In my post Confessions of a Campus Pastor, I talked about evidences of true conversion and assurance. My intention was not to criticize any method of evangelism, to say that there are never true conversions, or to say that there is never rejoicing in ministry. Methods can be good; there are many true conversions; and we are always sorrowful, yet rejoicing. My intention was simply to work through thoughts on how ministers of the gospel (i.e. all true Christians) deal with people who do not truly desire Jesus, holiness, to kill sin, etc., but seem to profess faith nevertheless.
I felt that Jonathan Edwards’ counsel was very wise in practicing discernment with this — since he lived and preached during a time in our nation’s history that was filled with true and false conversions (the Great Awakening).
Edwards wrote Religious Affections as a response to those who were critical of the Great Awakening and the emotions that people were showing — whether true or false. Not all were genuine. But emotions weren’t the problem. Emotionalism was. The other extreme? Intellectualism, that is, knowing a lot of facts about Jesus instead of truly loving him with your whole being.
In the book, Edwards argues that affections (emotions that serve as catalysts for true love for God, and hence spiritual disciplines) are essential to true religion, but they need to be tested. That is essentially what I said when I wrote, “If someone doesn’t hate their sin, if they are not growing in experiencing God as the supreme Treasure of their life, one has to wonder if they ever truly met Jesus at all.”
Some things I didn’t mention that affect this whole issue (because the post would been too long), is first that we ministers do not follow up well after someone professes faith and the person therefore does not grow. Second, and I think more common, is that we assume that people are always genuine and we treat them as such (some people are truly genuine!). We start to feed them follow up material and theology, when in fact, they give no evidence for true transformation, only a knowledge of facts or a love for a genie Jesus who gives them good gifts.
The latter happens often in cultures where the prosperity gospel has really taken root (e.g. South Africa). When this happens, we need to go back to the core of the gospel. When this happens, we need to tell them that God gave himself, not just benefits. When this happens, we have to be bold and ask the hard questions (“Do you love Jesus or just the benefits?”) and show them the hard truths in Scripture (“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it,” Mark 8:35).
Finally, I was not saying that people get saved and then can’t hack it so they are lost. That’s unbiblical, and I’ve addressed that elsewhere. Neither is Edwards saying that. The issue at hand for Evangelicalism all over the world, not just campus ministries, is not whether the seed that was preached fell on good soil and got uprooted. It’s whether or not the seed fell on good soil at all.
Among all the other things we must be concerned with as ministers, perhaps one of the most urgent is the warning that the author of Hebrews gives us in his letter:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you maybe hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end (3:12-14).
Later on in the letter (6:4-6), the author even says that there are some people who “have been enlightened…tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come” yet are not saved. That’s pretty scary. The people he is writing to, however, have “things that belong to salvation” (v. 9). Those things include loving the saints and being imitators of men and women who went before them (vv. 11-12). It also includes taking care to not be hardened by sin (3:12-14) and regarding Jesus as supreme in all the universe (1:1-4).
I want to come alongside people to help them “make their calling and election sure” (2 Pet. 1:10). My heart is to lead those to Jesus who are not truly with him, but think they are. That means continuing to preach the gospel to them and ask the hard questions. And that means doing the same thing to myself as well (2 Cor. 13:5).