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The Dialogue on Christianity

Chapter 5

John rose from his seat and came over to lean against the counter across from Bryan. His movement was rather animated.

John: What do you mean? What happened?

Bryan: Well, I went with a friend to a church to hear someone preach. The man preaching was sincere, I could tell. My friend was concerned about me because I was acting very distracted at work. He was one of those Christians who had formerly been in my jokes. I appreciated his concern. And so I went, feeling ready for some relief.

The pastor spoke and it was quite moving. Then he asked for people to come to the front of the auditorium if they needed to be converted. I felt strange about it, but I went. I was almost tearful in fact. And my friend went with me. The pastor talked with me there for a few moments; then someone else spoke with me and prayed with me. He told me that I could be converted if I prayed something he called "the sinner's prayer" because God never lies and if He said you would be changed by coming to Him then you would.

I did pray a prayer with him, and he assured me that I was now a Christian. I now know that it was a kind of simple prayer often used in such situations. I don't blame him for leading me that way—I don't doubt there have been many people who have really come to Christ like that. But the whole thing really gave me some trouble. I was even baptized a few weeks after that. I mean, I know that baptism is right—I had seen it in the Bible—but I agreed to it without really understanding what had happened, or rather, what hadn't happened.

John: Slow down a bit, if you can, and let me hear what you are trying to say. You sound as though this situation confused the whole thing considerably. I was baptized and confirmed and all of that also, when I was a child. But I don't have any sense that anything is different about me because of that either.

Bryan: You're right about confusing everything. I went through with all of that quite enthusiastically. I was hungry for some relief. The screws of all this conviction were being turned tighter and tighter. But later I found that nothing much had changed in me at all. I really had not yet been made a Christian.

Actually, a couple of verses of Scripture came to me in my reading which began to make me sit up and listen. I am so thankful that I saw them, or else I could still be living under a false profession of belief.

The first was in John 10:27 where Christ said: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." And the other had to do with the story of the soils where He said that the seed (that is, the Word of God) which falls on the rocky soil first springs up with joy and then withers away. I saw between these two verses how I had been confused. In fact, I would eventually find that I was just like that soil which could not nurture a surviving plant, that soil which produced what looked like a Christian, but was really not one at all.

John: So you are just saying that going through that experience didn't make you any more a true Christian than all of the other things you had done previously. Is that right? I heard a preacher late at night on television say essentially the same thing. I mean that he said, "Just pray this prayer and you will be all right." I have to admit that I did it just like you. But I'm not all right.

Bryan: This is where my friend Ben began to explain it all again. It began to make sense to me. I asked him first, though, to explain the Scriptures I was seeing in the Bible. His interpretation of John 10:27 was just like mine, only more insightful.

That verse says, again: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." Earlier in the passage Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own." So He's talking here about a relationship that goes both ways.

He showed me that the Bible teaches that the surest way of knowing if you are one of His, one of His sheep, is to look at the issue of knowing Him. He said that it was one thing just to know the history of Christ and even to identify with Christ like you would with anyone on the pages of a book. The real test was to know Him as a person. He showed me John 17:3 where Christ said, "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." In another part of the Bible, in Hebrews 8, God said of every true believer, "...all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them."

I asked him how I could know if I knew Him? He said that the principal issues brought out in the Bible are right in that passage: "My sheep hear my voice....and they follow me." In other words, without communication, or the disclosing of Himself to us, there is no knowing at all. And without following, or obedience, there is no evidence of knowing either. The one is internal and the other external. If a person calls himself a follower, he said, but does not follow, then he is not a follower no matter how convinced he is that he is a Christian. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

John: Did all of that make sense?

Bryan: I say it did! I knew upon closer examination that all I had experienced was an emotional relief but not actual relief. I really had not met Christ at the point when I prayed that prayer. I didn't know him. I had not been called by God—that is the term the Bible often uses—to be "called." The Bible says that the message of the cross is foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others, but to the called it is the power of God unto salvation. I had prayed a "sinner's prayer," but I didn't know Him, nor did I have a heart yet to follow Him out of love. I didn't have a changed heart. I hated hell, but I didn't love God. Oh, I could do some of the religious things, but I didn't have the new heart which longs to obey God passionately, which is the real sign of loving Him.

All my previous attempts to reform were only on the outside. My inner desires were really the same, even though I tried to force them to be religious. I was really too proud to do all the sins I wanted to do. My heart was a whole lot worse than my actions—if you know what I mean.

Read Chapter 6
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