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All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self–evident.
—Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860)
His shoulders were slumped forward, clenched fists on his knees, when it hit him. Like a divine wind, the truth penetrated his carefully prepared religious defenses. It was like Hitler’s World War II mobile forces flanking France’s entrenched Maginot Line, with its concrete fortifications, tank obstacles, and other defenses. Dave was powerless to resist the simplicity, elegance, and disarming character of the argument. He would never be the same again.
Up to this point, Dave had believed that he had to hang on to his denominational religion for dear life and that, to make it, he had to fulfill its requirements. The resultant agonizing conflict between knowing what he should be doing versus his almost total inability to do it left him exhausted, confused, and wracked with guilt. He asked me over and over, “What do I have to do?” Raising his voice in frustration, he said, “Just tell me the things I must do to be saved!” My answer exasperated him further, “There is nothing you can do, nothing at all. It’s been done for you by someone else.”
It seemed too simplistic, and he struggled to make sense of it. That’s when the insight came crashing into his consciousness like lightning. His shoulders came up, his fists turned into upturned hands, and tears welled up in his eyes. He could only surrender to this divine wind and welcome its cleansing flow into his mind, body, and spirit. The ecstasy, the relief, the joy that followed lit him up. Finally, he got it—that his lifelong struggle for acceptance and peace with God had nothing to do with anything he did, whether good or bad. It was about God and what God did. And, better yet, the thing that God did was comprehensive, forever finished, and freely available to anyone courageous enough to reach out and take (believe) it.
Dave left my home that day spiritually “lighter” and filled with a settled inner peace that was to characterize him from that day forward. Those universe–altering words cried out by Christ from the cross, “It is finished,” had profoundly altered his life and Dave has never looked back. Millions more could say the same.
Not having a righteousness of my own
Imagine the agony of another deeply religious and highly conflicted man, the Apostle Paul. He took comfort in his status as a prominent Jew and defender of the faith, believing firmly that these things would assure him of acceptance by God (otherwise known as righteousness). It took a bolt of lightning and a personal interview with the risen Christ before he “got it.” And when he did, he went on to lead a movement that would turn the then–known world upside down. Here are his reflections on righteousness (or right–standing) before God:
The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.
I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.[i]
Paul gave up his confidence in religion and the privileges of leadership when he too surrendered to that divine wind:
Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife–happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it—even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.[ii]
He experienced firsthand the utter folly of placing confidence in anything “of the flesh,” including himself. Paul went on to be dogged by former religious compatriots, left for dead by unruly mobs, and eventually beheaded by Roman soldiers for his newfound faith. Yet his life following his divine encounter was saturated with an irrepressible joy and infectious conviction that he was privy to the Truth at last. As borne out by history, death could not end it, nor could opposition silence it.
What now for you?
Our previous chapters have centered around historical events regarding mankind’s origins as recorded in the Bible. It would be easy to dismiss them as ancient tales that have nothing to do with the here and now. Not true. We are direct descendants of those prehistoric parents and, as such, have inherited their fallen human natures, their spiritual status (as already judged) before God, and their overall proclivities toward going our own way. We are spitting images of Adam and Eve, for better and for worse.
Remember the first reactions of Adam and Eve following their treasonous partnership with God’s arch–enemy:
Immediately the two of them did “see what’s really going on”—saw themselves naked! They sewed fig leaves together as makeshift clothes for themselves.”
They “saw themselves naked!” They suddenly saw “what’s really going on” and were consumed with guilt, shame, and terror. The next step was obvious to their now–corrupt minds: run and hide! They immediately resorted to covering up, conniving, and deception. Sound familiar?
When they heard the sound of God strolling in the garden in the evening breeze, the Man and his Wife hid in the trees of the garden, hid from God.
God called to the Man: “Where are you?”
He said, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked. And I hid.”
God said, “Who told you were naked? Did you eat from that tree I told you not to eat from?”
The Man said, “The Woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it.”
God said to the Woman, “What is this that you’ve done?”
“The serpent seduced me,” she said, “and I ate.”[iii]
Most thoughtful people have experienced pangs of conscience over something they did or something they have thought about doing—perhaps something they were not proud of or even something that frightened them about themselves. This speaks to an almost universal suspicion that, given the right circumstances, most of us are capable of anything, especially when trying to survive. It could be said that the most fearsome “weapon of mass destruction” ever seen throughout history is human nature itself. Commenting on his classic book, Lord of the Flies, William Golding said:
I believe man suffers from an appalling ignorance of his own nature. I produce my own view in the belief that it may be something like the truth.[iv]
There is something wrong with our world and everyone in it. Our suspicions are valid. Depression and anxiety rank as the most common mental disorders in people the world over. How much of that goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden and includes the guilt and shame that seems to come with being human? Could this explain the prevalence of escapism (into drugs, alcohol, fantasy, entertainment, violence, and more), the rise of religions to “appease the gods,” and increasing overindulgence of every kind?
So what are the most common approaches that humans take to deal with that nagging sense of being accountable to the same “Someone” that Adam and Eve were facing back in the Garden? Here are a few:
MY WAY : “Rules? What rules?”
This “my way or the highway” world view was best summed up in an article by Cal Thomas, entitled “Rules? What Rules?”
“Rules are made to be broken” is a saying that has many variations, but perhaps no one has summed up common attitudes about rules more than the late science–fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein, who said: “I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”[v]
The key to this philosophy lies in the phrase “I alone.” It presumes that each person is an island unto themselves with the right to customize their own little universes and to live as they please. The trouble is that they’re doing so right under the nose of the real Master and Sustainer of the whole universe. And that God (the real one) graciously permits such attitudes for a limited time only—the clock is ticking. “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”[vi]
In a particularly bold proclamation in first century Athens, Greece, the Apostle Paul confronted the prevailing notion in that intellectual culture that there is no such thing as a real God.
The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom–made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide–and–seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: “We’re the God–created.” Well, if we are the God–created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?
God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he’s calling for a radical life–change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead. [vii]
Since the dawn of creation, mankind has been making up gods as it goes along. From idols made of stone, silver, gold, and wood, to human gurus, to the atheist’s self–worship, we never give up trying. Some just default to the belief that we are alone in the universe and that the whole thing is just one big accident.
The truth is that we are not alone. We live in a universe that is infused with the presence of its creator and sustainer. In him, “we live and move and exist.” That gives him the right to make the rules and to hold us accountable for breaking them. Remember the adage about the golden rule: “He who owns the gold makes the rules.” Choosing to believe otherwise is not without grave risk:
But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives.[viii]
POLLYANNA: “It’ll all work out”
This belief system, along with its cousin, DETACHMENT: “I don’t care,” adopts something between fatalism and fantasy to construct a view of life devoid of personal responsibility or accountability. As we noted in Chapter 2, Blaise Pascal dismissed such foolishness with these comments:
Nothing is so important to man as his own state, nothing is as formidable to him as eternity; and thus it is not natural that there should be men indifferent to the loss of their existence, and to the perils of everlasting suffering. They are quite different with regard to all other things. They are afraid of mere trifles; they foresee them; they feel them. And this same man who spends so many days and nights in rage and despair for the loss of office, or for some imaginary insult to his honor, is the very one who knows without anxiety and without emotion that he will lose all by death. It is a monstrous thing to see in the same heart and at the same time this sensibility to trifles and this strange insensibility to the greatest objects. It is an incomprehensible enchantment, and a supernatural slumber, which indicates as its cause an all–powerful force.[ix]
DENIAL: “I’m a victim!”
We humans are an adaptive lot. I know I’ve always been that way. In the face of a cancer diagnosis, a pretty grim one, I managed to talk myself out of it for a while. That’s easy to do, while the disease is asymptomatic. But then, symptoms have a way of rearing their ugly little heads. I see it all the time at the Rescue Mission. Men and women nurse along their addictions, sometimes for years, and manage to remain relatively functional—until they can’t any more. Then, DUIs, work absences, lost days and weeks, broken relationships, and financial problems start piling up. Life starts getting unmanageable quickly and it’s at that time (and seldom before that time), that the jarring gong of reality sounds. Alas, it turns out that denial is a short–term strategy.
Then again, I can play the blame game, holding any number of people or circumstances accountable for my predicament. Bad parents who encouraged bad habits, or poor upbringing, crooked cops, strict judges, or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time—to name just a few. Blaming others seemed to be natural for Adam and Eve:
The Man said, “The Woman you gave me as a companion, she gave me fruit from the tree, and, yes, I ate it.”
God said to the Woman, “What is this that you’ve done?”
“The serpent seduced me,” she said, “and I ate.”
To their way of thinking, everyone—even God—was guilty. Everyone but themselves. We do it all the time.
Seeing myself as a victim takes all the pressure off. Then I get to retreat into anger and self–pity—two companions who are always loitering around nearby to “comfort” me whenever any pangs of guilt or shame intrude upon my carefully constructed paper refuge. And, as the evidence starts piling up that I might have something to do with the cause of my troubles, I have two choices: to ’fess up and own my role as perpetrator or to suppress the truth and willfully refuse to look in the mirror ever again. At the end of this road lie dire consequences.
RELIGION: “I’m naked!”
My first impulse when I see a problem is to do something—anything! In the case of cancer, put down the Twinkies and reach for the broccoli, buy an exercise machine, and get more sleep, among other good intentions. Now, we all know that none of those things are bad. What person in their right mind would try to talk me out of healthy living? But alas, as good as healthy living might be, it won’t cure cancer once I have it. Sure, these things may make me feel better, because doing something is better than doing nothing and playing the victim—right? Wrong. While I’m caught up in all that activity, I mask my underlying condition and, again, it turns out to be just another short–term strategy. Those nagging suspicions that all is not right continue to intrude upon my carefully constructed delusion, despite the applause of a growing chorus of friends, onlookers, and “miracle cure” pill–peddlers.
In the spiritual realm, religion is a very popular go–to medicine for soothing those painful feelings of guilt and shame. The prevailing emotion is “I am naked” and, therefore, a cover–up is natural: “They sewed fig leaves together as makeshift clothes for themselves.” And what better cover–up for many of us than the outspread arms of a feel–good religion or, better yet, a religion that scrubs me clean of personal culpability altogether?
After all, like the famous ice cream store, there is a flavor of the month for every taste and budget. I can find religions that make me feel good, ones that require me to adhere to strict lifestyle regimens, ones that convince me that there is no god, no afterlife, no accountability, no absolute rights and wrongs. I can retreat into the religion of secular humanism that says I’m an animal evolved from lower life forms with, no spirit, no sin, no god, and no one to answer to. The religious emporium has a solution for everyone. But alas, our conscience often acts as a spoilsport and then that pesky notion of being spiritually naked returns with a vengeance. No matter how fast we run in place, that squirrel cage of religion does nothing but make fools of us.
Paul said as much, with this:
So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.[x]
CHRISTIANITY: “I’m covered!”
John Stott said:
If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves up to His, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding holiness of the glory of God and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely, “hell–deserving sinners,” then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we are astonished we never saw it before.[xi]
And, in Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote:
It is after you have realized that there is a real moral law, and a power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself wrong with the power—it is after all this, and not a moment sooner, that Christianity begins to talk.
It took me a while to get around to accepting my cancer diagnosis. Denial wasn’t working, and “cleaning up my act” wasn’t either. My blood test numbers were getting worse, and I needed to “turn myself in.” I abandoned all the quack cancer remedies, with their promises of miraculous cures, and returned to my eminently qualified MD with his sobering assessments and uncomfortable medical procedures. It was time to ’fess up to my condition and to place myself in the hands of professionals who were, in their somewhat sarcastic jargon of medicine, going to “cut me,” “burn me,” and “poison me” back to health (referring to surgery, radiation, and chemo). My doctor and his staff convinced me that they had my back and that they would do everything in their power to save me. I felt covered. And, as I surrendered and submitted to their care, a strange sense of peace came over me. I knew now that I was not alone, that I was in the hands of others who cared deeply and who were medically up to the task.
Spiritually, I took longer than most to accept the diagnosis that God put forth: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[xii] He was essentially saying, “Look, I’ve seen your charts, analyzed your blood tests, reviewed your imaging, and here is my considered, professional opinion: you have a problem.”
It is upon this point that our spiritual destinies hinge. Do I accept that I am a hell–deserving sinner, separated from God, and powerless to do anything about it on my own, or not? If I accept the diagnosis, God and I can continue the conversation. Alternatively, I can retreat into denial or adopt a religious belief system and start pedaling for a while—or, for that matter, forever.
But suppose God were to say, “Child, stop! Lay down your defenses and rest. I’ve got your back. I have taken your sickness and disease upon myself so that you can be well.” God let us in on the “secret” seven hundred years in advance, through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, referring to the coming Messiah:
Surely our griefs He Himself bore,
And our sorrows He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well–being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
All of us like sheep have gone astray,
Each of us has turned to his own way;
But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all
To fall on Him.[xiii]
It’s funny (not really) that such talk of God taking on our problems seems to offend so many people. You’d think that such a message would be good news to them, but often it’s quite the opposite. The notion of needing anything, much less a savior to bear the consequences of their sins, thoroughly offends many people. In their pride, they dismiss the whole thing as foolishness, as they arrogantly strut off in a huff. Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth. The Apostle Paul saw this coming, when he wrote:
The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those who are bent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,
I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
I’ll expose so–called experts as crackpots.
So, where can you find someone truly wise, truly educated, truly intelligent in this day and age? Hasn’t God exposed it all as pretentious nonsense? Since the world in all its fancy wisdom never had a clue when it came to knowing God, God in his wisdom took delight in using what the world considered dumb—preaching, of all things—to bring those who trust him into the way of salvation.[xiv]
At some level, it does sound farfetched: God collects up every one of mankind’s sins and spiritual diseases—from Adam and Eve’s first transgression to the final sin ever committed by the last man or woman born. Imagine the stench of it—the cumulative results of the sins and effects of sin that we itemized in the previous chapter: perpetual wars, rampant social unrest, genocide, abortion, addictions, family dissolution, child abuse/neglect, pornography/objectification, human trafficking, poverty, exploitation, occult spiritual practices, violence, mass murder, terrorism, and more.
Then he fills a massive spiritual hypodermic needle with this lethal load and waits until the precise moment that Jesus Christ hung on a cross on that lonely hill two thousand years ago. Here is how scripture describes it:
Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.[xv]
Then God plunges that terrible barb into Christ’s arm and pushes the plunger until the last drop has been transferred. The effect is devastating and immediate. His body is infused with sin’s dreadful venom, and his countenance changes into something so appalling that people turn away. Speaking hundreds of years before the time of Jesus, the Old Testament prophets described the grisly scene with the accuracy of an eyewitness:
But I am a worm and not a man,
A reproach of men and despised by the people.
All who see me sneer at me;
They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying,
“Commit yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver him;
Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”[xvi]
I am poured out like water,
And all my bones are out of joint;
My heart is like wax;
It is melted within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
And my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
And You lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs have surrounded me;
A band of evildoers has encompassed me;
They pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones.
They look, they stare at me;
They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots.[xvii]
But the Lord was pleased
To crush Him, putting Him to grief;
If He would render Himself as a guilt offering,
He will see His offspring,
He will prolong His days,
And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand.
As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.[xviii]
And yet, a further terrible blow awaited the savior:
Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”[xix]
God the father was no longer able to look upon his son, for we are told that God cannot even set his eyes upon iniquity. For the first time in history, God the father and God the son became temporarily separated, all over our sins! It wouldn’t be until three days later when Jesus was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit that the divine nightmare would be over and all would be well once again.
And finally, the last devastating blow awaited the savior. Scripture warns, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness.”[xx]
And, sure enough, upon seeing his son Jesus as mankind’s vicarious sin bearer, God struck out with his accumulated wrath against sin, landing the blow squarely upon the head of his “only begotten son.”
Picture this: There are wooden barns throughout the countryside everywhere in the mid–western United States. Wise farmers know that lightning can strike these highly flammable structures, burning everything inside. So, they install sharply pointed lightning rods on roofs of these barns, and they attach these rods to wires that conduct electricity away from the barn. In the event of a lightning strike, the resultant electrical current is conducted along the wire to the ground, where it is dissipated, sparing anyone and anything inside the barn from harm.
Jesus Christ acted as our cosmic lightning rod, attracting the white–hot fire of God’s wrath to himself and conducting the “bolt’s” devastating effects away from us. The trouble is that Jesus died in the process. He absorbed God’s wrath (the theological term is propitiation),[xxi] but the strike killed him.
Here is how the Bible summarizes the outcome:
Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah![xxii]
The cosmic war between man’s sins and God’s righteousness is over, Jesus has made peace by the “blood of his cross,” and we are the beneficiaries. Now, how is that so foolish?
So how can I know where I stand spiritually with God? How can I join God where he is—on his terms?
So how does a person get “covered” today?
Let’s be clear. In view of the death of Jesus, there is no longer a requirement for any more actual blood to be shed to atone for sins. The era of physical sacrifices has been over for two thousand years, as evidenced with Jesus’s last words: “It is finished.” This is explained in the Book of Hebrews:
Every priest goes to work at the altar each day, offers the same old sacrifices year in, year out, and never makes a dent in the sin problem. As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in. It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process. The Holy Spirit confirms this:
This new plan I’m making with Israel
isn’t going to be written on paper,
isn’t going to be chiseled in stone;
This time “I’m writing out the plan in them,
carving it on the lining of their hearts.”
He concludes, I’ll forever wipe the slate clean of their sins. Once sins are taken care of for good, there’s no longer any need to offer sacrifices for them.[xxiii]
As though God was placing a punctuation mark at the end of the Jewish sacrificial era, the physical place of Israel’s sacrifices was finally destroyed, not to be rebuilt—to this very day. Jesus Christ accurately predicted this catastrophic event before it happened:
Jesus then left the Temple. As he walked away, his disciples pointed out how very impressive the Temple architecture was. Jesus said, “You’re not impressed by all this sheer size, are you? The truth of the matter is that there’s not a stone in that building that is not going to end up in a pile of rubble.”[xxiv]
In 70 AD, Roman legions under Titus razed most of Jerusalem and leveled its magnificent temple, where Israel’s animal sacrifices were offered. The site of these temple ruins is now called the Dome of the Rock, and it is a revered holy place. Today, this geographic location constitutes the most contested thirty–five acres on earth and is claimed by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. And not a single blood sacrifice has been offered there for two thousand years and counting.
So how do we “get covered” by Christ’s blood today? Our knee–jerk tendency is to gravitate toward some kind of elaborate religious system, to join a church, or to maintain a “clean” lifestyle. But then comes a nearly impossible dilemma—which religious system to choose. There are hundreds of them! Which one is right? How can anyone know for sure? Does a lifetime of religious researching sound a bit too complicated? Looking for something simpler? Far simpler? Do you remember the story about the so–called thief on the cross—the one who was crucified next to Jesus? The story goes like this:
Two others, both criminals, were taken along with him for execution. When they got to the place called Skull Hill, they crucified him, along with the criminals, one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Dividing up his clothes, they threw dice for them. The people stood there staring at Jesus, and the ringleaders made faces, taunting, “He saved others. Let’s see him save himself! The Messiah of God—ha! The Chosen—ha!” The soldiers also came up and poked fun at him, making a game of it. They toasted him with sour wine: “So you’re King of the Jews! Save yourself!” Printed over him was a sign: this is the king of the Jews.
One of the criminals hanging alongside cursed him: “Some Messiah you are! Save yourself! Save us!” But the other one made him shut up: “Have you no fear of God? You’re getting the same as him. We deserve this, but not him—he did nothing to deserve this.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you enter your kingdom.” He said, “Don’t worry, I will. Today you will join me in paradise.”[xxv]
Now here was a lifelong felon, getting what he deserved—by his own admission—and, after a brief exchange with Jesus, has words spoken to him that would warm the heart of the most hardened skeptic: “Today you will join me in paradise.” It takes your breath away. Hanging from a cross and breathing his last, with no time to join a church, get baptized, attend Sunday school, or clean up his life. He was out of time. Yet this otherwise–despicable character would hear the most glorious promise imaginable, uttered directly from the lips of the savior of the world, and this promise was to radically alter his eternal prospects, to say the least.
So, what did this convicted felon do to “get saved”? In a word, he believed. He believed that Jesus was who he said he was. Period. No arguments, taunting, or cursing, like the other criminal. No denial of guilt or shifting blame. This man was an eyewitness to the grossest miscarriage of human “justice” ever perpetrated. He saw the way Jesus died—not like one who was guilty—and he saw what everyone saw, the gut–wrenching reactions of even the most heartless of witnesses:
By now it was noon. The whole earth became dark, the darkness lasting three hours—a total blackout. The Temple curtain split right down the middle. Jesus called loudly, “Father, I place my life in your hands!” Then he breathed his last.
When the captain there saw what happened, he honored God: “This man was innocent! A good man, and innocent!” All who had come around as spectators to watch the show, when they saw what actually happened, were overcome with grief and headed home. Those who knew Jesus well, along with the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a respectful distance and kept vigil.[xxvi]
It is same for us today—simply placing our faith in Jesus and in his finished work on the cross. God sees that faith and credits the believer with the full value of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection—all of which were done, not for himself, but for us. That is how we are covered in the present age.
Such a spiritual transaction calls for abandoning all “religious” endeavors and attempts to clean up our acts and be good—or any other human efforts. It’s pretty humbling to surrender to God as a helpless, red–handed sinner, but it’s the only way. Be certain of this: on the resurrection side of the cross we live under friendly skies, basking in the sunshine of God’s everlasting grace.
But if we insist on denying our spiritual culpability and if we fancy ourselves innocent of all charges or “no better or worse” than others, our fate will be the same as the criminal who railed against Jesus and had no remorse. But if, on the other hand, we side with the condemned criminal, the one who was willing to face the “inconvenient truth,” and say, “We deserve this, but he does not—he did nothing to deserve this,” our eternal prospects brighten beyond imagining. Dallas Willard, in his book, Renovation of the Heart, observed:
To prosecutors and judges in our court system, as well as to people in ordinary situations in life, it still matters greatly whether wrongdoers show signs of remorse or seem to be truly sorry for what they have done. Why is that? It is because genuine remorse tells us something very deep about the individual. The person who can harm others and feel no remorse is indeed, a different kind of person from the one who is sorry. There is little hope for genuine change in one who is without remorse, without the anguish of regret.
Much of what is called Christian profession today involves no remorse or sorrow at all over who one is or even for what one has done. There is little awareness of being lost or of a radical evil in our hearts, bodies and souls—which we must get away from and from which only God can deliver us. To manifest such an awareness today would be regarded–––and certainly by most Christians as well—as psychologically sick. It is common today to hear Christians talk of their “brokenness.” But when you listen closely, you may discover that they are talking about their wounds, the things they have suffered, not about the evil in them.
Few today have discovered that they have been disastrously wrong and that they cannot change or escape the consequences of it on their own. There is little sense of “woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Isaiah 6:5
Yet, without this realization of our utter ruin and without the genuine revising and redirecting of our lives, which that bitter realization naturally gives rise to, no clear path to inner transformation can be found. It is psychologically and spiritually impossible. We will steadfastly remain on the throne of our universe, so far as we are concerned, perhaps trying to “use a little God” here and there.
Grace set free
It is a sobering thought that if Jesus had not come and had not been obedient to God’s will in offering himself as our substitute, God’s grace would have been forever prevented from reaching us. Not only would the collective guilt of human sin remain unresolved, but also God’s offended holiness and character would obstruct open fellowship. Something had to be done, and Jesus was the only one who could do it. Jesus made peace between God and man through the blood of his cross. He fought the good fight and purchased our freedom from what otherwise would have been everlasting condemnation. Grace may be free for man, but it cost God dearly to provide that blood–paved road back. The scriptures declare:
But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.[xxvii]
So please…give up scrubbing yourself with spiritual lye, and come as you are. Bible commentator William Newell boiled it down to this:
But the works method and the grace method are mutually exclusive. Each shuts out the other. Men must cease even seeking; they must cease all works—weeping, confessing, repenting, even earnest praying, and simply believe God laid their sins, their very own sins, all of them [past, present, and future] on Christ at the cross. There comes a moment when a man ceases from his own works, hearing that Christ finished the work, paid the ransom at the cross. Then he rests! Such a soul believes, knowing himself to be a sinner and ungodly, but he believes on God, just as he is, and knows he is welcome![xxviii]
Countless earnest seekers get thrown off by wondering if they have the “right kind of faith” or whether they have “done enough” or have been “deserving enough” to be saved. The resultant doubts rob them of the peace that God promises. The problem boils down to a single question: What am I depending upon for my assurance? Am I looking to myself, my faith, my worthiness, my earnestness, my devotion? If so, the result will be gnawing uncertainty, endlessly repeated acts of rededication and a lifetime of stunted spiritual growth. If it’s about me, how can I ever know that I’ve done enough, confessed enough, or devoted enough? I’m acting as my own savior—and not a very good one at that.
The secret, of course, is to look away from self, to the one who is truly qualified to be savior. On that Passover night, some of the Jews might have been in their homes, pacing, fretting, and worrying if they had done everything perfectly. Others may have been at peace, knowing that they had done as they were told, and just went to bed. In the end, if the blood was sprinkled over their doorposts, it didn’t matter. Tt wasn’t about the people or their state of mind—it was about the blood and that alone.
Can I know for sure?
C.H. Mackintosh, the great Bible expositor, wrote that he never achieved assurance of his salvation until he realized this:
It’s not about Christ’s work in us, that brings peace. That goes on throughout our lives and will not be complete until we get to heaven. It’s all about Christ’s work for us, which is complete and perfect and has already been accepted by God in heaven. This spells out the difference between positional truth and the practical out–workings of that position in a believer’s daily life. The former is fixed by God’s declaration and the latter is variable depending upon the active collaboration of the believer with the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The paschal lamb formed the ground of Israel’s peace then, and the “Lamb of God” is the ground of every believer’s peace now. His death on the cross constitutes the entire procuring value of our salvation—the quality or intensity of our faith is not in that value. After all, it is theoretically possible to have a lot of faith in the wrong thing (e.g., religious ceremonies) or a little faith in the right thing. The procuring value lies not in the faith itself but in the object of the faith. A. W. Tozer wrote:
Faith is the least self–regarding of the virtues. It is by its very nature scarcely conscious of its own existence. Like the eye which sees everything in front of it and never sees itself, faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all. While we are looking at God we do not see ourselves—blessed riddance. The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.[xxix]
In his book, Romans Verse By Verse, William R. Newell wrote:
God acting in righteousness, as we shall find, wholly on the basis of Christ’s atoning work, to be believed in, rested upon, apart from all human works whatever. It was on the principle of faith by means of a message, and those exercising faith in the message would be reckoned righteous…But it is of imperative importance that we get the great fact quickly and forever fixed in our hearts that God declares men righteous, not by faith as the procuring cause, for the blood of Christ was that; not by faith as the putting forth of a certain faculty innate in man, much less by the keeping of divine commands, however holy and just; but out of reliance upon his own word as true, and on that alone.[xxx]
In brief, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it!”
Once I was walking hand in hand with my precocious four–year–old granddaughter Sarah around the edge of a large swimming pool. My grandson was swimming in the pool and having such a good time that Sarah suddenly and without warning decided to bolt for the water and jump in. There was only one thing that stood in the way of her plan—my grip on her hand. As she tried to wriggle out of my grip, I clamped down hard, so hard as to noticeably hurt her. But the pain stopped her dead in her tracks as she realized I was serious about keeping her from harm. She is with us today because I wouldn’t let her go.
Now let me ask you a question. Which handgrip “defined” the relationship between Sarah and me—her grip on me or my grip on her? Of course, the answer is my grip on her. Yes, she was “holding on to me,” but with the strength of a four–year–old. But I was holding on to her with vastly superior strength. Thus it is with God. You and I may think we have a “tight grip” on God, but if you belong to him, he will put a grip on you that can never be broken. Take hold of his hand and he will take hold of yours, and he will give you an eternal commitment to guard you from harm. Now that is love.
So, what is it that I’m supposed to believe?
You’re going to like this. It’s not at all complicated. First, some key scriptures to lay it out in the simplest terms:
It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message [Gospel] of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.[xxxi]
In this passage, the Apostle Paul is reviewing the way the believers of this fledgling church in the city of Ephesus (an ancient city in Turkey’s Central Aegean region) had been spiritually saved. Paul was writing his letter from a prison cell, to encourage believers to continue in their faith, to love each other, and to remain together in the face of intense persecution. The passage above encapsulates the deceptively simple way these believers became Christians in the first place. Here is how:
- They heard the truth (the Message, the Gospel of your salvation)
- They believed the Message (the Gospel of your salvation)
Immediately upon doing so, the Holy Spirit entered their souls, sealing their salvation for all eternity and making them the “property of” God, forever safe from condemnation. Note that there is nothing here about joining a church, being baptized, repenting from their sins, reforming their lives, or any other conditions (i.e., “contingent liabilities”).
Just hear and believe. They heard a specific message with their ears, took it into their minds, and mentally considered what it meant for them personally. Up to that point, they were not yet saved. If they had stopped at taking in the information and “rolling it around” without taking any action—they would be as lost as they ever were. How many people today do just that, studying religion, perhaps taking a comparative religions course, and treating the whole thing as an intellectual exercise. This can be a lifetime pursuit for many—holding everything at arms’ length and not committing to any one belief or another.
But not so these Ephesians. They didn’t stop at rolling it around. They “let the coin drop” and believed the message. That made all the difference. They let the message sink in and penetrate their hearts, their inner sanctum, their command and control centers. In the book of Romans, Paul says:
It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God, “Jesus is my Master,” embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!”
Scripture reassures us, “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”
But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That’s why Scripture exclaims, a sight to take your breath away! Grand processions of people telling all the good things of God!
But not everybody is ready for this, ready to see and hear and act. Isaiah asked what we all ask at one time or another: “Does anyone care, God? Is anyone listening and believing a word of it?” The point is: Before you trust, you have to listen. But unless Christ’s Word is preached, there’s nothing to listen to.[xxxii]
Note the centrality of the heart in all of this, “for with the heart man believes.” As we mentioned earlier in our book, in our western culture, our beliefs are often nothing more than intellectual pets that we nurse along and play with but which are devoid of heart commitment and a willingness to invest in them to the point of letting them change our lives. How different it was for these Ephesians whose declared belief in Christ could easily cost them their very lives. They risked everything, and Paul was affirming that it was not in vain—as they would discover in the eons to come.
To illustrate the biblical meaning of faith, think about sitting down in a chair. Suppose you came into a strange room and wanted to sit down on a chair, but you weren’t sure it could hold you. You look around and other people are sitting in chairs just like the one you are considering. You go over, put a little weight on it, wiggle it around, and finally, sufficiently confident of its structural integrity, you put your full weight down on the seat and rest. In other words, by sitting down, you place your faith/confidence in that chair.
The procuring value lies not in your faith or confidence but in the object of your faith—namely the chair itself. Your faith is just the means of connecting with the chair. It is possible to have a lot of faith in the wrong kind of chair (one that cannot hold a person’s weight) or a wavering but passable faith in the right kind of chair.
It is the same with biblical faith regarding salvation. The procuring value does not lie in the quantity or quality of your faith but in the object of your faith—namely the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross. It’s about Jesus, not about your faith per se. I can have a lot of faith in the wrong thing to save me (such as religion, works, or good deeds, to name just a few) or a passable faith in the right thing (Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross) that can save me. Faith is not a religious term, as our sitting down on a chair illustrates. We exercise faith in hundreds of non–religious contexts, from healthcare providers to pharmacists to airplane pilots and more. So rather than concentrating on acquiring or improving our faith, turn your attention to what you are placing your faith in.
Also note the centrality of “the Message, the Gospel of your salvation.” The New Testament asserts unequivocally that no one is saved apart from that message. So, what specifically are we asked to believe?
The Gospel of Your Salvation
The gospel is God’s good news for sinners (and that means all of us). The Bible contains the gospel, but there is a great deal in the Bible which is not gospel. The history of the word gospel in the dictionary is helpful:
Old English godspel “gospel, glad tidings announced by Jesus; one of the four gospels,” from god “good” (see good) + spel “story, message” (see spell (n.)); translation of Latin bona adnuntiatio, itself a translation of Greek euangelion “reward for bringing good news.”[xxxiii]
But specifically, the Apostle Paul wrote that there is an indispensable set of facts about the Lord Jesus Christ that, when believed, results in salvation. Here are those facts:
Friends, let me go over the Message [Gospel] with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved. (I’m assuming, now, that your belief was the real thing and not a passing fancy, that you’re in this for good and holding fast.)
The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.[xxxiv]
There it is, the gospel message—the real–life, historically verified death, burial, and resurrection of the Messiah. The Apostle Paul was plainly stating something that, just a few years before would have been utterly abhorrent to his deeply religious sensibilities. He was “putting his neck on the block” by stating unequivocally that Jesus Christ was alive from the dead. He understood the earth–shattering implications of this fact and how the Christian faith literally hinged upon the veracity of this claim:
Now, let me ask you something profound yet troubling. If you became believers because you trusted the proclamation that Christ is alive, risen from the dead, how can you let people say that there is no such thing as a resurrection? If there’s no resurrection, there’s no living Christ. And face it—if there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything we’ve told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ—sheer fabrications, if there’s no resurrection.
If corpses can’t be raised, then Christ wasn’t, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It’s even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they’re already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we’re a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.[xxxv]
Considering the importance of these foundational truths, is it any wonder that they have been under attack since they were first put forward two millennia ago? Under Satan’s direction, evil spirits in league with unwitting human co–conspirators, have been blasting away at this simple biblical proposition with everything at their disposal—from academia, the media, politics, and an increasingly secular culture—and the attacks have been relentless. Man has tried to discredit this message, distort it, place conditions on it, distract attention from it, bury it in religious trappings, and try to make it hopelessly complicated. After all, this is “ground zero” of God’s redemption plan for mankind, so we shouldn’t be surprised.
But there it stands in black and white—a matter of history. Harry Ironside wrote:
HE HAD TO DIE, to go down into the dark waters of death, that you might be saved. Can you think of any ingratitude more base than that of a man or woman who passes by the life offered by the Savior who died on the Cross for them? Jesus died for you, and can it be that you have never even trusted Him, never even come to Him and told Him you were a poor, lost, ruined, guilty sinner; but since He died for you, you would take Him as your Savior? HIS DEATH WAS REAL. He was buried three days in the tomb. He died, He was buried, and that was God’s witness that it was not a merely pretended death, but He, the Lord of life, had to go down into death. He was held by the bars of death for those three days and nights, until God’s appointed time had come. Then, “Death could not keep its prey, He tore the bars away.”
And so the third point of the Gospel is this, “He was raised again the third day according to the Scriptures. “That is the Gospel, and nothing can be added to that. Some people say, “Well, but must I repent?” Yes, you may well repent, but that is not the Gospel. “Must I not be baptized?” If you are a Christian, you ought to be baptized, but baptism is not the Gospel. Paul said, “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17) He did baptize people, but he did not consider that was the Gospel, and the Gospel was the great message that he was sent to carry to the world. This is all there is to it. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”[xxxvi]
How disarmingly simple! It had to be. It needed to contain timeless truths, easily understood by people of every culture, in every historical era.
Characteristics of the true gospel
If the gospel is truly the way God communicates his one and only salvation message, is it any wonder that the Devil has enlisted gullible men and women over the ages to assist him in burying it beneath layers of religiosity and ecclesiastical mumblings? This malevolent spiritual compulsion has inspired the endless procession of cults who pose as Christians but have long since departed from the truth. Don’t fall for it, true seeker! The characteristics of God’s true message are as follows:
- Simple—understandable to people of all cultures, across all historical time periods, and understandable by children, adults, and the mentally challenged
- Uncomplicated—does not require theological training to comprehend and embrace
- Translatable into the indigenous languages of all people groups of the world
- Sourced directly from God, bearing undisputable spiritual authority and not concocted by man
- Entirely consistent with the sweep of biblical principles from the Old Testament to the New Testament regarding the means of salvation throughout time
- Logical and intellectually consistent with established legal precedent
- Speaks deeply and directly to the heart of man
- Verified by apostolic consensus and eyewitness accounts
- Taught, practiced, and documented by the early New Testament church
- Often rejected or considered foolish by the proud and self–reliant
- Often received and accepted by the broken and hungry–hearted
- Often has to be “rescued” from the ecclesiastical trappings of religious denominations across time
The gospel twisted and distorted
The gospel can be—and has been—misrepresented and altered by man from the times of the early church onward, but the Apostle Paul would have none of it. Listen to his impassioned defense of the true gospel to the Galatian church, who were in danger of falling into the trap of adding to the simple gospel message all sorts of conditions and requirements:
I can’t believe your fickleness—how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no–message, a lie about God. Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head. Let me be blunt: If one of us—even if an angel from heaven!—were to preach something other than what we preached originally, let him be cursed. I said it once; I’ll say it again: If anyone, regardless of reputation or credentials, preaches something other than what you received originally, let him be cursed.[xxxvii]
Again, the great apostle had received the message directly from Christ. He wasn’t about to let it be contaminated by legalistic religionists bent on bringing people under the slavery of the Law once again. He continued:
Earlier, before you knew God personally, you were enslaved to so–called gods that had nothing of the divine about them. But now that you know the real God—or rather since God knows you—how can you possibly subject yourselves again to those paper tigers? For that is exactly what you do when you are intimidated into scrupulously observing all the traditions, taboos, and superstitions associated with special days and seasons and years. I am afraid that all my hard work among you has gone up in a puff of smoke![xxxviii]
What the gospel “of your salvation” is not
How easy it is to slip in conditions to God’s gracious message. Our incurably religious tendencies see nothing wrong with adding human works and religious ceremonies to the message. After all, aren’t those things good? When added to the gospel, they are not only not good, but they also drew down Paul’s most severe reprimand—an eternal curse! Avoid such religious mumbo–jumbo and flee, empty–handed, to the cross. While perhaps “good” in themselves, here is a partial list of the things that the gospel is not:
- The Bible
- The four Gospels
- The Ten Commandments
- Giving up the world
- Praying and hoping
- Public confessing of Christ or professing of a decision
- Trying to “lead a Christian life”
- Asking or praying
- Seeking the Lord
- Repenting (as a separate act from believing)[xxxix]
- Confessing of sin (although we may be moved to do so)
- Being baptized
- Going “down in front” in an altar call
- Belonging to and regularly attending a church
- Observing the “sacraments”
Neither is the gospel about a dead Christ still hanging from a cross as symbolized by millions of crucifixes in churches around the world. He himself left that cross of shame two thousand years ago, so why should we leave him there? He is risen! Alive! Now!
Another common misrepresentation of the gospel is that it requires repentance as a necessary condition of salvation. In this context, repentance is widely understood to be a turning away from sin and turning toward God as evidenced by a changed life—pre–salvation. It sounds good, but couldn’t be further from the truth. How is a person who has yet to receive the Holy Spirit and the accompanying power to live a righteous life supposed to live the “Christian life?” Ironside wisely observed:
The Gospel is not a call to repentance, or to amendment of our ways, to make restitution for past sins, or to promise to do better in the future. These things are proper in their place, but they do not constitute the Gospel; for the Gospel is not good advice to be obeyed, it is good news to be believed. Do not make the mistake then of thinking that the Gospel is a call to duty or a call to reformation, a call to better your condition, to behave yourself in a more perfect way than you have been doing in the past…
Nor is the Gospel a demand that you give up the world, that you give up your sins, that you break off bad habits, and try to cultivate good ones. You may do all these things, and yet never believe the Gospel and consequently never be saved at all.
To believe that the Gospel calls men to live the Christ–life in their own natural power is the height of folly. The Gospel is a message about Christ, not you. It is about his vicarious atonement, his offering himself as a ransom, and in so doing, providing payment for our sins, and making peace between man and an offended God.
What is the “gospel of your salvation?”
The gospel is first and foremost a message. It is a message so powerful that, when heard and believed, instantaneously transports any willing person from a condition of spiritual death to one of life everlasting. Paul wrote:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.[xl]
Believing in this way involves full personal commitment, engaging our deepest faculties of mind and spirit. The process of spiritual rebirth is a matter of sublime mystery described by Jesus Christ, as follows:
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.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.[xli]
However, it is possible for someone to merely agree intellectually with a doctrinal message about Christ, without engaging his or her heart. It happens all the time. Mere mental assent will save no one, but if a person embraces the gospel in real faith from their heart, they are immediately “born from above,” by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the Middle Ages, there were three terms for different levels of belief:
Noticia (notice) Consisting of objective facts—coming through the eyes and ears
Assentia (assent) Mental acknowledgement of a truth intellectually—evaluated with the mind
Fiducia (faith) Receiving a truth personally as one’s own—taken into the heart
Another way of looking at these three levels is:
Wish—“It would be nice to have it.”
Want—“It is my desire to have it.”
Intend—“I will have it!”
It is that last step that makes all the difference. For example, I can say, “I see airplanes fly overhead all the time. Gee, I wonder what it would be like to fly on one?” And then after a while, I might say, “I’d really like to fly on an airplane.” But nothing tangible happens until I say, “I will fly.” And then I must follow this statement up with action: buy a ticket, go to the airport, board a plane, and take off. The gospel message is not about theoretical or theological facts, devoid of action. The message calls us to commitment. Like the illustration above, placing the full weight of my confidence (my faith) in the person and work of Jesus Christ (the airplane).
Adding to the eternal impact of this message is the fact that it was imparted directly to the Apostle Paul by the risen Christ himself. Speaking of Paul’s personal revelation, Ironside wrote:
I think his [Paul’s] heart must have been stirred as he wrote those words, for he went back in memory to nearly thirty years before, and thought of that day when hurrying down the Damascus “turnpike,” with his heart filled with hatred toward the Lord Jesus Christ and His people, he was thrown to the ground, and a light shone, and he heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And he cried, “Who art thou Lord?” And the voice said, “I am Jesus who you persecute.” And that day Saul learned the Gospel; he learned that He who died on the Cross had been raised from the dead, and that He was living in the Glory. At that moment his soul was saved, and Saul of Tarsus was changed to Paul the Apostle. And now he says, “I am going to tell you what I have received; it is a real thing with me, and I know it will work the same wonderful change in you. If you will believe it.”
The Gospel was no new thing in God’s mind. It had been predicted throughout the Old Testament times.
It was typified in every sacrifice that was offered. It was portrayed in the wonderful Tabernacle, and later in the Temple. We have it in the proclamation of Isaiah, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him: and with His stripes we are healed.” It was preached by Jeremiah when he said, “This is His Name whereby He shall be called, the Lord our Righteousness” (Jer.23:6). It was declared by Zechariah when he exclaimed, “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones: (Zech.13:7) All through those Old Testament dispensations, the Gospel was predicted, and when Jesus came, the Gospel came with Him. When He died, when He was buried, and when He rose again, the Gospel could be fully told out to a poor lost world. Observe, it says, “that Christ died for our sins.” No man preaches the Gospel, no matter what nice things he may say about Jesus, if he leaves out His vicarious death on Calvary’s cross.
Second, the gospel must be declared, understood, and accepted. What passes for salvation in some nominally Christian circles frequently omits this central message and instead concentrates the appeal on the notoriously unreliable human will—”Come down in front,” “Say a prayer,” “Give up your sins,” “Be baptized”—to name just a few. To eviscerate the appeal to salvation by omitting the gospel message is spiritual malpractice of the highest order. Paul writes:
But how can people call for help if they don’t know who to trust? And how can they know who to trust if they haven’t heard of the One who can be trusted? And how can they hear if nobody tells them? And how is anyone going to tell them, unless someone is sent to do it? That’s why Scripture exclaims,
A sight to take your breath away!
Grand processions of people,
telling all the good things of God![xlii]
This was God’s first and last offer of salvation to the world. At its heart is the gospel message. He has no Plan B, nor has he ever intended to have one.
But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted. There is no other Message—just this one. Every creature under heaven gets this same Message. I, Paul, am a messenger of this Message.[xliii]
Third, the gospel calls for a personal response by every hearer, like an RSVP (a French phrase, répondez, s’il vous plaît, which means “please reply”).
The invitation opens with a reminder of God’s plan for us—in place since before the foundation of the world, no less:
It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.
It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.[xliv]
And as a reminder of the personal stake we have in this, not just a theoretical proposition, but a very real transformation:
It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin–dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.[xlv]
Ironside summarized the attitude of a believer this way:
“Upon a life I did not live, upon a death I did not die; Another’s life, another’s death, I stake my whole eternity.” Can you say that and say it in faith? L.S. Chafer added:
To have deposited one’s eternal welfare in the hands of another is a decision of the mind so definite that it can hardly be confused with anything else. On the deposit of oneself into His saving grace depends one’s eternal destiny.[xlvi]
Did you know that you cannot believe “savingly” without the direct assistance of the Holy Spirit? He—and only he—can overcome our natural unbelief and to reveal God’s deepest secrets. Again, to quote Paul:
We, of course, have plenty of wisdom to pass on to you once you get your feet on firm spiritual ground, but it’s not popular wisdom, the fashionable wisdom of high–priced experts that will be out–of–date in a year or so. God’s wisdom is something mysterious that goes deep into the interior of his purposes. You don’t find it lying around on the surface. It’s not the latest message, but more like the oldest—what God determined as the way to bring out his best in us, long before we ever arrived on the scene. The experts of our day haven’t a clue about what this eternal plan is. If they had, they wouldn’t have killed the Master of the God–designed life on a cross. That’s why we have this Scripture text:
No one’s ever seen or heard anything like this,
Never so much as imagined anything quite like it—
What God has arranged for those who love him.
But you’ve seen and heard it because God by his Spirit has brought it all out into the open before you.
The Spirit, not content to flit around on the surface, dives into the depths of God, and brings out what God planned all along. Whoever knows what you’re thinking and planning except you yourself? The same with God—except that he not only knows what he’s thinking, but he lets us in on it. God offers a full report on the gifts of life and salvation that he is giving us. We don’t have to rely on the world’s guesses and opinions. We didn’t learn this by reading books or going to school; we learned it from God, who taught us person–to–person through Jesus, and we’re passing it on to you in the same firsthand, personal way.[xlvii]
Call on God, and he will respond.
Scripture reassures us, “No one who trusts God like this—heart and soul—will ever regret it.” It’s exactly the same no matter what a person’s religious background may be: the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. “Everyone who calls, ‘Help, God!’ gets help.”[xlviii]
The gospel can be rejected. This can happen either actively, with a willful negative response, or passively, by not responding at all—either one constitutes a rejection. In one of the Bible’s most well–known passages, John writes:
Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.
“No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one–of–a–kind Son of God when introduced to him.”[xlix]
Adam and Eve hid behind religion, when they covered themselves with fig leaves. God would have none of it then and will have none of it now. Drop your “fancied refuges,” and flee to Christ while there is still time. Remember, to not believe is to reject.
Salvation is not about doing anything. It is about reaching a settled state of belief about who Jesus Christ was and is and what he did for all of us by dying on the cross. Such a settled state of belief naturally includes a decisive, unmistakable, transfer of confidence away from one’s self and to rest it permanently and irrevocably upon Jesus Christ who becomes our personal savior and the everlasting protector of our eternal welfare. L. S. Chafer wrote:
This one word “believe” represents all a sinner can do and all a sinner must do to be saved. It is believing the record God has given of His Son. In this record, it is stated that He has entered into all the needs of our lost condition and is alive from the dead to be a living Savior to all who put their trust in Him. It is quite possible for any intelligent person to know whether he has placed such confidence in the Savior. Saving faith is a matter of personal consciousness. “I know whom I have believed.” To have deposited one’s eternal welfare in the hands of another is a decision of the mind so definite that it can hardly be confused with anything else. On the deposit of oneself into His saving grace depends one’s eternal destiny. To add, or subtract anything from this sole condition of salvation is most perilous.[l]
Perhaps an illustration would help in this critical matter of biblical faith. In his wonderful little book, The Pursuit of God,[li] A. W. Tozer devoted an entire chapter to the business of understanding faith. He wrote:
In a dramatic story in the Book of Numbers faith is seen in action. Israel became discouraged and spoke against God, and the Lord sent fiery serpents among them. “And they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” Then Moses sought the Lord for them and He heard and gave them a remedy against the bite of the serpents. He commanded Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it upon a pole in sight of all the people, “and it shall come to pass, that everyone that is bitten, when he looks upon it, shall live.” Moses obeyed, “and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Num. 21:4–9).
In the New Testament this important bit of history is interpreted for us by no less an authority than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He is explaining to His hearers how they may be saved. He tells them that it is by believing. Then to make it clear He refers to this incident in the Book of Numbers. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14–15).
Tozer went on to explain that looking and believing are the same things, concluding that biblical faith is no more than “the gaze of the soul upon a saving God.” Examples abound in numerous biblical passages of men who turned their inward eyes to God, looking for his approval and blessing. In the New Testament Book of Hebrews, we read:
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls![lii]
We see from this that faith isn’t imparted all at once and then forgotten but is a continuous “gaze of the heart” toward God. Tozer pointed out that this is a lifetime process which eventually becomes automatic, as the believer’s attention returns “like a wandering bird coming back to its window.” He said:
I would emphasize this one committal, this one great volitional act which establishes the heart’s intention to gaze forever upon Jesus. God takes this intention for our choice and makes what allowances He must for the thousand distractions which beset us in this evil world. He knows that we have set the direction of our hearts toward Jesus, and we can know it too, and comfort ourselves with the knowledge that a habit of soul is forming which will become after a while a sort of spiritual reflex requiring no more conscious effort on our part…When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is “You God see me.” When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on this earth.
Finally, Tozer pointed out that this vital process is one of the easiest possible things for anyone to do, putting it in the range of possibility for the weakest and poorest of us.
What saving faith is not
There are plenty of imposters to choose from in the field of religious faith. Here is a partial list of what saving faith is not:
Saving faith is not the actual procuring value of salvation. The procuring value lies not in the faith but in the object of the faith. It could be said faith is merely the conduit that connects our soul to the procuring value—it’s the wire that connects us to the electricity, where the power lies. We are not saved by faith but by grace through faith, as Ephesians 2:8–9 so clearly states. Strictly speaking, faith is not a religious term at all. Everyone has faith (or confidence), and they exercise it every day. For example, I get in my car and exercise faith that it will start when I turn on the key (unless, of course, I drive an English sports car, in which case, all bets are off). I also exercise faith that the drivers of cars in the opposing lanes will stay to their side and drive with caution. You get the idea. But again, my faith in those instances is not the procuring value—for that I must look either to the car or to the various drivers of the cars on the opposite side of the road. In salvation, when properly directed, my faith connects me to the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross—and to nowhere else.
Saving faith is not wishy–washy or fleeting. Many soldiers have engaged in so–called foxhole faith, which has the nasty habit of vaporizing as soon as the bullets stop flying. God may choose to bless us in an answer to prayer about a bad situation, but he is looking for something less flighty when it comes to salvation.
Saving faith does not just exist in the head. Nor does it consist of mere intellectual exercises so a person can just parrot back biblical propositions. Saving faith moves south eighteen inches into the heart, in the form of personal commitment, shifting trust away from self and toward the savior. Naturally, this level of confidence in Christ is subsequently reflected in the kind of life changes one expects when the Holy Spirit takes up residence within a believer, however imperfect and messy that process may be.
Saving faith does not insist on defending itself. It accepts the fact of mankind’s bankrupt spiritual condition before a holy God. It recognizes the divine diagnosis for all humanity, which is this: “For there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[liii] This admission can be difficult for those who believe that their clean lifestyle and good behavior should count for something.
Saving faith does not insist on total control. It transfers control decisively away from self to God, as reflected in L. S. Chafer’s statement that “to have deposited one’s eternal welfare in the hands of another is a decision of the mind so definite that it can hardly be confused with anything else.”
Saving faith does not persist in performing “works” to appease God. It rests—not in itself but in the work of Christ on our behalf.
Resting in the promises of God
For as long, then, as that promise of resting in him pulls us on to God’s goal for us, we need to be careful that we’re not disqualified. We received the same promises as those people in the wilderness, but the promises didn’t do them a bit of good because they didn’t receive the promises with faith. If we believe, though, we’ll experience that state of resting. But not if we don’t have faith. Remember that God said,
Exasperated, I vowed,
“They’ll never get where they’re going,
never be able to sit down and rest.”
God made that vow, even though he’d finished his part before the foundation of the world. Somewhere it’s written, “God rested the seventh day, having completed his work,” but in this other text he says, “They’ll never be able to sit down and rest.” So this promise has not yet been fulfilled. Those earlier ones never did get to the place of rest because they were disobedient. God keeps renewing the promise and setting the date as today, just as he did in David’s psalm, centuries later than the original invitation:
Today, please listen,
don’t turn a deaf ear…
And so this is still a live promise. It wasn’t canceled at the time of Joshua; otherwise, God wouldn’t keep renewing the appointment for “today.” The promise of “arrival” and “rest” is still there for God’s people. God himself is at rest. And at the end of the journey we’ll surely rest with God. So let’s keep at it and eventually arrive at the place of rest, not drop out through some sort of disobedience.[liv]
I don’t know about you, but the word rest brings an immediate and welcome sense of peace to my soul. For half of my life, I struggled to please God through religious exercises, and it was exhausting! The Jews of all ages, though often well–meaning, did the same. The passage above shows God’s exasperation with their death–grip insistence on going their own way instead of looking away from self and resting in the work of God for them, as expressed in the gospel. Here was God saying, in effect, “Listen to my Apostle Paul. For most of his life, he insisted on constant Law–observing as a means of pleasing me, and look where it got him.” As Paul says:
What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule–keeping, peer–pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule–keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.[lv]
God was saying, “Look. If I could get you to heaven by some method involving human merit, why would I put my son Jesus through such horrors? Don’t you realize there was no other way? Are you telling me that it wasn’t enough? Are you trying to add to the already perfect work of my son for you on the cross?” Rest, dear child. Rest in what Jesus did for you. Get out of your religious squirrel cage, and fall into the savior’s arms.
One of my most comforting thoughts regarding the true gospel is that I can’t mess it up. That’s because it’s not based on me or on what I do, but it’s based on Christ and what he did. My doing, doing, doing can never add to—or take away from—the fact of his done, done, done work on the cross for me.
To illustrate, suppose I was to find myself in a small boat in the middle of a roaring river, about to be swept to my death over a waterfall just ahead. Panicked, I look around inside the boat and see an anchor and rope. So I pick up the anchor and through it into the bow of the boat. How helpful do you suppose that would be? Not helpful at all. The key is to throw the anchor outside the boat and attach it to something that is not moving.
Likewise, when I anchor my salvation to my performance, my religious devotion, my being “good,” I am simply throwing the anchor into the bow of my own boat. If, on the other hand, I anchor my salvation to something that can’t move, namely, the person and work of Jesus Christ, my downstream drift toward the falls of judgment will swiftly and decisively end.
Never, never attempt to approach God on your own recognizance. You need friends in high places, and Jesus is most anxious to speak up for you, if you’ll let him.
Grace, Brother, Grace
True biblical salvation is all about grace—one of the most sublime words in the English language.
It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin–dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.
Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.[lvi]
The distinctly winsome word grace is perhaps one of the most misunderstood terms in the Bible. We instinctively suspect that the word implies something that is good and that is somehow projected toward us. Some think of it as a kind of gossamer cloud that descends from heaven, endowing the recipient with God’s special favor. As used conversationally, grace normally means that someone is acting kindly toward another (i.e., “what a gracious person he/she is”).
In the Gospel of John, speaking of Jesus Christ, the Apostle declares:
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’” For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.[lvii]
Of all the terms available to him, the Apostle picks just two that literally mark the character and personality of Jesus Christ—grace and truth. He then tells us that, although no one has seen God in the fullness of His heavenly glory, Jesus Christ was the full expression of Him, housed in a human body.
John writes later in his Gospel:
Thomas said, “Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road?” Jesus said, “I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”[lviii]
Jesus Christ did not just speak the truth—He was the truth! He circumscribed the truth and defined it. To have seen Jesus was to have seen the Father in heaven! And gladly for all of us, he was and is a loving and gracious person.
How different this picture is from the image of God that is projected by so many sternly “religious” people. They give the impression that God is angry, demanding, and prepared to squash us like a bug the second we get out of line. Leaning out of heaven’s window, this out–of–sorts god is described as constantly surveying men’s lives, raising the bar ever higher, and doing everything he can to keep us out of heaven. Sadly, these blasphemous images are projected by well–meaning religionists who are vainly attempting to stem the tide of evil, which they view as engulfing them, by warning of dire consequences in the hands of an angry god.
But what of Jesus? Didn’t the children flock to him? Weren’t sinners instinctively drawn to him? Isn’t it true that the broken and sick somehow knew He cared? Would this have happened if Jesus was like the judgmental, self–righteous Pharisees who supposedly represented God to the common people? Jesus illustrated God’s heart attitude in this touching story of the prodigal son:
Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’
“So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.
“That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.
“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain–fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.”[lix]
Just after the Second World War, in one of history’s finest hours, America and its allies embarked on the enormous task of rebuilding the war–ravaged countries of our former foes—Germany and Japan. We gently coaxed the people out of their bomb shelters, gave them clothing and food, and provided all that they needed to build new lives. We richly blessed our former enemies and the world became a better place. Now ponder this:
Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.
Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah![lx]
We were, at one time, away from God, hiding from Him in the bushes, just like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We sensed that something was terribly wrong between us, but we had no idea how to fix it or even to understand it. It should be a great relief to know that God was not caught by surprise. He was fully prepared to do something about the yawning moral chasm that was formed when His beloved image–bearers deliberately rebelled against His gracious care. Look at what Jesus did, placing himself in harm’s way, and then ask yourself, what am I afraid of, with a God like this running the universe?
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him. When Jesus Christ placed Himself in harm’s way for us, He did what we could never do for ourselves, make peace with God. He settled all accounts at great personal expense and all that He requires us to do in response is to believe it and receive it as the gracious gift that it is.[lxi]
That makes me want to jump up and down! How about you?
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we learn the simple secret for personally making salvation our own:
For 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, so that no one may boast.[lxii]
Picture a handshake between friends. Grace is God’s hand reaching down to you, and faith is your hand reaching up to grasp his, in response. Simple.
Running a little low on faith? Ask God for that, too. Even our seeking and faith comes from him. In his book The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer illuminated this point:
Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which briefly stated means this, that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man. Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow. We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. “No man can come to me,” said our Lord, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him,” and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: “Thy right hand upholdeth me.”
William R. Newell, in his book Romans Verse By Verse, lists some of the otherworldly truths about grace and its intended effects upon man’s heart:
The Nature of Grace
- Grace is God acting freely, according to his own nature as Love; with no promises to fulfill; and acting of course, righteously—in view of the cross.
- Grace therefore is uncaused in the recipient: its cause lies wholly in the GIVER, in GOD.
- Grace also is sovereign. Not having debts to pay, or fulfilled conditions on man’s part to wait for, it can act toward whom, and how it pleases. It can and does often, place the worst deservers in the highest favors.
- Grace cannot act where there is either desert or ability; Grace does not help—it is absolute, it does all.
- There being no cause in the creature why Grace should be shown, the creature must be brought off from trying to give cause to God for His Grace.
- The discovery by the creature that he is truly the object of Divine Grace, works the utmost humility: for the receiver of Grace is brought to know his own absolute unworthiness, and his complete inability to attain worthiness: yet he finds himself blessed—on another principle, outside of himself!
- Therefore, flesh has no place in the plan of Grace. This is the great reason why Grace is hated by the proud natural mind of man. But for this very reason, the true believer rejoices! For he knows that “in him, that is, in his flesh, is no good thing;” and yet he finds God glad to bless him, just as he is!
The Place of Man Under Grace
- He has been accepted in Christ, Who is his standing!
- He is not “on probation.”
- As to his life past, it does not exist before God; he died at the Cross, and Christ is his life.
- Grace, once bestowed is not withdrawn: for God knew all the human exigencies beforehand; His action was independent of them, not dependent upon them.
- The failure of devotion does not cause the withdrawal of bestowed Grace (as it would under Law).
The Proper Attitude of Man Under Grace
- To believe, and to consent to be loved while unworthy, is the great secret.
- To refuse to make “resolutions” and “vows;” for that is trust in the flesh.
- To expect to be blessed, though realizing more and more lack of worth.
- To testify of God’s goodness at all times.
- To be certain of God’s future favor; yet to be ever more tender in conscience toward Him.
- To rely on God’s chastening hand as a mark of His kindness.
- A man under Grace, if like Paul, has no burdens regarding himself; but many about others.
Things Which Gracious Souls Discover
- To “hope to be better” is to fail to see yourself in Christ only.
- To be disappointed with yourself, is to have believed in yourself.
- To be discouraged is unbelief—as to God’s purpose and plan of blessing for you.
- To be proud is to be blind! For we have no standing before God in ourselves.
- The lack of divine blessing, therefore comes from unbelief, and not from failure of devotion.
- Real devotion to God arises, not from man’s will to show it; but from the discovery that blessing has been received from God while we were yet unworthy and undevoted.
- To preach devotion first and blessing second, is to reverse God’s order and preach Law, not Grace. The Law made man’s blessing depend on devotion; Grace confers undeserved, unconditional blessing: our devotion may follow, but does not always do so in proper measure.
Grace is not a thing, per se. It is the settled state of God’s mind toward us now that Jesus has made peace on our behalf. God’s graceful attitude is characterized as a deep, heartfelt longing for us to come and be reconciled to Him. There is no wrath to face from God—Jesus absorbed it all. That is why Paul urges us:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.[lxiii]
Many people use the following acronym to describe the grace of God:
G–God’s R–riches A–at C–Christ’s E–expense
GRACE! God’s unbelievable, unmerited, unlimited, unbounded, unbridled, uncompromising, unconditional, unmatched, favor toward such undeserving, ungodly folks as we.
Making it mine
The common denominator among the world’s religions is the uncertainty surrounding our spiritual destination after death. That is why they unvaryingly insist on doing, doing, doing good works to somehow build up a balance of spiritual currency to appease God in the hopes that he’ll let us in. How sad to live in the land of ifs—God has declared “It is finished!” from no less prominent a pulpit than the cross of Christ.
In his paper entitled, “Should We Stop Asking Jesus into Our Hearts?” J. D. Greear commented:
Salvation is a posture of repentance and faith toward the finished work of Christ in which you transfer the weight of your hopes of heaven off of your own righteousness and onto Jesus Christ. It does begin in a moment, but it persists for the rest of your life. The way to know you made the decision is by the posture you are currently in. The apostle John almost always talks about “believing” in the present tense because it is something we do continually, not something we did once in the past (e.g. John 3:36; 20:27–28; 9:36–38; 1 John 5:13). The posture begins at a moment, but it persists for a lifetime.
The book of Leviticus provides a wonderful picture of this. Once a year each Jewish father would appear on behalf of the family to offer a sacrifice for sin. When the moment of sacrifice came, the father would lay his hand on the head of the sacrificial lamb and the priest would slit its throat. The resting of the hand of the man on the head of the lamb symbolized the transference of the guilt of the family onto the head of the sacrifice. As the lamb bled out, the guilt of the family was removed.
Faith is placing our hand upon the sacrificial head of Jesus. When we do so, Paul says, “Our faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5). There is a moment when we first lay our hand on the head of Jesus. It is to rest there for the rest of our lives. When we want to know if we are saved, we should look at where our “hand,” our hope for heaven, is currently resting.
Paul says, “If thou … shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” That is true, for, as we read in 4:25, “Christ was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification.” Whoever believes these two facts will be saved. … We obtain the true righteousness of God by believing sincerely the promises of God, as we read in 4:3, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”
In that moment, at last, it all made sense. Salvation was obtained by simply resting on the two “facts” God had promised about Jesus: he was crucified as the payment for our sins; he was resurrected as proof that God accepted the payment. Just as Abraham was saved by believing God would keep his word, I was saved by believing he had.
Those two facts were true whether I believed them or not, but when I rested my weight upon them—that is, when I placed my hopes for heaven on his finished work—they became mine.
There is a dark and misinformed view by many religionists that God doesn’t want us to know where we stand with him—that he wants to string us along, never knowing until after we die. That’s because, they say, if people really knew that they were home free, they would just go out and live as they pleased, going off on an orgy of godless pursuits. Nothing could be further from the truth. No one who has glimpsed the true grace and generosity of God’s heart would ever throw it back in his face in so presumptuous a manner. To do otherwise would prove that such a person never had a relationship with God in the first place.
Prayerfully consider the following passage, and see if you can find any limit to his generosity toward believers in his son:
This is the testimony in essence: God gave us eternal life; the life is in his Son. So, whoever has the Son, has life; whoever rejects the Son, rejects life. My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion. And how bold and free we then become in his presence, freely asking according to his will, sure that he’s listening. And if we’re confident that he’s listening, we know that what we’ve asked for is as good as ours.[lxiv]
If God is not worried about his grace being abused, why on earth would we? Conditions, terms, and legalese are for humans. God doesn’t speak that language. He’s way too big–hearted for such things. The great evangelist, Charles Spurgeon, a man known as the “Prince of Preachers,” wrote:
1 Peter 2:3: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.
“If” – then, this is not a matter to be taken for granted concerning every one of the human race. “If” – then there is a possibility and a probability that some may not have tasted that the Lord is gracious. “If” – then this is not a general but a special mercy; and it is needful to enquire whether we know the grace of God by inward experience. There is no spiritual favor which may not be a matter for heart–searching. But while this should be a matter of earnest and prayerful inquiry, no one ought to be content whilst there is any such thing as an “if” about his having tasted that the Lord is gracious. A jealous and holy distrust of self may give rise to the question even in the believer’s heart, but the continuance of such a doubt would be an evil indeed. We must not rest without a desperate struggle to clasp the Savior in the arms of faith, and say, “I know whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him.”
Do not rest, O believer, till thou hast a full assurance of thy interest in Jesus. Let nothing satisfy thee till, by the infallible witness of the Holy Spirit bearing witness with thy spirit, thou art certified that thou art a child of God. Oh, trifle not here; let no “perhaps” and “peradventure” and “if” and “maybe” satisfy thy soul. Build on eternal verities, and verily build upon them. Get the sure mercies of David, and surely get them. Let thy anchor be cast into that which is within the veil, and see to it that thy soul be linked to the anchor by a cable that will not break.
Advance beyond these dreary “ifs;” abide no more in the wilderness of doubts and fears; cross the Jordan of distrust, and enter the Canaan of peace, where the Canaanite still lingers, but where the land ceases not to flow with milk and honey.
Do you remember our Titanic illustration, back in Chapter 2 of this book? We wrote that “as the great ship sank to the bottom of the sea, most of the lifeboats were only partially full, leaving 472 unused spaces. There was plenty of time for more to abandon ship, but most stayed aboard despite rapidly unfolding evidence that she was going down. As one observer said, ‘It is believed that this low number was due to passengers being reluctant to leave the ship, as initially they did not consider themselves to be in imminent danger.’”
Don’t you be caught in the same kind of delusion when it comes to your soul. Take the lifeboat! Get off the sinking ship of your old life in Adam, and get into a brand–new life in the Last Adam, Jesus Christ. Remember, it would have been impossible for those passengers to have one foot on Titanic and one foot in a lifeboat. They had to leave one to get into the other. It is the same for you when it comes to salvation. A decisive act of will, based on trust, is required. Decide, commit, rest.
Giving God his proper place in our life
One of the most insidious effects of the fall of man is to instill in us the impression that we can come to God on our terms and to shape him into our image and likeness, rather than the other way around. To this, A. W. Tozer wrote:
As the sailor locates his position on the sea by “shooting” the sun, so we may get our moral bearings by looking at God. We must begin with God. We are right when and only when we stand in a right position relative to God, and we are wrong so far and so long as we stand in any other position.
Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist upon trying to modify Him and to bring Him nearer to our own image. The flesh whimpers against the rigor of God’s inexorable sentence and begs like Agag for a little mercy, a little indulgence of its carnal ways. It is no use. We can get a right start only by accepting God as He is and learning to love Him for what He is. As we go on to know Him better we shall find it a source of unspeakable joy that God is just what He is. Some of the most rapturous moments we know will be those we spend in reverent admiration of the Godhead. In those holy moments the very thought of change in Him will be too painful to endure.
So let us begin with God. Back of all, above all, before all is God; first in sequential order, above in rank and station, exalted in dignity and honor. As the self–existent One He gave being to all things, and all things exist out of Him and for Him. “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.”
Every soul belongs to God and exists by His pleasure. God being Who and What He is, and we being who and what we are, the only thinkable relation between us is one of full lordship on His part and complete submission on ours. We owe Him every honor that it is in our power to give Him. Our everlasting grief lies in giving Him anything less. The pursuit of God will embrace the labor of bringing our total personality into conformity to His. And this not judicially, but actually. I do not here refer to the act of justification by faith in Christ. I speak of a voluntary exalting of God to His proper station over us and a willing surrender of our whole being to the place of worshipful submission which the Creator–creature circumstance makes proper.[lxv]
The people who boarded the lifeboats and abandoned Titanic could have taken one look at the lifeboats and said, “Ewe! These boats are so small and rickety looking. No wood paneling or thick carpets. Where are the crystal chandeliers? Yuck. I’m not getting in one of those.” They had to take the boats as they were—or perish in temporary comfort on the big boat.
So many people try cooking up a Plan B for their salvation. They want to redecorate the lifeboats, to make them more comfortable and pleasing to the eye. As we’ve said, God has no Plan B. I think of the statement that “if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” Imagine, wasting the precious lifeblood of his son, knowing that there was an easier way. There was no easier way—no alternatives to escaping the divine assessment that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Let me ask—are there multiple cures for the scourge of polio? No. Just one—the Salk polio vaccine. Yet no one complains to their doctor when he prescribes that singular solution. No one accuses their doctor of being narrow–minded. Why look around for others, if you have the Salk vaccine staring you in the face? Yet, in the infinitely more critical matter of salvation, we howl and protest about there being one way, instead of being grateful that there is any way to be saved. The question isn’t “Why is there only one way?” The real question is “Why is there any way?” considering all we have done to avoid God and to resist his rightful place in our lives.
Well, the answer to that question goes to the heart of God. We are told that the mainspring of the Trinitarian motivation is love—not the kinds of half–baked human loves that are loaded with conditions and fine print, but Agape love, which is unconditional and entirely focused upon the welfare of the recipient. Read what the Apostle John writes:
God is love
My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.[lxvi]
Don’t bet your soul on anything less
No less than the Apostle Peter attested to the veracity of the gospel claims, with this glorious declaration:
We weren’t, you know, just wishing on a star when we laid the facts out before you regarding the powerful return of our Master, Jesus Christ. We were there for the preview! We saw it with our own eyes: Jesus resplendent with light from God the Father as the voice of Majestic Glory spoke: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of all my delight.” We were there on the holy mountain with him. We heard the voice out of heaven with our very own ears.
We couldn’t be more sure of what we saw and heard—God’s glory, God’s voice. The prophetic Word was confirmed to us. You’ll do well to keep focusing on it. It’s the one light you have in a dark time as you wait for daybreak and the rising of the Morning Star in your hearts.[lxvii]
What Exactly Saves me?
This deceptively simple question is pregnant with confusion, outright deception, polluted theology, and wrong–headed teaching throughout the world and even within the hallowed halls of Christendom. The sad result of this religious muddle is that millions of professing Christians wander around never knowing whether they are saved, while others prance around confident that they are saved when in fact, they are not.
Is it possible for a person to think they are saved yet not be? J. D. Greear warned, in his paper entitled, “Should We Stop Asking Jesus into Our Hearts?”:
Scripture indicates that there are a vast number of people who seem assured of a salvation they don’t actually possess. My Sunday school teacher was telling us the truth: according to Matthew 7, Jesus will turn away “many” on that last day who thought they belonged to him. There’s no doubt that many of those will have prayed a sinner’s prayer.
In his parable about the different types of soil, Jesus spoke of a group who heard his word and made an initial, encouraging response of belief, only to fade away over time. These are those, Jesus explained, who hear the gospel and respond positively to it—pray the prayer, walk the aisle, get baptized, or do whatever new converts in your church do. They remain in the church for a period of time. But they do not endure when the sun of persecution comes out and will not in the end be saved (Luke 8:13; Matt. 5:13; John 15:6).
These sobering stories teach us that many are headed into eternal judgment under the delusion of going to heaven. Many believe their eternal destiny has been settled because of a time when they invited Jesus into their life. They were told that if they prayed the prayer, Jesus would save them, seal them, and never leave nor forsake them.
A 2011 Barna study shows that nearly half of all adults in America have prayed such a prayer, and subsequently believe they are going to heaven, though many of them rarely, if ever, attend a church, read the Bible personally, or have lifestyles that differ in any significant way from those outside the church. If the groups described in Matthew 7 and Luke 8 are not referring to them, I don’t know who they could be referring to.
So what might be some of the things that a person might conceivably depend upon for their salvation? Let’s explore some of the common responses to the question “What saves me?”
- Pray and hope
- Publicly confess or profess a decision for Christ
- o Admit our lives are out of control
- o Acknowledge that a higher power exists
- o Publicly confess my wrongs to others
- Try to lead a Christian life
- o Turn my will and my life over to “god”
- o Clean up my act
- o Stay sober, “days sober”
- o Make amends for all my wrongs to everyone I have hurt
- o Analyze myself thoroughly and consider the consequences of my actions
- Ask or pray
- o Beg God to remove my character defects
- o Beg God to remove all of my shortcomings
- o Ask Jesus into your heart
- o Ask God for the power to do his will
- Seek the Lord
- o Pursue God and his will for my life
- o Accept Jesus as Lord and Savior
- o Give your heart to Jesus
- Repent (as a separate act from believing)
- Confess sin
- Share all I have done “for god” with others
- Join a church
- Get baptized
- Attend Bible studies
- Be “nice” to everyone
- Give money to charity and the church
- Volunteer my time with the poor
- Read religious literature
Now, although the things listed above may be “good” things in themselves, they simply do not save me. Period. The reason? They all point back to me. A gospel that points to me is a false gospel, however right–sounding it may appear. The Apostle Paul reserved his harshest words for purveyors of a so–called gospel that mixed together law and grace (two incompatible principles):
I can’t believe your fickleness—how easily you have turned traitor to him who called you by the grace of Christ by embracing a variant message! It is not a minor variation, you know; it is completely other, an alien message, a no–message, a lie about God. Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head. Let me be blunt: If one of us—even if an angel from heaven!—were to preach something other than what we preached originally, let him be cursed. I said it once; I’ll say it again: If anyone, regardless of reputation or credentials, preaches something other than what you received originally, let him be cursed.[lxviii]
Strong stuff. The Galatians fell for the oldest trick in the book—mixing human efforts with divine grace and then expecting God to just sit still and look the other way. Paul made it his personal crusade to blast away at such corrosive notions, and the rest of the book of Galatians lays out his case, not least of which is that his gospel came from the lips of the savior himself.
The other alternative, the true gospel, always points outward to another, the savior, who perfectly fulfilled all righteous requirements of God by sprinkling his own blood on the mercy seat in the heavenly tabernacle and then sat down at God’s right hand. That puts the procuring value of salvation entirely out of the reach of ordinary humans and smack dab in the center of Christ’s ministry. This leaves us with only one alternative—give up our self–righteous religious meanderings and surrender to the overwhelming power of God’s gracious work on our behalf. In his book Salvation, Lewis Sperry Chafer cautioned:
This one word “believe” represents all a sinner can do and all a sinner must do to be saved. It is believing the record God has given of His Son. In this record it is stated that He has entered into all the needs of our lost condition and is alive from the dead to be a living Savior to all who put their trust in Him. It is quite possible for any intelligent person to know whether he has placed such confidence in the Savior. Saving faith is a matter of personal consciousness. “I know whom I have believed.” To have deposited one’s eternal welfare in the hands of another is a decision of the mind so definite that it can hardly be confused with anything else. On the deposit of oneself into His saving grace depends one’s eternal destiny. To add, or subtract anything from this sole condition of salvation is most perilous.
In one of scripture’s most definitive passages regarding salvation, we are provided with unambiguous inside look at the way God views the subject:
Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.[lxix]
And just to emphasize the folly of trying to approach God based on our deeds:
If you’re a hard worker and do a good job, you deserve your pay; we don’t call your wages a gift. But if you see that the job is too big for you, that it’s something only God can do, and you trust him to do it—you could never do it for yourself no matter how hard and long you worked—well, that trusting–him–to–do–it is what gets you set right with God, by God. Sheer gift.[lxx]
Salvation has been God’s idea all along. So why mess with perfection? The whole Trinity took part in our redemption. Note the respective roles each person plays in our salvation:
- Source: Father—God’s grace (his attitude) based upon Christ’s blood shed for us
- Means: Son—The blood of Christ
- Response: Holy Spirit—My faith in the blood of Christ (plus nothing)
All focus is upon the blood of Christ. The Father points down to the blood as having settled all claims of His own righteousness against man’s sin (thus setting free his grace toward man). The Holy Spirit points my faith up toward the blood as the procuring value of your salvation (note the past tense).
In his book Romans Verse by Verse, William R. Newell concluded:
But the works method and the grace method are mutually exclusive. Each shuts out the other. Men must cease even seeking; they must cease all works—weeping, confessing, repenting, even earnest praying, and simply believe God laid their sins, their very own sins, all of them [past, present, and future] on Christ at the cross. There comes a moment when a man ceases from his own works, hearing that Christ finished the work, paid the ransom at the cross. Then he rests! Such a soul believes, knowing himself to be a sinner and ungodly, but he believes on God, just as he is, and knows he is welcome!
Note that the scripture does not say that God justifies the praying man, or the Bible reader, or the church member, but the ungodly. Have you yourself believed on the God that accounts righteous the ungodly? Have you ever really seen yourself in the ungodly class, a mere sinner, and as such trusted God on only one ground, the blood of Christ?
What saves me? The blood of Christ plus nothing!
Have you made this your only plea? Have you given up all other notions about how you can save yourself? Have you “deposited your eternal welfare into the hands of Another [Jesus]”? Would you like to experience “the rising of the Morning Star” in your heart? I’m always a bit reluctant to request that a seeker pray a prayer, because there is a tendency to think that it is the prayer that saves you. Your prayer does not save you—the procuring value isn’t in the actual prayer—the procuring value is the blood of Christ which was shed for you. But with that said, if it helps to “seal the deal” with a prayer, here is one offered by Charles Spurgeon at the end of one of his sermons:
Before you leave this place, breathe an earnest prayer to God, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner. Lord, I need to be saved. Save me. I call upon your name.” Join with me in prayer at this moment, I entreat you. Join with me while I put words into your mouths, and speak them on your behalf—”Lord, I am guilty. I deserve your wrath. Lord, I cannot save myself … I cast myself wholly upon you, O Lord. I trust the blood and righteousness of your dear Son; I trust your mercy, and your love, and your power, as they are revealed in him. I dare to lay hold upon this word of yours, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Lord, save me tonight, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.”
If you have prayed this prayer from your heart, bless you dear soul. Do you believe God heard your prayer? Then you are now in his hands. Now go out and share that fact with somebody you know.
With my hand on the head of the scapegoat
With my feet standing on the gospel
With my heart set on the word of God
With my eyes gazing firmly on the Savior
Now please, read on to the next chapter, which sets forth practical steps in your new walk with Jesus.
Notes: Chapter 10. Securing Your Eternal Destiny
[i] Philippians 3:7–11 The Message (MSG)
[ii] Philippians 3:2–6 MSG
[iii] Genesis 3:7–13 MSG
[v] Tribune Content Agency ©2016 CAL THOMAS P.O. Box 7065, Arlington, VA 22207
[vi] Romans 2:3–5 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
[vii] Acts 17:24–31 MSG
[viii] Romans 1:18–22 MSG
[ix] Blaise Pascal, PENSEES, (Paris, France, 1660), translated by W. F. Trotter.
[x] Colossians 2:22–23 MSG
[xi] Stott, John R. The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2006. Print.
[xii] Romans 3:23 NASB
[xiii] Isaiah 53:4–6 NASB
[xiv] 1 Corinthians 1:18–21 MSG
[xv] Romans 5:6–8 MSG
[xvi] Psalm 22:6–8 NASB
[xvii] Psalm 22:14–18 NASB
[xviii] Isaiah 53:10–12 NASB
[xix] Matthew 27:45–46 NASB
[xx] Romans 1:18 NASB
[xxi] Christ is called the “propitiation for our sins.” The Greek word is hilasmos. Christ is the propitiation because, when he became our substitute and assumed our obligations, he expiated our guilt—covered it—by the vicarious punishment which he endured.
[xxii] Romans 5:9–11 MSG
[xxiii] Hebrews 10:11–18 MSG
[xxiv] Matthew 24:1–2 MSG
[xxv] Luke 23:32–43 MSG
[xxvi] Luke 23:44–49 MSG
[xxvii] Ephesians 2:13–18 NASB
[xxviii] Newell, William R. Romans: Verse by Verse. Chicago, IL: Grace Publications, 1938. Print.
[xxix] A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1948)
[xxx] Newell, William Reed. Romans Verse by Verse. Chicago: Moody, 1979. Print.
[xxxi] Ephesians 1:13–14 MSG
[xxxii] Romans 10:8–17 MSG
[xxxiv] 1 Corinthians 15:1–9 MSG
[xxxv] 1 Corinthians 15:12–20 MSG
[xxxvi] Harry A. Ironside, from the sermon “What Is The Gospel?”
[xxxvii] Galatians 1:6–9 MSG
[xxxviii] Galatians 4:8–11 MSG
[xxxix] According to L. S. Chafer, “To believe on Christ is to see and believe the all–sufficiency of His saving grace. This most naturally includes abandoning all other grounds of hope, and the experiencing of such sorrow for sin as would lead one to claim such a Savior…Repentance, according to the Bible, is a complete change of mind and, as such, is a vital element in saving faith; but it should not now be required, as a separate act, apart from saving faith.”
[xl] Romans 1:16 NASB
[xli] John 3:6–8 NASB
[xlii] Romans 10:14–15 MSG
[xliii] Colossians 1:22–23 MSG
[xliv] Ephesians 1: 11–14 MSG
[xlv] Ephesians 2:1–10 MSG
[xlvi] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Salvation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1917), Print.
[xlvii] 1 Corinthians 2:6–13 MSG
[xlviii] Romans 10:12–13 MSG
[xlix] John 3:3,14–18 MSG
[li] A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1948), 11–12.
[lii] Hebrews 12:1–3 MSG
[liii] Romans 3:22–23 NASB
[liv] Hebrews 4:1–11 MSG
[lv] Galatians 2:19–21 MSG
[lvi] Ephesians 2:1–10 MSG
[lvii] John 1:14–18 NASB
[lviii] John 14:5–7 MSG
[lix] Luke 15:11–24 MSG
[lx] Romans 5:6–11 MSG
[lxi] Colossians 2:13–15 NASB
[lxii] Ephesians 2:8–9 NASB
[lxiii] 2 Corinthians 5:17–21 NASB
[lxiv] 1 John 5:11–15 MSG
[lxvi] 1 John 4:9–11 MSG
[lxvii] 2 Peter 1:16–20 MSG
[lxviii] Galatians 1:6–9 MSG
[lxix] Ephesians 2:7–10 MSG
[lxx] Romans 4:4–5 MSG
Chapter 11. So, What Now?