One of the most comforting passages in the Bible is found in Romans 10:9-10 and Romans 10:13 where we see a clear promise to all who call upon the name of the Lord of salvation. This should bring comfort to us each time we read over this section of Scripture. We hear preachers stand and call people to respond to God claiming that God will never turn anyone away. Is that true at all times and in all situation? Is there ever a time when a sinner cannot be saved? Certainly we can all agree that after death, such a time exists. However, what about during the lifetime of a particular person, is there a time when he or she cannot be saved?
God Saves Sinners
In Acts 9, we see the story of Saul of Tarsus and how God humbled the learned Pharisee and brought him to a place of submission. If God can save a Saul of Tarsus (whose names was eventually changed to Paul), anyone can be saved. In fact, the story of the apostle Paul’s conversion should bring us hope that nobody in our family or on the school campus is beyond the saving reach of God. God is capable of saving the vilest offender. In fact, God loves to save sinners.
As we read about the city of Nineveh, we often focus on the story of the disobedient Jonah and his time in the belly of a large fish while completely missing the reality of God’s saving grace for a wicked people. When you study about the deep depravity of the people of Nineveh, it should cause our hearts to swell with joy as we see God save them. They didn’t deserve mercy and grace, but God acted through his grace unconditionally and delivered them from their condition of peril. In short, God loves to save sinners.
God Does Not Always Save Sinners
As we think about the work of God in saving sinners, is there ever a time when God refuses to save someone who requests salvation? Would God ever turn anyone down who called upon his name? Although greatly controversial, it’s true that God doesn’t always save everyone who calls on his name. In Psalm 18, we find the testimony of King David and how God spared him when he was on the run from Saul and his men. Notice what David says in Psalm 18:39-42:
For you equipped me with strength for the battle; you made those who rise against me sink under me. You made my enemies turn their backs to me, and those who hated me I destroyed. They cried for help, but there was none to save; they cried to the LORD, but he did not answer them. I beat them fine as dust before the wind; I cast them out like the mire of the streets.
In this particular case, it’s clear that God was saving David—not his enemies. When the enemies of God surrounded David, he was spared by God’s plan which involved the destruction of his enemies. It could be that their prayer was insincere and selfish in order to manipulate God and avoid defeat. God knows the heats of men and cannot be fooled. We have here a clear example of people crying out to the LORD and he refused to answer them.
In another place in the Old Testament, we find in Micah 3 where those who were opposed to God’s people cried out and he chose not to answer their request for salvation. We see this in Micah 3:4:
Then they will cry to the LORD, but he will not answer them; he will hide his face from them at that time, because they have made their deeds evil.
It could be once again that their prayers were insincere and selfishly motivated, but yet again, we find that God refused to answer them and went on to hide his face from them. Although we can say with certainty that God loves to save sinners and even the most vile person can be saved, we must also recognize that God is not obligated to save anyone. Furthermore, we must realize that God is not unrighteous by not saving everyone. God chooses to save sinners unconditionally and acts in mercy to save those who do not deserve it. That includes all of God’s children.
We find other passages in the Old Testament such as Jeremiah 11:11-14 and Ezekiel 8:15-18 where God says, “Therefore, thus says the LORD, Behold, I am bringing disaster upon them that they cannot escape. Though they cry to me, I will not listen to them” (Jer. 11:11). Be sure these are difficult passages indeed, but the difficulty of God’s holy justice and his choice to judge sinners is not removed by the sweetness of his mercy and grace on others. God’s choice to save sinners and God’s choice to judge sinners must never be held up in contradiction to one another (Rom. 9:20-24).
We must never approach God as if he’s merely a genie who offers up grace like a magic potion to overcome our sin. Nor should we approach God as if he’s simply at our disposal like a glorified cosmic bellhop. God is sovereign. God is good. God always does right. God is right to save sinners and to satisfy his justice through the death of his Son Jesus, and he is likewise right to deny salvation to sinners.
If you are a Christian today, this should cause your heart to swell with renewed gratitude. If you are not a Christian and know that you need God’s grace and mercy to rid you of your sin and to reconcile you to God—you should turn to him today and plead for salvation. God loves to save sinners. With a sincere heart, cast yourself upon his mercy trusting that Christ Jesus is your only hope in this life and for all eternity.
On Sunday, September 4th, Pope Francis led in the canonization service that pronounced sainthood upon the well known Catholic figure from recent history—Mother Teresa. With Vatican City pulsating with a crowd that exceeded 120,000, Pope Francis bestowed the highest Roman Catholic honor upon Mother Teresa, in effect, making her Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Did Mother Teresa need Pope Francis’ help in reaching the level of saint? Was this ceremony necessary?
How to Become a Saint in the Roman Catholic Religion
The process to be recognized as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church is a bit technical and lengthy. The overview is as follows:
- The person must be dead for a minimum of 5 years.
- The person must have “fame of sanctity” or “fame of martyrdom.”
- Typically the Bishop of the Diocese initiates the investigation of the person’s life.
- The investigations looks to see if any special favor or miracle has been granted through the person’s life.
- The candidate’s writings are thoroughly examined to confirm that nothing heretical (against the Roman Catholic Church’s beliefs) are taught.
- Upon the end of the investigation, a transumptum (a faithful copy) duly authenticated and sealed, is submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.
- Next, they examine to see if the candidate was a martyr of the faith.
- If the candidate was not a martyr, they examine the person’s life to see if exemplary sacrifice and charity was performed in love for his or her neighbor. Was this person’s life lived out in a heroic manner?
- Beatification is the next process, and the candidate will receive this in the case of martyrdom. If not martyred for the faith, the candidate must be credited with a miracle.
- After beatification, the candidate will be recognized as a saint in a specific city, region, diocese, or religious family.
- After beatification, another miracle is needed for canonization and the formal declaration of sainthood.
As you can see, this is a lengthy process that takes time to validate. Once the candidate reaches the final step and is pronounced a saint, their name can be officially used in the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgy during official worship. It is also believed that a saint can receive prayers in the act of mediation. According to the Roman Catholic Church’s catechism, they teach the following:
“We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers” (Paul VI, CPG § 30).
How to Become a Saint According to the Bible
Since Scripture is our final authority, we turn to the pages of sacred Scripture for answers on the subject of sainthood. A survey of the New Testament provides the following usages of the word saint:
- Philippians 4:21 – Referencing the living.
- Matthew 27:52 – Referencing the dead.
- Acts 9:13 – Referencing the living.
- Acts 9:32 – Referencing the living.
- Acts 9:41 – Referencing the living.
- Acts 26:10 – Referencing the dead.
- Romans 1:7 -Referencing the living.
- Romans 8:27 – Referencing the living.
- Romans 12:13 – Referencing the living.
- Romans 15:25, 26, 31 – Referencing the living.
- Romans 16:2 – Referencing the living.
- Romans 16:15 – Referencing the living.
- 1 Corinthians 1:2 – Referencing the living.
- 1 Corinthians 6:1, 2 – Referencing the living.
- 1 Corinthians 14:33 – Referencing the living.
- 1 Corinthians 16:1 – Referencing the living.
- 1 Corinthians 16:15 – Referencing the living.
- 2 Corinthians 1:1 – Referencing the living.
- 2 Corinthians 8:4 – Referencing the living.
- 2 Corinthians 9:1 – Referencing the living.
- 2 Corinthians 9:12 – Referencing the living.
- 2 Corinthians 13:13 – Referencing the living.
- Ephesians 1:1 – Referencing the living.
- Ephesians 1:15 – Referencing the living.
- Ephesians 1:18 – Referencing the living.
- Ephesians 2:19 – Referencing the living.
- Ephesians 3:8 – Referencing the living.
- Ephesians 3:18 – Referencing the living.
- Ephesians 4:12 – Referencing the living.
- Ephesians 5:3 – Referencing the living.
- Ephesians 6:18 – Referencing the living.
- Philippians 1:1 – Referencing the living.
- Philippians 4:22 – Referencing the living.
- Colossians 1:2 – Referencing the living.
- Colossians 1:4 – Referencing the living.
- Colossians 1:12 – Referencing the dead.
- Colossians 1:26 – Referencing the living.
- 1 Thessalonians 3:13 – Referencing the dead.
- 2 Thessalonians 1:10 – Referencing the living.
- 1 Timothy 5:10 – Referencing the living.
- Philemon 5 – Referencing the living.
- Philemon 7 – Referencing the living.
- Hebrews 6:10 – Referencing the living.
- Hebrews 13:24 – Referencing the living.
- Jude 3 – Referencing the living.
- Revelation 5:8 – Referencing the dead.
- Revelation 8:3, 4 – Referencing the dead.
- Revelation 11:18 – Referencing the dead.
- Revelation 13:7 – Referencing the living.
- Revelation 13:10 – Referencing the living.
- Revelation 14:12 – Referencing the living.
- Revelation 16:6 – Referencing the dead.
- Revelation 17:6 – Referencing the dead.
- Revelation 18:20 – Referencing the dead.
- Revelation 18:24 – Referencing the dead.
- Revelation 19:8 – Referencing the living.
- Revelation 20:9 – Referencing the living.
The overwhelming majority of Scripture uses the word “saint” in reference to a living person, someone who was not dead and had not gone through a formal process of confirmation and canonization. In fact, if we’re honest, the way the word “saint” is used in the New Testament is primarily focused upon normal Christians among the church. The entire church in specific places were referenced by the word “saint” as opposed to a higher class of special holy ones. The word “saint” is used as a description for saved people in the New Testament. Therefore, all true believers are saints based upon their faith in Christ.
It should likewise be noted that in no place in Scripture do we see people praying to the saints. This is the case for two main reasons. First of all, the overwhelming majority of usages of the term “saint” in the New Testament involves living people at the time the letter was written. It would seem odd for Paul to pray to Peter in order to speak to God, right? Should it not seem odd for a person today to pray to Mary or to pray to Peter in order to reach God? Especially since the Bible clearly states that Jesus is our one Mediator who stands between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).
The way a person becomes a saint according to the New Testament is to have a brokenness over sin and faith in God through Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Rom. 6:23; Rom. 3:10; Rom. 10:13; Acts 3:19). In Christ’s finished work on the cross, and that work alone, can a sinner find mercy and forgiveness from God (Is. 53:10; 1 Pet. 2:24). Jesus said that He is the exclusive means of reconciliation (John 14:6).
It is impossible for a sinner to perform works of righteousness in order to please God (Titus 3:5). Did Mother Teresa need Pope Francis to become a saint? Absolutely not. Mother Teresa needed Jesus Christ alone rather than the pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately, she spent many years in doubt and finished her life in darkness. She wrote:
“I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul,” she wrote at one point. “I want God with all the power of my soul — and yet between us there is terrible separation.” On another occasion she wrote: “I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.” 
- Letters of Mother Teresa — See Washington Post Article – “Mother Teresa, about to be named a saint, felt terrible pain ‘of God not wanting me’”
|Guest Article: Dr. Chip Thoronton serves as the lead pastor of the First Baptist Church of Springville, AL. He is married to his wife Kerri and they have four children.
William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was asked by the media: What are the dangers that confront the coming century? One danger he mentioned was, “Salvation without regeneration.” He was speaking of the 20th century, but his assessment was remarkably prophetic.
A person can be a church member, attend religious societies, pray at the supper table, listen to Christian music, wear a cross, or abstain from sex until marriage . . . yet not be saved because their heart remains unregenerate. What exactly is regeneration?
Regeneration / Circumcision
Regeneration is that secret operation of the Holy Spirit whereby He imparts spiritual life to a sinner, thereby enabling the sinner to repent and believe the gospel. Scripture uses other phrases to describe it: new birth, quickening our heart, or circumcision of the heart. For instance, God says, “[A] Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:29). What does this “circumcision” mean?
It would have been familiar to the Jew. OT circumcision, initially, was a physical cutting away of the foreskin of the flesh to identify one as belonging to God. It later came to represent a spiritual circumcision: the cutting away of the calloused foreskin of the heart, which identifies one as belonging to God (Deuteronomy 30:6). What does such “heart-circumcision” look like?
Paul witnessed it first-hand. He came to a city and preached by the riverside. One woman, Lydia, listened. She looked like a believer; she was a worshiper of God. Yet, her heart remained unregenerate. Scripture says, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. And after she was baptized, and her household as well” (Acts 16:14-15). The Spirit circumcised her heart, enabling her to believe the gospel.
The Danger of Salvation Without Regeneration
Why is regeneration (heart-circumcision) important? First, it has eternal ramifications. The Jews thought they were saved because of their outward deeds, never realizing they needed a heart-change. Many today think the same: they claim salvation, but in reality they don’t have it. Why? Because salvation is not a matter of external deeds. It is an internal heart-change (external deeds will, of course, follow).
Second, it has earthly ramifications for the church’s witness. The problem with the church’s witness today is not the media, the culture, the left-wing liberals, or the right-wing radicals. Those are all outside forces. The problem with the church’s witness comes from inside: unregenerate people who think they are saved. The #1 reason people tell me they will not come to church is because the church is full of hypocrites. Yes, (we all know) that is merely an excuse, but they are not entirely wrong, either. The church is full of hypocrites: the ones who boast of salvation but whose hearts remain unregenerate. The ancient Jews were no different: “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written ‘The Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Romans 2:23-24). Could it be today: you who boast in your salvation dishonor God by acting unsaved? . . . (Perhaps) that is why the Name of God is blasphemed among the nation.
I have 3 boys. When they were born, I made a strange request: to watch them be circumcised. Very strange, I know. But hear me out. I knew what true circumcision meant. It served as a graphic reminder to me. You see, for 16 years I claimed salvation, but wasn’t saved. I talked the talk, I was a church member, I tithed. But my heart had not been circumcised. That graphic image would forever remind me of the day God cut through the callousness of my heart, causing me to cry out to Him and fling myself upon the mercies of Christ. It was not a result of my works; it was God’s gift to me (Ephesians 2:9).
William Booth was right. One danger facing his century and ours is salvation without regeneration.
In perhaps the most famous passage of Scripture in the New Testament, Jesus made a statement to a man named Nicodemus that has echoed through history. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). From this point, we can know assuredly that the phrase “born again” was not coined by Jimmy Carter. Instead, it was coined by Jesus Christ. But, what exactly does being born again look like and how does it happen? How can a person have assurance that they have or have not been born again?
Defining the New Birth
First of all, we must look into John 3 to see the true definition of the new birth. It may come as a bit of a shock to some, but Jesus was not commanding Nicodemus to be born again. Furthermore, Jesus has never commanded us to be born again. What Jesus was communicating to Nicodemus was the fact that unless a person is born again, that individual will not see the kingdom of God. The new birth is necessary to see and inherit the kingdom of God, but the new birth is outside of our power to merely perform it. Contrary to popular evangelical opinion, you’re not born again when you “ask Jesus into your heart.” In fact, we don’t see people asking Jesus into their hearts in the New Testament. In the New Testament, we see references to regeneration, repentance, and faith. The work of salvation involves ten specific points and being born again (regeneration) is one of the ten.
Order of Salvation:
1. Election (God’s choice of people to be saved)
2. The Gospel Call (proclaiming the message of the gospel)
3. Regeneration (being born again)
4. Conversion (faith and repentance)
5. Justification (right legal standing)
6. Adoption (membership in God’s family)
7. Sanctification (right conduct of life)
8. Perseverance (remaining a Christian)
9. Death (going to be with the Lord)
10. Glorification (receiving a resurrection body)
*List taken from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Chapter 32.
In order to illustrate His point regarding the sovereignty of God in the act of regeneration, Jesus went on in John 3:7-8 to make the following statement:
Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Just as the wind comes on its own and blows across the landscape, we cannot see the wind, control the wind, or prevent the wind. The wind comes and the only thing we can do is observe the effects. In the same manner the Holy Spirit moves upon people and causes them to be born again by applying the power of the gospel to them. This is what Paul was saying when he wrote to the church at Ephesus and said these words:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:1-5).
Paul placed the emphasis of the new birth upon the power of God as He “made us alive together with Christ” and as he concludes, he points out that it’s a work of grace. In short, the new birth is not something that we perform in the flesh (Titus 3:3-7). It’s completely a work of God.
Assurance of the New Birth
We do not cooperate with God in the work of salvation. From start to finish, the work of salvation is a work of God. He chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1), He sent His Son to die for us (Is. 53), He commissioned His followers to preach and teach the gospel (Matt. 28), He commissioned the Holy Spirit to provide the new birth (John 3), and then He gave to the new believer the gifts of repentance and faith (2 Tim. 2:25; Eph. 2:8-9).
Just as there is evidence that a wind storm has blown across the landscape as it leaves debris and other visual effects behind, we can have assurance that we’ve been born again based on the following biblical evidence:
- The new birth causes a person to repent (2 Tim. 2:25; Mark 1:15).
- The new birth causes a person to have faith in Christ alone for salvation (John 14:6).
- The new birth causes a person to hate sin (Ps. 97:10).
- The new birth causes a person to love God and His righteousness (Mark 12:30; Matt. 6:33).
- The new birth causes a person to hate the world (1 John 2:15).
- The new birth causes a person to have an appetite for holiness (1 Pet. 1:16).
- The new birth causes a person to desire to follow Christ in baptism (Matt. 28:19).
- The new birth causes a person to desire to identify with the people of God through a local church (Acts 2:42-47).
- The new birth results in a love for God’s people – not a hatred and dislike for them (1 Pet. 4:8; 1 John 4:7).
- The new birth causes a person to want to know more about God through His Word – the Bible (Ps. 119; Ps. 19).
- The new birth causes a person to change in order to conform to Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 12:1-2).
A true child of God will not walk away from Him. Some people talk about how they were a Christian for many years before they finally walked away from God. That is simply not true. The only reason a person can walk away from God is because that individual was never a true Christian. Genuine Christianity is a permanent reality. It does not mean that a life of rebellion and hardship will not occur, but it does mean that the rebellious person will be disciplined by the loving Father and brought to a place of repentance and restoration (Heb. 12:6).
Do you love the world and the things of this world or do you love God? Read 1 John and ask yourself at the conclusion of each paragraph, “Is this me?”
After a long line of racially fueled events that have swept our nation, including police shootings and city-wide violence, Charleston, South Carolina enters the stage. It’s like a strange chapter at the end of a long line of racially divided chapters that have continually divided America. It’s the unlikely chapter in recent history. The surprise in the chapter is that it’s not about race. This chapter is about grace.
As we all know, the Charleston shooting has rocked our nation. The senseless act of murder carried out by a white man in the Emmanuel AME church in Charleston has brought the spotlight of the world to Charleston and what has been put in view is not what the the world expected to see. No riots. No SWAT team in riot gear. No cars being burned in the streets. Instead, it was the unlikely scene of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Bethane Middleton-Brown, the sister of one of the victims, said, “I acknowledge that I am very angry,” but “she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating.”
What can we learn from this horrible tragedy? Three clear things are put on display in this tragic scene that continues to unfold in Charleston.
Sin Transcends Race and Flags
What happened in Charleston, Ferguson, Baltimore and other cities across the nation was not about the Confederate battle flag. Although there are issues that must be addressed with the hate groups who use that flag as their icon of racism, the root problem in the Charleston shooting was sin – not a flag. I applaud Russell Moore and others who have spoken out about the need to retire the Confederate flag. I support the movement, but as I look at the big picture, I see two different issues. One is the Charleston shooting and the other is the symbol of racism that the old Confederate flag has come to represent. In fact, you can take flags away, and sin remains rooted in the racist’s heart. We must address the root issue, the depravity of the human heart.
According to the Bible, all of humanity stands guilty before God (Rom. 3:23). However, as Paul unpacks that truth in Romans 3, we see his reference to Jew and Gentile. Beginning at the end of verse 22, Paul clearly sets the stage to break through racial tensions by saying, “there is no distinction.” For the Jew who grasped the thought of Jewish superiority, Paul was making it clear that the Jew and Gentile are both on equal ground at the foot of the cross. Paul continues, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” As Paul used the word “all” he is lumping into that barrel all races of humanity. In other words, no person has the right to boast about himself or his race. All are guilty before God.
Jesus Saves Sinners and He Isn’t White
I remember as a boy seeing the white Jesus pictured with long flowing brown hair in church buildings and even in the homes of Christians. It wasn’t until later in life that I actually came to the realization that Jesus isn’t a white man. That didn’t offend me, but it sure might offend those who believe their white race is superior to other races based merely upon the pigmentation of their skin.
As Paul wrote to the Jews in Romans 3, he makes clear that Gentiles can be saved too. It wasn’t about eating the right foods or observing the right holidays. It was about something far greater and more superior – the blood of Jesus. Grace comes to guilty sinners and it doesn’t stop at racial borders. Paul continues into verse 24 by saying, “and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” After making it clear that all races are guilty of sin, he then says, “[all] are justified by his grace as a gift.” Not in the sense of universalism, but in the sense of grace that goes beyond Jews to Gentiles – essentially to all racial groups.
Paul speaks of justification, grace, redemption, propitiation, faith, and the righteousness of God all coming upon “all” who have faith in Him – Jew and Gentile alike. Paul says, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith” (Rom. 3:27). In other words, Jesus saves Gentiles and He’s a Jew. In our context in America, we could say, “Jesus saves sinners, and He isn’t white.” Paul labors to make known that God is the God of Jew and Gentile. The people of Charleston S.C. have labored to make that known in the aftermath of this tragedy. They have put on display a common bond that crosses racial boundaries. As they continue to talk – the world continues to listen.
Followers of Jesus Follow Jesus
It’s one thing to wear a t-shirt that has some catch phrase about Jesus on it, but quite another thing to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. What’s in the abundance of the heart comes out in the words of people in the aftermath of tragedies. Sure, it’s easy to misspeak when you’re stressed because of the pain of tragedy. However, the Charleston S.C. community is revealing the true beauty of Christianity. The Christian community is putting on display the hell conquering, race unifying, death defeating power of Jesus Christ.
As Jesus was being slaughtered on the cross, He cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). In essence, that’s exactly what has been coming out of the mouths of the family members and church members of those who were killed by the gunman. It’s one thing to forgive another Christian when you’re sinned against, but to extend forgiveness toward a person who entered a church building and shot your family member is beyond normal. It’s extraordinary. The only explanation is that Jesus is Lord and His forgiveness is real.
We can learn much from this tragedy in South Carolina, but one thing that transcends all lessons is the genuine beauty of Christianity in a sin cursed world.
William Cowper, a friend of John Newton, wrote the following poem and we have it as a hymn in our hymn books. Cowper wrote:
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.
It can be our prayer that God will hide a big smile behind this frowning providence. When Satan wants to divide races through a church shooting, Jesus can bring about unity that simply doesn’t make sense outside of the gospel. When a lost world watches, they see the love of Jesus and stand in awe.
Have you ever been lost? Do you remember what it was like as a child to look up and discover your parents were suddenly not next to you in the local store? Do you recall being in a strange city or an unfamiliar neighborhood and you couldn’t find your way home? In our day of constant high speed Internet on cell phones with built-in GPS capability, it’s almost impossible to get lost. In fact, many teenagers and young adults have no idea what it’s like to be lost because of their map application on their smart phone. They have never felt that sinking and lonely feeling of being lost in a strange place.
I’m fearful that many church members grow up with that same type of problem. They hear sermons that talk about God in a generic manner. They hear nothing of His true character from the Scriptures. Many people go through church and never hear about sin, the wrath of God, the depravity of man, and our hopeless condition without Christ. They hear about how good God is and about how He loves everyone. How many people have merely repeated a prayer at the end of a worship service and been baptized without any genuine knowledge of sin and salvation in Christ Jesus? How many people believe they are on their way to heaven but have never known they were lost?
Many preachers from history have shared startling statistical statements that should leave us trembling. Billy Graham, on national television, once stated that he believed 85% of church attendees were on their way to hell. Before Billy Graham, Jesus made a statement that is quite shocking. Matthew records Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21-23:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
That was my story – almost. I was a lost church member. I grew up in church. As a boy, my parents were experiencing marital problems, and my grandfather took me to church each week. One day, at 6 years of age, I repeated a prayer after a preacher and I was told that I was a Christian. I only did what I had witnessed other boys and girls doing, and it was not a genuine act of faith. I had no idea of sin and salvation in Christ. From that point forward, I entered the church, was baptized, and lived as a lost church member. I was often miserable. I was in a perpetual fight with my flesh about what I truly wanted and what I knew I had to do in order to please my father. It was not until I was 25 years old that the Lord saved me. At the time the Lord saved me, I was teaching a Sunday school class in our church and totally fooled into believing that I was right with God because of what I did when I was a young boy. My faith was more connected with the fact that I prayed a prayer rather than Jesus suffering in my place.
How many people in American evangelicalism are lost in their sin, but they have never been told the truth? How many teenagers are lost, but their parents and their youth group leaders have never taught them the true gospel? How many senior adults believe they are on their way to heaven, but in reality, they are on their way to hell? Many people in the average church are on their way to hell. That’s more than my opinion, that’s what Jesus said. He said many would argue about their works before His judgment throne. However, He will cast them from His presence. They knew Him, but He never knew them. This is a warning regarding lost church members.
Could this be you?
When was the last time you examined yourself to see if you are in the faith?
J.C. Ryle, in his commentary on Matthew 7:21-23 writes, “The day of judgment will reveal strange things. The hopes of many who were thought great Christians while they lived will be utterly confounded. The rottenness of their religion will be exposed and put to shame before the whole world.” As you look into the pages of the Scripture what do you see? As you read 1 John, does your face appear in the negative statements and warnings? As you hear Jesus’ warning about false converts, do you tremble inwardly knowing that this is you? If so, I plead with you to repent and turn to Jesus Christ. Call out to God for mercy and have faith that Jesus died in your place on the cross. Have faith that He suffered under the wrath of God for you. If you desire to be saved, you can come to God and He will take away your sin. Will you repent? Don’t postpone or hesitate. If you’re lost – now is the appropriate time to turn to God.