Certain criteria has been discussed thus far so that each of us can determine our own status as a true Christian. All can be summed up with the the statement "I believe that Jesus is God incarnate who died on the cross in my place and I want to please him!" That belief is "faith". Herein lies the most important verse in the Bible:
Ephesians 2:8 "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God..."
"Grace" is receiving a reward when punishment is what's deserved. That's God having mercy on us! The "grace" referred to is Jesus' vicarious death for everyone! Here we go again with a big word. "Vicarious" means that Jesus substituted for you and I on the cross and shed his own blood and died so that we may have eternal life! That's the most profound act of grace possible! Just think "Would I die for my children?" God relinquished his only begotten Son so that we can live! Do you believe that? I do!
"By grace are ye saved!" Saved from what? Your just deserves. You're sinful and deserve eternal punishment. "But, I've been good you say?" Good isn't "good enough" because if we don't believe in and accept Christ, we are rebellious. The "good man" Abraham Lincoln did what he believed to be "good", but goodness is not what saves us. In fact "being good" is a hindrance.
Luke 7:41 "There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? 43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged."
Jesus is the creditor. We are the debtor. The first debtor owed the most to the creditor (Jesus). This means that he sinned the most. Jesus forgave both. However, the second person wasn't as sinful as the first. Which one loved Jesus the most? Jesus agreed with Simon "to whom he forgave the most"! Although, it would be foolish to sin appreciably so that we could love Him more, the case is made that by being "good" we may diminish the love we have for Jesus.
Personally, I tried to prepare myself to be a Christian by behaving well and doing good. Jesus pitied me! There is no way we can prepare ourselves to be saved. If we do that's called "salvation by works" and Ephesians 2:8 tells us that salvation is "a gift of God". It's disrespectful when we offer to pay for something which our friend who loves us sacrificed and gives us a cherished present. Likewise, it's disrespectful to God when he has given us "free salvation" and we try to pay for it by being "good"! Just accept what he has graciously given!
We must believe. Even demons believe in Jesus. If you believe, but do not accept, you are no better than a demon!
Acts 4:10 "Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.
Acts 4:12 "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
This is what you must believe! Jesus who died instead of you (for you) is the only way that you are saved. It's a personal acceptance of the grace of Jesus. That's more than the demons believe. That's more than being "good". This is the key to salvation. If you believe this then you have "faith" referred to in Ephesians 2:8. You are "saved by faith"!
Those who believe in eternal security quote this verse as evidence that if you believe at some point in time, you're saved (from eternal punishment). However faith is more than a fleeting time of remorse or fear. Faith is enduring!
Galatians 2:20 "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me."
Faith is believing that Christ is who he claims to be (God incarnate) and that he died so that we are saved from eternal punishment and that we, as a result, will have eternal life.
Living by faith in Christ is more than a one time event. It's a lifestyle. Your old self was crucified when you were saved. Once you're a new person in Christ, you live for Him! Are you living for Christ right now? You're not "saved again", but if your faith was sincere, you may be restored! However, if you're not living for Christ and are never restored, you aren't for Christ. You are in apostasy. (Another big word!) "Apostasy" is when a person abandons their faith. You once believed, but now you don't. You once loved and accepted Jesus, now you don't. Don't go there!
Colossians 1:22 "In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: 23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister..."
Yes, faith is a lifestyle and the Christian "be not moved away from the hope of the gospel"! But some are:
Luke 12:10 "And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven."
God's Spirit calls a person to repentance. The Holy Spirit is the author of righteous guilt and the sorrow you feel because you're a sinner. We don't determine the time nor date. God does. He knocks at the door and awaits your answer. Jesus says:
Revelation 3:20 "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."
That "knocking at the door" is God's Spirit beckoning you to believe. If he knocks and you fail to answer, that's the unpardonable sin. You have rejected the Holy Spirit. When he calls we'd all better answer because he may not knock again. You can't keep turning your guest away and expect that guest to return. Especially, when that person loves you and is bearing a gift!
The acceptance of Jesus and his sacrifice shows that you love him. The Greatest Commandment, and I keep dwelling on it because it's the hardest is:
Matthew 22:37 "Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment."
The demons believe, but they don't love. A Christian who fails to love God misses the boat to salvation. Destiny will couple the unloving person with cohorts in hate. Eternity will be spent where demons reside. Love is achieved by faith. As we do what Christ would have us do we obtain peace and joy. Peace and joy results in love. If you're not at peace and have no joy, love is lacking. Prayer, fasting and dwelling in the Word is the answer.
In Ephesians 2:8 are several proposals:
Proposal #9: A person must believe in Jesus and Jesus only as the way to salvation.
Proposal #10: Salvation is free. You can't be "good enough" and get it.
Proposal #11: We not only are to believe in Jesus, but accept his sacrifice (death); the gift he gave us.
Proposal #12: Faith isn't an instant in time. Faith is a lifestyle and all of us are saved by faith.
Proposal #13: We are to live a life for Christ. That means we live a life as much like Jesus as we humanly can. We obey his commandments: We love God and we love others! we repent of sin as we sin, but yet obey. (Sin is a choice. We don't have to elect it).
Proposal #14: We not only believe in Jesus and he gift he gave, but we love Him for giving His life for us!
Next time will be the conclusion of the proposals. Testimony, works and hope will be discussed.