Want to be saved? Just raise your hand and repeat after me…

Written by Jon Zenor.

The decision to follow Christ is the most important decision made in your life.  It is that decision where you decide to quit living your life for yourself and to follow Jesus, making him your master. You go where He wants you to go, do what He wants you to do, you stop living the sinful lifestyle that goes against God and you commit your life to Him.

Jesus says that if we want to follow Him it means giving up everything for Him, and to count the cost before you decide to make the journey (Luke 14:25-33).

That is what it means to make yourself a slave of Christ, you make Him your master.  The decision to do this is not one made lightly, and it is not a decision to be made light of.

In 2002 I made a decision to join the U.S. Navy.  This was not a decision I made lightly, I considered it for months beforehand.  I was signing a contract with the government to serve in the military for a minimum of four years. I would go where they told me to go, learn what they told me to learn.  I was theirs.

Our church normally does an alter call, where we invite people who want to give their lives to Jesus to come up front and talk with one of the pastors, to receive prayer and be given some information about what the decision they are about to make really means.  But it wasn’t so on Christmas Eve.

Maybe it was because the Christmas Eve service was so full, maybe for some other reason I don’t know about, but whatever the reason our church decided to take the “short cut to salvation.”  They gave the announcement “If you would like to receive Jesus in your heart just raise your hand.” A few people raised their hands and then the pastor led them in prayer. “Repeat this prayer after me and you will be saved!”

This is one of the sickest common perversions of the gospel in our society today.

What’s the big deal?

You are probably thinking that this is no big deal, it doesn’t matter how they are led to the prayer as long as they prayed.

Why does someone come to Christ?

A person comes to Christ because for one, they realize and believe that He is real, and then they realize they have offended God with how horrible their sin is, and then because of that they repent, turn from their sinful lifestyle to live the way God calls them to live.

and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)

The response to realizing God is real and you are in His presence is to worship, and the response to realizing you are a sinful is grief over your sin, and the response to you grieving over your sins is repentance, and the response to your repentance is forgiveness. Forgiveness of all of the sins you have ever committed or ever will commit.

And you are telling me a person went through all of this by simply raising their hand?

For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

Still don’t see the problem?

So you still don’t see a problem with this way of presenting the gospel?  Let’s have an analogy.

So this guy is standing in front of a group of people seated before him.  He says in a slightly excited tone “I have the winning ticket for the Power Ball lottery! Raise your hand if you want it.”

A few people in the crowd raise their hand.

“Awesome,” the man says, “Just repeat after me and it is yours.”

“Thank you for giving me twenty million dollars and I promise to use it to get my life right.”

The crowd responds, repeating what the guy said, and then after the guy is done talking they all quietly get up and start heading out the door calmly and quietly.

In this scenario, would you say that any of the people being offered multi-millions of dollars actually believed they got the money the guy up front told them they would get?

No, there was no excitement, no change, no commitment to actually follow God.

When a person gives their life over to God, they receive something so much better than all the money in the world, shouldn’t there be some type of response?

The Very Real, Very Serious Consequences

Here is the extremely real, extremely serious consequences of such a gospel message.

You convince people that they are saved, that they have a relationship with God, just because they raised their hand and repeated a prayer during an alter call.

Raising your hand and repeating a prayer does not save you. Cannot.

But now you have a few dozen people who walk out of that church believing they are saved because they raised their hand.  They didn’t even have a pastor talk to them to explain what raising their hand really meant.  But they believe; not in Christ, not in sacrificing their life and carrying their cross before Christ, no, they just believe they are saved.

But belief in salvation does not save you, only a relationship with Christ.

We have a generation of thousands in churches that believe they are saved because they said a prayer once but they have no fruit of the Spirit as evidence, no change in their life. This is why Leonard Ravenhill boldly proclaimed that “the sinner’s prayer has sent more people to hell than all the taverns in America.”

I doubt if 5% of professing Christians in America are born again–and that’s true of England! – Leonard Ravenhill

But it gets even more serious, we have churches full of leadership who think they are saved but have no relationship with God, they serve because they want to do the right thing but when they get to heaven they will just hear “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:23)

But because all these thousands of people believe they are saved they will go on their life ignoring anybody who may tell them to repent. “I don’t need to repent, I’m already saved!” the person will say to himself.

You have just given a blind man headphones and praise music to make him happy but you never turned him away from the path he is on, a path headed straight for the cliff.  All you did is make it harder for him to hear others trying to warn him over the praise music.

Do you see yet the serious problem here?

What do I do?

If you believe you are saved, it is one of our duties to examine our salvation, to test ourselves to make sure we are saved and not just fooling yourself.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Have you felt that godly sorrow over your sins that leads you to repent?  Do you live a holy life, not because you try to but because God has transformed you?  Do you live your life according to scripture and breath in joyfully every word of the Bible?  Spend some time in scripture analyzing what it means to be saved and see how you match up to it. Repent of the areas you fail in, and pray for strength to help you where you need it, but fist make sure you have that relationship with Jesus.

Holiness is not a Iuxury, it’s a necessity. If you’re not holy, you’ll never make it to heaven. – Leonard Ravenhill

If you are not saved, then there is no better time than right now.  Every sin you commit hurts your relationship with God, drives you farther from Him.  He is the one who created you and despite you turning from Him and living in strict opposition to Him He still sent His only son to die, to pay the penalty of your sins.

Why did Jesus die for you? Because He wants you to be free from sin, He wants you to follow Him and find true joy in Him, and He wants you to share that with others so others can find joy in Christ.

If you want someone to walk you through this you should contact someone at your local church, or call Eternal Truth Ministry at 719-4285-ETM and leave a message and we would love to walk you through any questions you may have.

This is too important of a decision to make to let yourself be fooled, and it is way too important of a decision to put off another day.

Finally, if you are a pastor, preacher, evangelist, or in any position to give “alter calls” then do the right thing, go out to the people, get them alone one on one and pray with them, answer their questions, explain what this decision really is, guide them as they repent and decide to follow Christ.

There is nothing wrong with having someone raise their hand to say they want to be saved, but keep their hands raised until someone can pull them out of the crowd and take them aside.  One on one, make it personal to them.

 

Do you agree with what I said here or do you think I am being overly picky? I would like to hear what you have to say in the comments section below.

Do you have as much passion for Jesus as you do for football?

Written by Jon Zenor

Have you ever seen a person who is fanatical about football? They sit in the bleachers in a blizzard with nothing covering them but pants and paint.  What is it that makes a person go to such lengths to show support for their team?

It’s passion, or in this case extreme passion.  But you don’t have to have an extreme passion for something to make it number one in your life.  Most football fans don’t go to those extremes, but they do spend as much time as they can involved in the sport.

A football fan spends hours a week watching football, even throwing parties to get others together to watch the game.  You talk about it all day at work, spend time looking up news on how well various teams did that week and on trades or injuries.  You wear jerseys that show support of your team, even if they lose all the time.  You even create your own fantasy teams.

Your life, as a football fan, is consumed by football.  There is not anything wrong with being a fanatical fan at all, I just have one question for you.

How does your passion for Jesus — your Lord and Savior, your creator, the one who died to have a relationship with you — compare to your passion for football?  It may not even be football for you, it could be video games, baseball, programming, martial arts, planes, motorcycles, or any number of things that consume your every thought.

Jesus must come first!

Matthew 13:44 says “the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

As Christians Jesus must come first in our life.  Not because it will please God, but because God deserves it, it is the least we can do, and the Bible says we must do it.

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:62

It is even written in the Ten Commandments when God says to Moses “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)  Leonard Ravenhill reminds us that “Anything you love more than Jesus Christ is an idol, I don’t care what it is!”

If you think that is harsh look at what Jesus himself said.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26

Jesus is saying that your love for Him MUST be first in your life, and nothing goes above that, not your own life, and not even family.  And if you think this is selfishness on God’s part, just remember that He is God almighty, the creator, the one who holds all of existence in his hand, you are just a created thing, a sinful man who rejects God every chance you get.

Please do not misunderstand what I am saying here.  I am not saying all entertainment is bad and you should do nothing but read the Bible and sing praise songs.  What I am getting at is that when we become a Christian, a Christ-follower, we are saying we are putting God first in our life, above everything, including entertainment.  Where you spend your money and how you spend your time show what is first in your heart, Jesus or something else?

Imagine the impact YOU could have

Imagine what the impact would be like in the lives of those around you if you treated Jesus with as much time and energy you spend on football.  You would go to work talking about what God has done in your life, sharing the gospel, talking about God and what is going on in the church.  You would let the world know that Christians are not just hypocrites that live like the rest of the world but they are actually out there doing things!

You would remind them that when disasters happen and the government has its hands tied to help, like FEMA did when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, it was our churches that were out there giving food and aid to the people.  In fact, instead of going to football games you would go on a missions trip to somewhere that needs the help and help others.

Instead of looking up news for football stats you could look up what news there is on martyrs around the world and pray for them.  Every week I get an email from Voice of the Martyrs with information on those being put in prison, who are losing their homes, who are being outcast from their families and beaten because they are the ones on the front lines putting Jesus first in their life.

You would attend church no matter what the weather was like outside, or how much air conditioning worked or how comfortable the chairs at your church were.  Your focus would be more on fellowship and worship than on comfort.

We don’t even need everyone to do this, just you.  If just you would start putting Jesus first in your life, and having a passion for Jesus, then you alone could change a huge part of the world, everyone you interact with.  Those that look up to you would catch that fire and it would spread.

Del Tackett of Focus on the Family, teacher of The Truth Project, said if just a few of you would really believe what the Bible says is true, you would change this world for Christ.

Being a Christian is not a game or a hobby. It is not something we do just once a week.  Being a Christian is a life long commitment that changes your daily life, putting God first in everything you do.

When you don’t have the passion

If you find that you do not have the passion for Christ that you should there is hope for you.  The first and most important thing is to test your salvation, make sure you are saved.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” – 2 Corinthians 13:5

Study the Word of God, what does it mean to be a Christian?  This is an important enough topic to spend the time studying for yourself.  When I went through this last year it took me a couple of months of searching scripture, comparing what I was reading to my life, and most importantly praying, a lot.  Being saved is not based on works, but if you are saved, if you do have Christ living in you, then you cannot help but manifest the fruit of God living in your life.

A major thing that will get in the way of a Christian’s passion for Jesus is sin.  If you are living in sin then you will not be passionate for God, you can’t be.  You will avoid the Word of God, and the things of God.  Search your life for any unrepentant sin and repent of it, turn every area of your life towards God.

“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. – 1 John 3:4-6

Jesus wants all of us, not just our leftovers

And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” – Matthew 10:38

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24

Jesus wants, and deserves every part of you to follow Him.  He knows that we are most satisfied personally when we are bringing glory to Him, it is what we were created for.  Don’t waste another day putting garbage in the place of God in your life.

Faith, Works, and Salvation

Have you ever been so scared by a passage in the Bible that you could not sleep at night?  This has happened to me more than once, most recently by this passage in Matthew.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ – Matthew 7:21-23

Sometimes reading that passage makes me stop and think “Is that talking about me?”  When I die, will Jesus say to me ‘Well done good and faithful servant,’ or will He say ‘Depart from me, I never knew you?'”  This question can be scary, very scary.

For one, you do not want to be doing everything you can to serve God, only to find out you missed out on the most important thing, the treasure that God actually wanted from you.  But also you do not want to go through life thinking that everything is fine, only to reach the final moments and find out your one way ticket to heaven was nothing more than a sham, sold to you by Satan and your betraying flesh.

What it means to be “Saved”

When a Christian says he or she is “saved”, what does that mean?  What is it exactly that we are saved from?

The most obvious answer that comes to mind is that we are saved from hell, to heaven (John 3:16).  But more than that, we are saved from sin, to righteousness – to good and righteous works God has called us to do (Romans 6:18, 22, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 2:10).  But one of the most important things we are saved for, is for the glory of God. That’s right, we are saved so that God can get glory (Romans 15:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Philippians 2:9-11).

How many people will be saved?  Not many.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. – Matthew 7:13-14

Examine Your faith

Salvation is important. It brings God glory, empowers us to do the good work God has for us, and it saves us from the damnation we deserve.  But it is clear that only a few will find it, and many will think they have found it but will be deceived (Matthew 7:21-23).

For this reason Paul tells us to examine ourselves to make sure that we are saved.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. – 2 Corinthians 13:5-6

What Faith is Not

This brings us to a crucial point. The few passages we have looked at so far makes it seem like faith and works are the same thing.  But they are not.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should  boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

This passage shows us there is a difference between faith and works. Faith saves us, not works.  Remember the first passage we looked at, Jesus rebuked people who were doing good works, but lacked faith, lacked a relationship with Jesus.  Jesus said “I never knew you” which shows us that it is the relationship God wants from us, not our works of healing, casting out demons, building churches, or giving to the poor.

Works themselves mean nothing.  Isaiah 64:6 says that our good works are worthless, that “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”

Are Works Meaningless?

Those passages make it clear that it is only by faith that we are saved, our works mean nothing.  So are works not important?

Actually, works are crucial to a Christian’s faith.  “Wait a second” you are thinking, “You just said works mean nothing, we are not saved by works and all our good works of righteousness are as filthy rags, how can they, at the same time, be crucial to a Christian?”  It does seem a bit contradictory at first, but dig deeper in to scriptures.

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? – James 2:14-20

So we are saved by faith, not by works, yet faith without works is dead and such a faith does not save you… confused yet? Just hang on a little bit longer.

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. – 1 John 2:3-6

This is a cause and effect situation here. What came first, the chicken or the egg?  Which comes first, the faith or the works?

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. – Matthew 7:16-18

And there Matthew sums this all up so nicely for us.  When we accept Christ, when we put faith in Him, something real happens, we are literally changed, transformed, the old person has passed away and a new being is created (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This does not mean that we never sin (that topic will be covered in another article).  The only way we can be sin free is to be in a new body, as long as we are trapped in these earthly bodies we will sin (Romans 7).

But our spirit is made new and the Holy Spirit indwells within us.  It is this which gives us the desires to do good works and gives us the ability to do good works.  Good works do not save us but they are the evidence that we are saved.

Just as a good tree only produces good fruit, a Christian, someone who is saved by faith, produces good works. Not because the works are required for salvation or give us merit at all, but because our nature changes completely.  It is something we can not help.

When I was in college – several years ago – I was a math major. In High school I could do math without a calculator.  I could solve the most complex calculations in my math class with nothing more than an occasional scratch piece of paper, but I could not write to save my life.

Just recently I took an algebra class and struggled through it.  I could not comprehend the math. I barely got a B in Algebra and Trig, and ended up getting a C in my pre-calculus class.  But I aced every one of my English and writing  classes and (so I am told) I write fairly well.

This is an example of my nature changing.  I went from being a math wiz to being a writer.  No amount of work on my part can change what I am.  I can practice and get by at math, but it will not come as naturally as writing does to me now.

In the same way a Christian cannot defy his or her nature.  When we are still stuck in sin we cannot do good works except by our effort, it was a struggle, but now, after salvation, the good works are a natural response, just like breathing.

This shows how it is possible that works are important to our faith and salvation but do not save us, because they have nothing to do with the salvation part, they are just an example of that salvation.

How do I examine myself?

So how then, do we go about examining ourselves?  The only thing I can say is to pray and read the Bible.  Examine your life, your actions, your check book (where you spend your money), your thoughts, everything, against scripture.  Are you living in sin that needs to be repented of?  Are you doing works in the church on a daily basis but missing that relationship with God?  Are you doing good works but feel that it is a burden to you?

Examine yourself, see what is keeping you from having a relationship with God, what is keeping you from the Bible.  Use natural works, the ones you enjoy and are not a pain to perform to see if it is a natural response or something you are (subconsciously) trying to fake.

Romans 10:17 says that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” I cannot stress enough how important the word of God is in our seeking God.  Read it every day, even more often in times of examining yourself spiritually.

*Photo by Jon Zenor, Copyright 2010 Jon Zenor Photography.*