Do I Know What I Think I Know?
By Stephen Terry
In the early church, the task was simple. The followers of Jesus were to preach Him crucified and risen as a free Gift for our salvation. We are all headed for eternal death was the challenge, and eternal life through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice was the answer. As the early Christians carried this message to the world, everything was stood on its head and one of the world’s mightiest empires was brought to its knees in prayer.
Prior to the Christian message, most people everywhere believed in a contractual relation with their gods. I offer this sacrifice or perform this ceremony and this result can be expected from my god. Today we often refer to this as a “works-based” religion. The controlling factors are in the hands of the worshipper rather than their god. The worshipper can actually create a sense of obligation on the part of their god. When the contract was not honored by the god, it did not cause any questioning of the system. Instead the gods were viewed as capricious and just needed more sacrifices or ceremonies. Ultimately the god was sure to come to heel.
Christianity made such tremendous inroads in pagan society because it offered freedom from this cycle of contract based religion. God simply made salvation possible as a gift because He loved us. You didn’t have to do anything to find it. It was already available; you just had to accept it. To the devout pagan this must have been very threatening. After spending a lifetime working to create “brownie points” with their god, it was just unthinkable that anyone who had done nothing could all of a sudden be on equal footing. To back them up was a whole industry based on supplying the religious with sacrifices, and ceremonial trinkets to get the gods to show favor.
A very good example of this is in the book of Acts, where Demetrius the silver smith roused the whole city into an uproar, shouting “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” for hours. According to the Biblical account, his main concern was that he would lose his livelihood based on supplying images to pray to so that the goddess would provide your wishes. This is one of the problems of a works based faith. A whole industry grows up around the requirements to be holy and so much is invested in attaining that holiness it is almost impossible to step back and admit that one is really no holier than anyone else.
After all, if someone who has not made the sacrifices you have made has equal access to God, what was the point of your sacrifice? That is not a question easily faced by those who still follow the pagan method of worship that places so much emphasis on doing right as opposed to being made right. Doing right is obedience. Being made right is surrender. The more one has invested in obedience, the harder it is to surrender. Never mind that the Bible says that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6 We have invested a lot into those “filthy rags.” They are worth a lot to us. But are they worth our salvation?
So where then does obedience to God’s requirements enter in? They enter in a negative sense. For when a person does not surrender to God’s will, they are then judged according to their obedience. That judgment is according to the Law. If salvation were possible through obedience then the law would be the means of that obedience. But because the Bible tells us “There is none righteous, no not one.” Romans 3:10 The law which is holy, instead condemns us to death.
“I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” Romans 7:9-12
Those who preach obedience as means of approaching God overlook the fact that none are obedient. They believe a Christianity that can erase the debt of past sins but that is unable to deal with future sins. They teach that once a sinner comes to Christ, he must then enter into a system of works where he must be perfectly obedient or risk losing the love of God. The past is forgiven but the future can never be for now there is knowledge of sin and once we have that knowledge we must begin living aright to avoid being lost. On the surface it seems logical but in reality they are blending a mixture of Christianity and paganism to create a faith that allows them to have some control over God’s actions on their behalf. “If I refuse to listen to liberal news commentators, if I never look at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, and if I avoid cheese in all its forms God will give me salvation, and if I don’t God will take that salvation away from me. These are trivial examples to most people but the principles are the same whether applied to forms of worship, diet, or any other lifestyle issue.
This is salvation by contract. I do my part, God has to do his part. This seems neat and tidy and easy to understand. But then how do we explain “ …but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Free gifts are not given by contract. They are not given because of a sense of obligation. As the passage says, they are free. But if the law expects obedience how can God freely give salvation? Because the requirements of the law were satisfied by God’s free gift of love, Jesus Christ. That sacrifice has been done once for all our sins. Not only were our past sins atoned for, but present and future sins as well.
“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” Hebrews 7:25-27
“nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,” Hebrews 9:25-27
No doubt some who want to continue to pursue contractual salvation would quote Hebrews 6:4-6
“For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”
Is it possible to crucify Christ again? No, Hebrews 7:25-27 told us that there is only one offering for all sins. Is it possible to add to Christ’s suffering on the cross? No. He felt the weight of all sins past, present, and future. Will God then refuse to save those who have accepted grace and fallen away and want to return? The key word here is “impossible.” Let’s understand this word as God sees it.
Jesus used this word when He said “With men this is impossible.” Let’s look at the context in Matthew 19:23-26. The rich, young ruler had just chosen his riches over following Jesus.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I
say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a
needle, than for a rich man to enter into the
The point is that the things which would seem impossible to men remain possible with God. The phrase “all things are possible” would not seem to leave room to leave out the possibility of anything…even the salvation of the backslidden Christian. This is the blessed hope of the gospel. This is why so many were so willing to leave behind the contractual faith of paganism for the free gift of hope in Jesus Christ. God has made no throw away people. While it is our fallen nature to give up on those who have fallen away, it is God’s nature to go in search of the one who has wandered. Leaving the 99 who have not strayed from the flock, He will do whatever is necessary to seek and to save that one misguided lamb.
He does not punish the lamb for seeking a way that was not healthy. Instead He places the lamb on His shoulders and rejoices that what was lost has been found.
“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.” Luke 15:7
How any times may this happen? If someone has fallen away, are they lost because they have crucified Christ afresh? What about Mary Magadalene who fell away seven times before she finally wandered no more from the Savior? And what of Jesus’ response to Peter’s question?
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21-22
Would God ask of man that which He was unwilling to do Himself? It does not seem possible in the light of this statement to Peter that God would ever turn His back on the possibility of a person’s salvation. It is true that there comes a time when it is too late to be saved. When we have died, it is too late. But even then we are unable to say that Mr John Doe was saved or was not saved. We simply do not know beyond a doubt. That is why we will be spending a millennium looking over the books. Then we will know for sure what did or did not cause someone to be saved.
In this life we should never take away someone’s hope by even hinting that they may be in danger of having committed one final sin that has placed them beyond the pale, beyond salvation. Those who teach such a thing and have led others to give up because they felt that God’s love for that person was as limited as their own will have much to answer for one day.
And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! Matthew 18:5-7
Never take away someone’s hope by teaching them that they are hurting Christ and that Christ will not forgive them for that. That is not why Christ came. “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:!7 God is in the business of healing hearts not destroying them. “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12
We do not want to ever put ourselves in the position of standing between the sinner and Christ in such a way that we are a stumbling block preventing them from coming to Jesus. If they look in our eyes and see judgment instead of love, we are a stumbling block. If they hear our words and they hear judgment instead of love, we are a stumbling block. If they see our actions, and they see judgment instead of love, we are a stumbling block.
If John 3:17 is correct and Jesus Himself did not come to condemn the world, that does not mean it became our job to do so. I doubt Jesus when He does come in judgment is going to ask to see our “naughty and nice” list to compare notes. He simply has not given that work to us.
As we work in His fields, we are not to concern ourselves with the weeds we may find there, even if they are the work of the enemy. The parable of the tares in Matthew 13 tells us if we do try to root out the wicked, we will pull up the good also. We simply do not have the ability to do the work perfectly. Only God can do it perfectly, and even He is patiently waiting before hand so that as many as can might be saved.
We do not have a contract with God for our own salvation. We do not have a contract with God for the salvation of others. God has extended salvation to all. God has made it possible for us to be forgiven over and over again for the same sins. God has extended the judgment to allow as many as possible to receive His free gift as many times as necessary to be saved. The only limit to the possibility of our salvation is death. Not one of us knows when he or she might go down into a Christless grave to face a Christless resurrection and eternal loss. For that reason and that reason alone, “behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2
If you want to stand with me and say, “I don’t care what has happened in my life, I want to stand today and ask God to renew me and renew my heart because I know He has not given up on me. I cannot ignore a love like that. Jesus, please make me whole. Amen.”