– by John Burton
Preaching to the saints? You need to understand that many of them are not safe—if they are saved at all.
“Who then can be saved?” – Matthew 19:25 (ESV)
The call of church leadership is not to confirm someone’s salvation, but rather to challenge it. We need the fear and trembling to reverberate through our spirits night and day that only wrestling with our salvation can produce.
Jonathan Edwards brought his bold, fearful message to the church, to the saints:
The wrath of God burns against them; their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared; the fire is made ready; the furnace is now hot; ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet and held over them, and the pit hath opened her mouth under them.
The devil stands ready to fall upon them, and seize them as his own, at what moment God shall permit him. They belong to him; he has their souls in his possession, and under his dominion. ~Jonathan Edwards
I understand that many who read this will wholeheartedly disagree with my conclusions. They are either adherents of eternal security doctrine or some form of unstable, unbiblical or fully false-grace ideologies. Instead of tossing this article aside or attacking the viewpoint, I challenge you to humbly, soberly take it in and ask God to impact you, to shake you regarding this very serious topic.
As you might have guessed I believe that it’s not only possible to surrender one’s position in Christ, but I’m convinced it’s common. Entire churches, many of them “Spirit-filled,” are fully lost while others are filled with people who have never had their relationship with Jesus challenged, and are as lost as the wicked of the world—yet they don’t know it.
It’s from this position that I am shining the light on possibly the greatest epidemic regarding the issue of salvation in the construct of the church today. Pastors commonly presume those who are faithful attenders, givers and friends in their churches to be saved. It’s a given. It’s obvious. It’s settled. If they are raising their hands, dancing at the alters, serving in ministry, leading small groups or involving themselves in other activities, then, of course, they are true followers of Jesus, right? Not always. In fact, the salvation journey is one of endurance, and it’s extremely easy to pull back, to slip up, to become casual or to lose faith.
12 “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” – Matthew 24:12-13 (ESV)
Many in the church are simply not saved. They are following Jesus in an unsaved condition, all while the pastor is sharing messages on how to be successful in Christ, how to prosper, how much Jesus loves them and the benefits of the Kingdom—a kingdom they are not a part of.
Where are the gut-wrenching holiness messages? What happened to assaulting sin and compromise from the pulpit? Where is the weighty presence of the Holy Spirit that results in tearful repentance and an eager rejection of wickedness?
Pastors, do you realize that a large portion of your church is very possibly involved in pornography on a regular basis? Lust drives them. Many others are absolutely okay with filling their lives with movies, television and other media that is filled with filth. F-bombs, nudity and absolute evil is consumed day after day without the slightest conviction of the Holy Spirit. This puts their salvation at risk. To presume they are safe and destined for Heaven is to be blinded and duped. It’s utter foolishness.
You’ve made it easy for them to fit right in on Sunday mornings, after a night of debauchery, to sing songs of worship and to blend right into the fellowship. You’ve convinced them that all is well and Heaven is their home, when the reality is that, absent legitimate repentance, they will be tormented in Hell forever.
I’m talking about elders and worship leaders, Sunday School teachers, youth pastors, ushers, children’s ministry workers and faithful attenders. Many of these people are entertaining themselves with evil, fully devoid of discernment and convinced that God is unconcerned about their lifestyles.
ONE: Preach Hellfire and Holiness
“The Christian world is in a dead sleep. Nothing but a loud voice can awaken them out of it.” ~ George Whitefield
It’s nonsensical to teach the joys and blessings of the Kingdom to people who are foreigners, who are not truly adopted sons and daughters of the King. We have “Rich Young Rulers” filling our pews, except instead of alerting them to their unsaved condition, they are confirmed as legitimate followers of Jesus.
Those who are perverse, sleeping, unconcerned and driven by their flesh must have a shock come to their system! The fire from Heaven must consume them, but it’s rare for a pastor to release that fire from the pulpit today. It’s too risky. It’s too costly.
Their eternal blood will be on the pastor’s hands due to the failure to bring their rebellion and apathy to light. We need bold, confrontational messages today that strike us, break us and sear our flesh.
14″ How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” – Romans 10:14 (NKJV)
After a sermon in Lyme, Connecticut, “many had their countenances changed; their thoughts seemed to trouble them, so that the joints of their loins were loosed, and their knees smote one against another. Great numbers cried out aloud in the anguish of their souls. Several stout men fell as though a cannon had been discharged, and a ball had made its way through their hearts.” (http://www1.cbn.com/spirituallife/a-great-awakening-stirs-the-colonies)
TWO: Cultivate an Atmosphere of Holy Spirit Fire
16 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” – Galatians 5:16 (ESV)
Every meeting should be driven by the raging fire of the Holy Spirit. Cultivating a culture where bold, deep groans of intercession and praying in tongues is normal will have a clear result: those who are uncomfortable with an encounter with a very Holy Spirit will either repent or run.
I have often counseled pastors to bring this type of focus to their staff and leadership. Gather them to pray in tongues together for an hour a day and watch what happens. Staff members who are not on board with the vision, who are manipulative, who are functioning in Christian witchcraft and those who are gossips or resisters will be identified very quickly. When the Holy Spirit is present in such a deliberate and powerful way, impurities will be exposed. I also propose this type of environment be nurtured for the entire church body.
I heard in a message at church this morning that in the Assemblies of God, a historic movement that was shaped by revival and Pentecost, only 22% of people in their churches today have been baptized in the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues. How can this be?
Without this baptism of fire, oh my, the hope of living holy, obedient and fiery lives for Jesus is greatly and negatively impacted.
They are unable to build themselves up in the faith:
20 “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,” – Jude 1:20 (NKJV)
They are unable to pray the mysteries of God:
2 “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” – 1 Corinthians 14:2 (ESV)
They are unable to overcome their limited understanding when praying:
26 “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” – Romans 8:26 (ESV)
Those who don’t live, walk and pray in the Spirit are disadvantaged significantly. This is why it’s crucial for all Believers to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit and to pray and groan in tongues daily! Doing so develops intimacy with Jesus. The prophetic in our lives intensifies. So do dreams and visions. Many will receive other gifts such as words of wisdom, words of knowledge, discerning of spirits, faith and more. And, most definitely, when the Holy Spirit is moving, the unholy won’t be able to remain.
THREE: Revise How You Lead and What You Teach
The issue of salvation should be front and center week after week in the church. I’m not talking about simply giving the lost an opportunity to get saved. I’m referring to the sobering responsibility to lead the saints toward a successful transition into eternity.
Never presume someone is saved. Never confirm to them that they are. In fact, I never presume myself to be safe. It infuriates some that I would ever suggest that I or they may not retain our salvation. The great falling away will be very great. Enduring to the end is an intense and challenging call. Working out our salvation is a fearful thing.
Teach on holiness. Call people into obedience to the Word. Refute unbiblical grace theologies. Target the spirit of the age that has infiltrated so many in our churches. Expose the darkness of the media and entertainment that is being devoured by professing Christians without any concern whatsoever.
26 “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” – Hebrews 10:26-27 (ESV)
29 “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”- Hebrews 10:29-31 (ESV)
FOUR: Embrace Biblical Church Discipline
When is the last time you heard about someone being barred from the church for violations of Scripture that demand such action?
Failure to be faithful to the scriptural mandate to enact church discipline has resulted in compromised churches and a generation of people who are absolutely convinced they are saved, all while they are moving closer and closer to the fires of Hell.
Today unmarried men and women are living together, and they head to church together, hand in hand, each week, greeted by hugs and smiles. People who are consuming porn on Saturday are leading ministries on Sunday.
God is clear. We must purge those from among us who are sexually immoral, greedy or idolaters. We can’t even eat with them.
In fact, turning them over to Satan is God’s prescription in certain situations.
4 “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” – 1 Corinthians 5:4-6 (ESV)
We have entire churches that have been compromised because they are refusing to follow biblical church discipline protocols. This is extremely serious.
9 “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (ESV)
In fact, it’s not only sexual immorality or drunkenness or greed that we need to deal with. Check this out:
6 “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:6 (ESV)
Those who are idle, lazy, not being productive as God has called them to be should be avoided as well. Why did I include this last verse? Well, first because it’s in the Word. Second because I wanted to highlight just how serious God is about obedience and how we should respond to those who are in rebellion. Again, it’s very serious.
Of course, when they are ready to repent, we run to them with open arms and welcome them back home!
19 “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” – James 5:19-20 (ESV)
So much focus is put on evangelism and people getting saved, while so little is put on staying saved. Failure in consecration and sanctification absolutely can impact justification.
Pastors, it’s time to bring this issue front and center, and leave it there. Many under your care are in trouble. They are dying or dead spiritually and you haven’t even noticed. That may be because your church culture is dead and they simply don’t stand out. Or, it may be that your theology is off and that you believe salvation is easy and permanent. False-grace may have infected your ministry. You may have failed in the call to preach on the holiness of God. Hell and eternity may not be focuses as they should be.
I implore you to allow God to wreck you. Ask him to put the people in the church on your heart and intercede for them. Confront them. Challenge them. Awaken them. Eternity draws near.
1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ – Revelation 3:1-6 (ESV)
Article source: burton.tv