By Eric C. Wheeler
Unfortunately, many well-intentioned Christians don’t know the Word of God (the Bible), which makes witnessing to a potential disciple, at best, very difficult. God is calling people during these turbulent times at an unprecedented rate – the likes of which we haven’t seen since the first-century days of the Book of Acts – and many Christians are completely unaware of the Biblical roadmap God provides in the Scriptures to help bring in this harvest. For the most part, the institutional church has done a very poor job of stressing the paramount importance of constantly striving to know and obey God’s Word. Preaching to “tickle ears” and captivate tithe payers at the expense of the Gospel has and continues to be a snare to the multitudes of professing believers comfortably sitting in pews. We have far too many spiritually complacent people sadly thinking that they are saved. As God said: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. The pastors preach falsely and the priests rule by their own authority, and My people love to have it so” (Hos. 4:6; Jer. 5:31).
God said in His Word that the faithful pastors and shepherds will be pointing people to the truth of God and away from the traditions and commandments of men: “For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the Law from his mouth. For he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you [false priests] have departed from the Way. You have caused many to stumble at the Law [the Word of God] … because you have not kept My ways, but have shown partiality in the Law” (Mal. 2:7-9). “You have set aside the Word of God to keep and teach your own traditions! In vain you worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark. 7:7-9). True priests and pastors of God will be teaching the right ways of the Lord as revealed in the Bible, not holding on to and perpetuating past false teachings and traditions of men.
What the Biblical Model is Not
Before we look at the Biblical model given to us as the example to follow and for instructions in righteousness (I Cor. 10:11; II Tim. 3:16-17), let’s first look at a few common errors many churches practice and teach which are NOT found in the Bible:
“Accepting Jesus in your heart” – This is found nowhere in the Bible. In fact, the Bible teaches just the opposite. It is God who ACCEPTS US, not the other way around. Jesus said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). We are created beings. We belong to God. It is NOT for us to accept God, but rather for Him to find us acceptable in His sight. This is what the Bible teaches (see Psa. 19:12-14; Col. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:3-6). It is a prideful and arrogant belief to think that we can “accept God.” God does not need our acceptance. He is God! He is the boss – the Lord – like it or not!
This false teaching apparently originated from a misunderstanding of Romans 10:9-10: “For if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.” Nowhere in these verses does it say anything about “accepting Jesus in your heart.” Rather, it is referring to the fact that as a converted believer, Jesus is living inside of you (metaphorically speaking, in your heart) and will subsequently come out of your mouth. For Jesus told us: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home within him” (John 14:23). And “out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38), and “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak” (Luke 6:45). Just as Jeremiah said, “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.’ But His Word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I was weary of holding it back and I could not” (Jer. 20:9). Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45). The Lord is telling us that once He comes into us by His living Spirit, we will be saved, and we will show evidence of that salvation and conversion by professing and confessing Him openly. That is why Paul said, “The Word is near you, even in your mouth and in your heart – that is, the word of faith which we preach” (Rom. 10:8). “Since we have the same Spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke’, we also believe and therefore speak” (II Cor. 4:13). Once Jesus is living inside of you by His Holy Spirit, He will be coming forth out of your mouth in public profession and confession. None of this has anything to do with “accepting Jesus in your heart.” This is a false and misleading tradition of men.
“Saying the Sinner’s Prayer” – Nowhere is this rote prayer mentioned in Scripture. It was (and is) entirely an invention and creation of man. Some scholars believe it evolved in some form or another during the Protestant Reformation; others believe it originated during the eighteenth-century Revivalist’s Movement. Regardless, it gained prominence during the early twentieth-century through misguided evangelistic preachers and organizations, and is readily accepted and practiced by many evangelical churches today. This, despite the fact it is completely lacking any Biblical precedent or basis. Quite to the contrary: Scripture forbids using rote prayers, and classifies them as useless. Notice these words of Jesus: “But when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore, do not be like them” (Matt. 6:7-8). Saying and repeating rote prayers doesn’t convert anybody. In fact, prayers are considered by God to be offerings and sacrifices (see Psa. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3-4; Heb. 13:15; Hos. 14:2). God isn’t interested in compelled, rote, and dictated sacrifices and offerings that don’t come from a broken and a contrite spirit (see Psa. 51:15-17; 145:18). As was expressed earlier, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks!” God isn’t interested in something that is not of the heart or in truth. Dictated and rote prayers are not from the hearer’s or repeater’s heart – they are from the author’s – so the religious idea of “repeat after me” does not hold water with God.
“Altar calls” – Although they certainly sound Biblical, “altar calls” have no basis in Scripture. There is no such practice found anywhere in the New Testament. In fact, when Jesus was crucified, the entire Old Testament sacrificial system with its use of atoning altars was fulfilled in Him and by Him with the shedding of His blood, thereby doing away with all earthly sacrificial altars (see Hebrews chapters 8, 9, 10, 13:9-14). Unfortunately, so-called “altar calls” have surreptitiously and fraudulently replaced the Biblical doctrine of baptism in many of today’s churches, as one online author points out:
“Altar calls refer to the practice of inviting people to come forward to the front of a church service or Christian event to publicly come to faith in Christ or for other spiritual reasons. However, altar calls were not a practice found in the early church. The early churches did not have altars or even church buildings that could be utilized in such a manner. Instead, baptism served as the key practice to express a person’s faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ.
“In the twentieth century, evangelistic events popularized the practice of altar calls in asking people to come to faith in Christ in response to a message. This practice was then used in many Protestant churches as a time at the end of the service for a person to believe in Jesus, express interest in church membership or baptism, or for other prayer needs or spiritual concerns.
“Those who support the practice of using an altar call often refer to Matthew 10:32: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” An emphasis on “going public” with one’s decision is made, telling all people about the decision to become a Christian… However, responding to an altar call does not save a person.
“In addition, responding to an altar call can sometimes give a person a false assurance that he or she has become a Christian. However, just praying with a person at the end of a service in front of a church does not necessarily make a person a Christian.
“The use of altar calls should not be used as a substitute for baptism. We can rejoice when someone makes a decision for God through an altar call. However, the command of Jesus is to make disciples that include baptizing believers in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20).
“Finally, it is also important to note that believing in Jesus Christ is a decision that is intended to last far beyond an altar call… Believers are called to be disciples, those who will follow the call of Jesus: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).” [www.compellingtruth.org]
The True Biblical Model
Let’s look at what the Bible DOES clearly show as the model for true Biblical conversion and how it takes place:
The Bible asks, “How can they call on Him [to be saved] in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without a preacher being sent to them?… For faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:14-17).
1) Preaching and hearing the Word of God comes first.
2) The hearer then receives and believes (has faith) in that Word being spoken.
3) They immediately get baptized, thereby demonstrating their faith in the Word by repenting and becoming obedient to the Word.
4) They are then given the Holy Spirit through the “laying on of hands” by one sent to them from God, or given the Holy Spirit directly by God Himself.
In every instance in the Bible when an authentic conversion of an individual took place, there was always: (1) a preaching and hearing of the Word of God; (2) a sincere receiving and believing of that Word; (3) an immediate response of obedience to that Word by repenting and getting baptized in water through complete immersion; and then (4) receiving the Holy Spirit (baptism of the Holy Spirit) by the laying on of hands by someone who was directly sent to them by God, or in rare occasions, given to them directly from God Himself. Scripture shows this:
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter stood up with the other eleven apostles and began preaching the Word of God by quoting from the Scriptures: “Now when the people heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’… Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them” (Acts 2:37-41).
A few days later, the Apostles Peter and John spoke to the people, quoting from the Scriptures, and “as many of those who heard the Word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:4).
After Peter and John were arrested, threatened, and released, they went to their companions and prayed together saying, “Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your Word’… and they spoke the Word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:29-31) …. “Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable that we should leave the Word of God and serve tables… but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word… And the Word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly…” (Acts 6:2-7).
“Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the Word… And when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized… Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the Word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was given by the laying on of the apostle’s hands…” (Acts 8:4-18).
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, he preached Jesus to him… and he [the eunuch] said, ‘I believe…’ So Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:35-38).
The angel said to Cornelius, “Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you Words by which you and all your household will be saved” (Acts 11:13-14). Then Cornelius said to Peter, “’Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the things commanded you by God’… While Peter was still speaking these words [of God], the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the Word… And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (Acts 10:33-44).
“Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the Word… And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:19-21).
“Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here has sent me so that you may see and be filled with the Holy Spirit… And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name.’ Immediately,… he got up and was baptized… (Acts 9:17-19; 22:12-16).
“And when they [Paul and Barnabas] arrived in Salamis, they preached the Word of God…” (Acts 13:5).
“Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. And the next Sabbath, almost the whole city came together to hear the Word of God… Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, ‘It was necessary that the Word of God should be spoken to you [Jews] first; but… we will turn to the Gentiles… Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the Word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the Word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region” (Acts 13:43-49).
“Now when they had preached the Word in Perga, they went down to Attalia” (Acts 14:25).
“Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the Word of the Lord, with many others also.” (Acts 15:35).
“We [Paul, Silas, and Luke] went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia…The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home…” (Acts 16:13-15).
“So they [Paul and Silas] said [to the Philippian jailer], ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ Then they spoke the Word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house… then immediately he and all his family were baptized… He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God – he and his whole family” (Acts 16:31-34).
“These [Bereans] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the Word of God was preached by Paul at Berea…” (Acts 17:11-13).
“After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth… Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching… and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized… So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the Word of God” (Acts 18:1-11).
“On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them… And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the Word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:5-10).
“For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the Word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the Word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (I Thes. 2:13).
The word baptism means being “fully-immersed” in water. It is taken from the Greek word baptizo which literally means “to submerge or to immerse.” Baptism pictures “being crucified and buried with Christ” – that is, it pictures dying to yourself and to your old way of life, and putting to death your old person of the flesh and sin – so that a new person (“a new creation”) can come forth in life by the Spirit (being born anew, i.e., “born again”). Notice this in Scripture:
“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with Him like this in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body of sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves to sin…” (Rom. 6:3-6).
“In Him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature [the flesh] … having been buried with Him in baptism, and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:11-12).
“Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God” (I Pet. 1:22-23).
Jesus was baptized. Think of that. Why was Jesus baptized? It was to show us the Way. He didn’t need to put His old sinful self to death – because He had no sin. Yet, as He said to John the Baptist, “Let it be so; it is proper for us to do this [baptism] to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). In other words, He was baptized to show us the Way. As is demonstrated time and again throughout Scripture, the Way of righteousness begins with repenting and putting to death the old person of sin in a watery grave (Matt. 21:32; Luke 7:29-30). This is why the Holy Spirit immediately descended upon Him in the form of a dove when He came up out of the water to show us that we too will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which will then impart a new life and mind to us in and by the Holy Spirit. Jesus didn’t need the Holy Spirit symbolically given to Him in the form of a dove. He had the Holy Spirit from conception. He was born of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:31-35). His baptism was done so that we (those of us who would follow and believe in Him afterwards) might know how conversion – “the Way of righteousness” – works. It begins with hearing and believing God’s Word; then acting on it by repenting and getting water baptized (Acts 2:38). Because of this act of obedience to Him (Acts 5:32), God then gives His Holy Spirit to this new believer who now imparts a new mind and a new spirit within them. This is referred to as “baptism of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5; 11:16). This is the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and now gives each and every believer the ability to live a newly resurrected and consecrated life in God (see Rom. 8:5-11).
This is how simple, genuine, and beautiful it really is! No “accepting Jesus,” saying the “Sinner’s Prayer,” sprinkling water on babies, and so-called “altar calls” necessary. Just simple, plain, and amazing Biblical truth and conversions! Praise God. Let’s all go forward in the Lord and share it!
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