Tag Archives: CONVERSION
REASON #1 – “This is my story — and I’m stickin’ to it!” AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL
While in years past, the vast majority of the country pretended to be Christian, that number is shrinking every year, and now only a minority of the country fakes faith in Jesus Christ.
“This is extremely troubling,” said evangelical megachurch pastor Jack Lindsey. “A decade ago, our pews were full of people who went through the motions of pretending to be Christian. But now, the fake believers are all acting like the atheists they are, and our churches are shrinking because of it. If only we could have a fake revival.”
Pastors are trying to come up with ways to combat the decline of fake Christianity, from hosting big carnivals and preaching through movie franchises to serving better coffee and naming their churches after shopping malls and retirement communities. But nothing seems to be working so far, stoking fears that fake Christianity is on its way out permanently. Some have considered preaching the gospel to the unreached, but these people are obviously nuts.
“We’re in a brave new world where people don’t even bother paying lip service to a Jesus they don’t believe in, and I’m not sure I want to live in that kind of country,” said Lindsey.
Joe Barnard in his forthcoming book The Way Forward: Clear Advice for Confused Men gives the following illustration from C.S. Lewis as Lewis powerfully describes his first encounter with the living presence of God in Surprised by Joy.
He says, “As the dry bones shook and came together in that dreadful Valley of Ezekiel’s, so now a philosophical theorem, cerebrally entertained, began to stir and heave and throw off its grave-clothes, and stood upright and became a living presence. I was allowed to play with philosophy no longer.”
As we continue looking at prominent themes in the epistle to the Colossians, we move on to Chapter 2. There we read —
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Do we think too much about our personal salvation? Or too little? This paragraph focuses on what it means to be right with God through the Lord Jesus. Notice the several images Paul uses:
1. Circumcision/Uncircumcision: This is a painful image for guys, but a powerful sign for the Jewish nation. Paul uses this picture to speak of spiritual circumcision and how we needed Christ to do that internal work in us (note in verse 11 that we were circumcised by Christ!). Before conversion we were DEAD in our sins and in the uncircumcision of our flesh.
2. Life/Death: We were spiritually dead before God made us alive with Christ. Do most people recognize that they are spiritual corpses before salvation? No life in them. No ability to do anything good to save themselves. Just waiting for the funeral service. And notice that we have been “made alive with Christ.” We have been raised up with Him!
3. Forgiven/the Debt Cancelled: We read that “He forgave us all our sins.” Not just the big ones. All our sins! And He cancelled the bill! He not only took the bill away, He nailed it to the cross! What an amazing statement! Jesus did some nailing of His own when He was on the cross.
4.Disarming the Powers and Authorities: The area of “spiritual warfare” (how we relate to the demonic world) seems to be a prominent focus in Colossians. We know that the devil and his minions are the enemies of the believer. What has Christ done about that? He has disarmed them. He has also “made a public spectacle of them” and has triumphed “over them by the cross.” This dimension of reality — of angels and demons — may not be overt to us, but it is real and Christ has won!
If we could only look behind the scenes, if we could only have a bit of God’s perspective on how lost we were before Christ saved us, we would appreciate our salvation so much more. We were not in a spiritually-neutral position before God. But Christ’s redemptive work changed all that!
Savor those truths today — and perhaps share with someone else what an incredible gift salvation is!
Some Thoughts on the Book “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” (Post #22): Chapter 21- “A Final Question”
The last chapter of Martin Thielen’s book What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? is entitled”A Final Question” and is subtitled Do Mainline Christians Believe in Getting Saved? This is a critical question! He answers his question in the affirmative — mainline churches, he says, believe in getting saved.
He suggests that people can get saved two different ways: (1) by a sudden affirming of faith in Jesus, and (2) by a gradual justification. He makes three affirmations about salvation: (1) Salvation is a lifelong process; (2) We are saved by God’s grace; and (3) Salvation requires a human response. Thielen speaks about God’s prevenient grace (“grace that goes before”). Calling it God’s “preceding” or “preparing” grace, he means that God works in us to gradually (or, in the case of some, suddenly) bring one to faith. [I don’t have a major problem with the Wesleyan concept of prevenient grace (I think John 1:9 fits here: “9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.“), having taught a course on Wesleyan theology a few years ago.]
MY RESPONSE: There is much that Thielen says in this chapter that I can affirm, but some that he, unfortunately, misses. He speaks, for example, of gradual justification (a concept I don’t see in the Scriptures). And what really troubles me is a complete lack of reference to the essential of repentance in conversion. Instead, he uses expressions like “affirming faith in Jesus” or “accepting God’s pardon.”
He took me by surprise at the end of the chapter by providing an invitation to those who aren’t sure of their salvation to pray a certain prayer. Here’s that prayer: “Dear God, thank you for loving me and offering me salvation. I joyfully accept your forgiveness and grace. The best I know how, I affirm faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and I accept him as my Savior. Thank you for adopting me as your child. Help me faithfully to follow you for the rest of my life. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Perhaps you don’t find that prayer troubling, but what about repentance? What about a sorrow for one’s sins? Now, some in the mainline camp (and even some Evangelicals) argue that repentance is not a requirement for salvation. I would invite any who hold that view to do a study of the following passages: Mt. 3:2; 11:20; 21:32; Lk. 5:32; 13:3&5; 15:7&10; 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 11:18; 17:30; 20:21 (repentance and faith); Rom. 2:4; 2 Cor. 7:10; 2 Tim. 2:25; Heb. 6:1; 2 Pe. 3:9.
In his conclusion, Thielen invites readers to join themselves to mainline churches, not warning readers that such churches have often denied the fundamentals of the faith.
I want to thank you, dear blog-reader, for sticking with me in my review of this book. Please feel free to leave a comment or two below.
Some Thoughts on the Book “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” (Post #14): Chapter 13- “Jesus’ Grace”
As we continue in the second half of Martin Thielen’s book What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?, we are looking at the question Am I accepted? Thielen points out in this chapter that the unique feature of the Christian religion is . . . grace! He defines grace as “God’s unconditional love and acceptance of us just as we are.”
He refers to Anne Lamott’s story of feeling that God couldn’t love her with all her shortcomings and sins. An Episcopal priest said to her, “God has to love you. That’s God’s job.” Thielen then tells the well-known Tony Campolo story about Campolo throwing a birthday party for a prostitute in a diner. When asked what kind of church he attended, Campolo said, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”
Jesus loved sinners, Thielen says, and “refused to judge and condemn them. Instead, Jesus saw them as beloved children of God, created in the image of God, with great value and worth. Obviously Jesus hoped they would change for the better” (87) In short, Jesus offered grace. Thielen quotes John 3:16-17 and says that grace does not mean that we can accept God’s grace and then live any way we please (“cheap grace,” according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer). “As we say in the United Methodist Church, we must move from ‘justifying grace’ (grace that makes us right with God) to ‘sanctifying grace’ (grace that leads to spiritual maturity).” (89). The bottom line, Thielen says, is Even with our flaws, Jesus loves and accepts us as beloved children of God. (90).
MY RESPONSE: I am not really looking to find errors in Thielen’s chapters. And it is hard to disagree with this chapter on grace. My only concern is that we can confuse creation and redemption. What I mean is that creation (being made in God’s image) does not equal redemption (being “saved” or forgiven by God). The expression “children of God” can refer to people being created by God or to those who have repented of their sins and have trusted Christ (John 1:12). I wish Thielen were clearer about this distinction.
I would also point out that Jesus said that He would judge those who rejected Him. While His primary desire is to save, Jesus says the Father has given all judgment into the Son’s hands (John 5:22) and He will be the One who will separate the sheep (those who are saved) from the goats (the lost) at the end of time (Matthew 25). And that’s not grace — that’s holy wrath!
Some Thoughts on the Book “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” (Post #12): Chapter 11- “Jesus’ Identity”
We are reviewing this book by the United Methodist minister Martin Thielen entitled What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? He has pointed out a number of areas where he rejects such doctrines as the sovereignty of God, the accuracy of the Bible, the exclusivity of Jesus as the only way to God, and the reality of eternal suffering for those who die without the Lord Jesus.
We now move to the second section of his book entitled “Ten Things Christians Do Need to Believe.” And he begins with the person of Christ. Sadly, he starts the chapter with a blasphemous story from the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby in which the main character says grace and refers to Jesus as “dear Baby God” and “Dear Lord Baby Jesus.” He gives this illustration to point out that there are a variety of views of Jesus — which there are.
In this chapter Thielen affirms the Messiahship and the deity of the Lord Jesus. He says that “Jesus is worthy of our highest praise and ultimate loyalty” (71). He tells how as a teenager he affirmed his faith in Jesus Christ and was baptized the next Sunday. “It’s the most important thing I’ve ever done — or ever will do — in my entire life.” He then says, “My faith in Jesus Christ is the most important part of my life.”
MY RESPONSE: I am glad for Thielen’s testimony. The Bible teaches that conversion involves both repentance and faith in Christ, so I believe that when he says as a teenager that he knew “that I desperately needed him in my life,” this sounds like repentance to me. From what I can see in this chapter Thielen is a brother in Christ (with a number of theological issues). He affirms that the Person of Christ is “the heart of Christianity.” A couple of questions occur to me:
1. If Jesus is the heart of Christianity, then why does he quote people like Marcus Borg who clearly rejects the deity of Christ?
2. If his relationship with Jesus is the most important thing in his life, then why does God’s Word (the Bible) not function as his final authority for his other beliefs?
I’m sure I’ll have a lot more questions as we continue our review. But I am glad that he appears to be a brother in Christ. And yet, sometimes those who profess to be in the family of God produce the most dangerous beliefs about God.
In a recent post, I gave the following two quotes and asked for your response:What do you think of these two quotes? A.W. Tozer, well-known Christian Missionary Alliance pastor, and Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary, seem to agree here.
1. With what parts of their quotes do you agree? Why?
2. With what parts of their quotes do you disagree? Why?
Here’s my response:
I’ve used the Tozer quote many times, especially his emphasis that we need to continually seek the Lord. The Michael Horton quote was new to me.
Just a few thoughts:
1. I certainly agree with Horton that everyone already has a personal relationship with the Lord, either as a condemned criminal awaiting final judgment or as a justified coheir with Christ. But when Christians invite their unsaved friends to confess their sins, repent, and trust in Jesus, aren’t they saying in effect that they will move from the category of an enemy of God to a friend of God? True, the Bible never uses the expression “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” but isn’t that one way, perhaps the simplest way, to express the gospel?
2. I don’t like to criticize Tozer, but he challenges the idea of “accepting” Christ. But isn’t conversion affirming as true the giving of Himself for our sins, the acknowledgement that we were sinners under God’s judgment, that we needed to believe certain truths that we had not believed (“received”) prior to asking Jesus to forgive us? Doesn’t Scripture say, “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him” (Col. 2:6)? We read in John 1 that the world and its inhabitants did not recognize the Lord Jesus, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (v. 12).
There is a believing and a receiving that take place when one hears the gospel. The gospel is that which Paul preached to the Corinthians, “which [they] received and on which [they] have taken [their] stand” ( Cor. 15:1). Hebrews warns us against living the same lives we did before conversion: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,” (Heb. 10:26). Peter writes to those “who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours” (2 Pe. 1:1).
What do you think of these two quotes? A.W. Tozer, well-known Christian Missionary Alliance pastor, and Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary, seem to agree here.
1. With what parts of their quotes do you agree? Why?
2. With what parts of their quotes do you disagree? Why?
None of us likes to be told that we enter life as ENEMIES of God! But that’s the testimony of Scripture. True, every person is a creation of God and is made in the image of God. But as we saw in our previous post, CREATION does not equal REDEMPTION.
I’ve been studying Ephesians 2 recently and here is what we learn about our B.C. (before Christ) condition:
There are two, and only two, categories of human beings: (1) those who are by nature (and practice) belong to their father, the devil (Jn. 8:41; Acts 13:10), and (2) those who by conversion and redemption are now children of God (Jn. 1:12; I Jn. 3:10).
We dare not waffle on the truth of CONVERSION. I heard of a very cautious clergyman in Detroit who once challenged his congregation with these words: “Dearly beloved, unless you repent of your sins in a measure, and become converted in a degree, you will, I regret to say, be damned to a more or less extent.” Biblical conversion moves one out of the category of enemy into the category of child, redeemed by the finished work of the Lord Jesus.
Let’s not leave those verses in Ephesians 2 too quickly. Notice some of the awful statements about our pre-conversion condition: “dead in your transgressions and sins”; you “followed the ways of this world”; you were “by nature deserving of wrath”; etc. Those expressions are the death-nail to human pride. When one says, “Yes, Lord, that is indeed my condition,” he or she is on the fast track to forgiveness and fellowship with God. And conversion leads to FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD!