Are Our Churches Reaching Out to Working Class Men?

A few years ago I asked the question on my personal blog on, with all the complaints about the secular universities, what the white evangelical churches have done to evangelize and disciple on major university campuses over the past generation. But now let’s consider something else:  have evangelical churches sought to evangelize and disciple blue collar, working class men over the past generation? Consider the spiritual darkness and despair that you’ll see in the following article:

The Privileged vs. the White Working Class

For the past generation we’ve been accustomed to look for answers in politics and government, and I don’t think that the answers here are primarily political or have much to do with government. And I don’t think that things are any easier for a black, Hispanic or Asian working class man. So, again, have evangelical churches sought to evangelize and disciple blue collar, working class class men over the past generation?

Do working class men see us as trying to do something besides trying to pull the beer and cigarettes out of their hands, to stop swearing and watching porn, and to act like good little Christian boys? Or are we rather to introduce them to the Jesus who said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly”? Weren’t Peter, John, James and Andrew all working class men? And didn’t John and Charles Wesley, for example, reach out explicitly to working class men? This is just as convicting to me as to anyone else as I write it.

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Don’t Ask Them to Take Time to Think and Pray About It; Invite Them Immediately to Saving Faith in Christ

“You say . . . ‘Yes, but I should like to get home and pray.’ My text does not say it will be the accepted time when you get home and pray; it says, ‘Now,’ and as I find you are ‘now’ in this pew, ‘now is the accepted time.’ If you trust Christ now, you will be accepted: if now you are enabled to throw yourself into the hands of Christ, now is the accepted time between God and you.” – Charles H. Spurgeon

Fool Proofing Our Churches

A few weeks ago, I read through Jan Silvious’s book Foolproofing Your Life: How to Deal Effectively with the Impossible People in Your Life. It is a wonderful book, based in the scriptures, and it does have a lot to say about dealing with a person, even a Christian or a Christian leader, who fits the Biblical definition of a fool in some way.

The question that I came away with was: Why are there so many in our churches who live like the Biblical definition of a fool? Why do they find it easy to live like fools in the middle of a church which ostensibly believes the Bible and follows the Bible? Is there some sense in which our churches function as fool factories?

I confess that I do not have much of an answer at this point to that question, but there is a situation from my pastoral experience which comes to mind. Some years ago, a young husband attended my church who was experiencing deep problems in his life and marriage. It came out over the course of time that he had had at one time a connection with a fellowship of believers and had even been on at least one overseas mission trip with that fellowship, though he had left any kind of regular church attendance and involvement before he was married. His profession of being a Christian was quite over-the-top, we may say; it was beyond assertive to be quite defiant, oppositional and antagonistic to be a kind of personal power trip, that when he went into a kind of short term self immersion in what he thought was Christian behavior that he felt strong and powerful and superior. Naturally, this kind of behavior was a tremendous provocation to his wife, since it was almost as if he was trying to be a Christian version of the cartoon character He-Man and his Christianity was a kind of strutting, crowing and and immersing himself in an in-your-face psycho-drama that ‘I have the power!’

It came out that when I shared the two diagnostic questions from Evangelism Explosion that he had never really come to a Biblically based saving faith. His outward profession of faith was all about him living up to what he thought was a manly, powerful Christian, but no trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins and for eternal life. This was no conclusion that I had to force upon him at all, but when I gently and caringly shared the questions and then led him to such passages as Ephesians 2:8-9 he came to that conclusion himself. He was visibly shocked and astonished when he himself realized that he had never really even understood the gospel in the first place and what it meant to be saved by the grace of God through Jesus Christ. There were some hopeful signs at first, since he did pray with me to express repentance for his sins and trust in Christ as his Savior, and there was enough of a change at first for his wife to show up at church wondering what had happened and wanting to know for herself. Unfortunately, someone who attended my church with ambitions to be a pastor and an elder (but who would not submit to any educational course of pastoral preparation nor to any evaluation by any established denominational licensing and ordaining council but who would simply try to copy little things he saw pastors doing) showed up at his door, and we never saw him again at church, and my efforts to visit him again were unavailing.

I’m not losing any sleep over my church losing the attendance of a grown man who had all the resources of any number of easily understandable Bibles and the gospel preaching churches of North America to get the gospel straight and follow Jesus. I have prayed for him and his wife and I would rejoice in the news that he and his wife found a stable, Bible believing church and have been growing in Christ. Rather, I think that there are several things right here which indicate why our churches may seem to be fool factories.

First, we often seem to accept people who show up and say some of the correct things to have been truly saved. It is neither intrusive nor rude to ask someone gently and lovingly  who attends our church and seeks to be a part of the fellowship about the nature and history of his or her profession of faith in Jesus Christ. For what it’s worth, I’ve found that our body language can be of great help to draw people out to disclose what is really in their hearts; if we don’t stand in front of them and stare right into their eyes with an expectant, pressurizing smile that seems to be demanding an immediate answer, but sit beside them and let them speak freely, we can often find out their basis of trust for salvation. It’s usually possible to find out fairly easily those who have experienced a change of opinions and association from those who have experienced the saving power of Jesus Christ by faith in him alone for their eternal salvation. Jan Silvious does mention in her Foolproofing book that many fools who profess to be Christians were probably never saved to begin with, and I would definitely agree. I know that there are risks in putting numbers to this, but I would personally estimate that probably about a third, if not more, of the fools who profess to be Christians fall into this category. (And this brings up a problem that I think there has not been sufficient prayer and scriptural discussion: the problem of North American evangelical nominalism. I’ll leave the pastors and other Christian leaders who read this to chew on that for a while.)

Second, in addition, I don’t think that we say it often enough and loudly enough that our reception of the salvation of Jesus Christ does not make us in ourselves better than any other human being. The very heart of true repentance, the abject humility of the broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17), which is part of the Biblical reception of salvation, in itself entails the renunciation of any self pretensions of superiority, since it involves the admission of personal sinfulness, and this cannot include any pretensions to be a better person than any other sinner on this earth. In the classic work The Pilgrim’s Progress, in fact, John Bunyan made this awareness of personal sinfulness as the difference between a Mr. Faithful and a Mr. Talkative, and someone who came into the kingdom of Jesus by the Wicket-Gate of repentance and faith and someone who tried to slip in by some other way.

Even more, we need to say it much more often and much more assertively that  the fruit in our lives which comes after we have received salvation by faith in Christ is not something that we can crow about, but it is for the glory of God, to demonstrate his power and glory and not our own (John 15:6, Ephesians 2:10). Even more, if we find ourselves in a position of leadership in the church, it can never be about ourselves and our personal glory (“looking good” in front of fellow believers). This was something that I tried to make clear in my earlier post Who Is the Greatest?, and I would repeat: In Christ we are blessed with all his spiritual blessings in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), and there is no indication that there’s anything in being a leader that adds anything on to all the spiritual blessings in Christ with which we have already been blessed.

As a final note, I want to go back to a point that I was making in my earlier post, Called to Follow, Not to Be Radical, that we need to back off of the hype and rhetoric about being radical and extreme as Christians. Quite frankly, I think that such hype may very well feed an underlying sense of self superiority and a foolish power and superiority trip such as I described earlier. It may well be a good idea for youth pastors and other leaders in the church now to issue an apology and disclaimer to the previously fashionable rhetoric and hype about being extreme and radical. It’s not about being radical or extreme – and no believer can find anything to crow about in whether he or she thinks that he or she is a radical or extreme Christian, and especially not if this includes any sense of being superior to any other believer or any other human being. Rather, it’s about denying ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following him (Luke 9:23).

The One Relationship That Saves

This is how a man in prison once described himself: “This is my fifth time in prison. I’m serving eight years for fraud. I was dirty outside my body, and I never used to wash. I was dirty inside my heart: lust, hatred, revenge, anger and malice.”

Then he gave the description of the change Christ had made in his life: “I was able to stop reading dirty books, I was able to stop using dirty words, and the greatest of all, I was able to love the people whom I had hated . . . For the first time in my life I am . . . free of the filth that has been inside me for years. The truth has made me free, the truth being our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This kind of changed life, cleansed from the inside out, is incontrovertible evidence for the reality of the salvation of Jesus Christ. Even more, the living evidence for the reception of salvation by Jesus Christ, the only Savior, is the new direction and control of the person’s life. The living evidence is a life that is not ruled by sin anymore, but that the new Master is Jesus, and his word guides that person’s life. 

During the time of his earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus himself gave this same challenge to show this kind of changed, cleansed life to some Jews who had professed to believe in him as the Messiah. They had made some kind of profession of faith in him as the Messiah, but he then challenged them to a deeper and more accurate understanding of who he truly is and what he has promised to do. They might have seen him as not much more than a political Messiah, who had come to free Israel from the Romans and to restore the kingship of David. Jesus, though, gave them an invitation something deeper, and something that was part of the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. He challenged them to be his disciples in more than name only, and then to find the freedom from the bondage of sin as they followed his Word. Through that way, they would come to experience the truth of who he is as the Son of God, and they would experience the true freedom which he had come to bring them.

“Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you remain in my Word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ “

“They answered him, ‘We are the descendants of Abraham, and we have never been in slavery to anyone. What do you mean that, ‘You will become free?’’”

“Jesus answered them, ‘I tell you the truth that everyone who continues in sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever, but the Son remains forever. If, then, the Son sets you free, you will really be free. I know that you are the descendants of Abraham; but you are seeking to kill me, because my Word does not find a place to stay in you. I am speaking what I have seen from the Father; and you are doing what you have heard from your father’” (John 8:31-38).

Following the Word of Jesus shows a genuine saving relationship with him.  That relationship with the Savior, which he calls being his genuine disciple, is  demonstrated by following him as Teacher and Master. The evidence that discipleship is genuine is following the Word of Jesus. 

The challenge to follow the word of Jesus means a personal encounter with saving and liberating truth. This challenge is not to learn new ideas and notions, but to know Truth in Person, to know Jesus himself in the fullness of that saving relationship. This challenge that Jesus gave and continues to give then finds its response from the person who has truly received salvation through Christ, and that response is to follow the Word of Jesus.

In verses 31-32, Jesus gave another one of his challenges to those who were around him: “Jesus then said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you remain in my Word, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’” This challenge does not seem to have been given to the twelve apostles, but it is most likely that John the apostle, the author of the gospel, was there to hear it and to witness what followed later. Jesus gave this challenge given to a group of Jews, and it probably took place in or somewhere around Jerusalem. Throughout the gospel John doesn’t give much more than a bare setting for these long discourses where the emphasis is on the words of Jesus and his interaction with the people to whom he was peaching and teaching. The group of Jews that Jesus addressed seem to have been a group who had made had made some kind of public professions of faith that Jesus was the promised Messiah. I don’t think that it’s too much to say that they had probably said something about Jesus being the Messiah and had been baptized as disciples of Jesus. We don’t know how many of them there were; I think that it may have been somewhere around twenty in this group, but it could easily have been many more, since the prior verse, verse 30 says, “As he was saying these things many put their faith in him.” So, Jesus then came back with this challenge to them to prove it and to follow his teaching thereafter. He called them to the reasonable outcome of that declaration of their belief and that was  to accept his teaching as the new direction of their lives. 

Jesus often gave this kind of challenge to those who wanted to be his disciples or made some kind of profession of faith in him as Messiah. He expected their full attention, belief, submission and obedience to him first. This was not something entirely new here in the gospel of John, but it is more like a statement of something that he called for many other places in his teaching, such as in the conclusions to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21-23 and the Sermon on the Plateau in Luke 6:46-49 — which were probably different accounts of the same discourse. In those other places he gave the implied promise of safety in the final and eternal judgment of God, but here he promises something different, and it will later become clear why he promises something different. His promise is that they will come to know the personal experience of the truth, the liberating power of Christ himself, Truth in Person (for more on Jesus as the Truth in Person, see John  1:14, 1:27 and 14:6). Here, as compared to the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plateau, he starts with the conclusion as the introduction. Rather than give them the fuller explanation of his promises and the practices that he expected that he gave to his disciples in Galilee, he starts here with his expectation of obedience to his Word.

Through the Word of Jesus himself that has come down to us, the challenge of obedience to the teaching of Jesus is still what he calls for as the demonstration of a true saving faith in Christ. It is the culmination of a genuine trust in him for all that he said that he is and all that he has showed that he is. It is what changes the terms of Christian commitment from the repetition of accepted words or a prayer to words and actions that show submission to the word of Jesus as the outcome of a true profession of faith. This cannot be against the grace of God in any way unless someone is willing to go to the self contradictory extreme that Jesus himself, the grace of God in person (John 1:14), was expecting something contrary to the grace of God. Jesus was calling them to pretty much what the apostle Paul called, “. . . the obedience of faith  . . .” (Romans 1:5). He was calling for those who had professed faith in him to show the demonstration of the genuine faith that has truly received the grace of God for salvation. He was calling for them to be more than disciples in name only but to come to the full realization of what it means to be his disciple, to experience the freedom that he brings from the guilt and power of sin. And for them, this would mean continued adherence to his preaching and teaching, and after his death and resurrection, continued fellowship with his church and adherence his Word as it continued through the preaching and teaching of his apostles (Acts 2:47) and became the complete inspired written Word of God (II Timothy 3:16-17).s

This wholehearted discipleship to Jesus Christ, to follow his Word, is truly the outcome of a faith that believes that he truly is the Son of God and the promised Messiah of God. Unfortunately, many have over the centuries and in our own day preferred to treat the Word of Jesus as something less than fully reliable and the Lord Jesus as someone to be relied upon less than themselves. They show some of the unnecessary reluctance that amounts to actual unbelief that an airline passenger discovered who was sitting next to a Boeing engineer on a piston engine, propeller driven airliner in 1958. It was shortly after the first flight of the Boeing 707 which was the first American commercial jet propelled airliner. The engineer mentioned the extensive testing on the engines of the 707, and the experience of Boeing with large aircraft and engines from the World War II B-17 Flying Fortress bomber to the mighty B-52 Stratofortress bomber. Then the other passenger asked the Boeing engineer if he had flown on the 707 and received the reply, “I think I’ll wait until it’s been in service awhile.”

Ultimately, then, the reality of a genuine decision to trust in Christ is not in saying some accepted and familiar Christian buzzwords. Nor is it found in association with church people and following the socially acceptable ways of thinking, speaking and acting within an evangelical social circle. Unfortunately, that is about all many have within our churches, and it explains why so many do not think, speak and act as if they were following the Word of God. Surveys consistently show that there are anywhere from 25%-40% within our evangelical churches that are in that area of repeating and imitating what they see and hear but are not being ruled by Jesus Christ as Lord through his Word. So, there does need definitely to be a renewed emphasis that the reality of a genuine decision to trust in Christ is a complete reset of the direction of the will, and it resets away from doing what I want and what I find convenient and self serving to the direction of the that follows the Word of Jesus Christ. And this does bring about a need for the renewed emphasis on the disciplemaking as the normal ministry of the gathered church that can never, ever be neglected for the next shiny new trend.

So then,  the first outward discernment of saving faith is the response to the expressed will of the Lord Jesus in his Word. And then, the true discipleship, the true saving relationship to Jesus finds that Jesus continues to impart the power of his salvation to the believer. And then obedience to the will as expressed in the Word of Jesus shows for all the world a real faith and submission to allow Jesus to be one’s Savior from sin in daily life and eternity. And then, it is as a believer continues in obedience to the Word of Jesus that he or she shows true discipleship to Jesus. And then this true discipleship to Jesus, living in a genuine saving relationship to him, means freedom from bondage to sin. And this is true of all the benefits of salvation: they come from that personal relationship with Jesus, and that relationship is the only relationship which saves. This true discipleship, the reception and sharing of life with the Son of God, means that he brings in his power to conquer the bondage of people in sin, in the way that they naturally are in themselves. So many times we can only come down to the conclusion that the problem with the way things are in our lives, in our families and around is simply comes down to the way that we are in ourselves. But only the almighty Son of God can deliver anyone from the way that he or she is in himself or herself.

The power of the Son of God brings true freedom from the natural tendencies to sin that are part of all of us as human beings. Only he can give the power to break the settled tendencies of human nature in a fallen world. Only the almighty Son of God, who is greater than the way that people are by nature and by choice, can provide them with the escape from the way that they are. And here Jesus does something that he does throughout the gospel of John: he ties all the promises of salvation to the relationship with himself as the Savior. And this brings us back to the truth of scripture that all the grace of God is in Jesus Christ and the promises and power of salvation are in the possession of that person that is in that saving relationship.

In verses 33-36, this specific group of Jews who had professed in Jesus showed that they didn’t get where he was going with what he had said about being set free, and so they went back to their reliance on their Jewish heritage, as the descendants of Abraham. So Jesus went on to clarify what he meant.

“They answered him, ‘We are the descendants of Abraham, and we have never been in slavery to anyone. What do you mean that, ‘You will become free?’’”

“Jesus answered them, ‘I tell you the truth that everyone who continues in sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever, but the Son remains forever. If, then, the Son sets you free, you will really be free!’”

This group seemed to be argumentative and willing to contradict what Jesus had told them. Jesus really did want them to experience the reality of what he had said, so he furnishes them a further explanation of his meaning. This is so much like the personality of the  Jesus of the gospels, that he makes a radical statement to those around them, and they need to find out more from him of what he meant. But this group seemed to be more contradictory and argumentative than some of the others that Jesus had his discussions and explanations with throughout the gospels, and it will soon be apparent why. When Jesus talked about true freedom, they fell back on their presumed relationship to God as sons by their association with their common ancestor Abraham (v. 41). Even more, they looked at their civil standing as freeborn citizens are their reasons to start out their request for more information with a contradiction of Jesus. But Jesus exposed that their presumed position as freeborn descendants of Abraham was contradictory to their actual status as slaves to sin. Their actual status and habitual practice and attitude was the same as that of every human being by nature, heritage and direction. Their actual status was the same as that of everyone else in their lifetime defiance and resistance of the will of God the heritage that they had received from Adam.

So Jesus went on to explain the facts as they knew them in a society where slave holding was legal. The slave can be bought or sold, and has no natural, permanent place in the household. And the household that Jesus was talking about was the household of God the Father, and only the the eternal Son had a legitimate place there. He was stating to them that their real freedom would come from him, who is the eternal Son, and that it would be freedom from the bondage of sin. So then, that relationship with him is the true saving relationship, as he would later state in his great High Priestly prayer to God the Father, in the presence of his disciples: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent” (John 17:3, King James Version).  And here, in his explanation, he specifically ties the power to be set free from sin to being and remaining in that saving relationship through obedience to his Word. He calls them away from their trust in what they thought was their birthright and heritage as Jews, as the descendants of Abraham, and their civil freedom, to see their true need and that he was there to provide for it.

This promise is also tied to the identity which Jesus had already been showing them by their words and their deeds. He was claiming to the the Son of God, their promised Messiah, and to be the truth that sets them free. This would have been an utterly preposterous claim to make if Jesus had been merely a human teacher, and if Jesus had come merely to show people how to live better. But the stupendous promise which Jesus is making here is that he is not here just to make them better than they were before – to be slaves more dressed up and presentable than they were before, but still to be slaves – but to set them free, and to make them, by implication, as free as he himself is from the penalty and power of sin. This is how I would describe living as a believer in Christ, then, and as an obedient disciple: living in the freedom of the Son, and learning how to live like sons and daughters of God. And the apostle John took this into two of the different diagnostic criteria in the letter of I John as to whether a person’s profession of faith in Jesus is genuine: “By this we know that we are in him (Jesus): the person who says the he or she is abiding in him ought to live as he himself lived . . . Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness, because sin is lawlessness. And we know that he was manifested so that he might take away sin, and there is no sin in him. Everyone remaining in him (continuous present in the original language) does not continue to sin (continuous present in the original language)  . . .” (I John 2:6, 3:4-6).

The way that people are, as natural sinners, means that someone else must save not only from the guilt of sin but also from its power. The Savior from sin comes from the outside to bring his life and power. The salvation of Jesus thus means growing conquest of sin rather than the reverse. And thus the fellowship with Jesus as Savior means his freedom comes to the obedient disciple. This, then, has a great bearing on two things what I have seen happening in the lives of many believers in many churches across the United States.

The first thing which I see happening is that many professed believers in Christ have too little grasp on the understanding that it is the one relationship that saves that can save themselves and others from  our sins and the social and psychological effects of our sins and the sins of others. Understanding this should bring an end to what I have often called the growing psychological perfectionism of many believers, where they seem to place more trust in psychological terms and methods than plain adherence to scripture and following Jesus Christ as Lord of one’s life and Savior from all sins. There does seem to be a scrambling of many after giving and receiving one more bit of amateur therapy or to find and pass on and this little nugget or magical little formula that I think that can rescue you or me from something that I think needs to be fixed, or to find and digest that  one more book by a Christian author that seems to promise rescue from something. We forget that Jesus Christ alone is the Son of God who can bring freedom, that the relationship with him is what will save, and that no one will ever be rescued from sin by a word of supposed wisdom from another believer, that none of us can be the Messiah for ourselves or anyone else ever at any time.

The second thing which I see happening is the tendency of Christian parents to trust the salvation of their own children to association with other believers. I can call this the expectation of salvation through immersion, which even gets to be a kind of forced immersion where it comes through controlling parents, in the evangelical environment and infrastructure, where the ‘right’ way to bring up children becomes keeping them in church and then sending them to  Christian schools, colleges, etc., and expecting that that kind of immersion will save my children. What this kind of coerced and forced immersion often amounts to is trusting Jesus for my own salvation, but trusting churchianity to save my children. They may have not come to know the Son of God as Lord and Savior, but simply to say and do what pleases the others in their environment and infrastructure. The hope in this means that when they walk away that they may not be rejecting Jesus but the controlling, stifling and suffocating infrastructure that they have been raised in, and that they may never have truly come to know the freedom that the Son of God offers them – and that gives a real opportunity to the church, to make it clear what salvation is really about, that one relationship that really saves.

Even more, this brings out the often extensive lack of understanding and experience of the real victory in Jesus that he brings us. He has not promised to make us perfect in this life, but there is much, much more in close relationship and fellowship with Jesus that provides us with conquering grace over sin. I’m often appalled by the shallow songs which are circulating in many worship services. They seem to offer more of a generic forgiveness based up0n a good guy, easygoing God rather than the pardon from sins and reprieve from an eternal hell and conquering grace that Jesus provides. This kind of generic forgiveness is more like the cheap grace that Dietrich Bonhoeffer described rather than the life and freedom which the scriptural Jesus offered. If, as Tim Keller has said, people come to church to seek victory over their sins, can we say that we are we offering it as the promise of the Jesus of scripture? Or are we  nitpicking them with rules or repeating to the same kind of silly, second hand, dumbed down psychological constructs that they can find in any secular self help book?

The power of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to free from slavery to sin is something that is unique to him and something that must be unique, consistent and continuous in the message of the church. It means hope for anyone who is coming from the depths of the consequences and misery of his or her own sin. It means that there’s hope for conquest for that person who started drinking with friends to be sociable and finds himself of herself getting drunk on Friday and Saturday nights and coming to church with a strong case of guilt and misery. It means the hope of conquering grace for that person who tried the stick of marijuana, and finds that he or she is having difficulty putting behind even if he or she has received salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. It means hope of freedom for that person who has been falling into bed with someone with whom he or she is not married despite the growing agony of his or her conscience, and who comes to church on Sunday mornings hearing about and asking for forgiveness but not being pointed to the freedom that the Son of God brings. It means the hope of freedom for that man, or nowadays, woman, as well, who has become trapped in gazing at naked people and sexual acts between other people. It also means hope for people who have been or who are being pigeonholed by other believers for something, anything, that may have happened in their past –that tendency of dying churches and proud, self righteous professed believers to hold those who sinned in ways that they did not approve under the shadowy cloud of those sins, that incident or incidents in their past – in short, that tendency of some professed believers to try to chain other believers to their past and to make them slaves to their past. Jesus is not the person to make a person a slave to his or her past, but to free a person from his or her past, and we need to keep on saying that as long as it takes until the day that Jesus returns. He is not the person to try to define people by what they may have done at one time or another that was legitimately sin or socially disapproved. Rather, as the Savior, he offers each one who comes to him in repentance and faith a new present and future of freedom of life in the Son.

It does bear repeating that this is not salvation by works, by earning or attempting to earn any credit before God by doing any kind of good deed. The freedom which comes through being a freed slave brings no glory or credit to the freed slave, but to the person who frees the slave. Rather, the is freedom is the human will freed from the power of sin living in the power of the freedom that the Son of God brings. It is living in the power of that one relationship that saves. It is like what the former professional football player Steve Foley told about. He had discovered that some other players and coaches had peace no matter if they won or lost, but he had found only emptiness in his life. Then one night so he knelt by his bed and asked Jesus to come into his life and change him. And the change then came. Here’s how he described it: “My language used to be filthy. One day a guy beat me for a touchdown in practice, and I started to let loose my usual barrage. But this time I was brought up short. I can’t explain it, except that the Holy Spirit was at work. I knew that God wasn’t getting any glory from my mouth. Soon I quit swearing completely.”

The wonderful reality, then, is that the disciple who puts his faith in Jesus as his Savior, who makes the choice to follow his will, will find that the risen Lord is there to free the broken and fallen will from the power of sin. This is then the path of freedom, which the disciple has, so that the disciple  can follow through with that choice of obedience. But unfortunately, there are those who refuse to follow Jesus and thus show that they see no need of him. What this amounts to is a virtual refusal of him as Savior when there is no response to his words.

Jesus went on to speak further to this group of Jews about their spiritual condition based upon the answers that they gave him and the agenda which they had kept hidden. This then shows that habitual resistance to the Word of Jesus is evidence of a false profession of faith in Jesus. Though there may be an outward profession of faith in Jesus and association with his disciples, there may still be a continual, habitual, uncaring resistance and defiance to the Word of Jesus, and even a real, underlying hostility to him. This ultimately shows that there has never been a change of masters in that person’s life.  

In this conversation Jesus gets to the bottom of false and spurious professions of faith, and he shows that they come when people attempt to fit Jesus into their expectations and ways of doing things. At the bottom there is that desire ultimately for that person to retain personal control of the life rather than live for the Master. And this is what Jesus exposed with this group of Jews who had made professions of faith in Jesus as Messiah but who were starting to argue with him and contradict his Word.

In verses 37-38, Jesus exposes the underlying agenda of this group of Jews who had professed faith in him: “ . . . but you are seeking to kill me, because my Word does not find a place to stay in you. I am speaking what I have seen from the Father; and you are doing what you have heard from your father.’” Thus the evidence that he holds up in front of them of their true state before him is their own underlying hostility to Jesus and their contradiction of his own utterances. They had made seemingly some outward profession of him as the Messiah, but they had already shown to him the incontrovertible evidence of the falseness of their faith. In their contradiction of what he had said to them about their need, they had made a virtual declaration that they did not feel the need of him either to save them or direct them. They were satisfied with what they had by birth and tradition. Thus they had given him a demonstration that their faith was no more than a concession to the atmosphere of Messianic expectancy that came with the ministry of Jesus. Their faith in him was only going along with the social atmosphere, and it was not a personal trust and loyalty to Jesus. With some of them, their profession of faith in him was then exposed as covering something much more sinister. So when he put to the test of their profession of faith simply by calling them to obedience to him as the Messiah, they refused his word and turned back to trust in their own heritage and traditions.  

Jesus went on to show them the nature of what they were refusing and where the ultimate source and nature of their refusal. Jesus asserted, as he did many times throughout his ministry, that his teaching, his word came from his direct personal communion with the Father as the eternal Son, and the implication that he gives, as he states plainly elsewhere throughout his ministry, that to reject him was to reject God. But then he gave his own diagnosis of them as unsaved (v. 47) because of their rejection of his word and their underlying hostility to them. They showed their true nature to him by their underlying agenda and their arguing with him. They were showing that they were under the influence of their own sinful tendencies and that their own underlying sinful tendencies were being directed by the unseen spiritual influence of the devil. Their true spiritual state was revealed with their underlying and hidden murderous hostility to the truth and habitual falsehood. It is certainly not a far leap from Jesus’s diagnosis of this group to what the apostle Paul had to say about the state of mankind apart from the salvation of Christ: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and sins,  in which you used to live according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience . . .” (Ephesians 2:1-2).

Certainly no church leader or member should take it upon himself or herself to make it a quest or a habit to seek out and judge the reality of the professions of faith among other believers, although the tendencies of human judgmentalism, criticism and antagonism may incline some to try. Rather, the quality of the professions of faith among believers demonstrate themselves  when the word of Jesus through the Spirit of God reveals the heart and life of that person over the course of time. Those who have made spurious professions of faith show their true colors either in personal confession and genuine repentance and faith when the Holy Spirit reveals their real need to them and they truly receive salvation, or in moral and spiritual degeneration over time due to habitual resistance to the truth. Even more, those who have made spurious professions of faith often demonstrate a pattern of continuous hostility to the truth of the gospel and surreptitious or even overt harassment of other believers in Christ who are seeking to follow Jesus faithfully. They may not be a part of hidden plans to kill Jesus, but they may claim to be saved by faith in Christ but oppose his gospel and seek to abuse and harass his people. 

At this point this may sound theoretical, but any length of pastoral experience or experience with leadership in the church can find a number of such examples. For instance, during a time of revival in 1970, a respected businessman and church member rose to reveal that he had been an active church member and had even run youth camps but had never come to Christ. He revealed his life of antagonism toward and surreptitious harassment of people in the church, and how it had been part of the personal turmoil he had practiced since his childhood. He then revealed how he had come to Christ just a few days before, and how he had been spending the next few days apologizing and making amends to the people he had hurt and offended. I’ve heard the testimony of another couple who came to a church for their wedding ceremony, told the pastor in the premarital counseling that they were believers, and came back years later when they came to Christ in reality for salvation and apologized for their earlier mendacity. There are other stories that come out from time to time – the man who pretended to be a Christian to win the woman who became his wife, only to confess later on that he had lied, or the person who came to church to find a venue for his or her musical talent, and so on. There are a lot of personal and social reasons that some people may say the words which they think will please, impress or manipulate others in regard to their own experience of salvation, and church people need not to be naïve about them.

Nevertheless, I encourage everyone that only with greatest care and consideration should anyone approach to question the reality of the salvation of another person who has had a strong background in church attendance and involvement. As a matter of pastoral care, a simple private conversation can often clear things up. It’s a good idea for a pastor or concerned elders to go over the circumstances of conversion, nature of faith, personal habits of reading the word, occasions of past disobedience and conquest of past sins by the power of Jesus of each church member and regular attender, and certainly with each one in any position of leadership and ministry responsibility. This may be done when a person asks for church membership, but my experience is that too many of these discussions simply rubber stamp anyone who says anything that sounds at all like a belief in God. This private and compassionate discussion is certainly not in any way a quest for something to nail someone with or to discredit that person with from his or her past. Rather, it is to give everyone within the church a compassionate checkup and diagnosis of their standing before God based upon the scriptures. This will often result in opportunities for sharing the gospel in depth with a person with a suspect profession of faith, but it will just as often result in a deeper assurance for the person who does give a scriptural account of salvation and the others who hear it.

So then, the point at which a person demonstrates that he or she has rejected trust in Jesus and the Lordship of Jesus shows, in these cases, that the person probably never genuinely received the Lord in the first place. But that does not have to be the end of the story. The person who made a false profession can also make a new, real and genuine decision and truly experience eternal life in Christ. But it also points out the need to avoid the kind of songs, preaching and teaching that does not assume that people who come to our churches are all right with God just because they show up, even if they do so Sunday after Sunday.

That same Jesus who spoke to that group about the freedom that he offers then went to pay the price for the freedom that he gives by his own death. His cry of, “It is finished!” – “TETELESTAI!” (John 19:30) was his cry proclaiming his freedom for his people. His cry of “It is finished!” during his last few moments of life on the cross was his dying declaration that the freedom that he brings is not cheap grace, but the most expensive gift that he could give. Though there were false professions of faith within his own ministry, our faith is not in the consistency of people but in the reality of the Savior and his saving power. Even though some may say the accepted words and  associate with the people of the church for a while, this may be contrary to reality, but this is no reason for an unreasonable suspicion of other, but rather for each one to consider his or her own profession of faith and experience of salvation before God. To examine our own hearts and experience according to what scripture says about salvation is the responsibility of each one of us, to see whether your faith corresponds to the scriptural depiction of someone who has received eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ. If, then, our own faith declares Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God, fully God and fully man, who died on the cross for the sins of the world, and who has risen again, to be the risen Lord in heaven who is returning for his people, if we can truly say that we have responded in the scriptural manner of repentance, the decision to turn from one’s sin as the direction of one’s life to the will of God, and faith in Jesus Christ alone for one’s own salvation. Consider then whether your scriptural confession of Christ and the response of repentance and faith has then resulted in a personal, daily relationship with the risen Lord, who has now been imparting to you his victory over sin and death in your life.

If your confession and experience correspond to what the Word of God says, then praise God for your reception of eternal life, and continue then to live in daily faith in Christ and submission to his Word. Make his Word the direction of your life, and humble submission to his will your greatest desire and highest pleasure. If Jesus is a real Savior, his Word is worth following and worth trusting more than anything you may hear from others and anything else that you will ever learn, think or conclude even from within yourself.

If you have truly received eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ, continue to trust Jesus for daily victory over sin. While you can and should certainly trust him for forgiveness daily, to keep the relationship close and the conscience clear with God, there will be less sin to hinder your testimony and grieve the Holy Spirit and more of a testimony to glorify God and reason for joy in God if you experience his victory over sin. So then, come clean, and confess the quick temper, the arrogant stubbornness, the easy deceit, the lustful thought and look, the rebellious selfishness and impatience for what they are before God. But then ask God to change you and for the Lord Jesus to give you his freedom and his victory in your life, to live in and experience his conquering grace to his glory.

If, then,  you find now that you have not truly put your faith in Christ, that he is not the Lord of your life and your only hope for heaven, don’t care about how it appears before anyone else, especially if you have a religious association and reputation. Embarrassment before other people, even people you love and seek to impress, is the least of your problems.  Rather seek for the reality of a life changed by faith in Jesus Christ, and confess your faking it before the God who really is there first of all. Renounce any hopes for heaven except the Lord Jesus who died on the cross for you, and renounce any other Master than the Lord who rose from the dead and has all authority in heaven and on earth.

The Nature of Salvation: Regeneration and Adoption

What does this mean?

Regeneration is the impartation of a new nature by the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a new, spiritual birth. It is what happens when we repent and trust God for eternal life.

“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, who he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior . . .” (Titus 3:5-6).

Here is a list of scriptures that deal with regeneration: John 1:13, 4:14, 3:3,5, Acts 2:38, Galatians 6:15, II Corinthians 5:17, I Peter 2:23-26.

Adoption is the reception of the place, the affection, and the responsibilities of the children of God by those who come to saving faith in Christ.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus . . . “ (Galatians 3:27)

Other scriptures that deal with adoption are I John 3:1, Romans 8:17 and John 1:12.

  1. The full privileges of our adoption come at the return of Christ (Matthew 13:43, Luke 20:36, I John 3:2).

  2. The witness of our adoption is the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14-15, Galatians 4:5).

  3. God’s eternal purpose for us was to be his children (Ephesians 1:5).

  4. Our character is to reflect our adoption (Matthew 5:9, 45).


What does this mean to me?

I need to look at my own life for the evidence of regeneration.

  1. Righteousness in life and victory over sin

    “If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him . . . No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God” (I John 2:29, 3;9). The context implies that this is habitual and deep-seated hatred and envy of believers who are walking with God and a refusal to come under Biblical standards of morality.

  2. Love for other believers in Christ.

    “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (I John 4:7).

  3. Trust and love for Christ.

    “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well” (I John 5:1).


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.

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.