If you go to an evangelical, Protestant church – there is a good chance that the pastor gives an “invitation” at the end of the service for people to “receive Christ.” People who want to make the decision to become believers in Christ go down to the front of the sanctuary and someone leads them in some version of “The Sinner’s Prayer.” It may sound something like this:
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name.
Amen. (from the Billy Graham Institute)
There is nothing really wrong with praying a prayer like this. In fact, it can and should be the beginning of a lifetime of following Jesus as LORD. Here is the problem I have found – it seems that some choose to look at this prayer as if this alone is all that is necessary to be a “Christian.” The thought goes like this, “If I say this prayer, I am going to heaven. I don’t have to change how I live, obey God, follow Jesus or alter my life in any way. But now I can call myself a ‘Christian’ because I prayed this prayer and then I can go on living for myself as I always have.”
That philosophy, my precious sisters, is incredibly dangerous. This is NOT at all what it means to be a Christian! Jesus never called anyone to know Him casually or to just recite a prayer and then live for themselves. Jesus called people to “follow Me” – as in – for the rest of their lives and all of eternity. We sometimes gloss over that word, “Lord,” as if it is no big deal. But if Jesus is LORD of my life – it is the biggest deal of all time. I give Him total control over my life from that moment on. Life is no longer about me. It is all about what Jesus wants from now on.
Here are some things that Jesus says about what it means to follow Him and to be His disciple. He gave all that He had and all that He was for us – now we have the honor and privilege of giving all that we have and all that we are for Him. He is worthy of nothing less than everything.
- Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” John 14:22-24
- Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” Matthew 16:24-27
- “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46
- “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 7:21-23
- Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35
To “believe” in Jesus means that we not only mentally understand that He is our Savior and Lord – (even the demons acknowledge who Jesus is, after all) – we actually follow Him, obey Him and live out our faith in very tangible ways. When a person belongs to Christ – He radically changes him/her!
- But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. James 2:18-26
If you owed someone several billion dollars in loans and only had 2 pennies to your name, and that person forgave you that debt by paying for it himself, would you then ignore him who paid so much to release you from your massive debt? Of course not! You would be willing to do anything to bless that person and to show your gratitude! That is the same situation here, although each of us owe God more than billions of dollars and we have no way to pay our debt to Him. We have no good in ourselves according to Scripture. We are in most desperate need of a Savior. When we find this forgiveness and such lavish grace and mercy – we will be willing to do anything Jesus asks of us – no matter what the cost to ourselves. “He who has been forgiven much loves much” (Luke 7:47). I don’t get to exempt myself from certain commands in the Bible and pick and choose which ones I want to obey. It is my great privilege, duty and honor to seek to please God in all that He asks me to do – and He gives me the very power in which to accomplish what He asks!
Works (doing good things) don’t save us. Rather – works are always the result of saving faith.
If my faith does not produce the fruit of God’s Spirit in my life (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control), and it doesn’t produce obedience to God, and I am still living in the power of my sinful self, something is VERY, VERY wrong. If I don’t hate my sin and feel tormented by the thought of grieving my wonderful Lord with my sin, something is terribly wrong.
I cannot say, “I’m a believer, but I’m not living out my faith right now.” And I cannot say, “I’m a believer in Christ, but I am living comfortably in this sin or that sin right now, no big deal.”
That way of thinking doesn’t hold water with God. If I am a believer, I cannot help but live out my faith – I have a new Spirit from God. My old flesh is dead and buried with Christ. All things have become new. I want to obey Jesus. I want to know God more. I want to be in His Word and study and absorb all that I can. I want to apply His Word to my life and be in the center of His will. He has woken me up from being spiritually dead. Now I have a spiritual appetite for Him. I love Him with all my heart. I know the great debt that I owed God and how Jesus paid for all of that evil in my life with His very blood. My motives are that I am so thankful and love God so much, I am willing to do anything He asks me to do. I hate all sin now because God hates all sin. I want Jesus to change my desires to love what He loves and to hate what He hates. I want Him to transform me to be more like Christ. I want His will rather than my own will. Yes, I have to wrestle with things at times and I have much to learn – but learning and growing in Christ is my delight and He is my greatest Treasure in the world! I know that apart from Christ, I have no good thing.
Following Christ is not about legalism – “I need to impress God (or earn my salvation) by following rules.” It is about having a real, living, breathing relationship with the God of the universe through Jesus. Yes, I receive this gift of salvation from my sins freely. Jesus did ALL of the work for me on the cross. I cannot do one thing to please God or be “good” on my own. But although my salvation is free – because Jesus paid the full debt I owed to God for my sin – it also costs me everything. Now, I don’t live for myself. I am dead to this world and my sin (Romans 6). Now, I live for Christ and for His will, His purposes, His plans, His dreams, His glory, His wisdom and I have His power, His resources and His Spirit to carry out the things He has commanded me to do. When someone is my LORD – I obey Him. When He gives me commands, they are not optional.
If I have no desire to obey Jesus, to know Him more, to be more like Him and to please Him, I need to examine whether or not I am His.
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. John 10:27
The real question is not “Did I pray a special prayer one time?” The real question is, “Am I following Jesus every day?”
That is what Jesus called us to do – to follow Him all throughout our lives until we reach heaven.