By Richard Thetford
As you glance at the title of this article, your first thought might be that this is going to be an article dealing in the area of personal work. Jesus said: “And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him” (Matt 4:18-20). However, this article is not dealing with personal work but rather with the idea that if we hold to some of the doctrines that are taught in the religious realm today, then we might as well just “go fishin’” rather than take the time to attend services or do anything religiously.
A little booklet simply entitled “Eternal Life” is being circulated by the Graceland Baptist Church here in New Albany, Indiana and the contents of its teaching echoe the teaching by most religious evangelical denominations today. They boast of a large membership as do most of the religious bodies who hold to the doctrine that “faith only is a most wholesome doctrine.” Why? Because it is a very simple religion that anyone can live, whether they go to church or not.
Saved By Belief and Repentance
This piece of literature that is being circulated is false propaganda. It begins by saying that we can know that we have eternal life (which I agree), but then proceeds to try to get us to come to the conclusion that eternal life is gained only by belief in Jesus (John 3:16), repentance, and the “sinner’s prayer.” The main premise of the booklet is to let all people know that we cannot save ourselves and cites Ephesians 2:8-9 which states: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” If that is the absolute truth, then “let’s go fishin’!” The Bible student knows that the works mentioned here in Ephesians are our own works that we come up with. It is not talking about the works that God has authorized and asked for us to do. It goes on to teach that Jesus was “delivered over death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). It is stated since this is the case it is “good news” because “all who received Him and believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). So if we receive Jesus and believe in Jesus, we are saved. If that is all we must do, then “let’s go fishin’!” But wait, there’s more. It states a point concerning Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are saved through faith, not of works, yet then says “we must repent of our sins.” Is not repentance a work? Or is repentance something that just happens because we believe in who Jesus is? No, true “godly sorrow” repentance takes serious effort to make a determination to turn from all sin and strive to live for Christ. It takes work to do that, a constant continuous effort on our part, a work. Yet it states in their booklet that works are not necessary, then says that repentance is required.
Saved by Confession
It goes on to say that after we repent, then we must put our faith in Jesus. It then explains that having faith in Jesus is having trust in Jesus, to surrender to Jesus, and cites Romans 10:9-10 which says: “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” This verse is taken and used without any other in this regard. It is stated that salvation is realized by anyone that “confesses the Lord” (by the way, isn’t confessing with our mouth a work?), and believes that Jesus was raised from the dead. Once done, salvation is realized. No other work needs to be done to have salvation. If that is the case, then “let’s go fishin’!”
The “Sinner’s Prayer”
But there’s more. It then cites that we must surrender our lives to Christ fully and completely and then cites Matthew 7:21. If you don’t know what Matthew 7:21 says, please read it. A key word in that passage is “does.” Does is a work. Yet works are not necessary? Then finally the holder of this little booklet is asked: “Are you willing to place your faith in Jesus right now and turn from your sin (Rom 10:13)? If so, then you need to ask the Lord Jesus to save you. How is this done? They are then asked to read this prayer (often referred to as the “sinner’s prayer”): “Dear God, I know that Jesus is Your Son, and that He died on the cross and was raised from the dead. I know I have sinned and need forgiveness. I am willing to turn from my sins and receive Jesus as my Savior and Lord. Thank you for saving me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Then it says: “Welcome to the family of God. If you sincerely prayed this prayer, you have just made the most important decision of your life. You can be sure you are saved and have eternal life.” If I have prayed this prayer sincerely, then why do anything else religiously (attending services, singing, praying, giving, etc.), because I am saved? Friends, “let’s go fishin!”
Inconsistencies in Doctrine
Now, let’s look at their inconsistencies: (1) Their main premise is that man cannot do “works in order to be saved” yet they teach that all one has to do in order to be saved is to believe in and surrender to Jesus — this is a work. (2) They say that repentance is necessary, yet they claim works are not — but repentance is a work. (3) They say that confessing the Lord as their savior is necessary, yet claim works are not — but confession is a work. (4) They say that one must say what is referred to by most as the “sinner’s prayer” is necessary in order to be saved, yet claim works are not — but prayer is a work. (5) After one is saved by sincerely praying the prayer, they are asked to pray regularly, attend services, witness for Christ, and be baptized at a convenient time — all of which are works. They cite a Bible verse for the various aspects of what one must do leading up to their salvation (faith, belief, repentance, confession), yet there is no Bible verse mentioned referencing the very act that results in their salvation — “the sinner’s prayer.” Why not? Because there is none.
What The Bible Says
What does the Bible say? God’s plan of salvation is evident and clearly spelled out in his book. We must believe in Jesus (Rom 10:17; Heb 11:6), repent of our sins (Acts 17:30; Luke 13:3; 2 Cor 7:10), confess Jesus (Rom 10:10; Matt 10:32; Acts 8:37), and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; Mark 16:16; Matt 28:18-20; Acts 8:38; 16:31-33; 22:16; 1 Pet 3:2). The Bible clearly teaches that our sins are only forgiven after we have worked the works of righteousness and have been baptized in the name of Jesus. Prayer does not wash away sins. Baptism does. It is true that man cannot do his own works of righteousness resulting in salvation, but we will be held accountable to do the works in which God has instructed us. God tells us what he wants us to do in our life and salvation is part of that. After we are baptized and added to the church through baptism, then we are expected to “live faithfully until death” (Rev 2:10), meaning to continue to do the works that God has asked of us until we die. A faith in God, without works, is a dead faith, a meaningless faith (Jas. 2:26). We are justified before God by the works that he has given us to do, not by faith only (Jas. 4:24).
“Test the Spirits”
Friends, we must make sure that whatever we are doing religiously is approved by God. Think it through from beginning to end. Any doctrine that teaches us that faith and belief only are all that is required in order to be saved and have eternal life with Jesus is not in harmony with Christ’s teaching. The inspired apostle John wrote: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” If I was a member of a denomination who’s doctrine taught that all I needed in order to be saved was to believe in Jesus and recite the sinner’s prayer, then I would gather up my friends on Sunday and say, “Let’s go fishin’!”
8014 County Line Road, Sellersburg, Indiana 47172 RThetford@juno.com