How does the typical American Christian “get saved”?
My first encounter with God was at the age of seven. Angela, my best friend from elementary school invited me to Vacation Bible School that summer. During the week the Pastor came into our little class and told us about Jesus. I was riveted. He asked if any of us would like to invite Jesus into our hearts. Even at that young age I was absolutely convinced Jesus was Someone I was drastically in need of. I raised my hand.
We went to the Pastor’s office and he told us about the decision we were about to make. Then we prayed a little prayer, repeating after him, and at that moment I became a member of the family of God.
Or did I?
Some would say it takes more than a simple prayer to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. They cite scriptures like, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” “The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls,” “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter,” and “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”
But there is plenty of evidence for the simple act of humbling ourselves, confessing that we’re totally missing the mark and in need of a Savior, and acknowledging that Jesus Christ is the Son of God: “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,” “For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved,” and “All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.”
I believe there is the moment of stark realization of our state of affairs, our separation from God and heart-desperation for Jesus’s grace and mercy. I also believe that the act believing and confessing is just the beginning: “Faith without works is dead.” “You will know them by their fruit.” Only God knows the heart, but I question whether repeating a prayer after someone, raising your hand or walking the aisle of the church, then walking out the door to the same old life results in salvation. Do we see this practice modeled in the Bible? Do we see this modeled anywhere else on earth but “developed Christian nations”? Isn’t it rather about transformation?
Don’t get me wrong: I am not dissing the invitation to seekers in a church service — not at all! — I am asking if the American church has invented a short-cut to salvation. Do we “count the cost”? Do we talk about dying to self? Do we take up our cross and follow Him?
Here is the truth, Christ’s words from John chapter 15: “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. …. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. …. Apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. …. When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!”
I am convinced I received salvation that summer day as a young child. I haven’t always produced fruit, I have been pruned, and at times I may have even been in danger of being severed from the vine. Even now I question my effectiveness for the kingdom of God. But the sustaining theme and refrain of my life has been the enduring conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and He alone holds the keys to redemption.
Yet, as an American Christian I have to ask myself: Am I slow to produce fruit or quick today to obey His words? What about you?