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How do you know if you’re a real, born-again Christian? (Part 2 – The War for Sexual Purity)

July 1, 2011 3 comments

This post is directed toward people who are Christians or are trying to be, but it is probably especially pertinent to the men out there. There may be some…not so “G”-rated stuff in here, so I caution you ladies before you read further. Not to say women don’t struggle with this issue, but I can’t speak with any confidence or knowledge from that particular angle. To many (if not all), the following words are going to be a tough pill to swallow. In addition to reading this post, I encourage you to check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_E50AoHHlIs. Very convicting.

Sexual purity is not a popular topic these days, and it’s easy to see why. In the past few decades, there has been rampant sexual “liberation” in the United States, and anyone who goes against the grain is labeled as a prude or freak. Mainstream media, and especially the internet, are not helping things at all. Looking at sexual images or videos used to be a difficult thing to do. Sure, there were Playboy magazines and such, but very few men could get away with getting that in the mail. There are common anecdotes of boys who would hide such things under their bed…it took effort to get your fix. Even if you got away with it, your access was limited, the variety was finite.

Now, you can find endless images or videos in a couple seconds. There is almost no restriction on what you can find on the internet. Heck, our browsers are even helping us cover our tracks with things like “incognito mode” and such. Ugh. The world tells you that such sexual indulgences are “healthy” and “normal.” What chance do we have in a setting like this? The answer is, with human flesh and effort, none.

Make no mistake about it, this is not a minor issue. “Oh, everyone struggles with it, even those in the church. So it’s not that big of a deal if I stumble.” That’s how we rationalize it to ourselves. But there will be no safety in numbers. Remember the “narrow path” that Jesus mentioned? Well, purity is a big chunk of that path, so we better find our way onto it.

1 Peter 2:11 says: “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.

The Bible does not mince words. We sometimes tend to skim over the parts we don’t like and pretend like these verses aren’t there, but it’s time to face them straight-on. If we don’t battle sexual impurity—whether in our actions or thought life—we will be doomed. It will be the clearest of indications that our faith is not the saving kind. Our souls and our eternal salvation are at stake here.

In Matthew 5:27-30, Jesus tells us: “27You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”

Jesus is not exaggerating or being fanciful. He’s stressing the importance of sexual purity because if we become slaves to our flesh, we are not serving God as our master. We’re serving something else entirely. Look away ladies, but I must say to the fellas that I don’t think it’s an accident Jesus talks about adultery then immediately talks about our right eye (one eye peeking?) then our right hand. These two things are the main perpetrators of our crimes, are they not? Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but maybe not.

Ephesians 5:5 adds: “For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. ”

James 1:15 likewise states: “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

The picture is becoming very clear isn’t it? This is part of the reason why many believe that active homosexuals cannot reach heaven. The Bible states that it is an abomination to God, and people who live this lifestyle day in and day out cannot possibly be on the road to sanctification and ultimately salvation. But it’s not just homosexuals, but all impure people. The man who habitually indulges his pornography habit and fantasizes about women who are not his wife is likely headed toward a similar fate. Same goes for the person with angry tendencies who does not refine his nature.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8: “3For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. 8 So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.

Are we treating our bodies as sanctified and honorable vessels? Temples of the Holy Spirit? If we are not, the Lord is the “avenger” and will exact his punishment (I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be on the receiving end of God’s vengeance…makes you think twice about that “harmless” peek, doesn’t it?). Sexual thoughts in the mind or even masturbation may seem like victimless exercises according to the world, but God clearly takes it seriously. The Holy Spirit, if he indeed dwells inside of us as true believers, will have nothing to do with defiled vessels. It angers him, and verse 8 tells us why: it is a direct act of rejection against God.

One more verse to drill it home…

1 John 2 16-17: “16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”

The implication is clear. Those who do not do the will of God—by indulging in the lust of the flesh, eyes, and the pride of life—will NOT live forever. They will perish once and for all in hell. Ted Haggards of the world, beware.

So what in the world can we do?

Please note that unless you are truly born-again and have the aid of the Holy Spirit, this sin has dominion over you. And no, abstaining from these thoughts and actions on this basis—“I’m too good for that filth, I will not lower myself and share in other people’s weakness”—is merely replacing lust with pride. Trading a sin for a sin is not a good way to sanctify yourself.

Let’s look at some practical ways we can overcome this issue. All it takes is three easy steps! (By the way, that last sentence was facetious. It is never easy. We will be battling this until we die or until our hormone levels are pitifully low.)

Step #1: CONSCIOUS DECISION

First of all, you need to WANT to purify yourself. Not just on the surface, but you need to really mean it. Don’t make this like another New Year’s resolution that falls through after a week, but take it very seriously. If you have the Holy Spirit, this desire should come about naturally, but we should also take the additional step of consciously deciding or even verbalizing it (to God and an accountability partner).

Job 31:1 says: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.”

A “covenant” is serious business. It’s stronger than a pinky swear or a promise. That’s the level of dedication we need.

Step #2: AVOIDANCE

For most people, their own willpower will never be enough. Even Joseph, in Genesis 39, had to literally flee like a fool from Potiphar’s wife lest he fall to temptation. Absolutely brilliant. My guess is, he’s a stronger man of God than most of us, and he couldn’t handle it either. You don’t see him standing there, taking the risk of staring at her, grinding his teeth, and muttering, “Must…not…think…impure thoughts! Down boy!” No way, he runs.

In the same way, avoid those internet sites. Avoid watching those movies or fixating your eyes on that woman longer than you need to. Maybe you need to give up your favorite musicians who sing about nothing but clubbing and “making love all night long” (which is impossible anyway).

And as soon as thoughts start to creep into your head, shake them out immediately. There is always a point—like a crossroads—at which we decide to keep running with our fantasies and indulging them, or turning away from them. It’s a choice. (If we quickly choose the lustful path every time, it will soon become harder and harder to even recognize the crossroads/decision point. Be sharp and deliberate!)

Avoid being alone with another woman who is not your wife or family. Don’t flirt or put yourself in compromising situations where something MIGHT happen. Be smart and look ahead.

Step #3: CLOTHE YOURSELF AND WALK

Pun intended. Literally, leave those clothes on. But also, and more seriously, follow the verses below:

Romans 13:13-14: “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Galatians 5:16: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”

This means that growing in the spirit, walking with him daily, will empower us to defeat our sinful tendencies. How do we clothe ourselves with Christ exactly? There are probably a number of ways, but the two most practical things are 1) prayer and 2) memorizing God’s word.

Memorizing scripture can be a powerful tool to help us combat the things the world hurls at us. When we are tempted, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, the word of God can enter our minds at that moment to fight off danger.

Ephesians 6:11 exhorts us, in the times of this spiritual battle (which is lifelong), to “11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

How do we fight back? With our sword, the word of God. “And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)

And after you do all this, rinse and repeat…over and over, until you leave this earth into your glorified new body where this won’t be a problem anymore.

Let’s fight on brothers and not allow ourselves to defile ourselves or ache the heart of God. And those of you who prove to be false, keep on seeking Christ more fervently with brokenness. Do not have a false sense of security or complacency. Your eternal destiny depends on it, and otherworldly joy awaits you on the other side!

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How do you know if you’re a real, born-again Christian? (Part 1 – Test Yourselves)

June 28, 2011 8 comments

[Updated 7/12/11]

There’s no real way to know for sure whether someone else is or isn’t a true Christian. We can’t judge their hearts, per se, that’s true…but that doesn’t mean we can’t determine some things to a level of probabilistic certainty. We ourselves can gauge our own hearts and actions, and as long as we’re brutally honest, it can be a helpful (and absolutely crucial) exercise. The Bible tells us to examine ourselves, so let’s see how we can do that.

2 Corinthians 13:5: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

The following are ideas and concepts gleaned from trustworthy sermons and the Bible itself. This is not a comprehensive list, and none of these by themselves are sufficient. Rather, taken as a whole, they paint a pretty clear picture of our salvation.

First…

Do you believe that there was an actual man named Jesus Christ who lived and died 2,000 years ago? That he was a person of the Trinity, God himself, who came down to earth in the flesh? That he was crucified on a cross as payment for our sins and that we cannot save ourselves? That he was raised again on the third day and lives for all eternity? Do you believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven?

If someone believes all of the above in the affirmative, then that’s a good start. But like the Bible says, “the demons also believe, and shudder.” Simply acknowledging that God exists, or that he probably does, isn’t sufficient for salvation.

Did you repent of your sins in the past? Not only that, but do you continue to repent on a continual basis?

Acts 2:38 “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

1 John 1:9-10 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

When people think of the word “repent,” they usually think of apologies and regret. That’s part of it. But the more important part of repentance, especially in the context of the Bible, is a change of character and a turning away from that sin. It is not enough to slap ourselves on the wrist whenever we go awry, but we need to genuinely seek to be changed from the inside-out.

If a person is not continually repenting, you could say that it was only guilt when they were supposedly saved.

Do you possess the fruit of the Spirit?

The parable of the sower and many other places in the Bible mention that a true believer must show fruit.

John 15:5 says: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”

But what are these fruits anyway?

Galatians 5:22-23 gives us some examples of character fruit: “22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

Basically, if you meet a “Christian” who is perpetually mean, grumpy, stressed, quick-tempered, weak-willed…then it’s hard to believe that person is actually born again. Someone who is unabashedly prideful? Considering humility is touted as our character goal in the Bible, it seems pretty incompatible to me.

Of course, we can all slip up, but I’m talking about a general lifestyle, a state of being overall.

Do you carry God’s laws in your heart? Do you feel increasing sensitivity to sin by the Holy Spirit?

John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”

Hebrews 10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;…”

Born-again Christians have the law of God and the Holy Spirit within their hearts to teach and convict. If someone is continuously living a sinful lifestyle—whether it’s regular partying, sexual promiscuity, or lying—and doesn’t feel the Holy Spirit convicting them strongly, then that’s a good sign He is not within that person to begin with.

Do you love God’s word? 

Psalms 119:16 “I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word.”

Psalms 119:103 “How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

As I grow in my faith and I read the Bible more, I realize a lot of the things that I once viewed as an “impossible ideal” are actually coming true. I say that without spiritual pride, it’s just a simple, wonderful reality. The Bible is not supposed to feel boring and overreaching. It’s supposed to be a living, vibrant view into God, and once you see it that way, it’s hard to read it as you would a school textbook or something.

If you are truly born again, the word of God should make sense and appear to you as profound and clearly true. If it rings false or sounds outdated to you, let that be a warning.

1 Corinthians 1:18 says: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Do you carry out good deeds as signs of your sanctified nature?

The book of James gives us one of the clearest pictures of what a Christian should look like. Some people don’t like it, thinking it contradicts what Paul says or that it seems to espouse salvation by works. But when you read it more deeply (and in context with the rest of the Bible), it becomes clear what he’s saying. He’s saying that once you’re a true believer, you should be seeing these things as a result of salvation, not as the cause of it. It’s a great way to test one’s faith.

James 1:22-26 “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. 25 But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. 26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.

I can totally empathize with people like this. I think I used to be one of them (when was I saved, exactly??). You read the Bible, understand it, but once you go back to your regular life, it makes absolutely no difference. The words and their meaning don’t jump out of the pages at you, and they certainly don’t “abide” in you. If it did, it would manifest in your character and subsequently in actions and words. Verse 26 also makes it clear that people’s hearts are very easily deceived, even to themselves. If a person professes to know Christ but shows no external signs, then that “religion is worthless” because he is probably worshiping a figment of his imagination. He is not worshiping the God of the Bible.

James 2:14,18, 20-22: “14What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?”… 18But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works…20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless21Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;…”

James is not saying that Abraham became saved by offering Isaac his son on the altar. That would be a works-based salvation. The key word is “justified,” meaning shown to be right, or confirmed (not caused).

The following passage (thank you brother Michael) is as clear as clear can be:

1 John 3:9-10: “9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”

Do I even need to say anything more? Clearly, it’s not talking about sinless perfection, but truly saved people do not walk in sin. They do not continue in sin. People who live a questionable lifestyle and practical immorality are obvious; they are not children of God.

Do you have love and concern for fellow Christian believers?

1 John 1:7 “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

1 Peter 1:22, 23 “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart, 23for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.

Hearing “religious talk” can cause some people to bristle or cringe. I totally get that. But when we as believers encounter a fellow brother or sister in Christ, there should be an immediate bond. I get excited when I’m able to talk to anyone about my faith, and when I see that eagerness returned, it is incredibly uplifting. It almost doesn’t matter about the rest of that person (but of course, our sinful natures will always care about some of the superficial aspects…which will get better with maturity).

Are you being refined and maturing in character? Are you growing in righteousness?

1 Peter 2:1 “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

If you’ve gotten a real taste of God, it’s hard to imagine someone being content in being a spiritual newborn. There should be a natural tendency and longing to deepen that walk and relationship.

(Friend tip haha, thanks Dean): 

Romans 10:8-10: “But what does it say? “THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, 9that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

This is an example of a passage that many people read on the surface. They think, “See? Confess and believe, and you’re saved!”

Problem is, they miss the parts in bold. Confessing Jesus as Lord is not a simple act of saying, “Jesus, you are Lord.” Making him Lord over your life—if you confess it sincerely with understanding—means you are willing to become his servant. He becomes the master and driver of your life, and no longer can you be a slave to your passions and worldly desires. If you are holding onto control and refusing to give Him the reins, you have not confessed him as Lord.

Also, belief is not head knowledge or a simple weighing of evidence. “That seems to make sense,” is not the kind of belief this passage is talking about. It’s a heart issue, and it results in righteousness, not just some tidbit of knowledge. If someone is not growing more righteous as they walk in Christ, then their belief was shallow and head knowledge only. Only after your heart truly believes it and you confess with your mouth can you be saved. This passage is another example of the ongoing theme of a new heart leading to words and actions.

Do you think of salvation as more than a flu shot? Do you now feel you’re free to do as you please?

1 Peter 2:16-17: “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. 17Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

I remember once reading a magazine article about Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, and being disturbed. Here he was, living the fast life of hedonism, and feeling no remorse for it. He basically said, “Before I turn over to the ministry, I’m going to live it up. Get the best of both worlds.” (I am paraphrasing heavily from memory here, so don’t quote me. Thankfully, he seems to have turned from this path and is now serving faithfully.)

A true Christian could not possibly have this mindset. That’d be like claiming to genuinely love your wife, but then finding out everything you can possibly get away with before she will divorce you, and doing everything short of that. That’s not real love. There should be a desire to please God to the best of our ability, and even when we fall short, we strive to do better next time.

Are your primary desires things of God or this world?

Romans 8:5-8: “5For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

There are countless examples of people who cannot give up the world to serve God (e.g., the rich young ruler). Not everything in the world is bad, per se, but when those things take the position of top priority in our lives, it is evidence that we are trying to serve two masters. The Bible tells us that simply can’t be done, so in effect, we are like the contaminated soil in the parable of the sower: our growth stops because our faith is choked out. This is not true salvation.

Do you welcome rebuke?

Proverbs 9:8 “Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.”

This might sound weird, but as some people grow in the faith, it’s almost like they enjoy rebuke. Instead of feeling offended or defensive, they feel refreshed when they hear very direct, even harsh sermons—as long as it is preached from the word of God. Politeness and feel-good messages start to become very unappealing.

What are some other practical signs that might show us we’re not really saved?

Lon Solomon believes that while true Christians may falter and “backslide” a bit, there is great reason to be alarmed if you’ve been backsliding for years. It’s hard to ignore the pulling of the Holy Spirit for that long and think He’s actually in there somewhere.

I highly recommend listening to Lon’s sermon here. Now, it’s about being a true disciple (not necessarily born-again), and you could argue that someone could be saved and not be one. But it’s at least questionable whether someone could be a true believer and not desire to be a disciple, so it’s worth considering.

If you’re short on time, here are the big six that he mentions: a true disciple a) has the word of God as the highest authority in life, b) cultivates humility, c) practices spiritual disciplines (the big four are: 1. bible reading/study, 2. scripture memory, 3. prayer, and 4. being in community with believers), d) accepts responsibility for their actions, e) obeys God even when they don’t understand the reason, and f) always chooses the option that honors God the most.

Paul Washer says that if you watch the things of this world (bad movies, pornography), laugh at the things God hates, or dress sensually, there is reason to question yourself. Being born-again not only means you have a new relationship with God, but also a new relationship with sin.

One of the best indicators of true salvation is persistence over time. Anyone can exhibit some of the characteristics mentioned above for a short time. As Washer would say, you cannot have a true encounter with the Holy Spirit and not be permanently changed. (Please see the comment section for a little more discussion.)

For myself, I’ve been convicted to give up watching Family Guy and South Park completely. I don’t know what your views on these shows are, but I’ve found that God is convicting me to give them up. I could rationalize and try to justify some of the inappropriate humor—which I often found amusing—but there were clear breaking points I couldn’t ignore any longer.

In one episode of Family Guy, Jesus is on earth and calls God his father in heaven, who is laying in bed with a blond bimbo, obviously trying to engage in sexual acts with her. Why do this, why? There is absolutely no way to rationalize supporting this kind of portrayal of God. People might say, “oh lighten up, it’s just a joke,” but a line needs to be drawn somewhere. For me, I’m convinced that line was crossed.

In South Park, Jesus is often portrayed as a nice guy and even an action hero. I could kind of cope with this, and I so badly wanted to say the show was OK to watch. Matt Stone and Trey Parker know how to press my funny bone like no other. But then there was an episode that portrayed “Imaginationland,” where all the imaginary creatures that humans conjure up go. There, you find characters from fables, bedtime stories, myths…and guess who else is there? That’s right, Jesus. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me, and I had to say goodbye to the show.

While giving up some of these things is painful, it’s worth it. It’s more painful now to watch them with a clear conscience. (If you’re curious, shows like Everybody Loves Raymond somehow manage to be hilarious and clever without resorting to crudeness or blasphemies.)

The following two indicators are my ideas only, but I hope they are fairly supported by scripture.

One specific thing that I would point to as a clear indicator of whether a person is truly saved is this: not using the Lord’s name in vain. Granted, there is a lot of law written in the Bible that we all break, but to me personally, this is just the most obvious thing people could avoid. I just don’t see how a believer could use the phrases “God d*** it” or “Jesus Christ!” as expressions of displeasure or frustration. Do you see how big of a victory that is for Satan to have convinced people to say these things that make absolutely no sense in context? When we hear the name of our Lord mentioned, there should be appreciation, wonder, or even fear. I’d prefer that people drop the F-bomb rather than hear someone say the things above in a negative way.

Also, I think born-again believers develop a kind of “Christian radar.” (An analogy from the secular world might be what people call “gaydar,” which is when homosexual people can detect who else around them is gay.) While this may not be entirely precise or accurate, when you know the signs, it becomes more apparent when you come across a fellow believer. This isn’t to say that we can fairly judge other people’s salvation…and we’d be extremely reckless to think we are some kind of authority in this sense. But it just seems that we would be able to recognize others of the same birth with at least some level of confidence, much as we can with our own ethnic groups—which is also not entirely accurate. For the record, I know of two people who have fallen away from the faith, and I was suspicious/puzzled by them both, even when they were “on top” and evangelizing. Maybe it’s just better to tread with caution in this area lest we be tempted to judge others or be filled with spiritual pride…though I think it can be useful when discerning which preachers are of God.

Matthew 7:15-16: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves16You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?”

Keep in mind that being a born-again believer doesn’t mean we’re perfect. We are in a process of sanctification, and we will continue to be until we die and go to heaven. When we sin, it’s important to remember that Jesus paid the price for all of them, for all time, and that our repentance comes from appreciation and a new recognition of how far we fall short…not from fear of being damned any longer.

Micah 7:18-19 “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

Other resources:

Paul Washer on “Regeneration v. The Idolatry of Decisional ‘Evangelism'”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shxQcczYuAA

Lon Solomon on “What a Real Disciple Looks Like” (audio, 2001): http://mcleanbible.org/media_player.asp?messageID=40306

(Not totally precise, of course, but eye-opening): How good of a “Christian” are you? http://www.changingthefaceofchristianity.com/christianity-quiz/

“Spiritual abortion”? Another look at the Parable of the Sower and the Seed

June 22, 2011 1 comment

I always have a number of topics floating around for my next post, but I felt like I had to address this further. This is an extension of my recent “Are very few ‘Christians’ actually saved?” post.

It amazes me that so many of us can fail to see plain spiritual truth, even when we’ve read certain passages countless times before. I’ve probably read this particular parable 10+ times before, but only recently did it become clear (spiritual blindness is a crazy thing). Jesus can give us such an important parable, and even take the time to explain it himself, and yet we never think to learn what it means. God must be facepalming up there in heaven, wondering how much he has to beat us over the head before we’ll finally listen! “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9). Indeed!

ANYhow.

Let’s take another look at the parable. I’m taking this one from Matthew, though you can find it in two of the other gospels as well.

Matthew 13:3–8: 3 And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4 and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7 Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. 8 And others fell on the good soil and *yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.”

Then Jesus thought it was important enough to explain it himself. Here’s his explanation (emphasis added by me), this time from Luke:

Luke 8:11–15: “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God12 Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved13 Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away14 The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity15 But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”

Let’s break it down one by one, each type of person (“soil”):

1) “Beside the road” (hard): This first type of person is clearly referring to nonbelievers, and they are not saved. They may have heard something about the word of God, but they didn’t believe it and never professed faith. They immediately rejected it.

This includes atheists and people of other religions.

2) “Rocky places” (shallow): This type of person is someone who immediately received the word with joy, and they even believed for a while, but then they fell away. Many people believe this refers to a false conversion, perhaps fueled by emotions or some hasty, shallow acceptance of the gospel. These former believers did not consider the price to be paid, such as repentance (perhaps the “root”) and giving up one’s supreme position in life. People say salvation is “free,” but it’s kind of a yes-and-no situation. It’s supposed to cost us something, and these people in rocky soil did not position themselves to bear the fruit of salvation. The end result is the same as the person who immediately rejected the word…there is no longer any seed, and no fruit or life can sprout from it.

This probably includes former believers or people who no longer live out their faith at all. These people may or may not specify themselves as “Christian” on surveys and such.

3) “Among the thorns” (impure): These people are similar to the “rocky” ones above, though these people most likely consider themselves to currently be believers. The thorns represent the world’s influence. The Bible mentions on multiple occasions that you cannot serve both the world and God, that you cannot have two masters. The thorns in this situation are the world’s way of choking out faith, whether it’s through sexual temptation or other vices. The clearest example of these “thorns”—as mentioned here and in other parts (like the parable of the rich man in Luke 16:19–31)—is greed. Money in itself is not a bad thing, but it’s the love of money and wealth that supersedes God’s rightful place in our hearts. Unfortunately, the people who fall to the allure of this world will “bring no fruit to maturity.” The end result is the same as the nonbeliever and the “rocky” person.

This includes nominal Christians, churchgoers who display little difference from the world, and people who treat Christianity as a kind of accessory in their lives, but mainly live for the world.

4) “Good soil” (fertile): This is the true believer, a fertile soil for the seeds to take root and bear much fruit. This type of person represents the only scenario where the word of God is not wiped away.

This includes Christians who genuinely strive to please God and grow increasingly sensitive to sin.

Now, scenarios #1 and 4 seem extremely clear and obvious. But what about #2 and 3? Are these people really lost, or could they be saved but simply backsliding and not bearing fruit? To answer this question, let’s refer to other verses that clear up the issue.

Matthew 7:15–20: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire20So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

It’s clear from these verses that a lack of good fruit is a serious issue. It’s not a minor point. In fact, verse 19 couldn’t make it any clearer. If a person is not bearing good fruit, like the “among the thorns” people above, then I find it hard to believe they are saved.

Another place that shines light on this issue is Hebrews 6:7, 8:

7 For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.

No good fruit means a person is a bad tree (or ground). If a person is a bad tree, they are cut down and thrown into the fire for destruction. It’s simple logic.

What about the “rocky places” person? Well, contrary to the fertile soil that persevered, this type of person has fallen away. And Hebrews 6 teaches us that the true test of a Christian is not how one starts the journey, but how he/she finishes it.

Furthermore, John 15:6 says: “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

Simply put, if a person falls away from the faith, that person was never on the “good soil” to begin with.

I’ll let gotquestions summarize for me:

To summarize the point of the Parable of the Sower: “A man’s reception of God’s Word is determined by the condition of his heart.” A secondary lesson would be “Salvation is more than a superficial, albeit joyful, hearing of the gospel. Someone who is truly saved will go on to prove it.” May our faith and our lives exemplify the “good soil” in the Parable of the Sower.

Keep in mind…

Matthew 7:13, 14: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

For further reading on this topic, these two places are a good start:

“Spiritual abortion”: http://www.preachitteachit.org/articles-blogs/ask-roger/post/archive/2011/february/article/spiritual-abortion/

http://www.gotquestions.org/parable-sower.html

Also, check out this video sermon by Lon Solomon: (2010) http://mcleanbible.org/media_player.asp?type=large&messageID=56902

Are very few “Christians” actually saved?

June 16, 2011 2 comments

There is a potentially disastrous lie that has been going around in Christian circles for the past few decades. The lie is this: If you say a certain prayer and say you accept Jesus into your heart, then you are guaranteed salvation for eternity. No one is telling this lie intentionally, but good motives aren’t going to matter in the big picture if we don’t have our facts straight.

Paul Washer is a controversial preacher who is the opposite of feel-good ministry (a la Joel Osteen). He is probably most famous for this “shocking” sermon he delivered to a bunch of youth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cncEhCvrVgQ. (For a bit of context, I urge you to also check out this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PrCvO8Elsis.) He’s often misinterpreted as a works-based-salvation preacher, but that’s not what he’s actually saying. In my opinion, he’s the reality check that our flaky, entitled modern culture needs. Sure, he’s a bit extreme sometimes in his wording, but at least it grabs your attention and forces you to think.

Anyhow, according to Washer, up until about 50 years ago, the measuring stick to check if you were saved used to be whether you accepted Jesus into your life AND whether you as a believer are bearing fruit inside and out. But in modern times, pastors will normally say this to their members: “Did you at any point in your life pray for Jesus to come into your heart?” “Well, yes, but…” “Then you are definitely saved.”

Let’s look at some scripture and see what it has to say. Maybe our modern perceptions of salvation reflect our increasing desire for easy, obvious tests rather than difficult assessments.

Matthew 7:19: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

John 15:6: “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

Matthew is saying that saved people (the trees in this metaphor) should be bearing good fruit. If it does not, it will be thrown into the fire. John is saying that believers “remain” in Jesus. Falling away or perpetually bearing no fruit is not possible with real believers. Note that they are not talking about earning your salvation through good works, but rather are saying that if you are truly saved, you should be bearing good fruit (like love, increasingly righteous and sanctified lives, etc.). The “fruit” are not the cause of salvation, but rather are the symptoms or the external result of being a good tree.

Now, this isn’t to say that Christians—even the “real” ones—are perfect, but there should be some difference in their actions and in their thought life. Moral backsliding is possible, and can persist for a short amount of time (to some extent, anyway), but there should always be an inherent, Holy Spirit–driven desire to repent and sanctify ourselves as we mature in the faith. It’s like a tugging on our hearts, and as we grow and trim the sin from our lives, we find it easier to follow its lead.

Many people who call themselves Christians treat salvation like a flu shot. They felt emotional one night at a retreat or camp of some kind, they prayed that Christ come into their lives, and now they think they’re vaccinated from Hell. Then, once the feelings wear off, they dust themselves off and go right back to their old lives, no different from the rest of the world. A crucial missing ingredient here is repentance or a turning away from their old sin nature. Without it, their salvation is called into serious question. That emotional high is not always from the Holy Spirit, even though they might think it was. I hate to be the cynic and bearer of sobering news, but it could have just been the music, dim lighting, or whatever else. The Holy Spirit can stir feelings in your heart, true, but he’s much more than that.

Let’s examine a few more passages that are important to this topic.

Luke 8:4-8: 4 One day Jesus told a story in the form of a parable to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear him: 5 “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it.6 Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When he had said this, he called out,“Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

This parable is showing us four different scenarios of a person’s faith. The first, verse 5, refers to nonbelievers. Perhaps they read the word and then they either didn’t understand it or they abandoned it, choosing to believe in something else. The “seed” was eaten up by the birds (the evil one) and had no chance to grow and bear fruit.

Two (or possibly even three) of the remaining scenarios refer to people who call themselves Christians. Verse 6 and 7 refer to people who thought they were saved—even having accepted the word “immediately and joyfully”—but their faith proved to be false when distractions and difficulties came their way.

Verse 8 is referring, of course, to genuine believers with a saving faith in Christ. In this fertile soil, the plant can grow and bear fruit, showing itself to be real. (For a fuller explanation, read on in verses 11–15, or read Matthew 13:18–23. Roger Barrier also does a clear interpretation here: http://www.preachitteachit.org/articles-blogs/ask-roger/post/archive/2011/february/article/spiritual-abortion/)

Matthew 7:13-14 says: 13You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell[f] is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”

Note that being a genuine believer is not supposed to be a walk in the park. You can’t just go in, get your flu shot, then run around in germ-ridden environments to your heart’s content. Sometimes, people say the prayer hastily and THEN are led to true salvation, but it is not necessarily BECAUSE of it. Sometimes, it just a starting point, an agreement to consider the narrower path from now on. If there is no difference at all between a “Christian” and the rest of the world, then yes, there probably is no difference. Both are probably not saved.

The Bible says that the gateway is narrow and “only a few ever find it.” I used to wonder about this passage when I was younger, in light of the statistics that the world has 2 billion people who call themselves Christians. Sure it’s less than half, but by no means did it seem “very narrow.” But now I know the sobering and sad reality that many of these people are probably lost.

My guess is that these 2 billion people were either born into a Christian family and never formally separated themselves from their upbringing, or they weighed some evidence and superficially determined that the likelihood of Christ’s deity is more likely to be true than not. “Sure I believe in Him,” they might say. “But I’m not religious or anything like that.” (You’ll often hear a defensive tone when they quickly add this disclaimer at the end. This has happened more times than I can count.)

Remember that the Bible says that even the demons believe in God, so mere probabilistic belief is not enough. There has to be a submission and a living relationship, not just a casual intellectual assent.

Here’s one last sobering passage for today, Matthew 7:21-23:

21 “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. 22 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.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.'”

Billy Graham once said that if even 5% of the people who were “saved” through him were genuine believers, he’d be happy. My cousin, who just got her masters from seminary, told me there are stories of some pastors finding out they were truly saved only after 30–40 years into their ministry! Now, there’s no way for us to really accurately judge who’s going or how many are going (maybe it’s less than 5%, maybe it’s higher), but we all need to heed the Bible’s wake-up calls and reexamine our faith with a deep, honest look.

Let’s stop spreading the myth that a warm feeling and reciting a quick prayer is the end-all formula we need to follow. Let’s ditch the placebo—there’s a dangerous threat out there, and we need the real thing to combat it.