Is it possible to develop a representation of Christianity that deceives people into thinking they are “saved” when they are not? Is it possible to convince people to “accept Jesus” but fail to lead them to repentance? Is it possible to produce counterfeit converts?
These are significant concerns to have and questions to ask. I have recently been reflecting upon the idea that the presentation of gospel that we have developed in Western culture is likely to be somewhat incomplete, if not misleading. Let me explain.
The emphasis of our salvation message is, “accept Jesus so you can go to heaven when you die.” I do not deny that a saved person is destined for heaven; however, I am concerned about whether presenting such a transaction as the motivating factor for becoming a Christian produces repentance. If there is no genuine repentance, there is no forgiveness and if no forgiveness, no salvation, no evidence of salvation, no inspiration to grow and no transformation. Having said the prayer or raised the hand, one might assume he or she now has a seat in heaven. As this becomes the ultimate goal of salvation, it replaces, overshadows or eliminates the greater and rightful ultimate goal of committing one’s life to pleasing God and advancing His kingdom and His purposes on earth. On a very practical level, I have observed that many professing Christians are nearly void of any concept that we have a mission on earth to “make disciples of all the nations,” clueless about what this means. In fact, certain approaches toward eschatology convince people that it’s better if things simply get worse so that Jesus will someday sweep in, scoop us up and deliver us from the mess. Instead of working to bring transformation to cultures and nations according to Biblical principles, we have resigned ourselves to defeat on this level – it can’t be done. Consider:
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt.6:10)
“For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” (Col.1:19-20)
“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2Co 5:18)
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mt.28:19-20)
“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Mt.24:14)
Many are content with the idea that they have obtained a seat in heaven, feeling no need to do the extra work to get a front-row seat by becoming a minister, chaplain, pastor or missionary. As long as they can go somewhere on Sunday and hear someone tell them they are okay, they are okay (if not, there are plenty of other churches to visit). We do not serve out of desire for a front-row seat (Mt.23:6; 20:16), we serve out of love and trust that God’s ways are right and good and produce that best possible fruit.
I would suggest that genuine repentance is accompanied by the deep sense illustrated by the prodigal son when he exclaimed, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men” (Lk.15:19). When we come back as a servant, He makes us sons and daughters. Jesus said, “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him” (Jn.12:26).
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Ps.34:18)
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Ps.51:17)