Nine Marks and Real Conversion

dever_9marksHere’s another place where my concerns and Mark Dever’s concerns are similar:  Neither one of us likes the “once saved always saved” doctrine.

My issue with this is not that we are not saved by grace.  I’m a firm believer in that.  I don’t believe you earn your way into God’s good graces by self effort or keeping the Law.  But being saved through faith alone doesn’t mean your faith should be alone.  Real faith produces real change in the heart of the believer.

I don’t think we make this clear enough when we stress that you just pray this certain prayer and now you’re in.  In fact, I think the whole invitational setup is flawed, because it reinforces this notion that you enter the kingdom of heaven by making a once-for-all crisis decision during a semi-pressured moment in a worship service.  In many cases, this is a highly choreographed moment, perhaps accompanied by soft music, punctuated by impassioned pleas from the preacher to get up out of your seat and “come forward to make a decision.”  I know the historical roots of this practice well, and it carries no magical aura for me at this point.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I know a great many lifetimes of following Jesus began at moments just like this.  But it’s still just the beginning.  That’s what we don’t stress enough.  We’re beginning a lifetime of following Jesus, honoring his name and knowing him in an ongoing relationship.  That just doesn’t always get communicated, so all the emphasis seems to be on making this one move at a particular point in time.  That’s just too shallow an understanding of what it means to “get saved.”

I’ve often said it before:  I don’t like saying that I “got saved” when I was 16.  I’m still getting saved even as I type this post.  You better believe I still need it.  Does that mean something shifted and now I’m earning it, even though it originally was by grace?  Absolutely not!  It’s still by grace, every day.  His grace didn’t check out after I made a crisis decision as a hormonal teenager.  His grace is what keeps me believing even now.  Were he to remove it, you would see just how unChristian I really am deep down.  It’s like my old friend Joe Shelton used to sing, “I need a Savior/All the time!”

Dever says, “We need to see an end to a wrong, shallow view of evangelism as simply getting people to say yes to  a question, or to make a one-time decision” (143).  Real evangelism, he asserts, includes a call to real conversion.  “Scripture presents us as needing to have our hearts replaced, our minds transformed, our spirits given life” (143).  But as he goes on to say, “evangelical churches are full of people who have made sincere commitments at some point in their lives but who have not experienced the radical change that the Bible calls conversion” (113).  He argues that this lies at the root of the immaturity of evangelical churches.  An abbreviated gospel produces shallow churches, with immature members.

I want to write some more about maturity, maybe comparing his definition with my own.  But for now, I’ll have to agree with Dever, who, even though he didn’t explicitly say so in this book, apparently holds to the more typically Reformed doctrine of the “perseverance of the saints”.  That’s a little different from “once saved always saved” because the implication is that a person who has genuine  faith and repentance will continue to have such as long as he or she lives.  “Once saved always saved” implies that as long as you did this one thing at some point, you’re done.  You’ve got your ticket.  You’re in.  But what does the rest of life look like from that point on?  Real conversion changes a person.  And it keeps on changing them.

Things that are truly alive, grow.  That’s just the way it is” (216).

I agree.

I desperately  need the Lord to provide that growth now just as much as I needed it almost 20 years ago.   You do, too…

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5 Responses to “Nine Marks and Real Conversion”

  1. Carrie Says:

    Really good post, Neil.

  2. brotherjohnny Says:

    You are touching on some areas here that have been neglected for far too long, even (or should I say ‘especially’) among ‘deeper life’ cliques.

    “Once saved. always saved” or “eternal security” were, at one point, good ways of communicating something important to a particular mindset.
    Now that the mindset has developed and changed, these terms and description no longer cut the mustard.
    This has been my experience *personally*.

    Paul does make it clear that God, through Christ, has saved those who truly belong to the church.
    He ‘deliver-ED them from the realm of darkness and conveyed them into the realm of His dear Son’.

    This is a big part of that grace which we hear and speak so much about.

    But what happens when we attempt to go and visit that old, dark kingdom, to spend time and energy with and for the old wicked king?

    Where would this place us concerning ‘salvation’?

    “Salvation” in the New Testament, I believe, is always related to kingdom…which, as you know, isn’t primarily a place; It’s the reign of a king among his people.

    I look forward to your next post.

  3. zoecarnate Says:

    Good thinkin’ Johnny. And Neil, I look forward to your reviewing books you actually like too. 🙂

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