I wrote this blog more than a year ago and just ran across it among my “draft” posts. What do you think? Please be kind… these were/are honest struggles… not a “church-trashing, Christian-bashing” session.
Bear with me on this… I’m really processing through some questions and thoughts right now. Things I’ve been thinking about and mulling over for a long time, and things that have recently been stirred again.
1. No one in the New Testament ever prayed a “sinner’s prayer”.
Is the “sinner’s prayer” a tradition of man?
“Disregarding the command of God, you keep the tradition of men. … You revoke God’s word by your tradition” (Mark 7:8,13a, HCSB).
So… is the “sinner’s prayer” a religious tool to try to show God our sincerity? Did we come up with it some time in the past so we could “systematize” repentance and keep track of who is on which side? Was the “sinner’s prayer” a 20th-century human device meant to help institutions keep track of converts at huge gatherings? Do we (Christians) have people (sinners) pray it so we can feel like we have a “for sure” mark next to their names on our “Project Convert” list and not have to worry about them anymore? I don’t mean to sound so cynical… I don’t like sounding cynical…
Can we safely say that repentance (changing one’s direction in life) is an ongoing process that takes place as one grows as a disciple of Jesus? Or does it have to be a one-time, cut-and-dry, clearly-marked-on-the-calendar event?
Is it just easier to have a prayer to pray rather than encourage a longer contemplation of the costs of being a disciple of Christ?
27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.
28 “For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?
29 “Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him,
30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
(Luke 14:27-30, NASB)
24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.
25 “For whoever wishes to save his life [Or soul ] will lose it; but whoever loses his life [Or soul ] for My sake will find it.
26 “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
(Matthew 16:24-26, NASB)
2. Instead, baptism seems to be the way New Testament believers identified themselves as Christ-followers.
I don’t believe that Jesus taught baptism secures salvation for a person. It seems to me that He was more concerned with discipleship and that we believe Him (really trust Him and take Him at His word, not just “believe in” Him) and follow Him in fruitful relationship:
11 “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.
12 “Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.
13 “Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they [Lit who believe ] believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.
14 “The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.
15 “But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance [Or steadfastness].
(Luke 8:11-15, NASB)
From what I can tell, once Jesus had returned to heaven, people conversed with Jesus’ disciples and lived around them day-to-day, and decided to follow Christ because of the disciples’ words and actions (they were known by their love for one another). Those who believed were then baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as Jesus commanded. Again, can we safely say that repentance (changing one’s direction in life) is an ongoing process that takes place as one grows as a disciple of Jesus? Or does it have to be a one-time, cut-and-dry, clearly-marked-on-the-calendar event?
Jesus never taught easy believism. Whether he was telling the rich young ruler to sell all and follow him or telling a miracle-hungry crowd near Capernaum that to do the work of God was, yes, to believe on him (John 6:28-29), he called people to abandon their own agenda and trust him radically. Radical trust calls for both belief and action.
I suggest that we tend to confuse the beginning of the faith journey with its entirety. Yes, believe in Jesus—that’s the first step. Yes, invite Jesus into your heart as your personal Savior. Then, empowered by God’s grace, embark on the journey of discipleship, in which you seek to love God with every fiber of your being, to love your neighbor as yourself, to live out God’s moral will, and to follow Jesus where he leads you, whatever the cost.
If Jesus is to be believed, inheriting eternal life involves a comprehensive divine assessment at every step along our journey, not just at its inception. [emphasis added]
Mediocrity and hypocrisy characterize the lives of many avowed Christians, at least in part because of our default answer to the salvation question. Anyone can, and most Americans do, “believe” in Jesus rather than some alternative savior. Anyone can, and many Americans sometimes do, say a prayer asking Jesus to save them. But not many embark on a life fully devoted to the love of God, the love of neighbor, the moral practice of God’s will, and radical, costly discipleship.
(David P. Gushee, “Jesus and the Sinner’s Prayer,” Christianity Today online, March 2007)
If we believe “inheriting eternal life involves a comprehensive divine assessment at every step along our journey,” does this mean we believe we can “lose” our salvation? Or, more importantly: within the context of relationship, is “eternal security of salvation” even an issue? (As in, would a father tell his beloved daughter she was disowned if she came home after being in another state for a long time?) I’d venture to say no.
3. God didn’t make up religion. People did.
Doing something for or giving something to a deity in order to get something/avoid something is religious. If you want rain, you do this for that god. If you are grateful to the god, you give this much. If you want the god to not be angry, you give this much. You never know how much is enough, however.
God (the One True God, YHWH) made the move to us first and doesn’t work that way. He asks us to completely trust Him within relationship. This is not religious. The implications of the relationship—forgiveness, love, peace, eternal life, the filling of the Spirit, the way we live as a result—are not religious. If the implications of the relationship become a means to an end, it is religion, not relationship. If doing or not doing/having/being something (or the ANXIETY of doing or not doing/having/being something) becomes a focal point, that is religion, not relationship.
Do you think that is accurate?
Am I just thinking too hard?