(Image courtesy of http://wccvt.com.)

A little boy, sitting in his school desk, is trying to solve a math problem.  He squirms uneasily, growing increasingly frustrated at the fact that he cannot find the answer.  He begins to sweat and his eyes begin to swell as the frustration mounts.  Timidly, he tugs at his teacher's dress as she walks by.  "What's wrong, Tommy?" she empathetically asks.  "I can't find the answer to this problem," he almost inaudibly murmurs.  "Oh, I see.  Well, did you know that God loves you?"  Puzzled, the boy looks back at his paper as his teacher meanders away with a satisfied smile on her face.

* * * * *
A young girl is contemplating giving in to the requests of her boyfriend for sex.  She doesn't know what to do, but something isn't settling well with her as she mulls the thoughts over and over in her mind.  Part of her wants to give in, is nervously excited to give in, is looking forward to being desired and wanted, but the other part of her is scared - terrified actually.

A few weeks go by and the girl gives in to the pressures.  She feels horrible, used, and rejected because now her boyfriend has broken up with her.  She wants to get rid of the guilt and shame, but she doesn't know how.

Later that week, after the break up, one of her girlfriends invites her to youth group and she goes, searching for something that will set her free.  The youth pastor stands up front after delivering his message about the upcoming youth trip and fundraising opportunities and then states his invitation: "Perhaps you've come tonight and you don't know Jesus."  Immediately the young girl feels something inside of her longing to know who this Jesus is.  The youth pastor continues: "If you want to know more about Him or about becoming a member of this church, please talk to me after the service."  The girl, too ashamed and shy to ask, goes home that night with no answer for her aching hurt.

When they make it to her house, her friend pulls the car to the curb and says, "Thanks for coming with me tonight.  God loves you."  Her friend smiles as she closes the car door behind her.  "How does that help me?  My ex-boyfriend said he loved me too," wonders the young girl as she walks up the sidewalk to her house, feeling more depressed than ever.
* * * * *
A man walks off an unseen cliff, but manages to barely grab onto the edge of the rock.  He hangs there for some time before anyone comes by.  A member of a local church congregation walks by and sees the man hanging on for his life.

"Help!" screams the exhausted man hanging from the cliff.  The church member hustles over and sees the man in need of help.  Finally, he opens his mouth and says, "God loves you, just the way you are, no matter where you are.  That's Good News, isn't it?"

"How does that help me at all!?" screams the man as his last strength is spent and he plummets to his death on the rocks below.
* * * * *
The above anecdotes might seem far-fetched and improbable, but believe it or not they are being played out across our country - and some parts of the world - every... single... day....

Let me start by saying that I desire everything I do be for a purpose.  I am not writing this for the sake of proving a point or, of much less importance, that I get a few supporters of my viewpoint.  This is not about me.  The purpose of this is not to start unnecessary controversy.  The purpose is to proclaim God's Word and call into question the lies of the present age.

My purpose statement can be summarized in the Apostle Paul's words in I Corinthians 2:5: "... that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God."  I believe that the modern, American church (or whatever you wish to call it) has unknowingly and unpurposely shuffled the truth of God's Word to fit traditional and cultural theology - man's wisdom.  In short, we have lost sight of who God really is and what His Word testifies as truthful about Him.

I ask that as you read this essay you question what I say and use the verses I cite as references, allowing the Word of God to form your beliefs, not man.

I pray that you, O Christian, would hear me out.

The "sinner's prayer" is not found in the Bible.

I prayed the sinner's prayer when I was six years old.  I thought I understood what it meant to be a child of God when I was baptized at the age of thirteen.  I obeyed the commandments as best I could.  I attended church every Sunday.  I read my Bible nearly every day and prayed often as I grew in my faith.  I didn't cuss.  I didn't drink.  I didn't smoke.  I didn't fornicate.  But I was not assured that I was saved.  Assurance did not come until I was twenty-five years old.

In March of 2014, God spoke to me.  God said to me, "Follow me" (Matthew 16:24).  And I heard His voice and I understood.  My eyes were opened and I felt such incredible gratitude and thankfulness to my Father for saving me.  I did not choose God, but God chose me (John 10).  "My faith" meant nothing.  But God's faith imparted to me does mean something - it means everything!  God's Word has since been opened to me and my eyes have seen what they had been unable to see for nearly twenty-five years.

Until March of last year, never did I feel fully loved or fully forgiven.  Although I always told others that God loved them and had the power to set them free, I was constantly under the torment of my sin, never able to be set totally - beyond the shadow of a doubt - free.  It wasn't until March, at 5:30 on a chilly, Tuesday morning in a men's study of the Bible (covering John 6 and 10) that my eyes were violently opened to the realization that God must save me, not a sinner's prayer.  (You can read more about this encounter here.)

But why is it important to understand this difference?  Jesus never - not once! - gave us a command to lead the lost in a sinner's prayer in order that they may be saved.  You will never find this in Scripture, ever!  Think about the absurdity of it: "Just pray this prayer and you'll be saved!"  "Just repeat this words after me and you'll be saved!"  What superstition and foolishness this is!  What deception and wickedness lies in those words!  (Paul Washer, a highly unpopular preacher because he preaches the Word of God, calls it such in many of his sermons.  I would encourage you to listen to his teaching, as he preaches directly from the Word of God.  Watch one of his videos on the evils of the sinner's prayer here.)

In the months following, God has only just begun to open my eyes to new things through His Word.  I have read the entire Bible on a couple different occasions.  But since March, I have literally seen verses that I have never seen before.  Why?  Because it is God who opens eyes to the need of His salvation, not man (Isaiah 35:4-10).  I am saved because God declares it, not me (Isaiah 43:1, John 10:28).

For us to choose God is as foolish as a doctor saying to a newborn baby, "Would you like to choose this man as your daddy today?  Just say these words: 'I believe you are my dad.'"  No!  I am my father's son because he "created" me.  The same goes for a child of God.  As children of God, we are His because He called us and set us apart for His purposes (Ephesians 2:10, John 10)!  (And those who are not His children will still be used for His glorious purposes! (Romans 9)).  (See John 6:65 for more on this topic of "choosing God".)

But I digress.  Primarily, today, I am concerned with how our churches in America have misrepresented the Good News of Jesus Christ.

"The Gospel" can be translated to "Good News" from the original Greek, euangelion.  (Euangelion is connected with the word "evangelism," which is the proclaiming of the Good News to others.)  The question then, is this: What is the Good News?

First, I will tell you what the Good News is according to many Christians attending churches today in America.  I know this because I grew up in the American church and have attended and been a part of many different denominations in different parts of the country.  I grew up in a Baptist church in Wisconsin and later was part of a church plant of a non-denominational church.  That church then became a member of the Evangelical-Free church denomination.  In college, I attended other Evangelical churches in Chicago, as well as a Free Methodist university and chapel services at a college in southern Illinois.  I spent time in the Pentecostal and Apostolic churches in college as well in southern Illinois.  Lastly, I attended several Southern Baptist churches in Tennessee and was even the youth pastor at one Southern Baptist church.  I have also attended Lutheran services, as my mom's family is Lutheran, as well as Catholic mass, as my sister's family is Catholic.  I have attended Reformed, Methodist, and Presbyterian services over the years too.  I have visited churches in Mexico, Ecuador, and Indonesia on top of all that.  I give all of this information only to demonstrate that I know what American churches teach because I have been involved with them for decades.  Additionally, I have lead others through the sinner's prayer, offered invitations, and attempted to sell salvation to the lost.  (For this, I pray for God's mercy.)

Here is what the typical American church teaches or believes (at least in action):
  • Evangelism, or sharing the Good News, is usually shared only at church or in door-to-door ministry.  Evangelism is done in a manner much like that of a businessman, selling God to the people for a sale.
"Do you know Jesus?"
"Yes, I know Him."
"Well, that's great!  Even the demons believe in God.  But why would God let you into Heaven when you die?"
"Because I'm a pretty good person."
"Can I ask you a question?  Have you ever lied?"
"Well, yes."
"Then the Bible says that you're not a good person and that you are condemned to hell because of it.  But there's a free gift for you to receive if all you do is accept it, a gift that will let you spend eternity in Heaven with Jesus!  Would you like that gift?"
"Well, of course!"
"Great!  Just say these words after me: 'Jesus, I know I'm a sinner and I ask you to please forgive me for my sins.  I want to spend eternity with you and I thank you, Jesus, for saving a sinner like me!'   Now did you mean those words?"
"Yes, I did."
"Welcome to the family, dear sister!"
  • Members are encouraged to invite and bring others to church in order that they might be "churched."
  • The sinner's prayer must be recited in order to receive salvation.  Furthermore, a public declaration must be made in front of the body before one's salvation can be considered real.
  • The Good News can be summed up in three words: "Jesus loves you."
Just look at those four bullet points.  Where in God's Word is there any backing for these statements?  And yet it was what many honest, church members profess.

And it is blasphemy.

Let us just look briefly at the first point, selling God to the sinner in our evangelism strategies.

The problem with this is that it is not Biblical.  In fact, it is far from it.  Jesus cast out those who were selling sacrifices in the Temple in His day (Matthew 21:12).  He would do the same to those who sell fire insurance today in His Name - His Holy Name.

Are we saved because someone told us we were saved, because we prayed a prayer?  Are we not saved because the Spirit of God bears witness in Heaven to our salvation (Romans 8:16)?  Yet we sell the Gospel as if this free gift costs nothing.  On the contrary, it costs us everything.  Jesus, God in the flesh, says in Luke 9:23, "'If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me!'" Following Jesus costs us.  Yet to the perishing, repentance and grace and salvation are foolishness, but to those called by God it is life (I Corinthians 2:6-16).  Repentance is completely different than accepting a free gift.  Grace (I am not speaking of common grace, which covers all of fallen humanity) is not a free gift of love to all people on the earth.  Grace is the free gift of salvation given by God to those called by God to salvation through Himself (John 3, 6, 10).  But today grace has been cheapened to a gift that all we must do is accept because God loves us.  If grace is a free gift for everyone and all we must do is accept it, then no one would reject it in their right mind and all would be living under the command of the Spirit.  This is simply not so.

Allow me to illustrate this point.

A group of children stood before Santa Claus on Christmas day.  He joyfully bellowed into the air, "Come and get a free gift!"  Every child stepped forward with huge smiles covering their faces, eager to receive their gift.

The following Christmas, Santa Claus was with another group of children.  He joyfully bellowed once again into the air, "Come and give me your most prized possession.  And then I will give you a free gift!"  Only a few children stepped forward this time with huge smiles, eager to receive their gift.  Many of the children could not let their most prized possession go because Santa Claus' words sounded like foolishness.

Don't you see?  Jesus said that we must repent - give up our most prized possession: SELF! - before we can receive His free gift of salvation.  No, I am not talking about works-based salvation.  I am proclaiming the very words of Jesus.  "'The time has come,' He said.  'The kingdom of God has come near.  Repent and believe the Good News! (Mark 1:15).  "From that time on, Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven has come near'" (Matthew 4:17).

Never once in the Bible was anyone saved by a sinner's prayer or any other such man-made notion.  "Salvation belongs to the Lord" (Psalm 3:8).  It cannot belong to man because to man it is foolishness (I Corinthians 1:18, 4:3-6).  In Acts 2, Peter preaches the Word of God and it leads to repentance.  He did not persuade others to believe.  He did not stand at the front of the temple, begging someone to come forward, while an emotional song played in the background.  He did not sell God's salvation.  He did not lead anyone to Christ.  That is because Peter knew that salvation is from the Lord and He is the one who leads sinners to repentance.  "No one an come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him..." (John 6:44).  Church invitation times, for this reason, seem to cheapen the Gospel message of repentance and salvation.  The sinner's prayer is far worse, for it takes salvation into the hands of man and out of the hands of God.  (And that will never be allowed to fully happen, praise God.)

I don't want to waste a lot of time going into every reason behind the falsehood of the statements above, and arguments for and against, at least not right now.  But I do want to proclaim the truth of the Good News.

This is the Good News:
  1. Every intent of the human heart, from birth, is evil (Ecclesiastes 7:20, John 3:18, Romans 3:10).
  2. God is Sovereign, Holy, and Good (Psalm 115:3, Proverbs 16:9, 2 Chronicles 20:6, 1 Peter 1:16, Psalm 136:1).
  3. God saves us even though we are covered in sin and gives us new life (John 4:10, Romans 4:25, Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Good News does not begin and end with three words, "Jesus loves you."  That is only the beginning!

Read the following quotation:
"The Gospel is translated 'Good News' and to me Good News is letting people know that God loves them, that Jesus came, that we can overcome any obstacle, that we can be forgiven for our mistakes... I don't see how beating people down every time they get in front of me... helps them to be closer to God."
Does that not sound like the Gospel, the Good News?  Indeed, it does, IF we go strictly off what we have heard from our Christian churches.  However, a watch five minutes wrong is far more dangerous than a watch five hours wrong.  Five minutes off may seem like it is right on time, while we know that five hours is obviously wrong.

The quote above was said by none other than Joel Osteen.  Many people find Osteen to be blasphemous, and indeed he is.  But are we really that different from the man we claim is leading people away from God?  Have we not forgotten who we are as humans and who God truly is?

John 3:16, the most well-known and quoted verse in the Bible, has been used to represent the Good News for decades (if not centuries) by professing believers and pastors alike; however, I believe it has been misrepresented and the focus has been altered.  "For God so loved the world..." and we keep our focus there.  We say, "Don't you see?  God loved you so much that He died for you."  But why did He die?  We have forgotten to preach the reason for this Good News!

A doctor once walked into an examination room.  "I have good news!" he said.  "We have found a cure for cancer!"  The patient leaned over to his wife and said, "Well that's great, but why is he telling me this?"  The doctor had failed to tell the patient that he had cancer and was going to die without a cure.

Don't you see?  The lost have no need for God's love and acceptance unless they first know where they stand before God, for the Good News is foolishness to those who are perishing (I Corinthians 1:18).  "For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish...."  Wait!  We are perishing?!  But I thought all I needed to know was that God loved me!  If God loved me why would any one perish?

Have you heard that question before?  Maybe you've asked it before.  We ask that question because our God is not the God of the Bible.  The God of the Bible tells us the truth.  And the truth is that we are all perishing and condemned to hell at birth (John 3:18).

"For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life."  There it is!  There's the Good News!  Even though our sins warrant immediate condemnation from birth, God gives us forgiveness and new life (John 6:65)!  But when does He give us new life and forgiveness of sins?

Jesus preached this message: "Repent" (Matthew 4:17)!

Jesus did not preach this message: "Everything's fine.  I love you just the way you are" (Nowhere).

Oh how we have lost sight of the God of the Bible!  Oh how we have lost repentance!

But all is not lost!  We have indeed been deceived, but that is all.  We have been deceived to believe that our salvation is about us, when in fact it is about Jesus and the glory of God (Jude 24-25).

In Exodus 29:45-46, God says that He will be declared the Israelites' God.  Why?  For Himself!  "I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God" (Exodus 29:45).  Jeremiah 1:5 says, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."  And over and over again, continually throughout Scripture, we see that God is Sovereign, for He will have compassion on whom He will have compassion and mercy on whom He will have mercy (Exodus 33:19).

Wake up, O Christian!  Repent and be made new and clean!  For that is the Good News!  Not only that Jesus loves, but what He did on account of His love!  "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (I John 3:16).  "... that WHILE WERE YET SINNERS, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

Please do not misunderstand me as being controversial for the sake of being controversial.  The truth has been twisted.  It is up to us as believers to uphold the statutes of God and His Word and to test ourselves to see if we are in the faith (II Corinthians 13:5).  Please allow this essay to be a conversation starter and a catalyst to seek the truth of God in His Word.  I have merely written what God has placed on my heart.

"The life of a Christian is one of continual repentance" (Paul Washer).