By Scott Tibbs, October 27, 2008
Because we have been blessed with a rich Christian heritage, a large number of Americans (even those who do not claim faith in Jesus Christ) have at least a very simplistic understanding of the basics of Christian doctrine. God sent His only begotten Son to die on the Cross, to suffer and die in place of man, because man has sinned against God. (As a clarification on terms, "man" refers to all mankind, both men and women.) At that point, many people disagree on exactly what salvation is, on who is saved, and how they are saved. However, there is only one correct answer, and that answer is detailed through God's Word, provided to us in our Bible.
And right here is where many people will become scandalized. It sounds arrogant, like I am saying that unless you agree with me, you are wrong and maybe even are not a Christian. But what I am actually doing here is submitting to the authority of Scripture. Before we can even begin discussing Christian doctrine, we must all agree that the foundational document of the Christian faith (The Bible) is the primary and final authority on all matters of Christian doctrine. It does not matter what I think, nor does it matter what anyone else thinks. We must all be submissive to the doctrine of Scripture. We must be willing to admit and reject errors/heresies that conflict with Scripture.
One the foundation of doctrine is established, we need to determine why God had to send His only begotten Son to save us from our sins. The simple answer is that we are all sinners, that we are all born as sinners, and that we are completely unable to save ourselves from the eternal damnation that we so richly deserve. It is impossible for a man to please God. We have committed sins against him that we cannot atone for. Our only hope is to be dressed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
- "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law." -- James 2:10-11
- "As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God" -- Romans 3:10-11
- Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. -- Romans 3:19-20
- "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," -- Romans 3:23
- "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved" -- John 3:19-20.
Before we can be saved, we must recognize the extent of our depravity before God. Jeremiah 17:9 says; "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" Before the Flood, Genesis 6:5 records; "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." Everything we do is tainted by sin.
So, man, created in God's image, has sinned against God and is now completely unable to come before him. We were hopeless, doomed to an eternity in Hell. As a loving God, Jesus came to earth to take the punishment for us. We sinned against Him, yet He is the one who is punished so that we may have eternal fellowship with Him. Not everyone will accept this gift by faith. In fact, most will not, and will spend eternity in Hell.
So how is a sinner redeemed from the eternal punishment for his sin? The unredeemed, under conviction from the Holy Spirit, must recognize that he is a sinner and that he is completely unable to save himself. Only through the power of Jesus Christ can one be forgiven of sin. The unredeemed must then place faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not saved by the things that we do. We are saved by the faith we have in Jesus Christ.
- "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." -- Ephesians 2:8-9.
- "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" -- 1 John 1:9.
Salvation (justification) is a one time event. Once you are truly saved, you do not lose your salvation. But sanctification is something that never stops until your earthly life is over. Christians may be forgiven of their sins, but will still struggle with sin. The good news is that God has already won the battle. We can be free from even our most besetting sins (whether it be anger, lust, bitterness, sexual immorality, greed or idolatry) through the power of the Holy Spirit. And while we may be powerless to overcome those sins ourselves, God gives us the power to fight and win.
This is the question that all who claim the name of Jesus Christ must answer: "Is my salvation genuine?" Matthew 7:23 contains a sobering and frightening warning, a warning that all who profess Christ must consider.
- "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. " -- Matthew 7:20-23
One of the key parts of that passage is that "by their fruits ye shall know them". Are we producing fruit for God? Keep in mind that we will not all produce the same fruit, nor do we all have the same gifts. (See 1 Corinthians 12 for Paul's excellent teaching on this doctrine.) But if there is no fruit - if there is no evidence that God is working in your life - are you truly saved? There are other ways to examine ourselves to see if the Spirit is truly in us. Do we show mercy to our enemies, and do we show mercy to the less fortunate?
- "And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses." Mark 11:25-26
- "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me." -- Matthew 25:34-36
The righteous will be surprised when Jesus says that, not knowing that they have ever done those righteous deeds. Christ will explain: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." The Apostle James explains in James 2:17-26 that "faith without works is dead". Again, what fruit are we offering for His Kingdom, and what of our gifts are We using for Him?
None of this, obviously, is to say that we are saved by works rather than faith. But true faith will produce works. When Jesus says that by their fruits ye shall know them, we can think of faith as the tree and works as the fruit. If we do not see apples, are we looking at an apple tree? If we do not see works, are we looking at a "tree" of faith? Again, we should not be discouraged. God will give us our faith, and that faith will produce fruit. We have no righteousness of our own, only the righteousness of Jesus Christ. How liberating it is to know we only have to place our faith and trust in Him, and He not only provides justification, but He provides sanctification too!