I am a preacher of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. But that hasn’t always been the case. It wasn’t until my early thirties that God called me out of my spiritual blindness. Let me re-phrase that, it was religious blindness that God redeemed me from. You see, I was your average, faithful, church going, Southern Baptist, card-carrying Christian. I had jumped through all the hoops of what it means to be declared a Christian in the Bible Belt.
Attend church regularly…..Check.
Have an emotional experience at youth camp and commit my life to Christ….Check.
Repeat the Sinners prayer and invite Jesus into my heart…..Check.
Get myself baptized….Check.
Fall away from Christ and walk the aisle to rededicate my life….Check.
That was my childhood experience with Christianity. This was my life as a blind man. And I really considered myself saved because of these things that I had done. I mean, I looked like a Christian! If you were to ask me how I knew I was saved, I would have pulled out my Southern Baptist checklist and waved it in your face as proof of my justification before God! This was what I thought a Christian looked like. If Christianity was a job description, I would have thought it read like this;
Christianity; “A person that has prayed to ask Jesus into their heart, been baptized, goes to church, and is a good person.”
The only problem is that I never cross referenced my beliefs at the time with the Bible. For starters, the sinners prayer is found no where in the scriptures. There is not one verse where Jesus says to a lost person, “Now bow your head and invite me into your heart.” The sinners prayer was never the means to salvation. In fact, it was birthed in the early beginnings of the 20th century as a means for pastors to “get” people saved. Notice the italics I placed around the word get.
Pastor’s at the time began to use this prayer almost like an old Western gun slinger. At the first sign of emotion on the face of one of their congregants, they would pounce (and some still do) like a shark smelling blood in the water. Here is a generic but so very common prototype of the conversation that would take place between the pastor and the emotional congregant;
Pastor: “Would you like to invite Jesus into your heart?”
Emotional Congregant: “Yes I would.”
Pastor: “Then repeat this prayer, ‘Jesus I know that I am a sinner. I ask you to forgive me of my sins and come and live in my heart. Thank you Jesus for saving my soul! Amen.”
Emotional Congregant: Repeats prayer
Pastor: “If you really meant what you prayed, Jesus now lives in your heart and you are a Christian! Now start coming to church regularly and stop doing the sinful things you used to do.”
Can God truly save a person through them repeating a prayer? Absolutely He can! But the problem is that many professing believer have been conditioned to believe that the litmus test for determining true salvation is if a person has ever prayed a prayer of salvation. This is fast food or microwave evangelism. Sounds great on the surface! But here is the problem, aside from the major one being that it is not the Biblical model. Lets examine what takes place in reciting a prayer for salvation.
Lets say that a person gets emotional in a service because their spouse left them, or they are facing financial difficulties. The pastor preaches an eloquent sermon about how Jesus blesses the lives of His children. The emotional person walks down at the end of the sermon in hopes that Jesus can bless their life! So when the pastor asks if they want to accept Jesus, their answer is yes, because they want blessings in their life! So they repeat a prayer because they believe that this is the key to eternal life.
Then after the prayer has been recited, the pastor tells them that they are saved. Now he tells them to just start coming to church and stopping their sinful lifestyle. But here is the problem. If God has not truly changed this persons heart to love the beauty of Christ, then all he heard the pastor say was, “Now you need to abandon the sins that you love in order to chase offer the righteousness you have hated.” No pastor has the power to tell another man that he is saved! Salvation is from the Lord! No man has the ability to love God unless God first regenerated that person’s heart and made Him one of His adopted children!
“We love because he first loved us.” John 4:19.
The Puritans, who were early Christians of the 16th and 17th centuries, would spend hours, days, and even months if that is what it took to walk a person through the scriptures in order to show them what it truly meant to be a follower of Christ. There was no time set aside to pray a prayer. And fast food evangelism would have been viewed as heretical and unloving. Because they believed that through the reading of the Word of God, it was God who would change the person’s heart and make them a new creation. You see, they believed the power of salvation was accomplished by God through the preaching of His word, not a decision left up to fallen men.
Evangelist Paul Washer said he had a conversation with a Pastor by the name of Dr. Dallimore. Dallimore made the statement that the early church of the first centuries did not have alter calls or sinners prayers. Washer then asked him, “How did they know when a person God saved?” Dallimore responded, “That was easy. Their lives changed and they kept coming to church.” Washer then went on to draw a truthful but startling observation when he said, “Today, we think we know when people get saved not because their lives changed but because they simply repeated a prayer.”
How sad and true it is that there are people who profess Christ whose lives have not been changed. They still love the sins of the world, they have no passion to know the Word of God, and they know no more about Jesus Christ than they did as a youth. But bless God, they consider themselves saved because they jumped through a few evangelical hoops. And again, I’m not condemning anyone, because I was one of these false converts.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9.
Back to my story. I felt justified by my works and by the things I had done to achieve my salvation. But God used a verse I had heard hundreds of times to wake me from my deception.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:21-23.
The text came alive to me on that Sunday in a way it never had. When we read a verse like this, we tend to think of God talking to the bad people or the lost. But if you read the context of Matthew 7 as a whole, God is talking to church people! People who are religious and would profess Jesus was their Lord! The text says that many seemingly good, church going, Bible belt Christians will stand before the Lord on that day. And they will begin to cry out ‘Lord, Lord!’ This is describing someone who would emphatically declare that Jesus was their Lord!
And then they will begin to list off things that they had done to earn their justification before God. In our day today, it would be a person that said, “Lord, Lord….Ive done many things in your name! I got baptized and I invited you into my heart and I attended church on most Sunday!” But how the Lord responds is key to understanding. God doesn’t say, “Well you never invited me into your heart!” God doesn’t say, “Well your church attendance was not up to par.” The response of God brought me to my knees in utter shock at the age of 32 years old. God says, “I NEVER KNEW YOU.”
Suddenly it became more clear than anything I had ever heard in my life. I was lost. I had said the prayer. I had been baptized. I had pristine church attendance and I was a nice guy. But I only had a religious routine, not a relationship with God. There was no love of His word in my heart, and no hunger to chase Him daily. I was basing my salvation on my own religious works. I had never read Ephesians 2:8-9, “Not of works, so no man may boast.”
If I would have died prior to that moment, I would have boasted before God of my Baptist Checklist.
I would have boasted of how I was a good person.
But God would have replied, “I never knew you. Depart from me.” I was the man in Matthew 7:21.
Although I had been in church my whole life, I realized I knew nothing of the God of scripture. I knew the bullet points of Christianity, that Jesus had died for my sins. I knew some of the Sunday School stories such as Jonah and the whale and about Noah’s ark. But I felt as though for the first time in my life, I was actually seeing God for who He is! This created an insatiable hunger within me to know Him! Not in an attempt to avoid Hell or anything like that. A passion had been birthed that I’d never experienced before.
Let me say that my ignorance to the true Gospel early in my life was no one’s fault but my own. I had and have wonderful, loving parents who love the Lord deeply, and a wonderful church family. But I had never searched the scriptures for myself. I had never sought God on my own. God had not yet regenerated my heart and opened my eyes to see Him as beautiful savior. I had wanted what Christ could benefit me, but wanted a Christianity that required very little sacrifice on my part.
After my conversion, I began to study the scriptures not as a daily devotional, but in an attempt to quench my growing hunger for Christ! I began to read of great men throughout history who walked with Christ as well. Men like Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jonathan Knox, Thomas Watson, John Bunyan, and so many others. And in the lives of these men I saw something I had never personally seen in most modern-day Christians. I saw the picture of Philippians 1:21 in full color.
“To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21.
These men didn’t have religion. They had a passion for Christ. Their lives were centered around proclaiming Jesus to the world. Many of these men traded comfort and ease for prison and persecution with joy! Because Jesus was the treasure in the field to them that the gospels speak of! This wasn’t 21st century devotional Christianity where we are content if we fit God into fifteen minutes of our day. This was all-consuming!! This was men flinging their lives away for Christ! From a worldly view-point, they had nothing! But they lived their lives like they had everything!
Pastor John Piper said these words in a sermon I heard that pierced my heart to its core;
“Where are the young men and women of this generation who will hold their lives cheap, and be faithful even unto death, who will lose their lives for Christ’s, flinging them away for love of him? Where are those who will live dangerously, and be reckless in this service? Where are the men of prayer? Where are the men who count God’s Word of more importance to them than their daily food? Where are the men who, like Moses of old, commune with God face to face as a man speaks with his friend? Where are God’s men in this day of God’s power?” -John Piper
This was a Christianity that was so foreign to that which is seen in most modern-day Christians! This was sacrificial! This was radical! This was a different culture of people! I began to ask myself, “Where are the men like Edwards, Luther, and Bunyan now days? Where are the men, who like the apostle Paul count every earthly thing in their lives as garbage compared to the value and richness of knowing Christ?”
Why have we settled for this cheap imitation of true Christianity that requires nothing from us but a prayer and church attendance? What a lie!! Following Jesus does not cost you five minutes of your time in prayer and once a week church attendance. Following Jesus has always cost believers their lives!! Why else would Jesus warn believers to count the costs of following Him? If Christianity were truly what the world has made it out to be in our recent culture, then it would cost us nothing but a few hours a week!
“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:25-33.
This Jesus of the Bible radically changed my life. As most readers know, my wife and I sold our business and moved to Central America to live for almost a year as missionaries before God called us back to the States. We had none of the frills of Western civilization. No air conditioning, cell phones, or television that we could enjoy. My day consisted of preaching the Gospel with a translator to the natives of the region. No great comforts or frills to be had. But it was the most joy filled time in my life! No distractions, just Christ!
I began this blog by stating that I am preacher of God’s glorious gospel. And if you are truly a follower of Christ, so are you. That is one of the most telling marks of a true believer. Im not talking about being a preacher as in a job profession. I mean to say we as human beings naturally talk about the things we love and are passionate about. Passion is an overflow of what comes out of our mouth. A person passionate about football loves telling others about his team. A mother passionate about her children loves telling other of their accomplishments. In the same way, if a person is truly passionate about Jesus, they will desire to tell others about Him! That is what it means to be a preacher. To proclaim the love of our hearts!
Christianity is not just a status such as ethnicity or political affiliation we check on a voting ballot. Christianity is a different culture of people who live on mission. Their lives are alien to this world because their treasure is not of this world. They are a people whose lives seem strange to unbelievers, because they are lived for Christ and not for themselves. The man of the world works all of his life so that he might have the chance to retire in comfort and ease. But the Christ follower works all of his life in order to take his savings and resources after retirement and travel to the nations to make Christ known! The worldly man speaks nothing of Christ to his friends because he doesn’t want to offend anyone. But the Christ follower cannot stay silent and views the his lost friends as people in a burning building, in need of a wake up call! The worldly man’s life allows room for Christ. But the true believer’s life is Christ! I am nothing but a lowly beggar who was rescued by Jesus. And now I want to tell the world of my savior.
Where are the men and women whom as Piper said, “Would hold their lives as cheap, flinging them away for Christ?” This radical passion is not comprehensive list of what one must do to be a Christian. This passion seen in men such as the disciples, Paul, and men of God throughout history is merely the side effect of a person who truly sees Jesus as the treasure in the field…more valuable than anything this earth has to offer.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44.
Open my eyes that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.