WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO BE A CHRISTIAN

An examination of the claims of Christ and the Gospel of God's grace in the light of the Christian Scriptures.

 

Extracts from David's book of the same name

 

“Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
(Isaiah 55:6-7)

 

 

As I remember, by the 1950s a new more progressive message had emerged. Preachers were now ashamed of the ‘old’ Gospel, afraid to speak of the wrath of God and of a Saviour from sin. The authentic biblical Gospel preached once by the Apostles, the Reformers, the preachers at the time of the Great Awakening in Britain, and many thousands more in between and since has now largely been abandoned and is greatly despised. The message has been changed, Christ was turned from a Saviour of sinners into a super-psychiatrist who could solve every problem and make people ‘happy’, a ‘healer’ of sorts but making a mockery of the truth. It opened the door to conmen and fraudsters who have used their ‘gospel’ to fill their bank accounts. This saviour is not the Lord Jesus of the Scriptures; this gospel is another gospel, not the Gospel found in the Word of God. Most now preach a watered-down message, or even a misleading and erroneous one.

Godlessness expresses itself in every area of British life. Understandable cynicism has developed towards corrupt and deceitful governments as they introduce legislation that often seems only to featherbed themselves, secure their own positions, and benefit their friends. Those who dare to challenge publicly the prevailing new morality being imposed on our people, introduced often against the better judgement of a majority, are more than likely to receive a knock on the door from the local police. They “call evil good, and good evil; … put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). Personal sin has been raised to the level of a new righteousness. Oblique persecution meets any Christian seeking to follow the dictates of conscience. Teachers who look to their own their own conscience on how and what they teach their charges, hotel and guesthouse owners refusing to accommodate homosexuals, doctors who reject abortion and refuse contraception to underage unmarried teenage girls, along with many other professionals in public service, particularly those professing Christian convictions are with increasing frequency being forced to quit. Truly: “The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted” (Psalm 12:8).Freedom of conscience is only permitted where there is no contradiction of the perverse mores of godless parliamentarians. It was Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms (1521) who warned that it is dangerous to go against a conscience informed by the Word of God. The freedom of conscience to hold and express distinctively Christian beliefs won over centuries is being deliberately and systematically eroded.

In most churches it is little different. Despite the fact that around seventy percent of the British people still consider themselves Christian, fewer than a million regularly attend any place of Christian worship and congregations are diminishing rapidly by the week. There is an understandable widespread indifference among the general population towards institutional churches, who have largely thrown off traditional beliefs and practices exchanging them for ‘progressive’ substitutes that rob them of the authoritative voice they once enjoyed in our nation. Spineless bishops and archbishops instead of giving a clear and unmistakeable message in the face of rampant godlessness prevaricate, dither, run for cover in the face of opposition, back down when faced with politically-correct militancy amongst the ranks of its clergy. Little wonder then, that a highly politicized and hypocritical institutional church is silent when it ought to speak out; and when it does speak, it is only to mouth prevailing political fashions and irrelevances. Apostasy rules. Like the prophets of ancient Israel, their spokesmen speak lies in God’s name, proclaiming the very opposite of what is taught in the Christian Scriptures. “Yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart … cause my people to forget my name.” (Jeremiah 23:26-27). The genuine spiritual life and experience that marked the evangelical wing of the mainstream churches in previous centuries has virtually disappeared, exchanged for a vapid, lightweight ‘happy-clappy’ theology-free religion that exceeds what is appropriate in the worship of God, often drifting into the profane and blasphemous. They fill an emotional void and bring understandable scorn and contempt upon the whole idea of what it means to be a genuine Christian believer. The life-giving Gospel preached by Christ, the apostles and faithful men down the centuries is today all but obscured. Established or free, aligned or independent, all the professing church seems to be very much the same with only a very few maintaining anything remotely approaching true Christian and biblical testimony ― precious people if you can find them. There is a crying need to restate with some clarity and boldness the biblical teaching on what it really means to be a Christian.

 

No Gospel, no change

 

It needs to be understood that Christ changes a person’s heart and life and it is from here first that all other changes must follow. There can be no real outward change, no positive social change, apart from the inward change wrought by the Gospel of Christ. Nothing will have changed in our nation unless that change is brought about directly as a result of the preaching of the Gospel as given in the Christian Scriptures. Cosmetic change is a deadly and deceptive device. The Christian Gospel works from the inside out and not the other way round. It is true that the only legitimate laws a nation can have are Christian ones, but imposed from without this alone will not make us a Christian nation or even a nation of Christians, a nation with a Christian ethos perhaps, but little more. In fact, unless within us as individuals, there is an inward change, we are reduced to being little more than actors simply playing out a role. We have then become pharisaic hypocrites presenting an outward appearance that is not supported by any inward reality. Where there is no Gospel there is no change.

One unmistakeable sign of a genuine Christian believer is that he or she will submit to Christ in all things and that submission will stem from a new and inward orientation that has been utterly transformed. One unmistakeable sign of unbelievers is they say, in deed if not in word, in part if not in whole, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). It is a false, apostate Christianity that restricts God to ‘grace’ and ‘salvation’ to eternity and ‘spiritual matters’. It is rank and damnable hypocrisy such as that of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) that keeps some things back for itself, that fences of areas for its own exclusive use and where Christ is not allowed, yet at the same time makes a claim of being a follower of Christ. Sadly, this is all too often the mark of Christian profession. “And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's” (1 Corinthians 3:23).

There are two kingdoms and only two and we are each found in one or the other. There is Satan’s kingdom and that of Christ and true faith in Him. There is the kingdom of darkness, which embraces the sum total of rebellious humanity, and includes within its walls all forms of apostate Christianity that have deliberately turned their back on the truth. We are presented with an antithesis.
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)
There is the seed of the woman, the promised Saviour, all incorporated into His body of believers. There is the seed of the serpent, those who still live in enmity with God and persist in apostasy. This is the whole history of mankind. War continues to this day to be waged between these two kingdoms, between the children of light and the children of darkness. Apostasy and rebellion is rooted in human hearts. There is no area of life lying outside this antithesis, it permeates the whole of human existence and is observable in the whole of human history throughout the whole world in all times. Rebellion and apostasy proceed from human hearts. Through regeneration a man becomes a new creature in Christ, his consciousness is changed, his mind enlightened by the Spirit of God.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (Corinthians 5:17)

There are two kingdoms; consequently there are two kinds of people in the world: believers in Christ who are obedient to Him, and unbelievers who are apostate rebels. The line to be drawn is not between nature and grace or between the temporal and the eternal, but between darkness and light, between apostasy and faith.

Christ claims all things everywhere in every sphere of life as His own and in the Gospel we must call all men to submit to Him in all things. However, no one will submit to Christ unless first there is an inner change of heart; all must begin here, with regeneration, conversion, repentance and faith. There can be no side-stepping this by social action. A call for ‘Christian values’ without being confronted with the claims of Christ is palpable nonsense and worse than useless. Organizations proposing Christian social action have multiplied in recent years. Understandable in some ways as the reign of godlessness increases. Most make one fundamental error that appears to mirror the teaching of Aquinas, suggesting that all men somehow naturally share the same innate morality and that given sufficient encouragement they will surely espouse the good and reject evil. Certainly all men have the Law of God inscribed within (Romans 2:14-15); this is what Scripture tells us. But they hate it; it stirs their conscience, they suppress it. They are each and everyone natural rebels.

The cure for this is the preaching of the Gospel. Wherever Thomas Aquinas casts his shadow there can be no call for submission to Christ and any call for repentance is made into a void. Without the Gospel at the heart of what they do, the arguments of these Christian moralists are reduced to pragmatic rather than biblical ones. For example, where the authority of Scripture is in doubt, where its historicity is doubted, there can be no proper defence of marriage and the family. Instead of a robust explanation of marriage as a divine ordinance for all men that reaches back to the Garden of Eden, we are treated all too often to vain waffle about families being the ‘building blocks’ of our society – whatever that is supposed to mean!

You will look in vain in the materials of these groups, printed or online, for any real and uncompromising presentation of the Gospel. They may say this is not their purpose. One significant reason for this is likely to be dictated by the need to cast the net widely for financial and other support. This will range from the charismatic and Pentecostal end of evangelicalism to those firmly in entrenched in the staid traditionalism of the incense-swinging high Anglican or Roman Catholic. At neither end of this spectrum will you find the biblical Gospel, instead only a profound opposition to it. Clearly, there is unlikely to be any firm consensus about the nature of the Gospel among such a motley crowd.

At the heart of Luther’s reformation in Germany that wrought so much good and brought unparalleled social change was a struggle not about public morals, but about the nature of the Gospel, and the doctrine of justification by faith alone, later anathematized by the Catholic Church. Much the same can be said of Calvin’s administration in Geneva, Knox in Scotland.  Changes that took place in Britain at the time of the Evangelical Awakening under Whitfield, Wesley and others came about because these men travelled the length and breadth of this country risking life and limb at a time when travel was difficult preaching the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ alone. Changed lives were brought about by an inward change wrought by the Spirit of God. The drinker left his bottle, the thief his dishonesty, the adulterer his sin – they repented only when taken in hand by the Spirit of God who inclined their hearts towards Christ. Any social changes stemmed alone from a response to the preaching of the Gospel of God’s grace.

There is a need in this country to put unadulterated and plain Gospel preaching at the heart of Christian testimony. This may draw upon us the abusive misuse of the word ‘pietism’. It is preposterous nonsense and also offensive to imply that because we place Christ and His salvation at the heart of our message, we do not love our fellowmen or not in any way concerned about the godlessness into which our nation has sunk. What we do say is that failing to preach Christ as the only cure is deceitful and useless. To work alongside those who deny the Gospel to any perceived common end is treachery against our Saviour.

The unbelieving world and apostate Christendom operate outside the Gospel; they have rejected the real cure. We cannot work with them. Everything has been disrupted and distorted by sin and men need to be brought into a right relationship with God before anything can change. In order to see change in the world around us, there is little point to infiltrating existing structures trying to exert some influence. Many try it and will always fail. They will invariably find themselves sidelined because of an inherent hatred of Christ and a rejection, conscious or otherwise, of His claims. These structures and institutions are part of the kingdom of darkness as those of us who have experienced them on the inside can testify. Being outside the Gospel, they operate on an anti-Christian, apostate basis. There can be no neutral ground where Christ claims everything as His own. There can be no truce with unbelief. It amounts to spiritual adultery.
“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

There but is one true King, the Lord Jesus Christ. All others cry, “We have no king but Caesar” and crucify Him in their hearts.
“But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away. (John 19:15-16)

The Gospel works not renovation but replacement of that which is beyond repair. Yet we are not lifted out of this world as soon as we become Christians, but have instead a task to complete. We are not hermetically sealed off from unbelievers whom we must confront daily, but our message cannot be tainted or corrupted by paganism and we must operate outside an apostate world.
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Ephesians 5:11)

We cannot reprove anything of which we ourselves are a part, or with which we ourselves are co-operating.

 

Christ, redemption, and the nature of the Scriptures

 

Martin Luther, as did all the Reformers, held a strict view of Scripture, believing it to be verbally inspired.
“In Scripture you are reading not the word of man, but the Word of the most exalted God, who desires to have disciples that diligently observe and note what He says.”
Works (St Louis edition) IX, p.1818

The Bible is the Word of God because whatever it says God Himself says. He speaks in its pages and we can have utter and complete confidence and trust in every single word. All Scriptures are to be ascribed to the Holy Ghost and therefore it is impossible for them to contain error. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). This was the view held without exception by each of the protestant Reformers. The Scriptures are to be received with the same reverence that we reserve for God Himself. What we have in the pages of holy writ came from God alone with no human admixture. The Bible is not a mélange of the human and the divine any more than in the Person of Christ. It is the very word of God spoken through human lips and written by human pens. It did not drop down from heaven, nor was it given in a mechanistic or dictated manner but by God through the instrumentality of men. It is not a human product breathed into by the Holy Spirit and so heightened in quality, but is itself a divine product given through human instruments whose spirits were borne along in their task by God’s Spirit. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost”
(2 Peter 1:21).
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)
“…to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.”
(Ephesians 3:19-20)
Scripture writers were carefully prepared by God’s providence. They were given the gifts they needed within God’s overall purpose to redeem the world He created, to be accomplished by God through Christ as Christ Himself directed and controlled His chosen instruments through His Holy Spirit. The Bible is the Word of life to the whole world. The Bible is God’s book given through writers inspired by God and He speaks still to us through its pages.

The Bible is not just a record of what God has revealed but is itself part of the redemptive revelation of God. It is itself a redemptive act of divine origin able to make us wise unto salvation.
“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:15-17)
Seeing that the giving of the Bible is in itself a redemptive act, it follows that an understanding of the Bible, if it is to be true, must be Christocentric for apart from Christ there is no way of salvation. This is the first and most important principle of biblical interpretation. In the whole of Scripture there is nothing but Christ, in the Old as in the New Testaments. All of Scripture has a bearing upon Christ; everything applies to Him directly or indirectly. Since God can only be known through Christ, He is the essential content of Scripture.

The key to understanding the whole of Scripture, then, is the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son. He came to this earth, died for our sins, has risen from the dead, sits now at the right hand of His Father and is set to return. He is at the centre of Scripture and a rejection of Him will close to us all meaning in the Old or the New Testaments. Men know not Christ because they are ignorant of the Scriptures. Jesus Himself testified:
And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47)

The writers of Scripture, though divinely inspired, wrote and recorded in a human fashion. This is not to deny its divine element. A maxim of the Reformation approach to Scripture was: Scriptura sacra est Deus incarnates ― sacred Scripture is God incarnate. There is an analogy to be drawn between the nature of Scripture and the person of Christ, between the Word of God written and the Word made flesh. Following the formula of Chalcedon the Lord Jesus is fully man but at the same time fully God. In a similar manner Scripture is fully human and yet fully divine. Like the person of Christ the human element of the Bible cannot be anything other than perfect. Scripture is no more liable to error than is the human nature of Christ.

Roman Catholics along with many evangelical protestants have a view of God’s providence that gives too much place to an assumed sphere of human autonomy so such a consistent view of the authority and inspiration of Scripture becomes impossible. In employing human beings as instruments prepared for their task by God, the words that they speak are at the same time the words of God. What they write will be wholly subject to the will of God without obliterating their own personality. There can be here no mechanistic determinism. Words are at one and the same time both spontaneous and determined by the will of God. Those who have no genuinely biblical understanding of the human personality find that man can only be spontaneous if he is at the same time free from the determinative counsel of God. The truth is the opposite: man can only be truly free when he acts within the determinative counsel of God. This teaching about Scripture is undermined by an unfounded presumption of human autonomy free of God. There is a high co-relation between what the Bible says about the sovereignty of God and the notion of the inerrancy of Scripture. Inerrancy will be rejected where the idea of a self-sufficient God and human responsibility cannot be reconciled. Human responsibility must always be placed and guarded within God’s comprehensive and over-ruling providence. Roman Catholicism and all that derives from it is a mixture of Bible and Aristotle’s philosophy. By way of answer, the Reformers argued for the absolute necessity, authority, clarity and sufficiency of Scripture within the redemptive purpose of God. One’s belief about the nature of Scripture cannot be torn away from one’s whole system of belief as a whole.

The purpose of the redemptive work of Christ is that the world which has fallen into sin might be cleansed, regenerated, and reveal the glory of God. Scripture is pivotal in this redemptive purpose. Rather than seek access to the person of Christ in spite of Scripture, it is here we shall find Him. “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). Indeed, it is impossible to find Christ without the Scriptures. They constitute the last redemptive act in which the revelation of God in Christ for this generation is found and completed. It is utterly impossible to know or understand what God has done for us in Christ without the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit works now within the hearts of men and they believe His Word.

Continuing the analogy with Christ, even as the redemptive work of Christ is a finished work so must Scripture be a finished revelation for God has nothing more to say to us than what He has already said in Christ.
“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
(Hebrews 1:1-3)
“But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;  From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”
(Hebrews 10:12-14)
The Roman Catholic Church has a continuing sacrifice in the Mass. It has a continuing revelation in the church. Such teaching contradicts all that we read in Scripture. However, even as the work of Christ in securing salvation is finished, so the work of revealing Him to us in Scripture is also finished. As there is nothing more to be done, so there is nothing more to be said than what God has already said.

Christian believers find their norms in the final revelation of Christ through the Scriptures. Within the Roman Church revelation continues in the Church and more particularly through the Pope. A similar pattern is discernable among evangelicals, especially among those who have been influenced by the modern Pentecostal and Charismatic movement: the word of God is mediated through the gifts in the Church. Although there is a formal acknowledgement of the authority of Scripture, the practice is very different and effectively undermines Scripture. Revelation continues in their churches through an exercise of charismatic ‘gifts’ and through the ministrations of the leaders of their groups. In other churches the situation is not dissimilar. Liberals say the Bible contains the word of God. The neo-orthodox and many evangelicals will say the Bible is the word of God but only as it speaks to the reader. There is an allegiance to a ‘living continuing’ word in the Church giving expression to new ideals and teaching in line with the times in which we live. At its heart there is a blurring of the distinction between the inspiration experienced by the original writer of the Scriptures and the illumination experienced by those who subsequently read its pages resulting in a mysticism that is cut loose from Scripture. All these so-called ‘revelations’ can be little more than notions dreamed up and developed by apostate men apart from God, apart from the Bible.

The understanding and interpretation of the Bible, is effectively what these people say it is. The Bible is thus made subservient to another voice of authority. In this way, the authority of the Scriptures themselves is reduced to little more than a formality. Wherever there is another voice of revelation, Scripture will always have a diminished role despite protestations to the contrary. They have fallen back upon the wisdom of the natural man, dead in trespasses in sins. This can never be a position held by those who have a proper regard for the Lord Jesus, for those who love and obey Him will also love and obey His Word. Much of Christendom that once acknowledged the legacy of the Reformation has now forsaken it or even rejects it. Virtually all will attribute to man some independence of will from the counsel of God. Many who remain faithful still tone down what they once professed with vigour.

It is because of a sinful heart that we need the Scriptures to find Christ. Any Christ found outside the Scriptures is a false Christ. We need the Scriptures, but also the illumination of the Holy Spirit to understand and accept them for what they are. Without this we shall reject them and everything in them. Those who reject the Scriptures reject the Christ of the Scriptures. Those who fail to put themselves under their exclusive authority show themselves to be still sitting in the darkness of their own rebellion. We need new light and a new power of sight.

Scripture does not become effective until the Holy Spirit convicts and convinces the sinner of his sin and need of salvation. The sinner will not otherwise admit, certainly not from experience, that he is a sinner. He may admit other things, that he is not what he should be, may even admit to being wicked. What he will refuse to admit is that he has sinned against God, against Christ, against His revealed will, set God aside and become a law unto himself. God is brought down to the level of man, and man exalted to become as God. Men do not and will not see any need of God’s grace until by God’s grace they are made to see their own need.

 

Knowing our need, recognizing our helplessness

 

People today are largely ignorant of the Christian Gospel and only have a very vague sense of any kind of spiritual need. In the Gospel there is an outward offer of salvation but there is also an accompanying inward work of the Holy Spirit bringing with it regenerating power. When men see the need to escape from eternal death through the preaching of the Gospel, they will also at the same time see that Christ has supplied their need. Christ finds them, but they first need to become new creatures before they will see this as a fact.

Many of those professing Christian belief think they have a sound understanding of what they need, but in fact not one of us by nature is fully aware of his or her need. On the contrary, unless God opens the inward eyes, all sit in complete ignorance of their own true state: dead in trespasses and sins and therefore subject to the wrath of God.
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
“And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

When we preach Christ as an escape from the wrath to come, the message falls largely on deaf ears as outdated, irrelevant and superseded, not at all what is needed. Yet it stands to reason that a God who is righteous and good will and must oppose and destroy all that is unrighteous and evil. Often the greatest opposition to this message comes not from rank outsiders, but from those professing to be Christians and of whom one would have expected better things. It must be said that the Gospel does offer something already in this life as well as in the life to come. Many feel attracted to a message that speaks of our present life, but at the same time they fail to recognize that they are objects of God’s wrath.

It is not the Gospel for a preacher to tell his congregation that he has what the sinner needs. Those without God neither understand this nor do they believe it. What the sinner may well be prepared to admit is that he has not lived up perfectly to his own ideal of what it is to be good and he fears the possible consequences. He has perhaps some vague notion that reality visits ‘sin’ with its own punishments. He may welcome something to alleviate ‘original sin’ as he understands it. He may even ask how he can be rid of his guilt complex. But feelings of guilt are common and widely distributed over the whole of the human race.

We may go to the doctor when we sense there is something amiss. We may not believe there is much wrong, perhaps just a few minor headaches. Then the doctor diagnoses a deadly disease that will eventually kill us. It is terminal if untreated. There is, however, a treatment available to cure it, should we be prepared to submit to it. We know nothing of the cure until we meet the doctor and allow him to examine us and tell us our need. Indeed, we only have a very vague understanding of our sickness before this point of time. We know nothing about the cure for sin until we meet Christ, not before. However, the reality is far worse, we are not just sick but born already dead to all that is spiritual. We do not hear, we do not see, we do not move, we can do absolutely nothing to respond to anything. That is what it is like being dead. So we remain, until God gives us life. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

Before this we have only a very vague and often misleading understanding of what it means to be a sinner. Everyone gives their own meaning to sin and evil, that is, if they believe that they exist at all. The German philosopher, Emanuel Kant, spoke of ‘radical evil’ in man; Sigmund Freud, of ‘the utter corruption of the race’; Martin Heidegger saw being as ‘being unto death’. None sees sin and wickedness as being against God and His revealed will which fully deserves eternal death. Only the Holy Spirit can convince anyone of what is really wrong. The Gospel brings a quite different meaning to sin, for which there is no way of escape except in repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This cure is beyond all human ability. The sinner needs the Son of God and His death on the cross to remove his guilt. He is by nature a child of eternal damnation. Christ redeems from this.

The sinner has no real understanding of his dire state or of what it is to be a sinner. This the Holy Spirit must make clear to him through hearing or reading the Word of God. There is something more: when by God’s grace it does eventually dawn on him what is wrong, if he is to find his way to God then the sinner must also be brought to realize his own impotence and inability to do anything to change what he is. This cannot be sufficiently stressed. Furthermore, no one can do anything to induce God to save him or to merit His grace. God is under no obligation towards anyone. As things stand, we cannot initiate anything that will make any change.

The reason for all this is, first of all, that we are each and every one undeserving and can make no claim against God. We can bring nothing to God that will justify us before Him or oblige Him to act generously towards us. And in such a situation, assuming God has already opened our eyes to it, we can do little more than throw ourselves only upon His love, mercy and grace, to which He will not fail to respond.

We should note that this response by a penitent sinner presumes that God has already been at work in his heart. Left to ourselves, we cannot and will not understand our need, still less will we acknowledge our impotence, nor respond in any way appropriately.

We are not inclined by nature to respond positively to the Gospel. Our depraved will is impotent in any matter concerning our own salvation. This assertion so often enrages opponents of the Gospel: the very idea that there is something over which they can exercise no control. But who can indeed change his own heart and life?
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” (Jeremiah 13:23)
No one can change himself, and all who try by their own efforts will be shown up as hypocrites just like the Pharisee in Luke 18. A monkey may think he is a lion, but the truth may dawn upon him when he is eaten up by a real lion should he meet up with one. The truth will then be clear, but too late for the poor monkey! It is far better that we see now what we truly are. Only those who fear God, only those whose heart has been regenerated by God’s Spirit can know a change to what is natural to them. Only they will believe the Gospel. Only they will know themselves loved of God. The rest will not believe it and will perish with blasphemy on their tongues right to the very end.
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good. God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Psalm 53:1-3)

Those who hide from God, deny even that He exists, are utter fools. The evidence of their folly is all around us. God laughs at them, as indeed He must (Psalm 2:4; 37:13). There is little point entering into discussion with people like that on their own terms as no one can talk sense with fools. One would achieve more success teaching Einstein’s physics or Wittgenstein’s philosophy in a monkey house.

The Gospel preached by many is doomed to failure from the start by not speaking the language of repentance and unquestioning submission to God through Christ. Were they spoken to in this way godless men would recognize immediately what they know are Christ’s legitimate claims over them. Instead, hearers are presented with a ‘choice’ instead of an ultimatum; a ‘decision’ is called for in the place of a call for submission to Christ and the authority of His Word. The words of the Gospel in Scripture must come as the authoritative voice of God. There can not even a hair’s breadth be given to the thought that there is any legitimacy to the claims made by a fallen human reason or will with respect to their own competence in spiritual matters.

Having come this far, we now face the question: if we can do nothing from our side, how then do we find our way to God? Many and varied are the answers. There are those who believe that if they strive hard enough, employ the proper means ― submit to baptism, attend Church and participate in its sacraments, live a good life to the best of their ability, or show proper repentance for sins of the past, or do whatever they can to gain the mercy of God, this will in the end gain the favour of God. Some seem to glide in without any real recognition of personal sin or need. God is loving and kind, so they reason, and consequently will not turn them away. When they are good enough God will accept them. The Scriptures say no such thing. Search from Genesis to Revelation you will find nothing remotely like that in the Bible. To encourage anyone along this road is highly irresponsible. What the Word of God clearly says is that the wrath of God abides on every single person.  Furthermore, it goes on to say that there is absolutely nothing anyone of us can do for our part to remove it. Whether trendy modern preachers or liberal theologians like or not, this is at the heart of the Christian Gospel: the wrath of God hangs over us because of our sin, the cure lies completely outside and beyond us. We can neither provide nor apply the cure; nor do we have within us the strength to receive it. No amount of striving on our part will do anything to gain God’s mercy.

No one comes to faith in Christ by any merit or effort of their own, but by the mercy and love of God. Having once come, all are exhorted to persevere in the faith so they are not cut off. This declares not what they are able to do, but rather what they ought to do.
Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:5)
“Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?”
( Isaiah 45:9)
“Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand.” (Jeremiah 18:6)
We are entirely in God’s hands, and we are in no position to prevent God’s afflictions coming upon us.

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfil Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

From the hymn by
Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778)
Rock of Ages Cleft for Me

Once having reached this point, we need to be most careful. All too often in contradiction to all that has been said thus far, sinners are told there is actually something they can do! After a presentation of what is thought to be the Gospel, the impression is conveyed to the congregation that everything is now up to them, as though within them they have the ability to ‘decide’ for Christ when this is patently untrue. They are given the last word in their own eternal destiny. Such invitations are a massive stumbling block to those seeking peace with God and lead to abortive professions of faith. Anyone who has worked for any time in these circles will know this to be true. People are sent off in the wrong direction. What should be impressed upon them is their totally hopeless and lost condition: and their complete inability to do anything to change this state of affairs. Many for years afterwards, who believe quite sincerely that they are Christians as a result of such a ‘decision’ or by ‘asking Christ into their life’, are left resting on a false hope rooted in an act of will on their part, a totally disastrous mistake to make. It may be a delusion they carry with them to their deathbed only to be lost at the end. Both of the above expressions are not found in the Scriptures and they are quite alien to them in their ethos and teaching. The deep tragedy is that such people drift along imagining all is well when the opposite applies and sadly Churches today are stuffed full of such people. They would be very different places were this not so.

Only when we completely give up on ourselves, only when we despair of ourselves, does the realization dawn upon us that salvation is in every way beyond our powers to obtain. It is entirely of God. For as long as we are persuaded that there is the least thing that we can contribute in gaining salvation, we shall not find it.

We must be humbled before God in this way, for when we are so inclined God has already begun His work. Only those who then depend upon His goodwill, waiting upon Him to work within, who prayerfully seek a Saviour to trust in the Scriptures, only such are anywhere near to experiencing the grace of God and salvation. Only they will cry out instinctively as did blind Bartimaeus: “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me”. When told to keep quiet, he only cried the louder. That soul, when in desperation, cries out even more loudly: Thou Son of David, have mercy on me. Bartimaeus’ cry caused Jesus to stand still. God ‘stands still’, as it were, when He hears the desperate cries of needy sinners and grants their requests. Bartimaeus needed no persuading of his helpless plight, he recognized in Jesus, the Messiah, the King, the Saviour of men. He was persuaded of His goodness and mercy. His was a cry of despair but not without hope, also of implicit faith towards Christ (see Mark 10:46-52). Even in the very moment he called out, he knew the Lord Jesus could and would assist him.

Finally, as our salvation is completely dependent upon the working of God alone, this means that apart from Him what we do is not good but is intrinsically evil and is of no help whatever in salvation. It is true that there are many kind and loving folk about, many of whom make no profession of faith in Christ. It is surely true that it must be better that we are all honest rather than dishonest, all kind rather than cruel, and so on. Despite this, whilst we should not diminish the relative goodness many demonstrate, these good works or ‘righteousnesses’, positive though they may appear, are of no help in making us acceptable to God. This is because we can produce nothing that will make us righteous before God or even contribute to it. But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). This clear teaching of Scripture is overlooked, even denied, but it must be shouted from the housetops. Only those will be saved who despair of themselves and are brought to nothing, whose confidence and faith rests in Christ alone for salvation. Those who balk at, those who rail against this teaching, will have experienced nothing of God’s grace for it comes only to those who have given up on themselves. Why otherwise would they be in need of God’s grace? What other meaning can we give to grace?
“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Romans 11:6)

It can only be the self-righteous who object because they condemn self-desperation and hope to have something left for themselves to do, but in so doing they demonstrate their own reprobation and ignorance of the Gospel. They remain proud enemies of God’s free grace. There is one clear reason for insisting on this teaching and it is that those who fear God, being humbled, might call upon God and receive His grace and salvation through faith in His Son ― thus the glory may be God’s and no mere man may think to share in it.

When God works in us to bring new life where before was death, things operate very differently. The will has been transformed by the Holy Spirit. It responds willingly. Its direction changes and that which it once craved, it now hates; and that which it once hated, it now desires. It remains unshaken by all opposition to its new stance. The more those touched by God’s Spirit are opposed, yet more it drives them to desire to do that which is righteous before God. As any fading and dying embers in a fire are blown into life by a gentle breeze, in the same way the driving, all-consuming compulsion now within is fanned into a living flame by the wind of opposition.

 

Right with God, but without our own works

 

Our right standing with God is not established by our own exertions, nor even by that which God works in us, what we may become, but by that which He has done for us in Christ, apart from us and our behalf. Righteousness exists without the works of the Law, how much more then without the exertions of our will? This demolishes all moral work as being of standing before God or contributing in any way to our relationship with God.
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

Not only do we as Christian believers receive pardon for sins on the basis of what Christ has done by shedding His blood, in addition we receive by faith as a gift the righteousness of Christ accounted to us in the place of our own filthy rags of righteousness. It is the work of Christ on the cross objectively and His righteousness objectively, not our own works that we have done, not even the righteousness that God works in us, but Christ’s own righteousness apart from us that He puts to our account that justifies us before Him. All is a gift of His grace; all comes to us by faith. Not only can we never meet God’s righteous demands, there is no need for us to even attempt to do so. Christ has done all that is necessary for us on our behalf.

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Only by setting aside all that we originate ourselves and by trusting completely and utterly in the merits of our faithful Saviour alone can we be saved.

 

The righteousness of God

 

Any suggestion that salvation can be in the least based on personal merit must be emphatically rejected. It is gross error and contrary to the teaching of the Bible. Such a proposition will generally begin with a faulty understanding of the real nature of the human will.
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)

The Gospel of Christ throughout Scripture is the proclamation of the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, merited and procured alone through His death.
“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

Through the death of Christ things are turned around for all who believe in Him. Once we were dead in trespasses and sins, now we are dead to sins. Not simply is it that we have pardon for sin, but we are made to be before God as though we never ever had any sins at all. Why should we try to cobble together our own righteousness to bring before God, when God also puts Christ’s perfect righteousness to our account? It is an insult to God. Furthermore, being already made acceptable before God by virtue of Christ’s work, now relieved of the need to produce our own righteous works, yet we have the potential not to continue in sin but to live a life that is pleasing to Him.

 

Knowing the love of God

 

“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3)

Knowing God in this verse is more than intellectual cognition; it speaks of salvation. The natural man in and of himself is not able to comprehend or to accept Christian truth. He is  devoid of spiritual life. He is insensible to the realities of the spiritual world and is in no position to receive the things of God.
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

Eternal life is light and knowledge. Godlessness is darkness and ignorance. This knowledge comes as the effect of regeneration within the soul, when translated from darkness to light. We need a new heart and mind, if we are to understand anything spiritual.
“In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
“We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you.” (Colossians 1:3)
The whole soul ― mind, emotion, and will all need regeneration.

Every single natural birth is preordained by God, as is every spiritual birth. Every single event in history, in fact, is an enactment of the eternal counsel of God. This does not mean in any sense that as a result God treats us like a block of stone. Quite the contrary, what God desires above from us above all else is our unfettered and unconditional love. The great end of all His work of grace is that He might have a people for Himself who understand and reciprocate His love for us. Love is not something that is obtained by cold coercion.
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (I John 4:10)

God has first demonstrated His love towards us in that He who was God and was with God from the beginning (John 1:1) in unfathomable love dies for us individually on the cross.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
God longs to see that day when His love in us, then fully perfected, shall be glorified in us.
“The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:5-6)

God knows from eternity into whom His light will shine, who will be the recipients within of His grace and love. We were never unknown to God, only discovered with the passage of time and then assessed as to whether we were worthy or unworthy of His grace. That is not the way God works. God does not stand before us as would a stranger. He created and ordained each and every one. He knows us altogether, better than we know ourselves.
“O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.”
(Psalm 139:1-6)

The work of God’s grace is eternal in character. The day of our natural birth, the day of our new and spiritual birth is also known to Him. It is not that God has neglected us between these two events. Quite the reverse, He has gently led us, watched over and cared for us each step of the way, provided for us, protected us until that moment we should find Him. Whilst His countenance may have been previously hidden from us, there He is is in the hour of His grace revealing Himself to us.

The salvation of the individual soul is an act of God’s grace within His eternal counsel that reaches its fulfilment and completion in our glorification before the throne of our Saviour.
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 31-2)

The preparation of God’s grace is not uncertain. God’s grace does not have a vague or unknown goal or outcome.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (Ephesians 1:3-5)

He chose us in Christ before we were, so that we would then come into being, and having come into being, He would lead us to Christ. Even when living in rebellion against Him and He was forced to turn His back on us, yet His hand still led us until we found a Saviour.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:28-29)

This is nothing cold and distant, but an act of love shedding itself abroad in our hearts. Passing over many obstacles and much resistance and opposition this love that does not stop until it pours itself out in our heart. It is not our love, but His through His grace He makes us understand and brings us to drink and taste of that love.

 

Justification by faith alone

 

Sadly these days, fed on a diet of fluffy entertainment, empty emotionalism, and pop-style ‘worship’ ― all stones in the place of the bread of life― congregations are left ignorant of the basics of the faith. Serious Bible teaching on such matters as justification by faith has become almost extinct. Doctrine is perceived as divisive rather than edifying.  As a consequence, church members are left unable to identify error, apostasy, and left dangerously exposed to the enticement of alliances with the Roman Church. Those insisting upon sound doctrine are labelled inflexible, negative, even unloving and schismatic, although the Bible is full of doctrine from Genesis to Revelation. Professed conversion is often based on little more than misleading and meaningless expressions that have no basis in Scripture: ‘Let Jesus come into your heart’ or ‘Accept Christ as your personal Saviour.’

The biblical teaching about justification by faith answers the question as to how a holy God, who demands perfection and holiness in His creatures, is able to allow guilty sinners into His presence to have fellowship with Him.
“Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

First of all, the penalty for our sin and guilt must be paid in full. Second, God’s demand for perfect obedience and holiness must be met. What ought to be clear to us all is that we can do neither of these things. We need not only pardon for sin but also to stand as righteous before God if we are to receive the reward of eternal life. With respect to the penalty for sin, it is the expiatory death of our Saviour on the Cross that delivers the believing sinner from the punishment for sin we all justly deserve. With respect to our standing before God, it is the perfect obedience and righteousness of the Lord Jesus that God sees and not our own, bringing to us eternal life. At the moment of faith in Christ, God declares the sinner to be righteous and free from the penalty of sin on account of Christ.

Justification is not something that happens within us to change us. Nor is it a process that God begins within us to make us gradually more righteous. It is a judicial declaration by God that on the basis of Christ’s sacrificial death and perfect obedience believers are declared righteous. It is a serious error to imagine that justification is an operation God works in us; it is not. The Council of Trent perfectly describes the Roman Catholic teaching held to this day that justification is “not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of grace and gifts by which an unrighteous man becomes righteous.” This process, it is taught, may even continue after death in purgatory.
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)

The word ‘justify’ means to declare righteous not to make righteous. A judge does not make a criminal guilty, he only declares him to be so. Equally, he does not make him innocent, but declares him to be innocent. Something similar applies to our justification. God declares us righteous. There is no question here of soul being purified or of righteousness being poured in or infused such as is taught in the Roman Church. Justification is external to us and has nothing to do with making us subjectively righteous, making us thereby accepted with God. Rather than an infusion of righteousness, the Bible speaks of imputation, an important and significant difference. Sometimes the Bible also says negatively that a person’s sins are not imputed to him:
Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity” (Psalm 32:2).
“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)

The apostle Paul writes of Abraham’s faith, where Christ’s righteousness is accounted to him:
“And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Romans 4:22-24)
The removal of guilt and the imputation of righteousness happen at the same moment. Imputation means that God reckons the believing sinner as perfectly righteous on the basis of Christ’s righteousness even although he is not personally righteous. This is shown clearly by the fact that God declares the ungodly to be righteous.
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)
If ungodly men are regarded as righteous, it cannot be on the grounds of their personal character. It is also clear that justification does not consist of making anyone inherently holy as it is the ungodly who believe that are justified for Christ’s sake.
“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.   Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:24-26)

Justification is not being made righteous because no one can be saved by his own works or by keeping God’s Law. In addition, justification is also an instantaneous event not a process over many years. When a person believes he has eternal life.
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36)
 “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
Justification is something God does on His own. He removes the guilt of sin and clothes everyone who believes with Christ’s perfect righteousness.

Justification comes to us through faith. Faith is not the ground of justification. It is the means or route by which that which Christ has already accomplished for us comes to us. Faith is not something virtuous in itself causing God to justify us. We are not accepted by God because of our faith, but through or by means of faith. The Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are full of passages dealing with being justified by faith.
“Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)
“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)
 “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:22-28)
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
“But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11)
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
“And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” (Philippians 3:9)

Faith is the instrument laying hold of the Lord Jesus and His merits. Men are enabled to believe by God through His regenerating power. Receiving the gift of faith the person is enabled to believe in Christ and receiving all His benefits. Regeneration, or the gift of the new birth, comes alone from God. Faith, on the other hand, is not an act of God. God does not believe in Christ for salvation for us; we believe as sinners. However, it is of His grace that we are thus enabled to believe, but faith is something we do whereby we rest solely upon Christ for salvation. Nevertheless, faith cannot be construed as a meritorious work of man it is the gift of God. We are accepted with God not because of our faith, but because of the Lord Jesus. He is the object of our faith. We are saved by believing not for believing. True faith always looks away to the Lord Jesus alone. We are saved as we cry out to Him for mercy, believing He will save us. That cry itself has been enabled by God. The conviction that we know God saves in Christ likewise has been given by God.

There are many who consider themselves Christians, but they have no real understanding of the biblical meaning of faith. Without doubt, most who call themselves ‘Christians’ know little or nothing of saving faith. Some think of faith as a leap in the dark, not knowing what lies on the other side. Others see it as believing something that cannot be proven by reason, is absurd or illogical. Yet another view sees faith as mental assent to something that may or may not be true ― faith is a risk. Biblical faith knows nothing of probability only certainty.
“For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” (Job 19:25-26) I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. (2 Timothy 1:12)
Biblical faith is assurance, certitude, confidence.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

This verse means that genuine Christians believe implicitly what they read in the Scriptures although they have not seen anything of the historical events or miracles described there. Some try to draw a distinction between believing in the person of Christ and His written word. This is, of course, doesn’t make any sense. If we trust and believe in Christ, we shall also believe every word He has given. Faith in the Word of God is faith in Christ. We believe Jesus to be the Christ because God has given testimony in Scripture that this is who He is. We believe the promises in Scripture and in God’s ability to perform them; we believe everything He has revealed about Christ and His work.

Not everyone who claims he ‘believes in Jesus’ has saving faith. There are many who believe in a Christ who does not exist, who is a figment of their own imagination, is not the Christ of the Scriptures. Those who deny the doctrine of Christ as taught in Scripture worship another Jesus, believe another Gospel, have a misdirected faith and such faith cannot save. Another Christ is no Christ at all, no Saviour.
Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. (2 John 9)
There are those who confess the Lord Jesus with their lips, but deny Him by their actions. From the epistle of James it is clear that faith that does not demonstrate its reality by godly works afterwards is no faith.
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:14, 17)

Dead faith also presents itself as cold orthodoxy, accepting a series of doctrinal statements as being true. Demons possess this kind of knowledge and belief in the truth of the Gospel, but they certainly have no personal and saving trust in Christ.
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. (James 2:19)
Demons know and believe the truth, but hate Christ. This kind of faith accepts that the Scriptures are true, but knowledge or mere intellectual assent is not trust. Many go through the motions, but do not really believe. Ask them whether they are Christians and they will say they are, but by the way they live they deny everything they confess with their lips.

There are many who start well, full of enthusiasm, excited about hearing the Gospel and trusting Christ, but then their faith trails off and dies.
They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. (Luke 8:13)
These types go to Church, get involved, but after a time they return to their old sinful ways’. Maybe they give up after some difficulty or problem presents itself. Everything they profess is superficial, unreal, they are not genuine believers.
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (1 John 2:19)
Such ‘faith’ comes from a still unregenerate heart.
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.(Hebrews 3:12)

The faith that saves, although we are told in Scripture it is an act of man, comes to us as a direct consequence of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. That which is worked by the Holy Spirit cannot fail. Reading the Word of God brings about conviction of sin as the Holy Spirit illumines its pages. Convinced of the truth of Scripture and the Gospel in particular, he will place his trust in the Christ revealed in Scriptures.
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Saving faith does not come about as a result of the persuasive words of men, philosophical argument, historical or scientific proofs, but alone from the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit.

 Saving faith presumes some knowledge of the Gospel as revealed in Scripture. No trust can be placed in a Christ, in a Gospel of which one knows nothing.
“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? … So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:14, 17)
Can a person believe when he or she does not know what is meant by God, or Christ being the Son of God? Can they believe when definitions of God, Christ, sin, salvation, and much more are based on human speculation instead of the Christian Scriptures? There are those who ask how little it is necessary to know in order to believe and view doctrine as off-putting and not significant. Instead of asking how little teaching is necessary we ought to be expounding the Gospel as broadly as we can. Instead of winding people up with emotion in Christian gatherings so that they hardly know to what they are committing themselves, there ought to be good and straightforward preaching of the Word of God.

Knowledge on its own is not sufficient. Many have a good grasp of the Gospel and the Bible, but do not believe. Many who been brought up on the Gospel have rejected it. Saving faith believes the Word of God implicitly. But neither is it simply a mental acceptance of the truth of the Gospel revealed in Scripture. Saving faith drives us to rely with total confidence upon Christ alone in the sure hope of salvation, relying upon His meritorious work and nothing of our own works, receiving His gracious promises, knowing that He is ours and we are His. The focus must be on Christ and not upon our faith, He it is who saves us.

"And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:13)

 

Finally

 

The very idea of a Christian having no regard for sin, of treating it lightly now all sins are dealt with, continuing as before, is utterly unthinkable. Paul also begins to explain how sin, the flesh, has no ultimate hold over us. Few professing Christians these days have any real understanding of justification. Fewer still know anything about sanctification, or how we should progress in Christian living. Many never give the matter a thought, or do not even care. It is a topic seldom spoken of, and then only very reluctantly and in confused terminology often riddled with error. It is far better not to raise any issues that will make any practical change to our lives or single us out as being different from those around us!

First and foremost, it needs to be stated most clearly that those who show indifference to personal sin are not just weak or so-called ‘carnal’ Christians, or even inconsistent ones, they are not Christians at all.
“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (2 Corinthians 6:9-11)
This passage excludes: idolaters, adulterers, sodomites, homosexuals, swindlers, thieves, drunkards and plainly says that anyone whose life is characterized by any such sinful behaviour should not be received as Christians. All too often they are. Those who continue throughout their lives to be ruled by such sins, not even seeking deliverance, know nothing of salvation.

It is unthinkable that we should be indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit and yet lead unholy lives.
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (Romans 8:9)
There are many who, believing their sins to be pardoned, now pay scant or no attention whatever to how they should be living. Their own self-centred desires, ambitions and aggrandizement always take priority over everything else. Inevitably, they view with disdain and even despise those who do seek to live differently. Of course, it exposes them to a charge of hypocrisy. Their thought is, the premium has been paid on a heavenly insurance policy and ‘we are all Christians now’. In many circles to raise doubts about personal salvation on any grounds is cardinal sin far worse than ungodly living. Yet, many are standing on a very shaky foundation. Say the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and we can all relax, nothing more to worry about, the convert is won and on the road to heaven, no need to worry about anything else, move on to the next. After this nothing is to be questioned. Wrong, so wrong. Every profession of faith needs to be set under the searchlight of God’s Word.

All too often there is little to distinguish professing Christians from those around them. Nothing has really changed. Their interests and general way of life continue in much the same way as they always did. Rather than demonstrating that they live under the authority of Christ and His written Word, their lives are much the same as any other relatively good-living, decent, upright citizens of the realm. However, if we claim that there has been within us a divine work of God, there will be something about us that cannot be reproduced by those whose lives are ruled by the flesh. Even as the wonders performed by Moses in Egypt could only be replicated up to a point, equally there will be some qualities about Christian believers that cannot be imitated by unbelievers however hard they may try. The Christian life can only be faked to a certain degree. Like whitewashing coal, eventually the black underneath will show through.

If we have truly trusted Christ for salvation, then there will be inevitable changes, some immediate, some more gradual. Thieves will stop thieving, gamblers will stop gambling, drunkards will stop drinking, adulterers will repent, the dishonest will become honest, liars stop lying, gossips and evil-speakers will stop their tittle-tattle, homosexuals and sodomites will change their lifestyle, the arrogant will now show godly humility and meekness, and so on. Positively, there will be an ever-increasing love for God, for His Word, and something often overlooked — also for fellow believers, seeking their good. We will turn from being men-pleasers to God-pleasers, living in utter submission to Him and receiving without question the authority of His Word. If there has been no such outward change, if these things are missing, if everything carries on much as before, there is then no evidence whatever of a genuine inward change of heart and experience of Christ.

David W. Norris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Articles

THE SCRIPTURES

ROMAN CATHOLICISM

CREATION & EVOLUTION

EDUCATION AND THE FAMILY

HISTORICAL

THE CHURCH

PROPHECY

CURRENT AFFAIRS

CIVIL AUTHORITIES

MISCELLANEOUS

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