A recent post by a Lutheran blogger, a former Southern Baptist, really drives home the joy and wonder of the Gospel, and underscores the sinking sand of the emotionally-driven "decision theology" that is at the core of much of American Christianity.
Before I became Lutheran I was Southern Baptist. For
many years, an unchurched Southern Baptist who didn’t do a very good
job of living it, but I believed and confessed it nonetheless. Although
I had frequently"backslidden" I believed that once I was "saved", I was
always "saved". Afterall, no one could pluck me out of the Father’s
hand, right? I mean, it was right there in the Bible. And I was "saved"
when I secretly prayed the "sinner’s prayer" at nine years of age.
Throughout the years, whenever I felt "convicted" by the
Holy Spirit during altar call, I maintained my salvation by going
forward to "rededicate" my life to Christ. Sometimes, I even re-prayed
the sinner’s prayer, just to be sure that I really meant it. There were days that I didn’t feel
saved. I continuously struggled and strived to live in a way that would
repay Jesus for dying in my place. I owed it to Christ to live right
and do good. It was a fair trade ~ my life for his, right? He gave his
life for me and I needed to do something in return. God expected that.
I needed to go to church, read the Bible, and witness. It was my duty
to share my "testimony" with others. This meant telling others what
Christ had done for me. Particularly how I had come to realize that
Christ died for me, how the Holy Spirit had convicted me of my sin, how
I had realized my need for a savior, and how my life had changed
because of my decision to "follow" Christ. It also involved knowing the
date and circumstances under which I made the "decision" to invite
Jesus into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior. If I really meant
business, then I would give up certain things like drinking, dancing,
and anything else I considered to be sin. I needed to walk the straight
and narrow in order to avoid sinning. I was worried about God’s wrath
and punishment. And, I should be trying to "win" others to Christ as
well. This meant that I needed to witness to others in order to lead
them to salvation. I should set a good example of what a Christian is.
I needed to talk to them and pray for them. If I were successful, it
would result in leading them also to the sinner’s prayer. My reward for
this would be a higher place in heaven and I would receive another
jewel in my crown. That was indeed something to work for. Besides, I
was afraid of standing before the Judgement Seat of Christ one day
emptyhanded for not having led anyone to Christ. How would I answer to
him for that? Frequently,
I felt discouraged at my inability to stay on the right
"track" and I thought about giving up on faith altogether. I didn’t
know if I could keep doing the things I should do in order to be worthy
of what Christ had done for me.
In my early thirties I attended a few Lutheran worship services. And as an Evangelical Christian, I percieved them to be synonymous with the Roman Catholic church; the vestments, the Liturgy, the infant Baptism, and the close Communion. It was all so foreign to me. And at first, it kind of gave me the "willies". What was I doing, and what would my parents think? I kind of felt like a traitor. I was doing something really really out of my comfort zone; Roman Catholicism or anything resembling it seemed nearly cultish! You get the idea.
Eventually, under the pressure of a friend, I began attending Adult Information Class at the Lutheran Church I had been visiting. It did indeed feel strange. But I wasn’t there to become a Lutheran, right? I was just getting "information" about what Lutherans believe. Or so I thought. And I argued fiercely with the Pastor about Baptism, Communion, and Free Will. I knew what I was talking about and I was relentless. But I couldn’t change his mind for anything and we just kept butting heads on everything he wanted to discuss. So I became frustrated and quit going.
A few years later, I met and married my husband who was born and raised in The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. I wanted to go to church but I didn’t want to go with my husband. So I began visiting different Evangelical churches in the area. I mean, aren’t all Evangelicals basically the same? They’re not Roman Catholic and they’re not Lutheran, right? I tried to talk my husband into visiting the other churches with me, but he wouldn’t. I couldn’t understand that. So I grudgingly went to church with him. But I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the Liturgy and I didn’t like close Communion. I didn’t agree with infant baptism either. I believed in an "age of accountability" which is the age that a person is able reason and understand and make a "decision" to become a Christian and get Baptized. I disliked going to the Lutheran Church so much that I cried on the way home sometimes.
Through all of this, I thought I knew the meaning of grace. I mean, isn’t grace the unmerited favor of God? Didn’t he give this to us when he sent Jesus to die for our sins? Yes, and yes! But how do we receive God’s grace? Do we have to ask for it? Do we have to do something for it? No, and no! Huh? Then how do we receive this grace? God created me with a free will, didn’t he? Yes, I have a free will. So what’s the problem then?
The problem is that our free will is corrupted by original sin. No matter how we try, we can do nothing good through the exercising of our own free will ~ nothing, period. We are either sinful or not. Which one is it? If we are sinful beings, then how much of our person is effected by sin? Just some of it? We have sinful thoughts, desires, and behaviors. We have sinful words and attitudes. Not one of us can say we have days we sin and days we don’t. We are sinners from the very moment of conception ~ we are sinners, sinners all the time.
Original sin changes everything. The biggest struggle I had before I was able to accept Lutheran theology was accepting the fact that my nature is corrupted to the very core by original sin. Indeed, it is so desperately corrupted that I cannot trust that anything good will come from the exercising of my own free will. Every choice that I make is tainted by original sin. Even what I (or the world) might consider to be good works are tainted by sin and come forth from a sinful nature because I am stricken to the core with sin. As a result of this, I cannot come to Christ on my own, or by my own will or decision.
No one can truly comprehend what the true meaning of grace is unless he can grasp the concept of original sin and how deeply it corrupts our spirits, our thinking, our wills, and our minds, feelings, and bodies. Understanding and believing what Scripture teaches about Original Sin is what opens the door to the true understanding of how God’s grace really works. And it enables a person to see that God doesn’t rely on us to do anything for our salvation; not even make a decision to receive it. Understanding original sin helps us see how God truly does work in Baptism and The Lord’s Supper. It’s admiting that we can do nothing to save ourselves. Even what some Evangelicals would consider the "will" to be saved comes from God himself, not from within us. Our hearts are corrupted and cannot will anything good, including salvation. Faith is not our doing, rather it is the work of the Holy Spirit.
No one can come to the Father on his own. No one can choose Christ. It is through and by the Holy Spirit that anyone has faith at all.