The Common Delusions of John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley

It’s possible that you came to read this out of curiosity about what delusions that I would be writing about here that was common to John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley. It’s not about their faith in Jesus Christ alone as a Savior that they came to in their lives, or their conviction that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, or in the eternal destinies of heaven and hell. Those were all convictions that they came to as a part of their conversions to Christ, and I would not only not consider those delusions but I would concur with these declarations of their faith as I would concur with everything that is a part of our common faith in Christ as based in the Bible.

Rather, the delusions that I speak of are the common delusions that the unconverted John Bunyan, David Brainerd and John Wesley had, and about which they wrote about in their own journals and testimonies. And I think that understanding these delusions that they openly admitted were a part of their lives before they came to Christ will give us a greater insight in how to preach the gospel from the pulpit and how to deal with people when we’re sharing the gospel one on one. The common delusion that they all had was this: that they could do something in their unregenerate state to recommend themselves to God apart from trust in Jesus Christ alone. They became hard religious workers, but had no assurance of salvation in Christ and were not even sure that they had saving faith. In fact, you can find within their testimonies evidence that their hard religious work before their conversion was an attempt to try to find salvation apart from putting their trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation – and that they were deeply convicted by the example of ordinary believers who had the assurance of salvation, knew that they had been born again of the Spirit of God and who were living out their faith in Christ.

All three testify to the following process to their coming to a scriptural faith in Christ, a scriptural conversion and a full assurance of regeneration and salvation:

  • Insensitivity to their true state of being unregenerate (see Isaiah 6:10 and Romans 3:10-18).
  • Awakening to the reality of Christ (John 15:26-27, Acts 1:8, 5:32).
  • Conviction of sin and of their utter inadequacy of earning salvation (John 16:8-11).
  • Full trust in Christ alone for salvation (Acts 16:31).

I think that our current lack of understanding of these stages may mean that we are persuading people that they are saved before they have really been awakened to Christ and convicted of sin. None of these stages have to happen over a protracted period of time – a person can pass from death to life through faith in Christ in a very short time from a state of insensitivity, such as Lydia through the personal evangelism of Paul and Silas (Acts 16:13-5) or the 300o who were converted on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:36-41). But I do think that this helps to explain why people may pray a prayer with perfectly orthodox words about repentance and faith and remain substantially unchanged afterwards. They never came to a full sense of their need for Christ alone because we never explained the gospel clearly and fully and we never realized the need for so many to go through these stages to receive salvation through faith in Christ alone. We rushed them to pray a prayer instead of explaining their full need for Christ and how in the gospel Christ satisfies their need fully and eternally.

Advertisements

The Reception of Salvation: Repentance

What does this mean?

Repentance is part of the expected response to the scriptural gospel!

  • Jesus: “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).

  • Peter: “Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins . . . Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord . . . “ (Acts 2:38, 3:19).

  • Paul: “I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus . . . first to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” (Acts 20:21, 26:20).

True repentance involves:

  1. Humbling oneself before God and turning from sin: ” . . . if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).

  2. Confession and renunciation of sin: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 29:13). This means rejecting any excuses for sin or shifting the blame for one’s sins on anyone or anything else before God and man. It means the full acknowledgment of personal responsibility for one’s own sins.

  3. Renunciation of the thoughts, desires, and intentions of sin, as well as the outward actions and habits of sin: “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon” (Isaiah 55:6-7).

  4. Agreement with God about the reality and offenses of sin, and desires to be rid of them entirely: “Against you, you only have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:4).

  5. Godly sorrow that leaves no longing for the former way of life: ” . . . yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended, and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (II Corinthians 7:9-13).

    Thus false repentance involves worldly sorrow, wounded pride, and shame at the exposure of sin. It means no change of actions or direction. It leads to hardness of heart, demonstrates resistance to the Holy Spirit, and contempt for the grace of God, and continues in sinful ways with stubbornness. It comes from spurious decisions, where repentance is not presented as part of the expected response to the gospel. It comes from dishonest decisions, where a person goes through the outward appearance of faith in Christ, but has not decided to be done with sin. These spurious and dishonest decisions not only come from an incomplete presentation of the gospel, but many times where a person is seeking something else — church membership, the approval of family or friends — instead of salvation by Christ from sin. In these cases a person is really coming to God with his or her own agenda instead of paying attention the extremely serious promises, commands and warnings of the gospel.

  6. The realization of the truth: “Those who oppose (the man of God) he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance, leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape fro the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (II Timothy 2:25-26).

  7. The working of God’s prevenient grace: “So, then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18; see also Acts 5:31).

    Prevenient grace is the theological term for the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who hear the gospel to enable them to repent and believe. True repentance and saving faith are thus the work of the grace of God through the Holy Spirit, and not “works salvation” by any means. This is an enabling which does not reduce or eliminate any human responsibility to repent and believe when the gospel is heard, since the preaching of the gospel in the power of the Spirit brings with it the ability to respond. It is not natural to the pride and stubbornness of sinful people, though, to repent when the gospel is preached.


What does this mean to me?

  • Let us make a call for repentance a definite part of the presentation of the gospel.

  • Let us each consider the matter of our own conversion, and be sure that our own repentance has been deep and thorough!

  • Let us pray for others who need to know the salvation of Christ to receive God’s grace for repentance, and for him to incline their hearts to repent.


All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

A Brief Introduction to Justification by Faith

What does this mean?

Justification is primarily judicial, but it bears on our relationship with God.

  1. Justification comes by faith for the forgiveness of our sins

    “All the prophets testify about him (Christ) that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:42).

    “Therefore, brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything which you could not be justified through the law of Moses” (Acts 13:38-39).

    Therefore justification is the result of saving faith, which is trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and eternal life. It means that God forgives our sins, in the sense of discharging us from their penalty. It means that God refuses to exact any punishment for them in the final judgment, just as if he had forgotten them entirely.

  2. Justification is the gift of the standing of righteousness before God. This means that God treats us as if we were perfectly innocent of sin and entirely holy before him.

    “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness comes through faith to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:21-26).

  3. Justification comes by the grace of God.

    ” . . . having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).

  4. The basis of justification is the death of Christ.

    “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Corinthians 5:21).


What does this mean to me?

In our relationship with God, justification means:

  1. Peace with God, in the standing of grace! The access to all the blessings of salvation which come by grace!

    “Therefore,since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1-2).

  2. We come to God in his grace and not in his judgment. This means that our relational forgiveness comes, based upon our judicial forgiveness. This means that we have access to God in prayer!

    “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).


All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Church Detox Installment 8: Clarify the ‘Altar Call’

Many times, at the conclusion of a sermon, a pastor will offer the invitation to those who are seeking spiritual help for a problem to come forward and pray in the front of the church. Many times people do sincerely come forward to repent of their sins and to put their faith in Christ. Many times also someone else who has been a believer comes forward to make a more thorough commitment of his or her life to Christ, or to seek God’s forgiveness and overcoming power for a sin which weighs greatly on his or her conscience.

Sometimes, though, there are those who come forward, with often with a very emotionally demonstrative show of tears, who do not seem to show any changes in their lives. I have talked with those in my ministry who seemed to show little evidence of conversion, who were living lives in direct contradiction to the commands of Christ, and who had a very unBiblical understanding of the gospel, who nevertheless believed that they were going to heaven because they had gone forward and repeated a prayer. I have also seen those throughout my Christian experience who seem to go forward often enough, and do not show that they have changed their ways afterward.

After long thought and prayer, I came to the conclusion that, for some, the act of going forward is itself treated as the way of conversion or the answer in itself to a spiritual problem. Even more, I saw that there were times that it could be abused by some people as a way to take the heat off themselves as a show of remorse before someone whose disapproval they were seeking to escape. The result is that many people are living in a false assurance of salvation or that others are failing to find true relief in Christ for their sins and weaknesses.

The answer to this comes back the pastors who offer the invitation to people to come forward. Do you make it clear what the Bible really calls for?

Suggestions to Improve the Situation

  • Avoid calling anyone forward without a clear and scriptural explanation of repentance and faith in Christ, how to receive his forgiveness and overcoming power and the cost of discipleship. These are all the scriptural responses, and the altar call means anything only when it means genuine repentance and faith in Christ and commitment to him as Lord.

  • Regularly remind everyone that the act of coming forward itself is not the basis of assurance of salvation. The key question for anyone is not whether he or she has gone forward in a church service and repeated a prayer but whether he or she has repented of his or her sins and put his or her faith in Christ.

  • Regularly remind everyone that the front of the church is not a special place in itself in the eyes of God. A person can come to Christ or find his forgiveness and overcoming power sitting in a pew in back of the church, or anywhere else in the world, just as well as at the front of the church.

  • Remind everyone regularly that the act of coming forward itself should never be done for a show of remorse or change before anyone, and that these acts of show before man are in fact offensive before God. Anyone who comes forward who does not intend to end any thoughts, acts, intentions or habits of sin is acting the part of the hypocrite.

  • Regularly remind everyone that the reality of receiving from Christ comes from the reality of the grace of God and the reality of one’s faith in Christ, not how emotionally demonstrative a person is. Some of the most genuine conversions I know of came through calm and unemotional but deep and serious expressions of faith in Christ.

  • Have some sort of more thorough followup for people who are coming forward to seek overcoming of a sinful habit. An invitation to a session where they could go through Neil Anderson’s Steps to Freedom in Christ is a good possibility. Another possibility is to emphasize that the proper followup to this step would be Christian counseling, a Christian Twelve Steps group, or some other discipleship or accountability group or partner.