“Salvation” series (post #8)
Jesus died on a Roman cross to pay the penalty for the sin debt that every individual owes to holy God. On the third day afterward, He arose from the dead. He then spent the next 40 days making various appearances in His resurrected, glorified body to His disciples and others (Acts 1:1-3). At the end of those 40 days, He ascended up to heaven (Acts 1:4-11) to retake His place at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 7:56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1). From there, He now offers salvation to one and all.
We must not make the mistake, however, of assuming that Christ’s death on the cross means that every individual’s sin debt is paid. As I noted in the previous post, Christ’s death was sufficient to pay for everyone’s sins but it isn’t efficient to pay for them. A simple illustration here might help.
Let’s say that a man walks into a crowded restaurant, hands the cashier $10,000 in cash, and announces to all the patrons, “I’m paying for everybody’s meal. When you get your bill, just bring it to the cashier, sign your name on a piece of paper, and your debt will be paid.” Okay, so what must happen for a customer to have his or her bill paid? That customer must follow the instructions and in so doing accept the payment, right? But what if a customer insists on paying his or her own bill? Obviously, the man’s payment won’t help them. This illustration isn’t perfect, but it at least showcases the reason why Christ’s death on the cross stands as the payment for the sins of some people but not the sins of others. Some people just don’t accept the payment.
Of course, this begs the question, “And how does a person accept the payment?” The Bible’s answer is: You must believe in Jesus as your personal Savior. There’s a reason that John 3:16 is the most famous verse in the Bible. It says:
“For God loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (H.C.S.B.)
Before we blow right past this matter of belief, though, let’s be sure that we understand it properly. The problem is, there are different types of belief, and they don’t all equate to salvation. For example, James 2:19 tells us that even the demons (fallen angels) believe there is one God. As we know, though, demons aren’t saved.
Likewise, John 2:23 says that many believed in Jesus’ name when they saw the miracles He did, but He did not “commit Himself” (N.K.J.V.) to them. Actually, the same Greek word is used in that verse for both “believed” and “commit Himself.” It’s the Greek word pisteuo. For that matter, pisteuo is also the word used in John 3:16. So, the teaching of John 2:23 is that even though some people believed in Jesus, He didn’t believe in them. In other words, their belief wasn’t the right kind for them to experience salvation.
Another relevant passage on this is Matthew 7:21-23. Jesus can’t be much clearer there when He says that many so-called “believers” who evoke His name and supposedly have impressive religious works on their resumes are, in reality, still unsaved. He says in those verses:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (N.I.V.)
It is because of passages such as John 2:23 and Matthew 7:21-23 that the term “saving belief” has been coined. This term isn’t scriptural, but I have no qualms about using it and do so often when I preach. The term is merely an attempt to draw a line of distinction between the kind of belief that leads to salvation and the kind that doesn’t.
It has often been noted that saving belief is much more than just intellectual assent to the facts about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as they are presented in the Bible. It’s more than just celebrating His birth at Christmas and His resurrection at Easter. It’s more than just calling yourself a “Christian” simply because you were born into a “Christian” family or a “Christian” nation. No, true saving belief in Jesus runs much deeper than any of that.
Allow me to list the New Testament’s various ways of explaining what saving belief entails. As you read these, keep in mind that they aren’t separate decisions or various “stages” of belief. Each one is, instead, a way of describing what saving belief in Jesus is. In other words, when a person places saving belief in Jesus, that person will automatically be doing all of these things simultaneously. Salvation is a moment-in-time experience, not a process. Here’s the list:
- To place saving belief in Jesus is to come to Him: Matthew 11:28-30; John 5:39-40; John 6:35-37
- To place saving belief in Jesus is to follow Him: Matthew 4:18-20; Mark 2:14
- To place saving belief in Jesus is to call upon Him: Romans 10:9-13
- To place saving belief in Jesus is to put your faith in Him: Romans 3:21-23; Colossians 3:15
- To place saving belief in Jesus is to receive Him: John 1:12; Colossians 2:6
- To place saving belief in Jesus is to open the door to Him: Revelation 3:20
- To place saving belief in Jesus is to trust in Him: Ephesians 1:11-14; 1 Timothy 4:10
Mark 1:15 and Acts 20:21 also bring repentance into the mix. To repent is to turn from your sins and go in the opposite direction. Because of this, some have erroneously concluded that salvation can’t be genuine unless there is first a turning from sin. For example, an alcoholic must first quit drinking before he or she can genuinely believe in Jesus and be saved. Such a teaching misses the point that saving belief, by necessity, includes a certain amount of repentance.
Here again, an illustration might help. In your mind, picture yourself walking down a road. Now think of Jesus coming toward you, walking down the same road but in the opposite direction. As the two of you pass, He says to you, “Follow Me.” Now, in order for you to follow Him, what are you going to have to do? You’re going to have to turn and start walking in the opposite direction. In this way, your decision to follow Jesus, by necessity, included repentance on your part. Do you understand?
Now let me clarify something else: The saved people from the pre-Jesus era were saved in the same way as those from the post-Jesus era. There never has been and never will be two different plans of salvation. Salvation has always required saving belief.
In a previous post, I explained how the blood sacrifices offered up in the Old Testament era all pointed to Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. In God’s eyes, the blood from those sacrifices covered the sins until Christ’s blood could be shed in time and history to eternally cleanse the sins. In that way, Christ’s death and all those Old Testament sacrifices were part of the same grand plan. Well, the same type of thing is true of saving belief.
Romans 4:1-8 explains that both Abraham and David, two of God’s choicest servants from the Old Testament, were saved by belief. The only difference between them and saved people from this present-day is the fact that they didn’t have as much revelation concerning God as we do now. What I mean is, God hadn’t formally revealed Himself as a Trinity yet.
But the Old Testament believers’ lack of knowledge about God being a Trinity didn’t render their belief in Him illegitimate. Make no mistake, when the likes of Abraham and David placed their belief in God, they were placing saving belief in the same God as we do today when we place saving belief in Jesus (God the Son). What makes this possible is the fact that God is ONE God.
When Jesus told His followers to make disciples of all nations and baptize them, He didn’t say, “Baptize them in the names (plural) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). To the contrary, He said, “Baptize them in the name (singular) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In another place, He even said, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30). And then there is 1 John 5:7, which says:
For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word (a title for Jesus), and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. (N.K.J.V.)
So, when you understand that God is one God who has eternally existed in three distinct persons, you can understand that when Abraham, David, and all the other saved believers from the Old Testament placed their belief in God, they were, in a very real sense, placing their belief in Jesus. Don’t penalize those believers over the fact that God, in His plan, didn’t fully reveal Himself as a Trinity to them. He certainly doesn’t penalize them for it.
Someone asks, “But what about good works? Don’t they have something to do with salvation?” No, they don’t. For one thing, even our so-called “good” works carry the taint of sin (Isaiah 64:6). For another, in order for you to be saved by works, you would have to never commit even one sin (James 2:10; Galatians 3:10). Even more than that, your sinless perfection would have to include not just your outward actions but also your inward thoughts, motives, and desires (Matthew 5:21-48; Mark 7:20-23). Good luck with that.
And so we are brought back to the eternal truth of salvation through saving belief in Jesus. Nothing else will do if you want to have all your sins forgiven and spend eternity in perfect bliss with God rather than remain unforgiven and spend eternity in torment apart from Him. I haven’t mentioned the eternal lake of fire in this series, but I assure you that it’s a very real place, a place where all of history’s unbelievers end up.
Really, then, all that is left to be asked is, “Have you placed saving belief in Jesus and thereby experienced salvation?” If you haven’t done so, I beg you to do it now. Even if you think you might have but aren’t 100% sure, I beg you to do it now. (If you are already saved, God won’t penalize you for trying to get saved again, but if you aren’t, the decision will literally alter your eternal destination.) What a shame it is that even though Jesus has paid the sin bill for the entire human race, the vast majority of people walk around unsaved. But you don’t have to be in that majority. I’ve explained to you, as best I can, God’s plan of salvation. Now it is up to you to decide what you will do with that plan.