AKA, “Spiritual Korea”…
One of the grating arguments I hear far too often from CINO’s (Christians-In-Name-Only), a population which far outnumbers the real thing, is the famous “pray-it-once” theory, which in purely technical terms is completely accurate.
Read Romans 10, verse 9:
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
That is absolutely true, as far as it goes.
However…there’s a problem if that’s as far as you go. Let’s use a physical analogy to understand what it is:
Picture the boundary between “saved” and “unsaved” like a physical boundary between countries.The most tangible border I can think of to use as an example is the one between North and South Korea, who have been at war for six, almost seven decades and counting.
In reality, that border is comically militarized – the DMZ is probably two miles wide, with guards and fences and booby traps and every form of prideful nationalistic posturing one can come up with. Erase that from the picture, because there IS no such border between salvation and the life of a recalcitrant sinner.
Instead, imagine a small river – maybe even a creek, something small enough to wade across, without guards or fences. When you’re saved by the grace of God, He brings you bodily across that creek, and sets you on the “safe” side, the side of salvation, and you are indeed “saved”. And if that was the end of the story, and “you lived happily ever after”, that would indeed be all there is to it.
But you continue to live. And while you live in this fallen world, the devil will try to bring you back to “his side” of the creek. Now, if you’re a student of the “pray-it-once” school of thought, you’re essentially going to stand right where you were dropped off, a few feet from the creek’s edge, continually within dragging distance of being drawn back across the water into a sinful lifestyle that will prove your salvation was never truly accepted.
And sooner or later, almost inevitably, it will happen. A temptation of some kind or another will lure you back across the creek: a love affair, the lure of money or possessions, an illicit thrill from drugs or alcohol or illicit sexual behavior, or a numbness to the needs of your fellow man, or simply the attraction of lethargy and sloth, which keep you from church and the Word and eventually God Himself.
HOWEVER, if you don’t just stay alongside the creek, but rather move “inland”, away from the creek and its temptations, you make the chances of a defection back to the land of sin slimmer and slimmer with every step!
How do you do that? What’s the spiritual equivalent of “walking inland”, away from sinfulness and towards Godliness?
Grow in His Grace. Study the Bible and become a part of your church congregation; don’t just flip the pages and show up for church when there’s not a game on the television.
The deeper you devote yourself to God, the less likely you’ll have a demon strike you down and drag you back across the border! The farther from Temptation Creek you get, the harder it’ll be to leave. And as with most countries, the scenery is more beautiful the farther inward you go!
Here’s another analogy to consider when it comes to the “pray-it-once” thought process…
Suppose we think of living a sinner’s life as a disease, perhaps a tumor that God excises when you are saved by His Grace. “Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, (and) you will be CURED.” Like a doctor dealing with a cancerous tumor, the Holy Spirit comes in and does miraculously precise surgery on your spiritual heart and removes the sinful nature tumor from it, leaving you one hundred percent tumor free, healthy as the day Adam was created, as sin free in God’s Eyes as Christ Himself.
Again, if that was the end of the story? No worries! You’re heaven bound.
But if you still have a life to live? And you don’t start living it for Christ and the Father? You’ll end up in environments like you lived in before, if you haven’t changed the way you live. If you lead a life that has carcinogenic causes in it, you’re probably going to get cancer. Even if that cancer was cured, if you go back to the same carcinogenic life, you’re going to get MORE cancer, right? Moron!
“Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”
“Well,” says the doctor, “don’t DO that!”
It’s just like that with sin. If you lead a life that has sinful activities in it, you’re going to sin. Even if you’re saved by God’s mercy and your sins are forgiven, that doesn’t mean you can create MORE sinful tumors and expect to survive! Moron! He cured you once – and yes, he can cure you again, and again, and again…but after a while, the odds start piling up against you. That sinful life will kill you one of these times, when you’ve surrendered your salvation once more to go play in the carcinogens again. Whoops. Bad timing? No, it’s always going to be bad timing, because the devil’s trying to tempt you with stronger and stronger stuff…and eventually, something’s going to get you.
On the other hand, if you live your life for Christ and the Father after the Holy Spirit does his surgery on you? The odds of you spontaneously developing another “sin tumor” are remarkably low. Not zero, mind you – the devil will NEVER stop trying to drag you back across the river, to reinfect you with your original sinful nature. But the fewer opportunities you give him, the more opportunities you give yourself to succeed as a Christian.
And not be a CINO.
So, can you simply pray-it-once and become a Christian for the rest of your life (and beyond)? Realistically, no – because when you truly become a Christian, your very nature changes. There are too many ways that following the Lord requires your very thought process and behavior to alter; allowing the Holy Spirit to embed within you to do that changes you from an earthly human with an inbred sin nature into a Child of God who thinks of Heaven first, before he addresses earthly concerns.
Take me, for instance. I wasn’t saved until I was in my late forties, by which point I’d already taught high school and junior high band for twenty-eight years. At the risk of being immodest, I led a fairly Christian life even before that, and I refer to myself in my prior life as being a “semi-Christian” – a CINO, if you will. I followed most of what I knew of God’s commands, and common sense led to some of the rest. It might have been tough for someone who wasn’t saved to tell that I wasn’t saved, either.
But the day after I was born again, I called my best friend and asked him to start me on a path of Scripture study, so I could understand just what it was the Lord had called me to. Had I simply said, ‘OK, well then, wow, I’m saved’, and just kept living as I had before, I doubt anyone would have noticed a difference in me. But over the years since that fateful day, I have continuously grown in my faith, and as I have, my actions have changed to match. They HAVE to change. And NOW, when you compare who I am today with who I was the day before my salvation? NOW you could see a very definite difference in my demeanor. When what’s important to you changes, so does your behavior and your priorities.
Here’s the key, folks: Who you ARE shows in what you DO. You can SAY you’re honest and punctual, but if you always lie and show up late, “your actions speak louder than words”, as they say. If you change on the INSIDE, it can’t help but show on the OUTSIDE. If you “pray the words” and don’t follow up on what you’ve promised Him – and maybe you haven’t realized that little detail yet: you are PROMISING the Lord that you will OBEY Him! – then your INSIDES don’t change, and neither do your OUTSIDES. Who you ARE hasn’t changed. You have to mean what you pray, or else you’re still stuck in the downhill lane.
Romans 10:9 is the beginning of your story. Not the end.
(This was the very first essay I wrote for our new website back in Oct 2016.)