(Does Faith Come by Reading or Hearing?)
It has become an unquestioned assumption of Evangelical Christianity that a person can be saved merely by reading a tract and sincerely reciting the “Sinner’s Prayer” printed on the back. After all, that’s why this prayer is printed on the back of virtually every tract — so the reader can respond to what he reads by asking Jesus into his heart, whereupon he is assured that his sins are forgiven and he will go to heaven when he dies. More than likely, this new “born-again” believer is then advised to find himself a “Bible-believing church” where he can go on Sunday and be taught how to think as a Christian.
Ironically, if he actually succeeded in finding a truly Bible-believing church, he would soon discover that according to the Bible he was not saved. For as the Apostle Paul labored to explain, the faith that saves comes by hearing (not by reading) the gospel from someone who is sent with the grace and authority to proclaim it:
For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
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?
And how shall they preach unless they are sent?
As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!”
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says,
“Lord, who has believed our report?”
So then, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:13-17)
The progression is clear: In order to be saved, one has to call on the name of the Lord, and in order to call on Him with this effect, one has to believe, and in order to believe, one has to hear the “gospel of peace” from a preacher, and in order to preach so as to impart faith to the hearer, that preacher has to be sent with “beautiful feet” so as to have authority to command obedience to the gospel. It takes all of these ingredients in order for saving faith to be communicated to the heart of the hearer.
Jesus Himself put these ingredients in a nutshell when He spoke to some religious Jews who questioned His authority to teach:
“If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” (John 7:17-18)
The hearer has to truly be willing to do the will of God, or he will not recognize the truth when he hears it. Also, the preacher must be without any deceit or falsehood or concern for his own fame or fortune,1 but concerned only with rightly representing the One who sent him so as to pass on His Spirit to the willing hearer.
Coming to faith is not merely a matter of receiving information. If that were the case, then reading would be a sufficient mechanism to acquire saving faith. But faith is the persuasion of a spirit which is given voice by a human being who possesses that spirit. This is a spiritual principle which is true of any kind of faith, but in the case of saving faith, the spirit that persuades is the Holy Spirit speaking through a true believer who both possesses and is in fellowship with that Spirit.
That is why Jesus told His disciples, “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.”2 He was sending them with the authority to act on His and His Father’s behalf, in the power of the Spirit that was upon them through their fellowship with Him. And later, after His resurrection, they received the Holy Spirit in their inner man (not just upon them), and He gave them authority not only to heal people but to impart the forgiveness He had purchased with His own blood.3 It was with that authority that they preached on the Day of Pentecost, offering forgiveness and the Holy Spirit to all who would repent and be baptized.4
With many other words5 Peter kept on exhorting them to “be saved from that perverse generation” which had killed their long-awaited Messiah. Those who had received his words were baptized. We can read what happened in Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-37. We do not know exactly Peter’s “many other words” — all we can see is the result that took place in the lives of those who heard his words.
The people were cut to the heart for crucifying the Messiah and cried out, “What shall we do?” So Peter obviously answered their question:
Peter told them that in the water they would be buried with their entire former life and all its ties and involvements. They would be plunged deep into Messiah, the Crucified One. The water was like His blood, and in this death they would be cutting themselves off from all demonic powers ruling this present age, demonstrating the victory of the Cross over them, and the removal of blood guilt from their heads.9 In coming out of the water they would be the possessors of a new life in Messiah, having received the Holy Spirit to empower them to live in the victory and strength of the Risen One.
They made a complete break with all and everything that would keep them from wholly devoting their lives to their brothers and sisters — the Body of Messiah of which they were now a part, having become “bone of their bone and flesh of their flesh.”10 From then on they were committed to live and to die for the cause they had embraced — a consecration unto death. In obedience to their confession made in baptism they came into such grave conflicts with their relatives (i.e., those who would not obey the gospel) that households were dissolving, families were split, engagements were canceled, and marriages were torn apart.11 They were hated by the world, especially the religious establishment, just as their Master Yahshua had promised.12
Of course, the 3000 who were saved that day submitted their very lives and possessions to those who had preached the gospel to them, and the apostles took care of them, seeing to it that everyone’s needs were met.13 Being “born again” wasn’t just a religious experience — it was the practical reality of their lives, for they were born as spiritual babes into a new family, never to return to the perverse society from which they had been delivered. They didn’t have to go “find a Bible-believing church,” for they were immediately immersed into a full-time life of devotion to Messiah in His Body. “All who believed were together and had all things in common.”14 None who believed were alone, living their own independent lives in the world and just going to church on Sunday.
Whoever has the Son has the Life. To have the Son, you must receive those whom He sends who already have His life.15 This is surrender into the arms of His Body, becoming totally vulnerable, which is the sustenance of eternal life. This is what it means to be “in Him.” There is no one saved apart from total vulnerability to all He is and says, without fear or doubt. It requires no less surrender than Luke 14:31-32, proven by verse 33.
31 “Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”
You can’t receive the King by just saying the “Sinner’s Prayer.” To receive the King, you have to receive the delegation He sends. You have to consider their feet “beautiful” who bring the terms of peace,16 laying everything at their feet.17 If you receive the sent one, you receive the King; if you receive Him, you receive His Father.18 If you reject the sent one, you reject the Son and the Father.19
Yahshua is the Mediator between God and man, but Yahshua’s disciples are the mediators or ambassadors20 who bring men to Messiah. If the thought that no one can be saved by the “faith” they receive through reading a tract or even the Bible upsets you, it should! Countless people have been bamboozled into thinking they are saved and going to heaven as a result of saying the “Sinner’s Prayer” all by themselves, or even as a result of hearing the preaching of someone who does not himself have the Holy Spirit or the true gospel, but is seeking his own glory.21
The simple fact is this: there is not a single example in the whole New Testament of a person being saved apart from receiving a true, flesh-and-blood disciple with the true gospel on his lips.22 That true disciple will bring the newly born-again believer into a true full-time life where he no longer lives by or for himself,23 but is fully devoted to the One who died and rose again on his behalf.24 So where is that full-time life of devotion to Messiah?
You can find it at all the Bible-believing communities listed in the back of this book, where you are welcome to come and hear the Good News and see it being lived out day by day.