Rick’s salvation story is still being written. But thus far it is sad and disappointing . . . and completely unnecessary. I knew Rick well. He was dating one of the girls in our Church. She came from a strong Christian family. And it was because of her persistence and influence that Rick decided to come to worship and Bible class with her. He even came on a few of our overnight trips to youth rally’s with us. He’s a good kid who had already experienced tragedy in his life. Because of that tragedy, he had a lot of doubts and even more questions. But what he had more than both of those was faith. He knew that there is a God and that this God loved him. But he was still learning to understand what that meant. His faith was growing. He was spending time with the other kids in the youth group and really soaking up our Bible studies. But he still didn’t know what it mean to live what Jesus said in Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”
Unfortunately, he wasn’t progressing quickly enough for some of the folks in our Church. They thought he should have been baptized and become a Christian by that point. So on a Wednesday evening one of the Elders pulled him out of Bible class and went into the office to study with Rick. Just as the bell rang and everyone was filing into the auditorium for the devotional time, Rick and the Elder emerged from the office. The Elder happily declared that Rick wanted to be baptized. That evening, Rick was baptized for the forgiveness of sins. And his sins were wiped away by the blood of Jesus Christ . . . I think.
Flash forward six months. Rick and his girlfriend (that was so influential in bringing him to worship) had broken up. It wasn’t silly and dramatic like some teenage break-ups can be. They remained friends. But we saw Rick less and less. Until eventually he had quit coming to Bible study, worship or the youth group events altogether. He would still say hi and take time to talk when I called. But, for the time at least, we had lost him.
Every time I think about that evening when Rick was baptized I get so frustrated, and sad. That Elder that pulled him out of class has a great heart, a sincere love of Jesus and pure motives – among the best I have ever seen. But he has a bad theology and a poor understanding of the Bible. You see, he treated baptism as the last component of a formula instead of the answer to a question. Here’s what I mean. For some who interpret the Bible with the rational and reasoning methods derived from the Baconian or Lockean influence, baptism is the fifth logical step in the five steps of salvation.
Hear + Believe + Repent + Confess + Baptism = Salvation
And on that evening, Rick completed the formula. The problem is that treating our salvation as something we must accomplish misses the point of grace, mercy and God’s divine plan. It seems to me, from a lot of experience, that we have skewed God’s plan and misplaced our faith. So now, instead of trusting God for our salvation, we trust in ourselves to complete the steps of a plan. That has naturally led us to misplace our focus as well as our faith. So now, instead of faith in God and focus on Christ, we have faith in the plan to save us and our focus on completing all of the steps.
That takes us back to Rick’s story. Instead of teaching him what it means to be a disciple of Christ, we lost our patience, taught him the plan and pushed him to complete it. Well, we ended up completing the plan. But at least for now, we’ve lost the man. Isn’t that what it’s really about – people giving their lives to Christ? It’s clear that, when he was baptized, Rick hadn’t given his life to Christ. He was just pushed into a decision.
Take a look back at the first converts. Does it sound like they were taught a plan? Or that they had to be pushed into responding to what they heard?
“37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
They were told about Jesus and they were convicted. Then they wanted to know what they had to do – not the other way around.
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