Q: I hear of various people who say they are saved, but they do not display any real fruits of salvation. I know salvation is free, but it appears as if many people who call themselves Christians are making it appear cheap and a one-time deal where they simply say the sinner’s prayer, but continue on as always. I am confused. Is there any way you could clear this up for me?
A: I agree it all seems quite confusing. I think one of the things that has brought confusion is that churches, especially in countries where there is some semblance of religious freedom such as America, have created various formulas and methods such as agreeing with the “four spiritual laws” of salvation, or saying the “sinner’s prayer” as evidence of salvation. Don’t get me wrong, people have been truly saved from some of these formulas and methods, but the lasting fruits that have come out of some of these methods prove to be mediocre at best and a failure at worst.
The truth is formulas and methods do not always work because people are at different levels in their lives when it comes to the issue of salvation. In my experiences I have seen people at different points. Some are desperate or anxious in their present situation, others are despairing, frustrated, fearful, or uncertain, and some are curious about the matter of salvation due to what has been said or has happened in the lives of others.
Even when it comes to these three groups, they can be broken down into smaller groups. For example, those who are desperate can be broken down to those who are simply looking for relief, or those who are looking for deliverance. There are those who are frustrated with the direction of their lives, and have questions or doubts about the simplicity or validity of salvation. There are people who want instant satisfaction (placated), or to feel good in their plight (lied to), or to be told everything will be alright no matter what is going on around them (false security).
It takes a real preparation and leading of the Spirit to be able to properly evangelize, along with a healthy understanding of the Word of God. I realize that some believers may not be versed in Scripture; therefore, they must be ready to share their testimony at the right time.
The Holy Spirit will help believers to properly discern where people are in their spiritual state. This is important because the person must be ministered to where he or she is at in his or her spiritual struggles. For example, those who are anxious about their present status are so because of sin in their lives. This anxiety is the product of knowing they are in sin or feeling convicted about it (Romans 1:19-20; John 16:8). The message to these individuals is that they need to repent; in other words, turn from their sin and face God with the intent to agree with Him, confess their sins to Him, seeking mercy and forgiveness, and asking Him to come into their lives as Lord and Savior, and save them (Luke 13:3, 5; 2 Peter 3:9). However, the message of salvation must not simply be accepted at the mental level, but it must be received in the heart by faith as the very truth they must live by, and walk out daily in their lives by faith in the Son of God (Romans 10:9, 10; Galatians 2:20).
For those who are frustrated because they feel leanness in their spirit, or are carrying heavy burdens and uncertainty because of some type of loss or despair, and sense that there must be more to life than their present status, the message will be that of conversion to righteousness (the person of Jesus Christ) and not personal attempts associated with personal reformation, good works, or religious affiliation, instead of repentance from sin (Matthew 18:3; 1 Corinthians 1:30). These people are not struggling with sin, but the quality and meaning of life and have questions because life makes no sense. In such matters we know Christ is the only answer and solution that is able to bring peace and comfort to such a person.
True repentance will lead to conversion, while conversion will end with repentance of what was in light of past sin and what is in light of present struggles. However, conversion also points one forward in light of the walk of faith and a future hope. Keep in mind, inner struggles are often shrouded in confusion and unbelief. Conversion includes repentance in the sense a person must turn away from something that is not working or is unfulfilling, but it goes further by pointing out what one needs to embrace in order to experience the new (Luke 22:31-32). We see this in the case of the woman at the well. Even though she was aware of her sinful life, she was not actually struggling with her sin, but with questions. Jesus pointed her to Himself as the answer to questions of the heart that were bringing her confusion. We see her being converted from her old ways to embrace and live a new way. We even see her initially becoming an evangelist in her own community (John 4:9-30). As these individuals come to terms with life in light of Christ, they will see that their old way is wrought with sin and plagued with the reality and ways of vanity and death and that they must now choose the new way of being constantly converted to that which is right and true (James 5:19-20).
When it comes to conversion, a contrast of Christ righteousness must be lifted up to show them that the Christian walk offers not only satisfaction through healing and restoration, but provides an excellent way of living that will prove to be challenging and rewarding in the end. Once again, the work of bringing such a contrast belongs to the Spirit of the Living God (John 16:8).
We are told that at the core of living in sin and confusion is unbelief towards the Son of God (John 16:9). Whether unbelief comes out in living contrary to the Lord or walking in the ways of the flesh and the world, it will manifest itself in unfruitful fruits of darkness. This brings me to the final group that can be encountered in churches. These are the people who are blinded by their own self-righteousness. They can talk the talk, but their walk reveals hypocrisy. These people are usually very judgmental and unloving towards others. They show tolerance towards you as long as you agree with them or serve their purpose. The only thing that can penetrate these people’s blindness is the light of the truth of His Word (John 8:31-36).
It is important to point out that all matters of the flesh, the world, and Satan have already been judged at the cross of Christ (John 16:7-13). On the great day when the Lord judges all matters, each person must be sure he or she is walking in the glorious light of His redemption and not in the darkness of the present age. As the Church of Christ, we must be Spirit led in all we do to maintain a family relationship and likeness with God (John 1:12; Romans 8:13-17, 28-29). It takes love for God, sensitivity towards others, and a sincere desire to be used of God to be effective ministers in the harvest field of the world. The other ingredient that needs to be added to this combination is the heartfelt, fervent prayers of the saints.
I do hope this answers your question.