Exactly When Does a Person’s Relationship with God Begin?
(Adapted from my book The Prodigal Paradigm)
Is the child who kneels by his bed and prays the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) in relationship with God even if he has had no single initial faith event, conversion event or a walking of the aisle?
What about the child who kneels and prays a rhyming prayer like this one:
“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Can a child who believes in God and prays, whatever prayer he/she knows, yet has had no conversion experience, no knowledge of the gospel or of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, be in right standing with God?
Christian orthodoxy says that justification is related to a person’s initial faith and without that initial faith all are unjustified and therefore out of relationship with God.
Is this biblical?
What about that child?
Well…I was that child. Let me share my own experience.
Before you think it or say it. I know. I know. You shouldn’t go from experience to truth, but from truth to experience. With that sentiment I am in hearty approval. But before any of us start throwing stones, let’s be sure that we have the truth and that we are applying it properly and that the experiences in question don’t illumine us to the absence of truth (which we thought we had in the first place).
When I was very, very young (I don’t even remember how old I was), I remember saying my prayers as I knelt beside my bed. The only prayers I knew were the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) and that little rhyme Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep given above. Since the rhyme seemed most appropriate at bedtime, it was the prayer I repeated nightly.
If the commonly accepted dogmas of theology are correct (and unquestionable), we ought to replace the R.I.P. (Rest in Peace) on the tombstones with H.N.C. (Had no Chance).
You see, it is common in orthodox Christian teaching to suggest, even though it would never be articulated in this way, that every person who comes into the world is born in a coffin, showing no signs of spiritual life. And since we go out of this world in a coffin as well, in essence many go from coffin to coffin without any life or any chance of life.
Even if a person shows some signs of life, none of those signs are approved of by the vanguards and self appointed protectors of the Christian faith. You see the signs of life, that they approve of, must be present at the supposed beginning of faith, and they must also be persevering up to the end of his life on earth when he goes into his final coffin. Since none of these overseers are present with every person during their earthly existence, they simply have no way to be certain that anyone else has trusted in God or in Jesus Christ, His only Son.
If you are one of those followers of Christ who pickets and holds up a sign that says: “God hates !” (you fill in the blank), you might consider that you may be acting hateful, unloving, and quite frankly… unChristlike! I know this is an emotional topic, so please hear me out. Maybe you’re following the wrong crowd in your activism, and you could be showing a great deal of misunderstanding in your actions. Odds are you might not know what hate means in the Bible. Let’s put our signs down for a moment and talk.
Maybe you’re not the kind to stand in line and hold a sign, but your heart is held captive by the same hate. You might think “God hates ”, and maybe it even comes out in conversation. I know from experience the shame of taking a stand on some issue and of finding out later that I was off-base. That is likely a universal experience for all of us.
There is no doubt or dodging the fact that the Bible says that God hates.
“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”
This is a very familiar expression which comes from the inductive reasoning Duck Test. The test supports the idea that our inductive reasoning can determine a person’s identity through the observation of his habits, practices, behaviors, etc. Many Christians love this form of inductive reasoning because it provides little categories that they can lump theologically loaded concepts neatly. They like to quote the Biblical expression, “you shall know them by their fruits,” … as their very own “Duck Test.”
Most Christians are very comfortable living and speaking in categories. You know what I mean…I’m sure. We talk about us versus them, outsiders versus insiders, lost versus found, in versus out, heretics (them) versus the theologically sound (us). One category that we dwell in most often is the safety of the categorical distinction between believers and unbelievers.
Maybe you haven’t paused long enough to consider how pregnant and pre-loaded those categories really are.
When many Christians use the term believer, the pregnant assumption is that they are talking about a person who has believed in Jesus, who has been given eternal life, who has been forgiven of all of his sins (past, present and future), who is saved for all eternity, who has been justified by God, and has been regenerated by the Spirit of God (or born again), and who has the Spirit of God dwelling in them. That is triplet-sized pregnancy!
Likewise, when many Christians use the term unbeliever, the pregnant assumption is that they are talking about a person who has not believed in Jesus, who is spiritually lost, who remains in his sins, and is doomed to spend an eternity in hell. Of course, there are many other negative things that are included in the term unbeliever. I’m not trying to avoid any of them. If you want, you can re-read the first paragraph and simply say to each one of those descriptions that the unbeliever is not like that.
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