Ah, Jared's Java. Pleasant taste. Slight Monsterism.

Welcome to the home of my mind, where I brew my intellectual and spiritual joe. Sit back and let me pour you a cup or two. I promise not to cut you off, even after you get the caffeine jitters.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sinner's Life

(Click to enlarge)

A note about my blog: I'm not concerned with being a place where new Christians can come and feel "safe" in their assumptions. That is primarily because I'm not concerned with being a place where any Christian can come and feel "safe" in their assumptions. This is where I am working out my salvation, and I won't have that walked on or squelched in the name of not scaring off new believers. I'm at the other end of the comment line, and they are free to ask me what I mean or to clarify and point and reference Scriptures, as are any of you. I don't say this in response to any single specific person, but I've heard this a few times over the last week. I'm not desiring to exclude anyone. I leave the welcome mat out for all, but I'm not going to sugar-coat, water-down or "church pc" what I write here. If I did, all we'd ever do is drink lactose-free milk (like what happens in so many evangelical churches). I'm giving the honest to goodness truth as best I can relate it from "my story." It's time to start thinking daring thoughts, like Jesus did. In short, I'm aware of who could be watching. They can comment and ask questions for clarification. I know you all mean very well by it. I've just heard it so many times it feels like nagging. Please don't try to "remind" me anymore.

In the evangelical church, much weight is placed on "the moment of decision." We have altar calls and we ask people if they'd like to receive Jesus as their personal savior. We quote them John 3:16 and tell them that "Today is the day of salvation." Then, generally the pastor asks them to pray with him (most frequently, I've experienced that they tell them to do it silently) repeating the "sinner's prayer."

When they share with someone that they prayed, we tell them "Welcome to the club" and immediately begin ignoring their needs. They've "crossed the line." They can join a Bible study or men's accountability group, and we expect that to meet all of their spiritual needs. We assume they'll find friends and fellowship, and that they'll pay their tithe and commit to give monthly to the church building campaign.

Lather, rinse and repeat, I've seen that cycle far too often at too many churches I've been a part of. They have all these "nifty" programs and "relevant and impactful" teaching to draw people in. Once they get there, they do nothing with their most valuable resource (people, that is), except bilk it for every dime they can get so they can be "more effective for the kingdom."

Well, I have a different story to tell. I don't know where the modern church got the idea that John 3:16 trumps every other verse in the Good Book that talks about salvation and eternal life. There are several, and they seem to intimate much more than just ascribing mental ascent to Jesus being what we know He is.

Luke 10:25-28 is in the context of having eternal life. The discussion is about what one must do to obtain it. Jesus says "Do this and you will live." in response to the scribe/lawyer's answer of "You shall love the Lord with all of your heart...strength...soul...mind, and love your neighbor as yourself."

Take the story of the Rich Young Ruler. What does Jesus tell him to do to have eternal life? We all know that story. It is in every one of the synoptic gospels.

John 3:36, the same chapter 3 that has that famous verse 16, says that "he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." That certainly sound quatatively different.

For those of you who would introduce 1 John 1:9 into the conversation, keep in mind that the apostle John wrote that to Christians, not unbelievers. In the context of coming "into" the kingdom, this verse doesn't apply directly to that. That is why I did not mention it.

My point here isn't, "The gospels are so full of contradictions, who knows what we must do to gain eternal life!?" The gospels are narratives. That means that they are historical stories. The Modern worldview likes to break things down and categorize/systematize them. The dialog/monolog that Jesus carried in the Bible doesn't do that so cleanly. I don't give priority to any one of these verses. They all deserve equal weight as we measure what it is we should do and how we live our lives.

To me, these all give fresh meaning and new life to the idea of working out my salvation with fear and trembling, as Paul commands us. Let us do so, and take it seriously.

We do because we truly "feel." I think faith has too much to do with truly feeling it in our heart to relegate it to mental ascent, as we so frequently do. If we "feel" the gospel, we will do what Jesus said.

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3

The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. 1 John 2:4-6

Again, "What's my point in all of this?" It is to say, that many enter the kingdom long before or after they say the "sinner's prayer." Why do we put so much emphasis on "commit, commit, commit" like used car salesmen rather than saying, "Join us where you are in your story. Discover the goodness of how it fits in with God's. See what it is to go the way of Jesus." That would mean an incredible dynamic change for the evangelical church as a whole, but I think it would be one for the better.

"This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." John 17:3


clumsy ox said...

I think I agree with your comments on the Gospel, In light of the discussions we had on the topic in the past.

I thoroughly believe the "sinner's prayer" is at best a mistake, at worst a lie. It ignores the Holy Spirit's work in salvation, which is really the lynch-pin.

I appreciate you bringing out that rebirth is a mystical thing: "crossing the line" is something hard to discern or even understand...

KingJaymz said...

I think you agree too. Very good comment. You summarized a great point. I think trying to get people to cross the line is morally wrong. It is none of our d*** business one way or the other to determine "who's in" or "who's out" in the Kingdom of God. However, it is our job to help those who sincerely want to live out the Words we have been handed so faithfully preserved.

queen z said...

I've never become too involved in a church since leaving home. What I've witnessed again and again is when a newby goes forward and repents, it then becomes their responsibility to get "plugged in". And they act as if unless you do that then it's your own fault if you fall by the wayside. So what you're suggesting is these people need to be mentored and pastored? I agree with that and I also agree that your blog is not a place for newbys which you have clarified nicely what the purpose is ;)

I keep trying to post in with my blog addy but it never works? What am I doing wrong

Anne said...

First, I'm a wife and mother - I can't help but "nag". :)

Now, on with the show. You think you and I are on different pages but I believe we are closer than you think.

As for these other "churches" - I know what you are talking about. I believe it's an important part of my study to study other beliefs and practices. How else could I teach another if I don't know from where he/she is coming?

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law(not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel's sake, that I may be partaker of it with you." NKJV

These things: nifty programs, sinner's prayer, church building campaign, etc. do not occur within our congregation. We are simply Christians seeking to please Him according to His Will.

"Well, I have a different story to tell. I don't know where the modern church got the idea that John 3:16 trumps every other verse in the Good Book that talks about salvation and eternal life." AMEN!

"I don't give priority to any one of these verses. They all deserve equal weight as we measure what it is we should do and how we live our lives." AMEN!

I'm right there with you on this. But I must point out: "We do because we truly "feel." I think faith has too much to do with truly feeling it in our heart to relegate it to mental ascent, as we so frequently do. If we "feel" the gospel, we will do what Jesus said."

I'm not sure if my typed words will come out correctly here but I'll give it a try. I believe we must be careful with talking about our "feelings" because feelings change so frequently. What I would say is that those "feelings" you are speaking about are based on Truth. I feel because I know.

So many people base their beliefs on their current "feelings" and NOT on Truth.

I would think the "sinner's prayer" falls under Matthew 6:7.

Again, sorry I'm not fluffy and eloquent.

Your Sister.

R said...

I agree with your post, Jared, good thoughts. I think the sinner's prayer is a crock too, Dear Sir and I have always thought that.

I think you meant that we feel because we believe the Bible. I think acting out the gospel and our faith is just like the scenario of the man who has lost his love for his wife. Choose to love her and love will come. With our belief in our minds, we must act even if we don't "feel" the euphoric love or whatever it is for the gospel. Just do as Christ commanded and the feelings will come to match, if they have not arrived already. To be good, I believe, is not in our true nature.

I hope that makes sense. And I think you agree with me on that. And guess, what, I am often off track with comments. I think all weird.

KingJaymz said...

r - I spent many years trying to "do" but never feeling the gospel. It wasn't until I finally got a perspective on the gospel that meant something to me and made me feel it that I had a heart for it.

Believing the Bible is part of it, but, again, how do we quantify belief? Mental ascent? Applying meaning? Acting out? Something else? That is a big question. What does it mean to believe?

You are right, and Christ's own words say no one is good but God alone.

In the end, if we desire to love God, I'm sure he will honor that. I don't think we're running on the same wavelenght on this, but I don't mind. It certainly makes for great conversation!

Anne - I didn't even know that there was anything scripturally related to the sinner's prayer. Good job on homework there.

I put "feel" in "" because it is (and here we go again with the language thing) difficult to define difinitively. The Bible talks about heart change. God said He'd write His commandments on tablets of flesh (the heart). If we feel it from our heart (not the kind of thing that changes frequently), then we have grasped something (or rather, something has grasped us) that causes us to "do." Make sense?

There are many more types of feelings than just the ones that change all the time, but our language is so limited in its ability to express or differentiate them. Kinda like the word "love" that we bastardize for all sorts of uses, but the ancient Greeks developed five different words to express different kinds or qualities of it.

queen z - right on.

Everyone - I'm running on a severe sleep deficiency after spending 14 hours at work yesterday, so I'm trying to make sense, but I'm sure I'm not doing the greatest job. Please forgive me if I'm not completely coherent today.

Chelf said...

I believe that there are too many notes in the Bible requiring baptism, I don't see how the "sinner's prayer" is effective on its own.

I have a lot of opinions. I won't go too far here, just to say that the most important part of being "plugged in" is working to know Jesus better, and sharing Him with others. We should not ever leave a new Christian in the puddle, wondering why they were added to Christ's church. We are to become as children, learning from the bottom, up. It is the responsibility of the church, the active members, to train up the children, not leave them to fend for themselves. We all know how that works in the world. How can we expect it to function any better in Christendom?

Sally said...

Chelf, since you brought up baptism, I'm going to ask (I know where you're coming from since I know something of your background)...KJ, I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the topic also (maybe another post...hint, hint).

Anyway, I've read all the scripture that Chelf is referring, to...and I believe that God asks us to be baptized in obedience to Him, but I have a hard time believing that it is a requirement for salvation.

Baptism is a "work", something physical you do, and the following verses lead me to believe that "works" won't save me:

2 Timothy 1:9
who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time

Titus 3:5
he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit

Of course, then there's the following verse...which I don't know the background or exact context of, but it makes me question what I said above...

James 2:14
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?

Ok, so sorry, KJ, that I'm a little off the topic here, but Chelf's comment prompted this.

Back to this post...

I've always thought the sinner's prayer was a little stale, but a good way to get people thinking about what becoming a Christian is all about and a way for a pastor in a congregation setting to approach the subject initially.

It's kinda like the first dose of an antibiotic...it will start to help you, but you have to take it all to be healed...meaning, you have to continue to study and learn (just like you said) in order to continue to grow as a Christian...otherwise you end up having the "mountaintop experience." When I was younger and going to youth camp in the Sierra Nevadas of CA, that's what we called it when we got all fired up the last night at camp, and ready to come home and preach the gospel to EVERYONE, and then we came down off the mountain (literally) and got right back into our old routines...partly because we just stopped talking about what happened to us "on the mountain."

Great post, and thanks for all the scripture references!

KingJaymz said...

Chelf - I certainly take baptism as an important sacrament of the church, but I could never believe it is necessary for salvation. Jesus puts it too simply and too complexly too frequently throughout the gospels that obedience to His way and faith in Him are what saves. I take other references in Scripture to be references to the sacramental importance of baptism (including Acts 2) but not a requirement. That's a debate for another post, though. Can we save whatever else for then?

Sally - I differentiate between sacrament and work. Communion and baptism do not have the simple status of mere "works" in my faith. They are watershed moments when I meet God (not saying that I get baptized frequently or anything). The way I see things, to reduce them to "work" status in debate is to demean their importance in the Christian life. We must be careful to hold a high view of them both that isn't diminished because we feel others place too much stock in them.

For those reasons, I'd say your Scripture references are part of a different debate. Make sense? Me neither. Nothing does when you get up every day at 4am.

It was good to see both of you jumping in here. Thanks for commenting. Y'all come back (soon) now, ya hear?

R said...

well it is very possible that I am not in agreement with you and I misunderstand what you are saying, or what you mean.

It does make for good discussion. I just have had times in my own personal experience that obedience is the issue, not feeling. I know that if I obey and continue to obey (like, for example, love when I don't feel like love or even feel love at all), I will eventually have the heart for obedience or the good virtue the obedience leads me to, if that makes sense. I do see that God grants especial gifts of love or faith, etc to particular children of his, so I am not discounting them at all. I believe that the average person who does not have that particular "natural" but supernatural gift from God has to obey to receive it. Eventually it will come and lots of times it comes faster than you think it will!

I understand that a perspective on the gospel can also change your feelings about the gospel itself. I totally get that. In fact, I had that same experience too quite a few years ago. But, knowing human nature and our own sinful hearts, we tend to forget, disregard, and get used to what we know and our feelings wane a bit. This, to me, is where obedience steps in.

Not sure if I am still getting what you mean, but that is just where I am at.

KingJaymz said...

The heart has to be touched and "feel" the message for it to have impact. Obedience can't do "the trick." Not that disobedience became my choice, but obedience did not increase my faith or make me a more whole Christian for the last 20 years of my life. I needed a renewed heart for that. I needed things to make sense. I needed to have a reason to really care. I thought I cognitively comprehended what the truth was, but that never changed me. The Truth had to touch my heart, and that's why I say you must "feel" the gospel. Apart from "feeling" it, it hasn't done much to change my life. It had to come to me in a way that God could touch (or write on) my heart.

Anne said...

So, I'm confused... "I don't give priority to any one of these verses. They all deserve equal weight as we measure what it is we should do and how we live our lives."?

Niki said...

Wow! Great discussion going on here! As usual - we're on the same wavelength J!