Loving & Pursuing Christ

Two weeks into January… how ya doing?

The new year always begins with a wide-eyed hope and a giddy optimism as we imagine the many opportunities ahead of us. The ills of the previous year seem to fall away and only the shiny potential of a blank slate remains. Our future is so bright, we have to wear shades.

Perhaps one of your “new year’s resolutions” was to draw near to God or “get back into church.” Wishing to fill a void you sense was missing in 2021, you are determined to nurture your faith in the upcoming year. Please, allow me to celebrate your decision and praise God for the desire you have to know Him more throughout this upcoming year! I am excited for you and hope you will indulge me as I offer you some encouragement.

A healthy relationship with the Lord is cultivated as we nurture three loves.

The first love we must pursue is a love for His Word. This love is foundational and formational to the other two loves we will want to cultivate. The true child of God longs for the pure milk of God’s Word (1 Peter 2:2). God’s Word is our source of nourishment and knowledge. We are told that God’s Word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and that is sufficient to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

When Jesus prays for us in John 17, He prays that we would be sanctified (made holy like Him, directed in His ways, and instructed in godliness) by the truth. He then declares, “Your Word is truth.” (John 17:17). Where the Bible speaks, God speaks, for it is breathed out by His very Spirit and reflects His very nature (2 Tim 3:16 & 2 Peter 1:21). The only way to know Jesus is to know God’s Word. To love God is to love His Word.

The next love we must pursue is the love of His people. John, the beloved apostle, declared that if we cannot love our brother who we can see then we do not love our God who we cannot see. (1 John 4:20) Much of the New Testament is directed toward instructing God’s people in how we are to abide together in love and unity – forgiving one another, praying for one another, deferring our preferences for one another, united together in love. (Rom 12:10, Gal 5:13, Eph 4:1-3, 6:18, Col. 3:13, James 5:16)

If we are to love God, we must cultivate a love for His people. This is how love for God is made visible. Are the bonds we have in Christ greater than our musical tastes, worship preferences, cultural background, and political ideologies? If our choice of church (or the commitment to our church) is determined by anything other than the love we have for God and His people, then our relationship with our Heavenly Father will be compromised and distant. But, if we can learn to sacrifice our pride and preferences in love for His people and His kingdom, then we will grow in the likeness of our Savior, who humbled Himself in obedience to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:8)

The final love we want to develop, in addition to a love for His Word and a love for His people, is a love for His mission. Is our heart’s desire to know Him and to make Him known? Because the more we know Him, the more we will want others to taste and see that our Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8) Knowing God enlivens passions for His glory and promotes energies for worship. What greater expression of worship is there than to declare His excellencies and wonders and perfections? What greater accomplishment could we achieve than to have others praise and honor Jesus because of something we said or did?

You and I will find no greater joy, we will experience no greater fulfillment than to know we are serving God’s purposes and promoting His glory. (John 4:34)

While much more can be said on these three loves, I hope what has been said will spur you along in pursuit of the love of God – a love reflected by a love for His Word, a love for His people, and a love for His mission. If there is anything else I do to help you along this journey, please reach out by leaving a comment or sending an email.

God bless & Happy New Year.

2021 – Hope & the New Year

“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” – Revelation 21:5

A New Year has begun and it is clear that this year’s celebration has a unique element to it. There is a pervasive sense of “good riddance” that has not been a part of previous years.

I get it. 2020 has been, um… noteworthy.

2020 has witnessed a full measure of hardship and difficulty. And while, admittedly, this past year has been harder than those of recent memory, it has hardly been hardship “on a scale hitherto undreamt of.”

World Wars, Great Depressions, presidential assassinations, natural disasters, and national turmoil are just a sampling of the challenges that have cycled through our history. Every generation faces memorable and defining moments. For this generation, 2020 has been such a moment… and it won’t be the last.

This is not to downplay the challenge 2020 has been (challenges that are not over), but to help frame our experience on a larger scale. 2020 has been labeled “unprecedented,” when in reality it has simply been unique to our experience. We do well, for faith and maturity, to reflect appropriately on these past 10 months. And we do far better to ground our hopes rightly in 2021.

However, far more importantly than evaluating the past year appropriately, is anticipating the New Year honestly.

Our hope cannot be that 2020 is done and 2021 is here. It’s not as if buying a new planner washes away the difficulty of our present circumstance. Reality, unlike desk calendars, cannot simply be recycled and forgotten. For those trusting that this year is not last year, hope will continue to be perpetually postponed until circumstances change.

The New Year is not a simple reset. It’s not as if all the bad is flushed and a new blank slate merely looks up at us with no blemishes and endless promise. This view of hope cannot last for ill marks come early and the hollow promise of empty optimism is quickly revealed.

However, for those whose hope is in the preservation of a faithful God, hope never truly wanes. While our ability to hold onto that hope may at times waver, the substance of our hope only grows.

A christian’s hope is an enduring hope. It perseveres through hardship. And therein lies the great promise of the New Year — not in the promise of an unblemished calendar, but in our confidence in His unblemished record.

The same God who has seen us through this past year will see us through the next. Comforted by His past faithfulness, we take courage in His ability to lay hold of us. His power and goodness have been clearly demonstrated, so we have a renewed confidence for the coming year. In this way, the New Year stirs our hope as we pursue the potential of His purposes into this new year.

So… HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Let us be reminded (and remind one another) of the hope that we have before us. A hope that is so much deeper than merely turning the page on a bad year and wishing for a better one.

Our God and Father has seen fit to give us another year, a year that holds all the promise and hope of his plans and purposes. And just as He has proven Himself faithful in the past, He will carry us through into the future.

The New Year doesn’t bring a new hope, but a renewed hope in our faithful God. Our calendar may change but our confidence does not.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Why Jesus Came…

We are hungry for something REAL.

We want to know what’s real, to create something meaningful, to experience something that lasts, and to accomplish something significant.

…something pure. true. you know: real.

We were created for more than this world has to offer. That’s why the things of this world seem so empty — they were never intended to bear the weight of our identity and significance. It’s not that some of these things can’t be goodl they can. But when we invest too much of ourselves into them, when we give them our hope and security and trust, they will fail us every time. We may not understand it, but we feel the reality of eternity written on our hearts.

We were created for more and we long to experience that for which we are made.

Jesus came to show us what’s real. To show us the truth. To let us know what is lasting and meaningful… to show us what matters.

“For this purpose I was born and
for this purpose I have come into the world—
to bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37)

Jesus came to testify to the truth…

The truth about the Kingdom.

Standing before Pilate, Jesus is explaining that His Kingdom is not of this world. There is more going on here than Pilate can see and understand. Christ’s Kingdom, while unseen, is greater, more significant, and more lasting than anything visible.

So, we are called to live not for the temporary things that are seen, but for the unseen and eternal things that Christ offers.

The truth about God.

Jesus came to “bear witness” or “to testify.” In other words, Jesus came to preach.

This should not surprise us. After all Jesus was “the Word made flesh.” Who else would a God send, but “the Word”?? This is a God who refuses to be captured in image, but instead reveals Himself through words.

This is the big contrast the prophets make between idols who can be seen and a God who cannot: mute idols who cannot hear or act vs. an invisible God who speaks, hears, and acts on behalf of those who love Him.

Our God is a speaking God. A self-revealing God. A God who determines and proclaims truth.

Hebrews 1 tells us that, int he past, God has spoken in many ways, but now He has spoken most perfectly and finally through His Son, the Lord Jesus.

The truth about us.

Jesus confronted our hypocrisy, our idolatry, and our desire to control our own lives and make our own fate.

The reality is we are NOT in control.

Even Pilate (who seems to be in control here) is told by our Savior that he would have no power over Him unless His Father has given it to Him.

We are not in control. Knowing the real Kingdom and understanding real, unseen, and eternal truth gives us confidence int he midst of uncertainty. We do not have to hold onto or put our trust in the things of this world. Even our very lives cease to become dear to us as we seek to invest all we are and all we have for His Kingdom.

Because God is worthy, faithful, just, loving, powerful, and soveriegn, we do not have to fear offering everything to Him.

The truth about the gospel.

Sinful man, blind to the truth – even hostile toward it! – is met by a holy God who speaks to Him and offers truth. More than that, He offers ears to hear the truth and a new heart which can accept it.

The world stumbles to find purpose; our friends and co-workers search for identity. Others try to rise above the mundane and grab hold of some greater purpose or mission or cause.

Meanwhile God is calling…

Come here!! Listen to me! I have placed eternity in your hearts, I have placed my image on your soul, and I alone see you – love you – and know what will satisfy you.

Will you surrender to Him today?

Trust Him and His Truth. Rest in Christ and the salvation He offers. Receive the Spirit as you yield your spirit to Him, treasuring and trusting Him above all else.

“Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD
that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:6–9)

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (John 15:3–8)

🍁 Happy Thanksgiving 🍁

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers… (Ephesians 1:16)

Of all the things I am most thankful for this year, I thank God for my faith family – my local church.

While this year has been burdened with unusual challenges, I have witnessed the grace of God overflowing in the lives of so many who call fbc home.

Members have motivated to serve one another, check on one another, and continue in prayer for one another.

Members have stepped up to serve, learned new technology, put in additional hours, and sought new ways to connect.

I have been personally and directly encouraged by the gracious spirit and understanding that has been displayed as we seek to operate and minister in a context nobody has experienced before.

By God’s grace, even during these challenging times, we have been able to hire new staff, approve a new budget, and continue to reach out in limited ways to our community.

On top all all this… we have the confidence and comfort of being children of God – bought by His blood, brought into His Kingdom, adopted into His family, and protected by His power.

Even in 2020, grace abounds and blessings outweigh challenges. I pray this year, whatever your celebrations look like, that you experience the reality of the Lord’s blessing, and comfort, and mercy, and provision, and hope.

Happy Thanksgiving.

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4)

Why Jesus Came…

This past Sunday we began a series for the holidays entitled, “Why Jesus Came.”

We will be taking the next ten weeks to explore the reasons Scripture gives us for the birth, life, and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reason #1 – “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8)

The Apostle John makes clear in his first letter that Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil.”

“The works of the devil”????

I don’t know what you think of when you hear “the works of the devil,” but John is very clear as to what he means. The work Jesus came to destroy is the work that has left humanity in bondage to sin through deception and false promises.

Jesus came to set us free from sin so that we can experience the abundant life of righteousness and closeness to God.

We cannot continue in sin and claim to abide in Christ.

We cannot make a habit of sinning and belong to the Father.

Forgiveness in Christ is not a license to sin more so that grace abounds. (Paul condemns this logic in Romans.) Jesus came to work back the curse that Mankind earned in the garden. Jesus came to undo the work of Satan’s deception, to undo the rebellion, and to undo enmity with God. He came to bring reconciliation, hope, and peace.

Jesus did not come so that we could be free to sin;

Jesus came that we might be free from sin.

He came that we might be given a new nature, one free of Satan’s tyranny, a nature set free from the bondage of sin, its influence, and its consequences.

In Christ, we are forgiven and free. We are forgiven from the penalty of sin so that we can experience the freedom of walking with Christ in righteouness and truth.

Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil… to set us free from sin so that we can walk in righteousness and life, exposing the enemy’s schemes, and proclaiming freedom to those who have been blinded by lies and enslaved to sin.

That is Why Jesus Came.

Who Can Be Saved?

You may be surprised to know that this question has been asked in some form or fashion since the time of the early church.

The concern in the early church was whether those outside Judaism could experience the full promise of a Jewish Messiah. The reason why there are multiple “Pentecost” experiences as the gospel begins to expand was to illustrate definitively that the gospel was for all peoples. The book of Acts settles this question and Paul also clarifies it in his writings. 

“The gospel and salvation are for everyone,” says the Holy Spirit.

“But you have to become Jewish first!  …or at least be circumcised!” insisted the Judaizers.

But Paul, the Apostle, writing under the Holy Spirit, declared, “No.”  And the other apostles agreed at the Jerusalem Council.

A person does not need to “clean themselves up” first.  There is no “getting your house in order.”  There are no prerequisites to salvation!  In fact, the gospel forbids that you try to be worthy, and it denies that you can do anything to be earn it.

So, who can be saved? 

Anyone who repents of their sin and believes in the gospel.  Anyone. 

Pick anyone from any country, from any background, speaking any language, of any ethnicity, of any occupation, anywhere on the socioeconomic spectrum, with any religious background… AND if they will receives the gospel through repentant faith, they can and will be saved.

Anyone.  N. E. One. 

Or to put it another way: NOBODY is exempt.  NO ONE is beyond the reach of God’s saving arm.

The apostle Paul, himself, (previously known as Saul) serves as a posterchild for this transformation.  Paul considered himself to be the least of the apostles and the greatest of all sinners.  Indeed, Saul was a terrorist, a religious terrorist who hunted down Christians and sought to lock them up in prison.

But God interrupted Saul’s plans.  In the middle of a terrorist campaign, the resurrected Christ intervened, stopping Saul in his tracks, blinding him, and sitting him in time out for three days.  Having invaded Saul’s life, Jesus would now begin to re-orient his heart to the gospel.

Saul’s mind could not have been less inclined toward the gospel.  His life could not have been any more in opposition to Christ.  If you were searching all of Palestine for the least likely candidate for salvation, you would have probably chosen Saul, the Pharisee.  In fact, “unlikely” would have been a gross understatement.

While more could be said here, we can sum up our answer this way:

1. ANYBODY can be saved. Period.

No qualifiers.  No caveats.  We’ve expounded this point already, but we’ll say it one more time.  In bold print. For those at the back.

This is the clearest, most concise, ultimate answer to the question, “Who can be saved?”  But, for the sake of clarity, let’s offer two corollary applications.

2. EVERYBODY must be offered salvation.  Because anyone can be saved, we pray for God to save souls – not merely generically but specifically.  We pray earnestly, daily, and urgently for unbelievers by name that they might embrace Christ by faith.

And praying for the salvation of souls, we also pray for opportunities to share the gospel,  and because we expect Him to answer those prayers, we watch for opportunities and then we make the most of the opportunities we see.

Finally…

3. NOBODY is excluded.  We are allowed to give up on NOBODY.  No one is “too lost,” “too hard,” “too stubborn,” “too opposed,” or “too _______” for the gospel.

If anything… N. E. THANG. …in your life or theology causes you to cease praying for others’ salvation, anything that robs you of the urgency of sharing your faith, anything that would deny salvation to anyone for any reason, then you should repent and seek change in that area immediately.  Leave a comment on this post or reach out to me directly; I would be more than willing to help you work through whatever issue it is.

This reality concerning salvation is intended to be encouraging.  So…

BE ENCOURAGED!!!

As long as there is life in a body, their soul can be saved.

Keep praying for that son, daughter, spouse, parent, best friend.

I know it’s been years, perhaps even a lifetime, but God can and does save.  He saves at young ages and He saves later in life.  It doesn’t matter what age, how determined, how angry, how opposed… when God shines the light of the gospel in someone’s heart, darkness is dispelled, eyes open, hearts receive, and lives are transformed.

Trust the Holy Spirit. God is working where we cannot see.

Keep praying.  Keep loving.  Keep sharing.

What About Those Who Fall Away?

Over the past several years, we have witnessed a number of well-known church leaders leave the faith.  For some that means theological compromise due to cultural capitulation and for others it means a false teaching, and for still others it has been a complete abandonment of faith.

While these episodes feed confusion and cause discouragement, these are not the most unsettling stories.  It’s the personal stories that don’t make headlines that shake us up the most: friends that used to go to our youth group, a co-worker whose faith encouraged us a year ago, or even a mentor that first shared the gospel with us.  These are the stories that cause more than confusion, they cause deep pain and sorrow.

How are we supposed to process these stories?  What does it mean for those who walk away?  Are they saved?  Did they lose their salvation?  The fear and doubt generated by these experiences can be overwhelming. 

Again.  No easy answers.  Each story is different.  Each person an individual, their circumstances and decisions are complex.  Thankfully, there are some handles we can reach for so that we can navigate this issue with faithfulness and clarity.

1. Our responsibility is to engage one another with truth in love.

It is not our job to determine if someone is saved or was saved.  Neither are we given the task of gauging the authenticity of someone’s faith.  What we are called to, our God-given responsibility is to speak truth to one another, encouraging one another, offering guidance and warning and even correction.

Faith is a team sport.  Holiness happens in relationship… yes, a relationship with God, but that divine relationship is demonstrated in our relationships with others.  We cannot say we love God whom we cannot see if we do not love our brother whom we can see (1 John 4:20).  Even so, we build relationships, offer friendship, ask questions, invest time, and build one another up in the faith.

2. We must acknowledge our limitations and weaknesses. 

We do not have perfect perception. We are subject to error.  More than error, we can be lead astray by our own experiences and deceived by our own sinful feelings.  Therefore we must be gracious in our assumptions and slow to draw conclusions.  We seldom have the whole story (especially if we have only heard one perspective), and our judgment can be clouded by bias and emotion.  There is a reason the Bible encourages us to submit to one another and to require more than one witness when considering accusations.

3. We can only engage the reality before us. 

As we seek to live our faith alongside one another in community, we must resist the temptation to speculate on situations, to fear hypothetical motivations, or to feed imaginations with worry.  Discernment, concern, and possibility all have their place, but we must guard against over-reaction and premature judgment.  These are not only counter-productive, they can be unloving and sinful (as previously mentioned).

Doing life in genuine community is an investment.  We must commit to believing the best about one another and seeing Christ work His plan in one another for His glory.  When correction is needed or suspected, we then come humbly and gently to deal with what we see, not what we suspect or fear.

4. As long as we have breath, the story is not over. 

Most judgements we are tempted to make this side of eternity are premature.  As long as someone is still walking on this earth, their story remains under development.  

When someone walks away from the faith, we cannot know in that moment what this behavior ultimatley means or how they will finally finish their course.  It could be that they are leaving the church and the faith as evidence that they were never born again (1 John 2:19).  It is also possible that they are experiencing a deep struggle and a dark season of the soul.  They might be saved but experiencing a season of disobedience or “desert wandering.” 

Only time will reveal if the Lord’s hand will remain on them and eventually turn them back to the way.

4. Remember the difference between hope and assurance. 

When all is said and done, we can only acknowledge what see God doing in one another’s lives.  When we see the fruit of righteousness on display in one another’s life, we should celebrate, affirm, and encourage. 

When we see a believer turn from the way, their godly affections wane, and their love grow cold, we are called pursue, inquire, and intervene. 

When we witness these dark seasons of the soul, our hearts become heavy and we don’t know what to pray.  Do we pray that our sister return to the faith?  Do we pray for the salvation of our brother?  Do we talk to our friend about returning to faithfulness or about coming to salvation?

How do we make sense of this??  We may not be willing (or able) to say with any degree of certainty that our friend is not saved, but we certainly cannot say int he moment that he or she is. 

In these times it is understandable, and I would say appropriate for us to acknowledge a lack of assurance regarding the salvation of another as they walk through a period of extended and willful disobedience.  However, we must never lose hope.

There is always hope that their faith was genuine and that they will come back to it because God is faithful.  There is always hope that they might come to faith as if for the first time because God is merciful and good.

Even when assurance is minimal, hope remains.  Assurance is grounded on the visible work of God and the evidence of grace.  Hope is anchored to the faithfulness and mercy of God.

So, pray as you are burdened.  Pray for your friend as you understand their situation.  Pray all possibilities as you throw your hope on the altar of His sovereignty, submitting your uncertainty before His omniscient throne.

Hold onto hope and ask Him to hold onto you.  If our perseverance was dependent on our strength, we would all fall so we must pray for each other in humility as we trust others to pray for us.

How Can I Know I Am Saved?

Having established a basic biblical understanding of salvation, we are now ready to wrestle with a few specific questions.

Perhaps the most asked and most personal question is, “How can I know that I am saved?” This is the issue of assurance.

Whether you ask this question for yourself or are asked it by another person, we must resist the temptation of rushing toward comfort and affirmation of the individual (or ourselves).

The goal cannot be comfort or affirmation or even assurance (for assurance’s sake).  The goal must be truth.  We must engage in the difficult heart work of seeking truth and searching thoughtfully so as to answer biblically. Only then can we best care for the soul who is asking the question.  If our goal becomes simply comforting an individual, we will rush ahead grabbing anything and everything we can only to make him or her merely feel better.

But that won’t make them better.

If are to bring true comfort and lasting encouragment, we must guard against these temptations (rushing toward assurance, risking truth for the sake of comfort), and navigate our way to authentic assurance by using these four reference points:

1. Assurance of salvation must not be grounded in ritual.

We must reduce the temptation ground assurance in a past religious ritual.  Now, this may be a good place to start.  If someone is asking “How can I know I am saved?’, and they have not yet confessed Christ in repentant faith, then we want to make the gospel clear and offer them an opportunity to repent and believe. 

In this way, going back to or looking for a salvation experience can be helpful, BUT to simply return to an experience and declare the matter settled is to reduce salvation to a religious formula or even a superstitious practice. While there is value in remembering a time where God met us and moved us, a time where we responded to His Word and encountered Him in a significant way, seeking assurance can begin here but it cannot end here.

2. Assurance of salvation must not be rooted in works.

If we (or someone we are talking with) has had a meaningful encounter with God and expressed a faith-response to the gospel, we must then ask, “Where is this doubt coming from?”  Is there depression or fear or insecurity waging war against our soul?  Or perhaps it’s an issue of sin that is causing doubts.

We must be careful here.  While the evidence of our lives serves as a valuable indicator of what is in our hearts, at the same time, we do not want to communicate in any way that salvation is of works.  It cannot be earned, maintained, or improved upon by our works.  We do not want to say “you said this, did this, and completed that, so you are saved.”  Neither do we want to say, “You cannot be saved and have done this, that, or the other.”

I trust this warning becomes clearer as we consider where assurance should rest (as opposed to where it cannot).

3. Assurance of salvation must be anchored to God’s faithfulness.

We have said that salvation is the work of God, therefore, we must find our assurance in His work and not our own. There are at least three anchor points to which we can attach our assurance.

Anchor point #1 – The unfailing promise of the Father.  Our Heavenly Father is a good Father who delights is giving good gifts.  He is generous, but, more than that, He is faithful.  When we doubt because of our sinful mistakes we are questioning His faithfulness. We are saved, and will remain saved, not because we are worthy or capable.  Our salvation is secure because God is faithful to His promises.  When we are struggling, when we feel weak, we cannot hope in our ability to “get it right next time.”  Our assurance is in the fact the “He who began a good work in us will be faithful to complete it.” (Phil 1:6) He is greater than our weakness; He is in this for the long haul and will not abandon us but will continue to shape us after His image. 

Anchor point #2 – The saving work of Christ.  The sacrifice of Christ on the cross purchased our salvation.  On the cross He said, “It is finished.”  We do not need to add self-loathing to Christ’s blood or sit in a spiritual “time-out” before the cross applies to us again.  If we sin, we have an advocate before the Father, and if we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  No waiting period! No additional fees.  Christ paid our debt IN FULL, so repent, believe, confess, and walk with Him again.

Anchor point #3 – The abiding fruit of the Spirit.  When we see the evidence of His work in our lives, it is encouraging and affirming.  Holiness and obedience are not our works offered in repayment for His gift of salvation.  Who seeks to repay anyone for a gift?!  No, obedience and holiness display His continuing work of salvation.  While there is a partnership with His Spirit as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” but it is ultimately Christ “who is at work both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  Here is where works come in, but they must be seen as fruit of His continued work in our lives not as our works so as to maintain His good favor.

4. Assurance of salvation should be affirmed among God’s people.

Finally, all this must be processed in the context of relationship and community.  What I am offering is not a 3-point check list by which you can score your salvation.  Checklists can be worked out privately, one-on-none, individually, on your own.  Faith, however, is a contact sport: life-on-life, in community, alongside brothers and sisters in the faith.  Every anchor point of biblical assurance must be reinforced by the strength of community.  Applying them to our own lives by our own wisdom under our own strength is like hanging shelves on finishing nails and sheetrock.  It might look good for a season, but it won’t hold anything of substance and is destined to fall.

I pray that we would walk in the community of the local church(es) he has placed us, strengthening one another in the faith with the truth. We should come together regularly in worship, but also around dinner tables and in living rooms, reminding one another of all that God has promised (anchor 1).  We need to remind one another of the sufficiency of Christ (anchor 2) so that we can pursue Him with freedom.  And then we can affirm and encourage one another by what we see God doing in our lives (anchor 3) – for our encouragement, for His glory, and for a witness to our neighbors.

Assurance is about far more than “Will I go to Heaven?”  It’s about what has God done? What is God doing? Where is He calling me? and how can I get there?  These are much more meaningful questions, and they have much more incredible, life-giving, soul-enlarging answers.

Understanding the Divine Nature of Our Salvation

Now, given our five foundational assumptions, let us begin building a frame of Biblical truth. If we are going to battle back confusion and fear, we must anchor deep in the Scriptures.

Specifically, if we lack assurance of salvation, if we are confused surrounding issues of salvation (can you lose it?), if we are fearful concerning those who appear to walk away from their salvation, then let’s study what the Bible says about salvation.

It seems a simple diagnosis: confusion over issues surrounding salvation are caused by misunderstandings about salvation.

So, here are some basic truths, clear truths concerning salvation on which we can begin to build a greater understanding: *

1. Being saved is not a one-time event.

The work of salvation is spoken of in three tenses: we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. Without expounding on the richness of each tense, let us just say for now that all three are the work of God.

In Christ, we have been saved from the penalty of our sin (Eph 2:8). He has died on a cross for our sin, removing our offense before a holy God, and has clothed us in His righteousness (2 Cor 5:21) so that we can by faith stand before God justified and in right standing with Him (Rom 5:1ff).

By His Holy Spirit, we are being saved (2 Cor 2:15-16) from the power of sin in our lives. Having been made new creations in Christ(5:17), we are being conformed into His image (Rom 8:29) one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor 3:18). Our minds are being renewed by His Word (Rom 12:2), our wills are being conformed to His will, and our perspective is being shaped by eternity (2 Cor 4:16-18). As we work out our salvation, God is at work in us, to will and to work His good pleasure, our sanctifying transformation toward holiness (Phil 2:12-13).

Finally, we will be saved at the end of the age (1 Peter 1:5) when the Father sends Jesus back to the earth to rescue His children. His angels will gather us from the four corners of the globe (Matt 24:31) and we will be caught up with Christ in the air (1 Thess 4:16). We will always be with the Lord, never to suffer the pains and temptations of sin. We will finally be like the Lord Jesus for we will see Him in His fulness (1 John 3:2).

2. From beginning to end, salvation is ultimately a work of God.

Each of these is the work of the Lord. God, through the Holy Spirit, brings conviction of sin unto repentance (John 16:8), takes up residence in our hearts (John 14:17), and seals us for the day of redemption (Eph 1:13). Every one the Father gives to the Son is secured by the Son (John 10:28-29) for He said He would not lose a single one (John 6:39). Every work the Lord begins, He promises to finish (Phil 1:6).

3. Salvation is by grace, through faith, and not by works. (Ephesians 2)

While we are saved for good works (v.10), we are not saved by good works (v.8-9). Salvation is wholly the work of grace demonstrated by faith apart from works. Salvation given by grace cannot be maintained by works (Galatians 3:1ff). If ever salvation can be achieved, maintained, or improved by works it is no longer of grace.

4. The grace that saves us works transformation within us.

Paul told Titus that grace trains us in holiness and faith, making us eager to produce good works (Titus 2:11ff). For all who are in Christ are new creations (2 Cor 5:17), producing spiritual fruit (Gal 5:22-23) to the glory of God (John 15).

5. Salvation is the gift of “eternal life.”
“Eternal life” by definition cannot be temporary. It is everlasting. When God saves someone it is a forever, unalterable act. We are moved from one kingdom to another, from one family to another, and one identity to another (John 1:12, 1 Pet 2:9-10). We are given a new family, a new citizenship, and a new nature (Eph 2:19). In salvation, we die to ourselves and our lives become hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). We die, no longer to live, and given a new life by faith in the Son of God (Gal 2:20). Having become like Him in His death we are raised to newness of life (Rom 6:3-4)… eternal, ever-lasting, never-ending life.

There is much more we can say about salvation. Yet, exploring and understanding these clear realities concerning salvation will help us wrestle through some of the other issues surrounding salvation and the questions that weigh heavily on our hearts because of painful experience.

When our experience creates questions and the answers seem to elude us, these clear gospel realities serve both to anchor us to the truth of God’s Word and provide handles by which we can seek answers. Answers to which we can explore next.


* Remember the “rule of faith” is that we use Scripture to interpret Scripture, and that clear, more easily understandable Scripture should be used to interpret less clear passages.

Wrestling With Tough Questions About Salvation

How do we know if someone genuinely accepts the gospel?

How can we know if we have genuinely accepted the gospel?

I believe the Scriptures speak clearly about salvation and yet many (too many) people are confused, discouraged, deceived, and even defensive about basic truths as they relate to salvation. Yet, God desires us to live confidently in our faith, assured in our salvation, and discerning as we experience life and reach out to others.

I am convicned that Scripture speaks clearly to tough questions such as:

  • How do I know if I’m saved?
  • How can I tell if someone is really saved?
  • Can a person lose his/her salvation?
  • What about those who fall away?

This week I hope to tackle a few of these questions. (You can help by asking questions in the comments.)

Be aware, though. The goal is not formulas and checklists.  There is no system or algorithm into which you can plug data and quatify your spirituality or someone else’s salvation.

If we are going to approach these issues biblically and find answers that makes sense, we must have the following handles by which we can grab hold and reach clarity.

1. God wants us to know Him and be confident in our salvation.

God is not a god of confusion (1 Cor 14) and He has spoken at large about salvation and how we can know we are His children.  The apostle John wrote in his first epistle so that we might “know that [we] have eternal life” (1 John 5:13, emphasis added).  His Word speaks so that we might be confident of His promises and our participation in them. Throughout the Biblical record it is clear that He does not intend for us to be uncertain of our status as His children.

2. We must rely on the Holy Spirit.

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”(Romans 8:16).  His Spirit seals us, intercedes for us, brings conviction, and empowers us for ministry.  The fruit of the Spirit displayed in our lives is another way we know we are saved.  Assurance of salvation is ultimately a work of the Spirit and not the product of a scorecard.  We must prayerfully, humbly, and earnestly rest in His Spirit.

3. We must prioritize God’s Word.

If we trust our experience, our reasoning, or our religious traditions we will continue to be confused, uncertain, disappointed, and discouraged.  God’s Word has everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), but we trust His declaration of truth over our perceptions of reality.

4. We must weigh the totality of Scripture.

This is a big issue with many facets.  We must look beyond reductionistic conclusions expressed in bumper-sticker theology based on our favorite verses.  We must look into the totality of God’s Word to shed light on these issues from every angle.  When we do the hard work of digging deep and thinking deeper, we will discover that Scripture offers three-dimensional solutions where we were only seeking one-dimensional answers.

5. We must wrestle in relationship.

Much of the New Testament was written to local churches encouraging them and guiding them to live faith together, seeking truth and glorifying God.  We need one another.  These issues were meant to be explored in the community of faith, the local church.  Much of our confusion is rooted in our self-sufficiency.  We have privatized our faith that was designed for communal expression.  True, our faith should always be personal, but it should never be private.  

God has always intended for our faith to be expressed in community and for our questions to be wrestled with in community.  Where we want checklists, God offers relationships.  He will not allow us to evaluate ourselves with a checklist; He wants us to submit ourselves to a people. 

With these handles we can not only wrestle with these questions but we will discover satisfying, encouraging, and faith-building answers.  But it’s going to require endurance and a lot of heavy lifting, so get yourself a team and let’s start digging.