When Conversion is Worthless

Often, in Christian testimonies, one’s conversion experience takes center stage. Usually, with cool lights, soft music, and a little fog, the circumstance, emotions, and sensations of the event are described in great, gut-wrenching detail. Whenever testimonies are called for, more airtime is often given to those with the juiciest conversion-story offerings; those with boring testimonies (i.e. those punk, church-kids) are never asked to share unless they fudge the details to make their story a bit sexier. All that to be said, Evangelical Christians love a good conversion story.

Now, do not misunderstand me, there is nothing wrong with sharing the story of our conversion. When done well, they often bring glory to Christ as the One who saves the worst of us. But the ongoing emphasis on the moment of conversion can distract us from this one crucial, Scriptural truth: our conversion is worthless if it doesn’t result in life of love and obedience to God. David Wells explains:

Conversion inaugurates a life devoted to serving God. Conversion is not an isolated event but it is related to the entire life of faith that follows from it. It is the moment of birth into a new life. It is like a doorway into a room. A person is born to live, not to linger on the edge of the womb in a time of limbo. A person opens a door not for the pleasure of standing forever on the threshold but to enter the room. The Evangelical world has strangely perverted this truth. Evangelicals often make the test of spiritual life one’s willingness to testify about the moment of birth. Describing one’s sensations in passing through the doorway is considered proof that one is in the room! This shifts the focus from where it ought to be (the evidence of the Spirit’s renewing work in producing a God-centered life, a God-fearing heart, and a God-honoring character and witness) and places it on a person’s autobiographical account of the conversion crisis. The only real proof of our conversion is an obedient and fruitful life.

(Taken from Turning to God, p. 43)

Jesus’ disciples are known by their fruit (Matt. 7:15-20). The plant that produced fruit was the only one not cut down (Mark 4:3-20). Only those who do the Father’s will are recognized by Jesus as family (Matt. 12:50). Faith without deeds is dead (James 2:17). Love for Jesus will always result in obedience to Jesus (John 14:15, 21, 23-24; 15:10). More important than how high you jump is how straight you walk afterward. Genuine Christian conversion will change not only one’s claim but also their conduct. The Spirit of God is just too powerful and loving to dwell within us and leave us unchanged.

If you’d like a sermon that powerfully applies this truth to the American Church today, hold onto your hats and check this out.

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If the Bible is Really God’s Word…

Marshall & Payne:

If we believe that the Bible’s word is the powerful speech of God, then in many respects what we want to see flourish in our church culture is as many instances as possible of the Bible being spoken, read, studied, preached, explained, taught, discussed, memorized, prayed over and meditated upon.

(Taken from The Vine Project, 85)

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A Crucial Word for Christian Teachers & Educational Institutions

In the following quote, Carl Trueman, with pinpoint precision, diagnoses the mindset of today’s students and nails how Christian educators (Trueman speaks specifically of college educators, but it applies to any kind of Christian educator) must respond.

Christian colleges cannot win merely by shouting Bible verses, however sophisticated their idiom. Nor will they win by good old-fashioned arguments resting on logic and reason. That’s not how it works any more.

I became acutely aware of the latter fact some years ago, when I was challenged by a student while delivering a guest lecture on gay marriage at a very conservative Christian college. My arguments did not work, because . . . well, they were arguments, and did not take into account how the mind of my young critic had been formed. She had not been convinced by any argument. Her imagination had been seized by an aesthetically driven culture, in which taste was truth and Will and Grace carried more weight than any church catechism or tome of moral philosophy.

In such a world, arguments, even irrefutable arguments, will not suffice. We need something more comprehensive, something to capture imaginations. We need a philosophy of undergraduate education that offers visions of beauty, that connects the fields of knowledge our modern world has torn apart and isolated, and that speaks to the human desire for meaning. A good start might be making the study of poetry, that medium which at its best makes human language carry almost more significance than it can bear, a compulsory course for freshmen. If the narrative and aesthetic of the world are gripping, then we must show that ours are more gripping, rooted as they are in real beauty and real truth…

… Colleges need to be thinking about their curricula in terms of seizing the imaginations of their students: teaching them that there is more to music than rap, more to love than porn, more to narrative construction than soap operas, more to culture than lambasting those terribly wicked white males, more to history than a zero-sum tale of Western oppression of the Other, more to education than a means to a paycheck.

Trevin Wax put it this way:

What is needed is a response that takes into consideration the beauty of Truth. We’ve got the truth portion down when it comes to propositions. What is needed is a beautiful and compelling portrait of Truth – the Person. God is inherently beautiful, but many times, we don’t do well at drawing out the inherent beauty of Truth with a capital T.

In the Scriptures, we have the true, good, and beautiful. Now, we must do the hard work of capturing the minds and hearts of others with all of it.

Read Trueman’s entire article here.

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Four Ways to Make Your Kids Hate Christianity

As my little ones are growing up (too quickly), I am finding that good parenting involves saying the word “No” a lot. I need to say “No” when my daughter wants to stick her finger in the electrical outlet. I have to strongly reject her wishes to lay down in the middle of the street. When she wants to go for a quick run with my kitchen knife in hand, I have to deny her the experience. The simple fact is this: loving your children in a dangerous world demands that you use word “No” regularly.

Not only is this true of physically harmful things, but, even more, the Christian parent must think about all the spiritually harmful things our kids will drift into if we don’t intervene. As Christian parents, we have to say no to allowing our kids to buy into the empty promises of the world that will only lead to destruction and dissatisfaction. Therefore, the word “No” must be put into all the more use as the spiritual sphere is considered.

However, this “No” saying, poses a threat and Natasha Crain puts her finger directly on it.

In a world like this, parents must increasingly say “no.” A lot. But if we’re not careful in how we execute our counter-cultural living, our kids can start seeing us like the alarmist…and resent Christianity because of it.

Helpfully, in her excellent post, Natasha goes further to examine four major ways that Christian parents unintentionally cause their children to resent Christianity as they do the necessary work of saying “No.”

1) We focus more on the dangers of the world than on the beauty of Christianity. In a world that seems to be going crazier by the second, it’s easy to spend more time pointing out the darkness of culture than the light of Christianity. Now, don’t get me wrong; we absolutely need to make our kids aware of cultural dangers. But when we don’t consistently point them back to the beauty of the Christian worldview which renders our culture so ugly in the first place, our faith will become defined by what we’re against more than what we’re for.

2) We spend more time addressing what is problematic about culture than why it’s problematic. When the message our kids hear is an ongoing stream of don’ts without meaningful explanation—don’t listen to this music, don’t visit these sites, don’t use this social media platform, don’t subscribe to this magazine, don’t join this political movement—they’ll start to wonder if our level of concern about the world is warranted. And meaningful explanation requires demonstrating how the problems actually relate to the Christian worldview. Simply telling our kids that a movie has violence and they shouldn’t watch it, for example, is hardly a meaningful explanation. Why is that a problem for Christians? How can that affect us spiritually? Where should we draw the line? These kinds of questions should regularly be discussed.

3) We frame our lives in terms of worldly limits more than Christian freedom. I often see ex-Christians comment about the freedom they feel in “letting go of God.” The language they use to describe their deconversion says so much. They saw religion as a limiting approach to life and therefore felt freer after shedding their beliefs in God. But as Christians we know that we are not free in our natural state at all—we are slaves to sin. When we put our faith in Jesus, we are given a new nature that is free from such bondage (Romans 6:18).

The reality, therefore, is that only Christians are actually free.

4) We focus more on authoritative parental decisions than on cultivating the skill of discernment. In many cases, parents have a bigger perspective than kids can possibly have given their limited life experiences. We have to make certain decisions on our kids’ behalves. But if we consistently present our “counter-cultural” lives as a series of decisions made by mom and dad (albeit for good reason), kids will naturally resent what they feel has been forced upon them. To the degree we can, we should always strive to cultivate our kids’ skill of discernment by involving them in the thought process of our decision making. After all, the second they walk out our door as adults, “authoritative parental decisions” no longer apply.

I highly recommend you read Natasha’s entire post here.

Even more, she recommends a book by my friend, apologist Brett Kunkle, that seeks to explain, “Why culture matters and how to handle topics with your kids such as pornography, the hookup culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, affluence and consumerism, addiction, entertainment, and racial tension.” It’s already on my wish list.

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What’s the Church Member’s Job?

Are you a member of a church? If yes, do you know what your job is, according to the Bible? Put aside the job of the pastor, the youth guy, the children’s director, or the deacons for a moment and ask a question not many even think to ask: what is the job of a regular old church member? What’s the job description of a ordinary member of a church?

Jonathan Leeman answers:

A church member’s job…

is to know the gospel,

to only support teachers who teach the gospel,

to live by the gospel in word and deed,

to help other church members do the same,

and to call non-Christian neighbors to the obedience of repentance and faith in Christ the Savior-King.

We help other church members by knowing them, by involving ourselves in their lives, and by speaking “only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Eph 4: 29). This is the picture of a body “building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part” (Eph 4: 16).

(Taken from Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (Kindle Locations 649-655). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.)

There’s more to being a church member than many think, let alone practice. But, may God fill our churches with people of such a mind.

For a little more explanation of each idea, see Leeman’s article, “7 Responsibilities as a Church Member” here.

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A Vision of the Lost

If this doesn’t fire you up, your wood is wet.

William Booth, the founder of The Salvation Army, once shared this vision:

I saw a dark and stormy ocean. Over it the black clouds hung heavily; through them every now and then vivid lightening flashed and loud thunder rolled, while the winds moaned, and the waves rose and foamed, towered and broke, only to rise and foam, tower and break again.

In that ocean I thought I saw myriads of poor human beings plunging and floating, shouting and shrieking, cursing and struggling and drowning; and as they cursed and screamed they rose and shrieked again, and then some sank to rise no more.

And I saw out of this dark angry ocean, a mighty rock that rose up with it’s summit towering high above the black clouds that overhung the stormy sea. And all around the base of this great rock I saw a vast platform. Onto this platform, I saw with delight a number of the poor struggling, drowning wretches continually climbing out of the angry ocean. And I saw that a few of those who were already safe on the platform were helping the poor creatures still in the angry waters to reach the place of safety.

On looking more closely I found a number of those who had been rescued, industriously working and scheming by ladders, ropes, boats and other means more effective, to deliver the poor strugglers out of the sea. Here and there were some who actually jumped into the water, regardless of the consequences in their passion to “rescue the perishing.” And I hardly know which gladdened me the most- the sight of the poor drowning people climbing onto the rocks reaching a place of safety, or the devotion and self-sacrifice of those whose whole being was wrapped up in the effort for their deliverance.

As I looked on, I saw that the occupants of that platform were quite a mixed company. That is, they were divided into different “sets” or classes, and they occupied themselves with different pleasures and employments. But only a very few of them seemed to make it their business to get the people out of the sea.

But what puzzled me most was the fact that though all of them had been rescued at one time or another from the ocean, nearly everyone seemed to have forgotten all about it. Anyway, it seemed the memory of its darkness and danger no longer troubled them at all. And what seemed equally strange and perplexing to me was that these people did not even seem to have any care- that is any agonizing care- about the poor perishing ones who were struggling and drowning right before their very eyes…many of whom were their own husbands and wives, brothers and sisters and even their own children.

Read the whole vision here.

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I Am Built on Blood

Christians are a people who exist because our Christ has spilled His blood as the substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. He died the death we deserved and thus paid the penalty for our sins in full. We are a people bought by blood (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19).

However, the blood of Christ was not the only blood shed to make us what we are. Kevin Miller explains:

“You and I would not and could not hold faith in Christ today, if many of the early Christians had not marched into the arena or toiled in the mines, unbent and uncompromised… Each time you and I meet a Christian, we are viewing a monument to the unknown early Christian martyrs.

Kevin A. Miller, “Tomb of the Unknown Christians,” Christian History 9, no. 27 (1990): 2.

Thank God for sending His Son to shed His blood for our life and thank Jesus sending His people to shed their blood to bring us the message of His life giving sacrifice.

We are their monument; built on their blood.

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