I am concerned because my study of the Bible may have led me to reach a doctrinal position that differs from that of the church I am part of. It seems to me that when someone has a good view of the whole story of the Bible there are two ways that people respond. They see the love that God shows us and respond by loving Him, or they see hell and fear hell. I think that most people experience some of each response; the responses are not mutually exclusive. Everyone is different, we all respond differently. I realize that this is a gross oversimplification; there are many other responses that people experience, but these are the two that I am concerned with. I think that when I studied the Bible, I was led to respond in love. As I have been taught to study the Bible with people, I was not taught to lead people to respond in love. As I have been in Bible studies, the men leading the studies have not put emphasis on leading people to respond in love. I have not, until recently, put an emphasis on leading people to respond in love. My wife believes that any conviction that leads people to confess Jesus is Lord, to repent, and to be baptized is a saving conviction. I do not believe that. I believe that love for God is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. I believe that there are many ways to express love for God and that love for God must go beyond feelings and be expressed. Obedience is an important way to express love for God. I believe that we have baptized people who give very little consideration to love for God. Here is the issue. I seriously doubt the discipleship and salvation of these people. I believe that God is not just looking for obedience; He is looking for love. Faith is belief with sufficient conviction to motivate behavior changes. I believe that faith motivated by fear is not a saving faith. I believe that faith motivated by love is a saving faith, and that it is the love that God is looking for. In Acts 2:37, Peter’s words pierced their hearts; one’s heart being pierced is a loving response. If one were responding in fear, their response would not be described as being a pierced heart. Ephesians 2:9 says, not by works so that no one can boast, but James 2:14 says faith without deeds is dead. To me, this is not a contradiction, it is not a question of whether or not we do works, we are expected to be motivated to act. The issue here is a question of why we do the works. Works motivated by love are acceptable; works motivated by a fear of Hell are not. In Matthew 7:23 Jesus casts people into Hell because “I never knew you.” In Matthew 25:12 and Luke 13:27 Jesus leaves people outside (in Hell) because “I never knew you.” But 1 Corinthians 8:3 says “whoever loves God is known by Him.” Those who love God are not left out in Hell. As I read the Bible, it seems to me that love for God is necessary for salvation. I am not questioning repent, confess, and be baptized. I am saying these things need to be motivated by love. I am also saying that I believe that these things are not saving acts if they are motivated by fear. I am aware that we cannot see or judge others hearts, only God can. But we can talk to people, ask them, and teach them. Please, correct me if I am wrong, but, it seems to me that it is incumbent on us to talk to people about their love for God and to try to grow their love for God if it is weak. I believe that it is wrong for us to baptize someone if they tell us their love for God is weak and that their primary motivation for wanting to be a disciple is to keep from going to Hell. I believe that it is incumbent on us to teach people and to attempt to grow their love for God before baptizing them. God doesn’t want obedience, He doesn’t want sacrifice, He wants mercy; He wants our love. It seems to me that when we baptize people without being sure that their love for God is strong, we should expect weak disciples and a high fall-away rate. Again, please correct me if I am wrong. I know that there are scriptures that don’t appear to support this position. In Luke 14:31-32, considering the consequences of not following Jesus, the consequence seems to be defeat. That would be something to be feared. Thank you for your time and consideration,
I really appreciate where you are going in this question, but I want to suggest a significantly different approach to dealing with this issue. I believe this is a question of correct biblical emphasis rather than a doctrinal question. Here is why. I believe that virtually anyone you ask in your church movement who has been baptized would testify that they loved God before they were baptized. How much they loved God might be a good question, but they certainly loved God. They would testify that they were challenged about their love for God before they were baptized. The “cross” study is a call to respond to God’s love. None (or nearly none) of us would agree that the only reason they were baptized was to avoid hell. The lead evangelist in my local church, for many years, has always had this policy. When he “counts the cost with people”, he asks them, “Why do you want to be baptized?” If their answer is anything other than “Because I love God,” then he goes through a careful teaching to make sure that their principle motivation for being baptized is that they love God. So, to say that we have a false doctrine in this area is simply not correct.
What I would say is that some of us have underemphasized the relative importance of our love for God in our studies with people. For some of us, as a matter of emphasis, we have overly stressed obedience and discipleship/commitment and relatively underemphasized love in our efforts to convert people to Christ. I do not for a moment question your contention that love for God is the best and most important motivation for people to get converted. However, to declare as a doctrine that fear of God or a desire not to be lost, or a desire to do the right thing or a willingness to make Jesus Lord are wrong motivations for a person to be saved is to exaggerate. For myself, a very important part of why I became a Christian is because I believe that it was the right thing to do. I believe that I had a love for God at the time, but that this love has increased since I became a Christian. Some of us are baptized both because we love God and because we fear hell. Some of us are baptized both because we have decided to make Jesus Lord and because we love Jesus. All of us have a mixture of emotions and reasons for becoming a Christian. I know that “perfect love casts out fear”, but we cannot expect converts to have perfect love at their conversion. To me, it is a matter of emphasis, not of doctrine. If you look at Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, he says, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (Acts 2:40). Clearly, Peter was willing to use “fear” as a motivation. Obviously, he presented the love of God, and we can assume his sermon was a call to love God, but we do not see him commanding them to love God in the first gospel sermon—at least not directly. We see him commanding them to repent. They felt guilty that their sins caused the death of Jesus. I believe that it is legitimate to use a wide range of emotions to help people come to Christ. With that said, I still agree with you that the ideal motivation—one that we should emphasize more than we do—is that we want people to fall in love with God BEFORE they are baptized. I have done a Bible study on conversion for many years in which I ask the participants to list for me the things required to be saved. My experience is that people mention repentance, lordship, baptism and belief/faith. I always admonish them for not mentioning the greatest commandment. So, I agree that we have a problem of emphasis, but not necessarily a doctrinal problem.
So, rather than declare that your church is teaching false doctrine, I believe what you should do is try to get those you are close to to emphasize love for God as the principle motive for people to be saved. You should do what our lead evangelist does here in San Diego. For any conversion you have any input into, you should insist that the one being studied with consider the quality of their love for God and the importance of that in their conversion.
A side note. You say that people are either motivated by love for God or by fear of hell. I believe that this is an over simplification. There are a number of other motives. I would add the motive of wanting to do the right thing. I would add the motive of wanting to obey Jesus as Lord, because one has decided that Jesus is, in fact, Lord. None of us is entirely motivated by any one of these, but for some one weighs more strongly than for others. My suggestion is that when we do a check-list, we ask people about lordship, about repentance and about love. Many of us already do this, but more of us need to put more emphasis on love, It is hard to measure love, but it should not be ignored.
Another point. In Acts 2 people were baptized almost immediately after hearing a gospel sermon. There was no time for those studying with them to “grow their love.” In fact, the best I can tell, the people did not even have studies!!! Bottom line, these people were cut to the heart about their sin and about Jesus’ death for their sin, and they were baptized. I do not say this to disprove your conviction that we need to emphasize from the very beginning the response of love for God, but to show that it is possible you might be slightly overstating your case.
Let me comment on part of what you say above: “My wife, believes that any conviction that leads people to confess Jesus is Lord, to repent, and to be baptized is a saving conviction. I do not believe that. I believe that love for God is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. I believe that there are many ways to express love for God and that love for God must go beyond feelings and be expressed. Obedience is an important way to express love for God. I believe that we have baptized people who give very little consideration to love for God. Here is a crux, here is an issue, please, correct me if I am wrong, I seriously doubt the discipleship and salvation of these people. I believe that God is not just looking for obedience; He is looking for love.”
I agree with both you and your wife. Perhaps you are saying almost the same thing, but in different ways. You say that one way to express love for God is obedience, then you say that God is not just looking for obedience—that he is looking for love. There seems to be a bit of contradiction here, but, in fact, you are not contradicting yourself here because “love” is a complicated thing to define. It might not be possible to parse out the difference between loving God, obeying him, and repenting of our sins. Also, you say that love for God is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. I agree with that. Yet, those who only stress loving God—who ignore the importance of discipleship and repentance (and this is a very large segment of the denominational world) end up stressing a warm fuzzy feeling. Your wife agrees with you that love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. She believes that it includes repenting and making Jesus Lord.
Again, let me say that I really appreciate where you are trying to move your church here, but let me also say that it is not a matter of doctrine, but a matter of what we emphasize. We can over-emphasize a poorly defined “love” and not sufficiently emphasize the need for repentance and discipleship, or we can over-emphasize a legalistically defined discipleship and repentance and leave people in the bad position of not loving God sufficiently to make it as a disciple. If I had to decide which way the group I am part of needs to swing the pendulum, it would be more in the love direction. Clearly you would agree with me on that. This is why I urge you to continue emphasizing this, but please do not accuse your friends of having a false doctrine.
My last point. I promise. You bring up the possibility that some of those in your movement who think they are saved might not be because when they were baptized they did not love God sufficiently to be saved. I will not deny that this might be a possibility. Such cases should be taken on an individual basis. What I would say is this. If a person has truly repented and has truly made Jesus the Lord of their lives and then been baptized, it is hard for me to believe that such a person will not be saved because they theoretically did not love God sufficiently. To me, true, biblical repentance includes repenting of not loving God and true biblical discipleship means following Jesus, and therefore loving God and one another as Jesus loved us. If I am right, one cannot repent and be a disciple of Jesus without loving God. If I am right, then our thinking of who is saved will not need to change all that much, even if we begin to do what we ought to do, which is to emphasize loving God for those who we are trying to convert.