Friday, July 31, 2009

Bait and Switch

Ever go to a store where there is supposed to be an item on sale, but when you get there the item is sold out and the clerk tries to sell you instead another more expensive item. If this is done deliberately, it is called a bait and switch. Sometimes Christians, if we are not careful, can appear to be running a bait and switch. We tell people salvation is a free gift of God's grace and those who have faith in Him receive it apart from anything they can do. Then when they accept Christ, we tell them they are expected to obey the following list of rules and criticize them, often harshly, if they do not. How do we correctly approach this issue so as not to be involved in or appear to be involved in a bait and switch.

The solution to this dilemma is not to duck the clear teaching of Scripture that salvation is a gift (Romans 3:24; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8, 9) received by faith (Romans 4:5; 3:28; Galatians 2:16) apart from works we do to earn it (Titus 3:5; Galatians 2:21; Romans 11:6). (Note that "believe" in Scripture generally means to have faith and is not just speaking of intellectual assent but reliance on God's promises; see John 1:12; 6:29; 3:16-18; 1 John 3:11-13.) But Scripture also teaches the result (not the cause) of salvation is a changed life (Titus 2:11,12: Ephesians 2:10; James 2:20). This change is motivated not by a desire to earn salvation, but by love toward God for a salvation already received (2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 John 4:18-19; Romans 8:15) and is not a result of our own efforts to change but is God's work in us (2 Corinthians 3:18; John 15:5; Colossians 1:29).

In view of this, while we need to beware of making good works or the resolution to do good works a condition for salvation, (note that the resolution to do good works by the natural man is worthless, and without Christ's power we can do nothing; John 15:5), it is reasonable to explain to people that if they accept God's gift of salvation He will, as a result, send His Spirit into their lives to transform them with the goal of making them like Christ (Romans 8:29). The person who categorically rejects this probably does not have genuine faith. But when a person becomes a believer and we feel compelled to correct them, whether individually or as part of a group, we need to do so with care, recognizing that they stand before God based on His grace (Romans 5:1) and not their performance. This does not mean we should not correct them (we are required to do so; see Galatians 6:1), but if we approach it correctly, we will do it with a different attitude. Then perhaps we can avoid the appearance of a bait and switch.

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