Last month’s gospel e-letter (Who's going to heaven?) was intended to stimulate discussion on the all-important subject of salvation. Three characters, Abe, Ben and Carl, represent millions of Christians worldwide. Here they are again:
- All three believe in the Lord Jesus and the principal truths of the Christian faith, including the doctrines listed in the Apostle’s Creed; they also believe the promises of salvation written in the Bible.
- Abe and Ben are baptised, attend church and pray regularly. Both of them are zealous for good works, and try to avoid sin, though they admit that sometimes they fail. Abe is motivated by love and gratitude to God for his grace and salvation. Ben also thanks God for his goodness, and additionally, he is also motivated to do good works to merit more graces and eternal life.
- Carl prayed to receive Christ as Saviour. He is not baptised, does not attend church regularly and has not yet submitted to Christ as Lord. His life has not changed since he was born again. He trusts in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Carl is convinced that salvation is by faith alone.
Abe is a true Christian. He believes in Christ and upholds biblical truth; he also manifests the fruits of the Spirit. His life abounds in good works out of gratitude to God. Even his struggle against sin is evidence of his new heart.
Ben is a devout Catholic. In many ways he is like Abe. The crucial difference is the motive for his good works. He is attempting to merit grace, and that casts doubt on whether he is completely trusting in Christ alone for salvation. He insists of paying, in part, for the free gift of eternal life procured by Christ. He performs works of penance to make satisfaction for his sins, effectively denying that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. But what about his good life? Isn’t that evidence that he is truly saved? No, not necessarily. The apostle Paul was a very religious and moral person before his conversion. He could say that he was blameless in his keeping of the law. Not until he threw away all confidence in himself, his works and his merits, that he was justified by faith in Christ.
Carl is Christian in name only. His faith is dead and so is he. There is no hard evidence of a renewed heart. Did he receive Christ when he prayed? Was he really born again? No! No-matter what he says. His life – which is still the same as it was before – contradict his claims. Somebody may have told him that he may accept Christ as Saviour and then receive him as Lord later on. That is a lie. Christ is Lord of every one of his people; the redeemed are bought with his blood, they do not belong to themselves, they are the purchased possession of the Lord. It is a contradiction to say that Christ is your Saviour but not your Lord. His sinful disregard to Christ’s authority is the sure evidence that Carl is still the slave to sin.
Abe is on his way to heaven, and the Lord will keep him safe until he arrives at the Father’s home. The Lord Jesus may also bring Ben and Carl to salvation.
Ben needs to understand that grace is an unmerited favour, it cannot be earned by our works. Maybe one day he will receive the gift of salvation with empty hands and a grateful heart. He needs to trust completely in Christ alone.
Carl needs to learn that the grace that brings salvation also trains the saved to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age. God’s purpose in salvation is not just forgiveness and a place in heaven, but also freedom from the power and pollution of sin, to live for the glory of God.
Lord willing we will be meeting our three friends in the coming months to evaluate their spiritual condition in the light of God’s Word. We do well, every one of us, to seriously think and pray about our own relationship with the Lord.