THEOLOGY & APOLOGETICS
Leaning Against the Gates of Hell
How "Jesus-Only" makes Converts but not Disciples
By Evan Plante
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...their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved — even though only as one escaping through the flames. 1 Corinthians 3:13–15People are disappointed under only one condition: when their expectations are not met, and many "converts" flee Christianity for just that reason. Not long after praying the sinner's prayer they look around and realize, "This is not what I signed up for!" And they're right. We misrepresent both the Christ and Christianity when we pitch the savior-only Jesus.
But, you may ask, isn't the most important thing to just "get 'em saved" — to pull them back from the abyss? Well...yes...but to do what? To prop them up just inside the door — to leave them leaning against the gates of hell? But what other posture should we ex-pect from people who have been living selfishly for decades — just marinating in the world — who then sidle up to the savior-only Jesus...sacrificial service?
But what of the Holy Spirit? Doesn't he guide and protect? Yes, he does — and every convert benefits from his indwelling. But the Holy Spirit does not lobotomize the believer. I mean, look at us; even we who know better still fail God continually. So, unless the Church takes steps to educate and to encourage Christ's new creations immediately, how would they know enough not live their lives as closely to the flames as possible?
Besides, the real Jesus has work for us to do — and this work is to be done by disciples, not converts. "Conversion" is a state of being, but "discipleship" is a state of doing. And where conversion secures one person (which is great!), discipleship serves many (which is greater!) So unless you believe that "being something" is Jesus' end-game for believers, you should ensure that "doing something" follows, like Ephesians 2:10 follows verses 8 & 9, and not just as an add-on — but as the point.
But before we go any further, let's clarify a key issue: Are these barebones converts saved? Yes. The Apostle Paul taught about just such people in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15:
...their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person's work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved — even though only as one escaping through the flames. (NIV, emphasis mine)But is this what God wants for such a person? No. (See again 1 Corinthians 3:13-15.) This kind of salvation is only minimally better than damnation — and again, it only serves that one person. A "mere" convert provides no benefit to the Body of Christ, unless headcount alone somehow functions as a benefit. But does that make traditional soul-winning methodologies necessarily bad? No. Making converts is certainly better than not making converts. Indeed — snatching souls from the edge of destruction is one of Christianity's practicable mercies.
Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear — hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. Jude 22–23But soul-winning is not "the job." Making disciples is. As Jesus said:
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:19–20Now, I will agree — you can't make a disciple unless you first make a convert. But why did Jesus omit the "convert" part in the great commission? Perhaps he did not want converts-only, which are the type of believers you'd get from a savior-only. Jesus wants his people to become earnest and fully-formed Christians — the kind you get from the whole Christ. Those are harder to make, of course, but again...that's the job.
In the soul-winners' defense, they struggle against the popular idea that "being good" in this world ensures bliss in the next. But the Bible is clear that salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone — and apart from any payment-looking-thingies, like working in a soup kitchen or partaking in a sacrament. And since these notions permeate the culture, soul-winners must avoid even the smell of a works-based salvation. But should they respond by inventing a savior-only Jesus, even if that greases the salvific moment? How is that not a bait-and-switch — a lie?
One problem is that we think too little of people and perhaps too much of our methodologies. The people God wants — those who will become disciples — will rise to his challenges. The others? That's the wrong focus. Remember what God did with Gideon sans the others (Judges 7:7)? Remember what God did with Jonathan and his armor bearer sans Saul's army? God has chosen that we, his people, will fight his battles, but our number is not the key to victory.
...Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few. 1 Samuel 14:6
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