Question: I've been a Christian for around 35 years but have recently started to question my faith. I’ve been watching some unscrupulous evangelists on TV, and it's clear to me that they are using NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) techniques to help some well meaning Christians part with their money. I’m beginning to wonder if my churches have been doing that to me all my life. Can you help me out here?
Answer: I’ll be happy to respond to your question, and it is an important one. Those of us with televisions, radios and the internet are exposed to so many different “Christian” messages that it’s hard to sort through them. Fortunately, there is a way to determine which is the true voice even amidst the din.
In Jesus’ time, various flocks of sheep were often kept in the same fold during the night. This afforded greater protection since there were more shepherds available for the night watches. However, I find this troubling. I’m a city boy, and all those sheep look alike to me, so how does one go about separating them in the morning? Turns out that’s pretty easy. Each shepherd calls to his flock, and the sheep know their own shepherd’s voice. So, as the mixed flocks leave the fold, the sheep sort themselves out, each sheep following his own shepherd.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27, ESV)
Here is the test. If you belong to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, you will hear his voice in the midst of all the other noise, and you will follow him. Now, we shall all likely shift our gaze from time to time since many of the other noises demand our attention, but when that happens, nothing has really changed. All we need to do is to tune-in to the Shepherd and follow him. At this point you may say, well, that’s a good technique, but how do I know that what I’m following is true?
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV).
Jesus is the truth—this from his own lips. You either believe him or you do not. But how do we know that he wasn’t just duping his audience like the other people in your question?
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31, ESV)
I am a Christian because of the veracity of Jesus Christ as attested by his miracles. This testimony never changes. Those miracles were signs for the people of his day, sure, but they are also for people of our day, and they will stand as a testimony against unbelievers for all time. Did something change to make you doubt that Jesus did these works? Because he either did them or he did not. Whether or not other people deny these works does not change their historical veracity. Whether or not some people are using NLP to try to “sell” the Gospel does not change the truth of that Gospel.
You seem to be feeling a little unsure of your salvation. I recommend that you do not rely on the profession of faith that you made as a youth (as important as that was!) to feed your Christian confidence. But rather, revisit your salvation, and do it often. Real salvation revels in scrutiny, so test it often. What other people are saying about Jesus Christ or the manner in which they are saying it does not matter. This issue is not complex. You are either saved or you are not, because the salvation wrought in you by Jesus Christ is either true or it is not true. Test it.
“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV)
One of the down sides to today’s hyper-connected society is that bad taste travels fast—at almost the speed of light! What we have to remember is that there is an inverse relationship between the amount of communication and the quality of it. Today, anybody can say anything about any topic...and broadcast it around the world. We cannot lose track of the central theme of my answer, however. Truth is truth. That does not change. That does not change even if a weird “Christian” receives 100 billion hits on his web page. It does not change if television viewers all over the world send a high profile (but questionable) “Christian” millions of dollars each year to help propagate his aberrations. Truth is still truth.
Jesus gave us that image of the shepherd calling out to his sheep among the other voices because he knew that we believers would live amidst the constant drone of lies and of mundane noises. Our task will always be to pick him out in spite of it all. That’s your challenge. You are in one of two places right now. Either you were never really converted—and all the little structures of your Christian culture are no longer adequate to hold you up. If this is true, you need to get saved—and now! (I’ll include a link to very thorough peace on salvation at the end of this answer.) But what I suspect to be true is that you are indeed a Christian, but one who is having his faith stretched. If so, amen! This is a great opportunity to build up your faith.
Think of a body builder. He “earns” his muscle mass by working against the difficulties of resistance, either gravity or mechanical. The Christian life is no different. Although we do not earn salvation, that is totally of faith in Christ, we do earn some of our spiritual muscle. God sends us our various trials so that we may proceed through them in faith. That is the Christian equivalent of weight lifting. Yes, it’s hard. It’s supposed to be. In your particular case, you’ve tuned into some charlatans, and this is making you wonder if your salvation experience was merely that—good salesmanship or NLP. Well, you’d better figure that out—and fast. Do you have the Holy Spirit within you? All believers do. He’ll help you work through this moment if you ask him to.
Finally, you may have become bored with godly things and have started to gaze at the world more so than at God. As a general rule, you go where you are looking. The way out of your problem may be as easy as shifting your gaze.
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8, ESV)
I’ll pray for your situation this week. As promised, you shall find that link to my piece on salvation below.
God Bless you.