A disciple of mine told me the other day, “Don, the way you talk about the gospel and how to explain it to others, uncovered my self-deception about my own salvation. I’ve known I did not have anything real, but I did not think there was anything more to being a Christian than saying the prayer and joining the church, then try to be good enough. Last night I understood the gospel for the first time, and I truly believed it with all my heart.”
There is probably nothing as important in this life we now live than getting the gospel correctly understood and then putting our total trust in it. The consequences of a misunderstanding are devastating.
Jesus said in Matthew 7:21-22, “”Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.'” (NLT)
They not only were followers of Christ but supposedly learned how to use His powers to effect inexplicable phenomena. However, Jesus next statement must stop everyone in their tracks: “But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” (Mat 7:23 NLT).
It seems evident that “many” have a sense of security or assurance of salvation that do not actually have a salvation relationship with Christ. It is all in their minds or imaginations, but is not a reality. We call these “nominal” Christians, that is, just in name alone, but not reality. It is like some couples pretend to be married, but really have never been married.
There have always been many superficial followers of Christ, who are not true believers. They are attracted to the benefits of using His name or faking their Christianity that they convince themselves that is all there is to religion.
How could they do miracles in Jesus’ Name, yet never be true believers? In Acts 8 Philip convinced an unbelieving miracle worker named Simon to “believe.” Simon became attracted to the miracles the Philip did instead of the Savior. He wanted the power to do more miracles (“Give me this power also, so that everyone I place my hands on may receive the Holy Spirit”—Ac 8:19NET). He was not interested in the abiding presences of Christ in every aspect of his life or making Him known. He was interested in making a respectable name for himself.
There were many false apostles and false prophets (2 Cor 11:13) who pretended to be “apostles of Christ” and who wanted to be “considered equal with us [the true apostles] in the things they boast about” (11:12). The tragedy is the many they deceive along the way.
Can true faith come without a clear understanding of the Word? Is believing in God’s power the same as saving faith? Throughout history defeated armies were convinced the victorious army had the more powerful God, so they were forced to convert to the most powerful One. If someone is convinced that Christ is the most powerful God, is that saving faith?
Many today, and throughout history, have seen visions of Christ, an angel, or Mary. Some have heard voices and genuinely believe that what they saw or heard was real, but is this saving faith? How many saw Jesus in person, even His miracles, but never believed in Him? Visions are not the same as faith, however real they may lead to a genuine faith, if they seek out the truth in the Word of God and trust it.
Is believing you are saved, the same as having saving faith? Or is this presumption? What is the difference? The answer is critical.
The following are some of the self-deceiving arguments that some use to convince themselves they are saved.
- I love to worship in praise services. Since only Christians love to worship I must be saved.
- I feel that I have a warm relationship with Christ, so I think I am saved.
- God answered my prayer and since God only answers the prayers of Christians I must be saved.
- God healed me and since He only heals Christians, I must be saved.
- God appeared to me in a vision therefore I must be a Christian.
- Everyone thinks I am a Christian, so I must be one.
False thinking, as well as false teachings, deceive many into thinking that whatever they believe (whether true or false) God will accept it because you are sincere. However, if you drink poison sincerely thinking it was pure water, you are sincerely wrong. You can be wrong in a lot of things in life, but you do not want to be wrong about salvation.
Many have joined the church and been baptized thinking this was part of or essential to being a Christian. Millions follow Christ continuing to think that they have to be good morally, avoid trouble, stay in good standing with the church or other Christians so they will make it to heaven. It is as though “getting to heaven” is the main purpose of this life and if I’m good enough I’ll make it.
What a difference to understand the gospel and trust in the Christ of the gospel, not just a more powerful God who can do things for me, but the God of Truth. Here are some of the main truths to understand and believe:
- Truth about man’s sin making him incapable of ever being good enough to be acceptable to God. When someone thinks he has no sin “the truth is not in him” (1 John 1:8). The first truth that must be “in” a person’s conscious is that he is undeserving or lost and without hope of ever being good enough for God. “For there is no difference, all have sinned” (Rom 3:22b-23a).
- Truth about God’s heart and commitment to take all our sins on Himself on the cross as full payment for the complete forgiveness of “our sins and to cleanses us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
- Truth about the gift of God’s righteousness to make us fully acceptable in His holy presence. Paul wrote, “that we would become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21 NET). This is our only hope of ever being in a relationship with Christ. All our offensive selfishness and self-centered thoughts and actions are covered with His righteousness.
- Truth about trusting His Word with our whole heart, knowing there is no other alternative and He never fails to keep His word. “For with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness…” (Rom 10:10). This has always been God’s way of accepting sinners: “Abram believed the Lord and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Gen 15:6). This is “good news.”
- Truth about God’s miracle of regeneration and coming to indwell all who hear His Word, believe it and accept it as their own. “He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.” (Tit 3:5 NLT). Now He is within us and part of all we do or think.
- Truth about His commitment to us: “For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb 13:5 NKJ) We can never deserve it, but He has promised to always be with us to go through life’s difficulties and into eternity together. This is why we seek to spend our lives “to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved”. (Eph 1:6 NKJ) What a message to tell!
We owe Him everything. This is why we will follow Him to the ends of the earth to tell everyone who has never heard or is confused about His amazing grace.