I was a Christian for twenty years
before I began to realize the Bible taught not only that a believer has been
saved but is also being saved and one day will be saved. This spiritual truth
surfaced after I began to read and study the Bible. Salvation is not only a
past event; it is also a present experience and will be one day a final and
completed deliverance. It was several years after this that I understood it in
the following way: that a believer has been delivered from the penalty of sin,
is being delivered from the power of sin, and one day will be delivered from
the presence of sin. The penalty, power, and presence of sin parallel the
biblical terminology of justification, sanctification, and glorification.
There are many Christians that have
been raised in churches that have two chairs theology (more about this in
Chapter 8). You are either saved or unsaved. I remember when I was baptized as
an outward profession of my faith in Jesus Christ, the church greeted me along
with the others who were baptized that day. Since I was a young man, I had the
impression that I had arrived. I was going to heaven. But I failed to
understand that the gift of everlasting life begins at the moment of faith. You
don’t have to wait to die to get it. I also didn’t realize salvation from the
penalty of sin is only the beginning of the race, not the end of the race. And
I believe many evangelical churches have given that impression to a lot of new
believers over the years. Because of it, these churches as a whole have failed
to make disciples. This failure has produced numbers of believers who lack good
biblical understanding, do not grow to spiritual maturity, and lack assurance
of their salvation.
Why does it matter? It matters for a
number of reasons. First of all, God wants to deliver us from the power of sin
so we can live a productive spiritual life that glorifies Him and is good for
us. So if one is unaware of this theological truth, how would it be possible to
grow and to glorify God?
is significant to understand Scripture correctly, so one does not become
confused and is not taken captive by poor teaching, causing fear and doubt. For
example, the word “save” or “saved” doesn’t always mean to be delivered from
sin’s penalty, which is eternal death. Sometimes the Bible uses it about a
child of God being saved from the power of sin. Sometimes it is used of someone
being saved from a dangerous situation. It’s not always a reference to being saved
from hell. But if you have a theology that doesn’t allow for a third chair,
then you almost always see it in reference to salvation from hell.
(This comment is not in the book): One of the biggest mistakes in understanding
the Bible is only seeing two options – heaven or hell. Many Christians are not
aware of the present tense aspect of salvation. Everyday God desires to deliver
me from the power of sin so that I can live in a way that is good for me and
glorifies Him. But the deliverance from the power of sin depends on how willing
I am to surrender the circumstances of life to His control, relying on His
power to control my thoughts and actions. Will I overcome evil with more evil?
Or will I overcome evil with good? (Rom. 12:21). Am I going to be led by the
Spirit or will I respond in the flesh? (Gal. 5:15-17) How will you respond today?
As I walked at a nearby park, I remembered a similar day several years ago walking with a friend. It was a day, if I recall correctly, in the spring. A man on a motorcycle rode passed us on the entrance road and promptly made a U-turn exiting the park. He was clearly on a joy ride on a beautiful spring day.
As we continued
to walk, about fifteen to twenty minutes later a fire whistle began to blow in
the distance. It wasn’t until a couple
days later that I learned that the man on the bike was involved in an accident
and fatally injured only a few minutes after we had seen him.
All of us have had experiences such as this. It brings us into focus with our mortality – as the world might say “here today and gone tomorrow.” But we must be careful not to adopt the world’s philosophy about life. The way we live matters to God (Psalm 1).
are very clear that this life is brief.
James describes it as a “vapor that appears for a little while and then
vanishes away.” (4:14) David asked of the Lord, “…make me to know my end, and
what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, Thou hast made my days as
handbreadths, and my lifetime as nothing in Thy sight.” (Ps 39:4, 5) In Psalm 144, David describes our days “like
a mere breath; …days are like a passing shadow.”(v. 4)
Yet in our
brevity the Lord desires us to do something of spiritual value and for
eternity. Jesus did not save us so that
we might live for ourselves. He saved us
so that we should serve Him in the newness of life. “And whatever you do in
word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the
Father through Him.” (Col 3:17) Whether
you’re ministering, teaching, working, cooking, vacationing, etc. do it as unto
the Lord. We serve Him by serving others
in love. (Gal 5:13, 14) Not one of us knows the number of our days, and we
could be in His presence sooner than we think.
We are justified the moment we trust in Him and have everlasting life. Our future place with Him is sure. But He didn’t save us just to wait until the day we die so we can live with Him forever. His will for us is our sanctification (I Thess. 4:3). He desires us to grow spiritually so that we can live abundantly now (John 10:10). But this only happens when we surrender to Him in the moments of time and the circumstances of life by faith. In doing so, our life will be purposeful, fruitful, and functional; and we will glorify His name.
“For we are His
workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared
beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10
The last several years I have spent time at ministry booths at fairs and town festivals attempting to share the gospel with people. I think that I know people well enough not to be surprised by the way they think. But someone always blind sides me with something that I never experienced before.
In one particular case a while ago, as I was sharing the gospel, I stopped and asked a group if they had ever done anything wrong. Typically the response is affirmative; “everybody does, no one is perfect”. It’s a point in the gospel presentation when a person needs to recognize they are separated from God because of sin. But one person said “no”. I double checked. “You never did anything wrong?” “No”. Then I proceeded to ask a couple probing questions along that line. “Did you ever tell a lie?” “No” again was the answer. “Never told a lie?” “No”. At that point, in my mind I wanted to say you just lied by saying you never lied.
I continued. “Did you ever steal anything no matter how small?” Again the answer was “No”. I persisted. This one should get you to admit you’ve done some wrong things. “Have you ever had a bad thought?” “No”. Wow, a person that never had a bad thought! That’s pretty incredible. Well the next question was kind of off the wall, but it struck the right nerve. Did you ever fight with anyone? Kind of smiling and nodding the person at that point realized that no one is perfect.
This individual is no different than the rest of us. It’s our pride that keeps us from believing that we need a Savior. If you probe long enough and deep enough, everyone comes to realize they are sinners. Most however, do not recognize that they are helpless sinners. Most think they can fix their situation by trying to have their good outweigh their bad. But that’s an impossible thing to figure out. The truth is we cannot fix our relationship with God by being good, trying to be good, or promising to be good. The Lord had to fix it and He did.
So why not just agree with what God
says about us? He says that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of
God (Rom. 3:23). He says that we can’t
be good enough. In comparison to Him, “There is none who does good, no not one”
(Rom. 3:12). Then accept His free gift of salvation by faith in the Person and
work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the
world (John 1:29). It’s that simple. This person eventually did.
Most of us are taught from the time we are a toddler, if you are good, you will be praised. If you do well in school, you may be rewarded with a scholarship. If you work hard in your career, you will get a raise and may be promoted. Everything we know is based upon our performing, our doing the right things to receive the reward. We carry the same thinking over into our concept of God. We have devised our own God if we think we can be restored to a relationship with Him by trying to be good enough. No one deserves to go to heaven, and no one can be good enough to get there. Many add to this confusion by frontloading or backloading the gospel. For now, let’s make sure we understand the gospel. What is it? The Bible defines it in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: “Moreover brethren I delivered to you the gospel… For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”
The truth is that the gospel is simple. Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, died to pay the penalty for our sins. He died in our place. He was our sufficient substitute. They buried Him in a tomb and on the third day He rose from the dead, proving that He has the power over sin and death. After His resurrection, He was seen alive by five hundred people (1 Cor. 15:5-9). Man’s only response to be saved from eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire is to believe in Him. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12). The word “believe” in the Bible means to be persuaded of, to put confidence in. Believing is a faith response. It requires that an individual understands his need for a savior. Everyone is guilty. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “All” has serious implications for the human race. Each person is a condemned sinner, helpless to restore one’s relationship with God because He is holy and we are not. “To believe in His name” means to accept the truth about His identity and His history.
My comment (These comments not in the book): Every person has an identity and a history. If I said Mother Theresa, what would you think? …Maybe a saintly woman? How about George Washington? …Our first president. Hitler? …A murderous dictator. How about Margie Beckner? …Who? Well she was a wonderful aunt to me; my dad’s oldest sister. You see everyone has a history and identity. You put your trust in them based on the information you have.
Jesus’ identity is that He is the Son of God and the Son of Man. He is fully God and fully Man (John 1:1; Phil 2:7). He holds all things together by the word of His power (Col. 1:15). His history is that He would be crucified and rise from the dead (Matt. 16:21). His death was payment for the sins of the world (John 1:29). He rose from the dead on the third day proving that He is Lord and Christ [Messiah] (Acts 2:36). He says that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:15). Is Jesus’ identity and history worthy to be trusted? I believe it is. How bout you?
Flip Wilson, a comedian, popularized
that phrase back in 70s. It’s funny because we all would like to blame the
wrong things that we do on someone else. But in reality we only have ourselves
to blame. The devil doesn’t make us do anything.
The prophet Jeremiah explained that
the heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9).
The New Testament affirms this truth through the apostle Paul; “For I know that
in me (that is, my flesh) nothing good dwells…” (Rom. 7:18). Paul said this
after he had been a believer for a number of years. My main enemy is myself.
The devil certainly influences and tempts, but it is my heart that is deceitful
above all things. My heart is even more deceitful than the devil.
Many Christians fail to understand
that God didn’t remove the old nature (flesh) when we were saved. As an unbeliever
we only had an old nature. The Christian, however, has both an old and new
nature. When you were saved, God didn’t make your old nature better, nor did He
remove it. He gave you a new nature “which was created according to God in true
righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). If we only had a new nature, we would
Do you struggle with sin? If you do
it’s because you have two natures. “The flesh lusts against the Spirit and the
Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do
not do the things that you wish” (Gal. 5:17). It’s that old nature that is the
cause of our sinful behaviors and action. However, when walking in the Spirit
you cannot sin.
Regardless, we are still responsible
for our decisions and actions. As believers, we can’t blame our old nature when
we sin. It’s our responsibility to begin to learn how to live out of the new
nature by faith. This can only happen when we begin to read the Bible, the word
of God, learning to understand truth, applying it to our daily living, while depending
on the Spirit of God for the power to do what God says we should do.
Failure to mature and grow as believer
won’t keep you out of heaven, but it makes one unfruitful and dysfunctional in
life (II Pet. 1:8). There are consequences for sin and sometimes they can be
disastrous. Most importantly, though, your life will fail to glorify God.
Are you a good person? You’re probably better than me. The problem with thinking this way is you don’t get into the kingdom of heaven by being better than me. You have to be as good as God. But many people think God grades on a curve. They are trusting in their good acts to outweigh the wrong they have done.
Let’s think about this for a minute. Say I stole a car. The judge is about to sentence me. I shout out, “Wait a minute Judge! Before you sentence me, consider the fact that I’m a really good person. And I only stole one car. Think about all the cars I could have stolen, but I only took this one.” Would a good judge find me not guilty and let me go? I don’t think so.
Our good can never take away the bad things we do. There are human penalties for committing wrong actions. So if an earthly judge doesn’t overlook our crimes, why do we think a holy and just God will ignore our wrong, our sin?
The truth is; He doesn’t. Sin required a payment – spiritual death; separation from God forever. But He provided a way. God offered the only acceptable payment for our sin. Jesus paid our sin penalty on the cross. He took the penalty we all deserve. He is our sufficient Substitute. Now there is no sin debt to pay. But God requires an individual response to receive the benefit of the payment. You must transfer your trust from yourself to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s the only way you can stand before a holy God. When a helpless sinner trusts in Christ, he or she passes from (spiritual) death to (spiritual) life. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).
“I am always amazed when I read the results of a survey of Christians and the percentage who do not believe in a literal Devil. The Bible is clear that he is real and “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Pet. 5:8). The whole world lies under his influence (I John 5:19). Jesus described him as a murderer from the beginning and that he is the father of lies (John 8:44). However, he is crafty for he transforms himself into an angel of light (II Cor. 11:14)! Jesus rebuked Peter for siding with Satan when Peter expressed opposition to the will of God (Matt.16:23). Most people think of him as the caricature with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork. But in reality, he is way more deceptive than that. The good looking guy with the three-piece suit in the pulpit could very well be representing him (II Cor. 11:13-15).
Because he is in rebellion against
God, his purpose can be understood at least in two ways. First, he works in people to blind their minds
to the gospel so that they do not get saved (II Cor. 4:4). And secondly, he has
created the world system to appeal to the old nature; the lust of the flesh,
the lust of the eyes, and the pride of
life (I John 2:16). He designed it to distract unbelievers away from the Lord,
and attempts to derail believers from their intended purpose so that they
become unfaithful and unfruitful as a result (Matt. 13:21-22). Everybody is
subject to his influence.
The Bible is plain. The devil blinds
the minds of the unbelieving. But how does he do it? He uses people. The
language of God is truth. God does not
speak any lies. The lies come from the evil one. “He is a liar and the father
of it.”(John 8:44) When we lie,
we are siding with him. Satan takes people captive to do his will – knowingly
or unknowingly (II Tim. 2:26). And if you are taken captive to do his will, you
are living or promoting a lie.
spiritual warfare does not only involve the devil and his workers; it involves
you and me. Every one of us has a fallen nature, a sin nature. We are born with
this, and the devil works in conjunction
with our fallen nature.”
My Comment (My Comment is not part of the book): Satan uses people to spin his lies. The lies are often directed at the various elements of the gospel – the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, that Salvation isn’t simply by faith alone in Christ alone; that works are necessary; that there are many ways to God and on and on and on! “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (II Cor. 11:13-15).
The B-I-B-L-E, yes, that’s the book for me.” That was a song I sang in Sunday school as a youngster. Like the song, Jesus Loves Me; the lyrics have been stuck in my mind for over sixty years. But it hadn’t been the book for me. I hadn’t read any of it for almost a decade as a young man. For at least three to four of those years in my mid-twenties, I had this ongoing nagging thought, ‘I need to read the Bible.’ I didn’t ignore that still small voice, but I just kept putting it off. Thankfully, it never totally went away.
eventually I picked it up and began to read some. It surely couldn’t hurt.
Nothing major changed initially. It was a slow process over time, but my desire
grew more and more to know what God said.
The Bible is a big book that is made up of sixty-six books written by
forty authors over a period of fifteen
hundred years to different groups of people with much harmony and continuity. It
takes a lot of time and effort to put things into their proper context.
However, I began to realize that if I wanted to know God and what He expected
of me, then I needed to know His word.
a huge hindrance in the spiritual
development of the church. Most Christians do not read and study the Bible as a
relational skill, in order to know God. I
didn’t for a number of years, and it was detrimental to what I believed and
the way I lived. I know firsthand, that apart from knowing the truth of God’s word one cannot begin to know Him in a personal way. Many will sit and
listen to a sermon and think that they have done their religious duty for the
week. But that would be like spending an hour a week with your wife expecting
to have an intimate, growing personal
relationship. Not possible!
failing to understand the Bible in its proper context is another hindrance in
growing and having assurance. Most of the New Testament books are written to churches, to the saints. Saints
are simply believers. It is the instruction book for those who have trusted in
Christ as Savior. Most of it is written for the purpose of learning how to grow as a
child of God.”
My Comment: Understanding the Bible in proper context is absolutely necessary to having assurance; knowing for sure you are on your way to heaven. Failure to develop your relationship with the Lord through His word will cause you to be works driven rather than learning to live by faith, which is the only way to please God as a believer (Heb. 11:6).
For the next several blogs I will be posting excerpts from my book, Assurance of Heaven; God’s Promise to Anyone Who Believes the Gospel. In some posts I may add some additional comments to the chapter excerpt. The following excerpt is from the introduction which frames the purpose for the book.
“Do you lack assurance of salvation? Are you one
hundred percent sure you will go to heaven? Many believers do not have this
assurance for a number of reasons. Some begin to doubt God’s word after they
are saved. Others may be ignorant of their position as a child of God, due to a
lack of personal study. Many begin to
question their salvation because they are subtly taught to look at their
performance. Often teachers confuse
passages that speak to Christian living [walking by faith] with those that
address deliverance from sin’s penalty [hell].
you can listen to a variety of teachers on radio and television. Some stations
broadcast Christian teaching around the clock. The internet adds to this
dimension of Christian broadcasting, also. But because a person is popular
doesn’t mean that all of their teachings are correct. Most of those who preach
via modern day media do so because they are financed by people who agree with
their doctrine. Study Bibles and commentaries add to the confusion as well.
These things deceived me for a time along the way.
If you are not grounded in the gospel, you may be misled. Wrong teaching concerning the gospel will cause you to lack assurance of heaven; something that God wants you to have (John 6:47; I John 5:13). There are those who teach you can lose your salvation. Others believe that baptism is necessary. Still, others think that religious sacraments are needed to get to heaven. Confusion about salvation abounds in the church, and it usually affects most everyone at some point. Many teach that you won’t go to heaven if you don’t persevere. I bought into that without even realizing what it actually meant. In addition, you may be told that a “true” believer will produce good works and be committed to serving the Lord. All this stuff was making me doubt. Had I done enough? Was I good enough? Eventually, I realized there was something askew.”
Perseverance in anything is not
automatic. It certainly does not come automatically in the Christian faith.
That’s why there are so many instructions in the Bible about persevering in
trials, enduing difficulties, being patient in suffering, running the race, and
abiding in Christ. Assurance is not gained by persevering. Persevering in
trials by faith is often the result of having assurance. It’s the result of
knowing that in Christ I am totally accepted by God (Eph. 1:6).
A lack of assurance is often caused by a misunderstanding of one’s position in Christ. When a person trusts in Christ to save them, he or she receives everlasting life. They have passed from death to life (John 5:24). The very perfect righteousness of Christ is credited to the sinner (II Cor. 5:21). The Holy Spirit immediately seals the believer until the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30). The new believer belongs to God. He has become a child of God (John 1:12). And he or she is kept safe in their new position in Christ (I Peter 1:5; John 10:28). Even a lack of perseverance in faith cannot affect their position as a child of God. Lot, Saul, Solomon, and Demas are examples of saved men who failed to persevere.
Assurance and perseverance are both rooted in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Although you can suck it up and persevere in the old nature (even unbelievers persevere some immense difficulties), Biblical perseverance is a result of dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit for the strength to endure in faith. It’s not a result of you or me trying to do something for God. If you or I are anxious or fearful or bitter about life’s circumstance, we may be persevering, but we are not persevering in faith. Persevering in faith comes by resting in Him and His word, trusting Him in the moments of time and the circumstances of life. It’s resting in the Lord, trusting in Him for the outcome. It’s learning to be content in whatever state I am (Phil. 4:11). Therefore, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2).