In this edition of “Theology & Culture” we are discussing a topic that may seem odd because we think that every church preaches the same message regarding salvation in Christ. Though in many cases this is true, there are conflicting views on what constitutes the message of saving faith. In other words, what does the Bible teach we must do to be saved?
In some cases, it is semantical, using different words to say the same thing. In some cases, though, the gap is wide. In this issue of T&C, we want to discuss as clearly as possible the theological point of view that I have as a pastor based on my understanding of Scripture.
Bear with me as we study this together. Keep in mind that we must all come to our own conclusions on theological issues, so hopefully this conversation will lead to deeper study for all of us.
Though most Christians agree on the basic tenets of the Christian faith (the Triune God, salvation in Christ alone, the resurrection, etc.) there was a great disparity regarding Biblical teachings on topics such as repentance in regard to salvation, the evidence of saving faith, and some other issues that surround the doctrine of salvation.
Let me begin by stating that it is my belief that God’s saving grace is a transforming grace. I believe that there is “fruit,” that a person who truly knows the Lord will, to some degree, show it in their life.
I also think we need to keep in mind that we should be careful to not make believers live in fear that they are not saved. A Christian can be assured of their salvation if they know Christ as Savior and as Paul wrote in Romans 8, nothing can separate us from God’s love. We can bank on that. At the same time, we need to be informed as to what Scripture says. It alone is the final arbiter of what we believe and live.
Keep in mind that Christians are not perfect. They still sin, and sometimes horribly, but I also believe that a true follower of Christ, when they do sin, becomes miserable as the Holy Spirit convicts them and works on them to bring them to repentance in their life (Heb. 12). They can fight God and desire to continue in sin, but to do so is dangerous to the spiritual life of the individual.
In saying that, I also believe if someone can live in sin (as a lifestyle), and feel no remorse or have any conviction over what they are doing, and have no concern about what God thinks, they may not be genuinely saved (1 John 3:4-10; Gal. 5:19-21). It is true that only God knows the heart of a person and so in the big picture we cannot say for certain they are not a believer. My concern is that some preaching has cheapened God’s grace by ignoring some important Biblical doctrines such as repentance and the fullness of transforming grace.
In regard to this, I believe 1 John was written to encourage believers, to help them know they have a relationship with Christ, and in that book the apostle John put forth some things that a person who knows Christ will do – They will obey the teachings of Christ (1 Jn. 2:3-6); love others (1 Jn. 2:9-11), to name just two of the “evidences” of new life in Christ noted by the author.
John does not say that believers will never disobey, or struggle to love. But he does say that a Christ follower will show evidence of these (obeying God, loving others, not pursuing a life of sin) in their life. John mentions other things that we won’t note but I would encourage everyone to study the magnificent book of 1 John. I find it to be of great encouragement.
I want to clarify also that though I noted the wide gap in some theological beliefs with fellow pastors, it did not make me question their salvation or love for God. In fact, the meetings were uplifting, fun, and encouraging. Maybe my interest in theology, and being a pastor, my concern to make sure that what I believe was firm, challenged me to stand deeper in what I believe.
Let me close by looking a little closer at the “gap”, we may call it, regarding the fruit of salvation in one’s life. The following is based on a conversation I was involved in with some other people in the past on the very issue of whether someone who knows Christ will show it in their life.
When discussing the idea that Christians will bear fruit in their life, it was mentioned that there is no such thing as a fruitless Christian because every Christian has, for example, peace “with” God. In the conversation Galatians 5:22-23 was noted to support that statement.
The viewpoint of the person who brought this up is different than mine when it comes to what should be included in a Gospel presentation. In another edition of T&C we will dive into defining words such as “repentance” that make up a presentation of the Gospel. Back to our discussion on the issue of peace.
Exegetically speaking, the Bible clearly teaches that the word “peace” has a few meanings attached to it. We indeed do have peace “with” God because when we become Christians, and we are declared to be in right standing with God and are under no condemnation from Him (Rom. 5:1; Rom. 8:1). We are made His child and adopted into His family (Eph. 1).
There is also, though, the peace “of” God, which is given to us as we live under the control of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26). Every believer has peace “with” God, but not every Christian has the peace “of” God. The peace mentioned in Galatians 5, though an inward fruit, is part of a list of nine evidences of the Spirit-controlled life. When someone is walking as God wants them to walk, those “fruit” mentioned in Gal. 5:22-23 will be seen in their life.
Kindness, for example, is not only an internal, but also an external fruit. So is gentleness. The fruit of the Spirit is not just a list of inward qualities, but are also seen in how we live. To say that peace “with” God is a fruit of salvation is to read into the text, not seeing what the passage actually says.
Yes, peace “with” God is important. But a believer who has the Holy Spirit living in them will also at times in their life show the peace “of” God, both in how they respond to situations and also in their treatment of others.
In another edition of T&C we will dive a little deeper into some of the “nuts and bolts” differences that we see across Christianity today when it comes to understanding the Good News about Jesus. This is a bigger issue than we may realize.
Again, this is not to call into question the salvation of those who may not view things the way, for instance, that I do when it comes to the Doctrine of Salvation, but I believe it is important that we allow the Scriptures to guide us as we pursue living for the Lord.
I also believe this topic is important and is on my mind every week when we present the message of saving faith that is found only through faith in Jesus Christ. But we do stress repentance, and we also note the entire message of the Gospel as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead to give us new life. That is the Good News, that Jesus saves us and gives us a new life found only through faith in Him.