By Jack Kelley
I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and in thought (1 Cor. 1:10).
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Tim 4:3).
I don’t believe there’s ever been a time in history when we’ve been subjected to a wider variety of opinions on what the Bible says. Some of these opinions have actually been around for a long time, while others are new to the scene. But all are now gaining a wider audience due to the advent of mass communications, especially the internet. And because today’s average Christian is woefully uninformed where the Bible is concerned, some of these opinions have gained a following that couldn’t have been possible in the past.
As as result it takes an above average level of Biblical knowledge and the full application of our spiritual discernment to figure out what is true and what is not. Fortunately the Bible, being the word of God, only teaches one doctrinal position so the diligent student can wade through all the false teaching and find the truth. Unfortunately, the number of diligent students in the Christian world seems to be at an all time low, and many are being misled. Most of this false teaching doesn’t impact a person’s salvation, it just sows confusion in the body. But some of it has resulted in a considerable number of people who think they are going to heaven because of what they’ve been taught, although according to what the Bible says they probably aren’t.
In preparing for this study, I began making a list of the various doctrinal positions now being taught, and I saw a pattern emerging. It looks to me like we’re being offered a selection of teachings which have the overall effect of fracturing the body of Christ in ways that defy coincidence. It’s almost as if some unseen force is applying the “divide and conquer” principle to deprive us of any chance we might have had to regain our lost unity in these last days.
This is in direct contrast to Paul’s teaching against allowing divisions to develop among us. The Greek word translated “divisions” in 1 Cor. 1:10 above is “schisma”. Its literal meaning is a rent or tear, but it’s also used metaphorically to speak of division or dissension. The root word is the verb “schizo” which means “to cleave asunder” or “split into factions.” The English word “schism” comes from here.
In Paul’s day these divisions were caused by believers preferring one teacher over another and allowing quarrels to erupt over which one was best (1 Cor. 1:11-12). Back then, there were only a few teachers involved, but because the Church didn’t heed Paul’s admonition there are now hundreds of major denominational and independent groups world wide, most of them begun because people either wouldn’t agree on what the Bible says, or willingly put their own opinions above God’s word.
So, as we begin this new year, I want to spend a few weeks reminding ourselves in the clearest possible terms what the Bible really says about the important beliefs of our faith. This is not meant to be an exhaustive study but a review of the clearest verses the Bible offers on the topics we’ll cover. In the first place exhaustive studies are often exhausting to read. Second, and more importantly, a basic rule of interpretation is to use the clearest verses on a topic to help us interpret those that aren’t as clear. (The Bible is not a book where you have to worry about the fine print or continually be on the lookout for exclusions and exceptions. It’s meant to be understood by ordinary people of average intelligence.) Finally, I’d like to keep this study simple enough so you can share it with a curious friend or loved one, or even your kids.
With that in mind let’s begin with the most critical and fundamental belief of all.
What Does It Take To Be Saved?
Understanding what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about salvation is obviously our number one priority. Let’s begin by defining the term.
The Bible says we are all sinners (Romans 3:23). This means we’ve repeatedly violated God’s Law. How we got into this situation is a long story but the end result is that our sins have gotten us into big trouble with God. In fact the Bible says our sins are punishable by death (Romans 6:23). Being saved means to be rescued from the death penalty due us for the sins we’ve committed.
The Bible mentions two births and two deaths. The first birth and the first death are physical and relate to our physical body, which usually wears out and ceases to work after 70 or 80 years. The second birth and the second death are spiritual, and relate to our soul and spirit, which live forever.
Salvation was not intended to save people from their physical death, but from their spiritual death, which the Bible defines as being consigned to a lake of fire to be tormented forever. In Rev. 20:14 and Rev. 21:8 this lake of fire is called the second death. So in the most literal sense being saved means escaping the second death.
You Must Be Born Again
We are saved from the second death by experiencing our second birth. In some circles this is called being being born again and it’s absolutely necessary in order for us to be saved from the penalty due us for our sins.
Here’s how it works. Knowing it isn’t entirely our fault that we’re in this predicament, God promised to send His Son to pay the penalty for our sins by dying in our place. His name is Jesus, and in the eternal sense, His death has saved our lives, if we’ll let it.
In John 1:12-13 we read the following;
“Yet to all who received Him (Jesus), to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God â€“ children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, nor of a husband’s will, but born of God.”
Our first birth made us a child of our earthly parents, but our second birth makes us a child of God. It’s our second birth that qualifies us for entry into the Kingdom of God, for without it no one can enter therein (John 3:3). In John 3:6 Jesus said flesh gives birth to flesh (first birth) but the Spirit gives birth to spirit (second birth).
These verses tell us our second birth takes place when we receive Jesus and believe in His name. Receiving Him means taking Him to ourselves or making Him our own, and believing in His name means believing Jesus is the one through whom God brought our salvation. In Hebrew, the name of Jesus is Yeshua, a contraction of the phrase that means “God is salvation”. His name explains what He has done, so by believing in His name we are believing in what He has done for us.
To summarize, if we’re only born once we’ll die twice, but if we’re born twice we’ll only die once. (Some of us won’t die at all, but that’s a topic for another discussion.)
Who Can Be Saved?
The Bible tells us God wants everyone to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4, 2 Peter 3:9) and that whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but will have everlasting life (John 3:16). In fact it says believing that God sent Jesus to save us is the only thing God requires of us (John 6:28-29).
It also says the decision to be saved is ours to make. In Matt. 7:7-8 Jesus said everyone who asks will receive, everyone who seeks will find, and to whoever knocks the door will be opened. Paul said if we confess with our mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead we’ll be saved (Romans 10:9). He said everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13). The only condition is that our decision has to be made during our lifetime (Hebrews 9:27). After we die our destiny is sealed for eternity.
Did God Say That?
Everything else you may have heard about salvation is man made, not God breathed. For example;
The Bible does not say we have to agree to stop sinning in order to be saved. It does say we have to change our mind and agree we are sinners, because people who don’t think they sin don’t ask for a Savior.
The Bible does not say that before He created any of us, God selected some of us to be saved, left the rest to suffer the second death, and there’s nothing any of us can do to change that. The clearest verses on the subject tell us that God doesn’t want any of us to perish (2 Peter 3:9) but instead wants everyone to be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Both the Old Testament and the New Testament tell us that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:32, Romans 10:13).
The Bible does not say we can only be saved if God deems us worthy of such a blessing. It says we aren’t saved because of righteous things we have done but because of His mercy (Titus 3:5).
The Bible does not say we have to contribute our own effort to the salvation process. Is says we are saved by grace through faith and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The Bible does not say we can be saved by simply joining a particular church or denomination. It says we have to be born again (John 3:3).
The Bible does not say we can be saved by obeying God’s Law. It says no one will be declared righteous by obeying the Law (Romans 3:20) but that we have a righteousness apart from the Law that comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:21-24).
The Bible does not say we will get another chance to be saved after we die. It says we’re only given one life and when it ends we’ll face our judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
The Bible does not say we need to be baptized in order to be saved. While baptism is important, it serves as the public declaration of our private decision to join the family of God, not as a prerequisite for doing so. The Bible says we were included in Christ when we heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. Having believed we were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance,until the redemption of those who are God’s possession-to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Next time we’ll look at the durability of our salvation. Did God go to the extreme lengths that were required to save us, only to leave the maintenance of our salvation in our provably incapable hands, knowing we couldn’t help but lose it? Let’s find out what the Bible says. See you then.