James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, announced on Facebook recently that Donald Trump has professed faith in Jesus Christ. He said he knows the woman who ‘led him to the Lord.’
He goes on to say that Donald has not yet learned the vocabulary to express his newfound faith. I found that very interesting. How does one profess faith in Christ without having the words to do so? His knowledge of the gospel must have been very minimal.
Did Donald Trump “accept Jesus as his Savior and Lord,” or “ask Jesus into his heart,” or “make a decision for Jesus Christ?” Did he follow the “Four Spiritual Laws” or “Two Ways to Live” or perhaps one of the following plans:
Does he understand the holiness of God, and the depth of his own sins? Donald Trump is not a man given to apologies. Did he feel sorrow for his sins enough to repent and seek forgiveness?
James Dobson is very premature in pronouncing Donald Trump a Christian. He has fallen into the evangelical trap of equating a verbal profession of faith based upon an oversimplified gospel presentation with new life in Christ. But just because a person says he is a Christian doesn’t make him one.
Besides, no one leads someone else to Christ. The Holy Spirit draws him through the preaching of the Word of God, not a four step plan. There are no simplified gospel presentations in the Bible. The apostles made no altar calls. People came to Christ because the Holy Spirit convicted them of their sins through the preaching of the Word of God.
Modern evangelism often short-circuits this process, settling for a raised hand or a simple prayer rather than genuine repentance and commitment to Christ. It produces false conversions and fills the church with unregenerate people who come to Jesus on their own terms. That is what it means to “make a decision for Christ.” You do the choosing. The one who does the choosing always dictates the terms.
Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). The Bible says God the Father chose those who believe before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). We come to him on his terms, not ours. Many come to Him with the attitude, “I’ll keep what is precious to me and add Jesus to the mix.” These are not genuine believers. Jesus said we must be willing to forsake everything else when we come to him. Is Mr. Trump ready to abandon all else for Christ or did he just pray a prayer of salvation based on a gospel formula like so many other professing Christians? He obviously didn’t get much background in the basics of salvation if he couldn’t even find the words to express his new faith.
Donald Trump is a very wealthy man. Jesus said it is especially difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven. The rich young ruler found it impossible to give up his wealth to follow Christ, even though it made him very sad. James said, “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?” (James 2:5)
The only way to know whether Donald Trump’s profession of faith was genuine is if he obeys Christ. Jesus said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Maybe the Word of God sown in his heart will find fertile soil. Or maybe his great riches and the cares of this world will choke it out before it has a chance to grow. Maybe what was sown in his heart never even germinated because it was inferior seed. If that is the case, Mr. Dobson may end up having egg on his face. I certainly hope not. It would be wonderful to have a devout Christian with Mr. Trump’s kind of tenacity and fortitude for president.
Two Ways to Proclaim the Gospel
There are two versions of the gospel being presented today. One is called “evangelism” and the other is called “preaching.” “Evangelism” is a relatively recent phenomenon that began with tent meetings and gospel crusades and eventually led to abbreviated gospel presentations like the Four Spiritual Laws. Evangelism is designed to produce a confession of faith based on the barest of scripture knowledge and an affirmative response to an invitation to accept Christ. Many of these gospel formulas stress the love of God but entirely omit remorse for sin and repentance. Yet more than half of the Bible is devoted to showing us our inability to achieve righteousness on our own so that we are prepared to accept Christ’s perfect sacrifice for sin on our behalf. This is key to grasping the grace of God in salvation. Many Gospel presentations mention nothing about remorse for sin. Without repentance there is no salvation. The appeal to turn from sin and repent was a consistent part of the gospel message presented by Jesus and the Apostles.
You won’t find the word, “evangelize” when you search your Bible. What you will find instead is the phrase, “preach the gospel.” This is how Jesus and the apostles spread the faith. Gospel presentations can never take the place of the Word of God because it alone can impart spiritual life.
Our church has three separate congregations. One is an English congregation of garden variety evangelicals. Another is a Cantonese congregation that tends to be a little charismatic because it emphasizes healing. The third is a Mandarin congregation with a reformed pastor. The Cantonese congregation holds special evangelistic services from time-to-time. They invite a team of evangelists to conduct the meetings. I have seen these evangelists use all kinds of techniques to coax conversions out of people. Once they raise their hands, they are immediately pushed into some kind of discipleship class and urged to sign up for baptism. The number of baptisms that occur at Thanksgiving and Easter are considered the mark of the spiritual vitality of the church.
From time to time relatives will immigrate from China to America. One of these immigrants was struck by a hit-and-run driver and very seriously injured. He was in a coma for many days. When he finally awoke, members of the congregation aggressively began to evangelize him. They convinced him to “make a decision for Christ” even though his mind was still very muddled from the accident. Those who had evangelized him soon announced that he had become a Christian. They put him in a discipleship class and then pressed him to get baptized, but he couldn’t even remember what he had been told from one day to the next. My wife and I spent some time with him and his wife and it was very apparent to us that they did not understand even the basics of the Christian faith.
A Chinese woman from Kearny, Nebraska, visited the Mandarin congregation recently. She met her American husband in China and they moved to Kearney to take care of his elderly mother. Needless to say, there are no Chinese Christian churches in Kearney, Nebraska. This woman was a believer who was starved for Christian fellowship. Having spent some time in Kearney, I knew how she must feel. So my wife and I invited her and her husband out to lunch after the service.
There she told my wife how she had come to Christ. They were living in China at the time. It was the Chinese New Year and everyone had two weeks off to celebrate. She happened to read a blog post by a Chinese Christian. This woman kept repeating the words, “Thank the Lord” in her post. This peaked Jenny’s curiosity. She asked the woman about her faith. She told Jenny to get a Bible and read it.
Jenny found a Christian bookstore, but, just like all the other shops, it was closed for the holidays. She happened to bump into the proprietor and he told her that he had a Bible she could purchase, “Thank the Lord.” There was that familiar phrase again.
She took the Bible home and began to devour it. She read night and day non-stop through the entire holiday until she had gone all the way from Genesis to Revelation. She said that when she read the creation account, she knew this was the truth and what she had been told about evolution was a lie. She memorized the Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer. She immediately went home and threw out all her idols and joined a Bible believing church. This woman became a believer without being led by anyone but the Holy Spirit as she read the Word of God. Hers was without a doubt, a genuine conversion.
Unfortunately, the kind of gospel presentations that have passed for evangelism have produced a generation of professing believers who know little of the gospel and in many cases have never even repented of their sins. These people have never been reconciled to God. They are the tares that will be separated from the true believers at Christ’s return.
Billy Graham, the greatest evangelist of our era, admits that probably only 25% of the people who come forward at his crusades are really born again. Statistics show that the real number is closer to six percent.(1) Many of the others find themselves in churches all across America and around the world. These folks are the ones who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. They are Christian in name only. It is very possible there was one sitting in the pew next to you last Sunday in church.
How can the body of Christ function normally when it is filled with people who have never even been born again? How does the church come to a common understanding of God’s Word? How do they discern God’s will together? How do they follow the leading of the Holy Spirit if many of them are not even filled with the Holy Spirit? How do they exhort and admonish and encourage one another in the faith if they are not united in Jesus Christ? How can God accomplish his purposes for the church if many are not even committed to him? A church divided against itself cannot stand. It will fall prey to all kinds of false teaching.