October 1, 2013

I have decided to follow Jesus…maybe

by Parker Reardon

As a former youth pastor, I was asked regularly why so many of young people eventually leave the church. Why is it that so many of the teenagers who came to sunday school and youth group, who professed to know Christ, would abandon the faith when they went off to college? Why is it that so many young people who would come to a youth camp and make a decision around a campfire would not be serving Jesus Christ years down the road? Furthermore, why is it that this “falling away” (see Matt 13:20-21) is not limited to youth but extends to many who profess to have made a response at a jail ministry, nursing home outreach or other evangelistic encounter?

easy

The unfortunate answer is that they were never born again (cf. 1 Jn 2:4-6). Folks proclaim regularly in their testimony of conversion that “I asked Jesus into my heart in grade school, but never got serious about Christianity until twenty years later when I dedicated my life to Him after a serious issue in life.”

The problem with this scenario is that it is not consistent with what the Bible’s teaching on salvation being eternal life. Salvation is not momentary, nor is it something that can be broken. Furthermore, the new birth is followed by evidence of new life. God does not save a life which He does not also sanctify. There is always evidence of life in bringing forth fruit of regeneration. Though there may be varying degrees of fruit, there is some fruit (Matt 13:8, 23).

God does more than just improve someone’s life; He makes each believer a new creature (2 Cor 5:17). He takes dead souls who are in rebellion against Him and breathes new life into them (Eph 2:1-7). Furthermore, a person whose life has not changed evidences that he is still the lord of his own life. A Christian is one who has enthroned Jesus as the Lord of his life. One cannot make a supposed decision to follow Jesus and then not follow for the next prolonged number of years. When a person becomes a child of God, his thinking, behavior, and desires begin to revolve around Christ and His requirements. Though the change in life may be gradual (progressive sanctification), there is change. This change that the Spirit of God brings about is the only sure evidence that God has begun a good work in a person (Phil 1:6).

A. W. Pink gives this insightful comment:

The new birth is very much more than simply shedding a few tears due to a temporary remorse over sin. It is far more than changing our course of life, the leaving off of bad habits and the substituting of good ones. It is something different from the mere cherishing and practicing of noble ideals. It goes infinitely deeper than coming forward to take some popular evangelist by the hand, signing a pledge-card, or “joining the church.” The new birth is no mere turning over a new leaf. It is no mere reformation but a complete transformation. In short, the new birth is a miracle, the result of the supernatural operation of God. It is radical, revolutionary, lasting.

The preaching and ministry practices in numerous and ministries tend to foster momentary decisions. Yet preaching which does not invoke people to count the cost of following Christ, to forsake all to follow Him and surrender to His Lordship with all that it entails (Lk 14:26-33), is not biblical. Many people walk the aisles in an altar-call system, yet they do not understand that Christ demands sacrifice, commitment, and absolute surrender to His Lordship. Jesus was clear when He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Lk 9:23). Altar-call practices that call for human decisions, typically elicited by emotional manipulation, make no moral demands on sinners. Unfortunately people think they can believe in Christ and not repent.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives an accurate assessment of the pitfalls and dangers of calling for decisions as he encourages preachers not only to preach clearly on the sovereignty of God in salvation but also to allow His Spirit’s sovereign work to control the methods in the evangelistic appeal during preaching. His chapter on “Calling for Decisions” is quite helpful. He says:

If they have found salvation and are rejoicing in it, they will want to come to tell you about it. They will do so in their own time; let them do so. Do not force these things. This is the work of the Holy Spirit of God. His work is a thorough work, it is a lasting work; and so we must not yield to this over-anxiety about results. I am not saying it is dishonest, I say it is mistaken. We must learn to trust the Spirit and to rely upon His infallible work.

believeThis practice of not explaining the demands to those who claim that they want to follow Jesus Christ is called easy-believism. This is a gospel presentation that calls people to “ask Jesus into your heart” and recognize Him as Savior, without surrendering to Him as Lord. This error of modern churches has infiltrated the masses of evangelicalism. It is a downplaying of the call to self-denial (Luke 9:23), repentance (Isa 55:7; Acts 17:30), and forsaking all in order to buy the pearl of great price (Matt 13:44-46). The witness of Scripture testifies that whom God saves, He also sanctifies (1 Cor 6:9–11). This is not the promotion of a type of perfectionism in which the believer ceases to sin, but a definite change in the direction of life.

Sinners are in rebellion against God. They love their sin (Jn 3) and they seek to please only themselves. However, the saint has enthroned Christ in his life and his aim to please the Lord (2 Cor 5:9, 15). Those who follow Christ are to pursue sanctification, or else they demonstrate that they are not kingdom citizens (Heb 12:14).

There is no such thing as a life of faith that does not demonstrate good works as fruit of new life in Christ (Rom 6–8). James says that a faith that does not manifest itself in works is not saving faith (Jas 2:14–16) but is dead and useless. Paul states that salvation is by grace and through faith, for the purpose of good works (Eph 2:8–10). He also taught that the salvation God brings to man instructs one to deny ungodliness and live righteously and godly in this age (Titus 2:11–14). Furthermore, Christ asserts that he who does the will of the Father will enter His kingdom (Matt 7:21).

John MacArthur clarifies the meaning of true salvation, discipleship, and kingdom living. He says:

The gospel according to Jesus explicitly and unequivocally rules out easy-believism. To make all of our Lord’s difficult demands apply only to a higher class of Christians blunts the force of His entire message. It makes room for a cheap and meaningless faith—a faith that has absolutely no effect on the fleshly life of sin. That is not saving faith.

Matthew gives clear instruction of what it means to be a true follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. It is not a matter of going through religious ritual, but a call to “bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance,” (Matt 3:8) as John the Baptist told the religious crowd in the wilderness of Judea. Contrary to the “wide way” to heaven that is being promoted in many gospel presentations, Jesus said, “the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it” (Matt 7:13). Jesus follows that statement by noting there are few who find the narrow gate leading to life (Matt 7:14).

In contrast to the masses of people who may be religious or make a religious decision at some time, only a few make it into the kingdom. In other words, there are many who think they are going to heaven but are not. Much confusion exists because the way has been muddied by encouraging people to simply pray a prayer based on a minimal presentation of gospel truth. Often left out are important elements such as the holiness of God, the reality of sin, and the need for a repentant faith in Christ, letting the Law of God produce proper conviction.

A repentant faith exhibits itself in fruit. It shows evidence of life, otherwise it is thrown into the fire and burned (Matt 7:19). Christ further asserts: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21). There must exist an absolute willingness to honor, obey, and submit to Christ as Lord. It is not a matter of professing Christ as Lord, but in showing that He is the new Master in life. This manifestation is shown not only in religious performance (Matt 7:22) but also through hearing and acting upon the words of Christ (Matt 7:24).

Has God been gracious and faithful to reconcile sinners to Himself at evangelistic rallies? Absolutely. Yet it is my contention that He has operated in spite of flawed human methodologies, not necessarily because of them. The Lord of salvation clearly teaches the reality of false professions (Matt 7:21-23). This reality should urge any would-be follower into seeking out a biblical basis for assurance, for evidence that substantiates the profession of faith, showing it to be true saving faith. We should not just get people to “sign on the dotted line” and then give them verses on assurance, teaching them never to question their salvation. Rather, we should maintain a biblical exhortation that calls people to examine their lives and to test the fruit of their salvation (2 Cor 13:5). Peter instructs us to make our calling and election sure (2 Pet 1:10). Therefore, we should look at assurance not as a right given to every professor of salvation, but as a gift of confidence bestowed by the Spirit of God on those walking in obedience and love of their Lord (Jn 15:14; 1 Jn 2:3).

The Bible knows nothing of ex-Christians. Any who fall away, who apostatize to false religious systems or otherwise cease to follow Christ for a prolonged amount of time, prove that they were never Christ’s (1 Jn 2:19). They were like Judas who lived around Jesus Christ and His teachings, who professed to be one of Christ’s sheep but in reality was a tare in the midst of wheat (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43). The Bible clearly teaches that true salvation is forever. It is eternal life, not temporary. God sanctifies those whom He saves, both beginning and completing that work all the way to the end (Phil 1:6). We are kept by the very power of God (1 Pet 1:5). Let us rejoice together in the Father’s abundant mercy in the new birth “…to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet 1:3-4).

Parker Reardon

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Parker is a pastor at Newtown Bible Church, in Newtown, CT.
  • kevin2184

    Great post, Parker!

  • Johnny

    Some excellent thoughts on this topic. I’ve known of supposed “ex-Christians” and it’s hard to explain to them that they were never really Christians in the first place.

    • Tony Jiang

      except that this is a no true scotsmen fallacy, but i guess because you are calvinists you really have no choice but say such things

      • raytheist

        Exactly. The “No True Scotsman” is the core of many evangelicals. “If you aren’t a Christian the way we are Christian, you aren’t a Christian at all.” This is a fabricated lie, of course. I was “born again”, was an ordained minister, and was in every way a Christian. Then I discovered it was all a sham. In reality, nobody is “born-again”. Calvinism is one of the most despicable kinds of theology.

        • Johnny

          I was actually thinking particularly of a friend of mine that I grew up with, who said he was a “Christian” and yet was a hoarder, an avid porn collector and frequently raged in hatred and unforgiveness at his earthly father. He later “left the faith” as he said, but there was never really a rebirth in the first place because he had refused to repent of his sins and forgive his father. Had he truly been a repentant Christian he would have put all of that before the cross of Christ and forgiven his father, regardless of how terrible his father had been.

          I wasn’t really thinking in terms of calvinism at all, guys.

      • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

        It’s actually not a No True Scotsman “fallacy,” for the simple reason that God actually has infallibly defined a Christian for us in His Word.

        The so-called NTS fallacy is classically represented something like this:

        Tony: “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.”
        Raytheist: “I am Scottish, and put sugar on my porridge.”
        Tony: “Then you are not a true Scotsman.”

        The reason this is poor reasoning is not because it’s logically invalid(it’s actually not, which, is why it’s recognized as an informal fallacy). It is poor reasoning because the definitional claim that no true Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge has no basis in reality. Tony’s epistemological authority is insufficient. His claim has absolutely no real-world correspondence to defining a true Scotsman.

        The question is: who has the right/authority to define a true Christian? Who can speak to the definition of a true Christian that corresponds to reality? The answer to those questions is: God. And if God has clearly revealed the way He has defined a Christian, then we can repeat that revealed definition without committing the NTS “fallacy,” because, unlike Tony’s claim in the above example, God’s definition of a Christian has a sound epistemological foundation.

        And God is clear: Those who “go out from us” (what we commonly refer to as “falling away” or “apostatizing”) were never truly of us (see 1 John 2:19), because God Himself defines a Christian as one who, having actually been born again, regenerated by the Holy Spirit of God, always perseveres to the end (cf., e.g., John 10:27-30; Rom 8:29-30; Matt 24:12-13).

        Hopefully that puts an end to the “No True Scotsman” canard.

        • Larry Miles

          Mike, very good apologetic.

  • Reagan

    This is excellent, Parker. Very clear. Very persuasive. Just shared it with all of my college students. I believe this has just become my new go-to article on Lordship Salvation. Thank you!

  • Dan Phillips

    I agree with the burden of your post. It’s just ironic to see it paired with another of Pink’s armchair-general, chest-pounding pronouncements on deep holiness, knowing that his deliberate example was so contrary (http://bit.ly/W2nEuq).

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  • http://www.melissacollins.biz/ Melissa Collins

    Clear, concise, convicting. Thank you!

  • melbaby

    Excellent article. I will go through this with my children. In his book, “Way of the Master”, Ray Comfort explains this so well. One solution to the problem that he proposes is to preach the law. “Through the law comes the knowledge of sin”. Rom 3:20. True repentance can only come from comparing ourselves to God’s perfect standard. Generally our culture believes they are a “christian” and a good person, when in fact they have broken every one of God’s commandments (James 2:10) and deserve his wrath.

  • METOWNSEND Townsend

    If all that professed “Christianity” truly believed, our nation and the world would be a far different place.

    “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7

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  • Larry Miles

    Geez Parker, you nailed it!

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  • Daniel Wilcox

    Is this not the same A.W. Pink who claimed that God willed for Adam and Eve to sin?!

    I see from your other quotes and your own website that you are a Calvinist.
    Thus, this article is very bad news, because all of us who weren’t included in TULIP’s unconditional election, etc.,
    have no hope. Like Calvin so infamously wrote we are ‘foreordained to eternal death.” :-(

    I used to be a Baptist youth pastor. I am certainly glad I protected our youth from such despairing bad news as this.

    • Alex

      Daniel,

      “to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?” -2COR 2.15

      After such a faithful and encouraging posting from Pastor Reardon, I am discouraged that you would not only; focus on a single quote from AW Pink (which is totally unrelated to Adam) and totally ignore the 34+ linked references to scripture, but then try to sum up and attack the life work of a man who the LORD used mightily (to stand up to an evil institution, which has murdered countless Christians and to this day enslaves many people even Christians(?!) in the false assurance of a work based religion) with a 4 word quote, an acronym, and an abbreviation.

      Though this is not as upsetting as your suggesting that you were “helping” the children at your church by “protecting” them from following Christ, Though I rest assured (and you should too) that if they are Christians they will overcome. FTR I do concede that some doctrines may be more difficult for the children to understand.

      how about we read John Chapter 3.

      Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

      Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

      For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

      For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

      Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

      And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

      • Daniel Wilcox

        I know and understand the despair and horror of Calvinism. One of my university professors earned his PhD on Calvinism. Furthermore, I taught Calvinism to students part of every year for 24 years. I’ve battled the TULIP for over 50 years, read most of the modern works of Reformed theology from Boetner and Sproul and Piper and MacArthur to R.L. Dabney, etc.

        The “Doctrines of Grace” twist and distort much of the NT, and certainly deny the Good News of God’s love for the WHOLE world (Kosmos) of John 3:16.

  • Lee

    What is the difference between a baptism and a bath? Many of us would agree that there is a difference, but sometimes through our practice or teaching on the matter, there is little to the distinguish the two. The Bible defines this difference for very clearly.

    Romans 6:3 – 4

    “3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

    ​In Romans, Paul teaches us that in baptism we are baptized into the death of Christ, and buried with Him. Once we are buried with Him we are also able to be raised with Him to new life. Baptism unites us with Christ in His death, so that we can also be united with Him in His resurrection. A key turning point in this passage is the phrase “in order that” in verse 4. It says that “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” This tells us that in order to be raised with Christ to a new life, we must be buried with Him, and this burial is specifically mentioned as being our baptism.

    ​To best understand the implications of such a teaching, one can approach the teaching from a different direction. What would happen if I did not get baptized? If we were to follow logic, then the outcome would be that we would not therefore be buried with Christ, and if we are not buried with Christ we cannot be raised with Him to new life. This should give us pause.

    ​To answer the question of the difference between baptism and a bath, this passage would tell us that baptism is our participation with Jesus into His death, burial and resurrection, which gives us new life. The Bible does not stop there however. The Scriptures in 1 Peter 3 tell us more:

    1 Peter 3:20 – 22

    “…when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.”

    In 1 Peter, the Scriptures teach us that the waters that flooded the world in the time of Noah now symbolize baptism. As the Scriptures say “this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also”. It is not a mere bath (“not the removal of dirt from the body”), instead it is “the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.” Further more, this baptism “saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ”, which is in agreement with the teaching on baptism from Romans 10.

    If we are to ask ourselves what baptism is, these two passages teach us that baptism is our participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which saves us through the resurrection of Christ.

    What Happens at Baptism?

    Galatians 3:26 – 29

    26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

    This Scripture tells us that in baptism we are “clothed” with Christ. That is, we all become one in Christ Jesus, and in belonging to Christ, we are Abraham’s seed. To become Abraham’s seed means to be accepted into his family, and with that, be entered into the covenant that Abraham had with God. Paul explains the implications of our becoming Abraham’s seed in Galatians 4:7 “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” In other words, in being clothed with Christ, we belong to God’s family, and this clothing happens at baptism as the Scripture says. Further more, as was alluded in the beginning, Acts 2:38 sheds more light on what happens at our baptism:

    Acts 2:38

    “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

    This short passage shows the process of faith. Belief in Christ as Messiah, repentance, and baptism precedes receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is important to note here that just as Scripture cannot be read out of context, baptism cannot be practiced outside of context. Baptism separate from believing in Christ, accepting Jesus as Lord, and repentance from sin, is no baptism at all. In addition to that, baptism occurs after belief in Jesus as Lord, and our dedication to repentance. As the culmination of these things, it is the time that the Holy Spirit, the “deposit” as Paul refers to it throughout Scripture, is given to us. Therefore the wording of this passage: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Within the context of this passage, the Jews listening to Peter believed in Christ prior to this passage when they were cut to the heart (Acts 2:36 – 37). They were convinced that they Jesus was the Messiah, and that they had crucified Him (Acts 2:36). If they were not convinced of this, they would not have been standing there asking Peter what needed to be done. Repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ was what Peter turned the penitent crowd to, but with a promise: “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

    At baptism, after the culmination of our belief in Christ as Lord, and our repentance, we are gifted the Holy Spirit.

    Belief and Works in Relation to Baptism

    There are two common refrains to address at this point. The first refrain is that baptism cannot give us salvation because the Scriptures also say that if we believe in Christ we will be saved (Romans 10:10). It is absolutely true that the Scriptures say that believing in Christ will save us. The passage in Romans 10 is the following:

    “9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

    ​Let us however not forget that Paul writes this in the same letter that he teaches baptism as our participation in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. The two teachings are not contradictory. Few would read Romans 10:9 – 13 and decide that repentance is unnecessary for salvation, or obedience to Christ is unnecessary for salvation. Yet, that passage in Romans 10 mentions neither of those things. The problem is that to come to the conclusion that you only need to believe to be saved you would have to read this passage in Romans 10 separately from the rest of Romans, separately from the rest of Paul’s teachings throughout the New Testament, and separately from the New Testament itself. It would be foolish to read Scripture this way. It is not wrong to read and interpret short verses of Scripture, but it is wrong to read and interpret short verses of Scripture separate from the context it resides in. Believing and calling on the name of the Lord are essential to salvation as well. You cannot have salvation without believing, and without making Jesus Lord. This does not change the fact that in baptism we are buried and raised with Christ.