What's "Accepting" Got to do with It?

Question: Do we need to stop teaching people to accept Christ?

Ok, before you start calling me a heretic, let me tell you what I mean. Ephesians 2:8-9 says that we we're saved by grace through faith. But it says nothing about accepting Jesus. The only verse I can think of that tells us we need to accept Jesus is John 1:12, which says that "to all who received him...to them he gave the right to become children of God." But I have a feeling that's something different than "asking Jesus to come into my life."

Here's where I'm coming from. I've grown up with the idea that every person needs to make a decision to accept Christ into their life. And that idea is still very comfortable for me. But somehow I'm not sure the language of accepting Christ accurately reflects what happens at salvation.

What the Bible does say over and over is that righteousness (and, therefore, presumably, salvation) comes through faith. The argument goes that there are three kinds of faith: emotional faith, intellectual faith, and volitional faith. The first two are pretty self-explanatory. The third is the kind of faith that involves making a choice. This is saving faith.

You might have heard the story of the tightrope walker who walked across Niagara Falls. Then he walked across with a wheelbarrow. Then with a wheelbarrow full of bricks. Then he asked the crowd if they believed he could take a person across Niagara Falls in that wheelbarrow. The crowd roared its applause and affirmation. But when the tightrope walker asked for a volunteer, the crowd was silent.

That crowd had emotional faith and intellectual faith, but no volitional faith. No one proved their faith by making the choice to get in the wheelbarrow.

Ok, that concept works for me. It makes sense. But I'm not sure the Bible makes the distinction between volitional faith and other kinds of faith. Consider mustard seed faith: Is faith the size of a mustard seed volitional faith? Or is it intellectual? Or is it emotional? Or is it all three? Can we even know? (I ask this because a friend of mine who died of cancer--and who struggled with his faith--told me his hope of going to heaven was Jesus' statement that all you need is mustard-seed faith.)

Let me get back to my point. I think the concept of volitional faith (vs. emotional and intellectual faith) is designed to help us understand the connection between faith and acceptance. But if acceptance isn't really mentioned in the Bible, do we need to make those distinctions?

I'll be honest with you. I really like the idea of volitional faith. It makes a lot of sense to me. It fits with my idea of making a decision to follow Christ, to accept Christ. And it's easy to teach at youth group! But before I just accept (heh... accept...) that idea, I want to make sure I'm not going down the wrong bunny trail.

And if we don't teach people to accept Christ, what do we teach them??


Jonathan Watson said...

I know people who have such an intense emotional faith that it supercedes any other aspect of their relationship with God. Similarly, I have friends on the intellectual end of the spectrum. It seems that a volitional faith might be born out of an emotional and/or intellectual faith too... then again, no human heart changes on its own, does it?

And a question... Does volitional faith equate in any way to faith with works? Is that the internal and external evidence of a volitional faith?

And what, then, constitutes works? Some have to "work" on themselves a lot. Is a struggle with our own flesh to overcome individual desires and wants to replace them with God's a "work"?

Uhhh... I'm gonna stop before I push my theological limits here... :)

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