Thursday, May 28, 2009

Does She or Doesn’t She? (The Difficulty of Discerning True Salvation)

We have a terrible practice today of authoritatively pronouncing an individual as a believer if they have conformed to a pattern of either praying or repeating a simple prayer. As a result there are so many within the visible church, not to mention an innumerable company of individuals outside of the visible church who have been pronounced as ‘believers’. As you are also aware the accompanying mantra is usually, “Now never doubt this, don’t ever let anyone including the devil cause you to doubt what you just did.” There is no salvation in that prayer formula. Yes, it is a response to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” It patterns the biblical response, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” The salvation is not in a repeated or manipulated prayer, the salvation is in the working of the unseen Holy Spirit as He opens the heart of an individual by giving regenerating life and the gift of faith. This new life imparted by the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith issues forth in repentance of and from sin and a new heart with a new direction of life. Jonathan Edwards in his Religious Affections wrote: “Grace planted in the new-birth is a ‘principle of holy action or practice’ and it always produces an abiding change of nature in a true convert.” Why then, are not all of our so called “conversions” accompanied by such notable distinctions? The alternative was argued by John Wesley in 1773 when he wrote against Edward’s premise; “The design of Mr. Edwards in the treatise, from which the following extract is made, seems to have been chiefly, if not altogether, to serve his hypothesis. In the three preceding tracts he had given an account of a part of these ‘turned back as a dog to the vomit’. What was the plain inference to be drawn from this? Why, that a true believer may ‘make shipwreck of his faith’. How then could he evade the force of this? Truly, by eating his own words, and proving as well as the nature of the thing would bear, that they were no believers at all.” Wesley’s answer as to why a number of people could become excited about the things of Christ, seem to have the ear-marks of salvation and then fall completely away was simply this – ‘that persons can be renewed, and then, ultimately lose both their holiness and their salvation.’ The problem that Edwards and Wesley faced is the same problem we face today. Quoting Ian Murray, “…Edwards believed that the problem involved the recognizing of true Christian experience as a fact.” We face this same problem – we can not tell if a “conversion” is real or not, so how can we pronounce someone authoritatively saved on the basis of praying a short, simple, scripted, and sincere prayer? Edwards argued that there were always some missing ingredients from what he called the “affections” of those who had some type of religious experience or profession of faith. Let me list those ingredients which we may or may not go into greater detail later: An attitude of humility is missing. We are driven by the Spirit of God until we discover that we deserve nothing but judgment and death. We discover that we are unworthy to receive such a gift as this glorious salvation being provided by our Savior. Hence Edwards is right, humility should mark a true convert. An abiding sense of sin is missing. There must be repentance from something, such as sin, and a turning to something or someone, such as Christ. There is to be some ‘mourning’ for sin. Christ spoke on this often. An attitude of true balance is missing. By this Edwards seems to mean that there is to be a balancing combination of assurance of salvation with ‘holy boldness’ with a ‘lessening of self-confidence and more modesty.’ One more thought from Edwards to chew on – “The love and the pursuit of holiness is the enduring mark of the true Christian.” What are we to do as either leaders or members of a visible congregation when someone responds to an invitation to “receive Christ?” Let’s take that up in tomorrow’s post, shall we? May our gracious, loving, and kind Lord be so willing!


Eddie Eddings said...

It's always amazing to me...this prayer "business". It's not what is said so much as what is in the heart. Has anyone ever used the thief on the cross as a model prayer for salvation? "Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom?" Jesus answered him and gave him MUCH MORE than what he had asked. When I gave my heart to the Lord, I simply prayed (and no human being was around to counsel me), "God, save me from myself! In Jesus name..." I didn't have a "salvation prayer" prewritten for me to recite. I just needed Jesus Christ to rescue me from a sinful condition that I knew would take me to Hell.
It's strange how so many "new Christians" have no conviction or sin or guilt for that matter. I know a pastor who tells people to "tear off the three crosses from the corner of the bulletin and place it in the offering plate if you are too embarrassed to make a public confession." Then he counts them up and considers those as proof of conversions from his sermons.
We need more Jonathan Edwards, Pinks, Whitefields, Spurgeons and Calvins!

Gregg said...

You are always a rich blessing to me. Your "story" is such a blessing to know that God saves sinners, just like me. I know it is not the words, it is what is in the heart that is present only by the Holy Spirit'working. How sad that this pastor uses such a technique. So called new converts don't have a conviction of sin since the gospel is peddled without an explanation of sin - usualy just sins - repentance is not called for - just pray.

Thank God he rescued you and thank God he rescued me! Yes we need more Pinks, Spurgeons, Calvins, Edwards, and Eddings!

This is why someone like Steve can say God does not work, does not care and walk away after pastoring a church for 10 years.

how my heart breaks.

pilgrim mommy said...

I tried to use the prayer formula with my daughter when she was 3 years old. She obviously didn't understand a thing. Thank God, He saved her but it didn't happen when she prayed the prayer and it didn't depend on my instigation.

May be there are too many good intentions but not enough true Gospel.

Gregg said...

I too thank God! He is gracious to us even in our ignorance. Thank you for your comment. I agree, good intentions get in the way, I once told a man who I was trying to "soul-win" into the kingdom who did not want to pray the prayer becasue he did not want to give his sin up - don't worry, God doesn't care about your sin, he just wants to pray this prayer to be saved. I have repented a million times (I know God forgive me the first time) how foolish I had been taught. I was a gospel peddler - now I preach the good news to any creature who will listen, pray earnestly and trust God to give the increase!

Eddie Eddings said...

Gregg, don't feel like you're alone in your guilt. I once was training my brother-in-law how to be a soul-winner and to show him how easy it was, got in the car and found two teenagers in the neighborhood. I manipulated both of them to "make a profession of faith". In all honesty, God may have saved them in spite of my arrogance, but I felt dirty and had to confess my sin of pride and stupidity the next day.

Anonymous said...

grace grace, God's grace, grace that is greater than all my sin. I appreciate this post. pray for those who base their salvation on a prayer and not on the finished work and blood of Christ.