It has come to me by way of the Spirit and God’s word that salvation is more than much of Christianity has made it to be. We have watered down the description of salvation perhaps because we want to make it easy for people to join our churches and become part of our programs. We must be motivated not by a desire to grow our institutions but by a desire to see people truly come into the kingdom of God and follow Christ for His glory.
Many times I have seen pastors ask everyone to bow their heads and repeat a prayer led by him in which they are asked to repeat that they repent of their sins and receive Christ by faith. The words vary but the effect is that many think they have full salvation from God because they raised their hand and repeated a prayer led by someone else. I don’t disparage such attempts to help people come to Christ but I am concerned that we are often simply offering people a way to go to heaven without any genuine commitment to the King of heaven.
There are many passages in scripture that make it clear that genuine repentance is always followed by a changed life. The change is expressed differently in each individual but it involves a change of life emanating from our hearts and affecting how we live our lives. Paul wrote “…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Notice that two things are happening — you are confessing with your mouth and believing in your heart a living Jesus who was resurrected from the dead. Our mouths only confess what is in our hearts and it is there that real change begins.
When we receive Christ into our lives Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). You are not just accepting a new religion but inviting Christ into your heart and in doing so you become a new kind of being. That new creation will result in a changed life. James says “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). Any so-called faith that doesn’t result in a changed life is a dead faith — not filled with the life of God. John wrote “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 John 3:14). This changed life in Christ will produce in us a love for others who share this new life. He drives home this truth by saying that if we say we love God but don’t love our brothers in Christ we are liars (4:20).
Paul also speaks of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22, 23). When you are a genuine believer, indwelt by Christ, these qualities of life will grow in your life. Christ’s presence within us will produce the qualities of His perfect life. We will grow in love for others and experience joy and peace in our lives. We will grow in our endurance and ability to be kind and good toward others. We will learn through Him to be faithful to Him and others and express gentleness and self-control in our lives. But you should realize that these fruits are not expressed fully overnight. They grow in our lives and growth takes time. You can’t just live these life qualities in your own power as if they are rules to live by. That would be legalism. These life fruits will come from your growing relationship with the Spirit who causes them to grow.
You will learn to lose your selfish soul life so you may gain the life God has planned for you. That’s what Jesus meant when He told His disciples, “
If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt. 16:24–26).
I’m sorry to say many who claim to be Christians are failing to grow in these godly qualities of life because they have believed the lie that raising your hand in a church service is the beginning and end of your salvation experience. They are also affected by the world’s attacks on Christ and His people. The secular world says Christ, the Bible, and His followers are bogus. This false message is sent out as propaganda through television, movies, the internet, politics, advertisements and so many other inventions to suck us into a materialistic lifestyle. The Satan-inspired world wants you to believe the first lie — that God is a liar and we humans have what it takes to live and prosper without Him (Gen. 3:1–5).
Salvation is a life-long experience that is preparing us for eternity. Our life on planet earth is our proving ground that portends the nature of our eternity (1 Cor. 3:8, 13, 14; Dan. 12:3; Matt. 25:21–23). Yes, we are instantly justified in God’s eyes when we come to Christ. That is an undeniable truth of God’s word (Rom. 23:24, 28; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; Titus 3:7). But God assigned each of us to our time and place on earth for a reason. We are salt and light where we are sent by Him and we have a specific assignment to complete. Salvation is not just about going to heaven. That is only the first glorious step. The rest of our life here is meant to live lives that glorify Him and allow His life to change us into His image (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 8:29).
But the salvation of our soul, the transformation of our lives, a changed life through Christ, is an ongoing process led by the Spirit in our lives (Phil. 2:12; Heb. 2:3; 1 Thess. 5:9; Rom. 5:10). Raising your hand in a church service is one thing but rising up to live for Him in a world that opposes Him is quite another. When you seek to live such a life you will be persecuted. People will reject you because they are part of a system ruled by the one who hates all followers of Christ. But that persecution will make you stronger and give you endurance to fight on.
My bottom line in this message is to say to those claiming to be followers of Christ to rise to the occasion and allow the Holy Spirit to lead you into the fullness of His will for the life He has given you. Do not take the wide, easy path. He calls you to a narrow path that leads to a glorious outcome to your adventure on this planet. Go with Him and live.