About Jesus Steve Sweetman
Just As I am Yet Still As I Was
For all of my 48 years of life I have lived and moved amongst Evangelical Christians. Evangelicals claim to have a personal relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the basis of their Evangelical Message. The tradition of Methodistism is to go beyond mental assent to the gospel to having a "personal relationship" with God. Yet from my own experience, I tend to believe that this "personal relationship" has become merely a relationship of the mind and not one in reality.
What we often claim as reality seems to me to be a mental concept, or at the most a conviction of the heart. We say that we have a personal relationship with Jesus but to often this relationship is only in our heads. It is not with Jesus as a person. Now of course this is a generalization. Not all Evangelicals may fit into this mold, but for the most part, as I see it, this is what the Evangelical church has become in our generation. What once was a real relationship has become an imaginary relationship. Somehow we have fooled ourselves into believing that the imaginary is reality.
This has not always been the case. I do believe that men and women in the past did know Jesus as a real person. This relationship was something beyond their understanding. But in the passing of our faith from one generation to the next something has been lost. The concepts, principles and truths of faith may have been passed down, but not the personal relationship. And how could it be. Each generation must take ownership for this themselves. As it has been said, "God has no grandchildren". This means that each generation of people must find Jesus for themselves. They cannot claim faith as a result of the Christian family that they grew up in. They cannot claim to be Christian because they grew up in the church. Sooner or later they must meet the Lord for themselves. Sooner or later the Holy Spirit must come into their lives. Passing along certain Biblical truth about Jesus does not constitute being a real Christian.
It is my feeling that Evangelicals know in their heads what being a real Christian is all about. It has not left the realm of theory and found its way into reality. We have convinced ourselves that we truly have a relationship with Jesus because of some mental concept that we hold of Him.
Until a man and a woman get married, marriage is only an idea, only a concept. Once the wedding day is over then marriage becomes real. Too many people are engaged to Jesus and not married to Him. We trick ourselves into thinking that this engagement period is the real thing. Just as being engaged is not marriage, so a mental relationship is not the real thing either.
In this article I would like to talk about the real thing, not a mere shadow of reality.
Just As I Am
Those of you who have been around the Evangelical Church as I have been are very familiar with the words, " just as I am". These words are the title of one very famous hymn.
This hymn is often sung at the traditional alter call, all seven verses of it. We would sing all seven verses, and even sing them twice if necessary to get people to the alter. With the aid of an emotional appeal people would go forward to get saved, or even resaved.
The simple point to this song is that we do not have to change ourselves in order to come to the Lord. That is why it says, "I come just as I am". There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. It is very scriptural. There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation. There is nothing that we can do in our own strength to find acceptance with Jesus. Any attempt to do so only falls way short of being good enough. So it is true. We come to Jesus just as we are, with all of our faults, and with all of our sin.
Now the reality for many people, is that we leave the alter in the same way that we came to the alter. That is, we come to Jesus just as we are, and we remain just as we were when we return to our seats. So in reality nothing changed in our lives at the alter. We remain the same old person. That is not what Paul says should happen in 2 Corinthians 5:17. We should leave the alter a new person, a new creation in God. Once again this is a generalization. This is not true in every instance. It is true in too many instances.
So why do we come to the alter just as we are and leave just as we were.
The Just As I Am Mentality
Once again I will make this very clear. There is nothing wrong with the idea that we need to come to Jesus just as we are. Ephesians 2:8 states it very clear, "for by grace we are saved through faith, not of works lest any man boast". The problem comes as a result of stressing this point to the exclusion of the idea that once we come to Jesus, "a changed life should be the result". It is also Biblically correct to note that the Holy Spirit is the one who produces change in the life of the Christian. We do not change by simply following certain man made rules of the church.
Peter, in Acts 2:38 said, "repent and be baptized every one of you " The key word here is obvious. It is the word repent. Repent means to change direction. So if someone comes to Jesus and truly repents He comes to Him with the attitude that he is willing to have Jesus completely change his life all around. He comes to Jesus as he is, but knows that once meeting Jesus thing will begin to be different. Life is no longer going to be the same. He no longer will lives as he once did. Repenting means that you make a complete one hundred and eighty degree change in your life. If this is not fairly evident in your life then it is fairly evident that repentance did not occur. If repentance did not occur then your faith is not true faith.
You see the Evangelical Church has made receiving Salvation way to easy. We say, repeat this simple prayer after me and you are in. You are saved. But does salvation come by simply repeating certain words that you hear someone else speak?
After one makes the one hundred and eighty degree turn in their life, then the first step they take is a step of faith. Without repenting there can be no real step of faith. There can be no steps of faith because you are not facing in the right direction. You are still facing the wrong direction. Steps of faith are steps towards Jesus, and if you have not turned yourself around and looking in His direction, it is not logical to think you can take steps of faith towards Him.
The Typical Alter Call
Once someone has responded to the emotional plea from the pulpit they go forward to the alter. They meet with someone at the front of the church building. What often happens at this point is that the person they meet will say something like this to them. "Pray this prayer after me. I know that I am a sinner. I know that you died for me Jesus. Please save me now". So the person repeats the prayer and goes back to his pew.
What really happened up at the alter? Well, the person repeated a prayer that he was told to repeat. That may be all that happened. Now in some cases the person might have really met with Jesus, but my suspicion is that many have simply repeated a prayer. Repeating a prayer is not salvation. Receiving the Holy Spirit into your life with the resulting powerful change is salvation.
Do you see the difference between meeting Jesus and repeating a prayer? Repeating the prayer may trick you into believing that everything is okay, when in reality nothing happened. It might be a step towards the real thing, but it is not the real thing in itself. Dont be fooled. When you meet Jesus, the Living God, you will know it and others will see the difference in you.
The expectation of a changed life must be realized at the alter. We cannot come to the alter thinking that we can continue on with our lives as we have been. We must come knowing that we will leave the alter a new person. Things no longer will be the same for you. If we return to our seats the same old person then we better
continue to seek after Jesus until we find Him in a life changing way.
It is my thinking that too often we make people become Christians before they are ready at times. Repeating the prayer is an easy way to do that. If a person really wants to find Jesus He will find Him, and when he does He will want Him. Besides, it is not our choice to choose Jesus. It is His choice to choose us. When He acts on that choice then we respond. If we try to make someone respond when Jesus has not yet called the person, we do that person a disservice. That person will conclude that everything is well when it isnt.
There is another point to be made concerning Evangelicals criticism of the Mainline Church. They often say that Catholics and Anglicans do wrong when baptizing infants. They say that baptism does not save a person as the Mainline Church might say. As a result a person thinks he is a Christian because he or she was baptized as a baby. The Evangelical is right when he says this. But the Evangelical is caught in a similar situation with the "repeat after me prayer" thinking. In like fashion people may claim to be a Christian because they have repeated a prayer. These people are caught in the same trap as the people thinking they are Christian because they were baptized as a baby. Both are on shaky ground. Both have not experienced the real thing.
We have often heard the phrase, "just give Jesus a try". Such words were never used in the Bible. Can you imagine Paul speaking to people and saying, "Ephesians, try Jesus, if you dont like Him then go on your way". Paul would never had said such words. He would say such things as, "repent and believe", "receive the Holy Spirit". He would use strong words of truth because he was convinced that people needed Jesus. He was convinced that Jesus holds all the truth of this universe, and once people met Him their lives would change. Paul would not be happy with the idea of just trying Jesus.
Peter, in Acts 2:38 said it clearly, "repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus so your sins will be forgiven, and that you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
Once again, God does work beyond our immature ways of doing things. Some people have been presented with the idea of trying Jesus, and it worked for them. Jesus did make Himself real to them. Still, simply trying Jesus is not a scriptural truth.
Whats The Answer
The answer for us is to be clear about what the Bible says about the subject. One of the main problems in the modern day church is a lack of Biblical understanding. You might call it Biblical illiteracy. This might come from our secular society that says there are no absolutes, that all things are relevant. Thus you believe what you believe, and I believe what I want to believe. One result of such thinking is that after a while people give up trying to find truth because they feel it is unattainable. They see the differing view points and come to the conclusion that if others cant figure it out then they cant either.
Christians over the centuries have believed that there are absolutes. God Himself is "the absolute truth". If He is the absolute truth then what He says is absolutely true. It is not something that we can take or leave. Yes, He has given us the choice to take what He says, or leave it. Yet we will pay the consequences if we choose to leave it.
God is not relative. He does not change or fluctuate. He is the Master Designer of all there is. He has designed all things and holds all things in place. He is not wishy washy. The only way the word relevance fits with God is that He is relevant to all people, and to all societies, at all points of human history.
Once we believe that God is absolute we then can begin to learn the truth of what He has to say.
In learning His truth we need to learn it in such a way that we have a clear understanding of it. It should be clear enough in our thinking that we are able to speak it to others. As Peter said (1Peter 3:15), "...be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for your hope that you have".
With this clarity of thinking, and with the help of the Holy Spirit we then can share the Absolute Truth with others with great confidence. Then as a result they can respond properly. They can really meet the Lord, really become a new creation.
What Does the Bible Say
Look anywhere in the Gospels and you will see the word believe. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes should not perish but have everlasting life". We all know this verse from John 3:16.
A proper definition of the word believe as seen in the original language is "a trusting commitment to Jesus". Believing is not simply acknowledging the facts about Jesus. Believing implies the idea of relationship. True believing or trusting is relational You trust, or believe in a person, not an idea. Thus believing in Jesus means you are building a relationship with Him as a real person. Do you now see why just repeating a prayer doesnt do it?
The question should now be asked, "how can we have that relationship with Jesus"? That is a good question and the key question to ask. If Jesus is no longer a human being like us how can we have a relationship with Him? Simple, we cant. That is we cant on our own. We need His help.
In John 4:23-24 Jesus tells us that God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and Truth. The Truth part we have already alluded to. We must accept that God is absolute. He is the Final Universal Truth. He is also Spirit. We must worship Him in Spirit. For this reason He told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received Gods Holy Spirit.
Once you receive Gods Spirit into your being, you can then build a relationship with Jesus. It only makes sense. It is the Holy Spirit that can connect you with God.
When we receive His Spirit we actually meet with Jesus. Thus salvation comes to a person. That is why I say simply repeating the prayer is not meeting Jesus. The words we say are not the important thing. It is the act of meeting Jesus by His Spirit that makes the difference.
If this happens to you while at the alter then you will return to your pew a new creation. If not you will return just as you were and always have been.
The Call To The Evangelical Church
It is my thinking that the call from our Lord to the Evangelical Church is to return to their roots or die. A tree cannot live when its root system is in the process of decay. The foundation of the Evangelical Church is suspect. We as Evangelicals have often criticized what we call Mainline Churches for their Social Gospel. By this we mean that certain church denominations do a lot of good social activities but have forsaken the faith that should produce such good works. They have forsaken the idea that you can have personal salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the same way the Evangelical Church is in the process of liberalization. It is leaving behind the idea that one can have a personal relationship with Jesus. Yes, it is still in the books of church doctrine. Yes, it is still being taught in some places. My suspicion is that it is not being practiced.
So the call goes out. Return to the Word of God and what it really says about Salvation. Return to your roots. Return to what you once believed and practiced. If the return is not made the consequence will be the same as it was to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. The Lord told these churches to change or else lose their candlestick (Rev.2:5). They did not make the change, and not one of those seven churches can be found today. Whether it was Gods judgment on those churches or simply a natural result of disobedience, those churches are gone. The Evangelical Church now faces the same destiny if there is no change.
It is not hard to figure out. Ever since the fall of man decay and decline has come to whatever man sets out to do, unless what he sets out to do is maintained. Nothing gets better without some maintenance. We have to look after what the Lord entrusts us with or else we will lose it. If we lose it, it is not gone forever. The Lord will give it to someone else. His plans will be accomplished.
I am speaking of the Evangelical Church as a whole, as a movement. Not all individual churches, with its individual members have fallen to such a depth. The Lord will lead these people in the way that they should go. But the call does go out to the Evangelical Church at large.
So for us who understand such things we should not waver. We should be strong in our belief and our practice. We should be prime examples of the Truth Of God to the world and to the rest of the church.
We need to understand the word repent. It means a change of heart, a change of thinking, a change of lifestyle. We can no longer live as we used to. We need to know the true definition of the word believe. It implies a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. We then need to know what relationship means. It means the Holy Spirits activity and residency in our lives. Then once He is in our lives, we let Him do His work in and through us. We then will be people who can say, "we came to the alter just as we were, yet we left the alter as someone altogether new".
Concerning the hymn "Just As I Am", it is a very inspiring hymn. I do not want to take away its special significance. I am sure the author had a great love for our Lord. I have only used its title as a springboard to say what I wanted to say. I do feel the song has been misused at times by over zealous evangelist, but the song itself is good. Yet to the Christian who does not think, the title could be misleading, without the understanding that change occurs in a life who meets the Living God.