I believe a better term for this problem is “easy prayerism.” It is a methodology that focuses on getting people to say a prayer.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). I believe that those that pray to God in repentance and faith and ask to be saved WILL be saved. I am not against prayers for salvation, but the prayer must come from a repentant, believing heart, or it is vain.
What I am against is making the praying of a prayer the focus of our evangelistic activity. Repeating a prayer is not necessarily salvation and we must not confuse it with such. Just because 50 people pray a prayer or raise their hands in a gospel meeting is no evidence whatsoever that those people have been saved. It is one thing to show some interest in salvation; it is quite another thing to be saved.
Some might argue, “Well, I know that just praying a prayer is not salvation.” Why then, I might ask, do so many say that a certain number of people “got saved today” or “got saved last year” when all they did was pray a prayer? Especially is this true in a context in which the majority of these people don’t even want to come to church. Is that not an unhealthy focus on a prayer? I call this “easy prayerism.”
Please understand that I am not criticizing soul winning. I realize that this type of thing usually is done by those who at least are trying to win people to Christ, and in some cases their zeal in evangelism puts many others to shame. I am not trying to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm for lost souls. I have spent more than 30 years of my life preaching the gospel and planting churches, including 15 years in one of the darkest parts of the world. What I am trying to do is focus attention on a methodology that I believe is unscriptural and unhealthy to the churches. To identify a prayer with salvation is to bring confusion to the gospel.
THE BIBLE APPROACH TO SOUL WINNING
Let’s turn to the Bible and see what kind of manner the apostles had in dealing with the unsaved. This is the way to get a right methodology of evangelism. In Acts 17 we see the apostle Paul dealing with a group of unbelievers in the city of Athens.
Here we see the difference between “easy prayerism” and Bible evangelism.
THE APPROACH AND EMPHASIS IS DIFFERENT
First of all, we see that “easy prayerism,” in its approach, emphasizes heaven and blessing and God’s love; whereas Bible evangelism emphasizes God’s holiness and His just demands upon mankind.
The sermon Paul preached on Mars Hill is recorded in Acts 17:22-31. It is interesting that he did not say, “Hey, Athenians, God loves you and heaven is wonderful; don’t you want to go to heaven when you die?” Yet this is the approach used in “easy prayerism.”
Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws illustrates this. It approaches the unsaved thusly: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”
Bill Bright, the author of the Four Spiritual Laws, admitted that he wrestled with his conscience when he changed his approach to a positive one, and even one of his own daughters at that time told him she felt he was on the wrong track. When Bright first wrote his gospel pamphlet in 1958, it began with man’s sin and separation from God, which is exactly where the Bible begins. But when the pamphlet was revised a few of years later, in the early ‘60s, Bright changed this so it would be more positive. He tells this in his own words as follows:
“Originally our first law emphasized man’s sin, but the Lord impressed me to emphasize God’s love. This change was made just before we went to press. I had done my final editing and had left Vonette and the girls to finish the typing. As I had been traveling a great deal and it was quite late, I had gone upstairs to bed. In fact, I was in bed just at the point of going to sleep, when suddenly there came clear as a bell to my conscious mind the fact that there was something wrong about starting the Four Laws on the negative note of man’s sinfulness. ... I felt that few people would say `No’ to Christ if they truly understood how much He loves them and how great is His concern for them.
“So I got out of bed, went to the head of the stairs and called down to Vonette and the girls to revise the presentation so that the first law would be, `God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,’ instead of `You are a sinner and separated from God.’ ... Thus the Four Spiritual Laws started with the positive note of God’s love and plan.
“Some time later, one of the girls said to me, `I was so distressed over your change in the presentation that I wept that night. I was afraid that you were beginning to dilute the gospel and that you were no longer faithful to the Lord, because you placed such a strong emphasis on the love of God rather than on man’s sin. Now in retrospect, I realize of course that this is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to the Campus Crusade ministry’“ (Bill Bright, Come Help Change the World, Here’s Life Publishers, 1985, pp. 28,29).
We believe Bill Bright’s staff worker was right when she wept and feared that he had diluted the gospel. He adapted the gospel to the philosophy of the world. He removed much of the reproach of the cross. He created an evangelistic tool that can be used successfully by the entire world of apostate ecumenism. This type of gospel presentation is used even by modernist World Council of Churches denominations and by the Christian rock crowd. It is so generic that even Roman Catholics use it. The voice that spoke “clear as a bell” to Bright about changing the approach of the Gospel was not the Lord.
Four decades later, this positive, psychological, man-centered approach has swept through most Christian circles. It is the approach used for the most part by the evangelicals, by the charismatics, even by most fundamentalists. While fundamentalists eschew Campus Crusade’s worldly, new-evangelical approach to Christianity, all too often the soul-winning plan used in fundamentalist circles is almost identical to the Four Spiritual Laws.
We don’t mean to belittle the fact of God’s love for sinners and we don’t mean to say it is wrong to tell the unsaved about that love. God does love sinners, and that is what the gospel is all about. But when approaching the unsaved, the apostles emphasized God’s holiness and His just demands on a sinful mankind. They emphasized man’s lost condition and the necessity of repentance. This is the right way to approach the unsaved. It is not very positive and does not fit in with the popular philosophy of the hour and might not result in as many “decisions,” but it is Bible and therefore is right.
The Bible does not start with God’s love. It starts with God’s character and with man’s fall. In fact, the entire first two thirds of the Bible deals with God’s Law before it gets to the New Testament presentation of Christ. Why is this? Who would deny that the Old Testament is overwhelmingly negative? And why is this? Are we to ignore the fact that God lays a foundation of law for the presentation of the gospel? Evangelists and revivalists of old followed the Bible’s pattern in this. Who are we to change it?
Why the “negative” approach? Why not just focus on God’s love and on Heaven and let sin take care of itself? Because unsaved man does not understand nor appreciate the love of God until he understands the holiness and justice of God. When Paul preached the gospel in the book of Romans, he did not even mention the love of God until chapter 5. He spent almost three chapters describing God’s holiness and wrath toward sin and man’s wretched spiritual and moral condition before he got to God’s free gift of salvation in Christ. God uses the Law to create in man the understanding that he needs salvation. The Law is the schoolmaster to bring sinners to Christ (Gal. 3:24).
At an evangelistic meeting overseas I once preached a message patterned on Acts 17. This was in the earliest days of our missionary work in 1979. The Christian leaders that sponsored the meeting told me after the close of the service that my type of preaching was “too negative” and I should be more positive in presenting the gospel. One missionary told me that Paul was probably in the flesh when he preached that message in Acts 17 on Mars Hill, thus we should not follow his example! This, of course, is foolishness. If preaching the Bible and warning the unsaved of God’s holy demands and requiring repentance of them is a “negative” approach, then so be it.
Thus the approach and emphasis of Bible preaching and “easy prayerism” is different. “Easy prayerism,” in its approach, emphasizes heaven and blessing and God’s love; whereas Bible evangelism emphasizes God’s holiness and His just demands upon mankind.
THE REQUIREMENT IS DIFFERENT
Second, Bible evangelism has a different requirement than “easy prayerism,” in that “easy prayerism” emphasizes faith and a prayer -- “just believe; don’t worry about giving up things; that will come in time; just pray this prayer” -- whereas Bible evangelism emphasizes repentance.
“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30).
That is what Paul required of his listeners, and that is exactly what we must require. Repentance was not just something preached by John the Baptist. Repentance was preached by Jesus Christ (Matt. 3:1-2; Lk 5:32; 13:1-5). He said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Christ’s goal in dealing with men was to bring them to repentance. Repentance was also preached by all of the Lord’s apostles (Acts 2:38; 5:31; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). The Bible says that God is “longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). Repentance is God’s goal in dealing with sinners.
And repentance means a change of mind that results in a change of life. It means to turn to God from sin. It means to bow before Jesus Christ as the God of one’s life. Bible examples of repentance show a clear change in people’s behavior. The change does not save us from sin, but IT IS the clear fruit of biblical salvation.
Consider Zacchaeus. He repented, and the evidence of this is that he gave half his goods to the poor and restored five-fold that which he had stolen through his tax collecting business (Lk. 19:1-10). Consider the idolators at Thessalonica. They repented, and the evidence of this was that they “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9- 10). Consider the Jews in Acts 2 who heard the sermon Peter preached at Pentecost. They repented, and the evidence is that they gladly received his word, were baptized, and joined themselves with the hated Christians.
There is no Bible example of people being saved who did not evidence a drastic change in their lives. Repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of life and it is necessary for salvation.
The Bible approach to the sinner is to demand that he repent and turn to God. The apostle Paul reviewed his ministry before King Agrippa, and noted that he went about preaching to Jews and Gentiles both “THAT THEY SHOULD REPENT AND TURN TO GOD, AND DO WORKS MEET FOR REPENTANCE” (Acts 26:20). This is exactly the message that we are to preach today.
TO PREACH REPENTANCE MEANS TO DEAL PLAINLY WITH SIN. There is a sense in which we can say that the word “repentance” encompasses all of the gospel’s requirements for salvation. It is a change of mind and a faith in God that results in a change of life, and that is what God requires. Bible translator William Tyndale gives the following definition:
“Concerning this word REPENTANCE ... the very sense and signification both of the Hebrew and also of the Greek word is, ‘to be converted and to turn to God with all the heart, to know his will, and to live according to his laws; and to be cured of our corrupt nature with the oil of his Spirit, and wine of obedience to his doctrine.’ Which conversion or turning, if it be unfeigned, these four do accompany it and are included therein: CONFESSION, not in the priest’s ear, for that is but man’s invention, but to God in the heart, and before all the congregation of God; how that we be sinners and sinful, and that our whole nature is corrupt, and inclined to sin and all unrighteousness, and therefore evil, wicked, and damnable; and his Law holy and just, by which our sinful nature is rebuked: and also to our neighbours, if we have offended any person particularly. Then CONTRITION, sorrowfulness that we be such damnable sinners, and not only have sinned, but are wholly inclined to sin still. Thirdly, FAITH (of which our old doctors have made no mention at all in the description of their penance), that God for Christ’s sake doth forgive us, and receive us to mercy, and is at one with us, and will heal our corrupt nature. And fourthly, SATISFACTION, or amends-making, not to God with holy works, but to my neighbour whom I have hurt, and to the congregation of God, whom I have offended, (if any open crime be found in me); and submitting of a man’s self unto the congregation or church of Christ, and to the officers of the same, to have his life corrected and governed henceforth of them.” (William Tyndale, “To The Reader,” 1534)
Note that this man of God wraps confession, contrition, faith, and satisfaction into the term repentance. There is no easy prayerism here. The sinner who would be saved must repent and this will always result in a changed life.
This means that we cannot have the attitude that we will only deal with specific sin after the person receives Christ. That is the philosophy of many. If the sinner brings up his love for liquor, or his love for gambling, or the fact that he is living in an immoral relationship, some think it best to delay dealing with such things until after that one has come to Christ. Sometimes this is the best policy, but only if the sinner is clearly under the conviction of the Holy Spirit in regard to his sin and is clearly ready to turn to Christ. On the other hand, if the sinner obviously still wants to hold onto his sin, the personal worker must deal with the fact that he must turn from it.
When my wife and I first began our work in the South Asia in 1979, our landlord came to our house for Bible studies. He was a wealthy middle-aged Hindu and had a concubine that he spent most of his time with, though he was married and had grown children. After we went through the gospel a few times, he told me he was interested in receiving Christ but he wanted to know what he would have to do about two specific things in his life. I asked what he was referring to, and he mentioned his shady business practices and his illicit relationship with his concubine. I could have said, “Don’t worry about those things. Just pray to receive Jesus Christ and those things will work out later.” But I don’t believe that is biblical counsel. I don’t believe he could receive Christ and be saved unless he was willing to repent of his immorality and his dishonesty and be willing to turn this over to God.
In South Asia I believe we could get half of the people to pray a prayer if we wanted to do that. If we approached them by asking if they would like to go to heaven when they died and if so would they pray a sinner’s prayer, 90% of them would say the prayer. They are accustomed to mantras and chants and mysterious religious utterances and would see the sinner’s prayer in the same light. If we urge them merely to “believe” without dealing with them about repentance, we would have a multitude of unrepentant, “believing” Hindus on our hands--but believing in what? They eagerly believe that Jesus was “a god” or at least a great religious “guru” and that he was good and that he loves people; but they commonly want to add Jesus to their other gods rather than to receive Jesus Christ as their only God and Saviour.
During our gospel meetings there, if we would ask for a show of hands of those who want to be saved, most of the hands would go up. But from many years of experience we understand that it takes some time for Hindus to be ready to turn to Jesus Christ FROM THEIR IDOLS and to bear the heavy reproach and persecution of their relatives and neighbors, and we know from the Bible that without repentance there is no salvation. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:5). Paul said that God “now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30). It is imperative to deal with people about their sin and idols and about repentance.
Someone might say, “Yes, but that is in a place where people have never heard the gospel. Things are different here in North America.” Certainly things are different in North America, but the fact is that the average person there is almost as gospel ignorant as someone in India or Bhutan or Nepal or Pakistan or Sri Lanka or Tibet. The average person we meet in many parts of North America has little or no knowledge of the Bible’s teaching, not even of its stories and basic content. His mind is filled with the myths of evolution and humanism. Someone who has been educated in the North American public school system and who has had no sound Bible training is actually more prejudiced against believing that the Bible is the Word of God than a Hindu or Buddhist in darkest Asia. The same is true for England and Europe.
The Bible principles of dealing with people are the same no matter where those people are found, and the Bible requires repentance.
When the Lord Jesus dealt with the rich young ruler who inquired about salvation, He did not tell him just to pray a prayer, just to believe. He dealt with him plainly about his love for riches, his covetousness and pride. The young man had to repent of that deep sin in his live before he could be saved. He went away sad, the Bible says, because he loved his great riches.
Consider Christ’s dealings with the Samaritan woman at the well. He faced her squarely with the immorality that had characterized her life and required repentance of her in that matter. This is the way God always deals with people and it is the way we must deal with them, too, if we want to follow the Bible in our gospel work.
To preach repentance means to deal with specific sins that people are holding onto and to tell them in no uncertain terms that they must repent of those sins before they can be saved. Some preachers have taught that there is no repentance of sin, but that is not what the Bible says. Consider the people we read about in Revelation 9:20, who “repented not of the works of their hands,” and Revelation 9:21, who refused to repent of “their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts,” and in Revelation 16:11, who “repented not of their deeds.”
This is not “Lordship salvation.” This is not some kind of Puritan methodology. It is simple Bible evangelism.
Thus Bible evangelism has a different requirement than “easy prayerism,” in that “easy prayerism” emphasizes faith and a prayer -- “just believe; don’t worry about giving up things; that will come in time; just pray this prayer” -- whereas Bible evangelism emphasizes repentance.
THE EXPECTATION IS DIFFERENT
Third, the expectation of “easy prayerism” also differs from that of Bible evangelism. “Easy prayerism” seems to expect only some sort of interest and willingness to pray a prayer on the part of the sinner, but interest or willingness to pray a prayer isn’t salvation. Bible evangelism, on the other hand, looks for and expects Holy Spirit-wrought conviction of sin.
Here we want to quote from “Seven Certain Signs: A Christian Worker’s Guide to the Marks of True Conversion.”
“The first mark of grace in the passage is the experience of conviction of sin which leads to true repentance (Acts 2:37-39). Baptism could only be performed when the people had shown that they were pricked in their heart, thus showing real shame and concern for sinful lives, and genuine longing for forgiveness.
“In discerning a person’s spiritual progress we therefore look for the broken and contrite heart that the Lord will not despise (Psalm 51). If we feel that there has been only a cool, intellectual acknowledgment of sin (or a momentary squall of emotion) coupled with a very formal or limited repentance, we will have to be very doubtful that conversion has really occurred.
“’Testimonies’ which make no mention of repentance are suspect in the extreme. All those pop-star conversion stories (often given in glib, joking language) which make conversion sound so painless, lack this essential mark of grace. We hear people say that they `could not cope’ with life, and so they asked Jesus to take over, with the result that He now stands by them (even on stage), and makes them much more successful in their (unchanged worldly) lives!
“The Lord Jesus Christ must be a Saviour from sin before He is anything else to a person. The idea that a person can ‘receive Christ’ in a moment merely because he feels mildly hollow inside is a tragic delusion and bears no resemblance to the conversion of the Bible. We must look for some sign that a person has come under real conviction and has bowed in sorrow before God with a deep and earnest desire to receive pardon and new life.
“We do not expect all seekers to feel quite the depths of shame and soul-stirring grief that we read about in some Christian biographies or in revival histories, but ... they must exhibit in some way the broken, contrite heart that trusts the Christ of Calvary alone for pardon.”
This is important, and we believe it hits the nail on the head in regard to something that is lacking in much of today’s evangelism. I have gone soul winning with many men that have encouraged people to pray a sinner’s prayer when it was obvious, to me at least, that the people were not under any conviction of sin. I do not find it surprising when these people, even after they have been “saved,” will not even so much as visit the church.
Years ago, my wife and I were responsible to follow up on the ladies’ soul winning visitation program in a certain church. This program (the Foster Club) focuses on “getting decisions” and involves clever ways of manipulating people into saying say a salvation prayer. It was not uncommon for the ladies to return from these visitations and rejoice that three, or five, or ten “souls were saved.” The problem is that when we tried to follow up on these “saved souls” and begin to disciple them it was common that they had no interest whatsoever in coming to church, in baptism, or in anything spiritual.
Why is it so often a real tug of war to get people discipled that have prayed a sinner’s prayer? The reason is that oftentimes they are not truly saved; they have never been under the conviction of the Holy Spirit; they do not yet even understand the gospel; they have never repented of their sin. Too often they should never have been encouraged to pray a prayer in the first place. The personal worker looked for the wrong thing. He looked for some interest on the part of the sinner, when he should have looked for something Holy Spirit-wrought, something divine and real.
I am not talking about putting people through some sort of long, drawn out agony over their sin. When it is evident that God is convicting them and they are read to repent and trust Christ as their Lord and Saviour, it is time for them to be saved. They don’t have to follow someone’s formula for properly mourning over their sin. People are different and they are going to react differently to Holy Spirit conviction. But they DO have to be convinced of their wickedness before God, and they DO have to be clearly repentant. Anything short of this is not Bible salvation.
The old-timers had what they called the “anxious room” and the “mourners bench.” The anxious room was a place where the unsaved could go when they were under conviction. That is why they used the term “anxious.” Folk were clearly anxious about their sin and their lost condition. The mourner’s bench was something similar. The term “mourner” referred to the sinner under the Holy Spirit’s conviction for sin. Where is the anxious room today? Where is the mourner’s bench? Most churches don’t have anything like this anymore, because a new, more positive methodology has taken over and anxiety and mourning over sin is not something we expect anymore.
We fundamentalist Baptists criticize the shallow Hollywood and sports star conversions that so obviously lack Holy Spirit conviction and repentance, but I am afraid we are promoting the same type of problem when we say people are saved who have done nothing more than say a prayer and who do not evidence any sort of true repentance. It is often the same type of shallow, positive approach that is used, and I believe this is one of the culprit’s in the matter.
A weak gospel produces weak converts. Is it any wonder that the Four Spiritual Laws produces converts that do not see anything wrong with filthy rock music or with Hollywood’s cesspool productions or with sensual dancing and even drinking or with mixing together with Romanism and theological Modernism and wide-fire Charismaticism? The New Evangelical crowd sees little or nothing wrong with any of these things and it should be no wonder. A weak gospel produces weak converts.
What about the gospel popularly presented in fundamentalist and Independent Baptist circles? What kind of converts are we producing? Yes, praise God, there are some wonderful saints of God in our midst, but there is also a crop of strangely weak converts in fundamentalist churches; converts who have no zeal for truth; converts that have no real love for the Bible; converts that don’t care enough about the church even to attend Sunday evening or mid-week services; converts that never try to win anyone else to Christ; converts that have no discernment between truth and error, who will watch some Pentecostal preacher on the television and be impressed that he must be a real man of God when he describes his alleged trip to Heaven or Hell and can’t understand why the pastor thinks the Pentecostals are so wrong; converts that seem as at home in the world as lost people are. They watch the same wicked Hollywood movies and have the same vile television programs on every evening; they laugh at the same dirty comedians; they go naked at the same beaches; they listen to the same worldly music.
I’m not trying to be unkind. I’m trying to point out a tremendous problem that about which my heart is deeply burdened. I think a lot of these “converts” are not saved. Could it not be that this harvest of weak converts is being produced by a weak approach to soul winning, an approach that we have unconsciously adopted from the worldly ecumenical Christian crowd or that we have adopted in our zeal to braggadociosly pad our reports? Too often we are trying to disciple people that have never experienced true conviction or repentance or regeneration.
I realize that some of the biggest-name fundamental Baptist leaders in recent decades have popularized this type of thing, emphasizing and counting the numbers of “decisions” or prayers rather than repentance and Bible salvation. We should not follow them in this. They are leading us away from the Bible.
We must look for one thing in our gospel work, and that is true Holy Spirit-wrought conviction and genuine repentance and faith.
Thus the expectation of “easy prayerism” is different from that of Bible evangelism. Whereas “easy prayerism” seems to expect only some sort of interest and willingness to pray a prayer on the part of the sinner, Bible evangelism looks for and expects Holy Spirit-wrought conviction of sin.
THE COUNTING IS DIFFERENT
Our final point is that “easy prayerism” is different from Bible evangelism in that while “easy prayerism” counts prayers, decisions, and professions, Bible evangelism counts genuine heart-felt, Holy Spirit-wrought faith and repentance which results in a new way of life. Bible evangelism counts regeneration and is not interested in anything less.
Contrast the Bible evangelism we see in Acts 17 with many of the reports we hear today of “souls saved.”
“And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked: and others said, We will hear thee again of this matter. So Paul departed from among them. Howbeit certain men clave unto him, and believed: among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite, and a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (Acts 17:32-34).
We see that the Bible focuses on the “certain men” that clave unto God and believed.
To the contrary, a missionary to an eastern European country wrote and said that 250 were saved during the past year of his ministry, yet only eleven were baptized and there were only ten or so attending the church services. Does this look like 250 people really repented of their sins and received Christ as their Lord and Savior and were born again? No, it looks like perhaps ten did. The others were the result of “easy prayerism.” Why not be honest and say that 250 prayed a prayer or 250 made some sort of shallow decision or 250 showed a bit of an interest in the gospel? That is the truth of the matter. Why confuse things and say 250 were saved when there is no biblical evidence whatsoever that they were? Why say that the angels in heaven are rejoicing over these salvations when there is no evidence that salvation has occurred? I don’t quite understand the motivation in all of this, or at least I am afraid that the motivation is not pure.
We don’t believe it is wrong to count converts. The Bible does this in several cases. But this is just the point. It only counts true converts, not people that merely prayed a prayer or something of this sort. It counts those who were clearly born again. Those saved on the day of Pentecost were counted but they had a clear evidence of genuine repentance and faith. “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:41-42). If my converts display this type of change I can have confidence in their salvation. We see the same thing throughout the book of Acts. Consider the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-4) or Cornelius and his family and friends (Acts 10) or Lydia (Acts 16:12-15) or the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:23-34).
This is the type of conversion and salvation I had in a motel room in Daytona Beach, Florida, in the summer of 1973. I experienced a radical turning around and going the other way. My boozing and drugging and Mardi Grasing and rebellion against my father and flirtation with Hinduism and Christian Science and other pagan philosophies were behind me and my face was set firmly toward seeking God’s will.
This is what we see in Acts 17. The Bible tells us about those that responded to Paul’s message, and there were three groups. Some mocked. Others put the matter off, saying, “We will hear thee again of this matter.” But a third group “clave unto him, and believed” (Acts 17:34).
The Bible focuses on those that showed genuine evidence of the new birth. They believed. That was what brought them salvation, but their believing resulted in cleaving! They clave to Paul. They stayed right with him. When he left the meeting, they went with him. They went home with him; they went to church with him. They joined themselves with the Christians! Their believing resulted in a dramatic change. It always does. Some evidence change more rapidly and dramatically than others but there is always a clear change.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
“He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4).
“They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16).
Acts 17:34 describes real Bible salvation. When you see people being baptized and cleaving to the house of God, you have good cause to rejoice and to say that some folk have gotten saved, that the bells of heaven are ringing. On the other hand, when people merely pray salvation prayers and make some sort of “decisions” for Christ but aren’t interested in getting baptized and coming faithfully to church and learning the Word of God and being with God’s people--they didn’t get saved and we should not count them as such.
Some argue that we should not worry about this matter, because “at least some people are being saved.” But to get people to pray to “receive Christ” when they are not under conviction of sin and are not ready to repent and trust Christ in a biblical fashion and to say that people are saved when they do not have evidence of Bible salvation is to confuse the gospel in a most fantastic way. It fills the land with people who are almost inoculated to the gospel. When you try to deal with these people about their need for Christ, they tell you they “have already done that.” Done what? Well, they have prayed that prayer, they have gone through those motions, they have done that little religious ritual. And just where did they get the idea that salvation is merely a prayer without a life change? They got that idea from those who are promoting this type of thing. The fruit, my friends, has been fearful. The charismatics are tremendously guilty of this, but so are great numbers of fundamental Baptists.
For a few years I preached in a county jail and it was common for those that attended the Bible studies to claim that they were saved. When I asked them why they thought they are saved, they often pointed to a time when they prayed a sinner’s prayer or walked the aisle of a church or were baptized or had some sort of charismatic experience. When I asked them if their life changed after that experience, they usually acknowledged that it did not. They associated salvation with some sort of religious ritual, such as praying a prayer or walking an aisle. They usually showed very little or no remorse over their sin and even over the crimes that put them into jail. They didn’t seem to understand what a wretched testimony they had and how tremendously incongruous it is for a Christian to be in jail for his crimes. All too often they were full of the same self-justification (“I was wrongly charged and condemned”) and deception that the unsaved display in prison.
It is so rare that they pointed to a real relationship with Jesus Christ. So rarely did they say, “I know I am saved because I remember when I came to Jesus Christ and received Him as my Lord and Savior; I walked and talked with Him; I served Him; what a joy that was; but then I was foolish and backslid.” When they do give a testimony like this, we can have good reason to think they might indeed be saved, particularly if they show genuine remorse over their sin and over their backsliding.
We need to do everything in our power to make people understand that an unrepentant prayer is not salvation any more than any other religious ritual is salvation. These people don’t need to be counseled to grow in Christ; they need to be counseled to be scripturally saved!
If a repentant sinner under conviction of sin prays to be saved, Christ will receive Him and he will be saved--and his life will change, but if an unrepentant, unbelieving person prays, nothing spiritual, nothing eternal whatsoever happens.
Let’s practice biblical evangelism and not be guilty of causing any sinner to think differently.
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Titus 2:11-15).
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Goal:Distributed by Way of Life Literature Inc., the Fundamental Baptist Information Service is an e-mail posting for Bible-believing Christians. Established in 1974, Way of Life Literature is a fundamental Baptist preaching and publishing ministry based in Bethel Baptist Church, London, Ontario, of which Wilbert Unger is the founding Pastor. Brother Cloud lives in South Asia where he has been a church planting missionary since 1979. Our primary goal with the FBIS is to provide material to assist preachers in the edification and protection of the churches.
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