Sheep Turned Back in Terror- My Biggest Fear in Sharing the Gospel

I think without a doubt that one of the most terrifying passages in the Bible for people in the church to read is Matthew 7.21-23:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Surely, at some point, every one of us has heard that verse and paused to wonder if Jesus is saying this to me.  Now, we might pick right back up, think off to our experience of regeneration, rest on the hope of the Spirit testifying with our spirit that we truly are a son of God (Romans 8.16), and be calmed in this fear.  But their is fear there nonetheless, if just for a moment, afraid that I might be one of those turned back that day.

Beyond the personal extent, however, this is probably the most terrifying verse to me as a Bible teacher and one-day preacher of God’s Word.  I will admit it, my biggest fear in the ministry is that my preaching might give someone the false assurance of salvation.  I know that the Bible says that those who teach will be judged with greater strictness (James 3.1), and though I am not sure how this will be played out, it certainly must be true and worth saying.  Then, in light of this, I can’t help but feel that there will be strict judgment on holding those in a flock, encouraging them as brothers and sisters in Christ, and then finding out in the end that the profession they made was not real.  That even worse they may have felt it was real, been strengthened in that belief by my teaching, and then ultimately devastated when Christ declares he never knew them.  I do not want to be a part of that.  I do not want to add to someones false hope of salvation, and of that I am truly afraid.

Practically, to me, what does that mean?  It means that I want to avoid saying, teaching, doing things that people will respond to through human means without being transformed by the Spirit to truly follow after them.  In particular, it means that I find myself analyzing and critiquing every gospel presentation or call to repentance that I hear.  I know that it is wrong to come “with lofty speech or wisdom” to try and convince people, and that God’s Word will always accomplish it’s purposes (Isaiah 55.11), and for Pete’s sake, I’m a Calvinist so I know that nothing will come to pass that was not already foreordained by God, BUT I also know that Satan is “the deceiver of the whole world” (Revelation 12.9) and if I am not careful then my own tongue may be used to propagate his deceitfulness, so I want to watch what I say.

There are many phrases that do this for me, but one that specifically gets to me is asking people if they “have received the free gift of eternal life.”  Beyond the fact that this statement about “eternal life” doesn’t really make sense to most people, I feel like there is a gut reaction that says, “Of course I want that,” but it has nothing to do with the God of the Bible.  There is such a consumerist mindset among Americans today that they want everything that will be beneficial for them.  This means Christianity, but it also includes Buddhism, New Age mysticism, psychology, good luck charms, and just about anything else that is promoted as a positive towards living a “good life.”  Thus, many people will simply “accept” this.  Some may even become regulars at church, or even Sunday School leaders.  But, if there understanding of what’s transpired is that they have “accepted eternal life” then chances are they have not really believed.  Then, if I go in behind them and say things like, “1 John 5.13 says, ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life,’” and use that to assure my people that their “believing in Jesus” has truly given them that eternal life, without ever explaining that 1 John also says, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (3.10), then it seems all I am doing is adding to their lostness.

I guess to me, the point is  that I want to make sure people are fully aware of the condemnation that is on them when I speak the gospel.  Most people don’t really believe their sin is that bad, and unless that is made clear to them, I do not see how their response to God can be any more than a consumerist grab for more good karma.  As Mark Dever has said, the call from Christ is, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16.24), and this is not something that we should be naturally wanting to do.  If a persons first response to the gospel is an immediate visceral desire for it, then it is most likely that the gospel was either not preached or not understood or both.  Unless a person sees their own need for a savior, how can they truly accept Christ as it?

I know this probably makes me too scientific and too harsh on many well-meaning preachers of the Word, and I thank my wife for pointing out the times when I go too far off task in analyzing this stuff.  However, at the end of the day, I am still afraid of this.  I am still afraid that someone will go before Jesus at the judgment saying “Lord, Lord,” only to get turned away, and as they move towards an eternity away from the presence of God, they will think to themselves, Why did my teacher make me feel like I was safe?  I don’t want that and wish to always commit myself to the Spirit and the Word so that in my own fallen nature I will not cause it to happen.

4 Responses to “Sheep Turned Back in Terror- My Biggest Fear in Sharing the Gospel”

  1. Jonathon Says:

    Good word Todd. I think in our preaching we need to challenge peole to “evaluate” their lives. Are they living a life that is characteristic of a genuine faith? Not yesterday, last week, or last year, but currently? Is there sorrow for sin, a desire to know God?

    At the same time, we need, in our preaching, to encourage those whose lives are fruitful that “nothing can seperate them from the love of Christ”(Rom 8). We, as Calvinist, do well to remember this and maybe do better here.

    We are very familiar with preaching that tells you that “once saved always saved,” and how it has resulted in what some (Ryrie, Chafer, etc) call “carnal Christianity.” We need not imitate their example on this point.

    However, as the Reformed have the tendency to be harsh at times (all head no heart), we must remember that Paul admonished Timothy to “encourage” as well as “rebuke” and “exhort.”

    So balance it. Challenge your hearers to evaluate their lives. Don’t rest on a walk down the aisle! Instead, honestly look for patterns of growth (some grow at different rates). And, for those who are being faithful, assure them that Christ will never let them go.

    On another note:

    Ergun Caner was at Porter for a KBC Evangelism Conference….absolutely horrible. He actually gloried in the fact that he was a horrible pastor because of his lack of “mercy” (love for people is what it boiled down to). And he is TRAINING PASTORS!!!!

  2. Todd Burus Says:

    Thanks for your words on this. As you know from my previous posts, I have really been struggling with Lordship Salvation. Not in its truthfulness, I certainly believe in LS, but I wrestle with how to make it matter to people who fear works and/or struggle with indwelling sin and/or might not really be saved. It is so massively important and yet there is such a backlash against it and I am fighting through how to handle that.

    As for Caner, that’s really a shame especially knowing that he does a lot of stuff down here with young people. For the last couple of years he has been the keynote speaker at the big Baptist retreat for college students in Florida. Thankfully, I do not know of anyone who is too big into what he teaches.

    On the flipside of preaching/pastoring, have you listened to the Q&A from the DG Preachers Conference yet? I was really moved by how open Piper and Dever were with their struggles in personal evangelism. It’s so easy to see them as invincible soul winners, but Piper in particular was very raw with the difficulties he has in reaching people on a one-to-one level.

  3. Jonathon Says:

    I have not watched that whole Q&A. I watched Dever talk about not really knowing what “judgment” for believers will look like in the future. Interesting.

    I like Chandler. I like his church’s website.

    You see Peter Lumpkins respond on his blog to JD Grear’s post on Calvinism?

    I think this whole thing is going to (a)blow over, (b) run the Calvinist out, or (c) kill the convention….but I do not think it will really matter for another 5 or 10 years, if not longer than that.

  4. Rick White Says:

    Todd:
    Appreciated your post. I think the fear you describe may be good for all of us who have the responsibility of proclaiming God’s Word.

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