Tag Archives: salvation

What must I do? – pt 3

 

I have often made the point that good works proceed out of our relationship with Jesus, rather than produce our relationship with Him. We are not saved by good works, according to the Scriptures, nor do we stay saved by good works. Instead, we are saved “unto good works,” as Ephesians says. When we are saved, we become capable of good works, restored to be the people we should be.

 

Scripture expects the people of God to do good. Because He does good and He is the active life in us as we yield to Him, the Lord’s goodness is seen in us. He uses us to reach out to others in love. Sometimes our actions, as we listen to His leading, are the answer to someone else’s prayers. What a blessing that is to us!

 

I believe that the normal Christian life will produce good. It is in the nature of the believer to do good. Our Lord is always doing good and He is active in us.

 

But there are some who twist even this truth. They say that certain things must come out of a believer’s life. If those things don’t happen or can’t be seen, then the person must not be a believer, they say. Not only are the rules evidence of salvation, they are necessary evidence.

 

So you might hear something like this: “I just don’t know about someone who says he is a believer but never gives to the church.” Or, “How can someone be a Christian and not tell others about Jesus?” These people will quickly say that tithing doesn’t produce salvation. They know that sharing the gospel with the lost is not a pre-requisite for being saved. But they seem to say that these things are necessary “post-requisites.”

 

It is customary for “post-salvation legalists” to cite passages about bearing fruit. They pull out Jesus’ words (which are really about the false prophets) in Matthew 7:20:

 

Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

 

But the Scripture is very clear about where the fruits of righteousness come from in our lives. The simple truth is that Jesus does His own work.

 

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10  that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11  being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11 (NKJV)

Any fruit that comes out of us is from His life in us. So do we have the right to tell Jesus what fruit He should produce? Can we give Him a list of expectations with the insinuation that we will judge His presence in a person by whether or not those expectations are kept? Who are we to judge the people of God who are led by the heart and mind of God?

 

Churches, teachers, and individuals often place their own expectations on other believers. Usually portions of Old Testament law are woven into the list. Tithing, not eating certain kinds of meat, obeying parents—these and others. And often they are reflections of cultural morality: avoiding certain movies or drinks or styles of dress. Sometimes they are blatant church-serving expectations: giving to the building fund, serving in the Sunday School, or church attendance. They can’t say anyone is saved by doing these things or that anyone who didn’t do them could lose their salvation, so they say that these will arise naturally and necessarily out of anyone who is saved.

 

But it is the same old story, isn’t it? Salvation is still judged by the work of the individual, rather than by the work of Jesus. If all we can do is receive what Jesus has done for us, then who can judge our salvation on the basis of our works? The only righteous Judge is Jesus—and He is the One who saves us on the simple basis of His love.

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What must I do? – pt 2

Am I still saved?

If we are saved by the gift of God in Jesus and simply have to believe/receive the gift in order for it to be fully ours, then what do we have to do in order to stay saved?

Many religious groups and teachers understand that the gospel is simple, that faith is what enables a person to receive the gift of salvation and that no works or rituals are required. They don’t argue that point. They know they would bring the charge of “salvation by works” on themselves. But they change the focus by suggesting that those who are saved can stay saved by adhering to a certain set of standards. In fact, some go so far as to suggest that those who don’t behave or live a certain way will lose their salvation.

Another facet of this is the claim that you have to do certain things in order to be “really saved.” No one knows how “really saved” is different from regular saved, but that isn’t discussed. So a person might say that he believes in the saving power of Jesus and has accepted the work of Jesus for himself; but, if he doesn’t live according to the rules and standards, he isn’t “really saved.”

While there is nothing in the Bible that teaches these things, many believers live under the fear and shame of doubt concerning their salvation because they know they don’t measure up. They continue to struggle against sin and they find the rules and standards difficult. When they fail, the legalistic church or friend or family member is there to challenge their salvation—on the basis of their works.

Think about that. If certain works are required to keep the salvation Jesus died for or are required to be somehow “really saved,” then how is that different from the old gospel of works? If salvation is still based on what we do under certain requirements, then we still save ourselves by our own goodness, don’t we?

Perhaps I know that I will never get rich based on my financial skills. So someone gives me riches at his own expense. They are a gift, based on no effort of my own. Now, what would lead me to believe that I could keep those riches or make them grow on the basis of my financial skills? The same lack that would make it impossible for me to become rich would make it as difficult for me to stay rich. (Just ask the lottery winners!)  The only way I could stay rich is if I were to be given so much that my lack of skill could not use it up, or if my benefactor were to continue to pour out riches to me in spite of my ineptness.

I think this is what Jesus has done for those who belong to Him. He pours out on us more than we can lose or ruin and He keeps giving us more. He is the One who saves us and who keeps us saved. He is the One who makes sure we are “Really saved.”

He calls, He gives, He keeps. The Author and Finisher of our faith.

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What must I do?

Sometimes we learn a great deal from what isn’t said in Scripture.

When Paul and Silas were in prison in Philppi, there was a great earthquake and the chains of the prisoners fell open. The jailer, who was responsible for the prisoners, had been sleeping and woke to see that the prisoners were free. He prepared to kill himself for his neglect, but Paul told him that all the prisoners were still there. Apparently, he had been listening to the message of the gospel before he fell asleep and he asked Paul a simple, but profound, question: “What must I do to be saved?”

So there it is. The question. It almost seems incredible that we would still be asking it when it is answered so simply.

In some churches today you have to become members to be saved. Or be baptized. Or obey some list of rules. Or live a good life. Or give time or money. Or pray a certain prayer. In some you have to be good enough before you can be saved. In some you have to become good enough after you are saved in order to stay saved. In some you can never be sure. And in some, you have to be among the “elect,” the chosen ones.

But the jailer didn’t hear any of that in answer to his question. He just heard:

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

That’s it! Nothing about obedience or personal righteousness. Nothing about joining anything. The man wasn’t even a Jew!

Just believe. Just trust Jesus. That’s it.

Of course, some have a vested interest in complicating the simple gospel message. They can control those who come to them if they set up the right requirements and structure. And others just think it seems right to expect certain lifestyle changes and behaviors when giving such an important privilege. But anything more than “believe” is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, I have to add that Paul also did not tell the man he was already saved, like some would say today. He did not tell the man that all people were saved but they just don’t know it and that nothing is required. Paul had the opportunity to do that, if he believed it. No, he said that the man simply had to open his mind and heart and believe.

You see, the gift of salvation is already paid for and available to anyone who is willing to receive it. Jesus doesn’t force anyone to be saved. He offers the gift. If you believe Him enough to receive it, it’s yours. He wants you to have it.

Yes, everything changes from that point, but the changes are good. The jailer “rejoiced” because he had believed. No doubt the Spirit led him to a much different life, but that was after he believed and was saved.

The gospel is really that simple. Beware of those who add to the simple message. The lies are everywhere. The truth is found in Jesus.

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I am Saved

Words of Grace  

 

“Jesus saves.”

You see those words on signs at ball games, along the side of the road, or on the church marquee.  We were taught to ask people if they have been saved.  We speak about saving faith.  We print booklets outlining the way of salvation.  And we hope that we are saved ourselves.

But with all the emphasis on being saved, most believers have trouble explaining what we are saved from.

Some people say that we are saved from sin.  Others specify that we are saved from the consequence of sin.  Most say we are saved from hell.  Some say we are saved from the wrath of God.

Without going into theological details, I would simply say that we were saved from the darkness.  Because of sin, all humanity is born into darkness.  We grow up in darkness and, without Jesus, live through eternity in darkness.  Jesus came to save us from the darkness.

The darkness, in Scripture, seems to represent all of evil and sin, everything that is apart from the Lord.  It includes everything that proceeds from sin and is the realm within which all people live until rescued by the Savior.  Jesus refers to Himself often as the Light that shines into the darkness, inviting those who are trapped to come to Him.  He is the Door that leads to light and life.

So those who are saved are those who have been rescued from the realm of darkness.

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.  Col. 1:13-14

There is much mystery here.  The simple fact is that Jesus often spoke of saving people.  He said that He had come “to seek and to save that which was lost.”  That was His purpose, to rescue us from the darkness.

And He did it.  Those who belong to Jesus have been saved.  Notice the past tense.  He has delivered us.  He has rescued us.  He has saved us.  He did all that needed to be done and we entered into His kingdom by trusting in what He did.  He is the Door and we have passed through Him from darkness into light.  So many Scriptures tell it just like that.

So we can say with assurance that we have been saved, that we are saved.  The darkness is in our past.  Yes, we may still think dark thoughts.  Yes, we may still do things associated with the darkness.  Yes, the darkness is still so familiar.  But it is no longer our home.  We have been saved.

 

I am saved!

Jesus has saved me.

He has taken me from the darkness

and brought me into the light.

I belong with Jesus.

I am saved.

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Assurance

Grace 101

 

“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

I learned that little saying a long time ago. There are times when you win the argument, but nothing changes. The person with whom you are talking gives in and agrees, but remains unwilling to do what you want. There is something more to being convinced than just being presented with a superior argument.

This seems to be especially true in regard to assurance in the Christian life. No matter what I tell people, they will only receive assurance when they are ready to receive it. I have talked with so many people about their hope in Jesus and the promise of life and peace in Hm. I can tell them all the facts, give them all the Scripture verses, and present an argument they can’t refuse, but they often go away with the same fears and the same doubts.

Almost every time I have been able to sort this out with the person, there has been one simple cause. I believe it is the cause of most of the lack of assurance we see in the church—and lack of assurance accounts for the weakness of believers. Without assurance, we become afraid, timid, and open to compromise. But those who are absolutely assured of the truth of their faith can walk into the lion’s den without fear.  Well, okay, there may be fear, but they will do it because they know what they know.

So what’s the one simple cause I have found?  The unwillingness to believe that Jesus has done it all.  So much of the message of the church has been about what is required of us that it is very difficult for us to accept that Jesus has met all the requirements, done all the work, and offered the finished gift to us freely.  The work of Jesus is sufficient and finished.  He has done it all.

But people have been taught that He does His part and we must do our part.  The only problem is that we can’t do “our part.”  We continue to fail.  We were born failures.  We have never been able to do “our part.”  That’s why we needed a Savior.  We didn’t need a boost or a helping hand or a word of encouragement.  We needed Someone who could and would do it all.

If you look in that amazing gift box Jesus gave in the process of your salvation, you will find a little package marked “Assurance.”  In it you will find the part of your salvation that is your responsibility.  This is what you will need to do to be forgiven and saved.  When you open it, you will discover the secret of assurance.

The little box is empty.  That’s your part.  Jesus did it all.  He paid the full price.  As long as you believe there is something in that little box, you will not have the assurance you long for.  Only when you open it, when you want to see and understand the truth, will you realize that your assurance comes from what He has done.  It can never come from what you do.

I believe that assurance is possible.  I believe it comes when we finally understand that there is no hope in us.  We cannot provide one tenth or one hundredth or one thousandth of what it took to save us.  Salvation, forgiveness, eternal life—this is the work of Jesus alone.  When I look at me, I lack assurance.  When I look at Him, I have peace.

Let yourself be convinced of Jesus.  You don’t have to trust me or the church or even yourself.  Assurance won’t come from any of those places.  Throw yourself on Him alone.  Offer Him nothing.  Promise Him nothing.  No bargains.  Just the love of Jesus.  That’s all you have and that’s enough.

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Salvation

 

Grace 101

Almost the first thing anyone knows about as a gift from Jesus and through Jesus is salvation.  In fact, many of those who refuse to look deeper into the package still accept and appreciate the fact of salvation.  The gospel message is about salvation and the message of the church is about salvation.  Even those who think you have to earn Heaven by good works talk about salvation. 

The one thing most church people know about grace is that it is for saving us.  We are, they know, saved by grace.  They might even add that we are not saved by works, but so many don’t seem to believe that with their hearts.  If they don’t strive to obtain salvation, they strive either to maintain it or to deserve it.  After salvation, much of the church forgets about grace.

Salvation, at least, is a clear work of grace.  But does anyone know what we are saved from?  Most people would simply say that we are saved from hell, I suppose.  Children often say that we are saved from our sins.  Some people think we are saved from the evil one.  There is a sense in which each of these is true.

It seems to me that the important thing is not what we were saved from, but what we were saved out of.  We were stuck in a realm of darkness and evil, a river that flowed too strongly for us to escape.  We could not overcome the current of that great river as it bore us ever closer to hell.  There was no way for us to save ourselves.  Nor could anyone in the river with us save us.  They were as stuck as we were.

So we needed a Savior.  Someone from the outside.  Someone not in the river, not in the realm of darkness and evil.  Jesus came from God.  He was God Himself in human flesh, and He came to save us.  In a sense, He waded into the river, unaffected by the current, and brought us out. 

Now that’s important.  It isn’t just that we were saved from a negative final destination, although we were.  It isn’t just that we were saved from the things our sins deserved, although we were.  No, we were saved out of all of it.  That realm of darkness and evil is in our past, but no longer in our present.  That world is no longer our home and we are no longer bound to its influences.  Sin no longer has dominion over us (Rom 6:14), and we no longer must do what it suggests.   Since the law was given into the realm of darkness and sin, judging it and moving people to cry out for salvation, we can no longer be under law.  There’s so much more. 

I also believe it is just as important to proclaim what we have been saved into, as what we have been saved out of.  We have been saved into Christ, brought into relationship with Him.  We were not simply rescued from darkness and left on our own.  We were brought into the light.  Sin is no longer our master, but Christ, the righteous One who loves us, is our Master.  And we are no longer under law, but we are under grace.

This is, of course, a simple presentation of the idea of salvation.  The point is that salvation was a gift.  We did nothing to earn it, nor could we have done anything to earn it.  God, in His love, offered it to us and we received it.  It was in the gift.

I know that some people use salvation to denote everything we received in Christ.  That’s fine, but I think it lessens the wonder and joy to focus on only one aspect of the gift.  So we are going to look deeper into the package.

Get ready.  There’s a lot more in the box than salvation!

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Grace Plus?

I once heard a preacher say that he was 90% grace and 10% law.  He was, of course, concerned about the behavior of those who claimed they were under grace.  It fascinates me that so many people are so concerned about behavior in the lives of those who trust in Christ alone for life.

Frankly, I haven’t seen all that much difference between the behavior of those who claim the sufficiency of Christ and that of those who say that we must maintain our salvation by our behavior.  We who know that we are under grace still struggle against the flesh and the ways of the world.  We still do things the Lord calls sin.  And law hasn’t really helped behavior throughout the centuries, has it?  It seems to me that legalists are just as compromised as we are.

Behavior isn’t the issue.  The issue is life.  The grace message says that life does not come through good behavior but through the love of God in Jesus.  The grace message says that we can add nothing to nor take anything away from the work of Jesus on our behalf.  In other words, we are saved, and kept saved, by His behavior, not ours.

The message we reject is the one that suggests we need to watch ourselves or else we will lose the gift Jesus has given us.  If we do certain wrong things we may wake up one day and find ourselves on the outside.  We reject the idea that anyone has to maintain his own salvation by his behavior or add to the work of Jesus in order to be “really saved.”  We reject the idea that some people are more saved than others on the basis of their good works.  We reject the idea that saved people walk through life with sin yet to be forgiven or washed from their lives.  We reject those things because we believe Scripture rejects them.

Are there people in the grace community who think that sin isn’t a big deal?  I suppose.  But saying that there is no sin on the account of a believer is not the same as saying that sin isn’t a big deal.  Anyone who has read my writings should know that I teach sin is always hurtful and always foolish.  God does hate sin and that’s because He love us.  Sin hurts us. 

And, again, the problem of sin is not a grace issue.  Under the law, people continue to struggle with sin.  Who could deny that? 

The difference, of course, is that those who are under grace walk forward through their lives with the knowledge of God’s love and forgiveness.  We don’t have to look over our shoulders, wondering whether we have done enough or been careful enough.  We can trust the finished work of Jesus.

Listen: If my behavior will keep me out of Heaven, then I am doomed.  You are too.  My salvation has to be completely outside of me, because there is nothing of me that can earn it or keep it.  I am being transformed in my thinking, but I continue to look to the flesh for my responses in life.  I find that I walk in the Spirit more and more; but, if perfect behavior is required, I’m not going to make it.

So if it is grace plus behavior/law, then what percentage is necessary?  Is it 90% grace and 10% behavior?  Is it 99% what Jesus does and 1% what I do?  Maybe 99.9% a free gift of God’s love and .1% a work of my flesh?

No.  No one is good enough to earn .1 % or even .001%.  The stain of sin runs throughout my flesh, even after I come to Jesus.  The flesh is what remains of my old thinking, built and damaged by years apart from the Lord.  If my hope is built on grace plus any amount of good from my flesh, there is no hope. 

When you examine the objections people bring against the message of grace, you will almost always find a desire to place some level of trust in the work of the flesh.  They will almost always say that we still have to behave ourselves or else.  Even those who don’t say what the “else” is, steal hope from the believer.  And if hope fades, victory fades.

Victory in the Christian life, even victory in behavior, comes from the assurance that the work of Jesus is sufficient and permanent in our lives.  Sin is a defeated enemy.  It no longer identifies us, controls us, or condemns us.  In those times when I do something sinful, I can get up and move forward again in the certain knowledge of the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

That’s the message of grace!

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