Salvation is God’s work, from beginning to end.
Hebrews 12:2 – …looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…
We have to see our need
First we have to recognize our complete sinfulness – called depravity. God needs to open our spiritual eyes to see this – and we can ask Him for it. We recognize that we have been living for ourselves (SELF / ME), not for God. We have to hold ourselves up to the Law of God and see that we fall hopelessly short. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
What is the Law of God? In the Bible, God has given many instructions for living right before Him. These include the 10 Commandments and extrapolations from them. But apart from the Bible, God has written His commands on human hearts, which we refer to as “conscience”. This is how He can hold us as being without excuse. (How else do you explain conscience apart from God? Animals are “naive” – they have no knowledge of good and evil, right from wrong.)
So, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, instinctively do what the law demands, they are a law to themselves even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts will either accuse or excuse them on the day when God judges what people have kept secret, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus. Romans 2:14-16
Our conscience is what tells us that murder is wrong. It is what makes us angry at injustices, abuses, and crime. We know we violate our consciences. The telltale signs are lying about it, hiding it (doing it in secret), or covering it up. Above all, God tells us to love Him with all our soul, heart, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If you love anything in your life more than you love God (or a fellow human being), you have broken this command.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10
Our human condition can be compared to a drop of poison in a glass of water. Whether there is one drop or many drops, the water is still poisoned. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. James 2:10 Such is it with us – doing even one wrong thing “poisons us”. Even if we are a really “Good” and “Moral” person. Good, moral, and kind people listen to their consciences. There are many non-religious (or other religions) people who are good and kind people. However, unless we have turned to Jesus, we are spiritually poor, blind, and naked.
According to God, breaking even one of His laws, once, results in the death penalty – as He is a holy and righteous being who cannot tolerate any sin (breaking of the law) in His presence. Sin is why we die physically, and unless we repair our relationship with God we will “die” for eternity too (eternal “death” is actually eternal separation from God, in the lake of fire/hell).
We can’t open our own spiritual eyes to see our depravity. Neither can we open anyone else’s. We must *pray* for the conviction of the Holy Spirit to do this work through the conscience. Ask God to open your (or someone else’s) spiritual eyes.
Here is a wonderful article discussing how the sermon on the mount explains our inability to save ourselves.
We have to want to change
We were created to be in relationship with God. This is why people feel that there is something missing in their lives. We pursue, pursue, pursue, and when we accomplish it is exciting but also empty – now what? We move from one thing to the next, never satisfied. There *is* something missing. God. We are like lost sheep – wandering around aimlessly. Sure there are some “good things” and distractions in this world. But when it really counts, if we lost it all – what is this life about? We were meant to live in harmony with God, our Father. His Spirit is meant to comfort us, to guide us, to bring us love, joy, peace, hope. We are born into this world as spiritual orphans. We feel and see the results around us.
Once the Holy Spirit alerts us as to our depravity, we have a choice. We can choose to ignore Him, or we can choose to do something about it. This is where our Free Will comes into play. God wants to restore the relationship. But we have to want to restore the relationship too. He doesn’t make us, as if we were robots.
A change of heart, seeing ourselves as utterly sinful and wanting to do something about it, is called repentance. Just recognizing that we do bad things (or break God’s laws as given in the Bible), but not having a desire to stop, is not true repentance. We must truly want to be “born again”, to be restored to relationship with God.
There’s only one way…
There is nothing *we* can do to fix our “wrongness” – no good work, no sacrament, no penance. But because God our Father loves us, He has given us a way to restore the relationship.
Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6)
We must desire Jesus’ payment of our death penalty through His sinless life (though He lived as a man under God’s Law, He never broke the Law), death on the cross, and resurrection (came back to life in an eternal physical body) on the third day.
We must be clothed with Jesus’ righteousness, to cover our sins and spiritual nakedness (just as Adam and Eve needed to be clothed with the skins of animals to cover their physical nakedness).
Repentance is not only a change of mind about who we are (a sinner – totally depraved and without hope), but a change of mind about who Jesus is (a Savior – the Messiah foretold in the Old Testament of the Bible – and Lord). Our only job is to “believe in the one He has sent” (Jesus). But this belief must be *in our heart*, not just intellectually assenting to facts (see Simon in Acts 8:9-25, or the whole story of the apostle Judas, and even the demons Jesus cast out) .
Romans 10:10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
When Jesus’ disciples asked Him who can be saved, He replied, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible,” (Matt. 19:26). Doing anything to earn or keep salvation by our own efforts is completely impossible. Saving faith is a miracle, every time. That is why salvation rests in God alone by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8-9).
Acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice in our stead results in immediate salvation and sealing of the Holy Spirit. We are forgiven. We can’t accidentally lose our salvation, and God won’t remove it from us or ever kick us out of the sheep fold (but there is Biblical evidence that we are always given free choice to reject it and leave the faith/reject salvation by our own choice).
Ephesians 1:13-14 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
The critical element is faith.
Faith in Jesus’ provision. Faith in His completed work for us on the cross. We can do nothing to save ourselves, and we can do nothing to add to or maintain salvation. “It is finished”.
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast.
Anything we do to try and “add to” or “maintain” salvation (such as sacraments, good works on our own effort) leads to death, because it means that we don’t accept that Jesus’ finished work on the cross was sufficient – which is the one thing we need to believe to be saved. I emphasize this, because I think for many years I didn’t “get” the simplicity of salvation and tried to “earn” it (by repeating the sinner’s prayer, trying to live morally, etc). I also didn’t “get” repentance, and wasn’t willing to fully examine my heart to see how sinful I really was (and how truly I needed a Savior).
What Next? Sanctification (growing in Christ)
When we repent, we do a 180* turn and choose to follow Jesus instead of sin/self. We have been freed from walking in sin. We are now to follow and obey Jesus. Assuming we weren’t on our deathbed, if we don’t follow-through with obeying Jesus, it is unlikely that we truly repented.
Romans 6:1-3 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Commit yourself to knowing God – read His Word, study it, and pray daily. Ask His Spirit to open your eyes to understand.
Will we continue to sin? Yes, absolutely!
For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree with the law that it is good. So now I am no longer the one doing it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For the desire to do what is good is with me, but there is no ability to do it. For I do not do the good that I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do. Now if I do what I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but it is the sin that lives in me. So I discover this principle: When I want to do what is good, evil is with me. For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body.What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with my mind I myself am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh, to the law of sin. Romans 7:15-25
Even the godliest people struggle with sin – doing what we don’t want to do, or not doing what we want to do. We still wear the sin nature in this natural body. However, our hearts and minds are freed from being enslaved to it – if we call for help – God will provide a way out so we don’t HAVE to sin. The trick is identifying temptation early, and halting it before we are sucked into full blown sin.
What if I don’t “feel” saved?
Salvation is kind of like an epiphany. You have been wandering around in darkness, aimlessly, chasing after this and that – from one thing to the next. Lost in the drudgery of what this world offers. Being saved is like God turning on the lights, and all of a sudden you can see. This is the Holy Spirit, working inside you.
The Holy Spirit Himself, is sealed within you at the time of salvation (Jesus’ baptism, with the Spirit). You will want to obey Jesus. You will want to become more like Him. You will “bear good fruit”. Yes, you will still sin, but you will have a desire to get back on track and restore your relationship with God (although individual sins won’t take away your salvation, it will put you out of relationship with God). The Holy Spirit will start to convict you of sins. It is your job to listen to Him and follow His lead, to progress in holiness (sanctification).
If you do not feel secure in your salvation, IT IS RIGHT TO EXAMINE YOURSELF, to see if you are in the faith.
If you can continue in habitual sin without feeling remorse and guilt (common sins like sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, gossip, lying, cheating…) then you should question whether you are saved. The Holy Spirit will convict you of sin.
The “heart” is comprised of our mind/intellect, our emotions/feelings, and our will/actions. We have feelings about God, we think through the facts about Jesus and the Bible, and our actions will demonstrate what we believe. In each of these areas, we must rely on GOD to provide the faith. We can’t make ourselves believe – we can’t force feelings, we can’t understand if our spiritual eyes are closed, and actions done on our own effort will consistently fizzle over time. Examine if all 3 aspects of your heart are in alignment. If not, confess that to God and pray for HIM to provide you with saving faith.
You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13
Do not give up! Do not despair! Cling to God with all your might.
The Lord does not delay His promise, as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
This church has such wonderful articles on saving faith and growing in Christ. I highly encourage anyone seeking to know more about salvation and God’s plans and purposes to check it out!