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Is the “sinner’s prayer” a legitimate way to get saved?

April 18, 2013 2 comments

If you’ve been in the American church for any amount of time, you are probably familiar with the concept of the “sinner’s prayer.” Basically, a preacher asks people in the congregation to repeat after him if they are interested in having Jesus Christ come into their hearts and save them. The prayer will generally go something like this: “God, I know I’m a sinner, and without you I am destined for eternal punishment. I repent of my sins. Please forgive me and come into my heart. Be my Lord and Savior. Amen.”

Poof! If you’ve repeated this prayer, then you’re now magically saved, right? Well, not exactly. It doesn’t work like a flu shot.

People will often point to the fact that when they repeated these words, they “meant it” and therefore, it has to be legitimate. Well, maybe or maybe not. The problem is, the words that come out of our mouths can often be at odds with what’s actually in our hearts—even if we feel like they are the same.

People can be swayed very easily by their feelings, whether it be the lovey-dovey atmosphere created by the powerful preaching, dim lighting, or soothing music. It could also be peer-pressure-induced, where friends or loved ones nudge you into saying the prayer or answering the altar call. Either way, the Bible warns us in Jeremiah 17:9 that human hearts are deceitfully wicked…who can know it?

There is not one place in the Bible that tell us that repeating a formulaic prayer will grant us salvation. A simple man-made prayer does not have special abilities. However, these prayers often contain a lot of correct elements that clue us in on how to actually find Jesus. Using my sample prayer, let’s break it down a bit.

“God, I know I’m a sinner, and without you I am destined for eternal punishment.”

The first step toward real salvation is acknowledging and understanding fully that we are sinners. This is more than saying “I’m not perfect” or “I have done wrong at least once in my life.” Everyone in the world could admit to that! No, this means recognizing that we have broken God’s law and that as sinners, we are broken beyond repair. This is letting go of the secular idea that we are essentially “good people” who slip up sometimes. Rather, it’s a realization that our sin nature leaves us in a very grave situation. We are rotten to the core, and there’s nothing we can do about it on our own. In light of a fully just God, we deserve hell.

Do you really believe that? Or do you look at other people around you and say that you are comparatively “good”? Do you secretly think, “If God turned me away from heaven, that would be unfair!” If you feel this way, you are not ready.

“I repent of my sins.”

Do you really? In addition to genuine remorse for your sins, are you ready and willing to do whatever it takes to turn completely away from that lifestyle? Do you see those things in a different light now, as dirty and serious? Or do you cling to your desire to dabble in sin, do enough “good” to cancel out the bad? Do you wish to be saved but have no desire to be sanctified?

Do you think this way? “Of course, I want to go to heaven! But while I’m here on earth, I don’t need to be a saint or anything. I’ll live it up because Jesus loves me and forgives me.”

If this is your mentality, then you are not genuinely repentant. Someone who is ready to be a Christ-follower may slip up time to time, but they do not brush it off as if it were nothing. When they slip off the narrow path to life, God comes for them and they continue fighting their flesh. If this is not you, you are not ready.

“Please forgive me and come into my heart.”

Let’s think about our own lives for a minute here. Let’s imagine you are married and you’ve had a heated argument with your spouse. Hurtful words were hurled and you’re still stinging from the pain.

Now, let’s say he or she comes up to you and says, “Please forgive me.” You look at them, and they are not truly sorry, nor do they have any intention of trying to improve themselves in the future. They just want the fight to stop so you can cook them dinner or give them other benefits. Would you forgive them?

In the same way, God is not interested in idle words and empty gestures. As Paul Washer once said, “the greatest heresy in the American church is that if you ask Jesus to come into your heart, he will definitely come in.” No, this isn’t how it works. If Jesus sees your heart and you are not ready or willing to do what it takes to make it work, he will not come in. He does not force himself upon you just because of some words you’re repeating in an instant of conviction.

There’s a reason why many will come to the gate and say, “Lord, Lord,” only to hear Jesus say to them: “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23) How do you know this isn’t going to happen to you?

“Be my Lord and Savior. Amen.”

People often think about Jesus as their savior, but that’s it. They are glad he will whisk them away to heaven and save them from the flames of hell, but they forget about the other requisite part.

He has to be LORD.

Most people in America will call themselves Christians, but they are the furthest thing from Christ-followers. They prayed a prayer and called him “Lord,” yet they live their lives as they see fit.

When someone is your LORD, that means he is your master. You are his servant/slave. Does your mentality really reflect this at all?

If the Bible says something is sinful or commands us not to do certain things (or support them), do you brush it off as outdated “advice”? Do you regard the opinions of man and culture more highly? Do the things that scientists proclaim to be true take precedence in your life?

Do you gloss over the uncomfortable portions of scripture that do not appeal to you, but rather focus heavily on God’s grace and love? Do you profess to love God but fail to live out his commands? John 14:15 tells us that if we love Him, we are to obey.

If you have the (surprisingly common) mentality of “I’ll follow, but only when I really agree,” then Jesus Christ is not your Lord. ANYone will follow someone’s commands if they fully agree with them already. Are you willing to obey even when you don’t fully understand or it rubs you the wrong way?

If God is not your Lord, then He is not your savior. Please don’t fool yourself.

So…

If everyone who calls themselves “Christian” is capable of deceiving themselves and feelings are an unreliable measure, then how in the world can you know if you are really saved? Well, the Bible says that a good tree will bear good fruit (and a bad tree will bear bad fruit…and be cut down and thrown into the fire) – Matthew 7:17-19. It exhorts us to examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5) to see if we are in the faith. The test is not whether we prayed a prayer one time in our life, but rather whether our lives are truly changed and on the narrow path in this world. Are we being sanctified? Are we convicted of our sin and repenting continually?

Granted, change is a gradual process for most people, but the trend should be unmistakeable over time. If you were “on fire” for Christ for a short period of your life but have fallen back to a secular lifestyle, there is a possibility that you are like the second or third (unsaved) soils in the Parable of the Sower.

James calls faith without deeds useless and dead. “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” (James 2:14)

If we are living our lives just as we were before, or we appear just like the world around us, then this is a serious symptom of a “dead” faith. This doesn’t mean that you are simply living a feeble Christian life, but rather, it means you are not His at all!

In conclusion, reciting the so-called “sinner’s prayer” has no magical powers on its own (though it does have some useful elements in it). This is not the way to test if you are a Christian. The true test and evidence comes in the way you walk and talk, the way you think. Is it conforming to God’s Word, or do you still belong to the world? Remember that you cannot serve both the world and God; it’s one or the other.

In fact, if you are truly a child of His, chances are at some point, the world will hate you or find you foolish (e.g., Matthew 10:22; 24:9; John 15:19). If the world finds you perfectly agreeable, then raise the red flags…there’s something wrong.

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Can salvation ever be lost or what?

January 2, 2012 8 comments

This topic came up in conversation last night, and while it seems like a basic topic on the surface, it’s really a lot more in-depth than people think. But thankfully, the bottom-line conclusion seems to be the same for those who oversimplify things and for scholars who have done all the necessary research and exegesis: true salvation cannot be lost.

1 Peter 1:3-5 tells us: “3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This is usually where people stop. Feels good doesn’t it? A sense of security sets in, and all worries are alleviated. But as human beings, we always need to remember the practical, application aspect of it. In short, true salvation cannot be lost, but professing faith can. In other words, it all goes back to the whole “fruit” issue of whether we are genuine Christians or not. Many people have themselves fooled because they like easy, convenient answers, but the Bible does not tell us that gaining Christ is supposed to be a simple, one-time “decision.” Philippians 2:12 tells us to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” not just rainbows, smiles, and relief.

One of the biggest tests for true faith is endurance (Hebrews 3:14). True faith endures to the end, false faith fizzles out at some point. But until we reach the end, how can we know for sure that we have a true faith in the meantime? After all, we all backslide time to time (although I’m convinced a true believer cannot backslide past a certain point of severity or length). That’s why the Bible tells us not to take it lightly and to keep growing in the faith. We can know in our heads that true salvation cannot be lost, but we must constantly test our faiths and examine ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5) to make sure we fall into that “true” category. Imposter Christians might be fooling themselves as well—possibly with the help of the ever-crafty Satan, who probably just loves fake believers who stop trying. It’s like being in a war and a blinded person is unknowingly fighting for the other side.

Anyway, what is a passage like Hebrews 6:4-8 actually saying then? It sure sounds like it’s saying that those “who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit” can later fall away and crucify Christ all over again. Well, let’s take it step by step here…

First, a professing Christian probably goes to church. He probably even goes on retreats or to conferences once in a while. So he has been in the company of true believers. He has seen them, talked with them, and shared in fellowship.

Second, he may have even felt (or indirectly experienced) some of the Holy Spirit passing through a certain venue or event. He may have gotten caught up in the swell of music—or dim lighting, crowd pressure, mood, etc.—and lifted his hands, filled with emotion. Mob mentality or some similar form of peer pressure is one heck of a powerful thing. While these feelings can be great sometimes, we also need to be aware that our hearts are deceitful above all (Jeremiah 17:9). Feelings are not an end-all, be-all indicator of a saving experience, no more than butterflies are evidence of true love between two people. I guess you can compare infatuation to real love in the same way you can compare mere professing faith to true faith. Or just think of the rocky/thorny soil examples in Jesus’ parable. But if you NEVER get fuzzy feelings, that could be evidence of a hidden problem…

Third, this professing believer may have read the Word of God, prayed, and done all the things that true believers do. He may have even had glimpses into the beauty of the Word and appreciated it.

In many ways, this person may have “tasted” or “shared” in common experiences with us without being truly saved. But why does the author of Hebrews seem to think they are even worse off than before? Because if this professing Christian later falls away—rather than transitioning into true faith—he will think that he has seen it all. “Been there, done that,” he will think to himself, and he will be less likely to give Christ another chance later on with an open mind. A part of his heart will be hardened, almost like a person who has experienced broken trust. It will take that much more to buy into Christianity the next time, if there ever is another opportunity for that person.

So what can true believers learn from all of this? It’s important for us to never grow complacent! The following passage (Hebrews 6:9-12) brings us some more crucial advice:

9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

We need to realize our full potential as believers…growing lazy is the easiest thing to do for many of us. Heck, that has been one of the biggest struggles throughout my life, whether in worldly or spiritual affairs. But by pressing on continually, we will please God more and hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Or, if our salvation was not true to begin with (but we were falsely convinced it was), we may end up truly finding the Lord along the way because God honors diligence and effort. Maybe by staying immersed in scripture and prayer, the not-yet-saved person is increasing his or her chances of finding that “aha!” moment. So there’s nothing to lose by being diligent and working out our salvation with “fear and trembling,” but eternity to gain.

Bottom line? True salvation cannot be lost. But we better make sure our salvation is true by treating the issue with tons of reverence and priority (but not paralyzing paranoia)! Let’s not take the wonderful truth of God’s eternal gift and twist it into an excuse to live shoddy Christian lives.

YouTube: “Poor Apologetics 4: You Were Never a Christian”

August 12, 2011 Leave a comment

I was about to write about the third objection to Christianity (regarding science) when I came across this video. I sort of felt compelled to go ahead and respond to it now:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpVGNRV3h44&feature=relmfu

I’ve watched a few of his videos, actually, and while they’re difficult to get through since he babbles and misstates some of the arguments on the Christian end, he does bring up some good points. I don’t mean they’re good as in wholly valid, but I can see why others would stumble on these issues.

If I catch the gist of his video correctly, he’s basically saying that he is a former Christian and now he has been enlightened into atheism. Those poor Christian apologists then have to resort to telling him that he was never a Christian to begin with. Rather than acknowledge that he has genuine insight into the faith and can therefore rebut it, people will instead doubt the veracity of his past faith completely. Azsuperman01, the YouTuber, seems to imply that this is shallow, unfair, and cowardly.

Well, here’s what I think.

As someone who went the other way when I came to the fork in the road, I would agree that he was never saved to begin with. After all, the Bible makes it clear that if a person is genuinely saved, he turns his life over to the Holy Spirit and perseveres until the end.

I grew up in a Christian home, I experienced “revival” in my heart, and believed in my head that Jesus Christ was my savior. If anyone would have asked me if I was a true believer, I would have been sure in my heart that the answer was yes.

But Jeremiah 17:9 (NASB) warns: “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

Looking back, I’d say that for most of my “Christian” life, my faith was a house built out of straw. It was a sham, and I was worshiping a false and convenient god who allowed me to live a lukewarm life for him. The god that I created in my head was more than glad and even honored to accept the morsels of worship that I would offer him in my busy, cluttered life. He would be overjoyed that I took time out of my Sunday mornings to acknowledge him for an hour or so.

But this was not the God of the Bible. Somewhere along the line, I wrestled with my doubts and fought with them openly and honestly. I reasoned, “It’s time to take an honest look at the truth. If God is real, then why shouldn’t he prevail as long as I’m not biased or trying to weigh the evidence unevenly?” Thankfully, I was right. God (the real one) proved genuine and true, and today the Holy Spirit convinces me daily that I am His.

My sympathies are with people like the maker of this video. I don’t question his honesty or integrity at all, but I do believe he was deceived like so many others out there. If I think about it, if the devil is as crafty and hyper-intelligent as we are told, what would be the best way to lead people straight to Hell? It wouldn’t be an obvious lie, like “evil is GOOD and hate is admirable!” Most of us would sniff that out in a second. Rather, it would be a false gospel that on the surface closely resembles the truth…but it falls short of literal redeeming qualities to save the souls of its adherents.

So no, I don’t think it’s a cop-out for people to tell him he was never truly a Christian to begin with, unless by “Christian” you simply mean a follower of the religion. But when I say “Christian,” I’m referring to someone who has a genuine relationship with Christ, not merely intellectual assent.

Let me also address a couple of specific lines he states in the video.

First, at 1:53, he states: “Once you become a Christian, you basically lose your free will because once you’re a Christian you no longer have the ability to change your mind. You can’t just say, ‘I no longer believe that.’ …and since Christians believe that free will is really important, I don’t think using an argument that completely eradicates your free will is really the best one to use.”

If we become truly saved, then do we in fact lose our free will? Depends on your definition. We still operate and function normally, choosing which paths to take. But of course, he’s probably referring to the aspect of faith; whether to believe or not. And in that sense, yes, we “lose” our free will. We lose our ability to fall away and be damned since we are adopted into God’s kingdom forever.

…and the problem with this is what exactly? Free will is a power or gift of ours to decide whether to choose God as our Lord and savior. I’m not just spouting Christian rhetoric here; we are choosing for God to become our LORD. That means that we are willingly submitting to him as our master, and we are becoming his slaves. We are acknowledging Him as the father, and we are the obedient children.

Elsewhere in the Bible, disciples are described as “bondservants.” This word has the sense of a slave who has completed his term with a master and is therefore allowed to go free. But some slaves—because of the harsh conditions outside in the world and/or because of the kindness of his master—would willfully choose to become bonded to that master even though he had no obligations. This is a good illustration of this relationship with God. We are giving up our freedom, in a sense, for the privilege of serving Him (and in return, being offered His love and protection).

Free will is important beforehand. But it’s not some kind of ultimate or eternal good.

Another point he brings up at the end of the video is this: “The problems in your religion don’t go away just because YOU don’t think I used to believe the same things you do, and experienced the same things you have.”

There are a lot of things I find funny about this statement. First, he assumes there are problems in our “religion.” If he means some of the people and institutions (basically anything human), then yes, I’d agree. But any perceived problems with doctrine need to be proved. As far as I know, I have yet to hear any problems with Christian doctrine that have not already been solved and addressed. It is his failure to find these solutions, and if he still has a problem with it, then it’s a personal opinion, not objective fact.

Second, he might have believed some of the same things that I do, that’s true. He may have even felt some of the same emotions. But so what? Does this somehow make him an authority? Are we to be fearful and approach apostate Christians with trembling and awe? Like I already mentioned, he didn’t experience the real Holy Spirit anyway, so comparisons are on the surface level only.

Excuse my rudeness, but to me, this evokes images of the skinny waterboy hanging out in the football locker room. Just because he was associated with the team at some point doesn’t empower him to call the plays or correct the real players’ technique. He’s free to express his football opinions, but no one has to care what he says. There may be times when he says one or two things that are correct—just as a nonbeliever can rightfully point out problems in the church—but the implication that he somehow has the inside scoop on all of us is absurd.

Personally, all these former “Christians” coming out and acting like they’re something special amuses me (and in some cases, I admit, annoys me). Changing your mind on something doesn’t bestow upon you magical gifts, nor does it elevate you in any way. There are countless believers today who were once atheists, so at best, it’s a wash. Personal testimony can be a powerful thing when there is a supernaturally changed life. But simply changing your mind by reading and learning some stuff isn’t really that compelling to me, sorry.

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!

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/