Salvation is the thing that is often missing in young people who grow up in Christian homes and churches. They go through the motions of professing Christ. They know how to give the right answers and to act right when necessary, but the reality of the kind of supernatural salvation that we see in Scripture is foreign to their daily lives.
Consider the following testimony which is typical of hundreds we have received through the years:
“Having taught in my church’s Christian school, I truly believe that out of an enrollment of 40-50 kids, most likely more than 95% were lost. It breaks my heart to see so many young people have a head knowledge of Christ, but they have never truly believed from the heart. What concerns me even more than that is that many parents and even church leaders seem to not want to acknowledge the reality of the situation. We comfort ourselves with the fact that our kids memorize Bible verses and come to church, when in reality most of them come because Mom or Dad make them, and then during the services most of them are sleeping, laughing and talking to their friends, or checking their cell phones. Most youth groups in Independent Baptist Churches are an absolute joke. My wife and I spent 20 months on deputation visiting Independent Baptist Churches, and we could not believe some of the things we were seeing from the youth groups. It is high time that Independent Baptist churches face the issue of our unconverted youth, because if we don’t our churches are headed for disaster.”
I know this by experience. I grew up in a Baptist church and professed Christ at about age 10 or 11, but I wasn’t saved. I had no inner motive and compulsion to do right. I had zero personal love for the Bible. I broke my parents’ rules, snuck around, lied, pursued every worldly thing, and found a way to do what I wanted to do. As soon as I could, I left home and “followed my heart,” eventually to a Hindu/New Age faith.
Biblical Salvation Has Evidence
The church that wants to build a solid biblical foundation must look for biblical evidence as described in Scripture. We are warned about those who “profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16).
Consider nine biblical evidences of salvation:
A born again conversion experience that changes the life.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Jesus described salvation as being born again (John 3:3) and being converted (Mat. 18:3). Paul said the saved person is a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Salvation is a spiritual resurrection; it is life from the dead (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:12). It is Christ living in me (Gal. 2:20).
The Spirit ministers to the unsaved in various ways, but the Spirit does not indwell the unsaved.
It is not possible to experience the salvation described in the Bible without some clear evidence of it appearing in the individual’s life.
Every salvation recorded in the New Testament involves a life-changing, born again, spiritual resurrection, conversion experience (e.g., the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, the Jews on day of Pentecost, the Ethiopian eunuch, Lydia, the Philippian jailer).
The Great Awakenings in America focused on salvation with evidence. The churches had grown lukewarm and nominal. In a great many cases, even the preachers were not born again. The members were trusting in baptism and church attendance and good works.
“[T]he most important practical idea which then received increased prominence and power ... was the idea of the ‘new birth’ ... [This is] the doctrine, that in order to be saved, a man must undergo a change in his principles of moral action, which will be either accompanied or succeeded by exercises of which he is conscious, and can give an account; so that those who have been thus changed, may ordinarily be distinguished from those who have not; from which it follows that all who exhibit no evidence of such a change, ought to be considered and treated as unregenerate, and on the road to perdition, and therefore not admitted to the communion of the churches. ... The history of the ‘Great Awakening’ is the history of this idea, making its way through some communities where it had fallen into comparative neglect, and through others where it was nearly or quite unknown; overturning theories and habits and forms of organization inconsistent with it, where it could prevail, and repelled by them, where it could not...” (Joseph Tracy, The Great Awakening).
An interesting example of a biblical conversion from that era is that of Noah Webster, author of The Blue-Back Speller and the American Dictionary of the English Language.
His conversion occurred during the Second Great Awakening, which began in Kentucky and soon spread to all parts of the young nation. In 1807, the revival came to Webster’s church, First Congregational Church of New Haven, Connecticut, pastored by Moses Stuart.
Webster made a public profession of faith in April 1808, together with his two oldest daughters.
It was a life-changing conversion experience. Following is a description by Alan Snyder, Webster’s biographer:
“Webster’s conversion was the intellectual and moral watershed of his life. As such, it provided him with a spiritual and intellectual framework which extended into every sphere of life, including perceptions of and judgments about man, morality, government, education, and the very purpose of being. ...
“Internal conversion results in a profound alteration of an individual’s conception of the nature of God, man, sin, and brings a transformation in both thought and action. ... conversion is a return to God, a restoration of the relationship God originally had intended to have with man, through a turning away from sin (i.e., rebellion against God’s commands) and a turning to the mercies of a forgiving Father. ...
“Having once read it [Webster’s testimony], one can have no doubt that Webster’s conversion was authentic and produced a basic reorganization of his entire life. In Webster’s world, God moved from the periphery to the center, providing him a new purpose and focus” (Snyder, Defining Noah Webster: Mind and Morals in the Early Republic, pp. 221, 222).
Consider some details of Webster’s life prior to his conversion:
- He was an active church member.
- From age 20 he had resolved “to pursue a course of virtue through life, and to perform all moral and social duties with scrupulous exactness.”
- He believed in God and was thankful to God. “... for some years past, I have rarely cast my eyes to heaven or plucked the fruit of my garden without feeling emotions of gratitude and adoration.”
- He believed that Christ died for man’s sins.
- He doubted some doctrines of the Bible, believing that religion should conform to man’s reason and if something wasn’t “reasonable,” it could be rejected. His ultimate authority, then, was his own mind.
- He believed that one should not be passionate about religion. When the Second Great Awakening first came to his town, he was opposed. “I felt some opposition to these meetings, being apprehensive that they would by affecting the passions too strongly, introduce an enthusiasm or fanaticism which might be considered as real religion.”
Following is Webster’s own fascinating account of his spiritual conversion, written in response to a letter from his brother-in-law, Judge Thomas Dawes of Boston, who had written to Noah to oppose the revival:
“My wife [Rebecca], however, was friendly to these meetings and she was joined by my two eldest daughters [Emily and Frances] who were among the first subjects of serious impressions. I did not forbid but rather discouraged their attendance on conferences. Finding their feelings rather wounded by this opposition, and believing that I could not conscientiously unite with them in a profession of the Calvinistic faith, I made some attempts to persuade them to join me in attending the Episcopal service and ordinances. To this they were opposed. At some times I almost determined to separate from my family, leaving them with the Congregational Society and joining myself to the Episcopal. ...
“During this time, my mind continued to be more and more agitated, and in a manner wholly unusual and to me unaccountable. I had indeed short composure, but at all times of the day and in the midst of other occupations, I was suddenly seized with impressions, which called my mind irresistibly to religious concerns and to the awakening. These impressions induced a degree of remorse for my conduct, not of that distressing kind which often attends convictions, but something which appeared to be reproof.
“These impressions I attempted to remove by reasoning with myself, and endeavoring to quiet my mind, by a persuasion, that my opposition to my family, and the awakening was not a real opposition to a rational religion, but to enthusiasm or false religion. I continued some weeks in this situation, utterly unable to quiet my own mind, and without resorting to the only source of peace and consolation. The impressions grew ever stronger till at length I could not pursue my studies without frequent interruptions. My mind was suddenly arrested, without any previous circumstance of the time to draw it to this subject and as it were fastened to the awakening and upon my own conduct. I closed my books, yielded to the influence, which could not be resisted or mistaken and was led by a spontaneous impulse to repentance, prayer and entire submission and surrender of myself to my maker and redeemer. My submission appeared to be cheerful and was soon followed by that peace of mind which the world can neither give nor take away. ...
“I now began to understand and relish many parts of the scriptures, which before appeared mysterious and unintelligible, or repugnant to my natural pride. ... In short my view of the scriptures, of religion, of the whole Christian scheme of salvation, and of God’s moral government, are very much changed, and my heart yields with delight and confidence to the divine will. ...
“I am taught now the utter insufficiency of our own powers to effect a change of the heart and am persuaded that a reliance on our own talents or powers, is a fatal error, springing from natural pride and opposition to God, by which multitudes of men, especially of the more intelligent and moral part of society, are deluded into ruin. I now look, my dear friend, with regret on the largest portion of the ordinary life of man, spent ‘without hope, and without God in the world.’ I am particularly affected by a sense of my ingratitude to that Being who made me, and without whose constant agency, I cannot draw a breath, who has showered upon me a profusion of temporal blessings and provided a Savior for my immortal soul. To have so long neglected the duties of piety to that Being on whom I am entirely dependent, to love whom supremely is the first duty, as well as the highest happiness of rational souls, proves a degree of baseness in my heart on which I cannot reflect without the deepest contrition and remorse. And I cannot think without trembling on what my condition would have been had God withdrawn the blessed influences of his Spirit, the moment I manifested opposition to it, as he justly might have done, and given me over to hardness of heart and blindness of mind. I now see in full evidence, the enormous crime, the greatest, man can commit against his God, of resisting the influence of his holy Spirit. Every sting of conscience must be considered as a direct call from God to obey his commands; how much more then ought man to yield to those pungent and powerful convictions of sin which are unequivocally sent to chastize his disobedience and compel him to return to his Heavenly Father.”
This type of dramatic, worldview-changing, life-changing conversion experience is the first evidence of salvation.
Personal knowledge of the Lord
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
“For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).
The essence of salvation is a personal relationship with and walk with God in Jesus Christ. Salvation is not a reformation or a new religion. It is to know the Lord personally, to walk and talk with Him as Lord and Saviour, Father and Friend. It is to cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). Heartfelt prayer to a God who is personally known is an evidence of salvation. Salvation is to love God (Deut. 30:6; 1 Jn. 4:19). The apostle Paul said, “I know whom I have believed ...” (1 Tim. 1:12).
When people express doubts about their salvation, I ask them if they know the Lord and when and how it was that they came to know Him.
Many young church people are like Samuel who knew about the Lord but did not know the Lord (1 Sam. 3:7).
Jesus warned about those who profess Him as Lord, but to them He will say, “I never knew you” (Mat. 7:21-23). See also Mat. 25:12, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not.”
Believing the gospel
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
Salvation is believing and receiving the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Salvation is not “receiving Jesus into my heart.” That concept is never found in the Bible. Christ does come into the life of the person who is saved, but he must first be cleansed by Christ’s blood through believing the gospel.
Salvation is not surrendering my life to God. Surrendering to God’s authority is the essence of repentance, but repentance alone is not salvation. God does not accept my life until I have been cleansed by the blood of Christ, and that happens through believing the gospel.
You don’t have to be a theologian to be saved, but you must know the gospel. There is a certain doctrine that must be believed from the heart (Rom. 6:17), and that is the doctrine of the gospel.
A great many Christians we meet don’t know the gospel. A church-going taxi driver in South Africa is typical. He told me that the gospel is “obeying Jesus.”
Consider some lessons about the gospel from 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:
Believing the gospel means that I know who “Christ” is.
- I can’t believe that Christ died for my sins in a saving way unless I know who He is. I must understand that Christ means Messiah, Christ being Greek and Messiah being Hebrew. Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He is the Son of God and the Son of David. The prophets said that Messiah would come to earth the first time to be cut off or die for man’s sins (Dan. 9:25-26) and He would come again to rule on the throne of David and to establish the kingdom of God on earth (Isaiah 9:6-7). These prophecies are fulfilled in Jesus. He is the Christ.
- Believing the gospel requires that I not believe in a false christ. A false christ, such as the Roman Catholic host-christ, does not save.
Believing the gospel means that I admit I am the sinner that the Bible says I am (“Christ died for our sin”).
- To be saved, the individual must see himself as a wicked sinner before God who is deserving of eternal condemnation. I must understand and acknowledge that I am not good (Rom. 3:12). There is no righteousness that I have that is acceptable to God (Isa. 64:6). In contrast, we think of a man in California who prayed a sinner’s prayer but still believed his good works would get him to heaven. It is obvious that he was not saved.
- It is the Holy Spirit who shows me my sin and impresses this to my heart so that I am convicted and found guilty before God (John 16:8). The soul winner must look to the Holy Spirit to do this supernatural work, and must look for evidence of this work in the sinner’s life.
Believing the gospel means that I believe that Jesus died for my sins.
- I deserve eternal judgment, and that judgment fell upon Christ. Salvation is an exchange (2 Cor. 5:21).
- The Bible emphasizes that Christ’s atonement was sacrificial, vicarious. This is repeated 12 times in Isaiah 53 (vv. 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12). See also Rom. 4:25; 5:6; 1 Cor. 5:7; 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; Eph. 1:7; 5:2; Col. 1:14; 1 Tim. 2:6; Tit. 2:14; Heb. 9:12, 26; 10:12; 1 Pet. 2:24-25; 3:18; 1 Jn. 2:2; 4:10; Rev. 5:9.
- This means I must believe that Christ was the virgin born, sinless Son of God, for only the sinless Son of God could die in the place of sinners. In contrast, we think of a Southern Baptist seminary student who told us that believing in the virgin birth is not necessary for salvation.
- Believing the gospel means that I will not trust in anything other than Christ’s atonement for salvation. If I am still trusting in baptism or sacraments or the church or my good works, I am not believing the gospel and am not saved. I think of John and Charles Wesley, who were so zealous for Christianity that they formed a “holy club” at Oxford University, were mockingly called “Methodists” for their methodical habits of prayer and fasting and Bible reading, were ordained as Anglican priests, and hazarded the dangerous voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to America in order to preach to the natives. But the Wesleys were trusting in their good works rather than the grace found in the gospel of Christ. They knew about the Lord, but they didn’t know Him personally. When a Moravian preacher asked John if he had a hope to be saved, he replied, “I do.” But when the preacher asked him the reason of his hope, he said, “Because I have used my best endeavours to serve God.”
Believing the gospel means that I believe that Christ died for my sins according to the Scripture.
- This refers to the amazing prophecies that described His death in great detail. These were written down hundreds of years before Jesus was born. Following are just a few of these prophecies from Psalm 22: The Scripture prophesied that Jesus would die by crucifixion (Psa. 22:14-16; Jn. 19:16-18). This is a perfect description of death by crucifixion, and when the prophet David wrote it 1,000 years before Christ came, crucifixion was not yet practiced! It began to be practiced in the days of the Roman Empire not long before Jesus was born. To punish murderers and robbers, the Roman government would nail their hands and feet to a wooden cross and leave them there to die. The Scripture prophesied that the soldiers would gamble for Jesus’ robe at the foot of the cross (Psalm 22:18). The cruel soldiers did this while Jesus was suffering (Mat. 27:35). The Scripture prophesied the very words that Jesus spoke from the cross (Psa. 22:1; Mat. 27:46). The Scripture prophesied that Jesus would thirst (Psa. 22:15; Jn. 19:28). The Scripture prophesied that the people would mock Jesus (Psa. 22:6-8; Mat. 27:39, 41-43). The Scripture prophesied that the people would sit and stare at Jesus (Psa. 22:17; Mat. 27:36).
Believing the gospel means that I believe that Christ was buried.
- His burial proved that He really died. He did not merely faint or merely appear to die as some have claimed. The reason the soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs is because He was already dead (Jn. 19:31-34).
- His burial fulfilled prophecy. It was “according to the Scriptures.” The Bible prophesied that Jesus would be buried in the tomb of a rich man (Isaiah 53:9). This prophecy, written about 710 years before Jesus was born, was fulfilled when Jesus was taken down off the cross by a wealthy disciple and buried in that disciple’s own tomb (Mat. 27:57-60).
Believing the gospel means that I believe that Jesus rose from the dead the third day according to the Scripture.
- To be saved, I must believe that Jesus Christ is alive, having proven that He is the Son of God, and that He is ready to receive me when I call upon Him.
- The evidence of the resurrection is the eyewitnesses and the changed lives, such as Saul who was converted after meeting the risen Christ.
- His resurrection was according to the Scripture in that it was prophesied in Psalm 16:10. This was written about 1,000 years before Jesus came. His resurrection proved that He is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4). Jesus prophesied that He would rise again the third day (Mat. 16:21), and if he had not done so it would have proven that he was a deluded man or a false prophet and not the Son of God that He claimed to be.
Continuing in the gospel
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1-2).
“And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister” (Col. 1:21-23).
Salvation is evident by continuing in the gospel. Those who profess the gospel and then renounce it are not saved and never were saved.
Paul had doubt about the salvation of the churches in Galatia because they had left the gospel of grace (Gal. 1:6-8; 4:20).
I have seen many examples of this through the years.
This is one of the many reasons why I know that I did not get saved when I professed Christ as a boy. Not only did I abandon church, but I abandoned the gospel and turned to a Hindu/New Age faith that there are many paths to God. This is a complete rejection of the gospel and of Jesus Christ as only Lord and Saviour.
A born again child of God will not become an atheist. I think of a man I knew when I was a young Christian in the 1970s. He and his wife helped disciple me, and I spent a lot of time in their home. After I went off to Bible School I heard that they had quit church and divorced, so on a visit back to my home town I looked him up. He told me, “David, I don’t even believe in God anymore.”
I think of a pastor’s son who had a testimony of salvation and was looked up to by the other church youth, but he rejected the Bible and became an atheist.
Adoniram Judson, the famous missionary to Burma, grew up in a strong Christian home and made a profession of faith in Christ, but he became associated with worldly friends in college and became a Deist, believing that God is not involved with the creation and has no plan of salvation. This proved that he had never been saved.
I think of Hindus who have attended our services and Bible studies in Nepal and professed to “believe in Jesus” but who turned back to Hinduism and idolatry.
Rejecting the gospel proves that the individual is not saved and never has been saved.
Love of God’s Word
“He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (John 8:47).
A person’s attitude toward the Bible is one of the clearest evidences of his spiritual condition. It is impossible that an individual could be saved if he doesn’t love God’s Word. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27). Words could not be plainer.
A saved person will be interested in the Bible, will want to study the Bible, will respond to the Bible’s teaching.
After I made a profession of faith at about age 11, I had zero interest in the Bible. I had a Bible, but I never read it. I wasn’t interested in preaching and teaching. Everything pertaining to the Bible was boring. I was at church because my parents took me, not because I had an interest in spiritual things. That is not the condition of a saved person.
But as soon as I repented and trusted Christ as my Lord and Saviour at age 23, I loved the Bible and everything about the Bible.
A born again child of God can backslide and become disobedient and his spiritual life might grow dim, but there will still be something of a love of the Bible in his heart, and he will not forget the Master’s voice (John 10:27). Peter backslid terribly but He was restored by the Master’s words (John 21:6-19).
Love of righteousness
“And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4).
It is impossible for a born again child of God to continue in his old rebellious attitude toward God’s commandments. He still has “the old man” and can still sin, but there is going to be a great change in his attitude toward righteousness and unrighteousness.
Consider the testimony of David Sorenson, a pastor’s son. He made a profession of faith at age five in an evangelistic meeting. He was coached to tell others that he was saved, and he did that for 15 years. But he says, “I had no interest in the things of God. I only went to church because my dad was the pastor, and I had to go. I could not have cared less about the Bible.” At age 20 he was saved in Bible College and his life changed because he began to love the things he used to hate and to hate the things he used to love.
One thing that will always change is the individual’s attitude toward authority. If a child is saved, there will be a change in his attitude toward the authority of his parents and teachers and church leaders.
Led by the Spirit
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Rom. 8:9-16).
The true believer has the indwelling Spirit, communes with the Spirit, and is led by the Spirit.
The believer can grieve the Spirit by sin (Eph. 4:20), but the believer has an entirely new orientation in life. He is oriented toward the Spirit of God as opposed to prior to conversion when he was oriented toward the flesh.
Looking for Christ’s return
“For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him” (Isa. 64:4).
“And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Ro. 8:23).
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Ti. 4:8).
“So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28).
These passages make it clear that the saved are those who are anticipating Christ’s coming.
“For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Heb. 12:6-8).
A child of God can and does sin, but there is an indwelling, loving Disciplinarian who chastens him. There is even a sin unto death (1 Jn. 5:16-17).
The saved person will have a sensitivity to sin and a conviction about sin. I think of a young teen who got saved and afterwards became concerned about sins she had committed when she was younger and had “gotten away with.” Before salvation, if her parents were not watching, she would do things behind their backs. For example, she took her father’s socks and stuffed them down a hole in the back hallway. The disappearance of the socks was an unsolved mystery in the home, but after she got saved she came weeping to her mother and confessed that sin, though no one had ever caught her. That is an evidence that something real was happening in her life. She stopped being “sneaky.” She starting being trustworthy to obey even if no one was watching. Those are simple, but profound, evidences of a spiritually-converted life in a child.
Jerry was my best buddy growing up. We went through school together, graduated together, went to Vietnam in the Army about the same time, and came back to America and became drug-using “hippies” together. I came to Christ at age 23, but Jerry never did. He mocked my faith in Christ and refused to listen to me when I tried to talk to him from the Bible. Eventually he got involved in “Native America” spirituality, which is demonism. He died a few years ago at about age 62, and I visited his mother. His mother and father were faithful church goers, and the mom had been a Baptist Sunday School teacher. She told me that she had hope of Jerry’s salvation because he went to church when he was a boy, but there was zero evidence that he was ever saved.
What about carnality?
The born again child of God can be carnal. We see this in 1 Corinthians 3:1-3. The carnal Christian is a born again saint who has fleshly elements in his life.
But the carnal Christian is not a person who merely professes Christ with the mouth and does not show evidence in his life.
The Corinthian believers were passionate Christians. They gave clear evidence of salvation (1 Cor. 6:9-11). They were zealous for spiritual things (1 Cor. 14:12). They abounded in “faith, utterance, knowledge, diligence, and love” (2 Cor. 8:7).
That is not the description of a nominal Christian who has is not zealous for the things of Christ, but rather loves the world while merely professing Christ.
What about backsliding?
The born again child of God can also backslide. This is evident in Christ’s messages to the seven churches of Asia. For example, Ephesus had backslidden from its first love and was exhorted to repent (Rev. 2:4-5).
What about Lot?
Lot was a carnal believer who made unwise decisions that resulted in sorrow and destruction, but Lot was “vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked” (2 Pe. 2:7), and unlike his wife and married children, he obeyed the angel and fled Sodom. His feet were in Sodom, but his heart was not there.
Lot is not an example of a worldly teenager that professes Christ but secretly loves the filthy conversation of the wicked.
Beware of looking for perfection
We look for a change, but we don’t look for any kind of perfection, because there is no such thing. The “old man” remains after salvation and must be dealt with. The Christian life is a progression of putting off the old man and putting on the new, and it involves a lot of real “struggle” with the flesh. The believer’s level of surrender is never absolute in any area of his life. The presenting of oneself to Christ is not a once-for-all thing; it is a daily thing (Rom. 12:1). There is the potential for carnality and backsliding.
When “testing” others, the child of God must not forget how imperfect he is! We are simply looking for a regenerated heart and a changed direction in life.
I have known of a few churches that require a “lordship” conversion, meaning that in practice they look for the individual to make “Jesus completely Lord.” If there are areas of holdout in that individual’s life and if there is still a struggle with sin, doubting, carnality, they tend to believe that the individual is unsaved. The mark of such churches is that an inordinate number of people “get saved” when no one around them doubted their salvation previously. I think of a missionary in Singapore whose ministry was characterized by this type of thing. Most of the Christians who visited his church began to doubt their salvation and eventually “got saved.” A group of missionaries we knew visited his work, and they all “got saved.”
This type of thing can be devastating. It causes the individual to look at himself too much rather than keeping his eyes on Christ. In fact, this missionary’s own son took over that church and later got out of the ministry when he doubted his salvation and “got saved.”
Beware of looking for a certain type of emotional experience
We don’t look for any certain type of emotional experience. Emotional reactions differ from person to person. Some will feel elated; some will feel nothing.
Beware of looking for one kind of experience
Some conversions are more dramatic than others. In some the change is quicker and more dynamic. I had a very dramatic conversion experience. Literally I hated the Bible one minute and loved it the next. I was a New Ager in my heart one minute and a staunch Bible believer the next. Not everyone has exactly that type of experience. No one is saved without a life-changing conversion experience, but the details and timing are not always the same.
Beware of looking for a certain pattern of experience
In the Great Awakenings there was often an attempt to trace a certain pattern of experience (e.g., conviction of sin, feelings of guilt, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, settled peace and joy). Jonathan Edwards explained that this is an error. “It is to be feared that some have gone too far towards directing the Spirit of the Lord, and marking out his footsteps for him, and limiting him to certain steps and methods. Experience plainly shows, that God’s Spirit is unsearchable and untraceable, in some of the best of Christians, in the method of his operations, in their conversion. Nor does the Spirit of God proceed discernibly in the steps of a particular established scheme, one half so often as is imagined” (A Treatise on Religious Affections).
Man’s part is not to try to trace the steps of conversion. Man’s part is to observe the effect of the conversion. “As to the steps which the Spirit of God took to bring that effect to pass, we may leave that to him.”
Beware of requiring knowledge of an exact time in every case
The new birth does happen at a certain time, and usually the time and place will be clear in the individual’s mind, as we have noted.
“Paul knew the time of his conversion (Acts 26:13). Men are frequently at a loss whether their conversion were true or not; but surely men that are converted must take some notice of the time when God made a change in them: conversion is a great change, from darkness to light, from death to life, from the borders of despair to a spirit of faith in Christ. As for the outward conversion, there is sometimes little difference men might carry very well before; but as to the frame of men’s hearts, there is a very great difference. ... Conversion is the greatest change that men undergo in this world, surely it falls under observation. The Prodigal knew well enough the time of his return to his Father’s House. The children of Israel knew the time of their passing over Jordan” (Solomon Stoddard, Defects of Preachers Reproved, 1723).
But in some cases, particularly when the individual was younger when it occurred, he might not be able to pinpoint it.
If a person does not know the exact time of his conversion, that does not mean he or she is not converted. The most important thing is whether the individual knows Christ as personal Lord and Saviour and has a changed life to back it up.
With children growing up in a Christian homes and churches, it is not uncommon for them to make two professions of faith, one when they are young and another when they are older. Usually this means that they weren’t saved earlier, but not always.
Repentance is not complicated
Repentance is absolutely necessary for salvation. Paul preached repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).
Repentance was the missing element in my life as a boy who professed Christ as Saviour, and this is what is missing in the lives and hearts of many church members. I “believed in Jesus,” but so do the devils (Jam. 2:19). In fact, the devils tremble, which is far more than the average church member today does!
But repentance is not complicated or difficult.
Repentance is to surrender to God’s authority. It is to acknowledge that I have wickedly sinned against God’s holy law and have not honored Him as God by loving Him with all my being, and it is to be ready to live in a different way. Repentance is a change of direction in the heart. It is not a change of life (as some have slanderously claimed that we teach); it is a charge of mind that results in a change of life.
Repentance is turning to God from one’s false ways, like the idolators at Thessalonica (1 Th. 1:9). It means to turn around and go another way. It is something that happens in the heart and has consequences in the life.
Repentance is the Prodigal Son turning his face toward the Father and away from the hog pen and saying, “I have sinned against heaven and before thee” (Lk. 15:18).
Those who argue that our doctrine of repentance is complicated or difficult are those who have made repentance into NOTHING! We explain this later in this chapter.
Salvation is not difficult and it is not for the future
Recently I heard of some young women who are in “limbo” about salvation. They made professions of faith when they were younger and believed they were saved and gave some evidence thereof, but they have begun to doubt that, believing that their salvation was based only on “a mental assent” to the gospel.
I replied to this situation as follows:
I don’t understand why the girls don’t just go to Christ and settle the matter. Being in a limbo land of not knowing you are saved is a very dangerous place where the devil could work overtime.
The Bible presents salvation as something that the sinner can receive right now:
It is receiving a gift that is offered (Eph. 2:8-9).
It is coming to Christ for salvation rest (Mat. 11:28).
It is drinking the living water (John 4).
It is believing on Christ with all the heart (John 3:16; Acts 8:37; 16:30-31).
It is calling on Christ (Romans 10).
It is believing the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
It is gladly receiving the gospel (Acts 2:41).
It is repenting toward God and exercising faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21).
It is fleeing for refuge and taking hold of Christ (Heb. 6:18).
It is receiving salvation today (2 Cor. 6:2).
Salvation can be rejected as in the case of the rich young ruler. It can be falsified by believing on a false christ or a false gospel (John 2:23-25; Mat. 7:21-23). But salvation is never described as something that is difficult or complicated, that I can see. That would defeat the purpose of it as a free gift.
Salvation is described as a transaction between the sinner and the living Christ, a transaction that changes the life, but the transaction itself is simply coming to Christ as a needy, repentant sinner and receiving Him as Lord and Saviour.
The Bible never presents salvation as something that should be put off until later. God’s Word gives no promise of tomorrow. “(For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)” (2 Cor. 6:2).
If someone is having doubts, he should settle it right then and there. He should simply come to Christ as a needy sinner who wants to be saved. He should take Christ at His word:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mat. 11:28-30).
He should say, “Lord, I have been laboring and am heavy laden. I want to be saved, but I have doubts about my salvation. I am now coming to you for the free salvation that you offer and that you purchased on the cross for needy sinners. I am that needy sinner, and I want to receive you as my Lord and Saviour.”
If you do that sincerely, you can trust Christ’s promise that He will receive you and give you the gift of salvation rest.
Once you have come to Christ for salvation rest, you should obey Him and take His yoke and begin learning about Him and from Him and learning how to serve Him in your daily life.
Salvation is no more complicated than this.
The necessity of spiritual discernment
Keen spiritual discernment is required when dealing with souls about salvation. This is the discernment that is essential for pastors and teachers and evangelists.
We’re not talking about perfect discernment, for there is no perfection in the Christian life and ministry, but we’re talking about good spiritual discernment that comes by knowing and walking with God.
Discerning salvation in others requires that one has experienced salvation himself.
“Now, will anyone pretend, that persons who have been through this process themselves, cannot, by examination, form a reasonable judgment whether others have been through it or not? What teacher, what school committee man, cannot ascertain whether a boy has seen for himself and understands the nature and reason of the rule for working simple addition, or whether he has only learned it by rote? Cannot pretenders in any branch of science be detected? ... If discrimination is possible in such cases as these, it must also, on the same principle, be possible for those who are qualified, to judge whether a man has made those discoveries of religious truth ... which are essential to Christian experience” (Joseph Tracy, The Great Awakening).
God has promised wisdom to those who seek it (Prov. 3:5-6; James 1:5).
The necessity of patience
We would also note that patience is very important in this matter. The tare looks like wheat until the fruit appears (Mat. 13:25-26). It is better to err on the side of caution, because to pronounce someone saved and to baptize them is very harmful to the individual as well as to the church if they are brought into membership.
The importance of unanimity
Unanimity is a helpful protection in discerning salvation. Before we baptize an individual, he or she must appear before the church leaders and their wives and give account of his salvation. If something isn’t clear, the leaders ask appropriate questions. We look for unanimity in these decisions, believing it is better to err on the side of caution. In the last session we interviewed four and baptized three. In the session before that, we interviewed 15 individuals and baptized 13. There were doubts about three of the individuals, and we kindly asked them to wait until things were more clear in their minds and lives and so we can have more time to teach them and work with them.
The above is excerpted from THE DISCIPLING CHURCH: THE CHURCH THAT WILL STAND UNTIL JESUS COMES. This church planting manual aims to establish churches on a solid biblical foundation of a regenerate church membership, one mind in doctrine and practice, serious discipleship, thorough-going discipline, and a large vision for world evangelism. We examine the New Testament pattern of a discipling church, and we trace the history of Baptist churches over the past 200 years to document the apostasy away from the biblical pattern to a mixed multitude philosophy. We also document the history of “sinner’s prayer” evangelism which has affected the reality of a regenerate church membership. The book deals with biblical salvation with evidence, care in receiving church members, the church’s essential first love for Christ, the right kind of church leaders, the right kind of preaching, training church members to be Bible students, the many facets of church discipline, building strong families, youth ministry, training preachers, charity, reproof, educating the church for spiritual protection, maintaining standards for workers, the church’s prayer life, the church’s separation, spiritual revival, the church’s music, and many other things. The last chapter documents some of the cultural factors that have weakened churches over the past 100 years, including the theological liberalism, public school system, materialism and working mothers, the rock & roll pop culture, pop psychology, the feminist movement, New Evangelicalism, television, and the Internet. There is also a list of recommended materials for a discipling church.
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