Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ritual and Faith

I was in the mall with my kids. A man approached me and asked if he could share the gospel with me. I agreed. He clearly explained that we are all sinners, that Christ Jesus came into the world, died for us, was raised again, and we can be forgiven because of His sacrifice for us. In short, he did a good job of sharing the gospel with me.

But then he wanted me to repeat a prayer with him. I declined, saying, "It would be in appropriate for someone who is already a believer."

He countered, "It can't hurt."

"But that's not faith!" I said.

He argued with me, and finally left. I felt bad, I really wasn't trying to ruin this guy's day. In fact, I admire that he's in a shopping mall sharing the Gospel with random strangers. I really do.

But God isn't looking for a ritual: He's not looking for someone to repeat a prayer. He's looking for people to believe (John 5:24, Romans 4:5). And if I believe God, there's no room for "it can't hurt." "It can't hurt" isn't the language of faith: it's the language of hedging my bets. It's the language of not being sure what I believe, and clutching at anything that looks like it might float.

God is looking for faith. Faith is believing what God says, because God said it. That is what pleases God. That is what God has said He counts as righteousness.

I didn't want to stumble the guy. I sure didn't want to discourage him from sharing Christ with strangers in the mall. I quoted John 5:24 to him: there's no "it can't hurt" in the Gospel. Those who believe are passed from death into life, and they won't come into judgment.

In the end, he was offering a ritual--- not a very fancy ritual, but a ritual nonetheless--- as a means to salvation. This isn't what the Scripture teaches: it teaches justification by faith (Acts 13:38 & 39; Romans 5:1), not justification by ritual.

I can't remember his name: I'm not sure he even offered it. But we need to pray for the guy that was sharing the Gospel in the mall. I'd like to think he was just having trouble coping with something that wasn't in the script. I hope he doesn't really believe the difference between heaven and hell is reciting the prayer in his tracts. I don't know; God knows, and God loves him.

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