Monday, July 18, 2011

The Candle Sheds Light On Decision: Evangelism, Part the First

I've heard the arguments. "You must decide to follow Jesus and ask him into your heart to be saved" vs. "Jesus saved me." Notice the difference in these two statements as to who is performing the action of the verbs.

After much consideration of how to tackle this one, I think I shall do so like this. I believe that it is quite possible that we aren't considering all things, and as a result, misunderstanding what it is that we are seeing.

Example (with context of the Word as a means of Grace): Skippy has gone to a revival (actually, it's an evangelistic meeting since only God can bring about revival and it's not something that we can schedule) and he hears the evangelist. Skippy hears about how he has sinned (Romans 3:23), was born sinful, wants to sin, there's absolutely nothing that Skippy can do to get rid of his sin and the punishment for that sin is eternal separation for God's love (Hell) where he will forever experience God's wrath (His anger times a million infinity squared) which is Skippy's rightful punishment. (The evangelist just served Skippy some 100 proof Law) Skippy feels the full weight of this, his pride is broken and he experiences contrition for his sinful life. But what to do? Skippy knows he can't do anything to get rid of his sin.

The evangelist continues on and tells Skippy about the person and work of Christ. About how Christ was God's one and only Son who was perfect, willingly took Skippy's punishment, had to shed his blood for the forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22), was crucified, died, buried and resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).  And Jesus did this for Skippy because Skippy will never be able to do it for himself. (The evangelist just served Skippy the Gospel, the Good News of Christ for Skippy) The evangelist then quotes a verse like John 3:16 or Acts 16:31 (leaving off the tail end that says "...both you and your household." because few like to tackle explaining that part) saying "...Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved..." Then the evangelist takes a page from Finney and has people raise their hands and them come forward to "ask Jesus into their hearts". Skippy raises his hand and goes forward when instructed. Skippy and the other people pray some form of a sinner's prayer and are then told that they are saved.

First of all I want it understood that with what I'm about to say, I am not knocking prayer. Prayer is always good. What I appreciate about a "sinner's prayer" is the acknowledgement of what a person is. A helpless sinner in need of a savior. That's good, because the Law has done it's work in that person's life and the Holy Spirit has brought that person to a place of contrition.

So when was Skippy saved? In this example, was it when he prayed the sinner's prayer to "ask Jesus into his heart?" To answer this question I'm going to use a concept from Thomas Watson, a puritan. He uses it in a slightly different way, but the context remains the same. 

There's a dark room, no light whatsoever. There are no windows in this room, just the open door that leads into it. A light starts shining into the room from the open door. The light gets brighter and brighter until someone carrying a candle enters into the room. So the question is, what was there first? The light or the candle? It was the candle that was there first, though, we did not see the candle first. We saw the effects of the candle first. We saw it's light first, despite the fact the candle was there first.

So back to Skippy. When was he saved? When he first had faith and believed. That faith came from hearing the Word of God. (Romans 10:17) We first saw Skippy raise his hand. We first saw Skippy go up front. We first saw Skippy pray. What we first saw was the effect of faith. Skippy heard the Word of God, had faith and believed. The Holy Spirit was active in Skippy. Skippy was saved before he raised his hand, before he went up front and before he prayed. Because Skippy now believed and the Holy Spirit was active in him, we saw the effects of that faith. Because of faith he raised his hand. Because of faith he went forward. Because of faith he prayed.

That prayer, though misunderstood by many of those who went forward, was not so much to ask Christ into their hearts. Christ was already in their hearts back when they first believed because of having faith as a result of hearing the Word of God. That prayer was actually a prayer of thanksgiving. "I'm a wretched sinner. I cannot do good because I am sinful and I cannot escape this sin. Thank you for forgiving me! Thank you for saving me Jesus! Thank you for taking my place! Thank you for doing this for me!" With salvation, in the context of situations like Skippy's, we see the effect of the candle first, despite the fact that it was because of the candle that we saw anything.
Thank you Jesus for saving me. Thank you for taking my place. Thank you for giving me faith.

Jesu Juva,
Soli Deo Gloria

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