Have you ever been in a church service that as it is coming to a close your hear these words. “If you don’t know Jesus today and would like Him to be your savior, just repeat these words after me, “Dear Jesus, I believe you came and died for me. I repent of my sin and ask you to come into my heart and be my Lord and Savior, in Jesus name, Amen.” If you repeated that prayer, if you’ll go to our prayer room someone will be there to give you a booklet to help you get started reading your Bible and answer any questions you have about salvation. Church, would you welcome them to the family of God.””
Have you ever been in a service where no altar call was given and no instruction on how to be saved was in the message or spoken of after the message? Chances are, most of us have been in both types of services. We know that the most important thing for anyone is to receive Jesus as their Savior, but do our methods matter? does how we present the gospel matter? We would all agree that the second scenario I shared is wrong. A gospel presentation must be given at some point during the service. I remember the first time I left a church service and as I was driving home I realized the gospel had not been presented. I was dumbfounded. I started thinking about previous services and couldn’t identify an instance of a clear gospel presentation outside of the Easter service.
You may be wondering, how is that possible? Honestly, I’m still not sure. But the thing is, at the end of every service we prayed a prayer, but without the gospel being presented, you cannot be born again. If you don’t know that you are a sinner in need of a savior how can you be born again? What about the prayer I mentioned at the beginning, does that mean someone is saved? And what’s with the term born again? I bring up these questions because of something Jesus said during His Sermon on the Mount, that if I’m being honest has always stopped my reading.
The words are found in Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV ““Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
These words have always made me pause. I just stop and stare at the words in my Bible. How can people who do Christian stuff have Jesus look at them and say “I never knew you; depart from Me”. This is a serious question we should give some thought to. In today’s terms, these are the people who have the date they were saved written in their Bible so when the enemy comes, they can point to it and say no, I’m saved. Have you ever heard a preacher say, the enemy would never make a non-Christian wonder if they are saved, so if you have doubts, that is confirmation you are saved. That is a ridiculous notion.
Look at these words from 2 Peter 1:5-11 NKJV “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Peter tells us to make our calling and election sure. We do that by adding the things that he mentioned to our faith. Peter is not talking about works righteousness, but the fruit or the result of our being saved. I could give you three things that prove your salvation, or five tests of a true testimony, but that is precisely the reason we have had so many false conversions in the church. That’s why Jesus will say to many who say Lord, I never knew you. It’s one thing to call Him Lord, it’s another thing altogether to submit to Him as Lord.
For a more complete context of why Jesus will say He doesn’t know people who would claim to be saved let’s look at Matthew 7:13-27 NKJV “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
A big part of our problem is that we have called the wrong things fruit. The evidence of salvation is not serving at church but inward change. You can serve at church while still living in unforgiveness, being angry, or addicted to pornography. While serving is important, it’s not fruit. Matthew 8:3 in the NIV says that we are to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The lifestyle of holiness is the evidence of a true believer but we have so focused on repeating a prayer that no transformation takes place.
The problem with the prayer I gave at the beginning, often times, it isn’t attached to a clear presentation of the gospel. People are not told of their sin. Sin in most churches is referred to as hang-ups, problems, or issues. Jesus sinless life, atoning death and resurrection are not presented. We simply tack on a prayer at the end of service and have someone fill out a decision card and give them a booklet.
The follow up is simply come to church and get involved with a small group. Meanwhile, in the small group sin is not dealt with, people are not progressing in sanctification and the sins that plagued them before salvation still plague them.
I am not saying that once you are saved everything turns to roses, but you will start overcoming temptation little by little and you will kick sinful habits to the curb. If you’re still in the exact same place two years later after being born again, chances are, you were not born again, you simply repeated a prayer.
I know this may sound harsh to some, you may think this is unloving but souls are at stake. People’s eternal destinies could hang in the balance because they prayed a prayer at one time because they were moved emotionally but their heart wasn’t changed. That’s not what salvation is, the born again experience, is not an experience it is complete change. It’s not a feeling or emotion, it is going from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. Modern day altar calls are emotionally driven to bring about decision. These decisions are not a drawing of the Father but a man made pull at the heart strings.
The easy repeat after me prayers are the greatest tools of satan in the church today. People pray a prayer with no change, volunteer at church and are still on their way to hell. Jesus said the way is narrow and not many find it. Why did He say that? Because the way isn’t as easy as we made it out to be. Yes, we confess our sins and receive Jesus, but with no fruit, it’s not a real conversion. When Jesus told the crowd eat My flesh and drink My blood, many turned away and followed Him no more. But when Jesus asked the twelve disciples if they were going to walk away too, Peter responded, where will we go, You alone have the words of eternal life.
How can you know if you’re truly saved? Look at your life; do you obey the Scriptures, do you walk holy before God? Again, this is not about works based righteousness, but about what a true born again experience produces in us.
If you are looking for excuses to watch things you feel bad about, if you have no desire to read the Scripture, or if you are constantly struggling with the same sin, these could be indicators you simply prayed a prayer without your heart changing. A saved person will not try to find excuses to ignore the conviction of the Spirit. Yes, there will be battles but a Christian fights battles and resists temptation, they don’t automatically give in. Like Peter said, make your calling and election sure. Look at your life, do you bear fruit in keeping with repentance, are you growing in sanctification? If the answer is no, go to God in prayer, make your calling and election sure with Him. Know that you are saved based on fruit, not a prayer you prayed or a date written in your Bible. The narrow path leads to life, make sure you are on it.