How not to privatize faith

How not to privatize faith May 28, 2014

We are not saved by a “profession of faith”; rather, we are saved by faith.

In this series, I have contended that faith is public, not private. In this post, I want to address a few applications. I sometimes hear the objection that “we can’t make someone believe” or “we can’t change another person’s heart.” People say this to justify evangelistic methods that verge on easy-believism wherein they assume a “profession” is to be counted as actual decision of faith.

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Credit: CC 2.0/pixabay

True—we cannot change hearts, but we can take responsibility for the way we present the gospel message. Since Christian faith is public––being more than words––there are a few things we can make sure to do and say that resist the “privatization” of faith.

I’ll first list two broad points followed by a few specific applications. Broadly, our explanation of the gospel should . . .
 

1. CALL FOR ALLEGIANCE

We can control what we are calling people to do. To “believe in Jesus” is to give allegiance to a king. This is a revolutionary summons. It reorients the entirety of one’s life. Faith is more than a believing an ideology, which is isolated to a narrow sphere of life. Faith is so much more than belief in a set of doctrines.

Because Jesus is king of the world, Caesar Augustus and the Party Chairman are not. Because God is our Father, our primary loyalty must be given to a new family.

If we do not make this distinction––faith as allegiance versus faith as doctrinal belief––then we risk compromising the gospel by settling or truth. We risk allowing people to remain like demons––having right doctrine but wrong delights.
 

2. AFFIRM THE IMPORTANCE OF WORKS

Evangelicals are fearful at times to say anything positive about “works.” We have to stop theologizing out of fear–– “what if someone thinks . . . .” Our job is to speak the truth. People will always misunderstand or manipulate the most basic of truths––even that God loves us!

Because faith of the essence is public, faith necessarily produces works.

Because I know how people misread a statement like this, let me clarify what I do not mean.

(a) I do not mean that works are the cause of our present justification; rather they are the fruit.

(b) By “works,” I do not mean perfection.

Therefore, saving faith produces more than a profession; it leads to life change. Why do I say this? How does this change our perspective of ministry?

We should not give people the impression that salvation is easier than it is.

I think many modern and non-Christianized people have the opposite problem than Luther, who despaired and was fearful that salvation utterly impossible. Eastern religion is pragmatic, providing methods of salvation that have little effect on the whole of life.

However, this is not Christian faith.

Therefore, I suggest a few ideas that need to be made clear when explaining the gospel. For now, I won’t elaborate on them, except for the last one.

1. The gospel changes our group identity

2. Following Christ has a cost

3. The gospel summons us to obedience to King Jesus

4. Baptize rather than “pray a prayer.”

5. Do not sharply separate conversion and discipleship.

“Discipleship” includes conversation, maturing, and ministry. The faith that saves is the faith that sustains. So, the change of allegiance one has at conversion yields the obedience that marks a disciple. I’ll have to leave it at that for now; to say more requires another post entirely.

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  • Nice post.

    Do you have any Scripture for points #1 and #4 and #5?

    This is just a question. The sharing of the gospel is paramount.

    Thank you.

    • The various possible texts are numerous so I’ll try to give a sample. (#1) Mark 10:29-30; Eph 2:11-3:6; Gal 3:28-29. #4 Matt 28:19-20; examples of Acts; rom 6:1-4, among others versus the complete absence of anything like a “sinners prayer”; #5 again Matt 28:19-20 and the fact that being a disciple is normative in the NT, knowing nothing of the idea that one could be a convert in any sense that didn’t involve actually following Christ

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  • Very good.

    “#4 Matt 28:19-20; examples of Acts; rom 6:1-4, among others versus the complete absence of anything like a “sinners prayer”; #5 again Matt 28:19-20 and the fact that being a disciple is normative in the NT, knowing nothing of the idea that one could be a convert in any sense that didn’t involve actually following Christ ”

    I was wondering if you were saying “Baptize rather than pray a prayer at the moment of conversion.” ? I’m not an advocate of the “sinner’s prayer” per se.

    However, I see that there is a significant number of people who lately–in a reaction against the unbiblical nature of the “sinner’s prayer”–have begun adding to the simplicity that is the gospel message.

    The reason I don’t like the sinner’s prayer is that it doesn’t contain the gospel message–which is how one gets saved. However, I’m not sure I see the point of adding something in lieu of it.

    #5 Again, this seems to be adding to the gospel message. Discipleship is wonderful and Jesus did say to disciple, but they are too separate issues. To blur them seems to, again, destroy the simplicity of the gospel message.

    I know people who won’t attempt to convert a soul unless that soul can be immediately baptized. I wonder how biblical that is?

    Thanks for your answers. I was curious.