"Have ye been spiritually born of God?" - Alma 5:14
Pastor Paul Washer in the excerpt below is speaking to a group of youth and trying to emphasize the importance of being a Christian, but not just in name, in deed as well. In the wild debate over faith and works where people tend to lurk along the extremes of one or the other, Pastor Washer does a good job of getting to the heart of the matter.
I think his words are equally applicable to Latter-day Saints or anyone professing to be a disciple of Christ. His words remind me of Moroni’s scathing judgement of Latter-day Saints in our day; and yes, my brothers and sisters, he’s talking about US.
“Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.
And I know that ye do walk in the pride of your hearts; and there are none save a few only who do not lift themselves up in the pride of their hearts, unto the wearing of very fine apparel, unto envying, and strifes, and malice, and persecutions, and all manner of iniquities; and your churches, yea, even every one, have become polluted because of the pride of your hearts.
For behold, ye do love money, and your substance, and your fine apparel, and the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted. O ye pollutions, ye hypocrites, ye teachers, who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God?Why are ye ashamed to take upon you the name of Christ? Why do ye not think that greater is the value of an endless happiness than that misery which never dies—because of the praise of the world? Why do ye adorn yourselves with that which hath no life, and yet suffer the hungry, and the needy, and the naked, and the sick and the afflicted to pass by you, and notice them not?” (Mormon 8:35-39)
This may or may not be you or I, so we must do as the Old Testament prophet Haggai suggested and “Consider [our] ways.” (Haggai 1:77) With that, I’ll leave you to what I thought was the best part of the sermon.
...so many adults are deceived into believing that, because they prayed a prayer one time in their life, they’re going to Heaven.
…I want you to know that, when you take a look at American Christianity, it is based more upon a godless culture than it is upon the Word of God. And so many people are deceived, and so many youth are deceived, and so many adults are deceived into believing that, because they prayed a prayer one time in their life, they’re going to Heaven. And then, when they look around at others who profess to know Christ and see those people also just as worldly as the world, and they compare themselves by themselves, nothing troubles their heart. They think, well, I’m the same as most in my youth group. I watch things I shouldn’t watch on television and laugh about the very things that God hates. I wear clothing that is sensual. I talk like the world. I walk like the world. I love the music of the world. I love so much that’s in the world, but bless God, I am a Christian. Why am I a Christian? I don’t look any different than most of the other people in my church. Why am I a Christian? Because there was a time in my life when I prayed and asked Jesus Christ to come into my heart.
...salvation is by faith and faith alone in Jesus Christ. And faith alone in Jesus Christ is preceded and followed by repentance - a turning away from sin, a hatred for the things that God hates and a love for the things that God loves, a growing in holiness...
I want you to know that the greatest heresy in the American evangelical and protestant church is that, if you pray and ask Jesus Christ to come into your heart, He will definitely come in. You will not find that in any place in Scripture. You will not find that anywhere in Baptist history until about 50 years ago. What you need to know is that salvation is by faith and faith alone in Jesus Christ. And faith alone in Jesus Christ is preceded and followed by repentance – a turning away from sin, a hatred for the things that God hates and a love for the things that God loves, a growing in holiness and a desire not to be like Britney Spears, not to be like the world, and not to be like the great majority of American Christians, but to be like Jesus Christ!
[audience erupts in applause]
I don’t know why you’re clapping. I’m talking about you. I didn’t come here to get amens. I didn’t come here to be applauded. I’m talking about you.
People so many times come up to me and say, “Oh, I’d love to follow you into Romania”; “I’d love to follow you into the Ukraine”; “I’d love to preach where you preached and planted churches in Peru in the jungle.”
And I tell them, “No, you wouldn’t.”
They say, “Yes, I would.”
I say, “No, you wouldn’t.”
“Because you’d be excommunicated from the church down there.”
What we need to see – I’m not trying to be hard for the sake of being hard. Do you realize how much love it takes to stand before 5,000 people and tell them that American Christianity is almost totally wrong? Do you know what it’s going to cost me to never be asked back again to something like this? To be unpopular? Do you know why you do it? You don’t do it because you get paid well. You don’t do it because men love you. You do it because you love men and because, more than that, you want to honor God.
It’s not comparing yourself with others who call themselves Christians. Compare yourself to the Scripture.
I want to tell you something. We’re going to go into Scripture, and I want you to look at it as it really is. It’s not comparing yourself with others who call themselves Christians. Compare yourself to the Scripture. When someone, a young person, comes to a pastor or a youth minister and says, “I’m not sure whether or not I’m saved,” the youth minister will usually throw out a cliché: “Well, was there ever a time in your life when you prayed and asked Jesus to come into your heart?”
“Were you sincere?”
“Well, I don’t know, but I think so.”
“Well, you need to tell Satan to stop bothering you. Did you write it in the back of your book – the back of your Bible like the evangelist told you when you got saved, write down the date so that any time you doubted you could point him to the Bible?”
Test yourself in light of Scripture to see if you are in the faith. Test yourself to see if you’re a Christian.
What superstition has overcome our denomination? Do you know what the Bible tells Christians to do? Examine yourself. Test yourself in light of Scripture to see if you are in the faith. Test yourself to see if you’re a Christian.
Do you realize if I dismissed us right now and told everyone to go knock on every door in this city, do you know what we would find out? Ninety-nine percent of the people, at least, in this city believe themselves to be believers. If you go back to your hometown and knock on every door – because I went back to my hometown after I got saved and knocked on every door, and you know what I found out? Everyone in my town is a Christian. Eighty-five percent of them do not go to church, and those who do go to church are not concerned about holiness. They’re not concerned about serving. They’re not concerned about being separate from the world. They’re not concerned about the Gospel being preached among the nations. But, bless God, they’re saved.
Why are they saved? Because some evangelist who should have spent less time preaching and more time studying his Bible told them they were saved, and he did it so he could brag about how many came forward in his next revival.
Apparently he wasn’t invited back after this speech and I think you can see why.
I’d like to add just one final comment concerning this key part of the sermon:
“What you need to know is that salvation is by faith and faith alone in Jesus Christ. And faith alone in Jesus Christ is preceded and followed by repentance – a turning away from sin, a hatred for the things that God hates and a love for the things that God loves, a growing in holiness and a desire not to be like Britney Spears, not to be like the world, and not to be like the great majority of American Christians, but to be like Jesus Christ!”
Now it is important to read his words carefully here. He doesn’t say that salvation is by “faith alone” – period. He says that salvation is by “faith” and “faith alone in Jesus Christ”. He further notes that this faith in Jesus Christ is preceded and followed by repentance.
I have discussed with other non-LDS Christians the ideology that “faith alone” or even “grace alone” is sufficient for salvation. Often the rest of the Christian world seems so put off by ‘works’ of any kind that their lives do not change while, on the other hand, many Saints may equally be lulled into a similar complacency that “they’ve received all the ordinances of salvation” yet have not had a mighty change of heart. How can any of us be Christians and not truly follow the example of Christ and keep his commandments because we have experienced that mighty change of heart? Do we not realize is that faith IS works? Faith is the action of belief, or in other words, faith is doing what you believe; God cannot save us in our sins. (Alma 11:37)
One of the reasons Pastor Washer’s words caught my attention was because of an experience I had as a full-time missionary in Idaho. While out knocking on doors, I met a very pleasant elderly Baptist pastor. We had a nice conversation and to my surprise, he expressed a concern with what is popularly preached in his faith and the Evangelical world at large.
He said that “you don’t just say a prayer and then ‘get saved'”, he continued “You need to go to church, you need to be a good person and keep God’s commandments along with accepting Christ as your Savior if you expect to be saved”. He told us that it is a big problem for them; they ‘get people saved’ and then they never come back to church and sink back into their old ways confident that their salvation is sure.
I think this ideology can negatively affect any faith. We must point people to true repentance and faith Christ that leads to a mighty change of heart and not just a single prayer experience or a set of ordinances. Remember also the Savior’s admonition that we “endure to the end” (Matthew 24:13).
The apostle Paul taught:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” (Eph 2:8)
It is truly by the grace of Jesus Christ that man obtains salvation, but through faith, not in its absence. As Pastor Washer notes, this faith is preceded and followed by repentance. Just as a person plants a seed in the ground, waters it, nourishes it, protects it and eats of its fruit, this person did not make the seed grow, God did. It was necessary for the person to exercise their faith in the law of the harvest, but where can he boast? It is to be remembered that God provided the sun and processes whereby the seed brought forth the fruit.
Christ made men free through the atonement, but we must obey his laws and exercise our faith unto repentance. If we do this, the influence of the atonement, like that invisible force that turns a tiny mustard seed into a great plant, will turn the vilest of us into something glorious; that when we see Christ, we will be like him (1 John 3:2).
Alma once asked the church:
“I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts? …if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?(Alma 5:14,26)
Do we attend church? Do we concern ourselves with holiness? Do we care about serving. Do we keep ourselves separate from the world? Do we care about the gospel being preached? If we have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, can we feel so now? Paul Washer suggests testing ourselves in light of scripture, and I think Alma 5 along with the Sermon on the Mount are great places to start.
However far off the path we feel that we may be on our journey, it is always a welcome surprise how quickly repentance brings us back to the embrace of peace and joy.
For further information about on this subject, check out: How Are We Saved?