Need for a Decision Now
If you have gone through the studies of apologetics, you have seen abundant evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the unique Son of God. But perhaps you desire more evidence. It is possible that God will show you more, especially if you approach Him with a heart receptive to truth that may not agree with your preconceived opinions. But you would be wise to believe in Christ now, without further searching. The next step of your spiritual pilgrimage should heed the Biblical exhortation, "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). Who knows when you will die? You might die tomorrow, or even today. Can you afford to postpone a decision affecting your eternal destiny?
You may ask, "What then must I do to be saved?" Millions before have asked the same question. A full answer draws upon six central teachings of Scripture.
Sinfulness of Man
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.
For the wages of sin is death; . . . .
A tragic flaw in your character disqualifies you from living forever in the presence of God. That flaw is your sinfulness—your natural tendency to do things that are wrong. You may be a decent sort of person by the standards of men, but by the standards of God you are thoroughly bad. The reason is that you constantly break the law of God. That law requires you to love God with your whole being and to love your neighbor as much as yourself (Matt. 22:37-40). But rather than submitting to these demands, you exalt self to the place of god and pursue a life of self-centeredness. Instead of acting in perfect love, you are always scheming to get your own way, and you squawk and sulk when you fail to get it. You are so far from being good that you are sometimes dishonest, sometimes immoral, sometimes mean. And there is nothing you can do to change what you are. You have been a sinner from birth, and you will always be a sinner. No attempt at self-reform can bring you to the perfection that God requires before He will admit you into the glory of His presence (Rom 3:23).
Obviously, you are in a grave predicament. Since you were created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26), there is more to you than just your physical body. You also have a spirit, which is the seat of consciousness and moral perception (1 Cor. 2:11), and your spirit is indestructible (Matt. 25:46). Therefore, the only alternative to eternal life in God's presence is eternal existence removed from His presence. Indeed, because you are a sinner, you are abetting Satan in his cosmic war against righteousness, and the eternal dwelling place reserved for you is the lake of fire, originally prepared for Satan and other fallen angels (Matt. 25:41). In that place, the spirits of unrighteous men will continue forever in a state of suffering proportionate to how evil they were during their days on the earth (Rev. 20:13), although no spirit in hell will be truly alive. As the Bible says, the wages of sin is eternal death (Rom. 6:23; 2 Thess. 1:9).
Love of God
But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Your destiny would be hopeless except that God loves you and desires to cancel the penalty for your sin. He can cancel the penalty because it has already been paid. By whom? By God Himself.
The Bible teaches that God is one Being in three Persons named the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To remove sin's penalty from you and everyone else, the Father appointed the Son to be our Savior, a role He could fulfill only by entering this world as a man. The man He became was unique in being fully human as well as fully divine, unique also in being wholly without sin. Who was He? He was Jesus, the man of Jewish descent who lived two thousand years ago in the country of Palestine, then part of the Roman Empire.
His ministry began when He was about thirty years old. For the next three and a half years He walked throughout the land and taught the people an ethic of radical righteousness. He presented Himself as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies that foresaw the coming of an anointed one—in Hebrew called the Messiah, in Greek, the Christ—who would take away the sin of the world. And, in proof of His claims, He performed many astounding miracles. On several occasions He raised the dead to life. Once, in the presence of thousands, He multiplied a few loaves and fishes into a meal sufficient for them all. Rather than deny His miracles, His enemies accused Him of being a sorcerer
Yet the mobs who followed Him at the beginning of His ministry soon turned away when they discovered that His mission was essentially spiritual, not political. The leaders of the Jewish nation likewise rejected Him. Regarding Him as a threat to their own power, they brought Him before the Roman governor, Pilate, and falsely accused Him of stirring up civil unrest. Pilate bowed to their will and condemned Him to die by crucifixion, a method that assured He would undergo horrible suffering. Yet He made no attempt to defend Himself, He uttered no complaint, and as He was dying He prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).
We can be glad that the history of Jesus does not end at His death. During His ministry, He taught that after He had lain in the tomb for three days, He would rise again. And the prophecy came true. Over a period of forty days beginning on the third day after the Crucifixion, He was seen alive on numerous occasions, once by no less than five hundred people.
If Jesus died an early death, was His mission a failure? No, His suffering, death, and resurrection accomplished His mission. When He hung on a cross, He took all our sin upon Himself, allowing the Father to arouse His fury toward sin and vent it upon the Son rather than upon us. By suffering unbearable physical pain, as well as the infinitely greater pain of total separation from the Father, Jesus undeservedly bore the punishment that sinful mankind deserves. The result is that you are no longer the target of divine wrath unless you fail to accept gratefully and in an appropriate manner His suffering and death on your behalf.
If you do accept Him as your Savior, God will release you from the guilt and the penalty of your sin. Moreover, because Jesus is alive, you will know Him personally and be united with Him in such a way as to share His perfect righteousness. And just as He will live forever, you will live forever also.
To find salvation through Jesus requires first that you repent.
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.
For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: . . . .
2 Corinthians 7:10
In the Scriptures, the term "repentance" describes a way of looking at one's own sin. Specifically, it is a sorrow for sin and a desire to forsake it (Job 42:6, Matt. 9:13, Acts 8:22, 2 Cor. 12:21).
It is important here to emphasize what repentance is not. It is not an actual turning from sin. To turn from sin is impossible without the help of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit does not come to indwell a man until he is saved. The Bible conceives of repentance as something internal—as an inward change of heart rather than an outward change of behavior.
Biblical repentance requires you to put on God's glasses and look into a mirror. Then you will see that you are a sinner, that your sin is wrong, and that you deserve the punishment of hell forever. Also, if you truly accept God's view of yourself, you will feel a deep sorrow for your sin, and you will want to put sin out of your life.
8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God:
9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
. . . Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
After repentance must come faith, expressed through belief. Belief in what? These verses furnish the key. You must believe in the name of the Son of God, and His name is the Lord Jesus Christ.
The requirement to believe in His name makes it impossible to be saved through any false Jesus. Many who say that they have faith in Jesus do not have a saving faith. Why? Because they have a wrong idea of Jesus. Perhaps they think He was just a good man. By "faith in Jesus," they mean that everything will go well if we follow His example. Or they think He fully realized the divine potential in all of us, and "by faith in Jesus," they mean that we too can become divine. Besides these false Jesuses, contemporary religion is promoting many others, none of which has power to save.
To be saved, you must believe in the real Jesus—in the Jesus who is the Lord Jesus Christ. It follows that you must not only know that this is your Savior's name, but also you must believe that His name truly states who He is.
- The name "Jesus" speaks of his humanity. You must understand and believe that your Savior is the flesh-and-blood man known to history as Jesus of Nazareth. You must not imagine that Jesus was a supernatural being who merely pretended to be a man. Also, you must not dismiss the historical Jesus as unimportant and espouse instead the idea of Jesus. Some people today exploit the language of Christianity to create for themselves a pleasing religious experience. But although they mouth praise to Jesus, they think of Him only as a noble fiction. So long as they withhold the love and devotion due the real Jesus, their religion is vain.
- You must understand and believe that Jesus is the Christ—in other words, that He is the man whom God sent to be your Savior. Recognizing that Jesus made a complete payment for your sin through His death on the cross, you must trust in Him alone for salvation.
- You must understand and believe that Jesus is the Lord. The word "Lord" means "ruler," and indeed the Bible teaches that Jesus is the rightful ruler of everything (1 Cor. 25-8; Eph. 1:20-2). One day in the future, every man and woman who has lived on this earth will acknowledge who He is (Phil. 2:9-11). Therefore, we have a simple choice. We can either confess His Lordship now or wait until later, when it is too late to gain the rewards designed for His faithful subjects. He deserves to be called Lord because He created us and all other things as well (John 1:1). Our Creator surely has the right to direct our lives.
You can see that the gospel is really very simple in essence. To be saved, you must do this. You must tell God that you are sorry for your sins. Then you must ask Him to save you through the Lord Jesus Christ. That is all you must do. Of course, it is useless just to recite a formula or mouth words. You must mean everything you say.
The belief required for salvation is known as saving faith. Such faith is sufficient alone. Good works and religious exercises are worthless for obtaining salvation. They do not even make our faith more acceptable. In deciding the destiny of a soul, God excludes human works from consideration "lest any man should boast."
Steps after Salvation
32 Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.
33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.
. . . Be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ . . . , and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
It is not possible to be a secret Christian. The Lord directs a new believer to declare his faith openly in two ways. He must submit to baptism (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:41; 8:12), and he must join a local body of believers—in other words, a church (Heb. 10:24-25). Neither baptism nor church membership can save anyone. Salvation is not by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ. But if God implants faith in your heart, the inward change will produce outward change. The desire to obey God will prompt you to take steps leading to baptism and church membership. So, although these externals are not the means of your salvation, they are evidences of your salvation.
When you believe in Jesus Christ, God does not lift the penalty of sin from you so that you can go to heaven as you are. Rather, He wants to change you. On your own, you could never significantly change the patterns of your life. But God will enable you to stop sinning by sending you the Holy Spirit, who will indwell you and guide you along paths of righteousness. As you follow the Spirit's leading, you will become more like the sinless Jesus. You will not in this life become perfect. Yet, through the power of the Spirit, you will be made perfect before you enter your eternal home.
Counting the Costs
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
Jesus says that you cannot be His disciple unless you are willing to pay the costs. The main costs are two.
- You must hate loved ones, but only in the sense that if they pull you away from Christ and from all the blessings in knowing Christ, you must decisively reject their influence. You must also hate your own life. The primary meaning is that if being a Christian makes you a target of wicked men, you must accept persecution or even martyrdom rather than deny Christ.
Yet the first cost you must pay also involves sacrifice on a broader scale. Because the absence of light is darkness, you must hate everything ungodly in your own life and in the lives of people around you. You must not cling to any treasure that God brands as false. All your plans and ambitions, values and opinions, loyalties and loves—all these you must surrender to Christ, who will either replace them with better things or return them in a form helpful to your Christian growth.
Although you must resist any effort by sinners to draw you away from Christ, you will love a sinner himself more than ever before. You will treat him with respect and kindness, and, if he welcomes serious conversation, you will urge him with all fervor to accept God's offer of salvation.
- You must live in the same manner as Jesus, who "humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8). You must give yourself obediently to God's direction, however distasteful that may seem. Actually, He is a loving Father. He wants only the best for you, and He is infinitely wise in choosing the best.