Monday, November 26, 2007

Walking on thin ice

I recently read a chapter by Michael Lawrence in the book Why I am a Baptist, edited by Tom Nettles and Russell Moore. In it, Lawrence gives an account of how he came to Jesus. He says "I walked down the aisle one Sunday night during the invitation, shook the preacher's hand, and asked to join the church on profession of faith. A few weeks later I was baptized. And that was that. I had made a decision for Jesus that took are of my eternal future." But Lawrence says that Christianity was little more than fire insurance to him, and as he gained more independence, he got into the wrong crowd. It was not until college that he met some friends at InterVarsity that really seemed to live out what they believed. This led him to fully dedicate his life to Christ.

A friend of mine who also read the article asked a very interesting question: "At what point was Michael Lawrence saved? Was he saved as a child responding to the invitation to come to Christ for salvation from sin, and the hope of eternal life, or was he saved when he finally understood his need to surrender to the sovereignty and Lordship of Jesus Christ, and live for Christ in that context." This is an important question, because many church members today have made a "profession of faith" but do not seem to live any different than the world.

Some people would probably say that Lawrence was saved as a child. For example, Charles Ryrie in his book A Survey of Bible Doctrine says "Faith is the only condition [to salvation]. Anything added becomes a work attached to the grace of God. Faith is the condition, and it is faith in Him who alone can save. This is the grace of God." In Ryrie's opinion, salvation comes with "no strings attached," and a person can have faith in Jesus as Savior, without surrendering to Christ as Lord until months or years later - if ever. This may sound good at first, until you think about the nature of saving faith. James says that faith without works is "dead" (James 2:14-26). It is empty, artificial, useless, and not really faith at all.

I believe that faith in Jesus and repentance (turning away) from sin are inextricably linked. In other words, saving faith is repenting faith. And only those who submit to Jesus as Lord have truly embraced Him as Savior. You can't be a disciple of Jesus and live just like the world. Jesus has a high demand for becoming a child of God: "If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (Lk 14:26-27). This call to "die to self" and live for Christ is not subsequent to faith, but is part of faith itself.

So, what about Michael Lawrence? Was he saved as a child? In his testimony, Michael draws a distinction between himself and his InterVarstity friends "whose Christianity wasn't simply defined by a decision they had made a as child to walk the aisle and shake the preacher's hand. Instead, I saw in them a faith that was genuine and incredibly attractive." If Michael's Christianity was merely defined by a "decision," a handshake, and an artificial faith, then he probably was not saved. However, it is possible that Lawrence was saved as a child but simply did not have proper teaching and discipleship in his church. Perhaps he would've responded much earlier to the call to obedience and Christ's Lordship if he had been taught these things as a child, rather than a list of do's and don'ts. Only God knows for sure when Michael Lawrence was saved.

If I don't show evidence of faith, then I really have no assurance of salvation. I am walking on thin ice. Responding to an invitation, signing a decision card, or being baptized do not ensure my salvation. It is only by obedience that my faith proves genuine. "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (Jn. 15:8). There should be an obvious difference in the way I live from the world. I should be diligent to "test myself to see if I am in the faith" (2 Cor. 13:5), and graciously "stimulate others to love and good deeds" (Heb. 10:24).

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