Salvation - Sin & Repentance

Is 'An Encounter With Jesus' Enough?

By Dr. Paul M. Elliott
The nebulous term "encounter with Jesus" has largely replaced the precise language of the Biblical Gospel in postmodern Evangelicalism's vocabulary.

From the TeachingtheWord Bible Knowledgebase

The nebulous term "encounter with Jesus" has largely replaced the precise language of the Biblical Gospel in postmodern Evangelicalism's vocabulary. Thus, countless thousands have been hardened against the truth. Dear friend, how is it with you?

In the mass evangelistic campaigns of the past sixty-plus years, speakers have encouraged their listeners to have "an encounter with Jesus." The term has become a standard phrase in Evangelical jargon.

In fact, we find it not only in the Evangelical lexicon. Pope Benedict XVI spoke frequently of the need for people to have "an encounter with Christ". But the "Christ" of Roman Catholicism - the "Christ" whose exclusive representative on earth Benedict claimed to be - is not the Christ of the Bible who saves sinners, but Antichrist. (One wonders how the Roman church-state, with a still-living retired "emeritus" pope as well as another now on the throne, can claim that either is the exclusive representative of Christ on earth.) An "encounter" with the Roman Catholic Antichrist places poor blinded souls on a path of futile works-righteousness that leads to the very gate of Hell.

And so we must ask the question: Is true Biblical salvation merely an "encounter with Jesus"? Scripture tells us the answer is No, and experience confirms it.

Non-Saving "Encounters With Jesus"

A mere "encounter with Jesus" did not result in the salvation of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-27). The scribes and Pharisees who said that Jesus had a demon (e.g., Mark 3:22-30) had many adversarial "encounters" with Him. Multitudes of disciples (literally "learners" in the Greek, but not true believers) had an "encounter with Jesus" and followed Him for a time, but forsook Him when His words began to offend them (John 6:60-66). Judas Iscariot had a three-year-long, day-in-and-day-out "encounter" with Jesus. By Christ's own authority he was permitted, with the rest of the twelve apostles, to perform miracles in His name (Matthew 10:5-8). But in the end he betrayed the Lord.

A Recent Letter

I recently received a newsletter from what has been a historically sound fundamentalist Christian radio and media ministry which reminded me of the vital difference between "an encounter with Jesus" and genuine salvation. The newsletter quoted a listener who testified that this particular ministry's radio broadcast had helped her "know God and have an encounter with Jesus."

But what kind of an encounter was it? This was not clear. The newsletter included a lengthy excerpt from her letter, but the woman spoke not a word about repentance from sin or deliverance from God's eternal judgment. Instead she spoke only of being delivered from the "hell" of marital conflict and financial despair.

I hope and pray that this dear woman was only partially quoted and did in fact testify to saving faith in Christ elsewhere in her letter, or perhaps was poorly articulating what is in fact true saving faith and not merely a psychological conversion. But I do find it disturbing that what has been a historically solid Biblical ministry held up such a testimony as they quoted, in the absence of any other evidence, as an example of true saving faith.

Postmodern Evangelicalism's False "Encounter" Promise

This is a very dangerous thing for a faithful ministry to do. In our time many people like this lady are grasping the false promise that has become so common in postmodern Evangelicalism - a message of health, wealth, and happiness in this life through an "encounter with Jesus". The advertised "encounter" involves nothing of personal conviction of sin and utter hopelessness in the face of an eternity in Hell. It says nothing of repentance from sin and personal saving faith in Jesus Christ as the Lord who has lived the perfect life we sinners cannot live, has died the death we sinners deserve to die, and has delivered from eternal damnation all those who come to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25).

Perhaps the worst result of this kind of false gospel is that it often inoculates people against the truth. This can happen in at least two ways.

Many people have an "encounter with Christ" that is only one of many forms of psychological conversion -- a change in their mental outlook. Perhaps they see some accompanying improvement in their present circumstances. And so they think that this is enough. And thus they continue on toward eternity without having confronted the fact that present circumstances are not their great problem -- sin is. The church has failed them by not telling them their true problem and its eternal consequences: "He who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18).

On the other hand, many other people who have such a counterfeit "encounter with Christ" experience no change in their dire circumstances, or perhaps worse difficulties come into their lives. And so they reject what they have wrongly been told is Christianity because they recognize that the false promise held out to them was indeed false. Many of these people are hardened to the true Gospel, and they will often grasp at other things to deliver them from their sea of despair.

The Key

The keynote of true salvation is not an "encounter with Jesus" but saving faith in Jesus. The way of salvation, Paul declares, is not by a psychological experience, or attempting to establish one's own righteousness by works, or by any means other than by receiving the perfect righteousness of Christ by grace through faith:

But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:9-10)

This - not a mere "encounter" with Jesus - was what saved the religious Nicodemus (John 3, cf. John 7:50 and 19:39), the irreligious woman of Samaria (John 4), the man born blind (John 9:35-38), impetuous Peter (John 6:69), and Saul the persecutor who became Paul the apostle (Acts 9). As we noted in another article series, the thief who died on a cross next to Jesus uttered brief sentences that spoke volumes about his inward repentance unto salvation and understanding of the Lordship of Christ.

Dear friend, have you had a mere "encounter with Jesus" or are you truly saved? Are the evidences of true saving faith present in your life? Do you understand that the difficulties of this life are not worthy to be compared with your future glory with Christ, and that this glory only comes through repentance from sin and faith toward Him?

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you are disqualified [literally, do not pass the test]. (2 Corinthians 13:5)

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.

So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Therefore, brethren, we are debtors - not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father."

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:1-18)

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