4/19/16 Roger about 65
I’m riding bike in the deep south, in the heart of the Bible belt. I greet an older man – Roger - on his riding lawn mower and stop to give him a “million dollar” Bible tract and hoping to start a gospel conversation. He cuts off the engine and listens as I explain what I have for him and the “million dollar question” on the back – “Will you go to heaven?” “Oh sure, I’ve been saved for a long time” he says matter of factly. “That’s good to hear – what does that mean for you?” “Well I know I’m a sinner and can’t save myself, but I’ve accepted the Lord Jesus as my Savior. He died to take the punishment for my sins” Roger says.
Now in Chicago where I’m from, that’s a pretty good sign that a person doesn’t trust in their own efforts or their own good works to deserve salvation, but in the work of Jesus on the cross. But is it possible that “accepting Jesus” in some church cultures has just become a good work in itself? Is it possible that rather than trusting in Jesus, Roger was trusting in his own action of “accepting” Him? I believe it is possible, but of course it’s not for me or anyone other than God to decide. All we can do is observe the fruit that comes from that trust. Is it fruit that is full of pride and vain glory, as if one has somehow done God a favor by accepting Him? Or is it a humble trust, full of awe and wonder that God would love even me? Does one have a cheap repentance that calculates how much one must do to be saved, or a heartfelt repentance that searches the Bible to be sure he is fully obeying so as to better love and show gratitude to God?
As we talked further it was hard to tell with Roger. He is so fully immersed in southern Baptist culture and churchy lingo that it was hard to determine where culture ends and faith begins. His big concern was for his three teenaged grandsons that he and his wife are raising after the death of their daughter due to her alcohol addiction. He is worried that they are heading the same direction as their mother and wants to “take ‘em to the river and get ‘em saved”. He sees baptism as a sign of salvation, but does he also believe it brings salvation? Did his daughter trust Jesus despite her addiction?
We talked about some of these issues, and about the difference between “accepting Jesus” and trusting Him with a saving faith. These may be issues we can’t really know the answers to because they involve our heartfelt faith that only God can know, but they are worth working through nonetheless. Maybe that’s why we are exhorted to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” in Phil. 2:12. Do we truly have saving faith in Jesus? The heart of the Bible belt may just be the hardest place to know.