"...yet in the church I would rather speak five words with my understanding, that I may teach others also,..."
I wonder if the Apostle Paul had five specific words in mind when he made the above statement in 1 Corinthians 14:19. Perhaps he meant, "Jesus died for our sins!"
Well, we won’t know the exact answer to this question until we see Paul someday, but these words do sum up one of the central truths of the gospel. And if a survey were taken in all the world's churches which identify even in the remotest way with Jesus, all would likely agree with these five words as they stand alone. However, if we knew the full essence of each group’s position on this main theme of the Christian gospel, a variety of understandings would surface, revealing concepts so different that many denominations would be necessary to house all the variations. And, in fact, isn’t this exactly the way it is?
I've observed that the more literal a position one takes regarding these five words, the more fundamental that person is apt to be. The brief but firmly-believed statement can be compared to a rock in the ground which looks small topside, but upon deeper digging is discovered to be but the tip of a huge boulder underneath the surface. Where the gospel is concerned, Christians ought to be like that rock. Anchored and immovable. The only God-given salvation is based upon the following truth: Jesus' identity and work. Our belief in it. Herein lies the balanced terms and secret of what it means to be saved and have one's eternal destiny guaranteed. Truly, Jesus is "the rock" of our salvation.
Regarding this study, I didn’t one day just decide to write a book on salvation. A few years ago, I became aware of some heated arguments among a few notable Church leaders which really got my attention. The topic was saving faith. Their disagreements were stimulating, sometimes a bit shocking, both of which raised questions in my mind. My first response was to enter into a few letter exchanges with one well-known minister involved in the debate (most evangelical Christians would know him). Our differences never fully resolved. My concerns grew.
In the beginning, I thought that I would take one side or the other of the argument. So I starting studying the Bible with renewed interest in an effort to see which group I felt presented the better picture of the gospel. But the outcome was that I decided both sides presented some inconsistencies relative to what I believe the Holy scriptures teach. This book is my response.
Based on my studies and observations, I have concluded that there are three types of "believers" found in the physical Church:
1. People who are fully confident that they are saved, and their changed lives reflect that they probably are.
2. People who are saved, but their lives give little outward evidence of it.
3. People who are not saved, but claim that they are.
I suspect few Christians who read this would take issue with those in #1. But there may be questions about #s 2 and 3. As to #2, there are people who have been saved at some point in their life, only to later turn away from following Christ in a dedicated way. This is often called backsliding, or carnal living. I suspect there are millions of this type of believers in the Church today. This usually occurs due (1) to Christians yielding to certain temptations which lead them into a life of rebellion and sin, and/or (2) simply not having been exposed to proper, Godly instruction. In the wake of either of these scenarios, believers can lose their desire for the things of God. They don't want to read the Bible, nor desire to fellowship with other Christians; and obviously these can't be an effective witness for Christ. Paradoxically, and perhaps surprising to some, we’ll see that the Bible reveals that one can drift so far from God that evidence of a prior conversion may become virtually non-existent.
In the #3 category, some people may believe they were saved by being baptized as an infant. This belief has no sound, biblical basis. Others in this group would include those who respond to a false gospel, or those who respond wrongly to the true gospel (like joining a church because it's fashionable, etc.,) when, in fact, there had been no real transformation involved.
The above thoughts are not an exhaustive study of all the types in the Church, but these three categories set the stage for what I want to talk about. Because of these variations, it becomes quite clear that we need to know what it really means to be saved and to know why some Christians seem to fall so short of spiritual maturity.
Let me further illustrate one of the main themes of this book like this: Suppose you want to plant a garden. You remove the weeds, till the soil, lay out the rows, water the ground, and wait. Two weeks go by and nothing happens. But, because you are a persistent person, you continue watering and patiently waiting. Still no evidence of growth. To check on the reason for the lack of progress, you dig in the rows for a peek at the seeds, only to discover that you had somehow forgotten to plant them!
Certainly a diligent gardener would not be so neglectful to do what I just described. But regarding new life that should follow a spiritual birth, such a pattern seems to be common in the Church. This scenario is like expecting Christian growth in someone who has never been truly saved. Obviously attempts to advance a person spiritually won't produce one sprout of what is hoped for until the good seed is planted rightly.
Then, to expand this parallelism a little further, we know that every kind of seed has stored in itself every trait and all the potential food value God initially placed in it. And putting healthy seed in well-prepared soil is a necessity to seeing good fruit as the outcome. But there is more to excellent gardening than planting seeds — even good seeds. A garden must be weeded, watered, fertilized, cultivated, etc., before healthy plant-life and an abundant harvest can be expected. Likewise, a person must first have the correct seed (i.e., the biblical Gospel) planted in his mind and spirit. And after the new birth occurs, one must be methodically and carefully nurtured in order for all that is contained in the seed to become manifest.
Yes, successful gardening depends upon following certain rules that line up with the God-given laws of nature. Similarly, successful evangelism and discipleship also depend upon following certain rules that line up with the God-given laws of the spiritual realm. Remembering these two parallel truths will help you understand my approach to this study of the scriptures which we'll explore that relate to salvation in its many ramifications.
One final introductory word needs to be briefly discussed before we go to the sequential parts of this book. There is a topic which I suppose the Church has wrestled with since its beginning. It’s called election. Some believe that God is the only participant in the saving process. That is, God chooses who He plans to save and then saves them, man having little or no part in this aspect. In this case, one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is a consequence rather than a cause of the choosing. On the other hand, some people believe that man has complete freewill, and thus can choose to be saved or not, simply by believing the gospel or not believing the gospel. In the former argument, God is exercising His sovereign will upon the sinner to cause him to believe; in the latter instance, man by his own freewill is choosing to be saved.
As we progress through this study, at times you will discover that certain scriptures seem to implicate the first standpoint described above. But then at other times, some biblical passages may lean to the second position. There are two facts to contend with: the Bible says that God has chosen the elect from the foundation of the world; however, the Bible also says that man must be accountable for his sinful state, and that He must choose to look believingly to Christ alone in order to be saved! (We will be looking specifically at these scriptures later.)
Whatever election may totally and accurately mean, God alone knows the full answer to the entire picture of salvation. And thus, we must leave the final results to Him. A comforting verse which helps me live and sleep well with this and similar tough-to-grasp truths, is 1 Corinthians 13:12:
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know as I also am known.”
May God bear witness with your spirit and soul and body as you read this book.