Over the last 3 decades, I have given a great deal of thought and prayer to the mass exodus we are seeing from our young people. I have been blessed to travel from coast to coast, speaking on this tragic trend, as well as write several books about the biblical solutions. Part of this article is an excerpt from my latest book, "To Keep the Faith!"
The first and most foundational step that must be taken in order to keep our children in the church is a return to the biblical teachings of true conversion. Life is too short and Hell is too long to give this subject anything less than a passionate top priority in life. When it comes to conversion, getting it right is essential!
(Note: You will notice that in this book there is a disproportionate amount of time spent on this subject compared to the other 3 points. Without a true conversion, the foundation for loyalty is undermined. Conversion is the essential foundation for a lasting faith!)
True conversion requires at least three things:
1. A crisis of faith
2. A surgery at the hands of Christ
3. A healing from the Holy Spirit
In this article, we will focus on the first marker of true conversion, a crisis of faith.
Everyone likes to talk about the “let it go!” side of grace, but without the “let Him in!” experience of conversion, true change does not occur.
One of my greatest fears for this American culture is the overwhelming temptation to embrace liberal agendas of entitlements. We award free food to those who are overweight and we hand out free money to those who refuse to get a job. We legalize illegal aliens so they can do our work for us. We import more than we export. We idolize the sordid lives of Hollywood stars and we buy big screen TVs to expose our children to their divorce-ridden, drug-induced, morally-depraved lives of spoiled materialism. Americans have grown lazy. We are obese and we are undisciplined. Effort has become our enemy and convenience has become our god.
Unfortunately, the same attitude of casual convenience has found its way into the Christian movement. Consider just one example - the process of conversion.
Many have so dismissed the authority of God’s instructions that they have reduced the salvation experience to a simple thought process. Followers are encouraged to recite a pre-scripted prayer, hear the pastor pronounce them saved, then exit the drive-through convinced of their salvation. I ask you, “Where is the crucifixion? Where is the death of the old man of sin? Where is the gut-wrenching experience of loss, transformation, and self-sacrifice?”
Thomas Paine once wrote, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly….” Is it possible that this is the reason for the decline of Christianity in America? Is it possible that this is the reason our children demonstrate little loyalty to the Bride of Christ or commitment to the values of the One they call “Savior?” Our level of appreciation is directly related to our level of investment. When the conversion process is reduced to a simple mental exercise, appreciation, loyalty, and responsible Christian living suffers.
The inspired brother of Jesus put it this way, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26, NKJV) A dead conversion is a half experienced conversion. Both the inner man and the outer man must be united in the process in order for the whole man to be converted.
The Holy Spirit describes conversion as a death, a burial, and a rebirth; three of the most traumatic moments in the human experience. Coming to Christ includes many things, but convenience is not one of them!
Notice the following passage. Please give special attention to the vivid illustration and dramatic description the Spirit assigns to the salvation process.
Romans 6:3-4 (NKJV)
"Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life."
Death is final. It is marked by a specific time and place. Death is traumatic. It is marked by specific loss and separation. In order for baptism to be the death described in Romans 6:3-4, it must be more than a casual church initiation service. The Holy Spirit says that baptism marks the moment of death as well as the beginning of new life. Baptism is a salvation marker! Anything less is too casual to be a full recognition of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
So what can we conclude from all of this? Do we save ourselves through baptism? Absolutely not! Does God save us through our free-will choice to join with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection? Absolutely! God does the saving when we join Christ in the sacrifice. Notice again the words of our passage, “...buried WITH Him through baptism into death....” Coming to Christ is anything but convenient. It hurts. It involves loss, humiliation, and surrender. Conversion is born of crisis. Conversion is a crucifixion.
The entry point of grace is nothing less than traumatic. In order for young people to experience true conversion, and thereby make a lasting investment in the church, they must first count the cost. They must be taught the price of sin, the pain of sacrifice, and the necessity of self-discipline.
Please notice the expressions of spiritual trauma used to describe converts on the very first day of the church. This description of conversion must be duplicated in the lives of our young people if they are to remain loyal to the Bride of Christ.
According to the biblical record, the entry point of grace involves:
Difficult discoveries - “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36, NKJV)
Gut-wrenching guilt - “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart....” (Acts 2:37, NKJV)
Response of desperation - “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37, NKJV)
Life-changing sacrifice - “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized….” (Acts 2:38, NKJV)
Submission to a new Master - “…baptized in the name of Jesus Christ….” (Acts 2:38, NKJV)
Acceptable terms of surrender - “…for the remission of sins.” (Acts 2:38, NKJV)
The entry point of grace requires nothing less than a death to self (Romans 6:3-4) and an emergency surgery at the very hands of Jesus (Colossians 2:11-12). The entry point of grace involves trauma to the spiritual man. Just as a person who is experiencing physical loss must take time to grieve, a person experiencing radical spiritual transformation must take time to acknowledge the trauma. Without the biblical steps mentioned above, partial converts walk around in a self-delusional haze of spiritual denial. In order for the church to be an effective support group for spiritual recovery, we must start at the beginning.
When the entry point of grace is reduced to a convenient absolution of conscience through the recitation of a pre-scripted “sinner’s prayer,” the cross is reduced to verbal jewelry and the Divine torture of Calvary becomes little more than religious history. When the entry point of grace becomes an after-the-fact ceremony of symbolic gestures (“outward sign of an inward grace”), the celebration overwhelms the journey and the “let it go!” rushes past the “let Him in!”
The young need more than a convenient Lord and a casual Savior. They need to learn the truth about the glory and the sacrifice of true conversion, the metamorphosis of grace.
To continue this study, go to:
"To Keep The Faith! A Surgery at the Hands of Christ"
"To Keep The Faith! A Healing from the Holy Spirit"
"To Keep The Faith! Investment: Taking Ownership of Their Place Within the Church"
"To Keep The Faith! Dependence: Developing Loyalty to the Spiritual Network"
"To Keep The Faith! Expression: Celebrating Reverent, Relevant, Revealing Worship"
Missed the Introductory lesson of this series? Take a look!
"To Keep The Faith!: Introduction"
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