Just before leaving on a big trip, I always take a final look around to make sure I’ve got everything I need. Do I have my wallet, enough money for gas and food, my plane ticket, the papers with the addresses and phone numbers of hotels? Although I’m almost certain I’ve already put these in the car, I check one last time just to be sure. Why? Because if I’ve forgotten something essential, I may never make it to my intended destination.
In the same way, after making a decision to follow Christ, I had to look back to make sure I’d done everything right. I knew that if I’d misunderstood some essential aspect of salvation, I might never make it to where I wanted to go— heaven. Because of the importance of this salvation experience, it’s only natural that some people question their experience or want to make sure they “did it right.” We know that God’s done His part in sending His Son to pay for our sins. Our concern is that perhaps we’ve not done everything right on our part to receive His gracious gift. That’s what this lesson is all about.
Why not stop reading for a moment and ask God to help you understand His Word on this important topic. If you’re not used to talking to God, you could just say something like, “God, I want to make sure I’ve done everything I need to do in order to be forgiven and to be Your child. Please help me to understand. Thanks for caring about me!”
UNDERSTANDING WHAT GOD DID FOR US
First, there are certain things we need to understand and believe. Some people say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you live consistently with it.” Yet, Hitler believed that he was doing the world a favor by killing off “lesser” races and helping the “superior” Aryan race to dominate the earth. Osama Bin Laden believes that Allah wants him to kill people who don’t believe as he does. Both Hitler and Bin Laden may have lived consistently with their beliefs. Yet, wrong beliefs lead to wrong actions. Having the right belief is critical. What must we believe to be saved?
The Bad News: We are sinful and this sin separates us from God. Because of our sin, we are lost and can’t have a relationship with God through our own efforts.
Imagine that you’re in a math class and your teacher says, “You should know how to work all of these problems by now. The passing grade for this pop quiz is 100%.” Yet, as you take the test, you realize that you’re getting some of the problems wrong. No matter how many you get right from now on, will you ever pass the test? No. Because passing is 100%. No matter how many you get correct from now on, you’ll never get 100%. You’re gonna fail.
Passing that math test after missing some problems is as impossible as making it to heaven, on our own, after we’ve already sinned—falling short of God’s perfection. Imperfect people can’t make it to a perfect heaven on their own merits. This is the first thing we need to believe.
The Good News: Knowing that we couldn’t save ourselves, God sent His Son
Jesus Christ to save us. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life in obedience to His heavenly Father. When He died on the cross, He wasn’t dying for His own sins, but for our sins. He paid the penalty that we deserved to pay.
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (I Peter 3:18a)
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Imagine that last year you found a misplaced folder at work that proved your employers were exaggerating their profits to make their company look good to the stock holders. Although you knew you should go public with the information, you thought of your responsibility to your family and didn’t want to risk getting fired. Now you sit in a courtroom before a judge who finds you guilty of participating in the crime by withholding information. He says that you must either pay a fine of $100,000.00 or serve 10 years in jail. You tell him you don’t have $100,000.00. As a righteous judge, he declares you guilty.
Then the judge, seeing the distress on your face and the faces of your children, appears to be holding back tears as he writes something that only he can see. He hands it to a courtroom aid, who delivers it to you. You gasp as you realize that the judge has just written you a check for $100,000.00, offering to pay the entire penalty that you owed.
That’s what the Bible calls grace—God offering a payment for what you owed, not because you deserved it, but because of His great love. How astounding that God would pay our debt with the sacrifice of His Son.
But it’s not enough for God to offer this gift. You could reject the check offered to you by the gracious judge. How do we receive God’s grace? It’s not enough to believe in God and believe that Jesus died for our sins. According to the Bible, even demons believe in God (James 2:19). We must receive His forgiveness through repentance and faith. Let’s look at these one at a time.
RESPONDING THE WAY GOD WANTS US TO RESPOND
Repent From Our Sins. Repentance is our response to the bad news: our sinfulness and rebellion against God. The simplest definition of repentance is “a willingness to change.” Don’t get confused here! We’re not saying that we change so that God will save us. That would be salvation by works! Besides, we can’t make a lot of changes in our lives until God renews us and empowers us to live a new life. We’re simply saying that we make a mental change of allegiance, from bowing to self to bowing to God. In repentance we tell God, “I’m willing to change! I want to turn from my sin and serve You!”
From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ (Matthew 4:17)
Believe In Jesus. Faith or belief in Christ is our appropriate response to the good news.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8,9)
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) and worked miracles and rose from the dead.” To believe in Jesus means that you put your trust in Him. It’s like people who say that they believe in aerobic exercise.
They don’t mean merely that they believe that somewhere in the world, aerobic exercise classes exist. They mean that they believe enough in aerobics to be willing to do aerobics. If a person says she believes in Coke, she’s saying more than she believes Coca-Cola exists. She believes in it enough as a refreshing beverage that she’s willing to drink it.
Similarly, faith in Christ is more than an intellectual agreement that He exists. It’s putting our trust in Him to save us. It’s entrusting ourselves to Him. We’re saying that we believe that God has offered us forgiveness through the death of Christ for our sins and we accept the payment that He offers. We’re also saying that we’re willing to follow Christ.
In repentance we tell God, “I’m willing to change! I want to turn from my sin and serve you!”
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Although repentance and faith focus on two different things, sin and Christ, they are actually one mental act. As we turn away from our sin, we turn toward Christ at the same time. As Jesus said,
‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:15)
So, let’s go back to the important trip we talked about at the beginning of this lesson. In order to make sure I could make it to my destination, I asked myself, “Did I bring my plane ticket? Did I bring enough cash?” In the same way, if we want to make sure that we are truly God’s children and are going to make it to heaven, we must ask, “Have I truly repented of my sins? Have I truly believed on Jesus?” If you know that you haven’t, or if you’re simply not sure, why not confirm your decision by expressing it to God in prayer. He’s not so interested in the words you use as He is the sincerity of your heart. If this written prayer expresses the desire of your heart, why not say it to God right now?
“God, I’ve gone my own way. I’m sorry. I’m turning from my sins. Give me the strength to follow You. I believe in You, putting my trust in you to save me from my sins. Make me into a new person and take me to heaven. Thanks for forgiving me and loving me so much!”
If you prayed that prayer and sincerely meant it, then on the authority of God’s Word, you are His child and you are successfully headed to your destination—heaven!
FACTS VERSUS FEELINGS
You’re having one of those days. You didn’t get enough sleep last night. Your boss treats you like dirt. You go to your home fellowship meeting and hope to get some encouragement. Instead, you see this bubbly Christian who never seems down who tells about how God solved all her problems. “All my problems aren’t solved,” you think. Then a new Christian gives a dramatic testimony about how he received Christ and felt something like electricity go through his entire body.
“I didn’t have a big emotional experience when I got saved,” you think. Then you begin to wonder if you’re really a Christian at all.
This is where you must put emotions in their place. The Bible said, “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) It didn’t say, “whoever feels bubbly all the time” will have eternal life. It didn’t say, “whoever has a dramatic emotional experience” will have eternal life. It says that “whoever believes in Him shall…have eternal life.”
So, if I truly believe/repent, but am not saved, what would this say about God? (He would be a liar. And if God’s a liar, we’re all up the creek!) So the salvation of those who repent and believe is as secure as the promise of God, regardless of how we feel.
Hint: Some people offset future doubts by writing down exactly what they understood and prayed when they received Christ. For example, you might photocopy this lesson and write at the end, “I understood this lesson and prayed this prayer for assurance of my salvation on this day” (write out date). Next, put it in a safe place.
Ten years from now, when you have another one of those bad days and Satan whispers in your ear, “You didn’t know what you were doing when you prayed that prayer ten years ago,” you can take it out and show Satan exactly what you did. Your salvation is as secure as the promise of God. Then you can tell Satan to “get lost.”