Genuine Salvation: More Than a Prayer
About the Guest
All this week on the broadcast, Christian Communicators Worldwide founder, Jim Elliff, talks with Dennis Rainey about leading your children to faith in Christ.
All this week on the broadcast, Christian Communicators Worldwide founder, Jim Elliff, talks with Dennis Rainey about leading your children to faith in Christ.
Genuine Salvation: More Than a Prayer
Jim: The idea of conversion, of course, means to change or to turn. That's literally what the word means, and the Bible teaches that conversion is not really just a nice option to make better people to live with, but conversion is an absolute necessity. Without conversion, people are damned. That's a strong word, but that's literally what the Bible says. There is such a thing as the wrath of God.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, March 5th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We're going to talk today about what we can do as parents to make sure our children really understand the Gospel so they can be truly converted.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. We've talked about a number of subjects over the years that relate to parents raising their children, but I don't think there is any subject that we've talked about that is more important than the subject we want to consider today, wouldn't you agree?
Dennis: Absolutely. The responsibility that we, as parents, have to nurture and bring our children up to ultimately believe the Gospel and embrace it by faith and come into a saving relationship with Christ – well, there isn't any other assignment in life that is anymore important.
And with us here in the studio to really help us do just that is Jim Elliff. Jim is the founder and president of Christian Communicators Worldwide. He has been a pastor in Florida, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. He has worked with pastors and, in fact, Bob, it was a message that he gave to pastors on this subject we're going to deal with today where I first heard you, Jim, and I was out jogging, and what you were saying just resonated.
You were talking about the need for the church to really own the responsibility of leading our kids to Christ. Let me ask you – do you think we've done a good job of seeing our children converted to Christianity?
Jim: Dennis, I think we're doing, actually, a poor job in our day, unfortunately, and this has been a great concern for me. Let me just illustrate what I mean. Recently, I spoke at a church where there were about 2,000 people there on Sunday morning. I don't speak in churches that size all of the time, but this was a wonderful experience, an exciting church service, and I asked one of the pastors there how many people were on the roll of this church. And they said 7,000 people. How many people come, let's say, on your Sunday evening service? They said 500 people.
And what I immediately began to think was, "Where are the 5,000?" And even among the 2,000, how many of those are just sort of cultural Christians who – I mean, even in churches where the Gospel is not preached, people come out on a Sunday morning, if you know what I'm saying. It's just a cultural thing to do.
And among that vast number of people, how many of those are children? We felt like that one of the great feeders into this tremendous problem, into the millions of professing Christians in our country, is this problem of inadequately dealing with the child? Many people "pray a prayer," have "an experience," "feel a feeling." It's sometime when they're very young but then later show no real fruit of being a genuine Christian.
Bob: It's interesting, Dennis, we were looking at some polling research recently, and there was a difference between the number of folks who called themselves "born again," and the number who called themselves "evangelicals." Now, those are just labels, but there was about a 20-percent gap with those who said we were born again, and 20-percent fewer said "we are evangelicals and hold with the authority of Scripture," and other issues like that.
Dennis: If you think about it practically, here is a parent who receives a baby when the baby is born, and at that point I think the church is assuming that parent has taken on the responsibility of introducing that child to Christ when, in essence, many parents go to church hoping the church will introduce that child to Christ.
A second point that I think comes to bear, and it's really what's behind this series of broadcasts we want to do – I think the Christian community is assuming that parents understand childhood conversion. And what I want you to address right now, Jim – what does the word "conversion" mean? Let's just begin with the basics here.
Jim: Well, all right, that's a great place to begin. The idea of conversion, of course, means "to change" or "to turn" – that's literally what the word means. And the Bible teaches that conversion is not really just a nice option to make better people to live with, but conversion is an absolute necessity. Without conversion, people are damned. That's a strong word, but that's literally what the Bible says. There is such a thing as the wrath of God, and the Bible says that God leaves a person in his own sin and then to an eventual hell who will not be converted, who will not be –another bible word – justified before God.
Dennis: Within this word, then, is there repentance?
Jim: Yes, I think a couple of words help us understand the idea of conversion. The word "repentance" would be one on the negative side against sin. The word "faith," or "believing" in the Lord, would be the other. Often, these words in the Scripture are found together. Sometimes one word is used, and the other is assumed, but they represent a turning from and a turning to the Lord – turning from sin and a lifestyle that we've been living, and it is moral, repentance is moral, it's turning away from real sin in our lives and then turning to Christ by trusting our lives to Jesus Christ, the only one who paid the adequate price in our place for us.
Dennis: And a child can do that?
Jim: A child can be converted, Dennis, I believe that. I don't have any questions about that. But in the history of Christendom, it was always believed that children could be converted, but it was not always accepted that we could know if children are converted until a later age when their faith was tested so that they could see if what they had was genuine.
Bob: Now, that's an interesting distinction that you make there between a child who professes to be following Christ and then some validation of that later on, because I think we've all heard that if a child or if anyone, for that matter, makes a profession of faith, we are to assume that God has done a work in that person's life.
Jim: Well, our assumption is certainly not always correct because the evidence, I think, is in the lives that we see. Here is a child that comes up, he's 7, 8, 9 years of age, he makes some profession of faith, he prays a prayer that, by the way, we don't find in the Bible.
Dennis: And you're speaking there of the repenter's prayer, or the prayer of the child who was crying out to Christ to save him?
Jim: Yes, it's often called "the sinner's prayer." We carefully word out a prayer in our booklets and this, that, and the other, you know, that is common among evangelicalism but you don't find anything really like that in the Bible.
The Bible says for the person to repent and believe. Often, that took place during the hearing of the word or while a man – or a child or a man was alone. This is the essence of our response to the Gospel. We have a problem with focusing on a prayer because we put more faith in the fact that we prayed a prayer, a carefully worded prayer, than we do in Jesus Christ. God doesn't do this in the Bible. He puts the emphasis on Christ, our trust in Christ.
Bob: So as a parent, should I be hoping for, leading my child, in praying the kind of prayer that we've all been taught we should teach a child to pray?
Jim: Well, I think we can improve the way we communicate with God by being a little more biblical in talking about repentance and faith, that's one thing. But I think that we should, in fact, encourage our children to pray and to talk to God about this repentance and faith. They might deal with that many times before they know if they've actually been converted.
Dennis: You're actually talking about prayer being the expression of a heart attitude.
Dennis: And that sometimes we get into a rut of thinking that a prayer expresses a heart attitude that isn't there? The child really isn't repenting and believing that the child is merely reading a prayer or saying a prayer because Mommy or Daddy or Grandma or Grandpa want him or her to say a prayer?
Jim: That's right. We formularize this idea of Christianity into a prayer. If we can say this prayer, then it's like putting money in a vending machine, and God has to give us eternal life. But I contend that there are many, many millions of people who prayed a perfectly worded prayer that they found written someplace or been given to them by somebody else but don't know Christ at all and are on the way to hell.
Unfortunately, the emphasis, the wrong emphasis on that issue, has deceived many.
Dennis: I think there are a lot of parents who look at a child, and they see a child who is young, who is innocent appearing, and they think, "Oh, my child doesn't need Christ."
Jim: Well, there is, again, the need for our theology to be correct. The Bible teaches, and this is something that Protestants believe and Catholics believe and just across the board in our more original documents, although it might be losing steam in our day, but the idea of original sin – that wording there simply means that a child, every baby, is born in sin.
"I was born in iniquity," David said, "and in sin my mother conceived me." He wasn't speaking of illegitimate birth there, he was simply expressing the truth about mankind.
Either a person is in Adam or they're in Christ. That child is born in Adam, and the Bible says all in Adam die.
Dennis: You came across a very unique way of – well, communicating your child's need of Christ in a pictorial manner. You ran across a picture from Hungary that hangs above your child's bed?
Jim: Yes, we've done a little with that. We've modernized it; had it redone in English, but it's a picture – a very graphic depiction of heaven and hell, the broad and the narrow gates, and there are individuals all throughout the paths on each side, and I think something like 85 Scripture references to go along with it.
But having that beside my son's bed is a very important thing, rather than some over-muscled wrestler or some rock star, we felt like having that sort of thing in front of his eyes could do a lot in helping him think on the proper things.
Dennis: And that's what I like about your approach, Jim. You're talking about using different methods, different means, to communicate the Gospel to your children. Here you're talking about a visual representation. We're going to be talking about later on in the week a video, some literature that your child can experience by you reading it to him or her.
I've got to pull you back, though, and ask you, first of all, do we understand what is the essence of the Gospel?
Jim: Well, there are two things to remember – one is the Gospel itself, and then our response to the Gospel. We've already mentioned the idea of conversion, which includes repentance and faith. That's our response to the Gospel, but the Gospel itself is the death of Jesus Christ for our sins, His resurrection, and His life.
And the Bible says that he died in order to justify people like you and me. That's a wonderful word.
Dennis: It is.
Jim: To justify – to be justified. One man, whom I have respected said this – he said, "To be justified is to be just as if I'd never sinned and just as if I'd kept the law." If I could just clarify this with a little picture – if you can just imagine two ledgers – one ledger is your ledger, Dennis. We'll just use that, and it's a rather thick one, like a New York phone book, because it contains all of your sins, okay? Is that big enough for you?
Dennis: You may be shooting a little short there. If my mother was in the studio, she'd say maybe you ought to double the size.
Jim: That's right. So you were born in sin, you have committed, then, many actual sins as in evidence of that, and that's your record, that's your ledger.
On the other side, we have the ledger of Christ, and it contains the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Now, the Bible says that He justified us in this way – He took the sins, which were on our account, and He put them on the ledger of Jesus Christ. That's wonderful, isn't it? But He did more than that. He took the righteousness, which was on the account of Jesus, and He gave it to us.
He put it on our ledger so that we can now stand in the righteousness of Christ before a holy God – justified. To be justified means that even though we know ourselves to be sinners, and no man is perfect, God declares us to be right before Him on the basis of what Jesus Christ did on the cross and to the Resurrection for people like us.
Dennis: This conversion that we're talking about, is it something that occurs at a point in time, or can it be a process, Jim?
Jim: Well, I have to say that the Bible would teach that a person at one point is not a believer and at another point, just following that, is a believer. There is a transformation process out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.
So we have to understand that there is a process of conviction, a process of God revealing Himself to the individual. There is in that process an actual point in time in which a person is granted repentance and faith and is truly a believer.
Dennis: Well, Jim, as you were talking there, I couldn't help but think of individual people – moms, dads, husbands, wives, single-parent folks who are listening to this broadcast, and those who are grandparents who perhaps are churchgoers but are not regenerate. They have not experienced the love of God through Jesus Christ. And perhaps they're sitting here listening to this, and they're thinking, "You know, gee, I need to do that. I feel God calling me to place my faith in His Son Jesus Christ." Speak to that person and instruct them as to what they ought to do.
Jim: I would love to. Well, you must repent and believe – I cannot say anything different than what God has said. God has said that every individual on the face of this earth must repent. That's His Word in Acts 17, I believe, verse 30. God commands all to repent. The Bible is teaching you that your life of either religious sin or non-religious sin, nonetheless, leaves a person in hell.
In order to be delivered from the wrath of God, you must repent of your sins and put your trust in Jesus Christ, and you must do so now. "Today is the day of salvation," the Bible says. It's not something to put off 'til a more convenient time. You repent and as much as you know how to repent, and you trust in as much as you know how to trust.
Our trust in Jesus Christ is really the absence of works. It's the dependence upon somebody else's work, the dependence upon Jesus Christ who died for a person just like you. You can put your trust in Jesus Christ, and you can do so now.
Dennis: And, you know, if what Jim has talked about here today is really – well, if it's resonating in your soul, and you want to respond to the love of God through Christ, I would just encourage you – if you're driving a car, just pull it off to the side of the road for a few moments and just pause and cry out to God and say, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner." And turn from that sin and turn to Jesus Christ.
If you're a mom in a kitchen right now working or perhaps in the laundry room, I'd just pause and perhaps consider, in your location, getting down on your knees and showing God a contrite spirit and a humble heart and saying, "Lord Jesus, save me and deliver me from my sins."
At that point, Jim, when a person does cry out for God to save them, God takes them at their point of belief, doesn't He?"
Jim: Yes, God takes us at our point of belief, and we know that our hearts are desperately wicked and deceitful, and sometimes we fool ourselves. But when a person comes to the Lord like that, God receives sinful people. In fact, that's the only kind of people He receives, the sinful people, the people who think that "Well, they don't come to Christ as a physician, do they?" The sick come to Christ, and those who are sinsick come to Jesus Christ, and they will find One who will heal them from their sinsickness.
But, of course, if there is no change in the life, then one would want to question whether that was an authentic repentance and an authentic faith. I have no reason to believe God would hedge on His end of the bargain. He has said that He will receive you if you come to Him in repentance and faith.
But sometimes we, ourselves, are partial in our repentance, holding onto our sin and in our hearts still rebellious to the one we are coming to as Lord. That is in congress, isn't it? We cannot rebel before our Lord. We come to him surrendering all and saying, "Lord, I'm dumping all this sin on you, and I'm putting my confidence in you as the only who solved my problem through the death of Jesus Christ." He will do what He said He will do.
Bob: You know, we read in the Gospels about the followers of Jesus and how there were multitudes who were following Him, but there were points at which some turned back, and there was a difference between those who were interested observers in the ministry of Jesus, and those who were committed followers of Jesus.
And that's really what you're talking about here. You're talking about true conversion being the movement of somebody from being an interested observer to being a committed follower – God doing that work in that person's heart and, Dennis, you've heard me share, that's part of my own story, my own testimony, that there was a period of years where I would say I thought I was saved, but I was really just an interested observer not a committed follower. I had not really understood the depth of my sin, and I liked having God be a part of my life, but I wasn't living in a surrendered relationship to Him, which is what you've been talking about, Jim.
I don't know if you've seen the book that Ray Comfort has written called "How to Bring Your Children to Christ," but the subtitle of the book is "Avoiding the Tragedy of False Conversion." And, as parents, we want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to accurately represent and present the Gospel to our children, and Ray's book really gives us some insight into how we can best do that as parents.
We've got it in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and if our listeners are interested in getting a copy of the book, we would love to send it out to you. You can go to our website, FamilyLife.com, and you'll see a red button in the middle of the screen that says "Go." Click on that button, and it will take you to a page where there is more information about Ray Comfort's book, "How to Bring Your Children to Christ," and there is also information about the book, "Growing a Spiritually Strong Family," that you and Barbara wrote a number of years ago.
Any of our listeners who would like to get both books, we'll send along at no additional cost the CDs of our conversation on this subject with Jim Elliff so you'll have that material to review or to pass along to a friend as well. Again, go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the screen, and that will take you to a portion of the site where you can get more information on these resources, and we can get these materials sent out to you.
You know, for more than a decade now, Dennis, our listeners have heard us talk about a resource that FamilyLife put together a number of years ago, a tool called Resurrection Eggs, which we designed so that parents would have a fun, a compelling way, to share the Easter story with children around the Easter season.
And many of our listeners have either ordered Resurrection Eggs from us or gone to Wal-Mart or Family Christian Stores or other Christian bookstores to purchase a set of Resurrection Eggs. This year we wanted to do something differently. I was meeting with our team, and I said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could partner with our friends at Here's Life Inner City, and get some of these Resurrection Eggs into the hands of children in the inner city?"
And as we kicked the idea around, we said it would also be great if our listeners would be a part of our distribution network. We could send them some Resurrection Eggs that they could pass out to family members, friends, relatives, people in your community, in your neighborhood, and so here's what we came up with. During the month of March, when you make a donation to the ministry of FamilyLife of any amount, your donation is going to enable us to do two things.
First of all, it will enable us to get a set of these Resurrection Eggs into the hands of a child in the inner city through the ministry of Here's Life Inner City, a part of Campus Crusade for Christ, and we'll send you a set of Resurrection Eggs so that you can either use them with your own family or share them with a neighbor or a friend or a co-worker. You can be a part of our outreach here.
We really believe that this is a great tool for sharing the Gospel message not only with children but with their moms and dads. So we want to ask you to join with us this month – make a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today, and you can do that online, if you'd like, at FamilyLife.com. And if you're doing it online, when you come to the keycode box, just type in the word "eggs," so that we'll know that you want to be a part of what we're trying to do here during the month of March.
Or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, make a donation over the phone and, again, for a donation of any amount, we will not only send you a set of Resurrection Eggs that you can pass along to someone you know, but we will also make sure that a set of Resurrection Eggs is given to a child who lives in the inner city here in the United States through the ministry of Here's Life Inner City. Let me say thanks in advance for helping support this initiative during the month of March, and we hope to hear from you and look forward to thousands of children hearing the Gospel this year at Eastertime as a result of these Resurrection Eggs.
Well, tomorrow we want to continue to talk about what we can do as parents to make sure we are clearly articulating the Gospel as we raise our children. We also want to make sure that we're living it out in front of them as well. I hope you can be with us as we talk about that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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