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The Doctrine of Salvation (John 3:1-21)

Introduction

Years ago, I had an opportunity to visit in the home of a family who had been attending the church where I served. The man had attended faithfully and listened attentively to my sermons for some time, and so I was shocked when he unhesitatingly said to me, “Bob, I think that I am about 80% saved.” Now I must admit that I had never before known of anyone who was 80% saved, and certainly no one had ever told me before that they thought of themselves in that way.

The more I have thought about it, the more convinced I have become that this “80% Christian” is the rule rather than the exception. I now see twentieth-century “Christianity” in a new light. Now that I stop to ponder it, I have met many more people like my friend—people who are almost saved. For example, I once visited with an elderly couple who had expressed their desire to be baptized. I called upon them in their home and the inevitable question had to be asked, “Why do you want to be baptized?” It was very simple, the man said; he and his wife were getting along in years. They had joined a church, given money (as I recall), done virtually everything he thought Christians were to do, except be baptized. This was the only stone which they felt they had left unturned, and they were not about to take any chances. They wanted to be sure about eternity—after all, there wasn’t much time left.

Many other “Christians” seem to agree. A Gallup poll indicated that 34% of all Americans 18 or older believed that they were “born again.”27 Few of us would dare to believe such a statistic could be true, especially in the light of other findings by a later Gallup poll.28 Yet now, because of the words of the friend I visited, I can understand why so many people think of themselves as “born again” Christians. They believe so because they see themselves as 80% saved, and in their mind, that ought to be close enough. When Paul stood before Agrippa, this king told the apostle, tongue in cheek, that he was almost persuaded to become a Christian (cf. Acts 26, especially verse 28). While Agrippa was “almost persuaded,” he knew that he was far from almost saved. Agrippa knew he was, by Paul’s gospel, a lost man. But those who are 80% saved conclude that anything over 50% must be sufficient. They are lost and don’t even know it. As a result, the greatest need for many “Christians” today is to be born again, genuinely and thoroughly saved.

No doctrine of the faith is more fundamental than that of salvation (theologians call it soteriology). Misconceptions here result in eternal destruction, because faith that is placed in the wrong object cannot save. Let me ask you the question I often ask those who come to my office: If you were to die today and stand before God, what reason would you give Him for admitting you into His heaven? Are you relying on your efforts to live a good life, keep Ten Commandments, do good, help others, go to church (even putting something in the plate!)? Are you trusting in the fact that in the past you raised your hand, walked an aisle, or signed a card? Do you believe that joining a church, being confirmed, or being baptized will save you? None of these reasons are acceptable to God. None of these things will save anyone.

In spiritual matters, man’s ways are not God’s ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9). Unsaved men view the essence of Christianity as very broad, and its expression amazingly narrow. In other words, some believe a man can get to heaven pretty much as he chooses, and his “faith” makes few demands of him. Thus a man can get “saved” any way he wants and live with no sense of obligation toward God. I am going to insist that it is just the opposite. The Bible teaches that there is only one way to be saved and that the Christian life affects every facet of a man’s life, radically changing his thinking, his attitudes, his values, his priorities, his desires and his conduct. In the Bible the essence of Christianity is very narrow, and the expression of it very broad.

Our Lord had some very shocking words about those who would spend eternity in hell. He said that hell would be inhabited by some very religious people, who were convinced that heaven would be their eternal home:

“Not every one who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but 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 cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

If people are going to hell, who both profess to know God and serve Him, surely we need to look carefully at what it is that actually saves a person.

Two of our previous lessons on the fundamentals of the faith have been devoted to the subjects of man’s total inability to merit God’s approval or eternal life and the destiny of eternal damnation of those who are not true believers. Because of this we shall not repeat what has already been said, other than to quickly review by saying that man is helpless and hopeless if left to himself in the matter of salvation. If man is to be saved, it will not be by his own efforts. Only God can save men. We shall now direct our attention to how God has chosen to do so.

The Essence of Christianity

The essence of the gospel message is that God has achieved eternal salvation for all who will believe, through the work of the sinless Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, Who died on the cross of Calvary as the sinbearer of the world. In a word, salvation was accomplished for men by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. We shall attempt to briefly point out the most important features of the death of Christ as indicated in various biblical passages.

(1) While the life and teachings of our Lord Jesus are of great value and import to the Christian, it is His death on the cross which saves us. Much can be said of the worth of our Lord Himself. He was fully God and fully man (John 1:1-5; 1 Timothy 2:5, etc.). Our Lord was God’s final and authoritative Word and the full revelation of the Father, so that those who have seen Him have seen the Father’s express image (Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:18). Jesus taught absolute truth with great authority (Matthew 7:28-29; John 14:6). He was both an evidence and an example of divine love (John 3:16; John 15:12-13). Our Lord’s death gives us an example of righteous suffering (1 Peter 2:21-25).

While it is essential to understand that the life and teachings of our Lord proved Him to be qualified for the work of the cross (e.g., the temptation of Jesus, Matthew 4:1-11), it was His death on the cross that brought salvation to men. His teachings instructed men and prepared them for his death, but His death actually saved them. His miracles authenticated His teaching and helped to establish His deity, but His death is what accomplished our redemption. The “new covenant” in Jesus’ blood (Luke 22:20) was accomplished only by His death. The writer to the Hebrews put it this way:

For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it. For a covenant is valid only when men are dead, for it is never in force while the one who made it lives (Hebrews 9:16-17).

Thus we must see the cross of Calvary not just as a part of the gospel; it is the heart of it.

(2) The death of Christ was not an accident or an after-thought, but a part of the plan of God from eternity past. Some have attempted to teach that Jesus died a tragic martyr, misunderstood and killed by an unfortunate turn of events. The Bible tells us that our Lord’s death was a part of God’s eternal decree, determined before creation:

… knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a Lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you … (1 Peter 1:18-20).

And all who dwell on the earth will worship him, every one whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain (Revelation 13:8; cf. Matthew 25:34).

Our Lord Jesus wanted it to be very clear that His death would not be accidental, but an act of obedience to His Father’s will:

“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (John 10:17-18).

(3) The death of Christ was substitutionary. Jesus did not die for His own sins, because He was guiltless:

… knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19).

… who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed (1 Peter 2:22-24).

When John the Baptist introduced our Lord, he exclaimed,

”Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Jesus said of His purpose in life and death,

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

(4) In His death our Lord died in our place, bearing the penalty for our sins. The prophet of old announced that the coming Messiah would be a sinbearer:

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him (Isaiah 53:4-6).

Centuries later, looking back on the cross of Christ, the apostle Paul wrote,

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The writer to the Hebrews spoke of the work of Christ as the purification of sins (Hebrews 1:3), while Peter says He bore our sins (1 Peter 2:24). John, in his epistle, says that the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

(5) The death of Christ was a final, once-for-all, payment for sins. In the Old Testament God merely passed over the sins of the nation (cf. Romans 3:25-26). The blood of the sacrificial animals did not forgive sins. These bloody sacrifices did not bring pardon, but merely a reprieve. By offering the sacrifice, the Old Testament saint expressed the faith of one who looked forward to the coming of the “Lamb of God.”

… and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12).

It is because of this that our Lord could confidently say from the cross, “it is finished!” (John 19:30).

The work of the cross was complete, final. Sins were paid for in full. No more payment was needed.

(6) In large measure, the work of the cross can be summarized in four words: redemption, propitiation, justification, and reconciliation.29 Redemption refers to God’s purchase of a people for Himself. The price paid is the blood of Christ. At times the emphasis is on the idea of buying back, with the imagery being that of the slave market. We have been purchased out of bondage to sin by the work of Christ on the cross (cf. Exodus 6:6; 15:13; Leviticus 25:25-27; Ruth 4:1-12; Romans 3:24; Colossians 1:14; 1 Peter 1:18-19).

Propitiation describes the appeasement of the righteous indignation of God, which is aroused by our sin. God’s standards have been violated, His word ignored or rejected. The wrath of God is thereby incurred by fallen man. The death of Christ satisfies the demands of justice, and God is now able to deal with us in mercy and grace (cf. Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:1; 4:8-10).30

Justification has a two-fold reference. In the first place, justification refers to our innocence under the Law and our resulting immunity from condemnation under the Law’s requirements. Our sins have been borne by Christ on the cross. Our penalty has been paid, and so the Law has no claim on us. God therefore declares us innocent, justified. Beyond this, justification declares us to be positively righteous in God’s sight. While our sins were imputed to Christ, His righteousness was imputed to us and so God, as judge of the earth, declares us to be both free from guilt and deserving of the rights and privileges of righteousness (cf. Acts 13:39; Romans 4:6ff.; 8:14ff.; Galatians 4:4-7).

The result of all these is reconciliation. We who were once alienated from God by our sin (Ephesians 2:11ff.), are now brought near through the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:16ff).

The Entrance of Salvation—
How Can a Person Be Born Again?

The work of Christ on the cross is the objective basis for a person’s salvation (His shed blood—and that alone is what saves us). “What can wash away my sin?” the song asks, “nothing but the blood of Jesus.” But there is also a subjective side to salvation which we must understand. We must now move on from the object of our faith to the obtaining of salvation through faith.

There are two major terms which encompass the entrance of a person into the wonders of eternal salvation through the blood of Christ: repentance and belief. Also, there is another term, born again, which helps us view the salvation of the soul from a broader perspective. We shall briefly survey the use of these terms in order to get an overview of how one is born again in the New Testament.

The word repent is perhaps the most frequently employed term when the way of salvation is declared to Israelites in the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Believe, on the other hand, is seldom employed in these gospels, but frequently found in John. Repent tends to view salvation more from the negative side. We are saved from eternal damnation as well as unto eternal life.

Repentance is urged as the means of averting the judgment of God on unbelievers. Frequently, when the word repent is found, judgment is nearby in the context:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”… But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance; …” (Matthew 3:2, 7-8).

And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:38-40).

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31; cf. also Romans 2:4:11-16; 2 Peter 3:9, 10).

Repentance is fundamentally a change of mind, which results in a change of behavior. Repentance involves a recognition of our sinful state and the dreadful consequences of our sin apart from faith in Christ. Before we can be saved, we must be convinced that we are lost and doomed. Repentance recognizes this and determines to make whatever changes are required to be saved. Repentance was frequently evidenced by baptism (cf. Acts 2:38) and always by works fitting this change of mind, heart and life (cf. Matthew 3:8).

If repentance speaks of the “about face” of the penitent sinner, especially his turning from sin and its resulting judgment, faith (the imperative form is believe) stresses the positive side of one’s turning toward God by faith in Christ, resulting in life.

“… that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:15-18).

“Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name every one who believes in Him has received forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43).

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to every one who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).

Belief is a two-pronged matter. First, we must believe that, and secondly, we must believe in or upon. Faith must have content. The objective basis of faith is the sacrificial death of Christ. The historicity and absolute reliability of the gospels’ account of the birth, life, teachings, death, burial and resurrection of Christ are essential to the Christian’s faith. I have heard some naively say, “I don’t believe in doctrine; I believe in Jesus.” But which Jesus do they trust in? Is their Jesus virgin born, truly human and divine? Did He die a literal death and rise bodily from His grave? Doctrine defines the Jesus in Whom we trust. Faith in the wrong Jesus cannot save. Consequently, we must believe

… that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; … (Romans 10:9).

“And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69; cf. John 11:27, 42).

In the final analysis, to be a Christian one must believe in or upon the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal salvation. It is not the doctrine of the atonement that saves anyone, but the Christ Who died that saves. We must receive Him (John 1:12), and we must believe in Him (Acts 16:31) in order to be saved. While doctrine defines the Christ in Whom we trust, it is the person of Christ that we must place our trust in for eternal life (cf. 1 John 5:11-12). Salvation is forsaking any other means of salvation but Christ and casting ourselves fully upon Him for eternal life. We therefore believe that in Him we have died to sin, and in Him we have eternal life.

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:3-5).

For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions (Colossians 2:9-13).

While salvation is always accompanied by a change of mind (repentance) and faith in the work of Jesus Christ at Calvary, it is not a process which we can mechanically bring about. In the Bible there is no established procedure by which men are saved. In fact, the scriptures avoid recording any one method by which men came to faith. Everyone to whom our Lord presented the gospel was dealt with individually and not by means of some formula. Jesus’ use of the term “born again” in His discussion with Nicodemus most clearly illustrates this.

Now there was a man, of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Him by night, and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is every one who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things?” (John 3:1-10).

Nicodemus is almost the exact opposite of the woman at the well in John chapter 4. She was obviously a woman; he a man. She was a Samaritan; he was a Jew. She was ill-esteemed and of no position or prominence; he was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, and, in Jesus words “the teacher of Israel” (verse 10). And yet both of them were in need of salvation.

Nicodemus, as a Jew, felt that salvation was a national matter and that being born a child of Abraham was all that it took to be a child of God (cf. John 8:33,39). The first birth of Nicodemus did not save him. Instead, it constituted him a child of Adam, the sinner, and thus a child of wrath and an enemy of God (cf. Ephesians 2:1-3). In order to become a child of God, Nicodemus must be born spiritually, must be born again, this time into the family of God through Christ’s atoning work (cf. Romans 5:12-19).

Nicodemus was a man of his day. As a devout Jew, he had come to think more of a ritual than of righteousness, more of acts than of attitudes, more of ceremony than of spirit (or should I say Spirit?). Jesus had no standard form for salvation. He dealt very differently with Nicodemus than He did with the Samaritan woman. We are not even told by John that Nicodemus was saved at this time.31 Faith cannot be produced through formulas and so Jesus sought to stress that, in the final analysis, salvation is the work of the Spirit of God, Whose effects we may observe, but Whose working we cannot control or manipulate:

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).

Of course, we must participate in the process of being saved, but we do not control the process; God the Spirit does. If the lost are to be saved, we must proclaim the message of salvation to men, for without this men will not be saved (Romans 10:14-15). Men must call upon the name of the Lord, and they must confess Him publicly as their Savior (Romans 10:9,10,13), but it is not a process which we can control. Salvation is fundamentally the work of God, and, chronologically, it begins with Him (John 1:12-13; Romans 9; Philippians 1:29).

I stress this because today the gospel has been so formulated that it is most often presented to unbelievers in a stereotyped fashion. Salvation is sometimes thought to result from following a prescribed formula rather than from simple faith. People believe that walking the aisle, raising their hand, reciting a prepared prayer or signing a card is what saved them, rather than faith in the work of Christ upon the cross in their place. While the two fundamental requirements for entering into the benefits of Calvary are repentance and faith, there is no mechanical method by which salvation can be obtained. Many people who walk the aisle are saved, but not all who walk an aisle are saved. External acts will not produce a genuine internal commitment, but a genuine faith will always evidence its existence by actions which are pleasing to God (cf. James 2:14-26; Ephesians 2:8-10).

Salvation is therefore always to be based upon the objective fact of Christ’s death in the sinner’s place, but conversion is a subjective matter involving repentance and faith, which cannot be equated with an act, but only evidenced by subsequent acts of obedience to the Word of God.

The Expression of Christian Faith

The essence of Christianity is narrow, for only the shed blood of Jesus Christ saves anyone. The expression of Christianity is exceedingly broad, for it affects every facet of our existence. In order to make my point, allow me to direct your attention to some of the biblical terms for the Christian which highlight various facets of the outworkings of our faith.

Christian. Christian is a very popular present-day term with a wide variety of connotations. Actually, it is found only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). The suffix “ian” is similar in meaning to “ist” (Methodist, Baptist, etc.) or the somewhat more pejorative “ite” (I must admit that here I am reluctant to even give examples). A Christian is one who is a follower of Christ or who has allegiance to Christ.

Believer. A much more frequently employed term in the New Testament is believer (cf. Acts 5:14; 1 Timothy 4:10,12). We have already shown that belief must have some basis or content, so a believer is one who adheres to a particular system of beliefs, namely the teachings of the Bible. Then, in addition to a belief in the historical elements of our Lord’s life and death, a Christian believes in Christ Himself for salvation.

Follower. The gospels abound with references to following Jesus. Jesus invited men to follow Him (Mark 2:14), and Christians are said to be His followers:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:27-28).

As a follower, a Christian is one who not only believes in Christ, but who follows Him. This implies much more than a mere conversion experience, but a way of life. It means that we will aspire to be like Him.

Disciple. Closely related is the term disciple. It refers not only to those of the 12 who followed our Lord (e.g. Matthew 5:1), but to those who were His disciples in other places at a time after His death, resurrection and ascension (Acts 11:26,29). Here a deeper level of commitment is implied, as well as a greater intimacy between the Master and the disciple. Primarily, a disciple is a learner and thus, his following Jesus is not out of curiosity but commitment.

Saint. The term saint is one which we shy away from using, especially with reference to ourselves. We know that in eternity we shall be like Him, but at the present time this label makes us feel uneasy because it hardly seems appropriate. While total sanctification will only occur at His coming, the term saint reminds us that holiness is an essential characteristic of the Christian. This is why Peter reminded us of the divine command, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16) .

Brother. A vertical relationship with God also creates a horizontal one with all those who are saved. Thus, we frequently find Christians called brethren (cf. Acts 6:3; 9:30; 10:23; Romans 16:14, etc.). Christians were never called to be “Lone Rangers.” Each of us is a part of the body of Christ, with a vital function to perform and with certain needs which can only be met by others in the body (1 Corinthians 12).

Servant/Slave. By far, the least popular synonym for the Christian is that of servant or slave. And yet it is a very common word and, it would seem, one of Paul’s favorites when referring to himself (cf. Romans 1:1; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Philippians 1:1, etc.). Our Lord Himself was the supreme example of servanthood (Mark 10:45). He underscored this by washing the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-11). Leadership, in God’s Word, is assumed by servanthood (Matthew 20:27; Mark 10:44).

The overall impact of all of these terms (plus some others in the New Testament) is that while the essence of the gospel is very limited (to the blood of Christ ), the expression of one’s faith is boundless. I fear that in our presentation of the gospel today we have generalized the basis for one’s salvation, maximized the temporal and eternal benefits, and yet minimized the obligations. One is only saved through faith in the death of Christ. That salvation must be entered on the basis of the objective facts of the gospel through the subjective experience of repentance and faith, and objectified by a life of obedience and discipleship.

Implications of the Doctrine of Salvation

The first thing I am compelled to do after a survey of the doctrine of salvation is to ask this question: “My friend, is this the gospel which you have believed?” There are many other gospels, but they will not save (Galatians 1:6-9). The shed blood of Jesus Christ is not a part of the gospel, but the heart of it. I urge you to search your own heart for the basis of your eternal hope. If you are uncertain, affirm that you are a sinner, deserving of God’s eternal wrath. Submit yourself to God, relying only upon the work of Christ at Calvary for your forgiveness of sins and source of righteousness and eternal life. In the words of Paul, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Perhaps you are one of those who has thought of yourself as 80% saved. You believe about Jesus Christ and do many of the things Christians do (or don’t). But 80% is not enough in God’s book. May I suggest that you take the advice of the apostle,

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5).

I would suggest that your test include a taking of your spiritual pulse to see if there is life. Some of the vital signs of spiritual life are:

  • actions which are appropriate to a genuine profession of faith (James 2:14ff.).
  • evidence of the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16ff.; Romans 8:1-27).
  • evidence of a genuine change in attitudes, desires, priorities and values (cf. Romans 8:29; 12:1-2), a desire or spiritual appetite for the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2-3).
  • a feeling of comfort and belonging when among Christians (John 15:17-19; Acts 2:43-46; Romans 12:9-16; 15:5-7; 2 John 5-8), a desire to know and do the will of God (John 14:15).

If your life does not manifest these vital signs of spiritual life, I would suggest that you may need to be born again, much like the great, yet unsaved, religious leader of the Jews, Nicodemus.

I am personally exhorted by this message to commit myself to making the gospel clear as I share my faith with others. I desire not to use unbiblical terms and expressions, or those which fail to reflect the crux of Christianity … terms like “asking Christ into your life,” “finding Christ,” or “asking Jesus into your heart.” I hasten to say that these terms are wrong only to the extent that they mislead the lost or distort the meaning of the gospel. I desire to be much more intent upon communicating a message which is clear and therefore honoring to God than one which clouds the truth in the vain hope of saving more by some kind of misrepresentation. Isaiah, I recall, was not called to be a successful evangelist, but merely a faithful one (cf. Isaiah 6:1-13). I am reminded that I must rely upon the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing men and converting them, rather than upon mechanical techniques and formulas. And I intend, as God enables, to be more intent upon making disciples than mere converts (Matthew 28:18-20).

I am once again reminded of the grace of God and that salvation is of God, not of men. I am challenged to take the Lord’s Supper more seriously, for it is intended to constantly take me back to the cross where my salvation was wrought and where my spiritual victory has been achieved.


27 George Gallup, “50 Million Hold ‘Born Again’ Belief,” The Dallas Morning News, Sunday, September 26, 1976, p. 18A.

28 Mark A. Noll, “Are Protestants and Catholics Really that Different?” Christianity Today, April 18, 1980, p. 29. In this article, Noll reveals the distressing fact that a number of Catholics and a greater number of Protestants have an inadequate, if not heretical, view of Christ. If many of those who claimed to be “born again” have an erroneous view of Christ, their salvation is surely to be questioned.

29 Three of these four terms, justification, redemption and propitiation, are found in Romans 3:24,25.

30 For an excellent and rewarding study of propitiation read the chapter entitled “The Heart of the Gospel” in J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), pp. 161-180.

31 In John 7:50ff. Nicodemus seems to speak in Jesus’ defense, and in John 19:39ff. he evidenced his faith by his act of devotion in assisting in the burial of our Lord’s body, at a time when such an act could be dangerous.

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation), Basics for Christians