We live in a society where someone tries to sell us something every time we turn around. App ads on our cell phones, telemarketers calling during dinner, people knocking on our front door despite the “no soliciting” sign…it’s a never-ending endeavor to get us to believe in an concept or a product that we supposedly can’t live without. It’s a poorly disguised attempt to garner our money, our support, or our belief.
Tragically, in many cases, the sharing of Christian faith looks no different.
I’m not talking about heart-level sharing of beliefs here. I’m talking about manipulating unbelievers into saying the sinner’s prayer. I’m referring to the ugly practice of using guilt, fear, intimidation or even promises of success, health, or healing to get someone to jump on the Jesus train.
In my opinion these are despicable practices. They aren’t loving. They don’t please God. Many times they are based on a sick need to prove someone’s Christian prowess or a sick belief that if someone half-heartedly mumbles the sinner’s prayer it will somehow count for eternity.
Coming into a life-changing, eternity-impacting relationship with God requires more than just empty words. Saving faith is a lot more than just putting a quick spiritual band-aid over our shame, fixing our fears about eternity, or desiring to make the Man Upstairs our genie.
Accepting Christ as our Savior means humbly acknowledging that we need saving and being willing to let God save us (every day, over and over) from the blunt blows of our poor choices and our feeble attempts to lead our own lives. In short, salvation is unconditional surrender. It’s death of the false self and all of its pride and plans.
Ladies and gentlemen, people don’t do this sort of thing on a whim! It’s not like deciding to give Netflix a try for a month. It’s a lifetime commitment to walking with Christ, reveling in His love, living for the joy of connection with Him, and allowing Him to lead our lives. It’s an all consuming, life-changing decision. It can’t and shouldn’t be made without counting the cost.
If people do make a spur-of-the-moment, empty decision for Christ based entirely on some charismatic person’s convincing words, time will wear those words thin. Prayers for salvation that were merely spoken as insurance against the possibility of hell or an attempt to quickly escape the discomfort of the discussion do not lead to life-changing faith. Nothing of eternal value is accomplished if a person’s heart isn’t involved.
True faith is not just a theological concept. Not an ideal to frame and hang on the wall. It’s so much more. It’s a relationship with God that requires the same two ingredients as a human relationship…love and choice.
When we try to force someone into faith, it’s no different than a shot-gun wedding. We may get a person and God together for a brief ceremony, but that ceremony is useless and meaningless without love and commitment on the part of those involved. People who feel coerced into marriage often hate their spouse and resent the fact that they had no choice. Do we really expect people who are coerced in Christian belief to feel any differently?
Decisions for Christ that are made to save face, impress a friend, create the illusion of compliance, gain God’s favor, or avoid His wrath don’t go deep enough to hold fast when the storms of life, the pride of life, and the worries of life come along. These types of decisions are quickly wiped away.
Consider Jesus’s explanation of the parable of the Sower that he told to make this very point in Matthew 13: 18-23:
“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”
If a person’s faith is going to be deep, meaningful, and transformative, it must come from a sincere heart (a place of trust, need and devotion) and that cannot be faked. It cannot be bought. It cannot be coerced.
If all we care about is the number of bodies occupying the pews of our church, or the number of people we can brag that we have “brought to Jesus” then our tactics don’t really matter. We can be as ruthless and manipulative as some door-to-door salesmen or telemarketers. We can attempt to get a YES without caring whether that person actually wants or needs the item we are hocking.
But if we are interested in truly loving people as Christ did, we will quietly and humbly live our faith. We will listen to their pain and protests. We will answer their questions. We will speak the truth in love.
But we will NEVER manhandle someone into faith. We will never override their free-will choice. We will never disrespect their journey and talk down their thinking. If we do these things, any faith they embrace likely won’t be authentic enough to last.
- Faith in Christ requires love for Christ, and that cannot be manipulated or manufactured.
- Faith in Christ requires trust in Christ, and that cannot be manipulated or manufactured.
- Faith in Christ requires surrender to Christ, and that cannot be manipulated or manufactured.
We are agents of truth, not connivers and convincers. The Holy Spirit is more than capable of bringing a person to a place of love, trust, and surrender…of meaningful connection to God. Our place is to share truth and experience as another person is willing or wanting to hear. Period.
Even if the Spirit leads us to challenge another’s thinking, it must come from a place of respect and understanding. If we insist on strong-arming people into religious belief, we may fill our churches or increase the number of people who would check the “christian” box if asked about their faith, but we won’t inspire life-changing, world-changing belief. We will only inspire more legalism or more empty theology.
When it comes to converts, we need to stop preferring quantity over quality. It accomplishes nothing to inspire heartless, empty confessions of faith. Coercive, manipulative witnessing doesn’t produce authentic followers of Christ. It produces another generation of shallow believers and fruitless hypocrites whose faith is merely words, bereft of love or power.