Public or Private Conversion?

Public or Private Conversion?

Dear Roger,

Do you have to publicly become a Christian or can you do it in private?

Sincerely, Anonymous (from Casas Church Discovering Christianity Class)

Dear Anonymous,

When I was growing up every worship service ended with a call for people to “surrender their lives to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.” People were invited to the front of the congregation to declare their commitment to Jesus. They were thus identified as “new Christians”! The impetus for giving this type of invitation to follow Christ was Jesus’ own declaration in Matthew 10:32-33: “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

Again and again I heard our pastor say, “Every disciple Jesus called, He called publicly. There is no such thing as a secret disciple. If you come forward then Jesus will confess to His Father that you are one of His children. But, if you don’t come forward He will deny that He ever knew you!”

I believe that my pastor’s intentions were good and he was on the right track, but He didn’t carry the meaning of Christ’s words far enough. Walking down the aisle of a church never made anyone a Christian! Becoming a Christian is a deeply personal, carefully considered decision of life-time devotion to the Person of Jesus Christ. This decision is made privately in the deep recesses of the human heart.

In direct answer to your question becoming a Christian is a private—not a public affair. Of course, the internal decision may be followed immediately by walking the aisle of a church and openly declaring faith in Christ. But, not necessarily. Jesus’ point is that the decision to follow Christ will not stay private. Following Christ results in an inner transformation which produces outward behaviors that reflect Jesus and His Kingdom on Earth.

If the private encounter is real, and our surrender to Christ is indeed a life-changing commitment, then Jesus will easily declare to His Father that we are truly His children and be welcomed into the eternal Kingdom in Heaven. On the other hand, if the inner commitment is faulty or incomplete, then outside religious behaviors will not fool Jesus. With a broken heart He will be forced to tell His Father that we are not one of His. We will then enter into an eternal kingdom where we really don’t want to spend any time at all!

May I add one more thought as I answer your question. The primary context of Matthew 10:32-33 is persecution. Jesus taught His followers that they would be called up on to testify before powerful authorities whether or not they were one of His followers. On that day, true Christians will declare their surrendered relationship with Christ—even at the cost of their lives. Jesus will gladly acknowledge us to the Father in Heaven as His. Unfortunately, the reverse is also too true.

Well, Anonymous, thanks for asking the question. I hope my answer is helpful to you. May you shine like a city on a hill in the darkness of night.

Love, Roger

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