Dr. David Platt’s name was on the program to address the 2012 Pastor’s Conference. I have Dr. Platt’s book, Radical and found it to be very inspiring and especially challenging as he talks about the importance of being radical for Jesus in our part of the world that is dying and headed for a devil’s hell. I do need to transform the way I live so that the world will see the Good News that Jesus came to bring to us all! I have also listened to the video clip of his message at the Verge Conference where he talked about the misuse and irresponsible use of “the sinner’s prayer.” I understand that it is very easy to be overly critical of things people say because of comments they may have made in the past and because of comments made by other people or groups they may be closely associated with. It is easy to read too much into some statements. I am very much aware of that tendency.
However, when I listened to Dr. Platt blast “inviting Jesus into your heart” I was certainly taken back. To assert that this practice is unbiblical was in fact, incorrect. To suggest that it is a superstitious practice is insulting and that it is in fact damning was simply inexcusable. While much of Dr. Platt’s message may have had merit, it is interesting that this 3 minute clip was what was chosen to encourage people to order the digital version of his message in its entirety. Needless to say, I did not do so. Had Dr. Platt’s comments been made apart from the theological implications surrounding this new emphasis on “The Gospel” and getting the gospel right, and this revival of Calvinism in the SBC and its effort to correct decades of incorrect theological foundations being taught in the church today, Dr. Platt’s words might have gone unnoticed. However, when you factor in the controversy over Calvinism that is growing by the minute in the SBC and the reluctance of some to the theological differences posited in the varying soteriological positions now being promoted, his statement was especially significant and I believe deliberately stated.
With that in mind, I reluctantly decided to go and sit down to listen to David Platt’s message to the 2012 Pastor’s Conference. His second paragraph referenced his comments in the popular 3 minute internet video clip and his effort to be more deliberate. I thought, ok; let’s see what he has to say and as he goes to a very familiar text, John 3, prefaced by the last 3 verses of John 2.
After reading the text, Dr. Platt said,
Let us beware the danger of spiritual deception. Verse 23 – “Many trusted in his name.” Verse 24 – “Jesus, however, would not entrust himself to them.” Many trusted. Many people in John 2 believed in Jesus, but Jesus did not believe them. Many people in John 2 accepted Jesus, but Jesus did not accept them. Clearly, from the beginning of the gospel of John—this gospel that revolves around the necessity and centrality of belief in Christ—John makes clear to us that there is a kind of belief, a kind of faith, that does not save.
It was at this point that I decided to get up and leave the conference center. This is all I heard of Dr. Platt’s message to the pastors that afternoon. “Many people in John 2 accepted Jesus, but Jesus did not accept them.” This reverberated in my mind and given the reluctance to even bother sitting down in the first place, I admit, I simply decided to exit instead of sitting through the remainder of his message. I have since coming home, read Dr. Platt’s message in its entirety and my comments will come from the manuscript provided of that message. You may read his message in its entirety by CLICKING HERE.
Platt indicates that John employed the 3 verses of chapter 2 to intentionally set the stage for Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus. It is true that Nicodemus’ statement is similar to the statement in chapter 2 in that there is a common reference to the signs that Jesus had done; but understand something; everyone, those who were on the street as well as those in the Sanhedrin were talking about Jesus. So, while there are similarities in the two statements, the former does not necessarily set the stage for the latter as Platt attempts to assert in the opening part of his message.
Let’s look at the second chapter in John.
Jesus has not fed the 5000. There is no Biblical record that He has healed anyone. The record of His first miracle is recorded for us by John beginning in verse 1. John is the only writer to record this event. Jesus is at a wedding with His mother. She comes to Him and says, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:3-4) This is an interesting statement and one that has perplexed me for years. What was Jesus saying to Mary? Perhaps He knew that the moment He performed a miracle publically, His ministry would be set into motion and His date with destiny at Calvary would be set. I believe that is exactly what Jesus was saying to His mother. Note verse 11: “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.”
Apparently the wedding feast at Cana was just before the Passover celebration in Jerusalem and Jesus went. His popularity had begun to spread. There was excitement in the air. People knew about Jesus even though they may have never actually seen Him or heard Him speak. Rumors began to spread that He could be the long awaited Messiah. He went into the Temple and ran the money changers out. “So the Jews answered and said to Him, “What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?” (John 2:18) Everyone heard what had happened!
Jesus’ coming into Jerusalem was a lot like Dr. Platt’s statement on the sinner’s prayer; everyone was talking about it. “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.” (John 2:23) John does not tell us what signs Jesus did that caused people to “believe in His Name.” I do not believe it is an accident that John deliberately used the phrase, “believed in His Name.” The Bible tells us Jesus taught the people and I believe they no doubt “believed in His Name” and I unlike Dr. Platt believe they were saved. Listen to John’s next statement: “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” (John 2:24-25)
John does not say Jesus rejected their faith.
We can debate the interpretation of John’s statement here concerning Jesus’ response to those who believed in His Name but one thing is crystal clear to me; John does not say Jesus rejected their faith. John says, Jesus did not commit Himself to them. I believe John is simply noting Jesus’ reluctance to let this outbreak become an influential event at the Passover celebration which could lead to a public promotion of Him as the Messiah! John simply says Jesus knew their thoughts; He knew once again, His hour had still not yet come. I see this reluctance on Jesus’ part as being similar to His telling people on a number of occasions, to go and tell no one about the miracles He had just performed.
So what about Nicodemus’ coming to Jesus and the dialogue that ensued in chapter 3? Nic did acknowledge the signs that Jesus had performed, although I believe the signs he was referring to may have been very different from those the people on the street saw. I believe Nicodemus probably was explicitly referring to Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple, although that is not specifically mentioned in the text. Nicodemus complimented Jesus: “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus responds immediately to Nic’s compliment and says to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He repeats Himself in verse, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’.”
I believe Dr. Platt takes a very liberal stab at this early dialogue as he says,
So Jesus looks back at Nicodemus and says, “Your belief, your trust is insufficient for salvation. “You must be born again” (John 3:7). This is shocking. Here is a devout, passionate, respected, law-following, God-fearing man. He has devoted his entire life to entering the kingdom of heaven. He prays to God. He studies God’s Word—he teaches it and he lives it. And he does all of this in an effort to honor God. Yet Jesus says he has no spiritual life in him whatsoever. This man of faith who believed in Jesus was dead in sin, and at that moment he was destined for condemnation. That is frightening. It is frightening in John 2-3 to see people who would have thought that they believed in Jesus and said that they believed in Jesus, people who would have thought that they were entering the kingdom of heaven, but they had no spiritual life in them, and they would not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Now, there is a serious hermeneutical problem with the following statement that Platt makes; “This man of faith who believed in Jesus was dead in sin and at that moment he was destined for condemnation.” Nicodemus was not saved. He was not a believer in Jesus.Platt is correct in saying that he is dead in his trespass and sin but he in serious error when he suggests that Jesus is rejecting Nicodemus as a believer in His Name. Platt completely steps out of bounds in this statement to try to justify the theme and thrust of his message.
Now, Platt changes direction and asks,
“Is this possible? Is it possible for people to say they believe in Jesus, to say they have accepted Jesus, to say that they have received Jesus, but they are not saved and will not enter the kingdom of heaven? Is that possible? Absolutely, it’s possible. It’s not just possible; it is probable.”
Here Platt gets on track and he is absolutely correct. He accurately quotes Matthew 7:22-12. However, he immediately gets off-track in his next statement.
“Jesus is not talking, in Matthew 7 or in John 3, about irreligious pagans, atheists, or agnostics. He’s talking about deeply, devoutly religious people who are deluded into thinking that they are saved when they are not. He’s talking about men and women who will be shocked one day to find that though they thought they were on the narrow road that leads to heaven, they were actually on the broad road that leads to hell – people who believed, but were not born again. Beware the danger of spiritual deception.”
John 3 is not speaking of people who are deluded into thinking they are saved when they are not. Matthew 7 does, but not John 3. Dr. Platt has simply erred in his effort to flesh out the text.
Dr. Platt changes direction in his message to speak of the beliefs and lifestyles of those who consider themselves to be “born-again Christians.” His message here is on track and dead on. I will point out that he is speaking of people in general and not those in the SBC specifically. That distinction being made, the condition of those confessing to be “born again in the SBC” will not fare much better. The distinction however, must still be noted. Here is what is especially interesting. Dr. Platt moves from the wayward “born-again” condition to the use of a “sinner’s prayer” that he was so critical of just a short time ago. Dr. Platt has meticulously set the stage to justify his position on the misuse of “inviting Jesus into ones heart.” Dr. Platt offers the testimonies of two of his church members who as youngsters prayed a sinner’s prayer only to come to the realization later in life that they in fact had not really been saved and following a more accurate presentation of the gospel they were truly saved and now were on fire for the Lord and doing great things for Him.
Listen to Platt’s preconceived conclusion to all this:
“I don’t think Tom and Jordan’s stories are unique. They represent a pandemic problem across contemporary Christianity, and some of you have the same story. You made a decision, prayed a prayer, signed a card, got baptized. You were told that you were a Christian, and you know now that you were not. You were deceived.”
Well, I am sorry but the fact that these individuals were still in the race may well indicate that they were actually saved in the beginning; they have simply persevered as the 5th tenet of Calvinism contends. Who is Dr. Platt to determine who was or was not saved at an early age, simply because someone later in life came to question their original decision to trust Christ; especially when the preaching they are sitting under questions the validity of those earlier decisions in the first place.
Platt goes on to state, “The question that John 2-3 begs us all to ask is, “What kind of faith are we talking about?” What kind of faith are we calling people to? Are we calling people to biblical faith?”
No one would disagree with this statement however, it would be prudent to remember conversion is the beginning point; not the final destination. No one becomes a Christian understanding the full ramifications of a relationship with Christ that is to grow and mature. So this criticism of what is and what is not “Biblical faith” has a lot of implications. There is no question that there is an attitude of “easy believism” that creates casual or cultural Christians or what Paul calls carnal Christians. Platt concludes that these are not “true Christians.” He says these folks are “Christians who do not know Christ, who have never counted the cost of following Christ; we must be biblically clear about saving faith, lest any of us lead people down a very dangerous and potentially damning road of spiritual deception.” Platt demonstrates his determination to continue his original position that the sinner’s prayer is dangerous and damning.
Platt then goes back to his original thesis of trying to tie John 2 to John 3. He says, ““What is the difference, then, between spurious faith that marked the crowds in John 2, and saving faith according to Christ in John 3?” What is the difference between false, superficial faith, and true, saving faith?” As I have already pointed out, I am not sold on the correlation that Platt has attempted to build between the references to “believing” in these two chapters and I am confident Platt’s insinuation of Jesus’ rejection of the two types of believing is completely baseless. Platt is correct that we need in our preaching and sharing of the gospel to point out man’s problem with sin and his inability to do anything about it. This is absolutely essential in the presentation of the gospel message.
I might also point out, the sinner’s prayer itself is always a response to a message and is virtually never the message itself and that is a point that is skimmed over in most of these discussions related to its use or misuse.
In giving credit where credit is due, Dr. Platt nails it as he says,
“This is man’s problem, and we must make it clear. Our problem is not that we’ve messed up a few times. Our problem is not that that we’ve made some bad decisions. Our problem is that we are dead in sin.
So what can save us from this state – raise your hand, say these words, sign this card, walk this aisle? We all know that none of these things can save us. What we don’t need is superficial religion; we need supernatural regeneration. We are dead in sin, and we need to be born again.
So how can a man be born again? Scripture resounds with a clear answer to that question. Two primary words: repent and believe.” Repent and believe.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” – Acts 16:31. The Gentiles in Cornelius’ home “believed” in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 11:17). And that’s the word that’s used all over John 3 and this entire Gospel. Seven times from verses 11-21: “believe, believe, believe, believe, believe, believe, believe.” Repent and believe.”
We tell men and women, boys and girls everywhere: repent and believe in Christ. Whether we say, “Pray this prayer after me,” is not the issue. The issue is that together we say, “By the grace of God in the cross of Christ, turn from yourself and trust in Jesus. Come from darkness to light. Come from death to life.” We urge people, “Believe in Christ. Follow Christ.”
We tell them, in a day of rampant easy-believism, “Following Jesus will cost you everything you have, but He is worth it!” Repent and believe in Him. Receive new life, eternal life. Look to Him and live.”
Amen and Amen!
This section is as solid a message as anyone could preach. It is indeed the gospel message. Repent and believe. “We tell men and women and boys and girls everywhere to repent and believe in Christ! Turn from yourself and trust in Jesus. Believe in Christ; follow Christ. Receive new life, eternal life. Look to Him and live.”
If this is the appeal at the end of a gospel filled message, then whether or not one calls it a sinner’s prayer or invitational evangelism, I am all for it and I will continue to employ it until the Holy Spirit tells me different! I will continue to till the ground, plant the seed, water and weed the ground and leave the results up to the Father!
To God be the glory, AMEN.