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Five Essential Bible Truths – Part 2

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What Must I do to be Saved?

The topic of God’s salvation is of critical importance to the human race. It is also a very overwhelming topic to present. Portions of this article have been rewritten five times to be sure that it has been made as clear as possible. The challenge comes in deciding how to approach this incredible subject because it is so multi-faceted. What elements should be presented first? What dimensions should be explored? What perspectives should be demonstrated? Will the student of the Bible want a basic introduction to salvation or is an advanced presentation more appropriate? These are not simple questions. First, to make the concept of salvation easy for beginners to understand, seven statements will be presented that parallel important aspects of salvation. Then, I will address some of the deeper aspects of this topic and expound on the statements for individuals who already have a basic understanding of salvation.

Depending on an individual’s perspective, salvation is something like:

  1. Being born on a train headed for Auschwitz during WWII, but rescued from death by a merciful stranger
  1. Being the only survivor in a plane crash
  1. Winning the lottery
  1. Losing your home and possessions in a fire
  1. Discovering that you have terminal cancer and after a long, difficult fight, realizing that it has gone into complete remission
  1. Being an innocent victim in an act of violence
  1. Receiving a heart transplant

Headed for Auschwitz

Suppose a baby boy was born en route to Auschwitz during WWII. Obviously, the infant could not realize nor understand his destiny. Nevertheless, the train’s destination and the fate of everyone on the train arriving in Auschwitz were certain. Similarly, every person born on this planet is “on a train” that will reach a certain end – whether we realize it (or believe it) or not. This “end” is not death, which is common to men, since physical death is not the end of human existence.  The Bible clearly speaks of two resurrections – a resurrection for righteous people and another for wicked ones. (1 Thessalonians 4:16; Revelation 20:5; John 5:10) The “end” I am referring to is a meeting with God. Everyone on Earth will meet God, face to face! (2 Corinthians 5:10) This is man’s destiny. (Revelation 20:12) The crux of the coming meeting is this: God will explain to each person why He judged him or her to be worthy of eternal life or eternal death. The reason I parallel salvation with being rescued from the Auschwitz train is that God’s offer of salvation is man’s only escape from eternal destruction. Since we are sinners, each of us is headed for eternal death. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is [eternal] death – but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Later, I will explain why God’s offer of salvation is like being rescued by a merciful stranger.

 

Surviving a Plane Crash

A commercial airliner slams into the side of a mountain. Of the 223 passengers on board, only one person survives. So, how does this illustration parallel salvation? God saves only one person at a time. He does not save nations, churches, friends, family, children or spouses. (Ezekiel 14:12-20) This illustration reveals that salvation is very singular – very personal. Salvation is a matter between God and you. However, a church can offer social and spiritual encouragement.

Winning the Lottery

Everyone has considered the joy of winning a lottery. Getting so much in return for such a small investment appeals strongly to our human nature. In a way, salvation is like that. What God offers is so great compared to what He asks! Sinners gain so much for so little! To know God is an experience we can have that is beyond anything this world can offer. To walk with God is a joy beyond anything this world can provide. To spend an eternity with God will be a prize worth more than anything we can give.

Losing Possessions in a Fire

Next to, losing a loved one, what could be worse than a fire totally destroying your home and possessions? So, does salvation parallel such an experience? When God offers salvation to a person, the issue of surrendering everything to Him becomes primary. God says, “Give me your heart, your affections, your loyalty, your will and obedience and in turn, I will give you salvation.” Usually, God’s offer is juxtaposed between social approval and social confrontation. (Luke 18:18-25) If we submit to God, it often appears that we will lose all that we have worked for – status, fame, money, power, and friends. However, if we accept God’s offer of salvation, then our lives, careers and even our possessions are no longer our own. This is the great test of faith. This is why salvation is like losing everything we own in a fire – for those who accept salvation lose everything they own to God’s control.

Overcoming Cancer

A diagnosis of cancer is often a death sentence. However, some people are able to overcome the ravages of cancer and live to tell about it. Cancer parallels salvation if we recognize that all human beings have the cancer of sin. Sinful natures come at birth! However, it is possible for us through the empowerment of Jesus to overcome the cancer of sin! We can be changed into brand-new creatures. The Bible describes this experience as being born again! (John 3) Even though we are morally frail and spiritually feeble, the “chemotherapy” of Christ’s righteousness can transform a sickly mortal into a healthy example of God’s ideal for the human race.

An Innocent Victim

Each night on the evening news reports how innocent people are killed in some violet way. Even innocent children are abducted, sexually molested and then murdered. The media report daily that innocent people are killed in drive-by shootings. In fact, a friend of mine was innocently gunned down through his front door one night. The “midnight visitors” had the wrong address and were bent on revenge for a drug deal that had gone bad. So, how does the innocent victim scenario parallel salvation? In two ways: First, the sinful nature of Adam and Eve (and its curse) was passed down to their innocent offspring. Cain became a murderer! Unfortunately, as in Cain’s case, it is only a matter of time until an innocent child willfully sins and sin’s curse is perpetuated. Second, God’s offer of salvation is based on a process where the guilt of one man’s sin can be transferred to another person – provided the receiver is a sinless substitute. In our case, Jesus, the innocent, sinless Son of God, died in our place. God allows Jesus’ innocent death to pay sin’s penalty for any person, if that person is willing to submit to the terms and conditions of salvation.

A Heart Transplant

When Dr. Christian Barnard performed the first heart transplant in South Africa, he made headline news all around the world. In 1967, the idea of replacing a diseased heart with a good heart was heralded as a major step in medical science. Now, three decades later, most people consider that “major step” to actually be a “minor step” and many people have wonderfully benefited from the miracle of heart transplants. However, the logistics of finding donors and the expenses have placed it out of reach for most people. Salvation is similar to a heart transplant since the carnal nature is replaced with a spiritual nature. Each spiritual exchange is no less noteworthy than the first surgery of Dr. Barnard because the effect on the recipient is absolutely amazing! Paul describes this transformation by saying, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old is gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Incredible as it is to believe, this “spiritual transplant” causes a person to love what was once hated and to hate what was once loved! This kind of spiritual transformation happens only through God’s power (grace) on the submissive soul.

Summary

I hope that these seven illustrations will help the reader understand some of the properties of salvation. To further understand these elementary parallels, let us restate these same seven issues, with the support of Bible texts:

  1. The infant born on the train to Auschwitz parallels the fact that each person born on earth is under the curse of sin. Each of us soon commits sin because we inherit sinful natures. Sinners are condemned to eternal death because the wages of sin is death. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” However, Jesus has rescued us from eternal death. Romans 5:19 says, “For just as through the disobedience of the man [Adam] the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man [Jesus Christ] the many [who receive Him] will be made righteous.”
  1. Surviving the plane crash parallels the fact that no sinner can save another person from eternal death. “….Jesus declared [to Nicodemus], “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 3:3) The miracle of rebirth is a divine miracle. Only God can transform a heart thereby providing spiritual rebirth.  The miracle can neither be duplicated nor fabricated nor does it happen on man’s terms. In other words, man cannot make himself “born again.” Man cannot choose to be “born again” whenever he wants to. The miracle of rebirth is something that God alone can do. When the moment of spiritual opportunity occurs for rebirth, we must submit to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. If we surrender completely, we will be reborn. If we refuse, the door of opportunity may not be available again. “Today is the day of salvation.” (Hebrews 4:7)
  1. Receiving and experiencing salvation is like winning the lottery! Paul wrote in Romans 8:18, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Also see Philippians 3:8.) Indeed, even if a person won all of the money in the world, it still would not compare to the riches that await the saints. “What good will it be for a man gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) Do not forget – even the richest people on Earth eventually die.
  1. Losing our home and possessions and living for Jesus are similar. Jesus said in Matthew 10:37, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Jesus also said, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29) What a deal!
  1. Overcoming the cancer of sin is not only possible it is necessary. Jesus said, “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father.” (Revelation 3:21) How does a person overcome sin? 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” If we confess (admit) our sins, then Christ will forgive us and purify us from all unrighteousness! Jesus will remove from our hearts our love for sin, making us pure in heart.
  1. Jesus was an innocent victim. He was the Lamb of God. Through the sacrifice of His Son, the Father silenced every argument that might prevent a person from being saved. John 1:29 says, “The next day John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” Notice that Jesus is called the Lamb of God. He is not man’s Lamb. Christ died on behalf of God’s enemies: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10)
  1. God offers a heart transplant to everyone, but there is one condition: Unconditional surrender to the will of God. The Bible says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.’” (John 3:5,6) The process of being born of the Spirit is a divine miracle that occurs on an individual basis. Parents cannot experience this for their children, and children cannot experience it for their parents. God has no grandchildren. Each person becomes a child of God through rebirth. (1 John 3:1) When you are “born of water” this means that each child of God is baptized into Christ. Baptism is a public affirmation (just as a marriage vow is a public affirmation) of an inner transformation and life commitment. Baptism testifies that a person has chosen Christ as Lord and Master and will go wherever Christ leads, be all that Christ asks and do all that Christ commands through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19,20; Philippians 4:13)

Not a Life Insurance Policy

Too many people think of salvation in shallow terms. The PLAN of salvation is more than saving people from eternal death. The PLAN is complete restoration and transformation of people. Ultimately, the PLAN reveals God’s righteousness and fairness as He deals with all of His creatures. For some people, God’s offer of salvation is a life insurance plan offered through church membership. Somehow, they believe that a church (and/or its leaders) has the authority to “offer” them salvation. However, no church can save. Only Jesus can save. Churches and church leaders can only tell about God’s offer of salvation. (In this sense, pastors or priests can be compared to meteorologists. Meteorologists can only report the weather; they cannot control or own the weather.)

Another example of shallow perspective is demonstrated when people refer to “getting saved” as though it were a one-time event. The Bible does not treat salvation as a one-time event, but rather a two-step process. The first step is a conscious submission to what one knows or believes to be the will of God. When this submission occurs, God determines a sinner to be a saint. (Acts 2:38) This initial step is called justification. When a sinner is justified, he or she receives a conditional grant from God that we call the gift of salvation. Salvation comes as a conditional grant because the person can reject God’s offer of salvation at any time he or she chooses to do so. The Bible does not teach that once a person receives justification, he has salvation forever. Instead, the Bible teaches that when a person decides to no longer submit to God’s will, he or she is free to make the choice. (Ezekiel 18; Mark 4:17; Luke 8:13; Hebrews 6:4-6) Understand that our submission must spring from love. Jesus said, “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:24)

Justification is not the ultimate goal of salvation’s process. God also seeks a second step: Transformation. (John 3; 1 John 2:1; 1 Thessalonians 4:3) A sinner’s character must develop spiritually and ultimately be changed into that of a saint. This step is called sanctification. Both steps, justification and sanctification, are part of salvation’s process. In fact, the second step (sanctification) repeats the first step, only on a daily basis. In other words, conscious submissions to God’s will is a daily experience that subdues the carnal nature! Paul wrote, “I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31) He meant that he had to crucify his selfish will so that the Father’s will might be done in his life. Jesus, our example, was subject to the Father in this way. The best example demonstrating conscious submission of the will of God occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane. There, Jesus prayed that His Father’s will be done – even if it meant His death. (John 6:38; Matthew 26:42)

Outside the Will of God

What is sin? John says that sin is a violation of God’s will. In Romans 8, Paul writes: “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God. You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature by the Spirit, if the spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8:5-9)

No Brand Names

To the secular mind, God’s offer of salvation is not a big deal. The secular or carnal mind justifies antagonism toward God by focusing on a superficial level of spiritual life. For example, everyone knows that different churches offer different terms and conditions for salvation. Therefore, a carnal mind might conclude that Brand X church is no different that Brand Y. Both churches are merely an accumulation of words and ideas.

There are churches that teach that salvation comes only through the church. In other words, if you want to be saved, you must join THAT church and DO certain things that the church requires. These notions distort God’s purpose for a church. God is not a church and a church is not God. God gave organized worship for man’s social and spiritual benefit of men. Jesus divinely ordained churches to serve man’s needs. (Matthew 16:18) He did not create the concept of church to displace the daily experience He wishes to have with His creatures. God did not create church to replace Himself. God does not appoint men or woman to assume His prerogatives. This is a point that historically, has caused much grief. Since nations began. More harm has been imposed upon humanity “in the name of God” than for any other reason. When people conclude there is only one true church and they are sure their church Is THAT true church, they often become exclusive, even to the point of arrogance – thinking of the rest of mankind as “outsider.”

A Fragmented World

Before we look at the elegant, yet simple way to salvation, be aware of this: God’s offer of salvation is not limited to one group of people. We live in a fragmented world consisting of over 6 billion people. We speak different languages, our skins are different and we eat different foods. We worship in different ways through different religions. We have different governments and cultures. We are a fragmented world! The Bible says that God caused this fragmentation. Notice what the Bible says about language approximately 120 years after the flood: “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” (Genesis 11:1) At the time of the tower of Babel, God did something very interesting. He suddenly changed the one language of the world into many languages. God did this amazing miracle to separate people into small groups. (People prefer to live and work among those with whom they can communicate.) As language groups formed, each group moved away from the unfinished Tower to settle in a new territory on Earth for themselves. Then, God did something even more amazing! He ripped the Earth’s landmass apart and formed seven continents. Notice that the Bible says about this “Earthmoving” event: “Two sons were born to Eber: One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan.” (Genesis 10:25) (National Geographic has produced many articles and maps through the years on this interesting topic. There is much evidence indicating that at one time Earth consisted of one land mass.) When God divided the Earth, people who spoke one language and lived in one territory were separated from people of other languages who lived in other territories. God, in His wisdom and sovereignty, used mountains, deserts and great distances to separate (and to keep separate) the people of Earth.

Why did God fragment Earth’s population? For thousands of years, wide-open spaces and natural barriers have prevented strong nations from dominating weaker ones. God knows the evil mind and selfish heart of man. Ambitious men and women strive for power, mastery and wealth. When evil men use their wealth and power for evil purposes, the results can quickly come to total ruin. Think of Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Napoleon and Hitler. (Man-would-be-God-types.) Man wants the honor, glory, and power of God. Because God separated people into widely dispersed groups, no one man or evil system ruled over all of mankind with complete control until or unless God enabled it to happen. (I say, “until or unless God…”, because during the end-time, God is going to allow the devil to achieve world dominion.)

The splitting of continents and the separation of people slows the natural downward, degenerate, spiral of sin and it prevents the devil from corrupting all mankind at one time as he did before the flood. In other words, if particular civilization becomes evil and corrupt, God can destroy it without having to destroy the whole world. (Jeremiah 18:7-11)

Incidentally, the division of the landmass into continents explains why certain animals are unique to certain geographic locations. All the kangaroos that lived after the flood were living in a territory that was separated from the original land mass. As a result, the kangaroos became unique to Australia. In addition, the division of the world into continents explains the distinctive features of each race of people. Dominant genes within the first genetic pool of each language group have produced the dominant characteristics of each nationality. It is also interesting to note that a recent linguistic study documented in National Geographic states that the roots of all languages could be traced to Mesopotamia where Bible students believe the Tower of Babel was located. It is exciting that current research corroborates with Bible story of a single root for all languages.

God Did It

We have examined the topic of the separation of continents because it was God’s doing, God is sovereign. It is God’s will that there are many nations, cultures, languages and yes, religions. Remember that God loves the people of the world. He did not divide the world so most of the world would be in darkness and have no means of salvation. Consider this: If God is responsible for dividing the world into peoples, nations, languages, tribes, and He did it by divine decree. How many billions of people have lived on this planet since Adam and Eve? How many people did not know the truth about the God of Heaven? Do you think they are lost because they did not know the “truth” about God and His Son, Jesus Christ? My response to this: Salvation is not based on knowledge of truth. Rather, salvation is based on submission to the Spirit of God! This does not mean that truth is not highly important. On the contrary, this means that we can appreciate God’s salvation more when we understand Him and His ways.

I have presented the issue of fragmentation because God’s offer of salvation is not limited to one “true church” nor is it restricted to the Christians! (Please keep reading, and you will see what I mean in a moment.) God Himself caused the separation of the continents and His PLAN of salvation takes the varied theologies of mankind into consideration. Here are three statements (and explanations which follow) that you should think about:

  1. A person can receive salvation without knowing the only true God.
  1. A person can receive salvation without knowing Jesus Christ.
  1. A person can receive salvation without becoming a Christian.

No doubt, these three statements will give most evangelicals a lot of heartburn, since they are convinced that a person must have knowledge of Christ and consciously receive Christ as their Savior in order to be saved. (According to the American Bible Society, 3.5 billion people on Earth have not heard of Jesus Christ.) For this reason, evangelicals believe they are very important to the cause of Christ. Scripture will demonstrate the basis for my three points, but first we need to consider the popular logic that many evangelicals follow. (Some denominations are called evangelical denominations because they consider themselves evangelists for the cause of Christ.) Their theology produces the following conclusions:

  1. All non-Christians are condemned (having no salvation).
  1. Only “born again” Christians have salvation.
  1. Evangelicals into the entire world must preach the gospel before the end comes. (Matthew 24:14)

Before we consider the biblical evidence showing the fallacy of these three conclusions produced by evangelical logic, notice that these same three issues were prevalent in New Testament times, but from a Jewish perspective. At the time of Christ, the Jews believed:

  1. All non-Jews were condemned (having no salvation).
  1. Only the descendants of Abraham had salvation.
  1. Jews must preach the gospel to all Gentiles before Messiah sets up His kingdom. (Isaiah 49 & 56; Matthew 23:15)

The parallels between the Jews of New Testament times and the theology of many evangelicals today are evident. A short explanation of how Jewish attitudes develop and what God actually intended to accomplish through the offspring of Abraham follows.


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