Eyes That See

“I Once Was Blind”

How the Church Failed Me.

I think that the two churches that I grew up in failed me by being more loyal to Baptist traditions than to the Word of God. I do not believe that these two churches have a monopoly on the problems that led them to fail me, and therefore I think that a lot of churches are failing a lot of people in the same way. The one reservation that I have about writing this is the fear that it may portray a “house divided against itself.” However, I think the things I have to say need to be said, and the need outweighs my concern. Thanks be to God, that through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ He was pleased to save me in spite of these failures.

The Baptist traditions that I have in mind sprout from the belief that salvation is the product of a decision, a prayer, and a baptism. I believe that we live in a man-centered culture, and that our churches too often try to meet this man-centered culture with a man-centered “gospel.” The problem is that the only Gospel that saves is the Gospel of Jesus Christ found in the Bible, and that is by no means a man-centered gospel. No decision, prayer, or baptism has ever saved anybody or will ever save anybody. Salvation is an act of God, and the only hope that we have is to seek to know Him as He has revealed Himself to us in the Scriptures, and to trust Him at His Word.

I do believe that our churches have the best of intentions. I believe that they want souls to be saved. However, I believe that in failing to understand salvation as it is found in the Bible, and instead preaching a man-centered “gospel,” their efforts result in people who are unsure of their salvation and who do not get the answers that they are looking for.

When I was a child, I overheard my mother tell a friend that my brother was “jumping up and down” in excitement to go down the aisle and get “saved” and baptized when he was my age. I don’t know whether or not my mother intended for me to hear her, but if so, then I believe she was acting on the common understanding that if I made a decision, said a prayer, and got baptized, then I would be saved. I had gone to church all my life, believed everything that I had been taught, and wanted to be saved. I believed that if I made a decision, said a prayer, and got baptized, then I would be saved.

After I made the decision, said the prayer, and got baptized, nothing was different. On at least two occasions after I was “saved,” according to these Baptist traditions, I was buying what a preacher was selling, knew that I didn’t have it, and walked the aisle again. However, I had already made the decision, said the prayer, and been baptized, so they really didn’t have anything to tell me. Their only suggestions were to “rededicate my life to Jesus” (remake the decision) or to get baptized again. I wanted the answer to the question that was often asked of Jesus, namely what must a man do to have eternal life? The answer that I received was to make (or remake) a decision, say a prayer, and get baptized (again).

As far as I understand the Scriptures, salvation is not the result of a decision, a prayer, and baptism. Therefore, I believe that the churches that I grew up in failed me. And they failed me in a matter with eternal ramifications.

I believe that salvation, according to the Scriptures, is an act of God that results from faithful preaching of the “word of Christ” (Romans 10:17) and the Gospel (Romans 1:16), by which God the Father (John 6:44), God the Son (John 5:21), and God the Spirit (John 3:8 ) act in unison to cause a person to be born again, by blessing their eyes, ears, and heart to see, hear, and understand the secrets of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:10-17). (“Preaching,” as I intend it here, is not limited to the pulpit- although I use sermons as the example, I believe that our evangelism should be just as committed to the “word of Christ” and the Gospel)

As I understand it, salvation comes about when the “word of Christ” and Gospel are proclaimed. John 3:8 says that the Spirit blows where it will, like the wind. I do not take this to mean that the Spirit moves in a willy-nilly, unpredictable way. I take this to mean that we have no control over the Spirit, and that who the Spirit comes upon and causes to be born again is up to God, not us. I also believe that the Spirit will come upon those it will in the manner that most glorifies God and exalts Jesus Christ, which is why Paul tells us that the Gospel and the word of Christ are the means to salvation and faith. God-glorifying sermons are those that are most faithful to the word of Christ, and that are Gospel-centered. Paul tells us that salvation and faith are the fruit of such sermons, which, to tie everything together, means that these are the sermons that will be most conducive to resulting in the Spirit coming upon those present.

(I have received a lot of this thinking from John Piper’s resources, and you can read more about what he says  here)

However, I also believe that our best sermons, without God’s blessing, will fail. And that our worst sermons, with God’s blessing, will succeed. Many have been and are saved in spite of a man-centered “gospel,” because the living God is a gracious and merciful God. And even if we could preach perfect sermons, we would still be 100% dependent on our gracious and merciful God.

So what are the “word of Christ” and the “Gospel?” I think that in the “word of Christ” Paul meant the “word of God,” a.k.a. the Bible, since Jesus Christ was and is God (John 1:1, 14). Also, Jesus Himself gave us a warrant to read all of Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments, as the “word of Christ” in Luke 24:25-27:

“And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

(Also see Luke 24:44-45; John 1:45; John 5:46)

So what is the Gospel? The Gospel in its most basic form is this: God, man, Christ, response. This basically means that there is a holy God who created us and will one day judge us; we have sinned against Him greatly in preferring the filthy rags and broken cisterns of sin to His glory and the supremely satisfying pleasures of knowing, pursuing, and trusting Him; the only way to be reconciled with God is by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone (although the only faith that is saving faith is both obedient to His commandments and perseveres until the end); and that the only right response that will result in salvation is to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and repent of your sins, or as Paul said, “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9).

(Also see my friend’s great Gospel presentation at ReformedMissionary.org, or listen to great messages from men who understand the importance of the Gospel at Together 4 the Gospel)

Also, the assurance of our salvation is in the promises of the Scriptures that those who have faith will receive the righteousness of Christ, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, and eternal life on the basis of the virgin birth, sinless and perfect life, substitutionary death, resurrection, ascension, and promised return of Jesus Christ. The assurance of our salvation is not found in our righteousness, but in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The wages of sin is death, but we will not pay for our sins with our death if we are in Christ Jesus, because He paid for them with His death. By faith, He takes our sins, and we get His righteousness.

Thanks and praise be to the living God, who so loved the world that He sent His Son to die our death and raised Him from the dead, so that all who believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life!

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June 26, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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