“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…”
One of the most alarming references in all of Scripture are the words of Jesus found in Matthew 7:21-23. Imagine living your entire life believing you’re saved, and on your way to heaven, when you actually are not. Imagine dying believing you will enter eternal rest and glory with the Father only to be told before His gates to depart into eternal damnation. It’s a unnerving and sad possibility.
I dwell on this reality from time to time and it causes me to reflect on the sincerity of my life before God, as someone who professes to follow Him. I ask myself if I truly know Him and ask, further, if my life is reflective of one who has been brought from death to life, from dark to light.
Many do this, I would think, and often, in order to keep a semblance sanity, some will point to one (or both) of two things to give themselves a sense of assurance. Either (1) they will point to a prayer they prayed in a service at some point in their life where a preacher Pope-ishly declared them saved afterword, or (2) they point to their good works as proof of their conversion.
The “Sinner’s Prayer” is likely the most unreliable source of assurance in the history of Christianity, but pointing to good works is something more complicated. Certainly, those who are truly converted would prove their conversion through good works, however good works can also be deceiving. Doing good isn’t necessarily a mark of true conversion, which, interestingly enough, Jesus specifically mentions in Matthew 7:21-23. We can do all sorts of good, even miracles, and never know Jesus, which would lead to our destruction. This truth a difficult one to consider and raises some difficult questions.
I’m not intending, however, to write about assurance. Instead, I am more interested in what gives us assurance. In other words, what do we put our hope in? I think many of us would say our hope is in Christ but, if we were to honestly examine ourselves, we might find our hope is not necessarily in Christ and His work, but in some religious formality or in the things we do or don’t do. Both will lead to a religion unfamiliar with the Person of Christ and to a Christ unfamiliar with the religious person.
RELAX, ENJOY THE RIDE
“…they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.”
Grace that doesn’t work is no grace at all (Acts 26:20; James 2:14-26). For anyone who has really spent time studying the Scriptures, Old and New, they would find that conversion, true repentance, is evidenced through a life quite literally transformed. Simply put, true repentance results in an abandoned life – a crucified life – and a resurrected one in Christ; the “old has gone” and “new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). This involves a mind and heart change; an internal and external revolution. The things we desired and lived for no longer enslave us and we have been freed to live a life enslaved to God, for God, thru God (Gal. 2:20). We hate the sin we once loved and love the God we once hated. This results in bearing fruit – good works before God and men – that is not the basis of our salvation but its confirmation.
Many today, in Western churches, are attracted to a Jesus that saves as an eternal insurance policy, but doesn’t transform. They want a Savior that isn’t a Lord. They want peace for the “journey” without light for the path. This is what makes the “Sinner’s Prayer” so disruptive to the Christian community and a fallen world, because it requires no evidence of true conversion. It offers people respite without repentance. Preachers who assure people they’re saved because they repeated some religious vernacular for 30 seconds are doing everyone they influence an incredible disservice, which, really, is an understatement. There is nothing in Scripture that indicates the use of the “Sinner’s Prayer,” nothing, and in all honesty it’s the Evangelical version of absolution.
We are required, as Paul states above, to repent – to literally turn from our wicked ways – and perform deeds that are consistent with the repentance we claim to have made. “Asking Jesus into our heart” and doing what we’ve always done only proves, most assuredly, that we don’t belong to Him, because, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God (1 john 3:8-9).” True conversion is always practical.
The evidence of true conversion has always been a life that denies self (Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5; 1 Pet. 2:24), is sacrificially devoted to good works (Eph. 2:10; 1 Tim. 6:18; Titus 2:7, 14; 3:8, 14; Heb. 10:24; Gal. 6:9; 2 Thess. 3:13; 1 Pet. 4:19; Titus 1:16), and one that perseveres to the end (Matt. 10:22; 24:13; Mark 13:13; Col. 1:21-23; 1 John 2:19; Rom. 8:16-17; Heb. 3:14). We should ask ourselves, honestly, if these things evident in our lives.
TOO MUCH TO DO, NO TIME
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
There aren’t any spiritual philanthropists in heaven. What do I mean by that? What I mean is, we can kill ourselves serving others and doing all the Churchy things we want but if we don’t know Christ it won’t really matter. Like Jesus shows, we can do and not know, and we’ll end up being just as damned as the guy who lives at ease because of his trust in his Jesus insurance policy. I always see people here and there doing this and that, and filling their belts full of a bunch of good deeds with moral impeccability. They’re social justice heroes and moral icons of the highest order, and I often ask myself, why.
Now this isn’t a contradiction to the good works that result from true conversion and I’m not criticizing people who do good, far from it. My intention, rather, is to confront motives. Why do people do what they do or, more specifically, why do they promote what they do for all to see? I don’t presume to know the answer to those questions, but the consistent self-promotion of such actions on every platform imaginable makes me wonder what people’s motives are.
This movement of self-promotion, done in the Name of Christ no less, is unprecedented. And likely because of the prominent rise of social media coupled with the growing narcissism that defines Western culture (it’s a vicious cycle). We promote our music, our ministries, our good deeds, and whatever else we can think of in Christ’s Name, and for what, to sell our latest album? I just don’t get it sometimes. I’m guilty of it too.
Furthermore, we, as a Western Church, are so commercialized now that we can’t even help ourselves. We offer products to consumers and use whatever means possible to achieve “success”. It’s like a religious Wall Street competing for the highest possible return on our investments. We must ask ourselves what is, truly, the basis for what we do? Is it fame; money; influence; a “successful” church; earning salvation?
We have been saved by grace in order to demonstrate the incredible glory of our merciful and good God (Rom. 9:22-24; Eph. 2:5-7; Col. 1:27), not to promote ourselves in His Name. There is a fine line to this, of course, because in order to spread the Gospel, whether by music or books or whatever else, we need to make known that they exist. I am aiming, however, to get to the root of why we do what we do. The book deals, music albums, ministries, church programs, and whatever else we do, is it for truly for Him, or is it for us, in one way or another?
Here’s a good question to dwell upon: Do we find ourselves occupying our lives with good deeds in order to make up for our disobedience, maybe? What do I mean by this? What I mean is that instead of obeying God in all facets of our life we attempt to appease our conscience, because of our disobedience, by an overabundance of works. We pray harder, read the Bible more, give the homeless money, and devote hours upon hours to ministry in order to quiet the small voice inside calling us to true repentance. We try to deceive ourselves into believing we’re right with God through all the things we do “for Him” when, really, it is for ourselves. It reminds me of the life of King Saul who did all this stuff part and parcel but was, in reality, disobedient in his heart and true practice, and God’s response through the prophet Samuel was, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice” (1. Sam. 15:22). Good works with wrong motives (done the wrong way) are inconsequential and sinful. A Christian is not a moralist carrying a Holy Book.
We should often ask ourselves questions that deeply examine our souls – Are our lives ones of Biblical distinction, or are we deceiving ourselves to our own destruction? Are we obedient, even unto death, or are we masking our disobedience through moralism? Are we truly Christian or are we Christian, in theory? – so that we can be certain that we are who we think we are.
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!”
~2 Corinthians 13:5~