In our last post we looked at the first three ways in which “we can help each other answer the question ‘Do I believe?’” (Lawrence, 104)
We began a discussion on conversion, that is, the means by which a sinful man is brought to life by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many people in our churches struggle with this question. Am I really a Christian? Do I really believe?
In an effort to help address these concerns, Michael Lawrence offers several ways for us to help discover the answer.
You can see the previous post for the first three. So let’s dive right in!
- “Fourth, be especially careful before you assure children of their faith.” This one may come as a shock, but how many times have children’s workers ask the child, “Do you want to go to heaven when you die?” And, like almost all children, the child responds, “YES!” What happens next? The worker rejoices and tells the child that he (or she) will go to heaven.
The question is, “Did the child really believe?” Were they converted? I have no doubt that there are people who become Christians in their childhood. But I fear that we unknowingly offer assurance to children who do not need it. I love how Lawrence offers balance to this area. “When they express faith verbally, celebrate. But remember that the true evidence of faith is trust, and trust needs time and opportunity to demonstrate itself.” (Lawrence, 105)
- “Fifth, make membership meaningful.” Perhaps more so than anything else, both pastors and congregants sadly misunderstand church membership. People today ask, “Why should I join the church?” As long as the church accepts their money, provides a preacher, and has nice facilities and programs, what difference does it make? This post is not a treatment of church membership. For that I would recommend Jonathan Leeman’s Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus. Yet, if we treated membership with more seriousness, it would definitely help answer the question, “Do I believe?”
Lawrence writes, “We help each other know that we believe by attending the public services of the church regularly and by building into each other’s lives.” (Lawrence, 105)
- “Sixth, practice church discipline.” Along the same lines as meaningful membership, church discipline seems to be non-existent today. If we are focused on building our church, our community, and our kingdom, why would we discipline? We cannot even switch colors of carpet for fear of offending a certain church member (who just happens to contribute financially). Alternatively, we cannot tell an individual that they cannot teach a class because we are afraid they will go to the church down the street. Is this what God’s the church to do? Did He not instruct us in matters of discipline (see Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-2)? Church discipline, while certainly not an enjoyable or glamorous part of ministry, is nonetheless important. But how does this answer the question, “Do I believe?” Lawrence succinctly states, “Church discipline means that the congregation won’t console itself or anyone else falsely by saying, ‘At least they prayed a prayer when they were a kid.’ Rather, because of love, the church is not satisfied with historical faith, and won’t let you be satisfied with it, either.” (Lawrence, 106-107)
- “Seventh, make the gospel your first recourse in counseling and discipling.” I fear that I have made this mistake too often. We assume that someone who comes to church faithfully is a Christian. However, as you probably know, church attendance does not bring about conversion. Rather than assuming, why not begin with the Gospel? Beginning with the Gospel helps us answer the question, “Do I believe?” (Lawrence, 107)
- “Eighth, remember that relationships are as much or more about encouragement than they are accountability.” I am quick to see the negative, slow to see the positive, and ignorant (more than I’d like to admit) to distinguish between the two. We are acutely aware of everyone’s shortcomings. Mention the name and we can rattle off their top five weaknesses in about 30 seconds. Try and think of the good qualities of that person is a different story. In fact, for many of us, it is a different book in the library down the street. Focusing on encouragement, with regards to conversion, helps us see the good that God is doing in the lives of our brothers and sisters. Lawrence notes, “Sometimes it is hard to assure ourselves. Our sins are always in front of us, clouding our view. Our perspective is so often dominated by the pressing sin and the failure of the moment. That’s when we need someone else to look at us, and to point out the longer-term growth, present trust, and the fruit of the Spirit that we often cannot see in ourselves.” (Lawrence, 107-108)
So, do you believe? Have you joined with a body of believers? Have you recently examined yourself, to see whether you are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5)?
May the answer to those questions be a resounding yes! And may the church help to answer that in the affirmative.