this is the error of Mormonism. In this model, you maintain 3 Divine persons and 3 co-equal and co-eternal persons, but you lost absolute monotheism. You may well be aware of this, but the Mormon church is actually the MOST polytheistic religion in the world, and that’s saying something. Hinduism has many thousands of gods, but Mormonism actually has an infinite number of deities. As a matter of fact, the men in that religion actually get to become the god of their own planets once this life is concluded, and Jesus is simply the man who once was a man like us but inherited the Earth as his planet to be god over. This is something you won’t hear much about from the outside, but it is a critical part of their doctrine.

So, what happens if you leave out 3 divine persons in the God-head?

In this instance, you maintain that God is one and that God is 3 equal persons, but you leave out the fact that God is three distinct, divine persons. This is the error of Oneness Pentecostals, many Apostolic churches, and old-time modalism or Sabellianism (after its most famous  proponent). Modalism, which was denounced as heresy by Early Church Fathers Tertullian in 213 and Dionysius in 263, states that God existed at different times in different modes, but never all 3 simultaneously. That is, prior to the incarnation, God existed as Father; after the incarnation, He existed as Son; and once Christ ascended, He existed as Holy Spirit. Some groups do not view the Holy Spirit as God at all. They see the Holy Spirit as some kind of force used by God, but not a person of God. This heresy has taken many forms such as Monarchianism, which is very similar to modalsim. Oneness Pentecostals even refuse the command of Jesus in Matthew 28 to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They may call themselves Jesus-only Pentecostals, but, in essence, what they are doing is denying the very nature of God as revealed in Scripture.

 Lastly, what happens if you leave out 3 co-equal and co-eternal persons?

In this model, the result is monotheism and 3 divine persons, but these persons are not co-equal and not co-eternal. The result is the religion of the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Arianism. Arianism was denounced as heresy by the first council of Nicea in 325. This system presents the idea that Jesus Christ is not an eternal being and that he was created at his conception. This leaves Him as both distinct from and inferior to God the Father. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have created their own translation of the Scriptures which is know as “The New World Translation.” They differ from classic Arianism on several points, but the basic error is the same, that of denying that Jesus is co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Holy Spiirt.

I’m sure that this article has the potential to spark a large debate, but my purpose here is to help Christians understand more clearly what we believe, to help define the primary errors in these false systems, and to help my brothers and sisters in Christ avoid being deceived and led astray.

This World Will Leave You Empty

Yesterday I wrote an article that spoke of living as an exile in this world. So, I thought I’d follow that up with a related thought that God has been impressing upon me more and more as time passes. It seems that people are often allured by the things of this world, whether it be beauty, money, fame, intelligence, a fulfilling spouse, athleticism, materialism- clothes, cars, houses, boats, recreation- vacations, travel, alcohol, sex, good food, drugs, gambling, pornography, entertainment, community status, or even just being accepted or respected by others. This is certainly not an exhaustive list. People often live for very unusual things. Some of the things I’ve just mentioned are not sinful or harmful in and of themselves, but in excess, any of these things can cause some significant problems. And, above all, it must be noted, NONE of these things can make a person happy for a lifetime. This last line is really the point I’m driving at today. If you look to any of these things to find happiness in life, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. What does Scripture say about this?

1 John 2:15-17 15Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Another text that reinforces this is Philippians 3:18-21 18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

These 2 texts better illustrate what I’m trying to say than I ever could. Here is the sad thing for me, personally. I see so many Christian people who say that they live for Christ and that He is their all in all, but then when you see how they are invested in this world, it becomes apparent that they have been deceived into believing that these things bring them joy. Just pay attention to what really gets a person excited and you’ll see what they really live for.

The truth is that the world makes many promises but rarely ever delivers on them. Just watch TV commercials for about 5 minutes and you’ll see that advertisers know they’re marketing to a people by appealing to their discontentment. “Are you unhappy with X? Try this new product!” And then you’ll see the testimonials from people whose lives have been improved so dramatically because of the product. The truth is that we are dissatisfied with life. Why? We’re dissatisfied because we are believing the lie that these various things will help us find lasting happiness. And there is temporary pleasure to be found in these things, but they will leave you empty. That emptiness you feel will drive you to seek happiness in the same place. Only this time, you’ll have to have a little bit more. It’s a vicious cycle.

You will never find satisfaction living for the things of this world. And the truth is, you will never find happiness only using God as one thing among many that makes you happy. Yet, that is usually what He gets from us. When our minds are set on earthly things, we end up living as enemies of the cross. Oh, we may say we’re a friend of God, but our actions speak louder than our words, and the true joy of our lives betrays us when we interact with others. Our schedules speak loud and clear as well. It seems we’re more worried that our kids be the star of whatever thing they’re involved in than we are with their spiritual development. These things are very telling. If you live this way, do not be surprised if you look back with much regret some day. Only God is going to satisfy you at the deepest level and in any lasting way. Look to Him. “Come unto me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” Rest for your soul can only be found in an ongoing, vibrant relationship with God through Jesus Christ, empowered by His Spirit.

Your Struggle Is Worth It

Do you ever feel like you’re all alone pushing against the tsunami of a culture that is traveling a million miles per hour toward destruction? I feel that at times. I’m reminded of that video from the song from Switchfoot called “I Dare You to Move” in which the streets are filled with people sprinting in one direction while one person tries to run against that current. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jE-Krlqi4fk Sometimes I get very frustrated trying to reach people for Christ and share the Gospel. There are definitely times when it seems nobody is listening or, worse still, that nobody even cares.

I’m reminded of what Paul said to the church at Corinth in chapter 3 of his first letter. The context here is a bit different, but the point he’s making is very applicable and helpful to the scenario I’ve mentioned above. Listen to what he says here:

5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.

This is the answer to my frustrations. Who are we as believers who share the Gospel and make disciples? We are merely servants of God. God is the one working in the hearts of people in His perfect timing. What do we do? By God’s grace, we must plow up that hardened ground- the hard-hearted person who refuses to hear the Gospel or even acknowledge God. Sometimes they are listening more than you know. Sometimes a stinging truth sparks an angry response. Your intent is not to offend, but truth often offends. Sometimes the one who protests most is truly wrestling with it even while they appear to be firmly against the message. What else do we do? We plant the seeds. We share the Gospel with more than just actions, but also with spoken word. And we may not see the result. What comes next in the process? Sometimes we get to take part in seeing that seed take root and life begins. Sometimes we get to see the harvest. Often that harvest has come because of the labor of others who never got to see the fruit of their efforts.

Now, Paul switches metaphors on us and speaks of a building. He is emphasizing that it is very important to be mindful of how we build on the foundation which has been laid, which is Christ. This is what he was dealing with in Corinth. Divisions like the ones in this church arise when people begin to make new believers their own disciples rather than disciples of Jesus Christ or when believers take their eyes off of Christ and put them on a man. So, we must be careful how we build and be certain that we are always pointing people to Christ.

But here is the point that I want to emphasize my friends. There are times when we don’t see results like we hope to see. I think of Isaiah and Jeremiah, who were called by God to speak to the children of Israel. As He told them to speak, He also told them that their messages would not be heeded. I can’t imagine the frustration. God often gives me a glimmer of hope, even though it’s not as much as I want to see. Still, I do see God working and that He is still calling a people to Himself.

I just want to encourage you, dear Christian laborer, that your efforts are not in vain. Even in the days of Isaiah and Jeremiah, there was a remnant who heard the message and had faith. Even in the days of persecution and torture, which still go on to this day in the lives of believers throughout the world, the Gospel will not be thwarted. It will go to the ends of the earth and there will be people from every nation, tribe, and tongue standing before the throne of God one day. So, keep fighting the good fight my friends. Keep plowing the hardened soil. Keep planting the seed. Keep watering the seed. Keep harvesting. Keep building with materials that will last. God is building His Kingdom and we get to be a part. All glory to God!

OSAS and Biblical Assurance

I’ve just recently written an article regarding my reasons for not using the sinner’s prayer in salvation. You can read it here: http://sbcopenforum.com/2012/08/17/5-reasons-i-dont-use-the-sinners-prayer/#comment-82

Since I’ve just critiqued the way many might give people assurance of salvation, I’d like to offer a Scriptural way to offer a person assurance of salvation. I’ve said what I think is wrong. Now, I should tell what you what I think is right.

The phrase “Once Saved, Always Saved” is a phrase that is based on the doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints, which most Baptists believe, whether they agree with the rest of TULIP or not. However, when coupled with a weaker version of the gospel, the phrase itself has come to mean something that was certainly never intended by perseverance. Instead, it has become a slogan of the easy believism of the last 50 years or so in American evangelicalism. The phrase itself is not anything sinful or wrong. In fact, it is true that a person who has truly been born again and changed by the power of God will never lose their salvation. The problem with OSAS is the way in which it has been employed in a setting where the Gospel is presented. It has often been used in the invitations of evangelists and preachers who want to make “coming to Jesus” as simple and painless as possible. It’s similar to a “money-back guarantee” or a “get rich quick scheme” and strongly appeals to people who have become accustomed to an “instant” society that likes fast food, fast cars, and instant gratification. It has come to mean that if you ever prayed a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart and you meant it, then you’re guaranteed heaven. Therefore, it bases “assurance” on a one-time prayer or one-time event that happened years ago but may not have any effect on your life today.

The problem is that this idea is not found in Scripture. Where does Scripture say assurance of salvation can be found? “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” 2 Corinthians 13:5

Assurance of salvation is not found in examining a past event in your life. Biblical assurance is found by examining your life TODAY. Now, this is not the quick fix that people may want. It may require some long periods of prayer. It may require a searching of the Scriptures. It may require some serious introspection. It’s not as simple as “Did you ever ask Jesus into your heart and did you mean it?” If you’ve ever read the book Grace Abounding, John Bunyan’s autobiography, you’ll read about a man who struggled greatly with his salvation- for years even. I often imagined as I was reading that book if some well-meaning pastor from today could have been transported back to the mid-1600s when he was struggling so and asked him if he ever asked Jesus into his heart, if perhaps that might have put the entire struggle to rest? I think he would have been insulted at the suggestion. This is a difficult struggle at times, but it is a worthy one. An unexamined faith is not a worthy faith at all, in my opinion. In light of this, there are ways to have assurance based on Scripture. Here are some questions to ask yourself.

1. Has there been a genuine change in my life? 1 John 1:7 speaks of “walking in the light” or “walking in the darkness.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 is a passage which speaks of becoming a new creation and that all things have become new. Is there evidence that this has begun to happen and is an ongoing part of my life? A related question might be, “Is there is a difference between the pattern of my life and those who are living for this world?” We’re not speaking of perfection here. We’re speaking of a change in affections- a change at the center of your being which affect you inwardly and outwardly.

2. What is my relationship with sin? Am I sensitive to sin? Am I ashamed of my sin? Do I deny that I still sin? Do I acknowledge my sin and am I brought to a point of repenting of that sin? I John 1:8-10 tells us that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Yet, “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Those who do not know God will continually justify themselves and will never admit they’ve sinned unless cornered. They will rename sin. They will hide sin. They will shift blame. They will excuse it in various ways. If a person continues in sin, justifying it and not owning it, they are calling God a liar and the truth is not in them. So, what is my attitude and approach to sin? Repentance is not a one-time event for a follower of Christ. It is ongoing.

3. What is my relationship with other believers? Am I consistently participating in living the life of a believer with other Christians? Am I participating with them in worship? Am I exercising the spiritual gifts given to me to edify the body of Christ? Do I actively love the brethren? Do I prefer to be with believers rather than those who hate my Lord? Do I share a bond of fellowship with believers wrought by the Holy Spirit? John addressed this in 1 John 2:9-11 when he said, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” A love for your Christian brothers is a good sign that God is working in you. A desire to avoid or not actively seek to know brothers in Christ would be evidence of not knowing the Lord. John also addressed this in the same chapter, in verse 19 by saying, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” Those who have little or no desire to actively participate in the body of Christ are displaying evidence they don’t know God.

4. What is the overall fruit of my life? Jesus said that you will know they by their fruit in Matthew 7:16. In the parable of the sower, in Matthew 13, all the good soil produced a crop greater than what was sown. What is the evidence in my life that God is at work? The fruit of the Spirit should be evident in your life. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Are these becoming a greater and greater part of your character with each passing day? There should be an increasing of these characteristics in the life of every believer. Is there a desire to serve the Lord? Is there is a desire to share the Gospel? Is there a desire to see others come to Christ? What kind of fruit has my life produced? Is it the fruit of good soil? And James said that faith without works is dead (James 2:17), so do I have works inspired by the Holy Spirit in my life?

5. Do I endure discipline? Hebrews 12 makes it clear that God always disciplines every child who is legitimate. Can I sin without remorse? Can I continue in sin without rebuke? Can I live a life of sin without consequences? OR do I immediately know when I sin because the Spirit makes me aware of it? Do I see God at work in my life, disciplining me for my own good and to conform me into the image of His Son? Is God busy separating me unto Himself?

6. Do I endure pruning? John 15 speaks of this. Even when I am walking in obedience, do I notice that God sends trials and tests my way? Do I see that God is working on certain flaws or failings in my character in various ways to prune me and make me even more fruitful? Do I see God sending trials and tests into my life to produce perseverance in me according to what James says in James 1:2-4? Do I see God at work helping me to mature in faith?

7. Does His Spirit bear witness with my spirit that I am a child of God? (I list this one last because it seems we can make ourselves believe just about anything- the human heart is deceitful, who can know it?) That Romans 8:16 passage and the surrounding context speak about the fact that the Holy Spirit can confirm within us that we are indeed children of God. He relates this to our desire to mortify sin within ourselves and also the spirit of adoption and sonship- the lack of fear in going to God. We are not slaves, but sons. Our fear is respect, reverence, and awe, not a fear of punishment. The Holy Spirit lives within every believer and He can and will confirm that we belong to God. So, does the Holy Spirit confirm my salvation?

This is far from an exhaustive list of ways to have biblical assurance. I would heartily recommend the entire letter of First John to anyone seeking to examine his/her life. I would like to reiterate a couple of thoughts here to make sure I am clear. I am not advocating that ANY sin in a person’s life means they’re not saved. Sin is going to be a part of us in the flesh, even though we learn to hate it more and more as life goes on. Scripture does not speak of perfection (unless it means maturity), but a growing in holiness and a growing desire to please Him day by day. There will certainly be peaks and valleys in our lives, but the overall life pattern is what is in view here. Perhaps you know of other ways to examine ourselves. If so, please share.

5 Reasons I Don’t Use the Sinner’s Prayer

1. It assumes that if a man speaks certain words that it will move the hand of God.

Salvation is a work of God, not a work of man. Salvation is entirely dependent upon the power of God, not the decision of a man. What mysticism has overtaken us that we believe that repeating certain words will cause God to move in the heart of a person? Faith comes by hearing, not by speaking. Remember Lydia in Acts 16? 14 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. Faith is a gift of God which is given to a person as he hears the message of the Gospel, not the result of a person repeating a prayer and being “declared” to be saved. Don’t declare people to be saved, by the way. Let God confirm it or deny it. The proof of salvation is seen in a changed life, not in a one-time prayer.

2. It is putting words in a person’s mouth that are not from that person’s own heart.

Ever heard of “forced conversion”? Is it possible? No, not when God looks at the heart. Muslims have tried to convert people at the point of a sword but the real point is usually to get a person to deny Christ. Well, does it work for Christianity? Can you, by placing the right words in a person’s mouth, truly CAUSE it to be the cry of that person’s heart? No. The reason preachers and evangelists began employing this method is because of the many wacky prayers people will often pray when they come crying to an altar. I’ve heard people prayer about problems, pray about sick relatives, cry out about hard times, ask for a job, and many other things. They can’t seem to get the prayer right so we give them the right words and then declare them saved. (sounds almost Pope-ish) The truth is- if it’s not in a person’s heart to repent and believe (something that is God-given), no magic prayer will do the trick. People come to altars to ease their consciences every day, but that is not salvation. They just want to be able to live with themselves but they have no desire to repent unless God has done a work in their heart. And if God has done a work, you can’t keep them away from the church, the Word of God, other believers, nor can you stop the fruit from being produced. Sincerity can be faked, but faith cannot.

3. No biblical teacher or preacher, including Jesus or any of the Apostles, ever instructed people to pray a prayer for salvation- the command of the Gospel is “repent and believe.”

Consider what Jesus said “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Note, Jesus does not instruct people here to pray for salvation. He doesn’t say, “The Kingdom of God is at hand, now who wants to ask me into their heart?” Consider Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. He has just preached to the crowd the message of the Gospel and then Luke writes this: 37 “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Where is the Apostolic call to pray a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart? People were saved on that day, but no prayer for salvation was employed. What did Paul tell the Philippian jailer? “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved,” not “just pray and ask Jesus into your heart.” What about Paul’s preaching on Mars Hill? He has just preached the Gospel to them… 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, “We shall hear you again concerning this.” 33 So Paul went out of their midst. 34  But some men joined him and believed,”  No preacher in Scripture ever instructs men to pray a prayer to receive Jesus into their hearts. Believing the Gospel is a work of God which happens as the Gospel is preached.

4. The overwhelming fruit of this method is false converts.

I’m sure there are many people who would argue with this point, but I would simply appeal to you in this way. How many people have you seen or even heard pray a sinner’s prayer for salvation? There have likely been millions since became popular back in the 19th century, but how many prayed a prayer and walked away the next day, the next week or the next year? I heard a preacher speaking recently about this topic. He said that he was speaking to an indigenous missionary in Romania who said, “I wish all of the American evangelists would stop coming over here altogether.” When asked why, he said, “Because if we are to believe the reports they give, the entire population of Romania has been saved 4 times. But the trouble is, none of them ever darken the doors of a church.” And that is the overwhelming fruit of this method my friends. There have been people who have come to believe the Gospel and been gloriously saved who have also prayed a sinner’s prayer, but there is not ONE person who was ever saved BECAUSE they repeated a particular prayer. That is a fact.

5. It inoculates people against hearing the Gospel in the future.

This could be one of the most dangerous issues with the sinner’s prayer. It gives a false sense of security. It causes a person to hold on to an “event” in their lives that saved them. It’s usually accompanied by other nonsense like “write down this date in your Bible” or “drive a stake into your backyard” or some other superstitious tool to make a person keep placing their faith in the prayer they prayed years ago which has resulted in no change in their life. And usually when someone goes to a pastor who employs the sinner’s prayer in his methodology, that same pastor will likely only seek to confirm the answer to 2 questions: 1. Was there ever a time in your life when you prayed and asked Jesus to come into your heart? If so… 2. Were you sincere? And if the answer is yes, then they tell the person “You’re saved! You need to tell the Devil to leave you alone.” And it may well be that it’s their God-given conscience or even the Holy Spirit convicting the person of their need for salvation but the “sinner’s prayer” keeps them from realizing the true need.

I wish “the sinner’s prayer” would disappear entirely from Gospel presentations. Saving faith is formed in a person’s heart as they hear the message of the Gospel and is proven by its fruit, which is saving faith and repentance, followed by a transformed life.

If anyone has anything to add, I would welcome that. If you think I’m wrong and can provide Scriptural evidence of where we are instructed to have a person pray a prayer for salvation, I’d love to see it. Romans 10:13 is not an example of that, by the way. Paul never tells the Romans to pray and ask Jesus to come into their hearts. I would also love to see if anyone can find any historical Christian basis for this method. To my knowledge, it was never used nor taught in the Catholic church (not even prior to any corruption) and was not widely used until the mid-19th century by Charles Finney and other revivalists (who likely had a better grasp of the Gospel than many modern preachers). I welcome all discussion and comments.