The Way of Faith
How does a person become a Christian? How do you answer this question? Some say that living a moral life makes a person Christian. Others declare that joining a church or being baptized makes a person Christian. Still others call for a person to "make a decision" or "pray the prayer" or "ask Jesus into your heart." While opinions may be important, the one vital thing when speaking of becoming a Christian is what does God say about this in His Word?
God has given His Word—the Bible—to reveal Himself, His purpose for man, and the way to know Him personally. Everything a person needs to know about becoming a Christian can be found in God s Word. As God gives a person understanding of the gospel (the good news of how God, in Christ has provided salvation for man), then that person can come to the point of genuine faith in Jesus Christ and, consequently, become a Christian.
The first place to begin in understanding salvation (or becoming a Christian) is with God. Who is God anyway? What is God like? What does God demand of me? Unless a person has a basic understanding of God, then his understanding of the gospel will be faulty and unbalanced.
The Bible tells us that God is One, yet He reveals Himself to us in Three Persons. This is called the Trinity. “Hear, 0 Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18; see also John 5:17-27 where Jesus, the Son, shows His equality with the Father and John 14:16-17 where Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit being another which means “another of the same kind,” that is, totally equal with the Son and Father). God is not three Gods, but one God who has revealed Himself in three Persons who are equal in character, glory, and power: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), God the Holy Spirit.
God is Creator
As the Creator, God has made everything that exists. God Himself designed, initiated, and brought about the creation of the entire universe. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” “And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him: male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:1, 27). The Bible further clarifies that Jesus Christ as God not only made everything, but everything in creation was made for Him! “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens, and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16).
God is Spirit
When Jesus taught a Samaritan woman about God, and how to worship Him, He declared: “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). God is spirit describes God's essence, that is, Who He is. As spirit, God is far above man who is limited by hands, feet, and all the other aspects of humanity. God—as spirit—forbids the use of idols to worship Him (Exodus 20:4-6). He cannot be subject to decay, or loss, or corruption, or any other thing that afflicts man. God is the purest, simplest, most basic Being in the universe, so that is why He said, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3).
God sees and knows all things
The word used to describe this is God's omniscience, that is, His knowledge of all things. This is called an attribute of God. He knows everything about a person, how he will live his life, what his innermost motives and thoughts are at any given time. God sees everything in a person's life, the good as well as the evil. Nothing is hidden from Him. “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Hebrews 4:13; see also Romans 11:33-36).
God is Holy
More than any word, the Bible uses holy to describe God. As One Who is holy, God is utterly pure, totally without any kind of blame or error, absolutely free from sin in every respect. Because He is holy, God is quite different from man who is described as a sinner. Holiness not only conveys what is missing from God, that is, sin, but also what is in God. Holiness is a positive characteristic describing the uniqueness of God. “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Holiness can be described as pure light with no mixture of darkness. “And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5; see also I Timothy 6:16 and I Peter 1:16).
God is righteous and just
Everything God does is absolutely right and proper. He never makes an assumption or an unjust accusation toward man. His righteousness and justice has its roots in His holiness. Because God is holy, He therefore can only do what is right. His actions toward mankind are just and righteous. He never carries out any act toward man that is not first rooted in His holy character. His perfection is seen in His acts of righteousness and justice. The Psalmist writes, “God is a righteous judge... and the heavens declare His righteousness, for God Himself is judge” (Psalm 7:11; 50:6). God's justice is described in Exodus 34:7, “...yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished.” God's righteousness and justice demand that He deal with sin and disobedience. For God to overlook such unholy acts would be to negate His righteousness—which is impossible.
God is Judge
Because of who God is and because of His character and attributes, He of necessity is the Judge of the universe. Everyone must stand before Him to give an account. “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12). God’s judgment is sure, accurate, just, and severe. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20). Even those who have not attended church and been under the Bible’s teaching have enough natural revelation about God to know that He is to be honored with obedience. Consequently, all men are under the severity of divine wrath because of the sinfulness of mankind.
God is love
After seeing God’s righteousness, justice, and judgment, it might appear to be a contradiction to say that God is love. Yet the Bible is very clear that He is a God of absolute, pure love. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:7-10; see also John 3:16). God loves the individual, though not for what he can do for God (because man can do nothing for God since He is wholly self-existent). Instead, God loves man because that is God's nature. It is impossible for Him not to love. Yet His love never contradicts His justice. His love is active and selfless, giving to man out of the abundance of His grace even though man does not deserve anything that God gives.
Think it over
1. If someone asks you, ‘Who is God?’ how will you answer him?
2. Do the names the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit describe three Gods or one God? Can you think of some Scripture passages to back up your answer?
3. Name at least three attributes of God and show where these attributes are found in the Bible.
4. Explain the meaning of God as righteous and just. How does this affect mankind?
5. Give some examples of how God has shown His love to you. What is the ultimate expression of God’s love to you?
MAN AND SIN
Everyone has his own opinion about mankind, but what really matters most is what God has to say about mankind. Many modern philosophies consider man as basically good, and he wants to do the right thing if he has a chance. But his environment, society, peers, and family hinder him from acting right. This kind of view fails to consider what God has said about the nature of man. To understand why we need salvation, we must see what the Bible says about man and his sin.
Man was created in the image of God and expected to obey God completely
We have already noticed that God created everything in the world. The crowning point of creation came on the sixth day when God created man in His image. “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him: male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). While God created many magnificent creatures, only one creature in all of His creation was made in God’s image: man. Being created in God’s image does not mean that physically we are like God. God is a spirit (John 4:24), and unlike humans, He is not limited by a physical body. Instead, this means that man has been created with a spirit just as God is Spirit. God made man a moral creature with a conscience that recognizes right and wrong.
As a moral creature, man was to be governed by the law of God. God's perfect righteousness is, and always has been the standard for man’s conduct. In the Garden of Eden, God gave our first parents one law, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17). The Law was given so that man might completely follow God’s righteousness and perfectly mirror God's holiness. Yet, Adam, the first man, who is the representative of all humanity, chose to eat of the forbidden fruit and consequently, died spiritually, falling under the sentence of condemnation by violating God’s law. Adam’s breach of God’s law directly assaulted the honor and glory of God. His sin infinitely offended God’s holiness. Though Adam had walked in fellowship and communion with God in the Garden, that relationship ended—his communion with God died. The gravity of Adam's sin can be seen in the fact that a relationship of perfect delight with God dramatically changed into one of eternal separation from God and the sentence of God’s wrath. Adam's fall affected the entire human race as well, because we all descended from Adam. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). This same sentence of death—both physical and spiritual death—fell upon all humanity. “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Did God’s requirements and expectations for man change when Adam fell? Absolutely not! The Creator still expected man to fully obey Him. But since the first man, every person in the human race, except Jesus Christ, has failed to satisfy God's righteous demands of him clearly expressed in the Old Testament Law. “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them” (Galatians 3:10). “Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19-20).
God’s moral law can be summed up in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). These divine commands affect our relationship to God and man. The first four commandments (Exodus 20:1-11) make it clear that God alone is to be our God and He is to be honored above everything: you shall have no other gods before Me; you shall not make for yourself any graven images; you shall not take the Lord’s name in vain; you shall honor the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Yet man has bowed to gods of his own making: pleasure, sensuality, materialism, recreation, self-indulgence, etc. Because of man's violation of God's laws regarding man’s relationship to God, the eternal judgment of God falls upon him.
The last six commandments govern man's relationship to his fellow man (Exodus 20:12-17). Jesus Christ clarified the intention of these commands to show that they refute not simply one’s actions towards others, but even his thoughts and attitudes towards others (see Matthew 5:17-48). While a person may refrain from overt acts of dishonoring his parents, murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting, with his mind he violates all of these commands. His overt and covert breaching of God’s law brings him under the sentence of divine wrath. A holy, just God cannot fail to judge man’s sin.
Man is dead in his spirit apart from Christ
Not only has man failed to fulfill what God demanded of him, because of his fallen nature he is spiritually dead. “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Ephesians 2:1-3). God declares that because of our sin nature, man is totally dead in his spirit, lives his life naturally along the pattern of a world that is anti-God, finds himself under the dominion of Satan, and consequently, God’s awful wrath looms before him. This puts man in a hopeless, helpless estate apart from God’s mercy.
Man, by his nature and actions, is a sinner
This fact is plain in Scripture. “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one’.... For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10-12, 23). Think of the best person you have ever met. He or she is still a sinner. As sinners, mankind cannot claim to be righteous, because there is no righteousness in our natures. Man does not understand spiritual things or even seek after God (see also I Corinthians 2:14) unless God first seeks him. Man is incapable of doing anything on his own of making himself right with God. The sad assessment is that all of us have sinned and because of that sin we fall short of God’s glory [a term describing the radiance of God’s nature].
A man dead in his sin cannot do anything to save himself
Because of man’s fallen nature, he cannot lift himself up to God. He cannot save himself by being religious, or practicing the Golden Rule, or joining a church. He may give great effort at trying to keep the Ten Commandments, but if he offends just one of these in action or thought he is guilty of breaking the entire law of God (James 2:10). Such things might improve a man’s appearance before other men, but they cannot do anything to improve his standing with Almighty God. “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy.” “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” The Scripture pointedly states, “Because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:20).
Apart from God's intervention of mercy and grace, man cannot be saved
This means that every man faces God's judgment for his sin without any ability or hope, to save himself. It puts all humanity in the distressing situation of being destined for God’s wrath. But the good news is that God has intervened in saving grace! ”But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:4-8a). Note the two terms that express God's intervention: mercy and grace. Mercy implies God’s disposition of kindness and compassion toward those undeserving of such kindness. God’s mercy is rooted in His character, and demonstrated by the giving of His Son in order that sinful men might be forgiven.
Grace begins with God, not man. In grace, God actively initiates His saving work in the sinner, who is himself dead in his trespasses and sins. While mercy is God's disposition of kindness and compassion toward a sinner, grace is God’s action to bring the sinner to life (i.e., regenerate him, see Ephesians 2:5; Titus 3:5), save him, declare him to be righteous, and to secure him for eternity. Grace is the activity of God based upon the satisfying of God’s justice through the death of Christ, now effectively applied to bring about the salvation of a sinner. “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
You see, it is not what a man does that can save him from his sin or God's judgment; instead it is what God has done for him in Jesus Christ according to His mercy and grace.
Think it over
1. What does it mean when the Bible says we are “created in the image of God”?
2. How does Adam’s sin affect you? See if you can support your answer with Scripture.
3. Has man satisfied God’s righteous demands of him by obeying the Law? Explain the consequence of your answer.
4. Some people believe that man can save himself. Tell some of the ways people try to save themselves and explain why none of these ways can justify a person before God.
5. Why is man dependent upon God’s intervention for salvation?
6. Explain what is meant by the terms mercy and grace.
The focal point of salvation is Jesus Christ. Apart from Christ no sinner can be saved. “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). There are two primary truths that are vital for us in understanding Christ and His work of salvation: who Jesus is and what Jesus has accomplished on our behalf (that is, the Person of Christ and the Work of Christ).
Who Jesus is—the Person of Christ
Throughout the centuries, people have had a variety of ideas about just who Jesus really is. Some consider him to be a prophet, others a great religious leader, still others a mystical being. But what does God’s Word says about Jesus?
Jesus Christ is God
When the Apostle John opened the Gospel that bears his name, he began by identifying Jesus as the One True God. He used a term—Word—that was common in his day, to describe who Jesus is. By the identifying term, “the Word,” John points to the One Who created everything that exists in the universe (see Genesis 1:1), and the One in Whom all mankind derives its life. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:1-5). If Jesus was a created being, and not infinite as is the case with God, then it would have been impossible for Him to create all things that have come into being, for He would be included in all things. The Creator cannot create Himself!
In the book of Exodus, the Lord God revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush on Mt. Horeb by a most unusual name. Moses asked God to tell him the Name he was to use when addressing the children of Israel on behalf of God. “‘What shall I say to them?’ Moses asked. God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel,” ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:13-14). The name “I AM” refers to the eternality of God. He is the One that has no beginning and no end. He is the eternally Present One. When Jesus was having a discussion with some of the Jewish religious leaders, He used the very same name to refer to Himself, identifying Himself as the Lord God of the Old Testament that revealed Himself to Moses on Mt. Horeb. “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). The Jews understood exactly what Jesus was saying, that He is the same God that spoke to Moses at Mt. Horeb! Since they did not believe in Him being God, they tried to stone Him for using this special name for God in reference to Himself.
When the Apostle Paul was writing to Titus on the Isle of Crete, he gave a marvelous description of the deity (Godhood) of Jesus Christ. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; who gave Himself for us, to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:11-14). The phrase he uses, our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, states in clear terms that Jesus Christ is wholly and absolutely God.
One of the clearest passages relating to Christ's deity is found in Colossians 1:15-20. “And He is the image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation.” The word image means that Jesus is in reality the God He represents. That is, He is in reality the invisible God. As “first born of all creation,” Jesus is preeminent over all creation, and He is preexistent and unique as the Son. “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him.” Again, the emphasis is placed upon Jesus creating everything, even things in the heavens and things we cannot see with our eyes. He not only created all things but all things were created “for Him.” This means that the ultimate purpose of everything in creation is the glory of Jesus Christ! “For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.” All the totality of divine attributes and powers are found in Jesus Christ. “And through Him to reconcile all things to Himself: having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.” Jesus, being wholly God, by the sacrificial act of His death on the cross has provided the means to put sinners into a right relationship with Himself as God (i.e., to reconcile sinners to God).
Jesus Christ became man
Notice that there is a difference in these two points of emphasis on the Person of Christ. Jesus Christ is God. His nature is infinite. But this same God became man that He might reveal God to sinful humanity and ultimately, fulfill all righteousness and pay the debt of sin the sinner owes God. The passage quoted previously, John 1:1-5, describes the deity of Jesus by the ancient term Word. John explains God the Son becoming a man in that same chapter, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The act of God becoming man is known as the Incarnation. When the angel spoke to Joseph about the fact that his bride-to-be, Mary, was with child by a supernatural act of the Holy Spirit, he explained that Jesus would be the One to save His people from their sins. The story goes on to explain that Jesus was to be called “Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us” (see Matthew 1:18-25). That’s the great news of the Incarnation, God has come to man to bring about his redemption! As Thomas Watson put it, “The Word was made flesh, that through the glass of his human nature we might look upon God.”
Why did God come to man? Only God could fully satisfy His own righteous, just demands—demands based upon His divine nature and character. Man had proven over and over that he could never measure up to God’s Law. But since man is the one who has sinned, the demand of justice is that man himself would have to suffer for his sin. This is why Jesus became a man, so that He might fully obey God’s Law as a man and that He might suffer the judgment of God on our behalf as a man. “It was God who was offended, and it was God who satisfied. Thus Christ’s person is in two natures” (Thomas Watson). “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). Jesus is one person with a completely divine nature and a completely human nature.
“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). All that God is, He is in Jesus Christ. The great God that mankind has offended with sin and rebellion came to dwell among us that He, out of His mercy and grace, might act redemptively on our behalf. “Therefore, since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15). “This one person was, therefore, able to suffer and bear the penalty of man’s transgression,” wrote James P. Boyce, “because, being of man’s nature he could become man’s representative, and could also endure such suffering as could be inflicted upon man; yet being God, he could give a value to such suffering which would make it an equivalent, not to one man’s penalty, but to that of the whole race.”
As man, Jesus Christ faced the limitations of humanity, yet He never sinned. He fulfilled every demand of the Law, and all that pertains to righteousness. “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15; see also Philippians 2:5-11). As the Sinless One, He became the perfect Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world (see John 1:29, 36).
What Jesus has accomplished on our behalf—the Work of Christ
Most people have heard that Jesus died on the cross. Why did Jesus Christ have to die such a horrible death? What implications does that act of His death have for sinners?
The death of Jesus on the cross relates directly to God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. Because God is holy and just, He cannot ignore sin, nor let the sinner go unpunished. Every act of sin by man personally affronts God. As a creature affected by Adams fall, man must face the consequence of that fall. God’s character demands that He punish to the full degree every sinful person. To do anything less than this would mean that God was not being God.
On the other hand, a sinful man does not have any hope of persuading God to not punish him for his sinfulness. Man cannot make himself right before God because nothing short of perfection pleases God (see Matthew 5:48). Even if he tries his very best, man cannot save himself from the wrath of God.
This is where God intervenes in His great love and mercy! God came to man (remember, this is the Incarnation) in order to give His own life to redeem man from the curse of sin and the certain wrath of God. Jesus Christ conquered sin and death on our behalf, verifying this by His resurrection from the dead. Now, through the sacrificial act of Jesus Christ, who is God Himself, sinful man can be declared righteous before Holy God! The power of His death and resurrection can actually be applied to the sinner to save him for all eternity. Just what did Jesus accomplish through His death?
Righteousness of God
Jesus Christ fulfilled all of the righteous requirements that God demands of us. “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:21-23). Because all of us are sinners, we have no way in our own power to fully obey the Law of God. We cannot do anything to save ourselves. But what Jesus did on our behalf was absolutely righteous. He perfectly obeyed the Father so that His righteousness might be put to our account. He went to the cross, undeserving of the death He faced, and died a righteous death on our behalf. In other words, God did not change the rules in mid-stream concerning salvation. He did not cheapen His holiness or deny His justice by saving sinners. Instead, His Son totally fulfilled every demand of God's righteousness, so that our salvation through Christ meets every requirement of God's holy character, nature, and law.
The work of Jesus on the cross justifies the sinner who has faith in Him: “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24; see also Romans 3:25-28; 5:1-2). The word justifies has both a negative and positive meaning. Negatively, it means that God has declared the sinner that puts his faith in Christ not guilty. All of the charges against the sinner because of his sinfulness are certainly accurate. But Jesus Christ has borne the judgment of God against the sinner, so that now, because of what Christ has done on behalf of the sinner, God declares the sinner to be no longer guilty of his eternal crime.
But this word is also a positive one. God now declares the sinner to be righteous. How righteous is the new believer in Christ? Just as righteous as Jesus Christ! “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21). The righteousness of God cannot be imitated or manipulated. It can only be given through Christ. Jesus bore our sinfulness in His own body on the cross and imputed (credited) to us His own righteousness. When the believer stands before God, he will stand justified, declared not guilty, and having within him the righteousness of God through faith in Christ. “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Roman 3:28).
“Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,” declares the believer’s redemption (Romans 3:24). Redemption pictures an ancient slave market, where the slave stands on the block to be sold once again into slavery. But something amazing and wonderful happens! Someone pays the price for the slave’s freedom and sets him free forever. The utterly amazing thing is that the Redeemer pays for the slave by the sacrifice of His own life. That’s what Jesus did for us at the cross. While we were enslaved to sin with no hope of ever being set free, Jesus Christ became our substitute. He paid the eternal debt we owe because of our sin (Romans 6:23). At the cross He experienced all of the horridness of sin’s wicked power and the wrath of God due that sin. Through His life He paid for our redemption that we might be free. Consequently, we were brought out of the slave market of sin, never again to be held by its power, for we are set free in Christ. The believer never returns to that same old position of slavery to sin. For all eternity, be is free! “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).
“Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26). Propitiation may seem to be a strange word, but it is one of the most important truths in the Bible. Remember that God’s righteousness has to be satisfied simply because He is God. To pardon a sinner without first satisfying His demand for righteousness, would mean that God was contradicting His own nature. In order to forgive sinners, God satisfied His righteousness and justice through the death of His Son at the cross. That’s what propitiation means—a satisfying of God's righteousness and justice, so that God might justly declare sinners to be righteous and forgiven through faith in His Son. God requires the bloody death of a qualified sacrifice to satisfy His justice (Hebrews 9:22). In Jesus Christ’s bloody death an actual sacrifice to atone for man’s sins occurred. Our sin was transferred to Christ at the cross and the full payment due because of our sin was met through His death. God's holy wrath has been satisfied through this substitutionary death of His Son. “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17; see also Hebrews 2:14-18 and I John 2:1-2). It is only because Jesus satisfied all of the demands of God's righteousness and justice on our behalf that we can enter into a relationship with the very God we have offended with our sinfulness.
When a sinner comes to Jesus Christ in faith, trusting in what Christ has done on his behalf to satisfy all of God’s demands, then he is adopted into God’s family. “So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:3-7). Our adoption takes place, not because God did not have a son, for He does—the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead, God adopts us because of our great need for Him. The price of adoption was the blood of His beloved Son at the cross. As He adopts us, He gives us both His name (which earthly parents can do in adoption) and His nature (which an earthly parent cannot do; see II Peter 1:4).
Jesus Christ has accomplished for us what we could never accomplish nor ever deserve. Understanding who Jesus is and what He has done for us makes the truth of the gospel come alive in our hearts and minds.
Think it over
1. Is Jesus Christ Himself God? If so, explain this through the use of Scripture.
2. Did God come to man? Explain how He did this and why He did this.
3. What does it mean to be justified? Explain how God justifies the sinner.
4. What does propitiation mean? Explain how this affects our salvation.
5. Name the two specific things that God gives us in adoption. How does this affect you personally?
A person can hear the gospel, but if he never exercises saving faith he remains lost for eternity. While many people try to justify themselves before God on the basis of their religious activity or their good works, the Bible clearly tells us that the only way to come to God is through faith in Jesus Christ. Too often, faith is misunderstood.
There are four kinds of faith
First, there is a historical faith, which means that a person believes what the Bible says because they have been culturally conditioned to believe it. In communities where the Christian faith is strong or there is a strong sense of divine authority, a person who does not believe the Bible’s message about Christ might become an outcast. This happens due to the strong social and cultural influences that often have roots in Christianity. The only problem is that this kind of faith cannot save. The demons of hell exercise this kind of faith—and they certainly are not saved! “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19).
Second, there is temporary faith that lasts for a while, and then fades away because it does not have any roots. Jesus describes this in the parable of the sower in which the Word of God is sown upon a heart with shallow soil. Just like a little seed that germinates in shallow soil, there springs up what appears to be life. But because of the shallow soil the life is only temporary and quickly withers. “The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away” (Matthew 13:20-2 1). Some people have a religious experience or great excitement about the Christian life, possibly even making a public profession of Christ. But if the Word of God does not take firm root in his life by its saving power, this kind of person quickly fades away when the demands of the Christian life confront him. This kind of faith cannot save.
Third, there is a miraculous faith that describes those individuals who through some means or another are able to perform miraculous works, and because of this they believe themselves to be saved. Judas Iscariot followed Jesus Christ for three years and was even involved in doing miraculous works. Yet he perished in hell! Pharaoh's magicians imitated the miracles of Moses for a time, yet they were by no means believers! Jesus warned against this kind of false faith in Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you: Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’.”
Finally, there is a true, justifying faith or saving faith, that is a gift of God given to us so that we might believe the Person and Work of Christ on our behalf. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one should may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Let's clarify this wonderful gift of saving faith.
What faith is not
Sometimes it helps to see what something is not in order to see what it really is. Saving faith is not a mere acknowledgment of the historical facts of Jesus Christ. Most people will acknowledge this yet remain lost. Saving faith does not merely believe in God. Remember that the demons believe in God too! Saving faith is not simply an acknowledgment that Jesus is a Savior or that Jesus can save. Neither is saving faith simply faith in faith nor faith in a decision nor faith in a prayer nor faith in a profession nor faith in your own plan of salvation.
What justifying faith is
True faith is based upon the fact of what God has declared in His Word. The object of saving or justifying faith is Jesus Christ, and what He has accomplished on behalf of sinners through the cross. It is when the sinner humbly approaches Jesus Christ in absolute trust in Him that the work of the cross is applied in saving power to his life. “Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Romans 3:27-28). It is not the works of the sinner that save him. His works are powerless to bring about salvation. But when God gives him grace to believe in Jesus Christ and trust what Christ did on the cross for him, that person is transformed by the power of God.
How does justifying faith operate? There are three facets to this kind of true, saving faith. First, there is self-renunciation in which a person comes to the end of himself, recognizes his absolute sinfulness and hopelessness before God, and turns from his sin, then turns to God, who alone can save him. “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). Self-renunciation is evident by repentance, involving a change of mind about life, so that the person turns away from his life of rebellion toward God, casting himself wholly upon the mercy of God to save him (see also Acts 2:38; Luke 13:3; Mark 1:15). The Apostle Paul described this work in his own life in Philippians 3:8-9. “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
Second, justifying faith involves a total reliance upon Jesus Christ and His work on the cross to save you. That’s what faith or believing means, a total reliance or absolute trust in someone or something. In this case the Someone is Jesus Christ! When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas what he must do in order to be saved, they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30-31; see also John 3:16; 3:36; 5:24; 6:40; 6:47). This belief in Christ goes beyond a mere head knowledge of Jesus to a trust in Christ and Christ alone for salvation. John Stott used an acrostic to explain what faith means: “Forsaking All I Trust Him.” The Apostle Paul never boasted about anything he did in order to be saved, because he realized that salvation was all of Christ and none of him. “But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).
Third, justifying faith involves appropriating or receiving Christ Himself as your Redeemer, Justifier, Savior, and Lord. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). When a person comes to Jesus Christ in absolute trust, he receives Christ into His life, and with Him, all that He has accomplished for sinners. Now the new believer knows Christ in a different fashion. No longer is He just an impersonal God in the heavens. But now he enters into a living, dynamic relationship with Jesus Christ as his Lord. Jesus has redeemed him from the power of sin, so Jesus is now his Redeemer. Jesus has applied His blood and righteousness to his life and declared him to be righteous before God, so Jesus is now his Justifier. Jesus has saved him from the wrath of God, so now Jesus is his Savior. Jesus has laid claim to his life for eternity by His atoning death and mighty resurrection, so now Jesus is his Lord.
THINK IT OVER
1. What are the four kinds of faith? Try to given an example of each one.
2. Give some examples of a false kind of faith that people substitute for saving faith.
3. What is true, justifying faith?
4.Why is self-renunciation an aspect of saving faith?
5. What are the three facets of faith? Can you give a Scripture reference for each one?
6. What happens to the sinner in terms of his new relationship to Christ when he trusts Christ?
As you have read through this booklet or perhaps studied it with a group, you have considered the biblical teaching on salvation. You have seen who God is and how His character is evident in everything He says, or does, or demands. You have seen the problem of man’s sinfulness and his hopelessness to save himself. Because of man's sin, he stands condemned by the law and he faces a destiny with the wrath of Holy God. But the good news is that you have seen that God has come to man through Jesus Christ! In His coming to earth, Jesus had one primary mission, to bear our sins on the cross and face the wrath of God in our place. But it is only when we repent by renouncing our self and sin, trust in Christ alone, and receive Him as Savior and Lord that we can know His saving life. Trust Jesus Christ as your Prophet who has spoken His saving word to you. Trust Him as your Priest who has mediated before God on your behalf by His atoning death on the cross. Trust Him as your King who now reigns over you.
The Bible declares, “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (I John 5:12). Have you trusted Jesus Christ alone for your salvation? Do you have THE LIFE that only comes in knowing Christ through faith?
If this is not settled in your life, seek the Lord who alone can save you. As a sinner who cannot save himself, cast yourself upon His mercy. Discover that He is full of mercy and grace. Admit to God your sinfulness and desperation for His forgiveness. Repent of your sins and turn to God. Trust Him to save you for eternity through the bloody, sacrificial death of Christ. Depend upon what God has declared in His Word and the witness of the Holy Spirit in your life as your assurance of being right before God.
If you have put your faith in Christ, now declare your faith publicly before men through baptism. Unite with a church that preaches and teaches God’s Word. Daily seek the Lord through His Word, beginning with John’s Gospel, then reading Romans, I John, and Galatians. Bring your thanks, praises, and needs before your Heavenly Father in prayer. Seek to tell others about Jesus Christ and His power to save. By God’s grace, seek to walk daily in obedience to the Lord. Trust Him for strength and power to obey.
If you are already a true believer, then rejoice in the grace of God given to you in Christ! Use this booklet as a study tool for understanding in greater fashion the work of Christ on your behalf. Seek to declare the good news of Jesus Christ with others. May the Lord give you power to bring glory to His great Name!
Reading the Bible each day must be a priority for the believer. In addition, you may find some of the following books to be helpful in your spiritual growth. I have categorized them to help you narrow your reading.
Benton, John. Coming to Faith in Christ (Banner of Truth)
Blanchard, John. Right With God (Banner of Truth)
Lloyd-Jones, Martin. The Heart of the Gospel (Crossway Books)
Pritchard, Ray. An Anchor for the Soul: Help for the Present, Hope for the Future (Moody Press)
Whitney, Donald. How Can I Be Sure That I’m a Christian? (NavPress)
Growth as a Disciple
Bridges, Jerry. Trusting God (NavPress)
Ferguson, Sinclair. Growing in Grace (Banner of Truth)
Thomas, Geoff. Reading the Bible (Banner of Truth)
Webster, William. The Christian—Following Christ as Lord (Banner of Truth)
Whitney, Donald. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (NavPress)
Basic Christian Doctrine
Jensen, Peter. At the Heart of the Universe (Crossway)
Nesom, Joe. Be Sure What You Believe (Founders Press)
Packer, J. I. Knowing God (Inter Varsity Press)
R. C. Sproul. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Tyndale)
Boice, James M. Foundations of the Christian Faith (Inter Varsity Press)
Baptism and Church Membership
Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (Crossway)
Hulse, Erroll. Baptism and Church Membership (Carey Publications)
Mack, Wayne & David Swavely. Life in the Father’s House: A Member’s Guide to the Local Church (Puritan & Reformed)
Whitney, Donald. Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church (Moody Press)