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?"
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.