Now, let’s talk about what salvation is…
Salvation is a conscious decision (you are fully aware of what you are doing), a cry for help, a conversion. It is a realization that you cannot save yourself, and that you are not worthy of gaining entrance into heaven. It is surrender. You are not doing God a favor; He is rescuing you. Salvation is a mutual intimate relationship between your Creator and you. It is crossing a bridge and burning it behind you. You will never be able to enjoy your old sins, nor will you want to go to the old sinful places anymore (if you actually did – you couldn’t do it without feeling guilty). It is a lifelong decision; one that can never be undone, but one you will never regret. No one can force you into this, no one can decide for you. It must be your decision. Salvation is not a pill that will solve all your problems. You will still have to pay your bills, you will still get sick and have aches and pains, will still grow old, etc. But your biggest problem will be solved, and now, your other problems will be God’s problems also. Salvation is not reforming yourself. It is not “turning over a new leaf.” It is not a wild emotional experience, a tingly feeling or a close brush with death. It is not baptism. (Water can wash dirt away, but it cannot wash sin away. Sin is a condition of the soul). It is not JUST saying a prayer, thinking there is some obligation now on God’s part to perform.
According to the Bible, there are two things that must be present for salvation to take place. These two things cannot be manufactured or forced to be in you. You cannot “muster them up” through your own determination. They are not found in religion, but only in a relationship. Each is a realization. Each is an understanding. God must reveal them to you (which He wants to do for everyone). You either understand or you don’t; you either realize or you don’t.
Let’s take a look at those two things…
Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, REPENTANCE toward God, and FAITH toward our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts20:21)
The first thing that we will discuss is a certain realization called repentance. Repentance literally means “change of understanding.” It is not JUST an intellectual acknowledgment that God doesn’t like sin. It is a comprehension of the depth and magnitude of sin, of what God thinks about it. It is a desire to be free from the condemnation of it. It is a desire to be right with the God who loves you, to tell Him that you are sorry for offending Him; for sinning against Him personally. The result is a change of attitude toward sin. It is not just a change of mind like, “I did want vanilla ice cream, but now I want chocolate. I changed my mind.” No, it is a heartfelt attitude change, a realization that causes a 180 degree turn in the opposite direction. It would be more like you found out that someone blew his nose in the vanilla, and with disgust, you now want the chocolate. That is why you changed your mind. It is a realization that caused an attitude change. Likewise, it is turning from the sin that you now understand that God hates, and that offends Him. It is a desire to turn from sin to the Savior.
… how ye turned TO God FROM idols to serve the living and true God… (1 Thessalonians 1:9)
It occurs when a person realizes, according to the Bible, what he/she truly is compared to an infinitely holy God. We are undeserving of heaven and condemned to hell because of sin. We are born without the tools necessary to get to heaven. (There is nothing in us or about us that can get us there. There is not one redeeming quality about us that can contribute toward the payment that is required to meet God’s judgment on sin). Neither you nor I can satisfy God.
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre (grave); with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps (snakes) is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Romans 3:10-18)
That is ironic is that in spite of how man is in God’s eyes, man tends to think pretty highly of himself. He is arrogant enough to think he doesn’t need God. From man’s self-righteous pride to his sinfulness, man’s entire life is a testimony to rebellion. Well, repentance is an attitude opposite that of rebellion, a willingness to do whatever is right. Repentance is not JUST an action change (WORKS) it is first an ATTITUDE CHANGE (a change in attitude will result in a change in the action). A person who repents wants to put God first in everything (putting God on the “throne” of his life, and taking self off of the “throne” of his life – this is what the Bible means when it calls Jesus “LORD”). He has an attitude of no longer having his own agenda, but of wanting to do God’s will. It is an attitude of no longer fighting God. A repentant person has the attitude, “God is right – I am wrong; I give up.” When someone repents, he does not want to hurt God anymore through his sin, and more than anything else in the world, he wants everything to be made right between God and him.
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord… (Acts 3:19)
(We did not say that a person who repents will be perfect. There will still be temptations, mistakes, and self-will. But the ability to practice that sin will be greatly diminished, because that person knows it will offend God, and damage his relationship with God. He will not be able to do so anymore and feel good about it.)
Before a person can be saved, he must come to God on God’s terms. He must realize that he (man) is the one that is guilty, and must be truly sorry for his sins (without this deep remorse over sin, there can be no salvation).
For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation…
(2 Corinthians 7:10)
The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
Repentance involves forsaking one’s sins.
He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)
Let us hasten to say; a person can have regret over sin or regret over the path in which his life has taken. He may even have a change of heart just as Scrooge did toward Christmas, but if he is only bothered that he did not live up to his own standards, and is not bothered that God is offended; he is not ready for salvation. Remember, it is “…repentance toward God….”
Let’s look at an understandable example of repentance. You will notice in this example, how closely this boy’s excuses mirror our own, and how we are not ready to repent until we come clean, admit our own guilt, confess our sin, and want to be right.
A child is told by his dad not to eat any ice cream until after his meal when he may eat it with the rest of his family. But this little boy loooooves ice cream. So one day when his daddy is at work, he grabs a spoon and “just happens” to make his way downstairs. A couple of bites of ice cream won’t hurt anybody, and no one will be able to tell it will be missing. As he is eating, he hears a click, and the light comes on. Oh, oh! His dad walks into the room. At first there is shock. The boy quickly covers up the ice cream and throws it back into the freezer.
His dad says, “Son, what are you doing? Are you eating ice cream?”
He reacts with a lie, “NO!”
“Then what is that on your mouth? And why do you have a spoon in your hand”?
“Oh, uh – Hi Dad, I was just uh, just….”
Realizing how obvious it is, he minimizes his transgression by saying, “I just had a little.” (In other words, “Rebelling against your commandment to satisfy my own desire is not THAT big of a deal”)
“But Son, I TOLD you NOT to have the ice cream unless it was meal time. Do you remember me saying that?”
But now, he tries something else. “But, Dad. You know how much I like ice cream.” (In other words, “I just can’t help myself – it’s a sickness, it’s a disease, I can’t be held responsible if I can’t control myself” – No repentance, just excuses).
“Besides, that rule is too hard to follow.” (Oooh, its DAD’S fault. Dad’s trying to spoil my fun.)
So far in each of these cases, there is still rebellion. He is not quite ready to give up the fight. There are excuses, blame shifting, and denial. There is even lying.
“Son, did you eat the ice cream, or didn’t you?”
The evidence is unavoidable. It is on his hands and in his mouth. He is holding the spoon. There is no one else to blame. He is solely responsible for transgressing his father’s righteous commandment. He stands alone – helpless – with the full weight of HIS sin condemning him. He is guilty. He gives up. He acknowledges that HE is wrong – no excuses. What follows then is sorrow, not because he was caught, but because he has regret over his sin, and most of all, because he has disappointed the daddy he loves. He feels about as low as anyone could go. He is humbled.
Their fellowship has been broken (he cannot have both his sin and fellowship with his daddy); and he has hurt his daddy’s feelings by disobeying him. He knows he will be punished, but that does not bother him as much as the look of disappointment on his dad’s face. And now… he just wants to be right with his daddy more than anything in the world (because fellowship with his daddy means more to him than his sin). With disgust at the thought of this transgression against the one for whom he cares more than self, he turns his back on his sin and turns toward his daddy’s mercy, asking for forgiveness. His daddy forgives him.
Something interesting takes place. What once seemed such a delight now becomes a disgust to him. Not so much the taste of ice cream, but his sin WITH the ice cream. There is disgust toward himself. There is a regret at allowing his own selfish desire to go against his dad’s word, and get in the way of a relationship. (By the way, if the little boy can go back to sneaking ice cream, then he didn’t repent. Now, will the boy’s desire for ice cream go away? Of course not. Will he still be tempted to take a bite when no one is looking? Probably. But his great love for his daddy, the refreshing feeling of guilt being lifted off of him, how his daddy set him free from the guilt by forgiving him, how his daddy loved him and accepted him in spite of his failure, has won his heart to his daddy).
This is an example of a young boy’s repentance toward his daddy.
In salvation there must be the same condition – but a “…repentance toward God…” (Acts 20:21). God wants to be THAT “daddy”, and wants you to be His son or daughter. He wants you to acknowledge your sin, to throw yourself into the arms of God who will forgive you, and receive you as you are.
Do you see how a relationship is absolutely dependent on a repentant attitude taking place? You cannot find it in religion. The person of God and the person of the sinner, who once were at odds (it wasn’t God’s fault) are now reconciled to each other again (man was the one at fault, that is why man must come to God on God’s terms).
Repentance does not require that you make a list of all of your past sins. You cannot remember every single one. It is an attitude change toward sin in general. However, there may be some obvious ones that come to mind which would be harder for you to let go. Jesus said that if something is coming between you and repenting, you would be better off going to heaven without it, than to go to hell with it. IT IS THAT SERIOUS!
And if thy hand offend thee (causes you to stumble), cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life (heaven) maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: (Mark 9:43)
Jesus encouraged people to “count the cost” or evaluate what will happen after one becomes a Christian.
For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
You see, Jesus Christ is not interested in tricking you into a relationship. That is called seduction, not honesty. Jesus Christ loves you too much to mislead you. He wants you to know everything you are “getting into” before you make a decision for Him for the rest of your life. Naturally there are some things that we are attached to in this life, and some of them are good things. We SHOULD care about what others think, to an extent. We should not want to offend others. But it comes down to this. Do you want a relationship with God MORE than you want to hold on to the temporary things of the world? Do you care more about what God thinks, or what your loved ones think? Do you want to accept TRUTH, or hold onto a lie for the sake of others?
He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. (John 12:25)
Salvation is a true relationship with God. It is not playing church, or putting on a show. You may be talked about, called names, excluded from activities. Others may not associate with you anymore. (Now this does not necessarily HAVE TO happen, a Christian does not suddenly have to start acting goofy, and does not have to be inappropriate and drive people away from him/her. We are just trying to be honest with your expectations so you can properly assess salvation. To have others treat you poorly should not be your goal – some religions enjoy the persecution – your goal is to win them to the Saviour, but also, to not shame God.) In some countries such as in Muslim territories, they may be rejected, may be shunned, may have their property confiscated or family members turn on them. They may even be put to death.
Why is this? Jesus said, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)
The second realization that Acts 20:21 states a person must have is
.”..FAITH toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Let us first define what the word FAITH means.
First of all, faith is not just a simple belief in God. Many people believe in God, but they do not know why. A simple belief in God is not the Bible definition of faith, and a simple belief in God does not gain one an entrance into heaven, as is obvious by the following verse regarding demons (who obviously are not going to heaven).
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. (James 2:19)
The Bible word “faith” means a trust, a confidence, or reliance upon. The foundation of all Bible faith is a trust or reliance upon one and only one thing: God’s Word. Confidence in God’s Word is based on the foundation of God’s character and his ability.
So let’s first establish what we mean by God’s character, and let’s explain it in terms of comparison to ours.
We have already asked the question, “Have you ever lied?” And we said that the answer was an obvious, “Yes, I have lied.” Whether we were afraid of getting caught, afraid of being embarrassed, or had exaggerated a story; we all have lied. In fact, it is our nature to lie.
But has God ever lied?
Is God even capable of lying?
While it is our nature to lie, it is God’s nature to NOT LIE.
GOD CANNOT LIE.
In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; (Titus 1:2)
“… it [is] impossible for God to lie…” (Hebrews 6:18)
Therefore, everything He said He would do is a promise, and must be fulfilled; God cannot go back on His Word – even once – otherwise He would be a liar. For…
“God is not a man, that he should lie…hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good? (Numbers 23:19)
If God cannot lie and He has declared that He would bring something to pass, then He absolutely MUST fulfill it.
Here is another question with an obvious answer. Have you ever made a mistake? Or have you ever tripped, or spilled a glass of water, or fell down the stairs? Again, the answer is, “Yes, in one form or another, I have made mistakes.”
GOD HASN’T! (Neither a moral mistake, nor an accident.)
As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is tried: he is a buckler to all them that trust in him. (2 Samuel 22:31)
I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him. (Ecclesiastes 3:14)
Have you ever been jealous, disliked another, or treated someone unfairly? Have you ever had impure motives? God Has Not.
And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD. (Zechariah 8:17)
…the LORD is upright: he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him. (Psalms 92:15)
What this proves is that God would never try to mislead you or deceive you. In fact, God is dedicated to TRUTH.
For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth. (Psalms 33:4)
Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever. (Psalms 119:160)
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. (John 17:17)
Are there limits to your mental and physical ability? Again, an obvious “yes.” But not with God.
For with God nothing shall be impossible. (Luke 1:37)
…The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. (Luke 18:27)
Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance?… Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust… Isaiah 40:12-17
So if God is that powerful; so powerful that He can make the entire universe with billions of galaxies containing billions of stars, do you think He could write a book just a few hundred pages in length without a single mistake? Is that too hard, or can God handle that? Hmmm. Yeah, I think He can. No Problem!
So here is the point of all of this. If God cannot and will not lie, cannot make a mistake, is all-powerful, is holy (cannot sin), and loves you more than Himself, then God would never betray your trust and would never do you wrong. If God says His Word is complete and there is nothing that we are missing from it (there are no new revelations to be added to it), and if this kind of God with this kind of character tells us that the Bible is true, then IS IT TRUE? Can there be even one mistake? If there is, then God lied.
It is confidence in this kind of God that then leads to a trust and a confidence in His Word.
This is important, because it is the instructions in His Word that tell us how to get to heaven.
So how does faith work?
Simple. If all these things about God and His Word are true, and if God cannot lie, then I do not have to see, hear, or feel God to verify that He exists, or to believe that He will do what He says He will do. If God’s Word cannot fail, then his Word is all the evidence I need.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
If God sees it, then I don’t have to see it. I can depend on Him to tell me. If He can’t lie than His Word is more trustworthy than anything my 5 senses can tell me.
Let’s illustrate by having you picture the following scenario.
Let’s say that you are trying to guess how many fingers a person is holding up behind his back. He tells you three.
How do you know?
You cannot see them. You cannot feel them. You must simply believe that person based upon what he has told you.
But you may have some doubts. Why? Because your lack of trust is based on the other person’s ABILITY TO LIE. This would actually be a game, the challenge being whether you have guessed the right amount or if the person was lying to you. (In order to play the game, you would need a third party to verify whether he was telling the truth.)
But let’s pretend for a moment that it is God who is hiding His fingers behind His back? He tells you three. How do you know? You cannot see them, or feel them. But there is a difference with God. Here is the key. Can God lie? If the answer is “No”, then why would you have to see them? Would you have any doubts? YOU SHOULDN’T. If God cannot lie, then the number of fingers He has told you that He is holding up, must be that stated number, every single time. You don’t need a third party to verify – GOD CANNOT LIE. What He says is better than sight. Your trust in Him should be based on His INABILITY TO LIE. HIS FAITHFULNESS. That is a confidence that cannot be moved, because it is NOT IN YOU, it is IN A GOD THAT CANNOT FAIL.
It is that same simple faith that you can place in Him for your soul.
If God says He will save you, how do you know He will? You will not see salvation. You will not feel salvation. You will not smell, taste, or hear salvation. God will not show you a vision or give you a tingly feeling to verify that you have been saved; you must believe God based on what He has told you (in the Bible). You will see the evidence or the results of salvation later because there will be a change in your life, but you will not FEEL anything at the time of salvation.
So THAT is faith. It is not reliance upon YOUR ability; it is a confidence in SOMEONE ELSE’S ability. In this case, that Someone just happens to be a perfect God.
Not to belabor the point, but I want to make sure you understand how simple faith is.
Let’s say that an army is in a valley and must depend upon a lookout to warn them of approaching danger. That scout, on a lookout above them on a mountain, relays the movement of the opposing army. Can the army in the valley see the enemy? No. Who can? The scout. Would the army place a man as a scout with a long history of lying? Someone who was blind? Sympathetic to the enemy? Of course not. They have absolute trust in that man’s ability and trustworthiness to relay the facts about the enemy. He has demonstrated this ability and trustworthiness time and again. Is not God more reliable? Is He not worthy of even more trust? Does He not have a perfect track record (in other words, has God ever demonstrated a false motive or made a mistake in the past?)
Just as the army in the valley cannot see the enemy but the scout can, you cannot see what God sees. The army believes what this scout tells it as fact even though they do not see what he sees. They believe him. That is absolute trust (confidence, reliance upon).
Well God is infinitely more reliable. God understands what we do not, and sees what we do not. He loves you, cannot fail, and wants to tell you the truth. Is that good enough for you and me?
Again, it is not reliance upon YOUR ability; it is a confidence in SOMEONE ELSE’S ABILITY (a “SOMEONE” Who CANNOT fail). THAT is Bible faith.
And what is the significance of this?
The Bible says we are born separated from God and that our sins are taking us to a place called hell. But I have never seen hell. God has. Do you believe Him? The Bible says God wants us to go to heaven, but I have never seen heaven. God has. Do you trust Him? God says we cannot save ourselves. I have not seen salvation, but God said He would provide it. God said it. Can you believe Him? Because we cannot save ourselves, God says He has sent someone to rescue us. I have never seen this Deliverer. I have never heard His voice, but I don’t have to. God has seen Him. He said that He would send Him. Do you believe Him?
- So God has promised a Deliverer. If I can believe that, then that is good. But how will I know that Deliverer when He comes? When will He arrive? How will He come? In what location will He be when He comes? How will we identify Him? Does the Bible tell us?