Journal excerpt 2012: “Do I look like a Christian? If I’m a follower of Christ, then why is my life so compromised? Why is there so much sin, so much fear, so little faith? Dare I stand up and identify myself with Christ? Will I not shame Him and shame myself?”
I was beginning to doubt my own salvation.
Everywhere I turned I saw flashing lights and warning signals.
“Put yourselves to the test to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize regarding yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you – unless, indeed, you fail the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5).
I’m not sure where it all began. I’ll start with my new buddy Howard, who was a fairly new convert and completely gung-ho for Christ. Me? By that time I felt as though I was taking Christ for granted like a member of the family. After all, I’d heard about Jesus since the day Mom and Dad brought me home from the hospital. So here comes Howard, a running back sized guy with a bulldozer of a personality, who was constantly beating the drum of no salvation without repentance: Repentance. Repentance. Repentance! If a preacher preached a sermon without using the word “repentance”, Howard would want the preacher to repent. In our weekly get-togethers, He would often say, “If a person’s life after getting saved is not radically different than prior to getting saved, then we might have to question whether they have been saved at all.”
Oddly enough it was not something I remember hearing much, or at all, prior to this time in my life. But, suddenly, everywhere I turned it seemed, every Christian book, every sermon, no matter what the subject matter, started telling me the same exact things.
John Piper, in his book, “Battling Unbelief”, after quoting from Hebrews 12:14, that without holiness no one will see the Lord, wrote, “There are professing Christians who live such unholy lives that they will hear Jesus’ dreadful words, ‘I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness’ (Matthew 7:23). There are church-attending people who believe they are saved because they once prayed to receive Jesus, not realizing that the genuineness of that experience is proved by endurance: ‘The one who endures to the end will be saved’ (Matthew 24:13).”
He continued: “I have learned again and again from firsthand experience that there are many professing Christians who have a view of salvation that disconnects it from real life, and that nullifies the threats of the Bible, and puts the sinning person beyond the reach of biblical warnings. I believe this view of the Christian life is comforting thousands who are on the broad way that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).”
Another author wrote, “[The] word ‘stumble’ would not be the appropriate term to use for the man who regularly indulges [his sins]. His sin is causing him to fall away from the living God. Many men I have dealt with over the years have deceived themselves about their sin. They like to say that they ‘struggle’ with lust [etc.], when the truth is that there really isn’t any struggle going on at all: they regularly give over to the passions of the flesh.” He continued, “The difference between the mentality of God’s kingdom and that of the world can best be described by the words of Jesus: ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself (Luke 9:23)”.
In another book: “It is infinitely worse [to live in sin] for those who are baptized than for those who are not if they [have turned away from the proper obedient life and] response which ought [to have] unconditionally follow[ed],” the author wrote. “It is in this [context] that the New Testament words are to be understood, which speak of a sin which is not forgiven, for which no repentance is possible.”
In a sermon by the late Dr. James Montgomery Boice, I heard the following words (which I made sure to write down): “If you’re a follower of Christ, your life will be different. If it’s not different, you’re not a follower of Christ, [even] though you may say you are…”
And finally, God’s clean up hitter came to knock it out of the park and drive all the runs home; Charles Haddon Spurgeon, from his book “The Soul Winner”: “True belief and true repentance are twins,” he says. “If the man does not live differently from what he did before, both at home and abroad, his repentance needs to be repented of, and his conversion is a fiction.”
“The whole man must be renewed, or conversion will be questionable,” he continues. “Abiding under the power of any known sin is a mark of our being the servants of sin, for ‘his servants ye are to whom ye obey’ [Romans 6:16]…. A Christian professes to renounce sin; and if he does not do so, his very name is an imposture.”
“How can a man be a disciple of Christ when he openly lives in disobedience to Him?” Spurgeon says finally. “If the professed convert distinctly and deliberately declares that he knows his Lord’s will but does not mean to attend to it, you are not to pamper his presumption, but it is your duty to assure him that he is not saved.”
I’d never heard such talk in my life!
You see, from what I recall, the teaching I’d received growing up, or at least the way I understood it, was as follows: “Believe to be saved. Continue believing to be saved” etc. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. “The one who believes in me will live even if he dies…” “The one who believes in him is not condemned” (John 3:18). “Unless you believe that I Am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24, NLT). Over and over and over again, “Believe, believe, believe.” Knowledge, theology, doctrine, understanding, trusting and believing these things to be true. Wasn’t that Christianity? I simply don’t recall hearing or perceiving very much about repentance and a changed life. Yes, I knew that a person needed to be born again (John 3:6-7); yet I was blind to the whole “new life” aspect, the living it. I’m not even sure if I really understood it at all. After all, I didn’t feel new. My heart didn’t feel new (Ezekiel 11:19 and Ezekiel 36:26). My life was feeling “ineffective and unproductive in [the] pursuit of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:8).
I was going to Grace Bible Church of Philadelphia at that time and had gotten together with Pastor Ian McConnell on several occasions, laying my struggle on him, hoping he could diagnose my problem and give me some sort of Bible verse concoction that might cure me. One day he tricked me, I was hoping to meet him at a Starbucks, but he told me he couldn’t as he was going to some kind of Bible seminar. “You could meet me there,” he said.
“A seminar?” I winced, feeling as though a stomach flu was coming on. “An all day thing? Ugh!”
But it seemed as though he and I would, perhaps, be able to hit Starbucks afterward. With such a thought in the back of my mind, I went.
I sat in the seminar all day, listening intensely, my interest sparked.
Ian left around lunchtime.
The seminar was called “School of Biblical Discipleship” if I am not mistaken. And it was just what the Doctor (capital “D”, the Great Physician) ordered. I was blown away by the things I heard because, I don’t recall ever having heard them before. I have a hodgepodge of notes still jammed in the discipleship folder to this very day, excited little notes. I couldn't write fast enough since I was getting hit rapid fire with so many truths so quickly. They were undeniable. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard most of them before. The following are just some of my quickly jotted notes:
“The Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20. If no one has ever properly modeled this for us, we might not be able to understand it, but the disciples knew because Christ had modeled it for them for three years. And how many churches today teach or say this? What churches teach that if a person calls themselves a disciple, they will be obedient to everything the Lord taught?” (I recently heard this again on YouTube in a sermon by Voddie Baucham.)
“The Great Commission talks about teaching them to OBEY.” People need to be taught how to obey! After walking in the ways of the world for so long, people need to be taught how to walk in God’s ways.
“Jesus didn’t say, ‘Go out and make everyone pray the sinner’s prayer. Every sinner has his own prayer. We’ve all been too busy trying to make Christians, not disciples (Christ followers).”
“Are you a Christian or a disciple? A disciple is one who denies himself, takes up his cross, and follows Christ. A person may call themselves a Christian, but that would not necessarily mean they were disciples or Christ followers. All disciples are Christians, but not all who call themselves Christians are disciples.”
“We are often asked by pastors or churches or baptism questionnaires to affirm truths or affirm what we believe, but does anyone ask, ‘Are you following Christ?’”
“Becoming a Christian is not just a decision, but a commitment.”
“The gospel goes out with two commands: Believe and Repent. The verb form in the original language is not past tense. ‘I have believed on Christ.’ It is present tense and ongoing. ‘I’m believing.’ ‘I’m following Christ.’”
“What are the things that keep you from following Christ? Are they still in your garage?”
“Until a person can put [the Gospel] into their own words, they don’t understand it.”
“Buy the book ‘Not a Fan’ by Kyle Idleman.” (An eye opening book, indeed. Read my review of it here: http://www.examiner.com/review/are-you-a-fan-or-a-follower-of-jesus)
My ears were finally hearing.
My eyes were beginning to open.
My mind was beginning to perceive.
Journal entry: “God is opening my eyes… opening my eyes to something brand new, something I was blind to, something I had not seen before. This is painful, but I want it and need it. I want to be done with sin. I want a new heart and mind. I want to be sold out, to be a follower. But every day, every moment is a test. But I will accept this. I pray that He fills me with His Holy Spirit, that I will hear Him when He speaks to me, that I will obey when I hear His voice, that I will kill and crucify my old desires, that He will not lead me into temptation, but deliver me from evil. God help me. Renew me.”
But the journey was not over yet.
To be continued…
“Hear, you deaf; look, you blind, and see!” (Isaiah 42:8, NIV)
Then Jesus went out again from the region of Tyre and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee in the region of the [ten cities]. They brought to him a deaf man who had difficulty speaking, and they asked him to place his hands on him. After Jesus took him aside privately, away from the crowd, he put his fingers in the man’s ears, and after spitting, he touched his tongue. Then he looked up to heaven and said with a sigh, “Ephphatha” (that is, “Be opened”). And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his tongue loosened, and he spoke plainly. Jesus ordered them not to tell anything. But as much as he ordered them not to do this, they proclaimed it all the more. People were completely astounded and said, “He has done everything well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak” (Mark 7:31-37).
Feel free to read columns I have written elsewhere here:
 John Piper, “Battling Unbelief”, copyright 2007 by Desiring God Foundation, published by Multnomah, page 90.
 Ibid, page 136.
 Ibid, page 46.
 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Soul Winner”, copyright Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963, pages 35 & 36.
 Ibid, pages 36 & 37.
 Ibid, page 38.
 My notes are edited for improved readability.