Have you ever seen one of those lists on social media that say something like “Ten EASY Steps to Weight Loss” or “Five Ways to Fall More in Love with Your Wife?” Those lists draw our attention because we think something like, “Wow! It’s THAT easy to lose weight?” or “I really want to earn $1,000,000. Will it really only take twelve easy steps?”
Churches use similar tactics to teach how one responds to the gospel or to communicate some interpretation of the Bible:
- It’s as EASY as ABC: Admit, Believe, Confess
- This ONE Trick: Pray this prayer, and you will be saved.
- Just FIVE Steps: Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, Be Baptized
- Just FIVE Acts: Sing, Pray, Preach, Give, Lord’s Supper
- TULIP: Total Hereditary Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints
You can probably think of some too.
Now, these lists aren’t necessarily good or bad. In fact, they have worked in the past as helpful tools in communicating one’s beliefs. The keyword here, though, is “in the past.”
While these lists, depending on who you ask, come from Scripture in some way or another, there is no passage which lays all of these out in the way they are above. Paul didn’t go around telling people to obey five steps of salvation. Typically, one has to go to different passages in different contexts to formulate these lists. Even then, there are many disagreements about the exact interpretation of some of these elements. Like, “Does singing exclude playing music” or “was the atonement really limited?”
While these lists have worked in the past and have made excellent preaching tools, the question we need to ask for our day is, “Are these helpful ways of communicating the good news to our neighbors today?”
In the days where people are fed up with ads, robocalls, and other similar sales techniques, does marketing the good news of Jesus in a similar way actually hurt our cause? Do people see us a trying to sell a cheap product or trying to pull a fast one on them?
When we read the New Testament, the last thing we can do is put Jesus into a box. He healed by touching people, speaking to them, speaking about them, and by them touching Him. He promised someone salvation who was dying beside Him, demanded that someone sells all of their possessions, forgave those who crucified Him, and didn’t condemn a woman who was apparently guilty.
In Acts, the Spirit fell on some, some received it through laying on of hands, others were healed, and one got a special visit from a man sent by the Spirit. God showed visions, told Paul not to go some places, and met Saul on the road to Damascus.
Who can fit all of this into a list?
These varying experiences are closer to reality than our mechanical, sometimes transactional, view of salvation. We love putting things into boxes where everything follows the rules, follows a process, and makes sense. This works, but when we make it into a universal standard (Ten Steps to Guaranteed Success – YOU WON’T BELIEVE NUMBER THREE) we run the risk of not accepting someone’s genuine experience.
I am naturally skeptical of supernatural experiences. But the more I hear stories about seemingly unexplainable moments that bring joy, peace, or reassurance right on time, I can’t help but begin to move beyond my skepticism (and maybe even pessimism). Even in my own life, I have seen how God has taken negative events and turned them into blessings that can only be described as miraculous.
If you’ve had one of those moments, then you can probably agree with me that there isn’t any list that can reproduce that.