Are You Truly a Christian?
The False and the True
If you discovered a cure for cancer, while knowing that millions of your fellow men and women were dying of this dread disease, you would be remiss and guilty in not sharing the desired remedy. You would share it with all who would be willing to receive it. Even if you were to be considered a radical to offer this information to others, you would be pressed in spirit to make the cure known as widely as you were able. This is the background for offering this crucial study to you, whom we believe to be a seeker of truth. The message of salvation from God’s own Word is simple enough to be understood. It is good news to those who are weary and heavy laden with the guilt of sin and to those who have been deceived by todays popular preaching, theological systems, and ecclesiastical traditions.
Our motivation in presenting this little booklet to you is threefold. First, I believe that the Scriptures are fully inspired of God, the divine authority to define our beliefs and direct our life. Since the subject addressed in this work is the theme of God’s Word, it deserves to be taken seriously.
Second, I’ve had a great burden for the many devoted people who profess to be Christians but have failed to follow Scriptural directives or neglected to submit to Biblical norms in being saved. Some of these people seek to know God’s truth and are open to read and study to determine God’s will for their life. It is out of love and compassion for these zealous but misled seekers that a study like this needed to be written.
The third motivation is personal. Years ago, God revealed that I was blind, lost in sin, and separated from Christ. I needed to be saved from sin and reconciled to God, as revealed in His divine Word. Through much anguish of heart, yet joy in the truth, I discovered how much I needed God’s salvation in Christ Jesus, though I assumed I was on my way to heaven from my youth. Because God graciously revealed to me, through His Word, how to be saved, I feel impelled to share this with others.
May God use these words to bring you the same joy of learning of your own need of the Savior and the blessing of knowing how you also may be saved from sin and enter God’s glorious and eternal Kingdom! We are convinced that God placed this article before you, so please continue to read!
Crucial Contrasts to Consider!
The most important question to you right now is your relationship with God. The most vital issue of your future is whether you are going to heaven. The most momentous subject you can investigate is how you can be rightly related to the Lord God and enter His eternal kingdom. Everything else is insignificant in comparison with these crucial matters!
The truth, however, is plain: Heaven is a prepared place only for a prepared people. On the Day of Judgment, the Lord Jesus will declare these welcome words: “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). One must be prepared and personally eligible to enter God’s glorious and beautiful kingdom of light, peace, blessing and eternal joy!
The tragedy about this coming Paradise of God is that most people who think they are prepared actually are not! Satan, our malicious enemy, is the great deceiver who “deceives the whole world” (Rev. 12:9). His subtle strategy is to convince unsaved sinners into thinking they are actually saved! If he can do this, his diabolical scheme is complete. The majority of people will be eternally lost because they have fallen prey to his wicked plan. The shocking truth is that the vast number who will be eternally separated from God will include most of those who think they are Christians and assume they are going to heaven! This will include people who pray, who listen to “Christian” music, who read their Bibles, who are faithful churchgoers, who live moral lives, and who seek to be loyal to their creeds and confessions of faith (cf. Matt. 7:21-27; Rom. 10:1-4).
It is important for you and me to understand how Satan has deceived the great majority of those who profess to be saved. In order to do this, we will simply examine various false claims, teachings, and assumptions, then contrast these with the truth of Scripture. We must always test all things in light of God’s inspired, authoritative Word. Let us remember the admonition: “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
I encourage you who are reading these words to consider yourself. Ask whether you also have misunderstood God’s will and whether you have been deceived in some measure. Heed Scripture’s counsel: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith: examine yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5a). Be willing to examine, to evaluate, to change your mind, to leave the error, and to embrace the truthwhatever the cost! This does not just apply to the other personit also applies to you and me!
As I alluded to at the beginning, for much of my youth, I thought I was saved and thought I was on the way to heaven. I then was shocked to learn differently–that I was, in fact, lost in sin and not prepared to enter God’s eternal kingdom! I then sought to be saved and had a “conversion”–or I thought I did. I finally concluded that I was born again, forgiven, and saved from hell. However, some years later, again the Lord revealed to me that I had been deceived and failed to understand and accept basic elements of God’s Word regarding the way of salvation through Christ Jesus. This meant that I was, in fact, still lost in sin and in need of salvation! This heart-rending experience showed to me how pervasive spiritual and religious false assumptions are in this world. We must be open to considering our own spiritual experience and ask whether what we have done is in harmony with what Christ and His apostles taught. Even religious people who profess to be Christians may have “a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:2).
Only the truth of God can save (John 8:31-32; Eph. 1:13). Only those who have a love of the truth can be saved from sin, from death, and from hell (2 Thess. 2:10-12). Falsehood and deception will condemn. If you discover, from reading this booklet, that you are not forgiven and saved from sin, that you have not been born again spiritually, now is the time to truly turn to God for the forgiveness He graciously offers you in Christ Jesus His Son.
The question that we are addressing in this booklet may be framed in this way: “Are you truly a Christian?” Maybe this is a misleading question since the term, “Christian,” is used in a broad and loose way today. People speak of a “Christian nation” when few genuine Christians live in the country. They say that there are Christian books, Christian schools and colleges, Christian T.V. and radio, Christian gifts, Christian presidents, and even Christian wars! Sometimes the term is used in an accommodative sense, but it really is important to seek to “use Bible terms in Bible ways and do Bible things in Bible ways,” as someone wisely advised.
We must not assume that someone is a true Christian (one who was saved and born again) simply because he manifests certain “Christian” traits, qualities, or living standards. Consider:
- One can be a “righteous” person and still not know Christ (Phil. 3:6).
- One can manifest “extraordinary kindness” and never be saved from sin (Acts 28:2).
- One can be a “devout man” who has “feared God with all his household,” who gives “many alms” and prays to God continually, and still be lost (Acts 10:2, 4; 11:14).
- One can be a “disciple” and not even have the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-7).
- One can be “noble-minded” and examine the Scriptures daily, and still not have Christ (Acts 17:11).
- One can be involved with a Christian fellowship, and still not have Christ in him (2 Cor. 13:5).
- One can have “a zeal for God” but not be forgiven (Rom. 10:1-3).
- One can be a worshiper of God and still not be a child of God (Acts 16:14-15).
Although a true Christian will have such characteristics, some who haven’t Scripturally come to Christ also manifest them. We must look at a person’s assumed salvation experience to determine whether one actually has been saved. Becoming a Christian involves more than all that we see in the above points.
But to clarify our question, “Are You Truly a Christian?,” we might also ask, “Have you truly been born again, born into God’s spiritual family?” “Have you been forgiven of your sins and justified before a holy God?” “Have you passed out of darkness and into the light of God?” “Have you received eternal life as a gift from God?” Therefore, we are asking you, as we have asked ourselves, whether you are a child of God, a disciple of Christ, a saved and forgiven person who is an heir of the Kingdom of God. It is a personal question and it is a vital question! It is one that you have seldom or never been asked before, at least as directly as you will read on these pages. Please be perfectly honest with yourself, your conscience, and especially with God who knows our mind and heart (cf. Psalm 26:2; Rev. 2:23).
One further word. A false belief in the contemporary religious world is that salvation is unconditional. We are sometimes told that there is nothing to do to come to Christ. Just today we read this statement: . . . it is a contemporary parable of Jesus Christ demonstrating that unconditional forgiveness is available for those who have separated themselves from God. If Gods forgiveness is unconditional, it takes away all personal response and responsibility. Actually, Gods forgiveness or salvation is very conditionalit is contingent on our own responses to God and Christ Jesus. Although nothing we do is meritorious, and God Himself has taken the initiative in our deliverance, we will discover that we definitely are required to make a radical response!
As you read the following pages, probably some of you have not applied yourself to intense discussions of Biblical topics in the past. The newspaper and magazines may be the extent of your usual reading. However, others of you may regularly read complex books related to your profession or higher education. We ask that each of you read this booklet with carefulness and prayerfulness. Ask God to show you the truth of salvation and how this is to be applied to your own life and experience. If there is something you do not fully understand, read it again and it will probably become clearer after the rereading. Be like the Bereans who were noble minded . . . for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11). Therefore, this discussion contains a carefully-written, explicit, and urgent message for today on a theme desperately needed by everyone. With Gods help and your earnest interest, we believe you will learn much for your eternal good.
Let us now examine twelve points to show that in many different ways church tradition and popular preaching has misled vast numbers of people. Sadly, the great majority of professing Christians have accepted a false message of salvation, have submitted to a false system of theology, have believed a mistaken Christian message, have failed to exercise a Biblical faith, have neglected to truly repent and turn from their sins, and have chosen to accept defective church dogma rather than seeking Gods way of salvation from His divine Word. Please read carefully, for your present relationship with God and your eternal destiny depends on what you do with the following Scriptural truth!
(1) The Object of Faith
We all have faith in something. On a physical and material level, we believe that we will get a check on payday, that the bridge to work will support our car, and that the wall switch at home will turn on the lights. In the religious and philosophical realm, some may believe in transcendental meditation, Zen Buddhism, Islam, UFOs, biological evolution, Zoroastrianism, Catholic apparitions of Mary, or in numerous other ideas, ideologies, or religions. But believing any of these will not make a false belief into a true belief.
When we speak about our relationship with God and eternal destiny, it is paramount that we believe accurately. It is important that our belief rests on the facts, on absolute truth and not on unfounded ideas, assumptions, or traditions. We may believe that eating cucumbers will cure advanced cancer, but believing this will not make this a true belief. Yes, it is a belief but this says nothing about whether it is based on factsor on wishful thinking. One person may believe with all of his heart that he can jump from the Empire State Building and fly, but the intensity of his faith will not cancel the law of gravity or make his belief a true one. Likewise, a deceived Muslim may strongly believe that if he commits suicide and murders as many people as possible for the cause of Allah, he will go to Paradise, but this is a false assumption regardless of the fervency of his misguided faith. Belief is good only if it has a truthful and accurate object.
Faith is a subject much discussed in our age. From some sources we are encouraged to simply believe, to keep up your faith, and to realize the power of believing in yourself. Other voices challenge us, Trust in Jesus as your personal Savior. The former emphasis arises from the humanistic, self-fulfillment quarter, while the latter comes from the popular evangelism of the past century seen in the television preacher and the gospel tracts distributed by the millions.
What does the Bible say about this call to believe, to exercise faith? We must always seek our answers from God, thus let us consult His inspired Word. In the words of Paul the apostle, let us ask, What does the Scripture say? (Rom. 4:3a).
Faith indeed is indispensable. Paul wrote, By grace you have been saved through faith (Eph. 2:8a). Faith is essential to salvation from sin and entrance into the eternal kingdom. However, faith only saves if it has a proper object. Mere faith, in and of itself, is meaningless. For example, if one bases his salvation on a belief of falsehood and religious error, God says that he will be condemned (2 Thess. 2:11-12). There are millions who believe in Buddha (the originator of Buddhism), in Mohammad (the founder of Islam), in Krishna (a god of Hinduism), in Joseph Smith (the founder of Mormonism), and in Bahaullah (the founder of Bahai). However, none of these objects of faith can save the soul from death and give eternal life. Those who believed in Jim Jones, Mary Baker Eddy, Marshall Applegate, and Father Divine, believed in vain.
Again we must emphasize, the strength of ones beliefs does not determine the accuracy, truthfulness, or validity of those beliefs. Members of the Flat Earth Society may not believe that the earth is a sphere, but this does not make this belief true. Millions of Catholics believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, hears their prayers but this does not change the fact that dead disciples cannot even hear one prayer by earth-dwellersand we must remember that necromancy (communicating with the dead) is strongly condemned (cf. Isaiah 8:19-20). Millions of Hindus may chant repetitious praises to Krishna, but this doesn’t make this Indian deity anything more than a false god. We could go on and on, but the point is that the strength of ones beliefs does not make falsehood into truth. It says nothing about whether a given proposition or person is either true or false.
The contemporary, popular, post-modern idea that one may believe in virtually anything and it is true for him is both absurd and false. Belief is valid to the extent that it has truth and reality as its object. We do not produce reality and truth by our faith; faith simply responds to the reality or truth that already exists. In contrast to error, we must believe in a certain Person and in certain propositions (truths) if we would be saved from sin and live eternally. What, then, must we believe in order to be saved from sin and reconciled to God?
God Himself is the object of faith: He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6). Since God is the Source of creation, life, and salvation, it is understandable that our faith must center in Him. Furthermore, we must believe in the God of Scripturenot simply someones personal conception of God. God is not to be thought of as a cosmic force, a ground of being, or a higher power.
Neither is the God of our faith a stern, judgmental Mideastern terrorist god who has no Son. He is not an Indian god (such as Brahma, Shiva, or Vishnu) who may be worshiped among three hundred million other gods. He is not the great spirit of the American Indian who is identified with the wind, rain and sunlight. He is not the Mormon god who is identified as the Biblical Adam, nor is He the religious leader Father Divine of America or Jim Jones of Guyana, both of whom are now dead.
In order to be saved from sin and death and be given eternal life, we must believe in the true, personal, infinite, eternal, spiritual, and living God of Scripture. God is the Creator of all things. Paul declared to the Athenian philosophers and religionists: God who made the world and all things in it . . . He is Lord of heaven and earth (Acts 17:24). We must believe in God as Creator and Sustainer of the universe. To believe that God has created all things (Eph. 3:9) means that we cannot accept false evolutionary theories of the origin of the universe, including all living things.
A surprisingly large percentage of people in the world believe that the human race actually evolved from animals, that evolved from single-cell creatures, that arose spontaneously from non-living matter, that was found on an insignificant planet (the earth) in the universe that was not created! In contrast to all of this unfounded, ridiculous, and false speculation, the Bible calls on us to believe the truththat God is Creator of all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible! His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they [unbelievers] are without excuse (Rom. 1:20). Unless we believe in the true God of Scripture, our faith is useless!
Christ Jesus also is the object of our faith, the faith that saves. We must believe in the Jesus revealed in the Bible rather than another Jesusa popular conception of Jesus preached in our day (2 Cor. 11:4). Some people believe in a Jesus depicted in the blasphemous rock movie, Jesus Christ Superstar. Others believe in Jesus as a good religious leader, a worthy moral teacher, and an excellent example of spiritual living. Still others believe in a Jesus of the monasteries who still hangs on the cross, or they trust in a Jesus who is subject to His mother, thought of as Queen of Heaven by the Catholic religion. One religious group contents that Jesus is Michael the Archangel, a created Being of God. Sadly, some even think of Jesus as a deluded fanatic who was confused about His identity or a Jesus who is the invention of a fanatical Jewish sect of the early centuries. Time and Newsweek magazines enjoy depicting Jesus as nothing more than the fanciful fabrications of devout but deluded followers of a dead contender for Jewish Messiahship. All of these conceptions are patently false and none of them can save our soul from sin and death!
We must believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31). Christ is the Greek form of the Hebrew Messiah, the Anointed One of God to be His spokesman or Prophet. He came to be the sin-bearing Priest and sacrifice, and to be the reigning and glorious King. Simply believing that Jesus was a great teacher, worthy moral example, or a notable religious leader, is insufficient. We must firmly believe that Jesus Christ is Lordour rightful Master, Owner, and the absolute sovereign Ruler of heaven and earth (Phil. 2:9-11; Rom. 10:9).
In our day, some people like to think of Jesus as a kindly Shepherd, a lowly Galilean, a teacher of peace, a promoter of positive self-image, or the Giver of physical and material gifts. They dont like to think of the Lord Jesus in judgment, coming in glory and flaming fire, filled with righteous and burning wrath, sentencing most of mankind to the lake of fire for eternity (cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Rev. 6:15-17; 14:10-11). But the same Christ who is the epitome of love and grace is the Christ who hates sin and will judge it. This is the Jesus in whom we believe.
The gospel or good news of Christ also is a necessary object of faith. The gospel . . . is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes (Rom. 1:16; cf. 1 Cor. 1:17-18, 23-24). Why is this message of salvation called the good news? The good news is that Christ died for our many sinsthus we may be rescued from sin and eternal punishment because of those sins! The good news also tells us that God raised Jesus, His Son, from the dead to be our living Saviorthus we may receive eternal life in Him (1 Cor. 15:1-5, 20-22)!
This exciting and welcome message of salvation is the object of our faith! We must believe that Jesus is the Son of Almighty God, sent into the world to redeem sinners, who was raised from the dead and returned to heaven, there to sit in glory with absolute power and authority (cf. John 3:15-18; 16:28; Acts 2:32-33; Eph. 1:20-23). Our faith is in the person of the Lord Jesus, the Anointed One (Christ), the Son of God, but we also exercise faith in His saving actsHis death for our sins, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension to heaven, and even His future return in glory to judge every person who has ever lived and to receive His believers to eternal glory!
On the other hand, if we do not believe such saving facts of the gospel, we cannot be saved from sin! He who has disbelieved shall be condemned (Mark 16:16; cf. John 3:18). We will die in our sins if we fail to believe (John 8:24; 2 Thess. 1:8).
Jesus said, As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life (John 3:14-15). The accusing, sinful Israelites were bitten by deadly snakes sent from God, but He determined to make a way by which his bitten people might be healed and not die of the snakes deadly venom. He said that a bronze snake should be formed and erected. Moses explained, Everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it [the bronze snake], he will live (Num. 21:8-9). Likewise, guilty sinners today who look in faith at the lifted upcrucifiedSon of God will be delivered from the guilt of sin and condemnation of death, and will receive eternal life (cf. John 3:16-17, 36). Our faith is in the Christ who offered His life in death on the cross for our sin:
- We believe in the Son given by the love of God that we might not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
- We believe in the Son who gave His flesh and blood for the life of the world (John 6:51; cf. vv. 52-58, 35-50).
- We believe in Christ who became a propitiation [a sacrifice that satisfied the demands of Gods justice and dealt with sin] through His blood on the cross (Rom. 3:24-26).
- We believe in Jesus who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification (Rom. 4:25).
- We believe in our heart that God raised Jesus His Son from the dead (Rom. 10:9-10).
This is why Paul could write that the gospel . . . is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). We believe in the gospel (the good news of the grace of God given to us in Christ through His redemptive death).
Not everyone sees it this way. The largest church or denomination of Christendom in the world says much about the crucified Christ and celebrates Mass every day of the week, but its members tend to place their faith in religious ritual, a priesthood, elaborate ceremonies, the sacraments, the Virgin Mary, the Pope, and the Church itselfmuch more than in the Savior Himself. Our faith, our reliance, must be in God, in Christ Jesus, and in His saving, sin-bearing sacrifice on the cross. This is the gospel of Christ, the only gospel that saves!
In our day, a great many of those who profess to believe in Christ actually have a faulty faith. One religious group denies that He existed prior to His coming to earth. Many pastors and theologians reject Christs virgin conception and birth. Many who profess to be Christians disbelieve His sinless life or atoning death. Still others question his present reign in heaven or His future personal, visible coming in glory. Some accept His Lordship but deny His Sonship, while others claim to accept His Sonship but deny that the fullness of Deity dwelt in Him in bodily form (Col. 2:9). This kind of fragmentary, deficient faith is what some mean when they say they believe in Jesus. Yet this faith is not a faith that saves. It leaves one in sin and under condemnation!
Can we now see how defective is the faith of many? We must not have mere faith in faith! Rather, we must have faith in God and in Christ Jesus whom He has sent. We must believe in the crucified and risen Christ to be saved from sin. We must have an informed faith that rests on the solid evidence of Scripture. Great numbers of people have been deceived about the object of their belief. Sincere reader, does this describe you?
(2) The Nature of Faith
Not only is it essential that we have the proper object to our faith, but our belief must be of a certain character, nature or quality. Many people of our day glibly profess, I believe in God. I believe that Jesus is Savior. Therefore, Im a Christian! Others insist, Only believe in Jesus, for the Bible says, Whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. A large percentage of people in America affirm that they believe in God and Christbut are they really saved and heirs of the Kingdom of God?
What does Scripture say? We have already seen how vital it is that we believe certain truths: that God is Creator, that Jesus is the Son of God, and that He died for our sins and was raised from the dead. This is all correctand essential.
However, faith must go beyond a bare acceptance of certain historical facts, regardless of how important those facts may be. The faith that saves must go beyond a simple mental belief of Scriptural truths. Even Satan himself has this kind of faith! You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder (James 2:19). The evil spirits confessed, You are the Son of God (Mark 3:11; cf. 1:23-24; 5:2, 7). This accurate factual faith was insufficient to save them. Both Satan and his angels or demons believe or actually know facts about God and Christ, but they remain lost and will be condemned (Matt. 25:41; Jude 6; 2 Peter. 2:4). A merely mental belief in Jesus cannot save you and me!
Saving faith must also include the crucial element of trust. We must place all of our reliance on God to save us through Christ. We must cease trusting in ourselves, and begin to depend on the saving, sacrificial death of Jesus, our Sin-bearer, to provide the only, ultimate basis of our acceptance with God. We must trust in what God has done in Christ on the cross for our sins and our salvation. Forsaking all self-reliance, we must rely solely on Gods mercy and grace extended to us in His Son. We should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:9).
Suppose you learned of a physician in town named William Smith and did some research on this doctor. You could say certain things about him. You could affirm, I believe that Mr. Smith is a doctor, that he is in middle age, that he lives on Maple Street, that he has been in practice for fifteen years, and that he specializes in internal medicine. This would be a conviction, an assurance, a mental belief of certain facts you gathered from reliable evidence. Similarly, you must believe that Jesus is the Son of Godaccepting a certain fact as true.
But trusting Dr. Smith goes further than believing certain facts about him. It means that you rely on his medical knowledge, depend on his judgments and advice, and trust him as a man of integrity. As you go into a delicate surgery, you are literally placing your safety, welfare, and life in his hands. Similarly, God wants you to trust in Jesus as your Sin-bearer and rely on Him as your only hope of heaven.
When I was first baptized at age sixteen, I failed to recognize the true and deep significance of the gospel of Christ. I had been taught a theological system or plan that left people with the mistaken impression that one could save himself by complying with certain requirements or conditions, something like inserting the right coins in a vending machine to receive the desired product. Only later did I come to realize the glorious and liberating good news of Gods salvation by His grace based on the Saviors finished work of redemption on the cross. My faith had been in a plan, a series of conditions, a theological system, a church, or even my own efforts to obey God. This could never do. Only a humble, submissive, yielded, receptive faith in our gracious God and our loving Savior can be the channel of Gods salvation blessings.
I was not the only one to exercise a sincere but defective faith when I thought that I was first saved. I recall speaking to one preacher who said that at the time of his baptism, he failed to really believe. Only later did he feel he had a genuine faith in Christ, but regretfully he never did choose to be baptized again with this more Scriptural faith. Many others have been baptized in their teen years or pre-teen years but they never experienced or exercised a genuine trust and reliance on the crucified and risen Savior, Sin-bearer, and sacrifice. Whether through ignorance, embarrassment or indifference, today they remain without a valid baptism since they did not have a genuine faith when they thought they were baptized. Thankfully, some others do come to a genuine faith in Christ and chose to be rebaptized to express this trust in Jesus.
Are you like many people in having simply believed that there is a God and merely believed that Jesus is Savior? On the other hand, do you genuinely trust Jesus as your Sin-bearer? Do you rely on the Lord Jesus as Gods sacrifice for sin, as the only means of salvation and only way to heaven? Vast numbers of people claim to believe in Christ, thus profess to be Christians, but they are utterly mistaken! They are deceived! They have exercised a limited faith, a defective faith, a counterfeit faith!
(3) The Place of Good Deeds
If you were to ask people whether they will be accepted by God, many would respond, Yes, I am going to heaven. I try to be a good person. I try to be loving and generous. I try to avoid wrongdoing. I go to church and even pray. I live by the ten commandments. So I think God will receive me into heaven. Vast numbers of people who claim to be Christians are depending on what they do or what they dont do to be acceptable to the God of heaven. They are trusting in their morality, their religion, their character, their church membership, and their charity as the basis of their salvation.
Scripture does reveal the importance of good deeds. God says that faith, if it has no works [deeds], is dead, being by itself, and faith without works [deeds] is useless (James 1:17, 20; cf. v. 26). He declares that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone (v. 24). Works are necessary! When Christ comes in glory to judge the world, only those who have been active in good deeds or works of love will inherit the kingdom of God (Matthew 25:31-46). This is why Paul could assert, Those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life. . . . glory and honor and peace to every man who does good (Romans 2:8, 10; cf. Galatians 6:8-9; Revelation 14:13; 19:7-8; 22:12).
However, we must make an important point here or we will seriously err. Although good deeds are essential and do prove the genuineness of saving faith and the reality of love, we must beware of one ever-present danger. We are not saved on the basis of any good thing that we can do! Jesus Christ is the only Savior (Acts 4:12) and His saving work on the cross is the only means by which we can be eternally acceptable to a righteous God (Romans 3:24-25; 5:18, 21).Paul specifically excludes our own deeds as the basis or ground of our salvation. He explains: By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are saved by graceGods freely bestowed love. We are saved through faithour reliance on Gods grace in Christ. We are not saved of ourselves or as a result of worksotherwise, we could boast of our achievement and relationship with God!
In other places, it is likewise plain that God saved us, and called us . . . not according to our works (2 Tim. 1:9), and not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness (Tit. 3:5). We are neither saved by the righteousness of the Law of Moses (Rom. 3:27-28; Gal. 2:16, 21; Phil. 3:9), nor by the merit of anything else we may do. Scripture declares that there is salvation in no one else but Christ Himself (Acts 4:12). We are not saved by attainment, but by Christs atonement! We are not redeemed by achieving, but by believing and receiving!
So many have fallen into the error of depending on their own deeds and imperfect performance for salvation while minimizing the saving work of Christ. Have you been deceived in this way? When I was a youth, I thought that if I did enough good deeds and if I avoided the bad deeds, somehow God would accept me into His heaven. How deluded I was! How deceived the majority are! What about you?
(4) Submission to Jesus as Lord
Again and again, we have heard the message: Accept Jesus as your personal Savior! You can do nothingonly trust in Jesus! Simply believe, and receive! Stop trying, and start trusting! The impression is given that simply an internal belief of Jesus is sufficient to save. At most, a trust in the shed blood of Jesus is thought to save, apart from any overt action on our behalf. This emphasis is the extreme reaction against the previous error of salvation by human works, by our own righteousness, and personal merit.
The result of this contemporary teaching is that numbers of people have come to Jesus simply to have a warm experience, to find a meaningful life, to discover peace of mind and joy of spirit, or to escape hell. Regretfully, often these same people have never intended to submit to Jesus as Ruler of their life. Their life may be characterized by carelessness of behavior, apathy toward spiritual pursuits, lack of holiness in lifestyle, indifference to Gods commands in Scripture, and even open, deliberate, continual, unrepentant sin (cf. 1 John 2:3-6; 3:4-10).
Scripture teaches that one who comes to Jesus as Savior from sin must likewise come to Him as Lord of life! Significantly, He is referred to as the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 2:20; cf. 1:11; 3:2, 18). The same One who saves us (Savior) is the One who rules us (Lord)! He is called the glorious Lord Jesus Christ (James 2:1), the Lord of glory (1 Cor. 2:8), and Lord of all (Acts 10:36; Rom. 10:12). Christ is called Lord many times more than He is referred to as Savior!
One must confess or acknowledge Jesus not only as the very Son of God (cf. 1 John 4:15; 5:5; Matt. 16:16), but also as Ruler, Lord, or Sovereign (Rom. 14:9; Phil. 2:9-11; Luke 1:32-33). Paul clearly declares, If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved (Rom. 10:9; cf. vv. 12-13). Jesus Christ not only was preached as Lord (2 Cor. 4:5; cf. Acts 2:36), He also was received as Lord by the believers (Col. 2:6). Eventually, whether in this life or the life to come, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:11). Blessed is the one who will bow the knee to Jesus now, in this life, while he has the opportunity to be saved!
We have already noticed that genuine, saving faith has the proper object. We also have discovered that faith signifies trust or reliance on the crucified and risen Savior. Faith, in addition, involves a submission of ones will to Christ as Lord. This is why obedience is so frequently connected with true faith in Scripture.
Notice how faith and obedience are related: We read of the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5; 16:26), the work of faith (1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Thess. 1:11), and faith working through love (Gal. 5:6). Scripture says that faith without works cannot save, for this would be a defective or counterfeit faitha mental belief without expression (cf. James 2:14, 17, 20, 24, 26).
Saving faith is sometimes used interchangeably with a response of obedience: He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36; compare also Heb. 3:18-19; 11:31; 1 Pet. 1:21-22; 2:6-8; Acts 14:1-2). Paul writes that obedience from the heart (Rom. 6:17-18) and belief in the heart (Rom. 10:9-10) are both necessary for salvation.
Gods Word, therefore, declares the inseparable link between faith and obedience, and between obedience and salvation. Jesus is the source of eternal salvation only to those who obey Him (Heb. 5:9). Jesus said, Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter (Matt. 7:21). Simply calling Jesus Lord is meaningless unless one actually obeys Him as Master and does His will in all things (Luke 6:46; cf. vv. 47-48; Matt. 28:20). Quite simply, love will obey the Lord (John 14:15, 21), while disobedience demonstrates a lack of love (John 14:23-24).
Just as a true believer will manifest his belief or faith in Christ by obeying Him as Lord, consider the converse: One who has little or no interest in obeying the Lord reveals that he doesn’t believe in Christ truly and sincerely. He reveals that he doesnt belong to the Lord. It may be that the professing Christian has allowed the deceitfulness of sin to harden him (Heb. 3:12). Or he may have allowed an apathetic and dead spirit to overwhelm him (cf. Rev. 3:1-2, 15-20).
However, in most cases, the disobedient person who claims to be a Christian has never really come to grips with the meaning of Christs Lordship or with the need of repentance. He has never truly been born again. John the apostle speaks of this in his first letter: No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:6-8). John plainly says that no one who sinswhose life is characterized by sinhas seen the Lord or knows the Lord! The one who practices sin is of the devilnot of the Lord! Just as a sincere obedience should point to a genuine new birth experience and a living relationship with God through Christ, so a consistently disobedient attitude and lifestyle shows an unsaved and carnal heart!
The apostle continues, No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (1 John 3:9). If one practices sinlives in deliberate sinhe hasn’t even been born again! Finally, John states, By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother (v. 10). From this extended series of verses, we can see that one who lives in continual, deliberate sin reveals that he has not been born of God, has not become a child of God, and does not belong to God.
Returning to our illustration, I may believe that Dr. Smith is a doctor (a mental faith). I may trust that Dr. Smith is a capable physician, and trust in his diagnosis and advice (a reliant faith). But am I actually willing to commit myself to Dr. Smith, take his counsel, obey his directions, and even submit myself to surgery at his hands (a submissive faith)? A full faith in Dr. Smith will include all of this.
Did you have this dimension of faith when you think you were saved? Have you had a surrendered, submissive, yielded heart to Jesus as Lord and obeyed His revealed will? Only an extreme minority of people have exercised this full and comprehensive faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ. The majority have been deceived. Sincerely ask yourself if you accepted Jesus as your Lord!
(5) Repentance from Sin to God
Sometimes we observe professing Christians and wonder why they are worldly, disobedient, carnally-minded, apathetic, pleasure-seeking, or unfaithful. They act like the world, talk like the world, dress like the world, eat and drink and drive like the world. They pursue the same money, the same sports, the same music, and the same TV programs as the world. We may conclude that they just need to be admonished to be faithful to the Lord, obedient to His Word, separated from the world, and zealous in spiritual matters.
This may be true. But the cause is probably something more basic than this. Instead of merely admonishing such people to change their behavior and then wondering why changes are not occurring in their life, probably in most cases, the problem is that these people have never truly and thoroughly repented of their sins and been born again by the Spirit of God! They have gone through certain external acts or even had an internal change of some kind, but the nature is the same and the spirit has not been regenerated!
If we were to ask a broad spectrum of religious people if they have ever repented, many would not even know what we mean. They would be perplexed or dumbfounded, since this is so foreign to their thinking. Some view repentance as simply being sorry that one has sinned, thus it is nothing profound or soul-shaking. Others have listened to preaching that emphasizes positive thinking, developing a better self-concept, prospering in the Lord, or receiving abundant life, but they have seldom heard a message or read literature that emphasizes genuine repentanceespecially as it relates to them, personally. Furthermore, some Christian tracts and pamphlets either minimize repentance, or entirely eliminate any mention of it.
There are even greater numbers of people who profess to have been respectable, devout, religious church members all of their life, thus they see no need of repentance. They assume that repentance is only for the wicked of society, those people who have lived in flagrant sin and immorality. They think that it surely would not be something they are required to do. When I was young, I had no conception of repentance. I assumed that I needed nothing like a radical change of heart and life, for I thought I was acceptable to God because of my good behavior and churchgoing. Only later I discovered that, at best, our righteousness is partial and defective. Paul writes, There is none righteous, not even one (Rom. 3:10). He charges the human race: All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (v. 23). Each of us desperately needs to repent in order to be saved. Finally, some people have been told to repent in general terms, but they have never been informed how to repent in specific ways. How does Scripture view this crucial subject?
Simply speaking, repentance is an inward change of heart in which one purposes to turn from sin and determines to live for God. Repentance is not merely being sorry or remorseful for sin, although heartfelt sorrow does lead to repentance (cf. 2 Cor. 7:9-10). Viewed negatively or what we must turn from, one must repent of dead works (Heb. 6:1) and wicked ways (Acts 2:19, 26)those sins which bring us into condemnation and separate us from God (cf. Gal. 5:19-21; 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Viewed positively or what we must turn to, we must repent toward God (Acts 20:21) and His service (1 Thess. 1:9)purposing to live for Him, follow Him, and obey Him in the future.
The basic point here is who will have control over our life. It has to do with who is in charge, who will guide me, and who has the last word. God says that each of us has turned to his own way (Isaiah 53:6). He charges us with living for ourselves instead of focusing on Christ Jesus and His will (2 Cor. 5:15). We do our own will rather than doing the will of the Father. We lay up treasure for ourselves rather than giving our treasure to God in heaven, by serving Him on earth (cf. Matt. 6:19-21). We are lovers of self, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Tim. 3:2, 4). This is an apt description of people in generalbut it is also a fitting picture of many good church members!
Descriptions such as these reveal a basic problem with our character and orientation. We naturally make ourselves the determiner of right and wrong. We would rather make our own choices on use of time, place of employment, whom we marry, what hobbies we enjoy, what books we read, what music we listen to, what clothes we wear, and how we use our money. God says that we must repent of this whole focus on life! God wants us to change. When we repent, we are saying that no longer will we be the one in charge of our life. We surrender our will to Gods will. We do not reserve to ourselves the final word, but we surrender all to our Creator, Owner, and Ruler. We must turn from our own ways, our own will, our own choicesand we must determine to live for Jesus Christ and His perfect will!
How important is repentance? It is absolutely essential if we hope to be with God eternally! Scripture says that we must repent in order to be forgiven of sin (Luke 24: 47; Acts 3:19), to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39), and to be given eternal life (Acts 11:18). If we refuse to repent, we will be judged (Acts 17:30-31), will receive Gods dreadful wrath (Rom. 2:4-5), and will perish (2 Pet. 3:9; Luke 13:3, 5). Repentance is Gods unalterable, indispensable demand that must not be neglected! It is Gods call to each person, whether religious or irreligious, whether brought up in a Christian home or raised in the home of a pagan or atheist. Repent and return, declared Peter, so that your sins may be wiped away (Acts 3:19).
Not only are we to repent in general terms, but also in specific ways. Simon was told to repent of his particular evil thought (Acts 8:22). The Ephesians were told to repent of failing to love (Rev. 2:4-5); the Laodiceans were commanded to repent of their apathy and self-satisfaction (Rev. 3:15-19); Jezebel was to repent of her immorality (Rev. 2:21); and some at Corinth were also commanded to repent of their immorality (2 Cor. 12:21). Yes, these are references to Christians in need of repentance, but surely the sinner who understands that he needs to repent can also think of specific applications in his own life. If one is aware that he has sinned in specific ways, he should also repent of these specific sins. He should renounce those sins, forsake them, and determine to never partake of them again.
Do you have one or more sins deeply rooted in your spirit? Have you repented of these with all of your heart and determined to pull them out of your life? Perhaps inward sins of greed, pride, coldness, unbelief, lust, anger, or selfishness must die. Maybe outward sins of profane speech, fornication (unmarried immoral sex), adultery (illicit married sex), materialism, drunkenness, drug or tobacco use, laziness, lack of discipline, overeating, lying, or other outward sins need to be renounced. Many of these have inward and outward aspectsbut they all call for repentance. Paul wrote, Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1).
We can discover what we need to repent of by examining the various lists of sins in Scripture (cf. Rom. 1:29-32; Mark 7:20-23; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-7; Col. 3:5-9; 2 Tim. 3:2-5). Notice a few of the sins that professing Christians (actually, alien sinners) need to repent of and forsake:
· Evil thoughts
· Premarital sex
· Waste of time
· Waste of money
· Lack of mercy
· Lack of love
· Lack of self-control
· Love of pleasure
· No love for the Bible
· Lack of prayer
· Lack of Bible reading
· Not helping others
· Reading choices
· Musical choices
· Pastimes and hobbies
· No love of worship
Maybe you can think of other sinful thoughts, attitudes, words, and deeds that the Lord condemns. However, many church-going people who profess to be Christians, have some of these sins as part of their character and they are content for this to remain. They have never repented of such sins and have never earnestly sought to forsake them.
Lack of love is one of the chief sins that call for genuine repentance. Jesus said that the greatest commands relate to love: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets (Matt. 22:37-40). To love here means to have an outgoing, unselfish, active love and concern. Do we actively love God with all of our heart, soul, and mindour total being? Do we actively demonstrate our interest and concern for others? Since God is love (1 John 4:4, 16) and love is part of his very character, we are to be like Him in our loving (Eph. 5:1-2). To fail to love is to fail to be like the God to whom we belong.
If we fail to truly love, as widely and deeply and sincerely as Jesus commands, we sin. Since love is our greatest obligation, reasonably our lack of love is our greatest sin! Since love is to motivate all of our obedience to Christs other commands (John 14:15, 21, 23-24; 1 John 5:2-3; 2 John 6), we fail God and sin when we try to submit to the teachings of Jesus and His apostles without this inner motive of love. Trying to pray to the Lord, worship God, read our Bible, help people, give to meet physical needs, and every other required, needful obligationwithout loveis an empty, meaningless, and worthless task. Paul says that unloving people are sinful and worthy of death (2 Tim. 3:3; Rom. 1:31-32). You and I need to repent of lovelessness in any degree! We need to renounce it and determine to live a life of love, with the help of God and the power of the Spirit.
Although repentance of sin is an inward heart change, this inner decision and attitude is manifested outwardly. One not only sees sin differently, but he also turns from sin (Acts 3:26). The truly repentant person must forsake his sinsactually put them behind him (Prov. 28:13; cf. Ezek. 18:30-31). We must die to sin and begin to live to righteousness in active service to God (1 Pet. 2:24; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; 2 Cor. 5:14-15). Consider this matter of death for a moment. God says that we must die to sin (Rom. 6:2). Further, our old self must be crucified with Christ (v. 6; Gal. 2:20) and the world must be crucified to us, and we to the world (Gal. 6:14). We must crucify the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24). When we die to ourselves, to sin, to the flesh, and to the world, we come forth to live a new life of holiness, righteousness, and truth. As Paul would say, Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:11).
This means that if one has been living in sexual immorality, he must discontinue this to live in absolute holiness. If one has been an habitual liar, he must begin to tell the truth. If one has been an overeater, he must begin to practice self-control. If one has practiced sexual sin of some kind, he must begin to live in purity and holiness. If one has been cruel, hard, and violent, he must begin to be merciful, kind, gentle and harmless. (The Holy Spirit, of course, will provide the power and strength to enable the repentant Christian to put to death the sins of the past and live in righteousnessRom. 8:13-14; Gal. 5:16-24; 2 Cor. 3:17-18.)
This transformation of the repentant person is the result of repentance. John declared, Bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance (Matt. 3:8). Paul declared that the lost should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance (Acts 26:20). Fruit and deeds are the necessary outcome of genuine repentance.
One expression of repentance often overlooked is that of restitution. Some may not even know its meaning! Restitution is the act of making amends or compensation for past wrongs we have committed (cf. Luke 19:8). If one has stolen property, it must be returned. If one has wronged another, it must be confessed. If one has sinned in various ways, he must be willing to correct the offenses, as far as possible.
Has this been your experience? Have you been deceived into accepting the popular gospel of no repentance? Have you self-righteously thought that you were too good, righteous, and moral to need to repent? Are you willing to truly repent of your sins and turn to God and His way of holiness? You must realize that if you did not genuinely repent when you think you were saved, your salvation experience was counterfeit. Paul says that God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent (Acts 17:31). This includes you and me!
(6) Renouncing Your Idols!
In the first century, idolatry was rampant. Egyptians worshiped Isis and Osiris; Romans worshiped Jupiter, Mercury, Diana, and Venus; Greeks worshiped Zeus, Hermes, Artemis, and Aphrodite; and they all worshiped a large pantheon of other gods and goddesses. Since idolatry was so pervasive in the first century, Paul warns, Flee from idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14), and John commands, Little children, guard yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21). When the idolatrous Thessalonians came to Christ, how did Paul describe their conversion? You turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9). Salvation entails turning from the idols of our life!
Today, most people in the Western world do not worship graven images, although some religions in the world at large do practice idolatry or forms of it. Hinduism believes in more than 300 million false gods! Buddhism worships the dead, human teacher named Buddha as well as their ancestors. Hundreds of millions of Catholics are devoted to (worship) images of Mary, a dead human being, the mother of Jesus in the flesh. Thus, literal idolatry remains rampant in some areas of the world.
But there is a more subtle form of idolatry that all of us are prone to practice. Anything or anyone who occupies the place in our heart that should be devoted to the true and living God alone becomes, in effect, an idol. For instance, Scripture refers to those whose god is their belly (Phil. 3:19, margin). In another place, Paul refers to greed, which amounts to idolatry (Col. 3:5). Money is a universal god! Jesus seriously warned, No one can serve two masters. . . . You cannot serve God and mammon [wealth] (Matt. 6:24). Whatever we give ultimate allegiance to, whatever we give undo devotion to, whatever captures all of our time and attention, becomes our god! We become guilty of idolatry! Jesus warned, You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only (Matt. 4:10).
For one person, his god may be sports, TV, or music. Another person may have his house, his car, or his boat as a god. Yet another may make a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a husband or wife, or even a child as a god. Some of the favorite idols of today are sports heroes, television personalities, movie celebrities, and political leaders. All of this is condemned by God as idolatry!
Everyone who comes to Christ must renounce these gods in his life. God wants us to settle the issue of idolatry once and for all. The Lord of heaven and earth will accept no competitors for His throne! To repeat Christs pronouncement, No one can serve two masters (Matt. 6:24a). We must choose. As Joshua challenged Israel, so we must answer the challenge today: Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve (Josh. 24:15). Will we follow the crowd, the majority, the great mass of people, and continue serving the gods and idols of our making? Or will we cast them all aside in one great act of repentant faith, choosing the only God who can save us from eternal ruin!
Modern Christendom generally allows its members to continue a life of idolatry. Good church people continue to devote themselves to the idolatry of their favorite football and baseball teams and players. They continue to be enraptured with carnal and immoral movie stars and television personalities. They delight in prideful and worldly musical performers. They worship the gods of education, good jobs, and especially money. They endorse and even promote the purchase of luxury cars, fine houses, expensive furnishings, name brand clothes, extravagant cruises, and worldly possessions.
These compromising and worldly professing Christians have failed to renounce their idolatry, that which is an abomination to a holy God! Remember that Jesus declared, That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God (Luke 16:15b)! The LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God (Deut. 4:24). Our jealous God will not tolerate anyone or anything in our hearts that would tend to push Him to the side. He demands everything or nothing! Yet churches have condoned and sometimes promoted the evil focus of worldly idolatry. Churches have their Super Bowl Sundays and World Series Sundays! They have their ball teams, their nationalism, their expensive ski trips, their fashion shows, their games and prizes. They have their big name, Cadillac-driving preachers, their grand crusades and luxurious furnishings. All of this must to be swept away by true repentance and holy living!
When one encounters the message of Jesus Christ and is faced with the divine demand of repentance toward God (Acts 20:21), he must renounce these idols and competitors to the throne of God. As Paul said to the idolaters of Lystra, We . . . preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God (Acts 14:15). The Lord calls on professing (but false) Christians to turn from the vain and sinful idols in their life! Notice some of the forms of idolatry that unsaved church members pursue:
· Television and radio
· Social activities
· Husband or wife
· Profession or job
Since people who claim to be converted continue to be devoted to these modern gods, we observe a majority of church members who have their names on the church role, who may even render loyalty to their church, but whose heart is still sinfully idolatrous and captivated by false gods.
If you continue to be held captive by the popular but acceptable dominating gods of our culture, you need to repent! This speaks of a radical reorientation of life in which one no longer focuses on these human, earthly, worldly gods and begins to focus exclusively on the true God and the living Jesus Christ as Lord! You need to repent and forsake all of these sinful preoccupations if you would truly be saved from sin.
(7) Transition and Deliverance
Becoming a Christian is a very confusing matter to many people. They leave the impression that the process or act of being saved is unexplainable, better felt than told, and very subjective. Some simply think that if one acts like a Christian, he automatically is one! There are some who suppose that if they are born into a professing Christian family, that makes them a Christian also. In some countries where the state church prevails, people think that Christianity is to be equated with citizenship! And then there are others who assume that one progressively grows into Christianitythat it is a quality rather than a state.
There are those who believe that they were forgiven or saved when they were baptized as an infant, or perhaps when they were confirmed as an adolescent. Some even think they became a Christian when they were accepted for church membership and had their name added to a membership roll. When I was growing up, I seemed to have the nebulous belief that one simply is born into a Christian family and progressively grows as a Christian, without a personal, decisive response from the heart.
Some others think they were saved and became a Christian when they invited Jesus into their heart, or signed a decision card, or repeated certain words of a sinners prayer after a preacher, or made a profession of faith. Still others believe they were saved because of a warm feeling or electrical charge in their body or because of a dream or a vision they think they have experienced. Vast numbers are not sure when or how they became a Christianthey just believe or hope that they are one!
What about you? When and how do you think you became a Christian? When and how do you think you were saved? Does this simply reflect your own thoughts and beliefs, or the teachings of a church or preacheror does this agree with the truth in Scripture?
Strange though it is to many, the New Testament definitely teaches that at a specific point in time one becomes a Christian. At that precise occurrence, one is saved, forgiven, delivered, redeemed, justified, and born again. At a point in time one is reconciled to God and given eternal life. In a hundred different places in the Bible, God tells us that at a given time, on a given occasion, under given circumstances, at a given location one is forgiven of past sins and brought into the body of Christ.
Notice how this point of transition or transformation is referred to in various places. Paul writes, You were washed . . . you were sanctified . . . you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God (1Cor. 6:11). These are specific acts of God, occurring at a specific time on a specific date. In another place, he says, He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col. 1:13). The deliverance and transferal occurred at a specific time. Again, [God] made you alive together with [Christ], having forgiven us of all our transgressions (Col. 2:13b). The giving of life and the forgiveness took place at a specific time. Yet again, By grace you have been saved (Eph. 2:5). This speaks of a past event. Peter likewise asserts, You once were not a people, but now you are the people of God: you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Pet. 2:10). The giving of mercy occurred at a given time and on a date.
This clearly shows that at a specific time, in a specific way, at a specific place, one is washed, sanctified, justified, forgiven, saved, and delivered. There is a point of transition in which one leaves the realm of darkness and enters the realm of light (Eph. 4:17-19; 5:8-9). He leaves a relationship to Satan and begins a relationship with God (Acts 26:18; cf. 1 John. 3:1-2; 5:1-2). Just as the physical birth is a point of transition into the physical world, so the spiritual birth brings us into the spiritual realm of God. Notice how a point of transition must occur in your life if you want to be saved from sin:
Slave of sin
Ruled by Satan
In the flesh
Born of the flesh
Kingdom of the world
Under Gods wrath
Separated from God
Child of the devil or Satan
Destiny is hell, the lake of fire
Slave of Christ
Ruled by Christ
In the Spirit
Born of the Spirit
Kingdom of Christ
In God’s grace
Reconciled to God
Child of God the Father
Destiny is the Kingdom of God
This shows, in stark contrast, the two different states, the two different realms, and the two different conditions. Where are you? Have you come to that point of transition in your own life?
Have you been deceived into thinking that you were a Christian and that you were saved when you have no idea when this occurred? Did you think that you became a Christian and were saved because of something done to you when you were an infantapart from any response by yourself? Did you think that you were a Christian merely because you acted like a Christian in some respects or even thought yourself to be a Christian? Did you just assume that you were always a child of God, therefore didnt need to do anything to make this a reality? Have you assumed that you were saved because you think youve had a dream, or seen a vision, or heard a voicebut you cannot really substantiate your salvation from Gods own words? Perhaps you thought you were born again but you have now discovered from our discussion that you actually are unsaved. If so, you are still in sin and lost. If this is your case, please continue to read.
(8) The Spiritual Birth
Each of us has been born physically by means of our father and mother. Occurring nine months after conception, the physical birth brought us into this world. However, Jesus said that we need more than a physical birthwe need a spiritual birth. He explained this to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again [born from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God. . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, you must be born again [born from above]. (John 3:3, 5-7).
This spiritual birth is referred to as being born again or born from above (John 3:3, 7), being born of water and the Spirit (v. 5), being born of God (1 John 3:9; cf. 2:29; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18; John 1:12-13), being brought forth or born by the word of truth (James 1:18), and being born again through the living and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23).
Reformed or Calvinistic theology contends that God must regenerate or cause the spiritual birth to enable one to believe in Christ and be saved. They assume that the unsaved person can do nothing until this spiritual regeneration takes place. Therefore, the new birth is thought to precede faith and repentance! In contrast, Scripture says that God enables the sinner to believe, to repent, and to turn to God in order to be saved or forgiven of sin. The new birth and salvation are simultaneous acts of God and both occur through faith. Paul wrote that the gospel (the good news of Christ crucified and risen) is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). The apostle also wrote, By grace you have been saved through faith (Eph. 2:8). Clearly, we must believe in order to be saved (cf. Luke 8:12; Mark 16:16; Acts 16:31; 1 Cor. 15:1-2), and we cannot be born again without being saved.
Likewise, we must believe in Christ in order to have eternal life or spiritual life. Christ declared, Whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. . . . He who believes in the Son has eternal life (John 3:16, 36). He also said that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31; cf. 5:24). Paul refers to those who would believe in Him for eternal life (1 Tim. 1:16). We must also believe in Christ in order to be forgiven of sin (Acts 10:43), justified (Romans 5:1), and sanctified (Acts 26:18). The point here is that we must be born againthereby receiving spiritual lifeand this comes through faith in Christ.
The new birth of God is described as being born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5). It is not absolutely clear what Christs meaning is at this point, but it is interesting to note that prior references to water in John (1:26, 31, 33; 2:7, 9) and subsequent references (3:23; 4:7, 46; 5:4, 7) are referring to literal water, although spiritual water is also found nearby (4:10-15; 7:38). Perhaps Jesus reference to being born of water and the Spirit is a reference to baptism in both water and the Spirit. Baptism in water in Scripture is often associated with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38-39; 19:5-6; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27 with 4:6). Even Christs baptism was the point in which the Holy Spirit came (cf. Matt. 3:14-17; Mark 1:9-10; Luke 3:21-22). Baptism does have an outward, external aspect as well as a meaningful inward, spiritual aspect, connected with the Spirit of God. Whether this is the correct view or not, it is a possibility.
The important matter here is that the new spiritual birth is essential. Jesus said, You must be born again [or born from above] (John 3:7). The new birth of God is not optionalit is necessary! Necessary for what? Jesus said, Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (v. 3). What does it mean to see the kingdom of God? It means to receive and enter Gods kingdom. The Lord said, Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (v. 5). We must be born of God, born again, born of water and the Spirit if we desire to enter Gods glorious kingdom! Do you want to enter that kingdom of God rather than have the lake of fire as your destiny? If so, you must be born of God!
Do not be content with merely your physical birth; seek to be born of God spiritually! Remember that God is responsible for the miracle of regeneration (giving life, resulting in the new birth, and membership in His eternal family), but He does this through a sincere, repentant, submissive, obedient faith in God and reliance on Christs redemptive death on the cross.
(9) The Meaning of Baptism
As in the previous points, the subject of baptism is also greatly misunderstood in our age. It has been neglected, abused, twisted, distorted, minimized or overemphasized, and perverted in numerous ways. The baptism of many bears little resemblance to the simple yet profound act that Jesus commanded in his final words to the disciples (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). Satan has utterly deceived the majority of professing Christians regarding this significant act of faith, obedience, and commitment.
It should be obvious to all that the meaning and practice of baptism is in a state of confusion. Many in our day teach an infant salvation in which baptism is thought to confer forgiveness, salvation, the new birth, and the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the baby. This view is called baptismal regeneration and it fails to have Biblical support. In fact, it violates many principles of Scripture. Others view baptism as a type of infant dedication ceremonymore for the benefit of the parents than the child.
Still others limit baptism to older children and adults, believing that it is a rite of church membership and spiritual privilege. Similarly, some stress that baptism is a public testimony to a salvation that has already been granted in the pasta week, a month, a year, or longer previous to the act of baptism itself. Some simply view it as showing ones willingness to follow Jesus. These latter views minimize the importance of baptism and fail to observe key Biblical passages that emphasize the meaning and purpose of baptism.
What does Scripture say? Only Gods Word can clear away the confusion, dispel the darkness, and shed light on this topic. God is quite clear that baptism is only for those who have come to a place of personal faith in Christ. When I was a tiny infant, a pastor moistened my head and pronounced this a baptism. Only years later did I discover that this was far removed from Scriptural baptism. Biblical baptism was a baptism of saving faith. This is the consistent witness of Scripture. Many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized (Acts 18:8). Just as hearing the message of Christ preceded believing (Rom. 10:17), so believing on Christ preceded baptism into Christ (cf. Acts 8:12-13, 35-39; 16:15, 31-34). Notice the Scriptural order: Many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized (18:8).
Christ Jesus Himself declared, He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved (Mark 16:16a). Notice that the Lord did not say that belief follows baptism, but that baptism follows belief. A definite order or sequence is in view. It is faith then baptism, not baptism then faith. Obviously, a little child cannot personally believe in Christ and His gospel. It takes a certain amount of knowledge, capacity of mind, and sensitivity of heart to arrive at Biblical faith. But not only does baptism follow faith, baptism also embodies or expresses ones inward response of faith in Christ. The believer is buried with [Christ] in baptism, then is raised up with Him through faith in the working of God (Col. 2:12). One who is baptized is identified with the saving events of Christs death and resurrection. The faith by which one becomes a son of God (Gal. 3:26) is expressed at the same time he is baptized into Christ and clothed with Him (v. 27).
Not only does baptism express faith, it also embodies repentanceones change of heart regarding self and sin, God and Christ. Just as Johns baptism was called a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4; cf. Luke 3:3), so baptism into Christ also manifests an inward repentance of sin. Baptism is a commitment of heart, body, soul, and life to God through Christ Jesus the Lord.
In genuine baptism, the repentant person dies to sin and is separated from it: We have been buried with [Christ] through baptism into death, in order that . . . we too might walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4; cf. vv. 1-7). This explains why one can look at baptism as the point when his old self is crucified, when he dies to sin, and is released from slavery to sin (vv. 2, 6, 11, 18, 22). We die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24), and this dividing line between sin and righteousness (right doing) is repentance, expressed in the meaningful act of baptism.
Peter therefore could call upon his guilty and lost inquirers on Pentecost: Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts. 2:38a). We can see how meaningless any act labeled baptism is when it does not involve an inward change of heart regarding sin and righteousness. Obviously, a partial or defective faith, or repentance with reservations, or an insincere attitude would invalidate and nullify anyones baptism. This shows how faultyand thus useless most baptisms are in the religious world!
It is significant also that Scripture does not describe baptism as a rite of passage into a local church. The Ethiopian was baptized in the wilderness far from people, then he proceeded on his way to a distant countryfar removed from the local body of believers in Samaria begun by Philip the evangelist and also far removed from the house gatherings in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41-47; 8:26-39). Also absent from Scripture is the conception that baptism is nothing more than one of many acts of obedience in following Jesus, or that baptism is simply a way of testifying to the world that one is saved, or that baptism initiates one into a certain denomination. The truth of Gods Word sweeps away all of these partial or outright erroneous concepts.
What does the Word of God say about baptism into Christ? It shows us that baptism is the outer expression of an inward faith, repentance, and commitment to Christ. Sometimes people ask, Aren’t we saved by a spiritual baptism, not by literal water baptism? This is a reasonable question, but it fails to recognize the dual aspect of Biblical baptismthat it has an inner and an outer dimension. Although baptism is into literal water (cf. Acts 8:36-39; 10:47; 1 Peter 3:20-21; cf. Matt. 3:13-17), one is also baptized into Christ Jesus (Rom. 6:3; cf. Gal. 3:27) and baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:13).
It is wrong to focus on the outward while overlooking the crucial inward aspect, likewise it is wrong to only see the inward and fail to acknowledge the outward. Certain cults have asserted that they are only interested in a spiritual baptism and they denigrate or denounce literal baptism in water, claiming that it is a fleshly ordinance. God wants us to recognize the inner spiritual reality while we experience the outward act of water baptism. We must focus on the spiritual meaning, significance, and purpose, the demonstration of faith and repentance and committal, while submitting to the outward immersion or dipping in literal water.
Even the act of baptism itself has been changed in the world of Christendom. Beginning with the Roman Catholic Church in the middle ages and continuing until today in most Protestant Churches, the religious ritual of pouring, sprinkling, or moistening a tiny amount of water has substituted for true baptism. The term baptism, from the Greek baptisma, consists of the process of immersion, submersion and emergence, (Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words), the lowering of the person into the water as a burial and the rising of the person from the grave of water. The term may be translated as immerse, dip, sink, submerge, or, metaphorically, to overwhelm.
Even the descriptions of baptism in Scripture testify to the action. It involves a going to the water (Acts 8:36; Matt. 3:13), a going into the water (Acts 8:38; Mark 1:5, 9), the baptism itself (Acts 8:38), then a coming out of the water (Acts 8:39; Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10), and a going from the water (Acts 8:39). All of this points to the act of immersionnot sprinkling or pouring a tiny amount of water on the person, which would not have required going into and out of the water. The fact that we are buried with Him [Christ] through baptism into death or buried with Him in baptism and raised up with Him through faith in the working of God (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12) likewise leads to the act of immersion and nothing less.
As you might imagine, I was shocked and dismayed that I had not really been baptized (immersed) earlier but had merely been moistened (or sprinkled) by my pastor as an infant. A mere tradition of men had been followed, one that set aside the commandment of God (cf. Mark 7:8, 9, 13)and I found myself unbaptized! I came to see that faulty theology resulted in faulty teaching and practice. It was assumed that an infant needed to be forgiven and saved from sin, thus (according to this theology) he needs to be baptized to remit those sins and give eternal life. I had received a defective baptism, one that was not valid in Gods sight!
Vast numbers of people have simply submitted to a religious rite or ceremony quite different from the full immersion in water practiced by John the Baptist (John the immerser), Jesus our Lord, the apostles, and the early Christians. I remember the amazement I felt when I learned that my earlier baptism by the pastora mere moistening or pouring of a small amount of waterwas not really a baptism since it was applied to me as an infant rather than my being lowered into the water as a responsible believer!
As we noted earlier, faith and baptism have been called the inward and outward aspects of a single response to Christ. Consequently, whatever is affirmed of faith or repentance (the inner) may likewise be affirmed of baptism (the outer). This insight clears away much misunderstanding attached to Scriptural baptism.
For example, one is saved through faith (Acts 16:31; 1 Cor. 1:21), but salvation is likewise related to baptism (Mark 16: 16; 1 Pet. 3:21), since it is faith expressed. One who believes in Christ is forgiven of sin (Acts 10:43), but baptism also is for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; Col. 2:12-13). Sins may be washed away through faith (cf. Acts 15:9), but this occurs in baptism (Acts 22:16; cf. Eph. 5:26). Likewise justification is directly connected with faith (Rom. 3:22; 5:1), but it also is related to baptism (Rom. 6:3,7). Eternal life or newness of life is the outcome of both faith (1 Tim. 1:13; John 3:15-16) and baptism (Rom. 6:4, 11, 13; Col. 2:12-13). Even reception of the Holy Spirit is related to both faith (Gal. 3:2, 14; Eph. 1:13) and baptism (Acts 2:38-39; cf. 19:2-6).
Let us notice, in chart form, how the various salvation blessings are connected both to faith (in the left column) and to baptism (in the right column). These are not contradictory but they do show that what is affirmed of faith is likewise affirmed of baptism. Why? Because baptism is the outward manifestation of the inner faith, repentance, and commitment of heart and life.
How can these spiritual blessings be attached to genuine baptism? The answer must be that such blessings are offered by God through Christ to the repentant believer who embodies this faith and repentance in baptism. Salvation is in Christ (Eph. 1:3, 6-7; 2 Tim. 2:10), and one is baptized into Christ or united to Him (Gal. 3:27; cf. Rom. 6:3-5) through faith in Christ (v.26).
An important distinction must be made at this point so that we do not fall into error. We must not conclude from this that there is no saving virtue or efficacy intrinsic to the act of baptism itself. This is the error of baptismal regeneration, a doctrine held by a majority of professing Christians today. The Catholic false teaching of baptism, called ex opere operato, says that baptism works by virtue of the act itself, separate and apart from the personal faith and response of the one baptized. This we must oppose for it departs from the entire teaching of Scripture relating to salvation by Gods grace and our faith, as well as the basis of salvation in the atoning death of Christ Jesus. In contrast to this, the basis of salvation is the atoning death of Christ itself, and faith is only the means or accepting this spiritual blessing, with baptism the divine means of expressing the faith that receives salvation. Baptism is not at all the procuring cause or basis of salvation. It is simply the occasion when faith reaches out to receive the gracious salvation that God offers by virtue of Christs redemptive death on the cross. Always keep this distinction in mind so that you do not fall into heresy.
How foreign these truths are to most people! What contrast between the true baptism of Scripture and what is labeled baptism in the religious world around us! Instead of the baptism of unbelieving infants, Scripture teaches a baptism of those old enough to personally respond to Christ. Instead of a baptism of those with a defective faith, Scripture teaches a baptism of true believers. Instead of a baptism of the uncommitted and unrepentant, Scripture teaches a baptism of the genuinely repentant person. Instead of a baptism expressing a past salvation experience, Scripture teaches a baptism as a very central feature of the conversion event itself. Instead of baptism looking back to a previous forgiveness, Scripture teaches a baptism for the forgiveness of sinsin order to receive forgiveness by faith and through Christ and His saving death.
Moreover, instead of baptism as a denominational doctrine, church rite, or religious ceremony, Scripture reveals baptism as a simple nonsectarian, nondenominational response to Christ Himself. All of this explains why baptism was carried out immediately when a person responded in repentant faith in Christ to be saved from his sin (cf. Acts 2:37-41; 8:12, 35-39; 10:47-48; 16:14-15, 30-34; 19:1-6; 22:16). What contrast between what is called baptism in our day, and the baptism commanded by Christ in the commission to His apostles!
As we have observed above, denominational baptism generally differs from Biblical baptism in respect to the purpose (why one is baptized), the meaning (what it signifies), subjects, (who is baptized), the prerequisites (what must precede the act), the circumstances, and the act or action itself (whether one has water applied to him, or whether one is applied to the water).
Do you now realize that this may be another primary area in which you have been deceived? A counterfeit dollar bill will not purchase; a counterfeit ticket will not provide admittance; a counterfeit drivers license does not entitle one to drive a car. Neither will a counterfeit baptism meet the requirements of God. Can you understand how possibly what you thought was baptism actually was a counterfeit religious act or ritual much different from the baptism taught in the New Testament? If so, a genuine baptism (or rebaptism) is what God would command of you. Just as the Ephesians needed to be rebaptized, after receiving an invalid immersion in water, so you may need to be baptized again, this time into Christ Jesus (cf. Acts 19:3-5; 18:25-26).
(10) Few Live the Christian Life
Most of our discussion in this booklet pertains to becoming a Christianthe actual response of a person to God through Christ Jesus and His redemptive death, to be saved from sin and enter into a living relationship with God. But what of our life after this saving event?
If a person becomes a citizen of this country, it is not only important to know that he was truly naturalized according to national law, but it is likewise necessary to know that the new citizen is participating in his rights, privileges, and blessings of citizenship as well as fulfilling the demands of this honorable position. Although the parallel is not at all exact, it is true that God not only calls a sinner to salvation, but He also calls on the Christian to think, believe, speak, and act like a Christian, a follower of Christ, a citizen of heaven.
The Bible refers to a Christian in a number of ways, using descriptive terms that convey significant truths. Notice these terms and the meaning of each:
- Christian (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16)a sincere follower of Christ (the Messiah), the Anointed of God.
- Disciple (John 13:35; 15:8; Acts 9:1; 11:26)a learner of Christ, an adherent of the Lord Jesus, a follower of His teaching.
- Believer (Acts 5:14; 16:1; 2 Cor. 6:15; 1 Tim. 4:10)one who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and who believingly obeys Him.
- Saint or Holy One (Rom. 1:7; 12:13; 16:2, 15; 1 Cor. 1:2)one who is separated from sin and the world, to God and His will.
- Brother and Sister (2 Cor. 1:1; 1 Thess. 3:2; James 2:15)children of God who recognize their intimate relationship with each other in His family.
- Child of God (Rom. 8:16-17; Eph. 5:1; 1 John 3:1-2)one who has God as his or her Heavenly Father through a new, spiritual birth and through adoption.
We can see that a Christian is not merely one who claims to be one, but one who has become a Christian by being saved from sin as well as one who is living as a believer, as a child of God, as a disciple of Christ Jesus, as a follower of the Lord, as one who has been separated from sin and the world to the will of God. We have literally been called out of darkness into Gods marvelous light, out of sin and into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ!
How preposterous for one to claim to be a Christian when nearly everything about his life does not agree with the revealed truth of God. Yet, multiplied millions of people do claim to be Christians without either a spiritual birth, or a spiritual salvation, and without following the sound teaching of Scripture, or embracing the radical lifestyle that Jesus demands. How sad, how deceptive, how tragic!
(11) Subjective Feelings or Objective Truth?
Why do you think you are forgiven of your sins? Why do you believe you have God as your Father and are going to heaven? What basis do you have for your assurance?
Sometimes I glance at obituary notices in the large local metropolitan newspaper. It is amazing how many of the announcements begin with something like, Mary Smith went to be with her Lord, Bill Jones went to heaven, or, Linda Williams fell asleep in Jesus. These kinds of statements are the very ones true Christians may use in reporting a death. This open mention of Christ and heaven may be different from your area, for this is located in the proverbial Bible Belt where society is somewhat more open to spiritual things, but isnt it interesting that so many profess to belong to the Lord at the time of death (although the obituary may go on to describe the worldly life the deceased person lived).
But does thinking that you are saved and are a Christian make it so? Apparently many people think just that. A person may claim to be a Christian because he thinks and feels that he is a Christian! He professes to be saved because his heart tells him that he is saved. He uses his inner feelings, his subjective belief, and his personal experience to determine his objective state. Some even think they have received special revelation from God to confirm these feelings of being a Christian. Deep in their heart or mind, they think they have heard the words, You are My child, or, I have forgiven and accepted you. They depend on such warm thoughts or perceived words of acceptance to bolster their feelings of assurance and conviction of being a child of God the Father.
Are these inner subjective feelings of being saved a reliable source of knowledge about your spiritual condition? No, not at all! Remember that the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9). We cannot rely on these inward impressions. He who trusts in his own heart is a fool (Prov. 28:26a). We are warned, Do not lean on your own understanding (Prov. 3:5b). It is dangerous and deadly to conclude you are saved from sin and a true Christian merely because you feel like a Christian, think you are a Christian, have inner impressions that you are a Christianor, worse yet, that some religious authority has told you that you are truly saved and are a Christian!
We can only know whether we have been born again, saved, forgiven, and justified, by comparing our experience with the objective truth of the Word of God. If God reveals, in His Word, and through the Spirit, how one is saved and becomes a Christian, and if your experience agrees with this truth, then you are a Christian. You are forgiven (1 John 2:12), you are born again (1 Peter 1:3), you are saved (Eph. 2:8-9), and you are a child of God (Rom. 8:16; 1 John 3:1-2). If your experience differs from what God says in the Scriptures, then you havent been saved or forgiven, regardless of what your heart tells you or supposed inner voices are telling you.
It is surprising the number of people claiming to be Christians who are basing their eternal destiny on an assumed past salvation experience as well as present subjective experiences, including imagined answers to prayer and warm feelings in their heart. Sometimes one will pound on his left chest and assert loudly, with conviction, I dont care what the Bible says; I know what Ive experienced here in my heart! People have actually said similar things to this, saying, I know what Ive experienced! I know what God has done to me! I know that the Spirit has spoken to my heart and said I am saved!
The only way this mistaken confidence can be shaken is a deep, personal faith in the Word of the living God! He knows best about how to be saved since He is Savior! We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). We need the same confidence that Paul had when he proclaimed publicly, I believe God (Acts 27:25). If we believe God and place our confidence in His living Word, we will determine our spiritual state by studying that Word rather than accepting our personal feelings! This means that we judge our own experiences, feelings, and impressions by the objective Word of God, rather than allowing our subjective experiences to judge the Word of God! Just yesterday, a fellow-workera professing Christianchided me and called me old fashioned since I insisted on taking the Word of God seriously regarding a popular but compromising religious practice of today. I replied that Gods Word must always be our standard of truth, belief, and practice. It will be that Word that will judge us on the Last Day (John 12:48).
If we build our life and rest our confidence on personal feelings, impressions, and experiences, we are like the foolish man in Jesus parable who built his house on the sand. The rains fell and the floods came and the winds blew and the house fell since it had been built on an insecure foundation. On the other hand, the wise man built his house on the rock, then when the rain fell and the floods came and the winds blew, the house stood since it had a solid and firm foundation. Jesus said that the foundation is His Word (Matt. 7:24, 26). The shifting sands of feelings and impressions can change, but the rock of His Word stands firm forever. Let us make sure that our turning to God, our faith in Christ, and our whole life is built on the solid foundation of His divine Word!
(12) All Things New
In the religious world, most people have little or no conception of the newness associated with new life in Christ. However, Paul was utterly clear that God does a new work in the true Christians life. He wrote, If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Cor. 5:17). Sadly, many merely think in terms of joining the church or turning over a new leaf. But God says His child is a new creature and new things have come!
In my childhood, we merely thought a baby was to be baptized in the church, then, at about age twelve, the young person studied the catechism for a year, after which he was confirmed on Palm Sunday. This permitted the adolescent to participate in the life of the congregation. Theologically, the infant was thought to be saved and forgiven, but I dont remember that this was paramount in the thinking of most members. We just thought we were born and grew in the church and thereby had God as our Father with heaven as our goal.
Your own experience may be very different from mine. Even those of you who thought of inviting Jesus into your heart, or praying the sinners prayer, or calling on the Lord to save you, probably thought little of the radical changes that God gives to His children. Paul says that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Notice some of these revolutionary blessings, and the utterly new state that God provides in Christ:
· A new life (Rom. 6:4; John 5:24).
· A new creation (Gal. 6:15; Eph. 2:10).
· A new heart (Ezek. 36:26).
· A new image (Col. 3:10; Eph. 4:23-24).
· A new mind (Rom. 12:1-2; 1 Cor. 2:16).
· A new spirit (Ezek. 36:26).
· A new inner man (2 Cor. 4:16).
· A new focus (Heb. 12:2).
· A new priority (Matt. 6:33).
· A new lifestyle (Rom. 12:1-21).
· A new righteousness (Phil. 3:9).
· A new aspiration (Col. 3:1-2).
· A new forgiveness (Acts 3:19; Psalm 103:12).
· A new motivation (1 Pet. 4:2).
· A new ambition (2 Cor. 5:9).
· A new behavior (1 Pet. 2:12; 3:2).
· A new fruit (Gal. 5:22-23).
· A new fear (Matt. 10:28; 2 Cor. 7:1).
· A new speech (Eph. 4:29).
· A new family (Eph. 2:19; 1 John 3:1-2).
· A new citizenship (Phil. 3:20).
· A new song (Psalm 40:3).
· A new Father (John 8:44 with Rom. 8:14-16).
· A new love (John 13:34-35).
· A new joy (John 15:11; 16:22).
· A new peace (John 14:27; 16:33).
· A new hope (John 14:1-3).
· A new destiny (Matt. 25:31-34, 46).
Has this been your experience? It is the Biblical expectation of one who has passed out of death into life (John 5:24) through the new spiritual birth (John 3:3-7). If this reality is entirely foreign to your thinking and experience, you need to take a serious look at your own spiritual state! If you, like me, merely joined church at some point in your life and thought you would live a good life and eventually hoped to go to heaven, you need to be awakened to the spiritual realities and new expectations found on every page of the new covenant writings. Jesus does make all things new!
A Great Deception
As we began our discussion, we noticed that vast numbers of religious people have been deceived. This is why the Bible constantly warns, Do not be deceived (1 Cor. 6:9; 15:33; Gal. 6:7; James 1:16; 1 John 3:2). This includes most religious, moral, devoted, respectable, likable church members. Can we understand now why Gods word shows Satan as the arch-deceiver who deceives the whole world (Rev. 12:9)? Can we see more clearly why John could write: The whole world lies in the power of the evil one [Satan] (1 John 5:19b)? The great majority of people in the religious world have been thoroughly misled and utterly deceived in the most crucial of all areashow one becomes a Christian and how he is saved from sin! Think of the implications of this fact!
One of Satans most devious and potent schemes is to employ doctrines that deviate from the sound teaching of Scripture (cf. 2 Cor. 2:11; 1 Tim. 4:1). These doctrines actually are human, man-devised teachings which are substituted for the will of the Lord.
Shockingly, we read of doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1). Peter speaks of destructive heresies that false teachers will introduce (2 Pet. 2:1). While early gnosticism may have been in view here, it is true that many false teachings, practices, and rituals were introduced soon after apostolic times. This resulted in the extensive apostasy of Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, but some of these false views and practices continued on after the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. The lover of God and His Word must seek to reject all of these additions, changes, and perversions of Gods truthincluding how to become a Christian (Acts 20:28-31; 2 Peter. 3:16-17).
Jesus warned that such teachings in the form of human traditions are a serious danger to us: Neglecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition . . . invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down (Mark 7:8, 9, 13). Many in Jesus day and in our own would rather hold to their own humanly-devised beliefs and practices rather than committing themselves to the simple teaching of Scripture. Why are these teachings perilous? Jesus answers: In vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men (v. 7). Our worship of God is vain or useless if we follow human traditions that cause us to disobey Gods will!
The majority of people have been deceived by the great deceiver working through His servants (2 Cor. 11:13-15)false prophets, priests, pastors and preachers. These teachers are leading great numbers astray (cf. 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 3:17; 2 Tim. 4:3-4) through T.V., radio, books, tracts, tapes and every other means they can employ. Most professing Christians would rather heed these human traditions and doctrines of men rather than be content with the simple, unadorned but perfect will of God.
Can we now see how utterly cruel and malicious the deception of Satan actually is! Could any scheme more disastrous and destructive be devised than for the enemy to convince someone into thinking that he has been saved and forgiven when in reality he is still in his sins? Paul at one time thought he was right with God in all sincerity (Acts 23:1; Gal. 1:13-14)but later discovered that he had been deceived and living in spiritual ignorance all of his life (Titus 3:3; 1 Tim. 1:13; Rom. 10:2). Many who have a zeal for God lack the knowledge of Gods will (Rom. 10:1-3).
Untold millions today fill churches, convinced that they have been saved, that they have been born again, that they are good church members, and that they have been filled with the Spirit. Yet, tragically they have been blinded and deluded by the god of this ageSatan himself (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 2:4, 8). Their hearts have been deceived and they do not perceive their true condition (Rom. 16:18). No wonder that even Christians are told repeatedly, Do not be deceived (cf. Gal. 6:7; 1 Cor. 6:9; James 1:16; 1 John 3:7). Surely one must beware lest he be deceived in the most crucial matter of life and eternityhis relationship with God and his eternal destiny!
On these pages we have examined twelve different areas of concern in which the majority of religious people have been deceived in some measure. Each of these is critical and together they amount to great deception in the most crucial of all areaswhether one has actually been saved and become a genuine Christian.
The Wide and Narrow Gates
The Wide Gate of Deception and the Narrow Gate of Truth
Now we can understand what Jesus meant when He said those provocative words:
Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it (Matt. 7:13-14).
This is true! It is amazingly, shockingly true! The wide gate enters upon the broad way where the manythe vast majorityare on their way to destruction. In contrast, the narrow or small gate enters upon the narrow way where the fewthe small numberare on their way to eternal life. We have examined only briefly many contrasts between the wide gate and the small gate, and between the broad way and the narrow way. Which gate have you entered? Which way are you traveling?
Tragically, many religious people have been deceived into thinking they are on the narrow way that leads to lifewhereas actually they have not even entered the narrow gate! They are on the broad way that leads to destruction. Why? Because they have been misled and deceived by false theological systems, false religious teachers, false traditions, false denominational doctrines, and their own carnal hearts! As we noticed earlier, The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9). For this reason, Paul warns, Let no man deceive himself (1 Cor. 3:18a).
But vast numbers have been deceived into thinking they have been saved in the past and are saved now, whereas they continue to be unsaved. How unsettling! How disconcerting this may be to youyet how urgent it is that we are awakened from our deceptions while we have time.
An interesting story was related by David Sargeant in an article entitled Fire Protection. Notice his account:
A certain Midwestern city had a hospital that maintained its own fire-fighting equipment. If ever a fire broke out within the walls of the hospital, anyone could reach for a nearby hose on the wall and extinguish it. For about 35 years the hospital operated totally free from fires. The hospitals safety record was impeccable. The state-of-the-art system never had to be usedand its a good thing that it was never needed!
One day an inspection was made of the system. . . The inspection revealed a very interesting and alarming situation. The pipe that was to carry the water into the building and, subsequently, into the fire-fighting system, had NEVER been connected to the WATER source! For 35 years, the people who worked in and used the hospital had maintained complete confidence in a system that would not work! The system had all the hoses and equipment it needed. The only problem was that it had no connection to the most important part of the whole systemthe WATER!
Just as the people in the story had no doubts about the trustworthiness of their fire-fighting capacity, so vast numbers of professing Christians are fully persuaded of their standing with God. Just as the hospital water system was ineffective and incapable of putting out a fire, so many deluded religious people have missed out on the most important matter of being a Christianthat of being truly forgiven, truly saved, truly born again, and truly reconciled to God through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ!
We must conclude, in light of all we have observed, that the majority of those who assume they are Christians, actually are not! Most of those who think they have been saved, in fact have not been saved. They have been utterly deceived into accepting a counterfeit or partial gospel (Gal. 1:6-9), or exercising a counterfeit faith (Jas. 2:14), or they have had a counterfeit repentance (Luke 3:7-10), or they have experienced an invalid and counterfeit baptism (Acts 19:3-5). They have believed a lie rather than the truth that sets one free (John 8:32).
What Will You Do?
You can brush all of this aside as inconsequential. You can pass it off as too narrow, too confining, too legalistic, or too fanatical. You can claim that, since you have never read anything like this before and since it is a radical message, it must be wrong (John 6:60-66). You can go back to your newspaper, your T.V., your radio, or your magazines. You can block it out with your sports or your music. You can continue to trust your religious leader, your denominational doctrine, and your church traditions. But there it isquite clearly revealed in your own Bible. The contrasts between the false and the true are too plain to be misunderstood. They are open for all to read, then accept or reject as one chooses.
This is why Jesus could say that on the Great Day of Judgment mere profession and outward confession of Jesus will be insufficient. Notice His sovereign and sobering words: Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father (Matt. 7:21; cf. vv. 22-27). It is not the one who merely reads or hears the truth, but the one who acts upon it who will be eternally blessed: The one who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:17b; cf. Heb. 5:9; James 1:22).
Some churchmen proudly assert that there are over two billion Christians in the world. In making this claim, they include in this number anyone who is a church member or anyone who looks upon himself as a Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or other Christian adherent. They thereby mislead people into assuming that anyone is a Christian who is born into a professing Christian home or anyone who makes some profession of faith, regardless of the false beliefs, the false practices, the immoral lifestyle, the lack of commitment, and the failure to even be Scripturally saved. How falseand how deceptive!
One of the deadliest assumptions we can make is to assume we are right with God and going to heaven when, in fact, we have never truly been saved. It is doubly tragic when one has come to Christ but has not remained faithful, yet continues to think he is secure in his previous salvation. Both conditions show the power and prevalence of spiritual deception. They also show the importance of examining yourself to see whether you have experienced a genuine salvation from sin in your life and, if you have, whether you are faithfully abiding in Christ.
Jesus said that many professing Christians will be surprised in the Judgment. The Lord said, Many will say to Me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matt. 7:22-23). These professing Christians had not even been initially saved or born again: Jesus had never known them. How shocking! Many will be rejected on that Great Day when they assumed that they were active and working for Jesus! But they had failed to do the will of the Lord (v. 21). Please be willing to examine yourself, as I did, to determine whether you actually were born again, actually were forgiven, and actually were justified by God through the blood of Christ Jesus.
As we noticed earlier, the Lord said that only a few would be on the narrow way: Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matt. 7:13-14). If we believe Jesus our Lord, we must conclude that few and not many are on the narrow way that leads to eternal life! The broad way is populated by many people who think they are Christians, but their experience and their life does not reflect the truth of Scripture.
I realize that the theme of this little book may have shocked you, troubled you, or disturbed you. I sincerely hope that it didnt anger you to the point of reaction. Paul lovingly asked the Galatians, Have I become your enemy by telling you the truth? (4:16). Rather than this, I hope you are an earnest, sincere, and honest seeking of Gods will and a lover of His eternal truth!
It recall reading a little pamphlet one day that helped to open my eyes to my spiritual condition as well as the error of the teaching to which I had been exposed for some time. I was sitting in an Ohio laundromat, waiting for my clothes to wash and opening my mail. I received a tract from a friend and eagerly read itpage by page, line by line, and word by word. Pieces of the theological puzzle I had wrestled with for some time began to make sense and I was grateful to God for this step in my enlightenment and spiritual pilgrimage. Since that time, there have been dozens of these times of spiritual enlightenment and growth in knowledge, all contributing to my eternal good. I hope that this booklet will have this kind of effect on you with the open, receptive response God desires.
Eternal life in the kingdom of God is not for the deceived. It is for those who honesty, openly, wholeheartedly respond to the truth of God in true faith and sincere obedience. It is for those who accept the gospel in an honest and good heart (Luke 8:15) and commit themselves to the truth regardless of personal consequences.
How will you respond to this quite shocking discussion on the various aspects of salvation in Christ? Just as in the first century, when the truth was proclaimed, there may be different responses or reactions (cf. Acts 17:32-34). First, some of you may entirely reject the message. You may even react, denouncing the discussion as causing confusion, distress, or uncertainty. You may condemn it as false. As one person close to me said, Do you mean to tell me that all of our pastors, professors, and theologians are wrong! As I recall the account, a friend was speaking to a man about his soul. The man became so angry that he threw his Bible across the room, declaring, I dont need the Bible! I know what I’ve experienced! If this is your attitude, you may close the booklet and throw it awayor even tear it upas some have done on other occasions with other literature (cf. Jer.36:21-24).
Second, maybe you will be as the Bereans when Paul first presented the message of Christ to them in the synagogue. Notice carefully the text: These were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these were so (Acts 17:11). They were eager to know the truththey were earnest truth-seekers! If you are like me, you are determined to search, to study, to learn, and to know the truth of God so that you may believe it, know it, obey it, and share it. Like the Bereans, you will examine the Scriptures daily to see whether the information in this booklet is based on the truth. When I’ve shared the truth of the gospel on the streets and the person indicates that he will discard the literature, I plead with him to have an open enough mind and heart to read, to study, and to consider what is really Gods will in the matter. I say the same to you!
Third, maybe you are convinced. Your heart is open, soft, and receptive. Like the fourth soil in Jesus parable of the seed and soils, you have heard the word in an honest and good heart and you will hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance (Luke 8:15). We pray that as you have read these words, you can perceive Gods truth, you have been enthralled with Gods grace and love toward you, and can now understand how the Word of God differs from the doctrines of menand what all of this means to you. Rather than avoiding it, contradicting it, distorting it, or disbelieving it, you openly embrace it. Like the man who found a treasure hidden in a field, you have joy in your heart and are willing to give all that you have to obtain the treasure (Matt. 13:44)! Like the man who found one pearl of great value, you are willing to sell all that you have to buy that precious pearl (vv. 45-46)! If this describes you, please request additional literature so you can learn more.
God graciously and freely offers you full salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. Will you be content in your deception? Or will you instead respond to Him and His truth as we have discovered in His own Word? The Lord Jesus assures us: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32).
A Short Quiz on the Contents
(1)A person can know that he is saved by:
(a) A visitation of an angel
(b) Gods revelation in His Word
(c) How he feels in his heart
(d) A prophetic word
(2)We know that most professing Christians are unsaved because:
(a) God says that few will be saved
(b) God says that most have not obeyed God
(c) God says that spiritual deception is a great danger
(d) All of the above
(3)To be saved, we must:
(a) Believe that Buddha taught the way to Nirvana
(b) Believe that Muhammad was the prophet of God
(c) Believe that Jesus was the Son of God and Savior of sinners
(d) Believe that Jesus was only a great moral teacher
(a) Becoming a church member
(b) Something taught by radical fanatics
(c) A change of heart bringing a change of life
(d) Only for the pagan in the jungle
(5)To be saved, the Bible says that we must:
(a) Be baptized as soon after birth as possible
(b) Join a prominent denomination
(c) Believe and be baptized
(d) Invite Jesus to come into your heart
(a) A pouring of water
(b) A sprinkling of water
(c) An immersion in water
(d) Spiritual and not literal water
(7)Baptisms meaning will include:
(a) An expression of faith and repentance
(b) A commitment to Christ
(c) A death to sin and resurrection to life
(d) All of these
(8)When we receive Jesus as Lord:
(a) We submit to His authority
(b) We can obey Him if we want to
(c) We will willingly sin
(d) None of these
(9)The new spiritual birth means that:
(a) God will give us a new nature
(b) We become a child of God
(c) We are related to brothers and sisters in Christ
(d) All of the above
(10)Each of us must renounce the idols of our life:
(a) Because idolatry is sinful
(b) Because God wants to take away our fun
(c) Because God will have no rivals
(d) Both (a) and (c)
(11)A Christian is:
(a) Merely one who calls himself by that name
(b) One who belongs to a church
(c) One whose parents professed Christianity
(d) One who sincerely follows Jesus and belongs to Him
(12)We can know spiritual truth and follow it by:
(a) How we feel in our heart
(b) What the televangelist says in his preaching
(c) What an angel tells us
(d) What the Word of God says
Answers:  b,  d,  c,  c,  c,  c,  d,  a,  d,  d,  d,  d
Questions to Ask Yourself
As a review on the discussion of this little booklet, I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions. With sincerity and honesty, seek to answer them in light of eternity:
- Have I truly believed in God the Creator and in His Son, Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Savior and Lord?
- Have I trusted in God to save me through the death of the Lord Jesus, and am I relying only upon His grace offered in Christ?
- Have I abandoned all reliance upon myself and my works to save me, yet committed myself to good deeds as the demonstration of my faith in Christ?
- Did I come to Jesus and recognize Him as both Savior (the one who saves) and Lord (the one I must obey)?
- Have I been willing to submit myself to Jesus as Lord and commit myself in absolute obedience to Him?
- Have I genuinely repented of my sins, renounced my own will, and turned to God with the purpose of living in righteousness?
- Have I actually come to a point in my life when I was saved, forgiven, justified, born anew, and given the gift of the Holy Spirit?
- Have I experienced a truly Scriptural baptism: one in which I died to sin, was buried and was raised to live a new life; one in which I expressed my faith in the crucified, buried and risen Lord; one in which I entered Christ Jesus and received forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit?
- Did I begin to live a sincere life of radical commitment to Christ Jesus, did I begin to walk the narrow way of holiness, and have I lived in singular devotion to Christ?
- In short, have I actually been saved from sin and become a Christian as revealed in the Word of God? Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! (2 Cor. 13:5a).
If you would like further clarification on any point I have made or if you would desire to study more fully on this subject as a whole, please contact me as soon as possible. Much longer studies on most of the points I have made are available for your own research. Your salvation is too important and urgent for you to delay seeking answers in your spiritual quest.