Last night, my youth group listened to a sermon by Paul Washer on Matthew 7:13-29 entitled “True Heart Transformation.” In his sermon, he argued that a person is not saved simply because they prayed a prayer asking God into their lives at some point in their life, but they are saved through faith alone, which is followed by true, heartfelt repentance. The life of the believer starts not only with a narrow gate, but continues with a narrow path. It is hard to follow God’s commands, to the point that when certain people call for us to return to obeying God’s word, many people scream “legalist!!” or “legalism!!”
As he is a missionary to third world countries, he rightly differentiates American Christianity from that of believers around the globe. He argued that, in essence, American Christianity is built on cliches, words printed on Christian t-shirts, and no real knowledge of how mere Christianity, much less radical Christianity, looked like. We don’t compare our lives to the Word, but instead to each other. He asked very simple, but deep and tough questions. You might think you are saved and are a good Christian because even though you walk in sin and dress like the world, and support ungodly acts, you don’t look that much different from people in your youth group. “But what makes you think your youth group is saved?” The only thing we believers should be comparing ourselves to is the Word. “On that final day when you stand before the blazing fire that is the holiness of God, will your testimony stand up?”
Throughout the entire sermon, Paul Washer presented himself as a broken man, “a dying man speaking to dying people.” He lovingly pleaded, to the point of tears, for us to embrace what we think is radical Christianity but is really normal Christianity. That we turn away from the things that God hates and instead fall on our knees in repentance before God. It was truly a powerful sermon that shook everyone in the room.
Now, this is perhaps the third time I have heard this message. The first two times I heard it was during a program called Journey to the Heart (here is a description and additional info about the program, and here is my testimony from my first Journey). It was one of the first messages I heard during the program, and it was one that silenced the entire room and captivated everyone. Reflecting back on that journey, and my life since then, I can truly say that I have been saved. Washer emphasized that a person who is truly saved will experience a, pardon my pun, “true heart transformation” that involves them being broken by the convictions of the Holy Spirit, and not being able to escape them no matter what you do. That has been especially true in my life. It seems that I have very strong convictions about everything I do, prompted by God. When I first began having them, I was positive that it was helping me grow, and I embraced my convictions and pursued them, trying to become a good believer. These events took place back when I was 13. At such a young age, however, it was hard to find spiritual companions, unless they were much older than I. It was disillusioning, trying to find people to grow together with side by side, and it became increasingly frustrating as the years went by. Many times, especially recently, they have become something of a burden to me. I felt like my convictions were unnecessarily “legalistic” and stood in my way of experiencing life the way many people do. It hinders me from making friends because I don’t approve of the things they do. All in all, I felt like my convictions were a hindrance instead of a blessing — though I still understood it to be a mark of faith.
In recent years, I have changed from being a positive young boy to a critical and cynical young man. I blamed my change on my convictions, saying that if I didn’t have them, I would be more positive because I would have better life experiences because could do more things with more people and build friendships and not be seeing the negative side of everything — something I felt like I kept experiencing. But this message was a refreshing treat, reminding me that the pursuit of holiness is a mark of faith, a lifelong experience as we try to be more Christ-like and enjoy a relationship with Him, especially as preparation for hard times in our walks and potential persecution, as well as setting an example for younger believers.
Here are some verses that were especially striking. All verses are taken from the English Standard Version. Emphasis added:
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few….16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
And that concludes my reflection. I may post follow ups if I think of something new, but I encourage you to listen to the message if you can, and ask yourselves the tough questions he presents to you, 🙂