A simple matter of words

By David M. McNabb

The scene is repeated around the globe hundreds or thousands of times every week: a preacher stands before the congregation, having just completed his sermon, and asks if anyone has not yet made their decision for Christ.  Those who raise their hands are then asked to do so at that very moment.  While no two ministers present the “altar call” in exactly the same way, many use some variation of the very popular “Sinner’s Prayer.”  The minister tells the people who are seeking salvation to repeat after him something resembling the following prayer: “God, I know that I am a sinner.  I know that I deserve the consequences of my sin.  However, I am trusting in Jesus Christ as my Savior.  I believe that His death and resurrection provided for my forgiveness.  I trust in Jesus and Jesus alone as my personal Lord and Savior.  Thank you Lord, for saving me and forgiving me!  Amen!”  He then ensures the individuals that have participated, “If you have prayed this prayer, and truly understand and believe what you said, then you are now born-again.  Welcome to the household of faith!”

Is that it?  It seems a bit simplistic, does it not?  Does the Bible support such an easy out from the bondage and consequences of sin?

As is the case with all humanity, we are determined to succeed by way of our own merits.  We think that there is some action we can perform, or trait that we possess, that will be able to see us through to the desired end.  The curse of sin, however, cannot be broken by our merits.  Trying to break free from sin’s hold by your own actions can be compared to someone taking out a loan to pay off their debts.  At best, you are no better off.  At worst, you are further in the hole than when you started.

But there is reason to PRAISE GOD!  God has sent His own Son to break the bonds of sin, and bring us out into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.  The just penalty for our iniquities has been paid by the precious blood of the Lamb of God!  Hallelujah!

So, how can we enjoy the results of His awesome sacrifice?  What must we do to be saved?

Ah, herein is the catch.  We cannot help but find ourselves back at the human response, “What can I do?”  What had to be done to secure our salvation has already been accomplished in the person of Jesus Christ.  So, when the prison guard asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” they replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:25-34).

A beloved scripture is found in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Paul agreed, admonishing all “that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9-10).

So, while I am not convinced that everyone who says the “Sinner’s Prayer” does so in full sincerity of heart, I am sure that anyone who believes in the Lord Jesus, and confesses Him with their mouth, can enjoy the hope of full salvation promised by God to all them that believe.  Praise be to God!

A recent news report should resonate with every born-again believer.  On August 27, two Fox News journalists were released from their Muslim kidnappers unharmed.  American reporter Steve Centanni, and New Zealand cameraman Olaf Wiig, were set free after 13 days in the hands of their captors.  What secured their release?  They converted to Islam.  While it is true that their conversion was made “at gunpoint,” Muslims do not consider that to be compulsion.  From their point of view, these men made a choice of their own free will: they chose to “submit” to Islam rather than die.

This brings up another point: how does one become a Muslim?  Actually, you might be surprised.

One converts to Islam by reciting the Islamic declaration of faith called the Shahada (Arabic word meaning “to testify”).  A simple, honest recitation of the Shahada in Arabic (preferably in the presence of two Muslim witnesses) is all that is required for a person to become a Muslim.  In English, the Shahada simply states, “I bear witness that there is no God but Allah; And I bear witness that Mohammed is the Messenger of Allah.”  The Shahada is displayed in the Arabic writing on the green flag of Saudi Arabia.

Having recited these words, the conversion is complete, and one should then take a shower to symbolically cleanse oneself of his past life, and say his first prayer.  [According to the Sunni Muslims, the Shahada and prayer (Salat) are the first two of Islam’s five pillars.  The other three are: almsgiving (Zakat), Fasting during Ramadan (Sawm), and the pilgrimage to Mecca (Hajj).]

According to the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book, there is a warning and a blessing for all who make this declaration of faith, “And keep in mind what is recited in your houses of the communications of Allah and the wisdom; surely Allah is Knower of subtleties, Aware.  Surely the men who submit and the women who submit, and the believing men and the believing women, and the truthful men and the truthful women, and the patient men and the patient women, and the humble men and the humble women, and the almsgiving men and the almsgiving women, and the fasting men and the fasting women, and the men who guard their private parts and the women who guard, and the men who remember Allah much and the women who remember – Allah has prepared for them forgiveness and a mighty reward” (Surah 33:34-35).

The way to become a Muslim, then, is very similar to the way one becomes a Christian.  One need only “believe with his heart, and confess with his mouth.”  When the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip if he could be baptized, Philip said, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37).  Satisfied with the eunuch’s reply, Philip stopped the chariot and baptized him immediately.

If the conversion methods are similar, is it possible that the interfaith movement’s assertion that Christians, Jews and Muslims all worship the same God?  The Qur’an tells Muslims to tell the “people of the Book” (Christians and Jews), “I have submitted myself entirely to Allah and (so) every one who follows me; and say to those who have been given the Book and the unlearned people: Do you submit yourselves?  So if they submit then indeed they follow the right way; and if they turn back, then upon you is only the delivery of the message and Allah sees the servants” (Surah 3:20).  Surah 109:1-6, then, proclaims the message to the Christians and Jews who do not submit to Allah.  “Say: O unbelievers!  I do not serve that which you serve, Nor do you serve Him Whom I serve: Nor am I going to serve that which you serve, Nor are you going to serve Him Whom I serve: You shall have your religion and I shall have my religion.”  Apparently the Qur’an does not promote the notion that Allah is the God of Christianity and Judaism.  (Of course, this is one instance where the Lord God Jehovah is in complete agreement!)

What gives me pause about all of this, is that it is so easy – and seemingly benign – to utter the Shahada to secure your release from Muslim captors.  When faced with the edge of the sword, is it not better to do whatever you can to escape?  Would not God understand the circumstances and disregard your actions as necessary?

All of the practical reasons for allowing yourself to “embrace” Islam, even if only to fool your kidnappers, quickly lose any weight when compared to the suffering Jesus endured to secure for us true salvation.  In fact, to recite the Islamic declaration of faith deceitfully would be an overt violation of the ninth commandment: bearing false witness!  The Bible declares that “a false witness that speaketh lies” is one of the things God hates (Prov. 6:19).  Such willful transgression on the part of a believer is addressed by Paul in his letter to the Hebrews.  “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Heb. 10:26-27).

What does Jesus say about a believer, who proclaims allegiance to Allah (even as a ruse)?  “But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33).

Saints, this may seem harsh, but if we are to believe that God weighs our words when we profess our faith in Him, why would we believe that He disregards other utterances that proceed from our lips?  No, my friends, Jesus declared plainly in the Scriptures, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.  For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37).

We are assured by God, that “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10), but what assurances does God have that we are indeed His people?  What is the one characteristic that stands as proof positive of the people of God?  For that answer we must look, once again, to the Word of God.  “He said, ‘Surely they are my people, children that will not lie:’ so He was their Saviour” (Isa. 63:8).  If you want to prove to the Lord that you are His, you must be determined to declare only that which is true.

If we truly believe that we are living in the last days, we must also know that we are nearing the days of the Beast, who will cause all men to receive his mark, his name, or the number of his name (Rev. 13:17; Rev. 15:2).  No matter how this actually comes to pass, we must beware, because it will seem benign and innocuous, a harmless act – maybe even beneficial.  Jesus said that, if it were possible, he would deceive even the very elect!  Maybe it will be as “harmless” as a recitation like the Shahada – a series of words that will save you from the hands of your enemies, but BEWARE, for you are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses against you if you allow yourself to use such a way of escape.  Men like Daniel, Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael, Peter, John, James, and countless others stand as a testimony to the awesome power and faithfulness of God to deliver His people.  To seek salvation some other way would be an insult to the faith of those who have gone before, and to the very God who has promised us eternal life.

As Peter declared, after the man at the gate Beautiful was healed, “If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.  Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:9-12).

Amen and amen.  Hallelujah!

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