Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Insulting God: Paved With Good Intentions

Part 4 of a Series

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8

In this series we've been looking at the way we "do church" these days, and how that has contributed to the mess our nation has become. One premise that I've wanted us to consider is this one:

We insult God when we expect unregenerate people to live just like those who have been born again by God's Spirit.

But in order to tackle that subject, I've had to lay some important foundations.
  • God deserves the glory for what He does.
  • The salvation of a soul is a miraculous work that only God can do, and He deserves the glory for that, too.
  • The true Gospel requires humility on the part of sinners who are helpless to save themselves.
  • The modern, distorted "gospel" appeals to man's pride, implies that he can save himself by a decision he makes, and declares men "saved" based on a religious exercise (and this is being done by the majority of evangelicals!)
  • This godless, non-miraculous, manmade "salvation" is an insult to God.
Those points were fleshed out in parts 1-3 of this series. Now, after all of that, are we ready to tackle the original premise quoted above?

Not quite. Because there's one more reason why we evangelicals tend to fall for this false gospel, and unless it's addressed, it may still seduce us.

The seduction lies in the fact that we not only hate feeling helpless about our own salvation, but we also hate feeling helpless about saving others, especially those we love most.

We so want to help! And that's good. We should ache to see souls saved. It feels wonderful to believe that others will be in Heaven. It's a great joy to know we've helped someone come to Christ. Praise God that He allows us to be used in this way, and to enjoy such assurance for our loved ones!

The problem arises when we become so eager to feel that assurance, so eager to feel that flush of evangelistic success, that those feelings matter more to us than the reality of what happens to others' souls. Sometimes, quite unconsciously, we'd rather feel the thrill of leading someone in a prayer, we'd rather perform a ritual to assure our hearts as to our loved ones' fates, than actually lead them to Christ who alone can save them.

I used to use a well-known witnessing scheme, and I was good at it. I could almost always talk people into repeating "The Prayer" after me, once I had gone through my well-practiced spiel. I was pretty proud of it, to be honest with you. Lots of little notches on my evangelical belt, and exciting "praise reports" to give when all the evangelical teams returned to the church for wrap-up. The problem was, nobody that I "led to the Lord" was ever willing to participate in any kind of follow-up that we attempted. They always made sure they weren't home when we were scheduled to drop by. They often didn't return to church, either. I had assured them that they were saved, based on what they repeated after me, but I was left wondering whether or not they had really been saved, or even if they had just humored me to hurry me out of their home. I hate to think of how much baseless assurance I handed out in those days.

"But wait," some have told me. "You just have to trust that God will save them, because they prayed The Prayer. You did the best you could." And that, indeed, seems to be the new faith of the modern gospel. You initiate a salvation transaction, and "by faith" convince yourself that God has responded, even if you know nothing has changed inside of you. "Faith doesn't need evidence. Just believe that you're saved, based on the prayer you prayed, whether there's evidence of salvation or not." Evangelical programs abound, each one promising new and better ways to convince people to repeat The Prayer after you, and how to convince unchanged people that they've been changed. Feelings become our focus as we grope for assurance, whether its the feelings of the evangelist who wants to believe she has led someone to Christ, or the feelings of the new convert who wants to believe she is saved. We offer platitudes and promises to those who, instead of believing in Christ, seek only to believe that they've truly believed!

We do it all with such good intentions! Oh, and how carefully we steer clear of verses that might make our fragile new believers uncomfortable, like 1 Co. 15:2 ,or 2 Co. 13:5.

God have mercy on us, and on our poor "converts!"

The true Gospel knows nothing of human initiation and divine response. It is the exact opposite! God initiates, and the human responds!

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. John 6:44

Faith is no mere matter of convincing ourselves to believe that we're saved! Faith is nothing less than an awakened spirit coming alive to Christ Himself, being able to see and desire Him in ways that no sin-deadened soul ever could, and being divinely enabled to trust in the Lamb who was slain for us. It is a complete paradigm shift, not a one-time act of deciding to jump through a religious "faith hoop."

So what is to be done with all of our good intentions? Should we muzzle our evangelistic urges, sit on our backsides, and wait for God to do all the work? God forbid! (See Eze. 3:18-21.)

Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! (1Co 9:16)
I have a son who went to a Christian school for kindergarten through 2nd grade. He's extremely bright, and he learned to talk the talk with the best of them. You could almost see his eyes glazing over, his soul hiding behind his religious mask whenever the subject of God would come up. He could spout religious jargon until he terrified me, because his little soul was rock-hard and as far from God as could be. Of course he attended Sunday School and VBS as well, and in each of those places someone led him in a "prayer to receive Christ." He got little certificates to tell him he was going to Heaven, and thrilled announcements to everyone that he was saved because he'd repeated a prayer. The religious shellac got painted on thicker, and his little soul walked away more lost than it had already been.

I so yearned to truly lead this child to Christ, and yet I didn't know how! I only knew how to lead him in a prayer, and I knew he didn't need to do that again. I had finally experienced true salvation as a miraculous work of the Spirit in my own life, after years of believing myself saved based on a prayer. How could I want him to have the same false assurance that I once had?

Like every misguided but well-intentioned Christian parent, I longed for something I could do to save my son. Something I could put my faith in for his salvation besides a miraculous work of Christ.

If salvation depends on the Holy Spirit awakening a dead soul, then what happens if He doesn't do that for my son? What is "Plan B?"

There isn't one.

And finally coming to terms with that has helped me witness to my son more effectively than ever before, in a way that glorifies God instead of insulting Him.

In the next entry I'll tell you how.

(Photo from Stock.xchng by forwardcom)

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