In my decades as a Christian believer, I’ve witnessed a number of claims about celebrities who recently became Christians. In my early years, each claim was very exciting, as it seemed to show how God’s mercy reaches to everyone no matter how morally depraved they have been.
Then I would expectantly wait for their lives to be changed and their testimony to be life-changing for others. Most of the time, I have been disappointed; they seemed to continue on their former path, albeit with some vague language about God that might not have been there previously.
Let me be clear: There were some reports that were accurate; some lives were changed, so I’m not discounting all such stories of conversion. However, I have become skeptical of most of these reports based on what has transpired over the years.
The latest celebrity “conversion” was made public a couple of days ago by Dr. James Dobson, who passed on the word that he heard from someone else that Donald Trump recently gave his life to the Lord. Now, I’ve always admired and respected Dr. Dobson, so I’m not trying to undermine all the good work he has done or the word of his testimony out of some kind of disrespect. Yet you can color me more than a little skeptical of this news.
One of the things that bothers me most about modern evangelicalism is the tendency to call someone a Christian on the basis of some kind of mental assent to the deity of Jesus or for having prayed a prayer to “accept” Jesus.
While I try to avoid such clichés, I agree with the critique of what some have called “easy believeism,” or “cheap grace.” The entrance into the kingdom of God comes at a cost. Yes, Jesus paid the price for salvation at the cross, but there are conditions we must meet before He accepts us.
First, we must recognize our sins. This goes beyond some facile statement that says, oh, yes, we’re all sinners, so I must be also—sure would like to go to heaven so I’ll admit that I’m a sinner, too.
Frankly, an acknowledgement of sin must go deeper than that. There needs to be a corresponding sense of guilt and remorse over how one has destroyed what God intended for good. There must be a great desire to turn away from sin and seek a life that pleases God in all ways.
Second, that desire to turn away from sin has to be manifested in a thorough repentance. The word means a total change of thinking about God and oneself. It means that from now on we earnestly want to serve Him supremely and not our own selfish interests. It means we dethrone ourselves and put God exactly where He belongs as not only Savior, but also as Lord—the One who has the right and the authority to tell us how to live.
Third, we then turn to the cross of Christ and see that He humbled Himself on our behalf and took the penalty of sin for us. The love manifested through the life and death of Jesus should then break down our rebellion and lead us into a life in which we are constantly figuring out how best to follow Him and please Him in all ways.
When those steps occur, salvation is real. Anything less is a superficial mental agreement to certain doctrinal statements without any real impact on the relationship with God or how we live. Unless those steps occur, we are still in our sins; nothing has been accomplished except stark hypocrisy.
How are we to know if Donald Trump has experienced a genuine conversion? Dr. Dobson cautions us to realize that a baby Christian doesn’t change overnight. Well, I agree up to a point. Yes, a new Christian has a lot to learn and needs to continually grow in the faith. But, as the apostle Paul noted, when a person is in Christ, he becomes a new creation.
That means that the motivation for life changes right from the start. There should be evidence immediately that something has happened. A true conversion signifies that the person now has a new humility and purpose; it’s now all for God’s glory, not his own.
Here are some ways that Donald Trump can convince me he has undergone a genuine Christian conversion:
- His hubris will come to an end. He won’t be bragging about how great he is, how wonderful he always has been, and how he is the answer for everything that’s wrong with America.
- He will finally acknowledge that he has sinned greatly in the past and has now gone to God for forgiveness for those sins.
- Specifically, he will apologize publicly for the many things he has done in this campaign that impugned others: his disparaging comments about Carly Fiorina’s face; his conniving to plant stories about Ted Cruz being a serial adulterer; his despicable depiction of Heidi Cruz in a photo that compared her to his own wife; his mocking of a disabled reporter by imitating his disability; his manipulative ways to undermine opponents, particularly in his silly questioning of Cruz’s American citizenship and his attempt to link Cruz’s father to the Kennedy assassination.
- He will stop throwing out a constant barrage of personal insults via Twitter, and instead will try to point people to the faith he now has taken to heart. [Note: after writing this, I became aware of a number of snarky tweets Trump sent out about conservative commentator George Will, who announced he was leaving the Republican party because of its embrace of Trump—no change yet in Trump’s responses to people who go against him.]
If he were to do all of these things, I would be more inclined to believe a conversion has taken place. Even then, because he is in the midst of a presidential race in which he knows he needs the support of the evangelical community to have any chance of winning, I would still have my suspicions that this could all be more manipulation.
I can hear the voices already, putting forth the usual objection: judge not that you be not judged. Well, when you say that, aren’t you judging me?
Check out that passage again if you haven’t done so recently. It’s found in Matthew 7. The context makes it clear that judgment is supposed to take place, but only after ensuring that one isn’t being a hypocrite.
Jesus also said in that same chapter that we would know by the fruit of a person’s life whether he is genuine or not. That requires some judgment, doesn’t it?
I’m also reminded of a verse in the fifth chapter of the book of Hebrews, in which the author tells us, “Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”
We are to be a discerning people. That means we don’t accept everything we hear without first examining all reports through the lens of Scriptural truth.
Let me be clear again: I would welcome the news that Donald Trump has done a 180-degree turn via a real recognition of sin in his life, a true repentance from that sin, and a sincere faith in Christ that will transform his every thought and action from now on.
I’m just not going to believe it until there is adequate evidence for it. I urge fellow Christians not to blindly accept this news without testing it first. Love is not synonymous with naivete.