"But the serious error facing the church today is its belief that salvation can be taught." —A. W. Tozer, Experiencing the Presence of God.
Whoa! Isn't that what we have been doing all these years? The quote caught my attention. It particularly intrigued me because of one of the latest trends in what is called discipleship. We take a band of seekers of truth (or the curious), call them disciples. expose them to the Scriptures, talk about those passages tell us about God and ourselves, and then discuss how to obey what we have read. It sounds right. We expect that they will come out of the experience as believers. But maybe not. We call them disciples. But maybe not.
I read a bit more of what Tozer had to say and appreciated his caution—and criticism. We all know that a person can know the Bible from cover to cover, attend church regularly, serve, and look like the real deal without being the real deal. Jesus told several parables warning us of the danger including the ones about the wheat and tares growing up together, and the sheep and the goats being separated at the end.
Here's what Tozer writes:
Set a person down or a group of people and teach them what the Bible says and ask them if they believe it and if they accept it and so forth. When everyone nods their head in the affirmative, we lead them into believing that they have now been born again...They are Christians by assumption, by manipulation or instruction, rather than by regeneration."
We know this is more than possible, hence the danger in teaching people to obey as though salvation came through obedience and not through personal faith in what Christ did on the cross. It is not a new phenomenon at all. Sunday School curriculum for decades has put the emphasis on being good little girls and boys by "doing" rather than by "being." Sin has to be addressed, acknowledged, repented of, and forgiven.
When repentance truly happens, then, as Tozer writes:
Salvation implants within the human heart an unknown factor in helping that person to holiness. The true Christian cries out to the father by impulse of the Holy Spirit and does not ask to be taught. Nobody says to this new Christian, "Repeat after me, 'Abba Father'." He says "Abba Father" because the Spirit of the Son, in his heart, is telling him to say it.
Here is where we need to understand what is of man and what is truly of God. What is of man uses manipulation, outside pressure and instruction to make a person do what he should be doing. But what is of God uses the implantation of a new nature within the heart of a person, causing him instinctively to live like a Christian. Causing him to naturally follow after righteousness and true holiness.
Springing us within the heart of this new nature is an aspiration to know God and experience His presence in everyday living.
There is a lot to ponder here. I wonder if many of us need to think more critically about the role and the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells the believer from the moment he or she puts their faith in Christ? Is it correct that a true believer will have, because of the Holy Spirit, such a hunger and thirst after God that we do not have to cajole or manipulate or drag that person into a Bible Study group or true discipleship program? Tozer believes that this person will be beating down our door to be taught or digging into the Scriptures for themselves with a fervour driven by the Divine.
I think Tozer makes some important points. I believe that the Gospel is always our starting point, lest, by teaching obedience before repentance we produce pseudo-Christians, those who follow the rules and believe that they are saved. When they discover that they have been deceived as we tell them, "Oh, by the way, you have to repent of your sins to be saved" how will they react? Duped by those who they have come to trust and who they identify as Christians, will they continue? What happens if their journey of obedience is interrupted and we never get to whatever stage it is in this method where the Gospel is explained? What guilt do we bear when, In the end, they discover that they are among the goats, the tares, and those who said "Lord, Lord, have we not done..." only to hear Jesus say that He never knew them at all?