Not that I have already attained it...

Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14)

(Tim) It may be dispositional with me, but I have an intense dislike for packaging. Those clear plastic frames around little electronic components and almost everything else small and easily pilfered drive me crazy when I get home. They never surrender their product easily, and more often than not, my hand's cut before the extrication's complete.

If our president must use each State of the Union Address to pander to us, I have a suggestion. Next year, instead of a new promise to throw our great, great, great grandchildren's money at our present health care crisis, why not a simple promise that would cost us nothing? The POTUS could promise a consumer protection law requiring stores to hire big strong union men holding box cutters to stand next to cashiers, ready to disengage products from their packaging. Maybe union women could do it too, but the essential law would be that no consumer is allowed to take a product home with its packaging intact. The danger is simply too great. Are you with me?

Speaking of packaging, it helps to think of packaging when it comes to the church today--not simply the evangelical subculture, but the church as she does evangelism...

For generations, now, it's been the received wisdom that no one would come to Jesus unless he were promised immediate and certain salvation. So we've obliged. The Gospel is shared--not preached--and at the end of that sharing, the soul sitting by our side is asked whether he'd like to pray to receive Jesus? If he answers, "Yes," he's led through some version of what's called "the sinner's prayer," and after the "Amen," he's told he's a Christian, now, and he's headed for Heaven. Further, he's warned never to doubt this fact: Having placed his faith in Jesus, he's seated in the heavenlies and nothing nor no one can take him out of Christ's hand.

Now I have nothing against evangelism that aims at results and keeps track of responses. The book of Acts is filled with numbers, after all, and those numbers are said to have "believed" and to have been "added to" the church.

And yet, I'm disturbed by what is said about those numbers. Typically, each person praying the sinner's prayer is said to have been saved, and those saved are told never to doubt their salvation because to doubt their salvation is to call God a liar.

Really? This seems to me to be marketing-driven packaging, plain and simple. Who's going to buy repentance and faith if he's left with twenty years of taking up his cross and following Jesus? So the Cross is spoken of solely as the hope of forgiveness with nary a word about its centrality to the Christian life that those who truly come to Jesus immediately enter.

"But here, what is that word 'Truly'? Are you calling Christ's promises into question? He Himself said, 'Those who come to me, I will never cast out.' So why are you placing doubt in the minds and hearts of tender believers?"

Why?

Well, because Scripture is filled with texts like that above indicating that many fall by the wayside not having truly believed; and that even the Apostle Paul himself said, "Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet...."

If it's truly the Holy Spirit Who gives the gift of faith; and if our Lord Himself says the work of conversion, of being "born again" is a mystery--"The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit;" we need to hire a union man with a boxcutter to bust conversion loose from the clear plastic packaging it's been imprisoned in for at least half a century, now. It may have been useful in producing large numbers for our home reports; it may have been helpful in assuaging our consciences when we avoided any talk of the souls whose scalps we hung on our belts never being "added" to any orthodox church where they were bonded for life; it may have made our appeals to the unconverted more attractive, and hence easier for the unregenerate to be listed in the "saved" column; it may have beefed up the stats of born again Christians upon which our talk of these United States being a Christian nation were based; but it was all a sophisticated marketing lie.

Not everyone who prays the sinners prayer is saved. There are myriads of converts who, like Simon Magus, remain unconverted after they "believe." And if they are to truly believe, it is absolutely essential that those caring for their souls understand that completing the journey, yielding the fruit, pressing on 'till the end is the proof of regeneration--not having been listed in some huckster's "saved" column.

With the Apostle Paul, every one of us must acknowledge that we have not yet obtained the prize; that we are not yet perfect; but that, forgetting what lies behind, we must reach forward to what lies ahead, we must press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Father of all mercies, look down with pity on us, sending your Holy Spirit to give us the gift of true faith so that we are able to press on to the very end; that on That Day, we may be found truly to be in Christ. Amen.

Comments

Well said on both counts; when we package the results of evangelism, perhaps we would do better to count those truly "added to the church" (e.g. baptised and members) instead of just decisions.

Oh, and electronics packaging? Skip the box cutter, try a good pair of shears instead. Much safer, IMO. :^)

Agreed. The most clear evidence of this in my life was when I was in South Africa in 2002, and I shared a Gospel booklet with six kids, and when I asked them if they would like to pray the sinners prayer, the first five said yes, and then the last one wasn't paying attention, and he said "what?" and then one of the other kids said to him "say yes."

Then they prayed the prayer and now I can't wait to one day see them in Heaven where we'll get to reminisce about the exact moment in the summer of 2002 when they came to a new life in Jesus Christ our Lord.

(sarcasm)

Dear Alex,

They may have, truly; but you won't know unless you see them added to the Church, and persevering in Her fellowship to death. Remember the Apostle John's statement, "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19).

With affection,

Tim

Agreed. If we are going to count anything, we would do much better to count believers' baptisms or alternatively, adult confirmations as being a far better indicator of what is actually happening, than simply 'counting decisions'. When I was preaching on this recently, I made great play of what Jesus said about 'counting the cost', and then giving people the time and space to do that.

Yeah, you're right Pastor Bayly, but I knew at that moment that there was no way I was going to tell them to "never doubt the fact" that they were going to Heaven.

Timothy,

Your comments and especially your prayer at the end put me in mind of J. Robertson McQuilkin's arresting poem, "Lord, Let Me Get Home Before Dark" which you also posted June 2005 on the occassion of your father-in-law's death.

It should give all of us pause as we consider the neglect and casualness with which we regard our own souls and the souls of others.

Lord, let me get home before dark.

Well said. The sinners prayer is, in effect, the evangelical sacrament whereby they are saved.

A close friend in college confounded my fragile belief system when he started attending a church and following Christ without having said a prayer to "get in".

In this mornings preparations to preach on Heidelberg Cathechism Lord's Day 13 on our adoption I came across this from Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes, p. 223-224.

"If faith instates us into sonship, it concerns us to know what faith is. There is a twofold faith.

[1] A mere NOTIONAL faith. When we believe the truth of all that is revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This is not the faith which privileges us to sonship. The devils believe all the articles in the creed. It is not the bare knowledge of a medicine, or believing the sovereign virtue of it—which will cure one who is ill. This notional faith (so much cried up by some) will not save. This a man may have, and not love God. He may believe that God will come to judge the living and the dead, and still hate God—as the prisoner believes the judge's coming to the court, and abhors the thought of him. Take heed of resting in a mere notional faith. You may have this and be no better than devils!

[2] There is a SPECIAL faith, when we not only believe the report we hear of Christ—but rest upon him, embrace him, 'taking hold of the horns of this altar', resolving there to abide. In the body there are sucking veins, which draw the food into the stomach and concoct [digest] it there. So faith is the sucking vein which draws Christ into the heart and applies him there. By this faith, we are made the children of God. Wherever this faith is, it is not like medicine in a dead man's mouth—but is exceedingly operative. It obliges to duty. It works by love (Galatians 5:6)."

Perhaps the converts should be counted in a "pending" column, and have them check in every 5 years with a brief confession of their faith as it stands, and then if they make it to death without abandoning that confession, the number shifts to the "saved" column in our evangelical accounting.

Granted, that would make the feedback loop kind of long for the evangelism crusades and whatnot.

Reminds me of a guy in college who came back from a Christian concert. He said it was so great he got saved three times.

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