GOD'S CALLS TO SAVING FAITH
Recapping the thoughts as outlined in the previous chapter of what comprises a human being:
(1) You are an eternal being.
(2) You have a soul — i.e., a teachable mind, the will and emotions. This is one's human life. The personality.
(3) You (i.e., your spirit and soul) live in a physical body. This is the “temple” where both spirit and soul reside.
Knowing these three facts and keeping them well in mind helps one to understand what actually happens [inwardly] upon initial trust in Christ. It also opens the door of comprehension regarding God's design of Christian responsibility following conversion.
I presented in Part I what I believe to be the minimum requirements for an unbeliever to be saved. I kept it basic at that point in order to emphasize the most important aspect of spirit salvation: that being saved initially is seeing Jesus as the Messiah, plus believing and accepting the fact that He died for sinners who trust Him as their Savior. That's the central truth of the biblical Gospel. However, it would be naive to not recognize the fact that God uses many ways of getting sinners to the Savior, the variations depending on our particular 'sin-bent' situation. I think this is why the Gospel often seems overly-complicated to some folks. But it really isn't intended to be.
Now we're going to tread into controversial waters. Some refer to this area as the “essentials” of saving faith. I think of it simply as God's variety of calls, which lead to saving faith. In order for salvation to occur according to God’s design, on our side the end objective of “belief in Jesus as Savior” is surely the same in every case. But the avenues to the goal of placing one's faith in Jesus will not always be the same nor will those paths always follow the same sequence.
God is the saver of men and it will be a while yet before we understand every method He uses to do it. Remember, we are but partners with God in the process of evangelization. As we noted in Romans 2, we saw that God can, has and does, save some people without assistance from you or me!
Example: The apostle Paul was approached by Christ on the road to Damascus. Of course Jesus used someone else later (Ananias --- see Acts 9:10), but He made clear here that He could witness and initiate salvation to someone without the aid of any human helpers. Today, our current Helper and initiator is the Holy Spirit.
Now with these thoughts as background, here are a few messages that are usually present somewhere along the line as one comes to true, saving faith in Jesus Christ.
CALLS OF GOD THAT LEAD TO SPIRIT SALVATION
1. Using one's God-given, built-in faculties that there is a God. We are "without excuse", so said the apostle Paul, concerning the existence of a Creator God. (See Romans 1 and 2.) God has left within our own being and all around us evidences of Himself and commands all humanity to be responsible to those indicators.
2. Hearing and understanding that we are sinners, both by nature and by personal choice and, therefore, are in rebellion towards Almighty God.
3. Hearing strong sermons regarding God's Law, the Ten Commandments, the commands of Christ and how each of us are violators of these Laws.
4. Hearing the message that an unsaved sinner is hell-bound and destined to spend eternity with the devil, his angels and all other unsaved people.
5. Hearing the message that Jesus Christ is God's Son and that He came, lived a sinless life, and willfully took the wrath of God upon Himself, shedding his blood and physically dying on the cross at Calvary, which was the heavenly Father’s full requirement to redeem lost sinners.
6. Hearing the message that the acts of Jesus were done in the believer's own behalf.
7. Let me make this one even more personal: hearing the message that you must not only believe that these are God's truths, but that you also need to trust that these acts of the Father and the Son were done for you personally.
8. Hearing a message that an individual should make an outward confession of his/her sins before others and that he/she has made a sincere decision, based on mental and heart belief, to trust Christ's work as propitiatory (which means “Jesus died in the believing-sinner's behalf.”) (Romans 10:9&10)
9. One should also learn that God (in recognition of our sin-nature and knowing we can't, and won't, make these decisions unassisted) has sent a Helper (the Holy Spirit) to both convince and convict us as we hear the above truths. A new believer needs to know this third Person of the Godhead is his own personal Guide Who will help him grow further in the knowledge of truth after his initial statement of trust and faith in Christ.
10. A recommendation that ought to accompany introductory messages to unbelievers is that all the above facts, once believed, is also a call to obedience and discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ. Although I completely understand and strongly urge that this point should be made to unbelievers, I do not consider it an absolute essential for one to have the experience of spirit salvation, and thus have guaranteed, eternal life in heaven. Some would disagree here but there are many evidences in the Scriptures, confirmed by cases I've witnessed in my lifetime (my own included), that people can become truly born again when this principle has been either omitted or not understood in the beginning. Now if one refuses submission to Jesus' lordship after hearing this too is expected of him, he should seriously evaluate whether he ever really believed in the first place.
11. Hearing the message that we must change our mind and attitude about sin and turn towards God and His plan.
The Bible says that the Holy Spirit has been sent to “convict the world of sin, righteousness and coming judgment”. (See John 16:8.) He operates within the spirit of a sinner and it is in this way that God initiates salvation.
Thus, the sinner is brought to conviction about his sinful state before God, perhaps using one or many of the "calls" outlined above. During this time, he tastes of heavenly things (produced by God the Holy Spirit doing His work within the unbeliever's spirit). This process represents the fulfillment of John 16:8. It is designed to create a state of recognition of one's need to be saved. On God's side, it may very well be that spirit salvation is completed at this point, but not yet to the believer's awareness. God's order does involve a decisive-response from the Holy Spirit-sensitized sinner. Genuine repentance is the outward evidence of inward belief, and it is elicited by the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. Soul salvation (usually referred to as sanctification) then continues for the rest of one's life on earth. (More later on this subject.)
Many times, people never even learn about full surrender, obedience, discipleship, sanctification, etc., until after first saving faith. Therefore, it must be concluded that prior knowledge of these principles cannot be considered absolute prerequisites of initial, spirit salvation. These acts of obedience are God-designed, post-entry processes of the Christian faith. Some people hear the concepts before initial salvation, but not all, therefore we can't make it a requirement.
One's assurance that he truly became a Christian should always rest on trusting the fact that Jesus' sacrifice was done in his behalf. Assurance should NOT be based upon trusting one's own worthiness due to commitment and obedience, as important as these acts are. If one worries continually about whether he is a serious follower, the tendency is to forget trusting in the gift.
Good things that follow spirit salvation are confirmatory and rewards producing, but not part of the initial salvation experience itself. On God's end, salvation was very hard. On our end, trusting Christ's propitiatory work truly is easy-believism. In fact, this is the only belief that saves! The greatest thing a person can learn is that God has worked out His plan of salvation and that the sinner's role in becoming a part of His Kingdom is to believe and trust in God's plan..., + nothing else. Eternal life is God's gift for willing, sinful believers to receive.
If total surrender, obedience, discipleship, etc., are added to trusting-in-Christ (as lordship teaching does), it adds up to works + faith = spirit salvation, no matter how strongly the proponents of this gospel may try to deny it. It seems to me that this all-encompassing, bigger-picture “gospel” has actually blurred the simple truth. Such teachings have commonalities with cults. The following two traits are found in all of them:
(1) The “gospels” of cults are invariably complicated.
(2) Cults always believe they alone have the right answers.
If the lordship teachers who think they are the "saviors" of the true gospel aren't careful, the end result (as is clearly evident in the cults) may ultimately omit a central truth of the Gospel: "...Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Col. 1:27)
JESUS IS SAVIOR! JESUS IS LORD!
Now, I want to emphasize that I believe in the full Saviorship-Lordship of Christ. These are attributes Jesus holds. The day that one truly puts his trust in Christ as Savior, Jesus becomes his Lord whether the new believer fully understands all his/her future responsibilities or not.
Personally, my knowledge and experience of Jesus as the Lord of my life has grown over the years since first trusting Him as my Savior. At the time of initial salvation, I had little, if any, awareness of the lordship principle. And yet some preachers demand it must be commensurate with initial saving faith. But I will say this: the simple trust I first placed in Christ has now led to a greater appreciation of His Lordship. And over the years, the increase of joy has been in proportion to the increase of my commitment to Him ruling in all the affairs of my life.
Much confusion would disappear by realizing that from the time people become Christians, up to the time we will be glorified in God's heavenly Kingdom, there is a period of works which is God-designed to conform the soul of a believer to what is already true in the sealed, spirit man. This may be a great mystery but chapters 1, 2 and 3 of Ephesians and other passages clearly set this truth before us. This truth was vague to me too until recent years. I am eager to see more Christians learn this concept and apply it to their lives. Many pastors also need to get a better hold of this biblical truth and teach it to their congregations. (This will be discussed in greater depth in Part IV.)
Some teachers want those who say they are Christians to focus on the "fruits" in their lives for the evident-proof that they once exercised saving faith. They say this is the only place one can have certain confidence that his/her salvation is real. And without righteous fruits (they say) is cause for self examination as to whether they have ever been saved.
There is an element of truth in this belief, but there is also a danger here. Focusing on our goodness as the main barometer of whether we are Christians or not can in some cases produce the tendency of drawing us away from seeing Jesus, the cross, His death and resurrection, as the basis of spirit salvation. Unwittingly, many Christians have been guilty of using scriptures which relate to the soul and wrongly conclude that these passages relate to spirit salvation. There are indeed many biblical texts regarding good works that relate to the soul’s sanctification, but which having nothing to do with the initial birth in Christ. When no distinction is made between the spirit and soul, wrong conclusions will invariably arise which will then result in misapplication of the scriptures.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF CHRISTIAN SELF-EXAMINATION?
Certainly self-examination should be an on-going process done by all believers. We ought to appraise our attitudes and activities, our personal state of righteousness, prayer life, Bible study, our love for God and man, etc. But when we see some non-conformity in these areas, it should not cause us to doubt our eternal security in Christ! Spirit salvation, and thus eternal destiny, became fixed when God first called us, and subsequently, we placed child-like trust in Jesus as our Savior.
Self-examination should always be done for the purpose of determining if our daily walk is in accord with how the Bible says a Christian is supposed to live. If we are sinning, we need to admit it, stop it, remember who we are in Christ, and then yield ourselves to Him once again so He can live His life in us.
Sinning by born-again people is inconsistent-living. When Christians commit sin, it should be confessed and turned from. To grow in God, Christians must repent of sin. But NEVER should the absence of fruits in one's life cause him to shudder concerning his eternal destiny and sense of security if he once truly-trusted Christ as Savior!
To illustrate, let me personalize this: I was sealed by the Holy Spirit the day I believed in Jesus as my Savior. This insured my going to heaven. (See Eph. 1:13.) Now that's what I focus on when doubts arise, not my wayward ways.
Impurity in a Christian's life can be devastating on the soulish-body level. But the work of God's spirit salvation concerning eternal destiny is a finished work. We must never think anything we can do, good or bad, improves or disrupts what Jesus Christ accomplished in our behalf in the garden of Gethsemane and at Calvary.
God forbid that there be rottenness in a Christian's life, but it's presence is not what determines the spiritual reality of a believer's relationship to God. Believers are held in the hands of God from the first day of the new birth. That's what trust is all about. It takes the me and you out of the picture in terms of who does the saving. In the natural sense, for example, a son remains a son regardless of whether he is performing like dad would like him to. The fellowship may be poor, but not the relationship. The parallelism is exactly the same between God and His saved-and-sealed sons and daughters.
Salvation belongs to God. I would never have desired to become saved on my own. God sought me out. He wooed me into His Kingdom. He called and laid the choice before me. That's what the Bible teaches. Folks, this is the main difference between Christianity and religions! Let's never lose sight of this nor be guilty of adding unnecessary characteristics or principles to that which constitutes biblical saving faith.
But having said that, let me also say that if a person who claims to be a Christian continually and without remorse violates God's Laws, then re-examination of the original decision concerning Christ and His Gospel is in order. One wants to be sure his/her initial conversion (regeneration) was true.
THE BIBLE, THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND COMMON SENSE
God has not left us "comfortless" with regards to whether a trust has saving power in it. If one was ever saved, his confidence grows (1) because the Bible continually proves its reliability as he studies and practices its truths, and (2) because of the Holy Spirit's witness to his spirit. An un-trusting decision will never result in biblical convictions or build a personal testimony of one's relationship and involvement with the Holy Spirit.
Even common sense teaches us something here. For example, suppose you have planned a big party and invite me and many others to your dinner. I could verbally accept your invitation and believe beyond question the event would take place and that you sincerely wanted me there, but inwardly not have the slightest intent of coming to the feast. And if you in advance knew this was my tendency, you wouldn’t save me a seat either!
WHAT REALLY HAPPENS AT CONVERSION?
Again I quote from Ephesians 1:13&14:
"In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,...until the redemption of the purchased possession..."
This verse explains in beautiful, simple terms the exact order (on man’s side) of what happens when one initially trusts Jesus as his personal Savior. It is a verse believers need to hang their “doctrinal-hats” on. Let's look at it a little closer.
One of the key words here is "sealed". The Greek word is sphragizo.
Let's define it in English:
It means to stamp, to keep secret and to preserve. Implicit in the word is that it is off-limits to any foreign, contaminating influence. God alone is allowed in here. In other words, there's something about the sphragizoed person's spirit that is impenetrable, except to God. Logic would dictate that the new birth and the sealing would probably occur simultaneously. On man’s side of the coin, it appears from this verse that the sealing occurs after believing.
The glow on my friend's face let me know that the light had dawned regarding the truths that I said earlier are the main stumbling blocks against Christian maturation: 1/ not understanding our triune-nature, 2/ not seeing the difference between spirit and soul salvation, and 3/ not fully understanding a believer’s perfect position in Christ.
Interestingly, the word sphragizo is also used concerning Satan. Rev. 20:1-3 says an angel of God will "seal" (same Greek word) Satan for 1000 years during the millennium. It's an absolute. A closed issue. Satan's release can come only when God allows it — at the end of the 1000-year reign of Christ.
In the above Ephesians' passage, "sealed" refers to the Christian. Just as in Satan's case (but for opposite reasons), once sealed, God alone has access into this part of the believer. Due to the fact that Christians still commit sin after being saved causes one to wonder how any part of the believer can be considered non-accessible, sin-wise. And yet, when we carefully analyze the word sphragizo, this conclusion must be reached.
Oftentimes, God's Word seems to mask deeper truth in seemingly-obscure words and passages. But a close search will show this was actually God-designed to clear rather than confuse our thinking. I believe this is true of this word sphragizo.
(1) Primarily, we've noted, and foundational to understanding saving faith, sealing is a stamp of God's ownership. No sin touches the perfect part God made at one’s initial regeneration — and subsequently owns forever. I’m referring to the saved and sealed, “new man” which God created and placed in a believer's spirit.
(2) But there is a paradox: we know that a saved person can (and will) commit sin, post-entry into the new life in Christ. Thus, post-new birth, some part of a believer is still accessible. For this reason, we are forced to conclude something IS NOT sealed, therefore touchable (sin-wise). And yet the word sphragizo also definitely means something about a believer IS sealed, therefore untouchable (sin-wise), until taken to heaven. How can we reconcile this seeming discrepancy?
Christians, project yourself to the "I" of this scenario: I know I am born again but I also know my soul (i.e., my will, mind and emotions) can be tempted after being saved. I still have the freewill to choose between disobedience-and-sinful-practices or obedience-and-holy-living. Potential rebellion is not altogether removed from me. For this reason, I realize there will be serious consequences for me in this world when I sin, and even more importantly, loss of rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The old Adam-man in me has been spiritually crucified (made dead in terms of authority and eternal consequences). This became a reality the day I saw myself crucified with Christ (Gal.2:20; Rom.6:4). Also, a "new-Adam man" has been born in me (Rom. 6:4&6, and Eph. 4:24); and because of this, I have eternal, spiritual victory. But, practical victory in day-to-day living comes about by an act of my own will. God grants Christ's resurrection-life and power to me when I see my "old man" as dead on the cross with Jesus and as I see my "new man" alive outside the tomb as was Jesus on resurrection morning (Rom. 6:11).
MORE ON 'RECKONING' FAITH
It is extremely important for Christians to understand the word "reckon". It means to regard, count, or rely, on something as so, regardless of how things may appear. This is the believer's responsibility — not God's. God's work has already made the provision.
“Reckon” is a powerful, faith word. What God has done or said can be counted on as unchangeable truth. But we must play an active role if what is reckoned is to produce a beneficial outworking in our lives.
Reckon is one of those Holy-Spirit-directed words which can help settle a doctrinal dispute. It is in light of such Biblical terms as this that shows the absurdity of teachings which demand outward evidences of good works before one's faith can be said to have been of initial saving caliber. Certainly, good works should be present if one's life is to show that the peace of God dwells within, and also if his life is to have any practical, Godly-influence on others. This is precisely Paul's understanding too as he exhorted his hearers to reckon themselves dead to sin. If positive results were built-in absolutes, the outcome would be automatic, and consequently no commandment relative to reckoning-faith would have been necessary. (Do you get what I'm saying? Read this paragraph again. This word needs to be grafted into your heart.)
To be a successful Christian, I must do two things:
1. Trust Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. My permanent citizenship was established in heaven the day I was sealed by the Holy Spirit. My hope and belief is that I am absolutely kept in Him, now. I am His. When doubts arise, recalling this completed truth is what will set me free and I believe and accept this, by faith. I do not look at my works for assurance of spirit salvation; for that I look to Christ alone. (Christian works pertains to soul salvation and will be thoroughly discussed later.)
2. Consider (by reckoning) myself dead to sin. Sin and rebellion must be dealt with on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis. This too is a function I put into operation — by faith. I can do this because God's Word says I can. The Bible tells me I have been crucified with Christ; the Holy Spirit agrees and bears witness with this in my spirit; I must agree with both witnesses in order to be a successful, dynamic Christian.
The only built-in inevitability in Christian-living in the physical-soulish life that I see is this: God will inevitably and absolutely produce results IF we will do our part. Our part? We've got to do some personal, willful, active reckoning!
Example: Paul was reckoning when he spoke of the grace of God being sufficient to sustain him in the area of his thorn. He continually presumed things as though they were when it was blatantly-obvious they were not yet so. That’s faith.
Since sin and rebellion can still take place in a believer, clearly the soul-and-body life is not impenetrably-sealed. Remember, the body is the physical 'house' where the actions of the soulish-life (will, mind and emotions) become outwardly manifest for the world to see. Thus, by straight-forward deduction, we find only one part remains available for the Holy Spirit to seal (make untouchable except to God) when one first believes — the spirit.
This concept is not really all that hard to understand, although it seems hard for some to accept. The hindrance is due to following false and/or incomplete principles of understanding. The problem is also due to Christians believing that spirit and soul are interchangeable words with the same meaning. They are not. But it's exciting to be able to say that once you see this truth, you'll be amazed at how certain Scriptures which were previously vague will just start opening up to you. Then these words of Jesus become so much more meaningful:
"...If you continue in my word, then you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:31&32.
Being "in Christ" is, of course, the first stepping stone of being set free, because Jesus is the Truth. However, note that the mark of real disciples are those who "continue in (Jesus') word". To be maximally-fruitful, Christianity must be practiced accurately. And when this is done, the fruits of the Holy Spirit will be the manifested result in our lives — love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is guaranteed. “Lordship” words are appropriate here: It's an absolute! It's inevitable!