Monthly Archives: January 2013

 

Jan

31

2013

Trevin Wax|3:15 am CT

Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart? A Conversation with J. D. Greear

Should we stop asking Jesus into our hearts?

J. D. Greear says “yes,” if we think that continually asking Jesus into our hearts is the way we make sure we’re saved. He has written a short and accessible book called Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved. If you’ve ever counseled people who are constantly questioning the sincerity of their faith or the legitimacy of their salvation, you’ll want to read and recommend this book. It’s one of the best books on assurance I’ve come across.

J.D. is pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh, NC and the author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary. He joins me today for a discussion about the central thesis of his book.

Trevin Wax: There’s been a lot of conversation about the legitimacy of the sinner’s prayer in how we lead people to put their faith in Christ. What concerns do you have about this conversation and its implications in evangelism and outreach?

J. D. Greear: A lot of the controversy concerning the sinner’s prayer began following some comments by David Platt, who was reported to say the sinner’s prayer was superstitious and unbiblical. I would not agree with that statement on the surface of it, as a sinner’s prayer is very biblical. But what David meant, I believe, was that for many evangelicals, securing salvation has become something like a Protestant ritual or sacrament, which if you do correctly punches your ticket for heaven. It functions something like a “Southern Baptist Confirmation.” I agree that this is not a biblical view of true conversion.

God never promises to give salvation to someone because they pray some magical words or because they went through a ceremony at the altar of their church. God gives salvation to those who repent and believe the gospel. It is natural to express repentance and faith in a prayer, but you can repent and believe without “praying the prayer,” per se, and you can pray the prayer without repenting and believing.

It’s not the prayer that saves; it’s the repentance and faith behind the prayer that lays hold of salvation. My concern is that over-emphasizing the prayer has often (though unintentionally) obscured the primary instruments for laying hold of salvation: repentance and faith.

I did not write this book to engage in that controversy, however – the subject and title were chosen long before the controversy sprang up. I wrote this book to help people find assurance – to tell people like me who ask Jesus into their hearts over and over they can stop doing that and start resting in the promises of the gospel. I wrote this book because there are a lot of people who can’t seem to find assurance no matter how many times they pray the prayer, and others who have a false assurance based on the fact that they went through a ritual with their pastor. I wrote the book to bring comfort to the unnecessarily troubled, and to trouble the unjustifiably comforted.

Trevin Wax: You tell people to “stop asking Jesus into their hearts” and yet almost weekly you lead people in a sinner’s prayer. How do you reconcile this? Are you referring to the moment of salvation or to life after conversion?

J. D. Greear: I certainly do not want to discourage people from pressing for a decision when the gospel is preached. Each time the gospel is preached, that invitation ought to be extended and a decision should be called for (John 1:12; Matthew 11:28; Revelation 22:17). In fact, if we do not urge the hearer to respond personally to God’s offer in Christ, we have not fully preached the gospel.

It makes sense to express these things in a prayer, as repentance and faith in Christ are in themselves a cry to God for salvation. I am not trying to say that the sinner’s prayer is wrong in itself. After all, salvation is essentially a cry for mercy to God: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Paul says that those who call on God’s name will be saved.

I’m not even against the language of asking Jesus into your heart, because – if understood correctly – this is a biblical concept (cf. Rom 8:9-11; Gal 2:20; Eph 3:17).

The point is that these prayers merely verbalize the posture of repentance and faith. That is what must be clear.

Trevin Wax: Why is it that we seem to have “assurance issues” in evangelical churches? On the one hand, there are lots of people who never wonder about their salvation, although they probably should. On the other hand, there are lots of people who wonder about their salvation, although they probably shouldn’t. Why is this? 

J. D. Greear: Yes, that’s a perfect summation of the problem. I think it’s exacerbated by the clichéd, truncated, and often sloppy ways we present the gospel. On this issue, the most important issue on earth, we have to be absolutely clear.

Shorthand phrases for the gospel can serve a good purpose, as long as everyone knows what the shorthand means. It is obvious, however, that in the case of the sinner’s prayer, most people don’t anymore. Surveys show that more than 50% of people in the U.S. have prayed a sinner’s prayer and think they’re going to heaven because of it, even though there is no detectable difference in their lifestyles from those outside of the church.

Thus, since so many people are assured of a salvation they give no evidence of possessing on the basis of a prayer ritual they didn’t understand, I believe it is time to put the shorthand aside, or at least make sure we go to great pains to clarify what we mean by the shorthand. We need to preach salvation by repentance before God and faith in the finished work of Christ. At the very least, when inviting people to pray the prayer, as I often do, we need to be careful to explain exactly what we mean.

Trevin Wax: You claim that evangelicals have sometimes been so focused on the moment of salvation that we downplay the posture of repentance and faith that should be always characteristic of a Christian’s life. Do you think there’s the possibility we will swing the pendulum to the other side, downplaying the moment of salvation and dampening our evangelistic fervor?

J. D. Greear: Certainly, and you can see it happen in many circles which are otherwise scrupulous about doctrinal correctness.

Again, I’ll say that if you do not make the gospel’s invitation clear when you preach the gospel, you haven’t really preached the gospel. The gospel in its very essence demands a response. And if you don’t press for a decision when you preach the gospel, you have violated the spirit of the gospel, I believe. The gospel is an invitation. How can you preach it without urging your hearer’s to accept the invitation?

Thus, as I noted above, I try to press for a decision every time I preach the gospel. The greatest evangelists in history (even the Reformed ones, like Whitefield, Spurgeon and Bunyan) pressed urgently for immediate decisions and even urged hearers to pray a prayer along with them.

In the book I compare the moment of conversion to sitting down in a chair. If you are seated right now, there was a point in time in which you transferred the weight of your body from your legs to the chair. You may not even remember making that decision, but the fact you are seated now proves that you did. That should not diminish the fact that people who are standing should be pressed to decide to sit down (if the situation demanded it). The point is that the resulting posture matters, not the moment of decision.

The world is divided into two categories: some are “standing” in rebellion against the lordship of Jesus, standing in hopes of their own righteousness to merit favor with God; others are “seated” in submission, resting on his finished work. How does pointing that out diminish the call for those standing to be seated? It certainly shouldn’t.

In fact, if we stop stressing about getting the initial moment absolutely perfect, we can be freed up to evangelize without the fear of messing up the “magic moment.” Don’t get me wrong: there is a moment when a person goes from not believing to believing, and this is a crucial moment. But by placing so much weight on the experience of that moment, we can be tempted to manipulate people into having emotional responses that are insincere.

You see, when we see faith as only a prayer, we don’t take the need for discipleship seriously. In our haste to boast about the numbers of people who prayed the prayer and got baptized, we fail to consider the number that really matters – the number of disciples we create. Disciples of Jesus are the ones who are saved; not those who go through a ritual. I’m not against reporting numbers, but we should make sure we are celebrating the right ones!

Trevin Wax: What circumstances brought about the writing of this book? What do you hope it will accomplish?

J. D. Greear: A large motivation behind this book was the need I felt from many in my church who consistently ask questions about being certain of their salvation. And this is not some foreign concept to me personally: I was once one of those people constantly unsure of my own salvation. I prayed the sinner’s prayer hundreds of times. Every time there was an altar call, I was down front. I even got baptized on four separate occasions. Honestly, it got more than a little embarrassing for everyone involved. (“Does anyone besides J.D. want to get saved today?”)

Because we have reduced conversion to a ceremonial prayer, many Christians are obsessed over whether they did it right:

  • “Was I really sorry enough?”
  • “Was that prayer a moment of total surrender?”
  • “Did I understand enough about grace?”

Like I did, many of those people secretly pray the prayer again and again. They feel better for a little while, but then the questions come back. Rinse and repeat.

The good news is that God wants us to know. Many people think that God does not want us to have assurance of salvation, as if uncertainty is a kind of carrot that he holds out in front of us to keep us acting right. Desire for heaven or fear of hell may compel some kinds of obedience, but not the kind of obedience God wants. God wants obedience that grows from love, and love can only grow in security (1 John 4:19; 5:13).

That assurance we long for comes from properly understanding the gospel. When we get that right, assurance will soon follow.

 
 

Jan

30

2013

Trevin Wax|3:27 am CT

Traveling to Romania

Today, I am traveling to Romania to be with my father-in-law who is in his final hours after battling cancer for the past three years. He is 63.

Corina left on Friday, and I left yesterday to be with her and her family during this difficult time. (Our kids are staying with their grandparents back home in the U.S.) I don’t know what my schedule will be like in the next few days, so posting will be sporadic.

Until his health declined to the point he could no longer serve, my father-in-law was the pastor of two village churches. In Holy SubversionI briefly recount his conversion story. Bro. Trifan was a Communist party member in Ceausescu’s Romania back in the 1970-s. Sent to spy on a Baptist revival meeting, he heard the gospel and trusted Christ. He then abandoned Communist ideology and eventually became a pastor.

In 2007 and 2008, we were fortunate to have Corina’s parents visit us here in the U.S. The videos below (part 1 & part 2) are of Bro. Trifan giving his testimony (I’m the translator). The last video is from one of his last sermons.

Thank you for praying for us as we part ways (for a time) with a great man.

 
 

Jan

29

2013

Trevin Wax|3:29 am CT

New and Notable Musical Offerings

After blogging a few times about the need for conservative Christians to create (and not merely critique), I started receiving emails from blog readers doing just that.

I’ve heard from writers excited about the novel they’ve just finished, poets who make videos for YouTube, rappers infusing their songs with deep theology, songwriters who hope to record an album one day, and musicians who sing and play for the sheer pleasure they get in exercising their God-given talents.

I wish I could review and pass along all the neat things that flow into my inbox. It’s exciting to see the blossoming of art and music from people who love Jesus and want to reflect His glory through their work. It’s one of the reasons I decided to tackle fiction for my next writing project.

Here’s a sampling of some musical contributions that have come to my attention in recent months.

THE GRAY HAVENS

Husband-wife team, David and Licia Radford, have recently released their first EP - Where Eyes Don’t Go, a collection of six songs that borrow allusions from the imaginations of Tolkien and Lewis.

Musically, the style is folk-pop that provides the perfect backdrop to David’s vocal abilities. This album has grown on me the more I’ve listened to it. My favorites  are “Gray Flowers” and “Train Station.”

Click here to purchase Where Eyes Don’t Go.

~~~~~

SONGS OF THE REDEEMED

Grace Community Church in Nashville recently celebrated their 20th anniversary. As part of their celebration, the worship team recorded a new album filled with ancient and contemporary hymns.

The truths in these songs are rich, and the worship team’s treatment enhances the melodies so that the worshipful lyrics lead the listener into thoughtful reflection on the good news of what Christ has done.

~~~~~

THE NARROW PLACE

It’s exciting to watch Lauren Chandler fulfill her passion to make much of Christ through writing and singing music. Her most recent project is The Narrow Place, a collection of songs birthed from and reflecting upon a season of trial in her family’s life and the sustaining faithfulness of God.

Here’s an interview with Lauren about the album.

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THE GORILLA POETS

I like when talented writers and musicians diversify and try their hand at new things.

N. D. Wilson is one of my favorite writers (see our conversation on truth and beauty, or his controversial take on The Hunger Games). He and Aaron Rench have collaborated on an album that will tie in with Wilson’s next book – a follow-up to Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl.

~~~~~

HYMNS – Stephen Miller

The rediscovery and repackaging of ancient hymns continues unabated, especially in the gospel-centered movement. While people like Keith and Kristyn Getty, Matt Boswell, and Matt Papa compose new hymns, others are reworking old hymns for a new day. I’ve enjoyed the music of Red Mountain Church for their rescue of old, primarily unknown hymns from total obscurity.

Stephen Miller, one of the worship leaders at The Journey in St. Louis, has released an album of more-familiar hymns. The arrangements are good, and the instrumentation demonstrates that a church can be decidedly contemporary and yet fond of singing old hymns.

 
 

Jan

29

2013

Trevin Wax|2:10 am CT

Worth a Look 1.29.13

Kindle Deal of the Day: Radical Integrity: The Story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Michael Van Dyke. $2.99.

Find out what made Dietrich Bonhoeffer the man he was—compassionate minister, brilliant thinker, opponent of the heresies of Nazism and Aryan superiority. This easy-to-read biography details both Bonhoeffer’s life and his powerful theology—of “cheap” versus “costly” grace.

Mike Leake – 7 Steps to Becoming a Heretic:

Heretics usually fall into the role. Seldom does a man wake up in the morning, grab a cup of coffee, read the morning newspaper, put on his clothes, and then stare himself in the mirror and say “Today, thou shall become a heretic.” Heretics usually start by staring in the mirror and saying, “Today, thou shall be a difference maker.”

The Role of Greeters in Making Visitors Feel Welcome:

I often wonder why we aren’t more intentional, or why we spend so little time training volunteer greeters. The art of making others feel welcomed is about more than getting a few people to volunteer to hand out bulletins each Sunday.

Michael Kelley – Everything is Moving Toward One Thing:

I think the same statistical principle applies in other areas of life that applies in the stock market. The question, then, isn’t so much about the individual data point. It’s more about the trend line. And the Bible has something to say about that.

Michael Patton – 4 Types of Faith:

There are four different ways to define faith.

 
 

Jan

28

2013

Trevin Wax|3:19 am CT

Why Did Jesus Say He Came Only for Israel?

Ever notice the dissonance?

The early Christians saw their mission as global in scope, but during his earthly ministry, Jesus explicitly declared his mission to be focused only on Israel (Matt 15:24).

When traced backwards, the flow of universal mission of the early church runs into the rocks of Jesus’ striking particularity. What gives?

Here’s my brief attempt at giving an answer.

Jesus the Nationalist

The Gospels reveal a Jesus focused on Israel. In fact, his ministry appears to be focused so relentlessly on the Jewish people that many scholars have debated whether Jesus was concerned with outsiders at all. When taking into consideration the nations-focused mission of the early church as directed by the risen Jesus that was so prominent in Christian thinking, it is striking to discover that this global impulse appears to be absent from Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Furthermore, the Gospels record Jesus as being up front about his nationalistic intentions. He claimed that his mission was only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 15:24), a statement made upon his initial refusal of a Gentile woman who asked for healing for her daughter.

It is interesting to note the parallel between the global vision of the risen Jesus as manifested in the actions of the early church and the nationalistic vision of Jesus’ earthly ministry as manifested in the disciples’ avoidance of Gentile towns in favor of “the lost sheep of Israel” (Matt 10:5-6, 23).

Other statements reinforce Jewish priority during the ministry of Jesus, including his decision to choose twelve disciples (corresponding, most likely, to the twelve tribes of Israel) and the fact that the “God of Israel” received the glory when Jesus did engage in brief ministry in Gentile territory (Matt 15:31).

The Wrong Answer

Because of the apparent discrepancy between Jesus’ ministry focus and that of the early church, some scholars assume the evangelists had ulterior motives in the way they portrayed Jesus’ interactions with others.

For example, the Jesus Seminar chooses to pit Mark’s intentions against those of Matthew, postulating that Mark’s account of Jesus’ healing of a Gentile woman’s daughter is meant to justify the church’s Gentile mission, whereas Matthew’s account is “an effort to reinstate a narrower scope for Jesus’ activity.” While it is undeniable that each evangelist chose particular emphases in shaping the Jesus stories, this kind of speculation is wrongheaded. After all, both accounts show Jesus answering the request, and both Gospels also include an emphasis on global mission. (We could make the case that Matthew envisions the Gentile mission even more clearly than Mark does.)

Regardless of how one interprets the evangelists’ different accounts of the same event, it is clear that Jesus’ focus was on reforming Israel, not bringing his kingdom message to the rest of the world. His focus on Israel can be seen in his prophecies and pronouncements of judgment on the nation. Through symbolic, prophetic actions like cursing the fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-25; Matt 21:18-22) and cleansing the temple (Mark 11:15-19; Matt 21:12-17; Luke 19:45-48, John 2:13-16), as well as strong prophetic denunciations (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21, 13:6-9), Jesus made his particular focus on Israel clear.

Christ’s Mission to Israel for the World

The messianic identity of Jesus, formed and shaped by the Old Testament promises and the Jewish prophets, leads in a direction that simultaneously complicates and resolves the issue. Instead of seeing Jesus’ messianic mindset in terms of either or, one ought to see his mission as to Israel on behalf of the nations. In other words, in narrowing his focus to Israel, Jesus does the work necessary for the entire world to be blessed.

If Jesus saw himself as Israel’s Messiah, the one who will constitute a new Israel, and if he purposefully acted in ways that fulfill the role of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah and the vocation of Israel as the light of the world, then it is no surprise that he would focus his ministry squarely on his Jewish contemporaries.

Jesus’ ministry was to the lost sheep of the house of Israel precisely, because he is the good shepherd come to gather the renewed Israel around himself and to launch their trajectory into the world with the healing grace God always intended to flow through his chosen people. Jesus ministered to the Jews for the Gentiles.

Therefore, we should say the mission of Jesus is first to Israel (through his own ministry) and then to the Gentiles (through the actions of his apostles), but this trajectory should not be reduced merely to salvation-historical terms. Instead, the mission of Jesus to the Gentiles (through his apostles) should be seen as contingent upon the success of his mission to the Jews.

Mission to the nations depends upon Jesus’ accomplishment of his mission to Israel. The particularity of Jesus’ earthly ministry serves the universality of God’s ultimate vision for the world.

Conclusion

Creating too strong a dichotomy between Jesus’ mission to the Jews and the church’s mission to the Gentiles is unhelpful. As the long-awaited Messiah who fulfills Israel’s vocation, Jesus accomplishes the mission of Israel through his own life and work, thereby bringing the blessing of Abraham to the nations, as was promised in the Old Testament.

The mission to the Gentiles was not at the expense of mission to Israel, nor was it merely an extension. Instead, Israel was to be the catalyst through which God would accomplish his promises to the world.

Jesus was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel in order that through his regathering and reconstituting the true Israel, the blessing of salvation would be released to flow from Israel and into all the world, just as God promised in the Old Testament.

 
 

Jan

28

2013

Trevin Wax|2:03 am CT

Worth a Look 1.28.13

Kindle Deal of the Day: Love the Least (A Lot): Extending the Love of Christ to Abortion-Vulnerable Women and Children. $0.99.

Abort73.com founder and director, Michael Spielman, explains why abortion-vulnerable children are as qualified to wear the “least of these” label as any victim class in the world. Whatever we fail to do in their defense, we fail to do for Christ.

Why Pastors and Elders Need Your Prayers:

Your pastors and elders need your help to live out the calling of Acts 6:4: “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Ross Douthat – The Bristol Palin Effect vs. the Roe Effect:

There’s good reason to think Roe itself was instrumental in creating the kind of sexual culture that makes the Bristol Palin dilemma as commonplace as it’s become. While the frequent use of abortion can limit out-of-wedlock births, that is, the sudden mass availability of abortion almost certainly had the opposite effect — mostly by changing the obligations associated with pregnancy, and by legitimating male irresponsibility where sex and its consequences are concerned.

Sam Luce – 3 Things Ever Kids Pastor Wants Their Youth Pastor to Know:

One of the things I have always been blessed is youth pastors who really get the value of kids ministry. The more I talk with kids pastors from around the country I have come to find out that is far from the norm. I have heard stories that would make you laugh to storys that would make you cry and everything in between.

Why Everyone Needs Theology:

Theology is not reserved for those in the academy; it is an aspect of thought and conversation for all who live and breathe, who wrestle and fear, who hope and pray.

 
 

Jan

27

2013

Trevin Wax|3:22 am CT

Give Me a Life to Proclaim You

Gracious and holy Father,
give me wisdom to perceive you,
intelligence to fathom you,
patience to wait for you,
eyes to behold you,
a heart to meditate upon you,
and a life to proclaim you,
through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Benedict

 
 

Jan

26

2013

Trevin Wax|3:13 am CT

Is Your Church Emerging? No, My Church Was Founded

Calvin Miller on the church’s tendency to reduce beliefs to “conversations” and “dialogue”:

The world is looking for answers. If you have some of them, for goodness’ sake spit ‘em out.

The world is looking for servants of God whose yes is yes. How elementary, how refreshing.

Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God? Yes.

Today? Yes.

Tomorrow? Yes.

Do you believe in the Holy Trinity? Yes.

Do you believe in the resurrection of the dead? Yes.

To answer the questions of faith with a sure answer leaves you better able to locate your flock, and it leaves your flock able to locate their shepherd. You can each find the other in the darkness. You go to bed knowing there is something firm in the feathers.

Have you been born again? Yes.

Is Jesus coming again? Yes.

Do you believe that Jesus is the only way to God? Yes.

Do you believe in miracles, angels, demons, and creation? Yes, yes, yes, and yes!

Is your church emerging? No, my church was founded.

On the rock, I suppose? No need to suppose. Yes. On the rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Your faith is wonderful! Would you like to come to our discussion club and talk about it? Better that you come with me to the rock that rises from the clarity of our confession.

See it there, rising off the iron substance of Matthew 16:16? Thou art the Christ the Son of the Living God.

Apart from this great surety, nothing is important and nothing is enduring. Nothing is redemptive. So what is there to talk about?

- from Letters to a Young Pastor

 
 

Jan

25

2013

 
 

Jan

25

2013

Trevin Wax|3:37 am CT

Mission of God Webcast

Last year, I was honored to contribute an essay to The Mission of God Study Bible - a resource developed by Ed Stetzer and Philip Nation that traces the great themes of redemption through the Scripture, showing us God’s sending nature and our identity as His “sent” people.

On Monday (Jan. 13) at 3:00 p.m. EST, Ed Stetzer will be hosting the Mission of God Study Bible webcast with a number of guests. The mission of God is of great importance for the church today. I love this quote from Calvin Miller (from the Study Bible):

No matter your credentials. All who name the name of Christ have been ordained by the urgency of God’s agenda in a fallen world. Missionaries are not just those special few who have accepted some certificate of some profession. They are not servants of a special calling. Missionaries are all those who have said “yes, Lord!” To say “I believe” is to understand that you have accepted the commission to go into all the world, starting right inside your home, your village, your nation, your world. You have been empowered. Christ has breathed upon you (Jn 20:22). When Christ moves in, you move out. Out where? Out there! Outside your narrow life. Anywhere is the place to start. So start. Seek! Knock! Any door will do (Mt 7:7). You need no grand beginning point.

The webcast can be viewed at lifeway.com/theexchange on Monday at 3:00 EST.