Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
I've been thinking. I was asked recently what I thought about Calvinism. My first thought is I really don't care too much for labels. But, we live in a world of labels. I'm a Christian. That's a label. I'm a Southern Baptist. That's a label. If I move back to Kentucky, I'll be a Kentucky Baptist. That's a label. So I guess we can't really get away from labels. Still, I prefer to focus less on labels and more on Jesus and His Word. Besides, John Calvin would cringe if he knew his name was being used as a label.
Salvation, as revealed in God's Word and delivered to us by the apostles and prophets is a mystery we don't fully understand. Paul writes about this mystery, "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things" (Ephesians 3:1-10). John speaks of a time yet future when, "the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets" (Revelation 10:7).
So what does all this mean? Well, for one thing, when it comes to salvation, it means the plans and purposes of God are far beyond anything my fallen finite mind can fully comprehend. Consider this in light of what Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers. "Rather, as it is written: 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him'" (1 Corinthians 2:9).
When it comes to the mystery of salvation we must remember, the Bible is replete with passages that speak of God's sovereignty. Furthermore, it is replete with passages that speak of personal responsibility. Where these two streams of thought meet is beyond me. This is part of the mystery of salvation none of us will fully comprehend this side of glory. And we may not fully comprehend it on the other side of glory either. After all, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deuteronomy 29:29).
The bottom line is this: I don't fully understand the mystery of salvation and you don't either. It boggles my mind--even as a 46 year-old, seminary trained theologian of rare inability. But this much I do know, as a 10-year-old little boy, I prayed to receive Jesus and Jesus saved me. I didn't fully understand it all then and I certainly don't now. But I believed what the Bible taught, in, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). Since that time I have come to believe the words of Jesus, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you" (John 15:16). And therein lies the mystery. So, let's not get wrapped up in labels. Let us do what the Bible says. Let us make our own calling and election sure (see 2 Peter 1:10) and let us proclaim the gospel so that others may hear and be saved (see Matthew 28:16-20). A final word of caution: When contemplating the mysteries of God, always err on the side of sovereignty.
Beware of Satisfaction
“So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:12-13). Beware of Satisfaction—that probably seems like an odd title to most. The position of some, after all, is to pursue satisfaction no matter the cost.
Let me just say up front, we should be—no, we must be—satisfied in Jesus alone. In other words, Jesus is enough. The Psalmist asks, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).
The writer of Hebrews states very clearly Jesus is better than anyone or anything we could ever desire or imagine. We are to be satisfied in Jesus. Indeed, He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
So what do I mean by beware of satisfaction? John Owen mused, “Sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still.” Commenting on this, John MacArthur writes, “Satan is likely to attack when a believer is most satisfied with his spiritual life. That is when pride, the chief of sins, easily sneaks into our lives unnoticed and leads us to believe that contentment with ourselves is contentment with God.”
Are you satisfied with your spiritual life? If so, beware! And, I might add, beware of anyone who tells you God wants you to be satisfied in anyone or anything other than Jesus. And, as long as we’re on the subject, don’t fall into the trap of, “I was born this way.” Every time I hear that I want to say, “Tell me something I don’t know.” We were all born sinners. We were all born spiritually dead and with hearts hostile to the things of God. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:4-5).
So what do I mean by beware of satisfaction? Simply this—don’t get too comfortable in your spiritual life. Sin has a way of creeping in and taking over. Instead, make it your aim to put to death the deeds of the body, or, as in the King’s Vernacular, “Mortify the deeds of the body.”
John Owen asked, “Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
In other words, don’t get too comfortable. Don’t get too satisfied in your spiritual walk. If you are satisfied, one of two things is true: Either you’re foolish or you don’t know Jesus, and it may very well be the latter. Why? Because putting to death the deeds of the body is a characteristic of God’s children.
John MacArthur notes, “The person who gives no evidence of the presence, power, and fruit of God’s Spirit in his life has no legitimate claim to Christ as Savior and Lord.” To put it another way, if you’re habitually in a lifestyle of sin with no concern for holy living, you’re not in Christ.
Are you satisfied with your spiritual life? If so, beware! “Be on alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Contending for the Faith
“Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints”(Jude 3). I just returned from another outstanding annual meeting of the Pre-Trib Study Group (www.pre-trib.org). The meeting took place at the Sheraton Grand Hotel near the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. This was my fourth opportunity to attend, having also attended in 2007, 2008, and 2011. The conference did not disappoint, proving once again to be Christ exalting, biblically focused, and academically stimulating.
Several papers were presented by various scholars around a common theme: Contending for the Faith in the Last Days. Dr. Thomas Ice began the conference with a paper on, “What Does the New Testament Teach about End-Time Apostasy?” Mike Gendron (www.proclaimingthegospel.org) presented a paper giving an overview of “Roman Catholicism’s Drift into Apostasy.” Tom McMahon (www.thebereancall.org) presented a paper on, “Psychology in the Church,” which to me, was the best paper presented at the conference. The so called church growth movement was discussed by the Monday evening banquet speaker, Paul Smith, where he discussed the church growth movement and how it was used to change the church’s focus from theology to sociology. Several other papers were presented, all focusing on end-time apostasy in the church.
“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame…But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation” (Hebrews 6:4-6, 9). As a Southern Baptist Chaplain, I must admit, the title I have chosen for this article is a little misleading. After all, Southern Baptist are not historically known for bestowing false hope. We are better known as “People of The Book,” and as a missions minded group committed to reaching the whole world for Jesus Christ with a sure hope—Jesus Christ! By Bestowing False Hope, I am referring to a time-honored Southern Baptist tradition that I have come to detest—the altar call. As I have studied the Gospel message in the New Testament and the issue of altar calls—or walking the aisle to receive Christ—I have concluded it is a Southern Baptist distinctive not worth keeping. I know many of my SBC brethren will disagree with me on this and that’s okay. But when we consider the ever increasing numbers of people who previously walked a church aisle but are now fallen away, or backslidden as we like to call it, one can only conclude these folks were given a false hope based on their response of walking the aisle at the end of a church service and “praying to receive Christ.”
One would be pained to find any biblical evidence that the traditional altar call—or invitation—was a part of the worship of the early church. There is not one single verse of Scripture that shows the church issuing an altar call for hearers to come forward to receive Christ. In fact, I am convinced the altar call confuses the physical act of walking the church aisle with the spiritual act of conversion. Walking a church aisle is not required for salvation. Repentance and faith are (Mark 1:15). To suggest one must respond via an altar call confuses and deceives people about their spiritual state. I know several people who responded to the preaching of the Gospel by walking forward at the end of the service but whose lives now give ample evidence that conversion did not take place. Oh, they may have prayed to receive Christ. Many even followed through in “Believer’s Baptism.” But the sad reality is there is no evidence of a changed life—the one key indicator the New Testament teaches one can expect to see if conversion has indeed taken place—“things that accompany salvation.” This “Southern Baptist Distinctive” is often how people are deceived into thinking they are Christians when in fact they are not. Any message that fails to demand repentance and belief is no Gospel message at all! Coming forward at the end of a church service to “accept Jesus” and then being encouraged on that basis to feel assured of salvation without repentance and faith accompanied by evidence of a changed life is tantamount to bestowing false hope. It results in people who are “enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,” but who do not possess this heavenly gift or the Holy Spirit. They may have an intellectual perception but understanding the gospel is not the equivalent of regeneration and conversion. It is amazing that some can see and hear the amazing truth of the Gospel, respond positively and yet remain eternally lost. It saddens me as a Southern Baptist to know that my own convention has been guilty of bestowing false hope. Therefore, may all of us who claim Christ be careful how we invite others so that both our message and the required response are clear, biblically sound and straight-laced!
Now, for those of us who were saved as a result of walking forward at the end of a church service, do not fear! It is not the walking forward and praying to receive Christ that saves. It is repentance and faith—not a onetime decision but an ongoing condition. This ongoing condition is faith in action. It is the ongoing evidence that I possess new life in Christ. It is demonstrated fully in a changed life—no longer do I embrace my sin but I now embrace Christ. It is a faith that forsakes sin and continues with Christ, no matter how hard! I still sin. And sometimes I may sin grievously. But the key indicator is that I do not continue in sin. Paul wrote, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). By “work out your own salvation,” Paul means we are to constantly evaluate our lives to see if God is indeed working in us, “to will and to work for His good pleasure.” The absence of such working should cause one to seriously consider the very real possibility they may not be truly born again—no matter what church they are a member of, how many church aisles they walked down, or how many times they may have been baptized.
“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. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’”(Romans 1:16-17). We live in an age of remarkable theological and biblical confusion. It amazes me the number of professing Christians I meet who cannot articulate the Gospel as presented in the Scriptures. It seems everyone has an opinion as to how one comes to be in a right relationship with God. Sadly, a majority of these folks have missed the mark when it comes to believing the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Notice I used the words, “true Gospel.” That is because it is imperative that one believes the true Gospel of Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Anything less will result in eternal separation from God. I write often on the true Gospel and the exclusivity of the true Gospel. This is because, like Paul, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” I understand and believe that it and it alone “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” So the question remains: Are you sure that you believe the true Gospel of Jesus Christ? I ask that question in the present tense because “believe,” when used of salvation, almost always occurs in the present tense, meaning that faith is not simply a one-time event, but an ongoing condition.
The true Gospel of Jesus Christ is exclusive. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). This is an astounding statement. John MacArthur, speaking of this says, “Both the narrow gate and the wide gate are assumed to provide entrance to God’s kingdom. Two ways are offered to people. The narrow gate is by faith, only through Christ, constricted and precise. It represents true salvation in God’s way that leads to life eternal. The wide gate includes all religions of works and self-righteousness, with no single way, but it leads to hell, not heaven.” This is why the true Gospel is unique, distinct, and exclusive. The reality of this Gospel is that “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” This is why Paul was “eager to preach the gospel” (Romans 1:15). And it is why I write so often on this subject—so many are confused and deceived when it comes to matters of salvation. What a tragedy it must be for a person to live his or her entire life convinced that they are on their way to heaven because of the church they attend, the confirmation certificate they hold, the Communion they partake of, the money they give, or the so called good works they perform. I tremble when I consider the utter darkness that many are in as a result of their enslavement to any number of the false religious systems we find in the world today. Oh, that those of us who truly believe would be “eager to preach the gospel.”
The Gospel, which means “good news,” refers to the good news about Jesus Christ. In the technical sense, it is “the power of God to salvation to all who believe.” But how does the Gospel save? Or to put it another way, what does it mean to believe? The Gospel does not announce that everyone will be saved because of what Jesus has done. That would be Universalism. The Gospel is only effective for those who believe it. The Bible mentions no other condition for eternal salvation other than believing the Gospel. The New Testament teaches, in more than 160 instances, that eternal life comes as a result of faith alone in Christ alone. But what precisely must one believe about the Gospel in order to be saved? The key is the content, not quality of faith. It is not believing in and of itself that saves. It is believing the right thing! Believing that Jesus is the Son of God, died on a cross, rose again, is a member of the Trinity, and saves, does not necessarily result in salvation. I must understand the Gospel and the truth about Christ. This is known as knowledge. This would include the historic facts about the person and work of Christ (see Romans 10:14-17). Secondly, I must be convinced that these historic facts (knowledge) about Christ are true. I must believe that Jesus is able to do what He said he could do – forgive sins and guarantee eternal life! This is known as assent to Christ and might be described as the emotional element (see Romans 6:17). Finally, I must whole-heartedly commit myself to Jesus Christ. This is known as commitment or volition (see Romans 4:3). So, to put it another way, I must believe I am a sinner in need of a Savior. I must believe that Jesus Christ alone paid the debt of my sin by His death and resurrection. I must trust Him alone to forgive my sin and give me the free gift of eternal life. And finally, my life must give evidence that I have been saved, as genuine faith will always produce authentic obedience. In other words, I must forsake my sin. Are you sure of your salvation? “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we are saved” (Acts 4:12).
“And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. Therefore, repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:17-19). Life is full of choices. We are bombarded with them each and every day. Some choices are weightier than others. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual matters. I talk with people all the time who are struggling with sin. Some are believers, others are not. In either case it always comes down to the same choice—Jesus or Your Sin. When I say sin, I am not referring so much to the day-to-day struggle with sin—we all do that—but I am speaking of that sin which would be described as ongoing willful disobedience. For the unbeliever, this is a matter of urgency. Whether or not they recognize it, eternity is on the line. For the believer it is equally, if not more so, urgent. That is because if one claims to be a believer yet is involved in ongoing willful disobedience with no conviction whatsoever, their salvation is called into question. A believer is continually sensitive to the sin in their life and is in a continual state of confession and repentance (see 1 John 1:5-10).
I was reminded of this recently by someone who informed me they were happy in their sin. I know this is a false statement for two reasons. First of all, the Bible is clear no one is ever happy in sin. Sin robs us of our joy! I’m a living testimony of that. Secondly, if they weren’t under conviction they wouldn’t have brought it up. But rather than deal with the conviction by repenting and turning from their sin, in willful ignorance they continue to embrace it. It is amazing the price people are willing to pay in order to embrace their sin over Christ. Jesus asked, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). We could paraphrase that question by saying, “What will it profit a man if he embraces his sin over Jesus?” The answer is simple—it won’t profit him anything and the end result will be the forfeiture of his soul for all eternity. The stakes are enormous. Yet most folks don’t stop to think about this one truth—life is indeed short. Regardless of how long a person lives on this earth, they live forever somewhere—either in the presence of Christ and everything that is good with joys unspeakable or separated from Him, in hell and torment, for all eternity. James tells us, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
We have every reason to believe the Bible is true. One of the most powerful and compelling reasons for believing this is that of fulfilled prophecy. Did you know that Bible prophecy is 100 percent accurate, 100 percent of the time? Because Bible prophecy is so specific and accurately fulfilled down to the very letter, the Bible has “WRITTEN BY GOD” stamped all over it. This is why Peter said, “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled” (Acts 3:18). His point is this: Through fulfilled prophecy, God has declared once and for all that Jesus Christ is the one and only way to salvation (see Acts 4:12). Therefore, you have a choice to make. Will you embrace forgiveness through Jesus Christ or continue to cling to your sin? Remember, the stakes are enormous.
So what is required? Faith that leads to repentance. Peter said, “Therefore, repent and return so that your sins may be wiped away” (Acts 3:19). He’s not speaking about head knowledge here. Many people claim to believe in Jesus yet they are still lost. He is speaking of a heart knowledge—the kind of knowledge that brings about a change. When one exercises this kind of faith, they willfully turn from their sin and embrace Christ. In fact, they throw the sum total of their hope onto Christ. We call this conversion. It is not walking forward at the end of a church service and praying the so called “sinner’s prayer.” It is a total change that takes place on the inside and works its way outward. Paul put it this way: “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:8-10). Notice he tied Jesus as Lord and faith together. When one truly believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, they not only believe He is the one and only way to salvation. They also submit their life to Him in obedience. They choose Christ over their sin. Jesus or your sin—which do you choose?
“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). We are saved by grace through faith (see Eph. 2:8). We are secured by the sovereign purpose of God and the continual, faithful intercession of our great High Priest—the Lord Jesus Christ (see Heb. 7:25 and Jude 24). We are admonished to, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” But wait a minute! Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace received through faith and guaranteed by Christ Himself. What’s all this talk about working out your salvation? Well, let me say up front that Paul is not teaching salvation by works. It’s not Christ plus works but Christ plus nothing! His point is simple—make sure you are indeed counted among the redeemed. Don’t base your salvation on anything other than true faith in the crucified, risen, ascended, and soon to return Savior. And true faith—the kind that appropriates salvation—gives evidence of not only having occurred at a point in time, but by continuing day-by-day. In other words, true faith produces a changed life. It gives evidence of its reality through “good works” (see Eph. 2:10). These good works are really “God working in you to act according to His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). So, as you work out your salvation with fear and trembling, ask yourself, “Do I see God at work in and through my life? Does my life give evidence that I am truly saved?”
One question to ask yourself is do you enjoy sweet fellowship with Christ and His people? Many people claim to be saved but never attend church. They have little, if any, interest in spiritual things. How can one be born again and not enjoy spending time in God’s Word in fellowship with the risen Lord? John wrote, “Whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected” (1 John 2:5). The Psalmist wrote, “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). Clearly those who belong to Christ love Him and His Word. But not only that, they enjoy regular, consistent fellowship with God’s people. In other words, they go to church. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). Attending church and hanging out with God’s people certainly doesn’t guarantee salvation. There’s no such thing as salvation by osmosis. But, when you were saved the Bible says you entered into fellowship with Jesus Christ and the redeemed. If you enjoy sharing in the prayers, praises, and fellowship of God’s people, that’s an indication you belong to Him! Furthermore, if you find yourself willingly and joyfully making sacrifices for other believers, even better. John wrote, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death” (1 John 3:14). A few verses later he writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:16-17). There are a lot of self-centered, stingy folks around these days—but Christians must not be counted among them. A sure sign you belong to Christ is that you are constantly looking for ways to help others.
Another marker of a changed life is that of being able to discern between truth and error. This really grows out of love for God’s Word and faithful church attendance. As you spend time in serious Bible study and sit under faithful preaching and teaching, you develop discernment. Discernment is the ability to distinguish truth from error, truth that is oftentimes obscure. John wrote, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 John 4:1-6). The ability to discern truth from error guarantees you will not be “carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14), and is yet another sign you belong to Christ.
“Test yourselves to see if you are of the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians. 13:5). My wife pointed out last week that my article, “Are You Sure of Your Salvation,” might be received in one of two ways. She suggested some might misunderstand and conclude I am teaching a works oriented salvation—nothing could be further from the truth! Then she suggested others might believe I am teaching one can be saved and then lost—a biblical impossibility. Maybe you concluded something different. But the truth is I purposely left out any application from the previous article in order to cause you to stop, think about and evaluate your own life, and determine if indeed you are counted among the redeemed. My reasoning is that there is no more as important an issue than that of one’s eternal destiny. A lot of things in this life we can get wrong—but not this. So I will ask you again, are you sure of your salvation? And I will follow up with this question—how do you know? How can you be sure of your salvation? Paul wrote, “Test yourselves to see if you are of the faith.” I believe the Bible teaches several ways we can test ourselves to see if we are of the faith. Some of these ways are objective, others subjective. I will discuss three in this article, others in future articles.
First of all, does the Holy Spirit bear witness with your spirit that you belong to God? In other words, do you experience the internal work of the Holy Spirit? Paul wrote, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). John wrote, “We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24). He later wrote, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 John 4:13). The first thing that happens to us at salvation is the Holy Spirit indwells us, forever sealing us as children of God (see Eph. 1:13-14). Elsewhere, the Bible refers to this indwelling, occurring at the moment of salvation, as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 11:16; 1 Cor. 12:13). This baptism of the Holy Spirit is not some “second blessing” that comes later but is something that occurs at the very moment of salvation, when one believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. The fact that believers have the Holy Spirit indwelling them gives evidence of salvation. So, does the Holy Spirit bear witness with your spirit that you belong to God? Paul wrote, “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
Secondly, do you believe and obey God’s Word? I do not know how many professing Christians I have met that express doubt in God’s Word or only give it lip service. One of the primary identifying marks that you are a true born again believer in Christ Jesus is that you believe God’s Word and obey it. John wrote, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected” (1 John 2:3-5). I cannot help but think about some people I know who believe because they walked a church aisle and prayed the “sinner’s prayer” they are saved—never mind they do not believe and obey God’s Word. Notice John said, “By this we know Him.” It is by our faith in and obedience to God’s Word that we know we belong to God.
A third way of testing yourself to see if you are of the faith is that of being sensitive to your sin. Do you have a continual sensitivity to the sin in your life or do you just live any way you want to live, assuming you will go to heaven when you die? A true believer is sensitive to the sin in his or her life. John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10). If you are able to sin against God in a continual, habitual way then it is highly possible and quite probable you do not know Him—or worse, He does not know you. This is the case with many so called believers who think they are right with God because they walked a church aisle or prayed the “sinner’s prayer”, were baptized or had some charismatic experience but do not give evidence of a changed life. About these, John wrote, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). “Test yourselves to see if you are of the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
Are You Sure of Your Salvation?
"Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you" (2 Peter 1:10-11). Are you sure of your salvation? This is an important question. All throughout the New Testament we are warned not to assume we are on our way to heaven. The teachings of the apostles are clear—make certain about His calling and choosing you. But how do we do this? Many wrongly assume they are on their way to eternity with Christ because they are members of a certain church or denomination, regularly attend church, walked an aisle, prayed the "sinner’s prayer", signed a card, raised their hand, were baptized, "had a special revelation from the Holy Spirit" known as a "burning in the bosom", or had a charismatic spiritual experience. But none of those things are valid proofs for affirming your salvation. The New Testament teaches two ways we can be sure. These are sound doctrine and holy living.
If one is going to be sure of his or her salvation, then sound doctrine is essential. Doctrine, of course, means teaching. We must be sure our understanding of the Bible’s teaching particularly that of who Christ is and how salvation is obtained, is sound. In other words, theology matters. John wrote, "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9). Paul wrote, "He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard" (Col. 1:22-23). I can remember a couple friends from my first year of college who attended a church that taught in order to be saved one had to have the words "In Jesus name" said over them at their baptism followed by the experience of speaking in tongues. Obviously, such teaching goes against the very heart of the gospel—that salvation is by grace through faith (see Eph. 2:8-10). Quoting Romans 10:13, the pastor of this church insisted that, "Calling on the name of the Lord will not get you saved. It is a good step but it will not get you saved." Basically she called God a liar for it is He who said through the Apostle Paul, "Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:13). My point in all this is that this church clearly had a misunderstanding of the Doctrines of Christ and Salvation. As a sad result, they proclaimed and believed "another gospel" (see Gal. 1:6-9).
Just as important as sound doctrine is holy living. In fact, holy living is the key to being sure you possess salvation. Jesus said, "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit" (Matt. 7:18). His point is if you see consistent and habitual corrupt fruit in your life, it is safe to assume you are a corrupt tree. In other words, true salvation produces holy living which in turn produces good fruit—the fruit of righteousness. This is Peter’s point in 2 Peter 1:1-11. The reality of our salvation leads to responsibility. The reality is that salvation is a gift of God’s abundant grace received through faith (1:1-2). He has given us everything we need to live a life of holiness (1:3-4). Because of this, it is our responsibility, not to earn our salvation, but to be sure we possess it. Notice he says we are to do so diligently: "Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love" (1:5-7). Verse 8 is the key: "For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." That means those things should be not only present but increasing in a believer’s life. The absence of such qualities is cause for alarm. This is why Peter said, "Therefore brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble" (1:10).
If those things Peter mentioned in verses 5-7 are a reality in your life then you have cause for assurance. But if they are lacking, verse 8 is clear; you become indistinguishable from one who is unsaved, robbing you of your assurance, and implying a sobering reality—you do not belong to God. So, are you sure of your salvation? There are a lot of things we can get wrong in this life—but not this. "Test yourselves to see if you are of the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you fail the test?" (2 Cor. 13:5).
Who Is Jesus -- And Why Does It Matter?
“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins”(John 8:24). A radical change—the Emerging (or Emergent) Church—continues to sweep evangelicalism. We are told this change is necessary if we are to reach the post-modern generation. Unfortunately, this change has left many Christians starving for God’s Word in their churches and chapels. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for these change agents to label as judgmental and out of touch those who resist the movement away from Christ-centered preaching and Bible teaching. The utterly shameful fact is this movement proclaims a different gospel from that of the Apostles “once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3), and is deceiving many with a false hope. For Emerging Church leaders, the Bible is more about doing good works, as God’s people, for the benefit of all people; it is not about revealed truth. A tragic result is they end up with a Jesus far removed from the one revealed in the Scriptures.
The false “gospel” being preached today says that Jesus came to save people from a lack of purpose, lack of happiness, or from living a stress filled and problem filled existence. The New Testament pattern is gospel preaching (which includes the person and work of Christ and the need to repent and believe) followed by nurturing the flock with the whole counsel of God. The gospel must answer four questions—who Jesus is, what He did, why we need Him, and what He expects us to do. Otherwise, Jesus said, “you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). This is a far cry from the “gospel” preached by Emergents. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—a lot of things in life we can get wrong, but not this. Eternity is at stake. So the question is, “Who is Jesus and Why does it Matter?”
Paul told the Philippians of Christ’s pre-existence with God and as God : “He existed in the form of God” (2:6). In his second letter to the Corinthian believers he wrote it is Satan who “has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (4:4). So, Jesus is God who became human without ceasing to be God. But what did He do? Paul wrote, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Jesus died for yours’ and my sins, which answers the next question—why do we need Him? To the Roman believers Paul wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…For the wages of sin is death” (3:23; 6:23). We need Christ’s atoning death and subsequent resurrection because we need His righteousness over our own to be found blameless before a holy God. So, what are we to do? Exactly what He expects us to do: “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…for whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:9, 13). This is the gospel—but you won’t hear it in any “Emerging” congregation nor will you read it in any “Emergent” manifesto. For some strange reason, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not boldly preached, the message of the blood atonement is overlooked, and the verse-by-verse teaching of God’s Word is absent. Perhaps this is because it really is offensive to preach Christ Jesus and Him crucified.
So why does it matter? Because, “having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). The certainty of future judgment is the reason Paul laid before us the necessity of repentance. This is in keeping with Jesus’ words, “for unless you believe I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Like Jesus, Paul proclaimed that we must “repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:20). In other words, it is not merely mental assent to certain facts about Jesus. It is belief that results in lives actually changed. Regardless of the radical change taking place around us, the gospel will always remain the same—that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (see 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). And it is faith in this crucified, risen, ascended Lord that is required of all who desire salvation. This is the message of the Apostles—“God is commanding all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). There are no exceptions.
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