I'm just wrapping up a book on Jonathan Edwards' view of true Christianity. It's amazing (and refreshing) to see him come down so hard on nominal christianity. Nominal christianity seems to be "normal christianity" today. The problems that Edwards faced in his congregation in the 18th century are the same ones that we face today. For instance, the members of his church felt it important to arrange the seating according to social status (the wealthier members sat up front while the poor members were relegated to the back pews). This was a "major" issue that the congregation devoted much energy and attention to...kind of makes me think about congregations today devoting so much energy and attention (and resources!) to which flashy sign they should put in front of their church. Edwards constantly challenged his flock to examine their salvation. He reasoned that you can not claim the saving grace of God in your life and not see a marked difference. He laid out his "marks of true conversion" to serve as examples (and tests) for his congregation. It would serve us well to examine these against our own lives. Over the next few days I will list out the five marks of true conversion according to Edwards.
A Love For Christ
The first mark of true conversion is a love for Christ. Edwards claimed that "when the Spirit moves in a person's heart and awakens them to faith and repentance, their view of Jesus changes. The Spirit raises their esteem of Jesus and causes them to see that He is the Christ, the Anointed of God to be Lord and Savior." In contrast, the "nominal believer respects Jesus, but does not reverence or exalt Him." The true Christian takes delight in Jesus, a delight that is often palpable and contagious.
Isn't it interesting how divisive that name is. Talk to a random person about God and you will probably have a pleasant conversation. Inject the name of Jesus into the same conversation and things become different. The name of Jesus Christ divides and separates. Jesus says in Luke 12 (starting in verse 49),
"I have come to cast fire upon the earth...for from now on members of one household will be divided...father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother."
How true that is. I've heard story after story of new believers being ostracized from their family for proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ. One story told to me in Guinea Bissau is seared into my memory. A Muslim woman converted to Christianity against the wishes of her Muslim husband. When she would not renounce the name of Jesus, he killed her. When he threw her in the shallow grave, he also buried with her their two daughters....alive. This woman was not a nominal Christian. She knew the cost of being a follower of Christ.
We don't face that sort of cost here in the West. We can inwardly claim the saving grace of Jesus, stop into church every once in a while and be told by everyone around us that we are "good christians" bound for heaven. But are we really? This is what Edwards asked his congregation. Nowadays, we can't even look at that question without being uneasy. Let's be honest, questioning someone's salvation is not the most polite thing to do. But if we truly love those around us, it's the most loving thing that we could do. Edwards pressed his flock not because he was pious, but because he loved them so much. He did not want them to fool themselves into thinking they were something they were not. He challenged them to search the Scripture and then search their heart. The question was "do the two line up?"
Here is some application to try with this particular "mark of true Christianity"; use the name of Jesus in your everyday conversations. Instead of telling your neighbor that "God has provided in these tough times", tell him that Jesus has promised in Matthew chapter 6 (vs 25-34) to provide for His people, "and that same Jesus has surely provided for us this year". Instead of asking "do you believe in God" and ending the conversation at that, ask if a person believes that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. If we truly have a "raised esteem and reverence" for Jesus, His name should be the most beautiful sound that comes out of our mouth.
And then thank Him that we live in a place where the sound of His name does not come with the threat of death.
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