By Paul Proctor
May 16, 2004
“And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” – Acts 16:25-31
There seems to be a word missing from the above scripture text that is vastly more important to the church today than in Paul’s time. Do you know what that word is? You’re probably hearing it on Sunday more and more these days in spite of the fact that it never came up in the conversation between the Apostle and the prison guard.
Frankly, the word never appears in the Authorized King James. But, lest you King James Bible haters out there try and use its absence to make your case against the KJV, I should warn you that it doesn’t appear in the American Standard Bible either and only once in the New American Standard. Even there, it’s not used in reference to salvation.
In fact, it may surprise some of you to learn that this key and most commonly used church word appears only four times in the comparatively modern and enormously popular, New International Version of the Bible; originally copyrighted in 1973. And, even there, only once is it used with respect to God. No, the only “bibles” that use this word repeatedly are the more recent paraphrased (interpreted) versions of “scripture” like, The New Living Translation and The Message.
What am I talking about? I’m talking about the word, “relationship.”
That prison guard did not fall down trembling before Paul and Silas to casually inquire: “How can I have a relationship with God?” No, in fear for his life, he hurriedly asked them: “What must I do to be saved?”
“Saved” is another of those archaic and potentially offensive words that don’t play well in the postmodern church; increasingly avoided by modern day preachers and teachers, because it indirectly refers to the ultimate negative; “Hell” and might frighten away seekers by threatening their self-esteem; sin’s greatest ally. The fact is; you can’t talk about being saved without at least some appreciation of what you’re being saved from.
You can, however, talk about a “relationship with God” and avoid the Hell issue altogether. The trick is to focus on nothing but the positive. The upside is; you really don’t have to address your terrible condition; consider your precarious position; acknowledge the eternal consequences of your actions; surrender anything of value; confess your sins or even admit that you’re a sinner – much less repent. The downside is a fraudulent faith and a surprise sendoff to a very permanent place in perdition.
The terrified prison guard, you see, was frantic to be rescued from impending doom. Today’s seekers however, are merely offered an “awesome” bonus to their narcissistic lives. One is a fearful, repentant and humble exchange – the other – just an added benefit.
Some years ago, in a shrewd and subtle effort to facilitate a more marketable gospel, the church began using, rather liberally, I might add, the generic word “relationship,” to convey and comprehensively define, in a psychologically inoffensive way, the Christian life, for a new and self-absorbed generation. Some preachers used to be a little more specific, calling for a “right relationship” with God, that at least suggested some requirements and qualifications that now, regrettably, amount to little more than the building and sustaining of “loving” (sin tolerant) acquaintances at church.
Am I suggesting that a person doesn’t need a relationship with God? Absolutely not! Am I implying that a person can be saved apart from a relationship to Christ? No way! Not a chance!
What I am saying is; Judas Iscariot had a relationship of sorts with Jesus; but it wasn’t enough to save him. He walked and talked with Jesus daily, ate with Him in the upper room and even served as the group’s treasurer. Though considered a disciple himself, in reality, he had no faith in Jesus as the Lamb of God. Even though Judas aligned himself with Jesus and the other disciples, he was lost – lost because, in the void of that wrong relationship, where an obedient faith was missing, burned a misguided passion and purpose that resulted in blindness, confusion and the quiet rejection of God’s Divine plan and authority; a rejection that would eventually ignite into open rebellion and betrayal.
Though Judas associated with Jesus, he didn’t really believe Him. And, neither do many of those associating with Christ today. The fact is, when it comes to God, many who claim to know Christ are largely ignorant and apathetic toward His Word and His Will – if not at times, in complete opposition to it. Oh, they come to church almost every Sunday to join in with everyone else and serve the collective in some capacity, just like Judas; accepting all the positive, loving and exciting things the Lord has to say, but not the difficult and costly things that interfere with carnal appetites and agendas.
So, how can we have a right relationship with Christ and not believe and obey Him? The truth is; we can’t – not because I say so, but because God’s Word says so.
“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.” – 1 John 2:3-5
You see, even though God requires a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; that relationship requires that we first believe Him to the point of obedience. By faith, we believe first and repent in submission to His Word and Will – then comes a right relationship. The above scripture goes so far as to say that we can’t even know Christ if we don’t believe and obey Him. That’s not salvation by rule keeping; that’s simply God’s definition of love.
“If ye love me, keep my commandments.” – John 14:15
“He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” – John 14:21
“Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings…” – John 14:23-24
“If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.” – John 15:10
You see, there is no “Contagious Christianity.” It is not a communicable disease that we lovingly spread to others through casual contact. One doesn’t acquire a right relationship with God by simply socializing well with others in the faith or become His child to merely reap rewards. That relationship must be the direct result of a God-given individual faith, belief, conviction and repentance – not a means to.
One cannot simply pray into existence a relationship with Christ and THEN, at some later point and time, accept what that right relationship requires. If we attempt to assume eternal life while unrepentantly living in willful disobedience and disregard for His Word, our relationship, like our faith, is fictitious and wholly fraudulent.
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. – Matthew 7:21
In many churches today, the priority and focus is wrong – dead wrong. Our attention ought to be first and foremost on hearing, believing and obeying God’s Word, not on manufacturing and marketing relationships in the name of Jesus for the sake of church growth. If we try and relate to Christ before we repent to Christ, we are arrogantly attempting to micromanage what should have been surrendered – resulting in the hypocrisy of calling Christ King, but stubbornly remaining on the throne of our own lives; giving Him what amounts to lip service. Is there a better description of "Christianity" today?
I suppose it will take another “great earthquake” for today’s churchaterians to sober up and get their focus off of building mega churches through meaningful relationships and back on hearing, believing and obeying the Word of God. Only then will the lost tremble in His presence and ask: “What must I do to be saved?”