SPECIAL TOPIC: What does it mean to "receive," "believe," "confess/profess," and "call upon"?
As an evangelical the Great Commission of the risen Lord, Matthew 28:18-20 has priority importance to me. My evangelicalism mandates a personal encounter with God through Christ. I have always pondered what "make disciples" means. Usually those Christian groups who emphasize an initial personal encounter model speak of
1. "receiving" – John 1:12
2. "believing" – Mark 1:15; John 3:16,18,36; 6:40; 11:25-26; Acts 10:43
3. "confessing"/"professing" – Matt. 10:32; Luke 12:8; John 9:22; 12:42; 1 Tim. 6:12; 1 John 2:23; 4:15
4. "calling on" – Rom. 10:9-13
but the Great Commission uses "making disciples" and "teaching them to observe all that I have taught you." Jesus' discussion of a gate (initial personal encounter) and a narrow road (daily godly living) in Matt. 7:13-14; Luke 13:24 has given me a key theological concept—salvation is a process (see Special Topic: Greek Verb Tenses Used to Describe Salvation). It starts with "an encounter" mechanism but is unclear exactly how that is done! Surely it is the initial wooing of the Spirit (John 6:44,65) and a sense of personal sin and spiritual need, combined with a willingness to repent and believe (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38; 3:16,19; 20:21; 26:20). This initial encounter (aha moment) must then issue in a Christlike life (cf. Rom. 8:28-30; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 1:4; 2:10; 4:13; 1 Thess. 3:13; 4:3; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:13; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:15) Justification and sanctification cannot, must not, be separated! I have come to believe that a mature salvation must involve
1. repentance, initial and continuing (see Special Topic: Repentance)
2. faith/trust/belief, initial and continuing (see Special Topic: Believe [noun, verb, adjective]) in the NT)
3. perseverance throughout life (see Special Topic: Perseverance)
As I see it, there are two dangers.
1. an over-emphasis on initial salvation that sees salvation as a ticket to heaven at the end of life or an insurance policy unrelated to daily lifestyle choices
2. an over-emphasis on the path as a process where the issue becomes "do my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds?" ( a form of works righteousness)
1.a person to welcome (Jesus)
2.truths about that person to believe (the Bible)
3.a life like that person to live (Christlikeness)
Salvation is a free gift (Rom. 3:24; 6:23) of God's grace, Christ's finished work, and the leadership of the Spirit. The Christian life is also a grace gift that must be received daily. Here is the theological issue, "How does one receive/believe/call on/confess or profess?" Please look at the following notes and Special Topics:
1. receive – see note at John 1:12
2. believe – Special Topic: Believe, Trust, Faith and Faithfulness in the OT
3. confess/profess – Special Topic: Confession/Profession
4. call on – see notes at Rom. 10:9-13
Salvation is a "gate" (initial personal encounter) and a way (daily godly living). These cannot be separated or reversed in time! The normal result of salvation is
1. Christlikeness (cf. Rom. 7:1; 8:28-30; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 1:4; 2:10; 4:13; 1 Thess. 3:13; 4:3; 5:23; 2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Pet. 1:15)
2. service (cf. Matt. 25:31-46)
"Only believe, only believe" or "do better" are both inappropriate statements.
I guess the reason for this Special Topic is my conflict in doing evangelism among Orthodox or Catholic populations. I meet so many people who obviously know and love Jesus but do not answer "my questions" in a way that I feel comfortable. But I think the problem is with my traditions. To assert that one must pray a "sinner's prayer," when this is not an emphasis in the NT, shows a theological bias. I do believe in the necessity of an encounter mechanism, but I must widen my own understanding of what this involves. A person's statement of faith and lifestyle fruit takes precedence over a certain methodology or theological construct.
Just a theological aside about "fruit." My understanding of this comes from two passages by Jesus.
1. the Sermon on the Mount – Matt. 7:13-23
2. the Parable of the Soils – Matt. 13:1-24; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15
The "fruit" is not the way to be saved but the evidence of a true conversion (cf. James 2:14-26). No fruit, no root! Eternal life has observable characteristics!
Another theological aside about some of the inappropriate proof-text methods used by evangelicals:
1. using Rev. 3:20 as an initial salvation invitation when it is part of the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2-3)
2. using the "Roman Road" as "the" way to be saved. The first three verses,
a. Rom. 3:23
b. Rom. 6:23
c. Rom. 5:8
summarize the gospel message, but there is no "encounter" verse in the literary unit of Romans, chapters 1-8, so we jump to the next literary unit on "why has Israel not believed the gospel?" (Romans 9-11) and quote Rom. 10:9-13 as the concluding act in "the" plan of salvation.
Some even assert that because of Rom. 10:9-13, it must be a spoken prayer (i.e., Rom. 10:9).
3. or as I mentioned before in this Special Topic, we make "the sinner's prayer" (which probably comes from the parable of the Pharisee and the sinner, cf. Luke 18:9-14) "the" model for all salvation.
Again, I want to affirm the necessity of "an encounter" mechanism but I think there are many ways.
1. a special moment of revelation (i.e., quoting a creed)
2. a special moment of worship (i.e., hearing a testimony or singing a hymn)
3. a life crisis
4. a dream encounter
5. surely prayer is a valid way
6. and many others
God is looking for the smallest response to flood us with His grace and salvation!
Salvation is the will of God for all humans (cf. John 1:12; 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10; Titus 2:11; 2 Pet. 3:9; 1 John 2:2; 4:14) made in His image for fellowship (see Special Topic: YHWH's Eternal Redemptive Plan). Jesus' life, teachings, and death paid the penalty of human sin and rebellion (cf. Romans 1-3). Now "whosoever will," "anyone who," "all," "as many as" become the open invitation! The drawing of the Spirit allows fallen humans to recognize their need, recognize God's provision in Jesus, and it also demands (1) a personal, decisive decision (i.e., a volitional choice) and (2) a lifestyle change.
The gospel is not difficult, tricky, or confusing but available, understandable, and open to all! Disciples are those who
5. continue (see Special Topic: Perseverance)
May God forgive denominational arrogance and manmade barriers, but also may the "exclusivistic scandal" of John 10:1-8; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5 be proclaimed to all! All may come and they may come in many ways, but they must all come through Jesus and live for Him (i.e., be changed, cf. Matt. 28:20)! There is only one door but it is wide open (cf. Acts 14:27; Col. 4:3; Rev. 3:7-8) — "as many as," "whosoever will," "all who" may enter!
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