There is a type of thinking that is popular among Christians that says you become a Christian simply by repeating the words of a prayer to God. This prayer varies in exact wording among different denominations and branches of the Christian Church, however the basic elements are all the same. Say the prayer, and hey presto you’re now a Christian. If you ever struggle with your faith in the future or fall away completely, that’s OK, because once upon a time, you prayed a prayer so you have a spiritual insurance policy against fire damage.
One of the problems with that idea is there are no examples of it in the Bible. Another is that it is not a common practice throughout Church history until very recently (last century). But, the biggest problem is when you base your spiritual confidence in something you do instead of something God has done in the person of Jesus then you are “placing all bets” on your own personal worth and accomplishments. If that’s the case, you had better make sure your record is completely, 100%, perfect.
I prayed a prayer, therefore I am going to heaven. In other words, I’ve paid my dues, so God owes me one.
Christianity is never presented this way in the Bible. Instead what we see is Jesus calling people to repent of self-confidence and self accomplishment and instead trust in his accomplishment on their behalf. i.e. to trust in his completely, 100%, perfect record and perfect offering of himself to satisfy the justice of God on your behalf.
My self-confidence and sense of personal peace or enjoyment of my faith will vary all the time, but the accomplishment of Jesus stands and remains consistent. If I doubt my sincerity when I prayed such and such a prayer, my confidence could waver. But, if I doubt, or am discouraged, defeated, depressed or disillusioned in myself Jesus has called me to look away from myself and look to him. I am not a Christian because of something I have done or haven’t done. Rather I am a Christian because I am relying and trusting in what the Bible says Jesus has done on my behalf.
J.D. Greear has written a little book called “Stop asking Jesus into your heart”. He explains the difference between relying upon Jesus and “praying a special prayer”.
“Repentance and faith are heart postures you take toward the finished work of Christ. You might express the beginning of that posture in a prayer. But don’t make the mistake of equating that prayer with the posture. The sinner’s prayer is not a magic incantation or a recipe you follow to get a salvation cake. The real stuff—the stuff that matters—is the posture of repentance and faith behind the words you speak. The prayer is good only insofar as it verbalizes the posture.
we might express our assumption of that new posture in a “sinner’s prayer”—or by “asking Jesus into our hearts,” or some equivalent thereof—but just because we’ve prayed that prayer doesn’t necessarily mean we have repented and believed. The flip side is also true: just because we haven’t prayed that prayer (or can’t remember praying it) doesn’t mean we haven’t repented and believed. “Repentance and belief” and “asking Jesus into our hearts” are not always interchangeable.”
~ Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved by J.D. Greear
Are you repenting of your sin and trusting in Jesus or are you trusting in some words you once recited as a prayer?
One of the most polarizing events in Sydney’s cultural calendar is the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. What started as a political advocacy and protest march has grown into a major Australian tourism extravaganza. It regularly attracts international celebrity and acclaim. Locally it’s a popularly promoted festival and gives rise to various protests and campaigns in reaction and response from the more conservative, usually Christian, members of the Sydney community (although not exclusively these days), who are concerned about the tone, message and lifestyle mardi gras promotes.
I wonder though, how Jesus, friend of sinners, would react and respond to the occasion. I don’t see any precedents in the New Testament that indicate he would be a red-faced, screaming, placard holding protester. Neither, do I see the Son of God off his face at the after party having popped a few of whatever may be the latest party drug or stimulant. I suspect his action would be one of grace, love, compassion and service.
Local Sydney Pastor, (among other things), John Dickson, penned this prayer. I think Jesus would be the one who would model how this prayer is answered and lived out to the glory of God.
For my friends, who are at Mardi Gras tonight, and, well, if you read this at all, are probably doing so late Sunday afternoon or Monday at the earliest, hear the words of this prayer as my prayer for you AND me.
A PRAYER FOR THE NIGHT OF MARDI GRAS – by John Dickson
God of the righteous and the wicked,
Have mercy on your people, the church,
for their wickedness:
for allowing biblical convictions about love and sex
to justify unbiblical words and actions
toward men and women made in your image.
As it rains on tonight’s parade,
may this speak not of your judgment
but of your promise to cleanse and forgive
all who turn to you for grace.
And teach our nation,
especially your church,
to follow Jesus, the Friend of Sinners,
that we would learn how to care deeply
for those with whom we profoundly disagree;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
During a baptism class on Sunday, where many children were present, I was briefly explaining some of the key phrases of the Apostles Creed. Who is God? Who is Jesus? What does “ascended” mean? etc. I also noticed that the version of the creed we were reading had retained a few archaic English terms like “thence” instead of “there” and “Ghost” instead of “Spirit”.
I told the parents present I would update that language so the kids understood what we were talking about. If they read in the Bible, and hear in Kids Church that “God the Holy Spirit” is the third person of the Trinity and then read “Holy Ghost” in the creed, are they going to become confused? I think it’s very likely and not just for the children.
Here is my suggested modern rendering the Apostles Creed. The creed has changed much since its earliest appearance as a Latin statement of belief. Some of those changes have attracted controversy. Others were simply to modernise the language. In my version below, I have changed the wording in a few places. Have I retained the meaning adequately? Is the Apostles Creed an untouchable “sacred cow”? What do you think?
The Apostles Creed – A Modern Children’s Edition by Albert Garlando
I believe in God the Father, the Almighty maker of heaven and earth,
I believe in Jesus Christ, God the Son, our Lord:
He was made into a baby by the Holy Spirit, and born of the virgin Mary; he suffered under Pontius Pilate and was crucified, then he died, and was buried; he went down into the grave.
The third day after, He arose again from the dead;
He went up into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
He will come back from heaven to judge everyone who has ever lived.
I believe in the Holy Spirit; He brings every believer into the holy Christian Church and gives them the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and everlasting life.
What does God owe you and I? How about someone who has given their life to the service of God? What is the obligation on God’s part to repay that person for their service and sacrifice? What can be said to someone who pours out their life in some far off country caring for terminally ill patients without any access to modern western medical technology or perhaps works in a refugee border camp providing education to children? Surely such saints will call for some sort of reward from God?
In Matthew’s gospel, the Apostle Peter seems to ask a similar question;
See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?
~ Matt 19:27
In response to that Jesus tells the parable of the workers in the vineyard. You might think that was the end of it, if not for the way Matthew continues to build his narrative. Following the parable, Matthew relates Jesus third and last prediction of what will happen when he reaches Jerusalem. What follows after that are two accounts of people asking Jesus for something. As you compare the two accounts a sharp contrast is clear in how they respond to Jesus and what they think God owes them.
In the first account, the Sons of Zebedee, James and John, have their Mother ask Jesus to give them the highest positions of honour in his future kingdom. Evidently it was insufficient for their ambition to be promised “thrones“. They wanted much more; to make sure they were above their peers, the other 10 apostles.
The second account also is about two men, this time both are blind beggars. Their wish is that Jesus would show them mercy and that they might be able to see.
What a vast difference. James and John assume a posture of entitlement and Jesus corrects their view of themselves and their view of him. What they couldn’t see, or didn’t hear, was “the last will be first and the first will be last.”
The blind men, however, have a posture of penitence and desperation. In response, Jesus also corrects their ability to see, by healing their physical blindness.
The reactions of those nearby each pair is also illuminating. The remaining 10 apostles are indignant that James and John would dare ask such a question. After all, it’s what they wanted ask (as indicated by Jesus calling them all together to teach some more), but James and John got in first. In the case of the blind beggars, the surrounding crowd is embarrassed and upset with the beggars because they seem to be asking the wrong question. When the crowd tries to silence them they only scream out even louder.
Some, it seems, follow Jesus to manipulate God and others. They may disguise it as leadership or influence, but it’s all about their ambition to be the big men on campus. The argument they use is, similar to Peter’s earlier question, “I follow you, therefore you should give me …fill-in-the-blank…“
Others, like the blind beggars, follow Jesus because they have received his mercy. Rather than seeking to make an exchange with God; their performance for his reward; they rely solely on his mercy because Jesus has already made the exchange by giving himself as a ransom for sinners.
Are you in one of these two groups? Or, perhaps, do you identify more closely with those who observed the pairs of men interacting with Jesus?
“Fat Tuesday” is the day before “Ash Wednesday” which marks a 40 day countdown to Easter Weekend. Got all that? Probably not, unless you were either raised in a liturgical Church or you live in countries where Fat Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday are a big deal. In Australia this hasn’t been the case so much until recently. Retailers can seize upon as a commercial opportunity and some Church and Community groups use it as a chance to connect and serve their members.
For many Christians, particularly the Catholic, Eastern and Liturgical groups, Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent. A period of sacrifice, penance or fasting in the lead up to the annual observance of Jesus death and resurrection.
Lent is a transliteration of a term with Germanic and Latin roots that means “lengthen” and was synonymous with the Spring season, as in, ‘the days begin to lengthen in Spring’. Thus the name, Lent. That’s all well and good if you’re in the Northern hemisphere, if not, it’s just nonsense! What it has come to mean and is now practiced all over the world, is a period of sacrifice or partial fasting.
Sanctified weight loss programs exploit the vulnerable, as do anti-cigarette campaigners, alcohol prohibitionists seize the opportunity to get people to quit drinking and all manner of well meaning propaganda finds it’s way into our life. One year a Church leader tried the same angle with iPods. A friend of mine did a similar “fast” from Facebook.
Just like Chicken Soup, there’s little harm from abstinence of a few luxuries. Take a break from your iPod if you must, leave off the chocolate and lose a kilo or a belt notch. So long as you beware the trap in thinking that your abstinence somehow makes you closer to God, more loveable to God, or more worthy of his forgiveness, grace and goodness. Nothing less than Jesus can save you, give you God’s forgiveness and assurance that your heavenly Father loves you enough to send his unique Son to die in the place of sinners.
Once Lent is over and Christians celebrate Easter Sunday, it’s not because they get to eat chocolate again. It is because Jesus has put an end to Satan, sin and death and is our sovereign and almighty Lord. If staying off Facebook or your iPod helps you make that clear to your friends, please go ahead. I wonder though, if you’re not giving up anything for Lent, for whatever reason, how do you view those that do?