You would think that we American Christians would be grateful that we still live in a free society where we can practice our faith without overt persecution, and that we would support and encourage each other in the incredible freedoms we enjoy to explore and grow in our relationship with Christ. You would think that, wouldn't you?
But, just as Jesus faced constant challenges from the religious Pharisees, I am still seeing opposition, and even hostility, towards Believers, like myself, who have been called to offer encounters with Jesus that are unconventional and outside the boundaries set by religious traditions. As I have shared many times in past posts, the Inner Healing Ministry [to which the Lord called Mark and I] has been the subject of many attacks by Christians who object to it as "un-Biblical" or "un-Scriptural". But is it?
In addition, when the Lord showed us that Jesus's primary reason for being sent by the Father was to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom, we were accused of disparaging the Gospel of Salvation. It didn't fit the established doctrines of mainstream denominations. Yet that is exactly what Jesus says in Luke 4:43... that's why He was sent. In the Book of Matthew, He talks about the Gospel of the Kingdom 56 times, and never mentions the Gospel of Salvation. Granted, our Lord came to be the Lord of the Jews first. Christians did not exist at that time; those non-Jews who would come to believe in Him as the Son of God were called Gentiles and most often worshiped pagan gods. It wouldn't be until after the Jews rejected Him as their Messiah, He was resurrected, and appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, that Jesus instructed His message be offered to non-Jews.
And I will say it again ... SALVATION WAS IMPORTANT TO JESUS! He experienced a horrific death on the Cross to give it to us! But the Bible only records Him talking about it once, to Nicodemus in the middle of the night, away from the religious leaders of the Jews. He makes it clear that Salvation is necessary and essential to see [discern or perceive] the Kingdom, and one must be Saved to enter the Kingdom. The religion of Christianity has grasped the concept of Salvation really well, and they have promoted it, preached it, and taught it around the world. But Jesus said in Matthew 24:14, "And this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then the end shall come."
So, it is with sadness [and a modicum of frustration] that I am still hearing Christians criticizing each other when one of us presents a different form of His message from a platform that doesn't correspond to what they think should be the prescribed formula. Jesus didn't model the Jewish faith in the system the Pharisees thought was acceptable, either. In fact, to use a modern euphemism, Jesus didn't color inside the lines. So, when I hear Christians say that a person's Salvation should be the first thing that we "accomplish" in introducing them to Jesus, I want to have a sincere conversation about determining exactly what Jesus modeled for us. The Sinner's Prayer [or the Prayer of Salvation] does not have to be the first or the be-all, end-all of any ministry opportunity. And I don't see Jesus demanding any litmus test to follow Him. He was all about relationship, not rules.
And I should probably, at this point, head off any criticism that I am saying "anything goes" when it comes to presenting God's Word or representing Jesus and the Father. I am not. We must present the Truth of the Bible according to Scripture. But I think the Father has given us unique ways to do that, and we do not have to be religious or uncompromising about the protocol. If Christians would spend some time reading their Bible and verifying what they have been taught, I think they would find that Jesus's modus operandi, if you will, was to show the love and mercy of the Father to those He came in contact with. When the people experienced the power of God in their lives to heal, to forgive, and to extend His grace, they were more likely to listen to His message and teachings about the Kingdom -- which remember, was His purpose. He wasn't so concerned about following any methodology, or repeating a formula or technique.
When you can invite women to a retreat and witness the sharing of testimonies of how an intimate relationship with Jesus healed a miserable childhood experience; or how different our journeys can be to develop a faith life; or even just that its okay to start right where you are, without fitting any "model" of what your Christian walk should like, then you are showing the heart of God to love us into relationship with Him. That relationship will lead to Salvation, and then we can share the Gospel of the Kingdom. And when someone can come to us because they have nowhere else to turn and are desperate to be rid of the oppression and attacks from an Enemy they don't even know -- and we can help them have an encounter with Jesus, whom they've never known, then you have been blessed to give them that gift. And if they are not saved, this encounter with Him gives rise to the opportunity to share the messages of Salvation and the Kingdom. Both circumstances are just two of many different ways that follow the model Jesus has portrayed for us. He first healed the blind man, and then introduced His Father's Kingdom. He met the woman at the well, revealed Himself to her, and then told her to sin no more.
Jesus healed the pain first and then said, "Go, and sin no more". These people were more willing to hear His message after they had experienced His heart and received healing. We would do well to remember we are all sinners and treat others the way Jesus did. He didn't judge other sinners. And He didn't give them a free pass. He guided them into a new way of thinking about how to confront sin; He showed them mercy. He didn't condone sin or pardon it. He was clear that the Father's will for our lives should take precedence over our own free will. The simple truth is that He showed the Father's love and will for us through His actions and the only prayer that He suggested was a prayer that revealed the Father's Kingdom and His willingness to deliver us through His power and glory.
I have nothing against the Sinner's Prayer. It is easily understood and provides a way to help someone repent for their sins and begin a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, as their Savior. But unless that someone is discipled and encouraged and trained in the ways of the Lord, that Sinner's Prayer can become a mechanical gesture. Can we find it in our hearts to accept that there are other ways to lead a person to that relationship and to truly know the One who has Saved them? Can we not demonstrate the self-righteousness of the Pharisaical mindset? God has made each of us unique according to His purpose for His Kingdom on earth. Can we agree that He just might use unique people and unique ways to reach us? Let's try to give our fellow Christians the grace that Jesus showed others who didn't fit the mold. After all, it's the end result the Father is after ... receive Salvation through faith in His Son and then enter Kingdom to spread that Gospel to all the world. I'm pretty sure there are as many ways to do that as there are people. And I think the Father enjoys seeing the creative ways in which we reveal Him and His Truth. That represents the magnitude and vastness of His own creativity. That's how great our God is!
Romans 12:6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to use them accordingly ...