This season brings back memories of my childhood when I wasn’t allowed to go to haunted houses or even dress up and participate in trick-or-treating, because Halloween was a pagan holiday not to be celebrated by good Christian people like myself. Instead I was encouraged to go with my youth group to things like the “Judgement House” or “Revelation Walk”. These walk-thru dramas of death/Heaven/Hell scenarios or enactments of the end times are designed to put a person face to face with the fact that they are either gong to spend eternity in Heaven or in Hell. It’s a shaky form of evangelism at best, built on scare tactics.
Growing up, I heard hundreds of times the “invitation” at the end of every church service, Sunday school lesson, or youth event. The invitation to pray a prayer to “accept Christ” so that I will one day go to Heaven. These invitations were all well-meaning, I have no doubt, but what message do they really send?
Christianity was almost always presented as this:
People are all sinners who cannot save themselves. God is a loving God, but he is also a JUST God so sin must be punished. So he sent his son Jesus to die in our place and take the punishment for our sins. Our faith in Jesus Christ applies God’s grace to our lives and because of that grace we will spend eternity in Heaven with him instead of eternity in Hell. Do you believe this? Yes? Awesome!!!! Say this prayer, get your ticket to Heaven. Don’t say this prayer, spend eternity with these horrible demon creatures and Satan himself in Hell.
Well, that’s an easy choice. I said the prayer every time. Just in case.
Here’s the BIG problem with those kinds of invitations: They aren’t telling the whole truth.
I fear that we have simplified the gospel so much that we have cheapened the meaning of it.
God’s grace IS simple. It IS a free gift. But the presentation of the gospel above makes no mention of what is required of ME after I pray that prayer and “get saved”. I have heard so many organizations or events boast of their hundreds or thousands that “professed Christ” after being lead in some prayer. What does that even mean?
Are those thousands of people still professing Christ today?
Did their relationship with God go anywhere beyond repeating back some magic words to get them into Heaven? So many times we paint a picture of Heaven vs. Hell and tell people they need to confess and receive salvation. In many cases, we are doing people a HUGE disservice, because we aren’t teaching the whole gospel.
Paul said this to the church in Galatia:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a different gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” Galatians 1:6-8
No, we aren’t preaching a different gospel than the one Paul preached, but I dare say we are leaving something out.
The title of this blog stems from an attitude that has developed in my heart after years of hearing people talk about Heaven. I hear people talk about the streets of gold and the gates that are made of pearls and gemstones and whatnot. About how we will be reunited with loved ones, get a mansion all to ourselves and crowns as rewards for all the crap we had to put up with on earth. And I’m just like….So what?
My personal beliefs about heaven do not include most of the above. I don’t believe that the streets are literally made of gold and that I will live in a huge mansion with a heated pool and california-king sized bed with killer views of outer-space. I don’t believe that I will have crowns piled on top of my head for every soul I snatch out of hell with my witnessing. Maybe I’m wrong though. No one really knows. I’ll find out someday.
Heaven is for real. So what?! The only reason I care about heaven is because that is where God is. GOD! The one who created the entire universe and knows everything about everyone. The one who is in control of all things, yet still speaks to me personally and cares about every little thing that matters to me. GOD! The one who healed me of my cancer twice and breathed life into my broken spirit to help me carry on. GOD! The one who carried me when I couldn’t take even another step because I was exhausted with even just living life.
One day I will die. Maybe I’ll walk on streets of gold to get to the throne of my God, but if it’s just concrete, I’m not going to be disappointed. Because the whole point of Jesus dying was not to offer me a chance to go to heaven. It was for me to be restored and reconciled to God. Everything else pales in comparison.
What is the goal of evangelism? To get people a ticket to Heaven, or to show them who God really is? Because if you and I had a better understanding of who God is, our entire lives would be different.
We cannot look into the face of the Almighty God and walk away the same.
Shouldn’t that be our approach – not a five step presentation that teaches people to do and say the right things? That doesn’t change people. God does.
Later in Galatians 2, Paul says “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”
We may preach a gospel that includes all the right terminology. We may lead someone in a sinner’s prayer that is eloquent and covers all the bases, but do those people repeating back the words truly know what it means to make Jesus the LORD of their lives? Do they comprehend the fullness of this commitment?
The truth is that the gospel “good news” is wonderful.
The truth is that it is not easy.
It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.
Because this good news requires something called surrender. And surrender is something that absolutely no one likes to do.
Surrender my money for his cause.
Surrender my time for his call.
Surrender my pride for his witness.
Surrender my dreams for the future.
Surrender my heartbeat for his name.
Like I said…it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Are the people we present the gospel to aware of what their salvation might cost?
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I don’t believe that you can pray a prayer and WHAM! you’re going to heaven no matter what.
The so called “prayer of salvation” is found no where in scripture. Shocking I know.
But all throughout scripture we are told our FAITH saves us, through the relationship with the one who gives grace. And faith is really no faith at all unless it is put into action. If you don’t have that relationship, if you only a prayed a prayer, go to church, sing the songs and pay your tithes, are you truly a follower of Christ? Have you truly been crucified with Christ? Saying a prayer, and even meaning it when you say it, that is shallow theology. And I just don’t think it’s enough.
Let’s say that David loved me so much, pursued me and one day asked me to marry him. I said ” YES! I’ll do that!” And I put the ring on my finger. I am his! — sort of. Or am I? I sure do look like I belong to/with him. I tell everyone the story of how he loves me. I can tell them how he got down on one knee and proposed, and I accepted. I can show off that beautiful ring and claim my undying love for him. But if I never actually plan the wedding, if I never get the dress, if I never follow through and say the vows…it’s not sincere. It’s all a façade.
My fear is that many Christians these days are wearing their engagement rings with pride. But when it comes down to it, they aren’t willing to do the necessary things to enter into a true lasting relationship with Jesus.
I also fear that we are presenting this shallow form of Christianity to the people we evangelize, and that even if they accept it, they will go away with a false sense of security, “fire insurance” and ultimately a false gospel.
Jesus, when he called his disciples, asked them to leave behind everything. Jesus, when he asks us to follow him, asks us to do whatever it takes. He doesn’t give us the option to keep the things we love and only give up what we can spare. This is the true gospel. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” This fierce love, the kind that you would do anything for, is where the gospel is rooted.
If we could stop trying to get people to pray a prayer and put on an engagement ring, and instead come alongside people and disciple them, helping them “plan a wedding” and a life with Christ, how different would our churches and our world be?
Think about it.