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Saturday, November 20, 2010

After Being Saved

I had an interesting discussion recently about what happens - or rather what should happen - after someone "gets saved." Before we even start into such a conversation, it's probably worth stopping to define that term.

There may be several different perspectives on what it means to "be saved." For the sake of this dialogue, let's just agree that it is the term applied to the event of someone making a decision to become a Christian.

I know there's not even agreement on what that means, but cut me some slack here. After all, it's only a discussion.

In today's Protestant churches in the west, someone becomes a Christian when they make a conscious decision to accept Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Often it is followed up with a baptism ceremony ... which is simply a public proclamation of that earlier decision. The baptism of course isn't required for the decision to be real. It merely represents what already is. Some churches don't even practice it.

At any rate, the discussion we're having centers around what happens after this. When someone makes a decision to become a Christian, how do churches and church leaders follow up with them? In many churches - maybe even most churches, the individual may receive some literature, an invitation to attend some classes, etc. There may be a process to officially join the church membership. But generally speaking, that's about it. Few churches really go much further than that.

As you might guess, I have a view on this. I think there's a serious disservice in how churches handle these "just saved" individuals. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's a ministry travesty. Let me explain.

People often make decisions to become a Christian, and then fail to follow through. In other words, they don't live any differently than before. Often they are not found in church years later. In some cases they become incredibly religious at first, but then "backslide" and drift away from their faith altogether. There was a special news segment in New York last week about pastors in the pulpit who no longer believe in God! Can you just imagine?

I think people who turn to God and then backslide, or people who make professions of faith (such as in baptism) but then don't go any further are worse off than people who never turned to Him in the first place. Consider the following prophecy:

"... They claim to follow the Lord, but then they worship (false gods) too. ... I will destroy those who used to worship me but now no longer do. They no longer ask for the Lord's guidance or seek my blessings." - Zephaniah 1:5-6 (NLT)

Now consider people who've fallen away from faith in today's world. Or consider people who would consider themselves devout church goers. Some of them, for example, think nothing of spending weekends at the lake house during the summer. Or they may spend their time and money on sports, entertainment or material wealth - and still attend church regularly. Are these people who claim to follow the Lord, but are still worshipping other gods as well? (If so, God has some sobering news for them!)

I know, you're going to ask me to shut up. You may be thinking that I'm about to say our salvation isn't secure. God forbid! The popular thinking in American Christianity today is that "once saved, always saved." It's true that the Bible tells us that when we have our salvation, it is secure. Nothing can take it away from us. And that popular thinking of course believes that the salvation became secure as soon as we made that conscious decision to become a Christian. We simply make the decision, maybe get baptized, and then forevermore have hold of that salvation that we can't lose. Right?

Jesus said, "Not everyone who calls out to me, 'Lord! Lord!' will enter the kingdom of heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter." - Matthew 7:21 (NLT) That seems pretty clear. Only those who do God's will can actually get into heaven. Do churches let people know about that condition when they "get saved?"

You know, this isn't just the dilemma of new believers either. Many times, seasoned Christians or even preachers can be missing the mark (for heaven). Jesus said, "On judgment day many will say to me, 'Lord! Lord!' We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.' But I will reply, 'I never knew you. Get away from me ..." - Matthew 7:22 (NLT)

So doing the work of the Lord isn't sufficient to get me into heaven? There's another condition? Serving in my church ... even casting out demons and performing miracles in Jesus' name don't get me into heaven? It seems that if Jesus never knew you, there is no mansion on the streets paved with gold for you. How could this be so?

It's worth considering the word "knew" in what Jesus said here. When we look up the word "knew" in the Bible, it is most often used in the context of extreme intimacy. For example, he "knew" her and she became pregnant with his child. The Bible uses this word to express something considerably stronger than awareness or familiarity.

Therefore, in the Bible, we should understand "knew" to be the highest level of intimacy possible -- and in the context of an exclusive love relationship. So if you want to go to heaven, it will require that extremely intimate ... and exclusive relationship between Jesus and you. Are churches passing that information along to those people are are newly "saved?"

For several years now, I've been deeply saddened by the prevalence of so many evangelists who tell people that all they have to do is "say a simple prayer." The Bible makes it clear that saying one simple prayer is not all you have to do. That's a good starting point. But if one goes no further than that, he or she may well live their lives under the deception that they are headed for heaven - without that actually being the case! As such, they are worse off than before. (See Zephaniah 1:5-6 above.)

So here's the thing ... our entire spiritual future rises and falls on just three things, according to the Bible. They are as follows:

1. Deep, exclusive intimacy with God.
2. Sincere efforts to obey God.
3. Consistent application to the end.

The greatest news is that if those three things are present, nothing can keep me out of heaven. Not my sin, not my failures or fears or weaknesses. Why? Because these three (3) things are the perfect evidence of the salvation that I can't lose.

So my deep sadness is that people are being "led to Christ" by sincere Christians who themselves are sincerely wrong. And if what we tell the "newly saved" is wrong, then it seems possible that they may perish. Only God knows of course. But the Bible makes it clear that our teaching should be sound. It must be accurate. God will decide what to do in the end, but He asks us to be diligent and focused on accurate teaching of His truth.

When someone gets "saved," we must take the responsibility of shepherding them into that exclusive love relationship with God. We must teach them God's will for their lives, and teach them to obey Him. Finally, we must encourage them to consistently apply themselves to that relationship and doing His will.

So how about it, churches and Christians in America? Are we doing that?

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