|Parmigianino:The Conversion of Paul|
There are several causes of our predicament. First of all we have a professional clergy that tends to look at ministry as a career. Pastors tend to measure their success in terms of attendance and budgets. Their aim tends to be making the organization as a whole appear successful, and they focus on numerical growth instead of spiritual growth.
Compounding the problem is the fact that many churches are working with a type of theology (certain forms of Dispensationalism) that downplays the moral law and holds that it is possible to accept Jesus as Savior and not as Lord. This, coupled with the natural reluctance of most pastors to cause offence, means that we rarely hear sermons about the law of God, about sin and repentance, or about heaven and hell.
What typically passes for "evangelism," then, is this: the evangelist is anxious to press people to make "decisions" on the spot. Seekers are asked to repeat a "sinner's prayer," and then they are declared to be "saved." Theoretically, if the prayer is said sincerely the person really would be saved. But what happens all too often in this scenario is that there is very little real conviction of sin. The person merely gives mental assent to the idea that "I am a sinner," but often there is a kind of mental reservation. In reality the person being "saved" is comparing himself to everyone else he knows, and really does not think that he is such a bad person. Thus when he says "I acknowledge that I am a sinner" what he is acknowledging is that as a human being he has his share of faults, but to his way of thinking this is more or less normal, and the offenses are fairly trivial. He really does not see himself as a guilty sinner under the wrath of God. He says the prayer, then, as a kind of ritualistic formula to take care of a technical difficulty. There is no real conviction of sin and hence little real repentance.
Our new "convert" is then baptized and joins the church. But he tends to think of the church primarily as a social organization with its own standards and entrance requirements. The chief function of the church is to put on a program on Sunday morning. The pastor carefully organizes the whole thing; the members contribute financially, and hopefully everything is pulled off without a hitch. The members sits quietly in the pews, listening passively to the "special music" and the "message," which is usually a comforting homily that is neither especially profound nor inspiring. At the end of the "service" the congregation leaves the building self-satisfied. They return to their houses and live out their lives during the rest of the week engaged in a variety secular pursuits. They go through life making pragmatic decisions based on their own sense of self-interest.
What is missing in this whole exercise is any real sense of the divine or eternal. The whole thing consists in externals. During the week the "Christian" is likely to give scarcely any thought at all to God, to prayer, or to holiness.
If the church is fairly conservative and tries to maintain some standards of conduct, the "Christian" will likely begin to chafe under the restrictions. Deep inside he wants to be free to just be himself; he wants to be free from external constraint. He begins to resent the idea of having to meet someone else's expectations. He begins complaining about "legalism" and "judgmental church members" – "Fundies" who take the Bible literally. He may eventually become weary of the whole thing and just walk away, never to return.
In most cases the underlying cause of all of this is that the person was never really converted in the first place. If we may use a paradoxical form of expression, he is an "unsaved Christian," which is to say that he is not a real Christian at all. He never really repented, and he was never really born again. Inwardly he is still very much the same as people outside of the church, and he has the psychology of an unconverted person. His affections are on the things of this world. He mostly pursues his own self-interest. There is no interest in spiritual matters, no real desire to please God. If he has any inkling of what the Bible actually says he will try to find a way either to discredit it or at least a reason not to take it seriously. Church, to him, was never anything more than a sociological phenomenon, but it is a phenomenon that is increasingly making him feel uncomfortable.
What is easy for us to forget in our spiritual stupor is what is at stake in all of this, viz., eternity itself. We were created by God – we would not even exist at all if it were not for Him. Thus every day we refuse to acknowledge Him and refuse to submit to His will is a day lived in open defiance of His authority. Someday we will have to stand before Him and receive His just sentence on our lives. Our church membership will do us no good if in fact we are not really saved. God looks at our hearts, not the church membership rolls.
It is incumbent upon each and every one of us to examine himself. "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified" (II Cor. 13:5; NKJV). We cannot afford to deceive ourselves on this point. God will be the final Judge. Be sure that you are right with Him!
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Misunderstanding the New Birth
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