05 – Oversimplifications
In the previous installment, I said it doesn’t make sense that warning passages would be addressed only to the “almost saved” and “never saved” because they don’t speak specifically to those audiences.
Another problem with that interpretation is that it oversimplifies the context.
When Jesus taught the people gathered around him, or when an apostle wrote a letter to a congregation, the audience almost always included people who were at different points in the journey of faith. That means a warning meant somewhat different things to different people, depending on where they were on the journey.
The same thing is true when we preach or teach the Bible today. Each group, of course, includes people who fall into a category I call the Enduring Faithful. Other members of our audience, however, could fall into several categories:
– Nominals. Baptized as infants, Nominals completed catechism, attend church on occasion (or even regularly), but keep their Christianity in a box. There is no evidence that faith in Christ makes any real difference in their day-to-day lives. And there is an evangelical version of this too – people who were raised in church, walked an aisle because it was expected, and learned how to play church.
– Strugglers. There are many who choose Christ but struggle to be faithful. They find themselves continually making mistakes spiritually. Some quit trying, while others doubt, wondering whether they ever were “really saved” to begin with.
– Drop-outs. These are people who receive Christ and experience tremendous joy in their new freedom but never have a foundation for Christian living built under them. They are overcome by difficulties and hardships, lose their joy, and drop out of church life.
– Runaways. These folks have had traumatic experiences and harbor deep anger toward God and Christians. Perhaps they came to Christ as teenagers but were not accepted by church folk. Perhaps church members didn’t help when a family member died. They have sworn, “If that’s Christianity, I want no part of it.”
– Backsliders. These Christians can share genuine testimonies about coming to Christ but their lives now show little evidence of God’s transforming power at work. Some drop out; others may be regular in churchly habits but don’t obey the Mission mandate.
– Almost saved. Many people indeed come close to accepting Christ but for various reasons stop short and eventually turn back. They may attend regularly and join in some activities, blending in with the crowd, but they are in actuality mere observers.
– Never saved. Many churches have for generations accepted people into membership without seriously inquiring about their journey with Christ. Many young people are baptized because of peer pressure or tradition – and some of them even become pastors or missionaries who serve for years before realizing they had never actually given over their hearts and lives to Jesus Christ. The result is that many church members have not actually been born again, though some “talk the walk” in a convincing manner.
This list is not exhaustive. You may have your own categories to add. But I think there is yet another group.
This fire consumes
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