Saved or Lost
This article attempts to summarise the biblical way to be saved. This is the most important issue for us all having eternal consequences. Are you saved?
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Why we need to be saved
The way that seems right
The way to be saved
A true story
Why we need to be saved
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)
The Bible divides human beings in various ways such as "righteous or wicked", "godly or ungodly", "Jew or Gentile", "believer or unbeliever" etc. Another division related to our eternal destiny is "saved or lost". The gospel is about how we can be saved!
- Jesus taught about being saved or lost - Some well-known teachings and parables of Jesus are the weeds and wheat (Matt 13:30, 41-43), the net (Matt 13:49-50), the sheep and goats (Matt 25:31-34, 41, 46) and those of faith (Matt 8:11-12, Luke 13:24-30). There will be a separation at the final judgment and the lost will end up in a place of eternal fire and darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth - the saved will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
- Unfortunately we all start off as lost - Adam and Eve started off as perfect human beings made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), but through their bad choices and disobedience they sinned against God and became sinners - the image of God was spoiled and they now had a sinful nature. As the human race grew in numbers, this sinful nature was inherited and spread to all humankind (Gen 5:3, 6:5, Rom 5:12, Psalm 51:5). So we all start off as sinful people (Rom 3:23) and are lost and fall under the judgment of God (Eph 2:3).
- Jesus came to save us - Jesus is the one who saves the lost - he is our saviour (Luke 2:11, John 4:42, 2 Tim 1:10, 2 Peter 3:18, 1 John 4:14). Even the name Jesus means "Yahweh saves" (Matt 1:21). His whole mission on earth was to save and particularly as he died on the cross to carry our sins and then was raised from the dead (Matt 20:28, John 5:34, 10:14-15, Acts 2:23-24, Rom 4:25). As Adam was the one who brought sin, judgment and death to humankind, so Jesus brought righteousness, salvation and eternal life (Rom 5:17, 18, 19, 1 Cor 15:21-22). God desires all people to be saved (1 Tim 2:3-6).
The way that seems right
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (Prov 14:12, 16:25)
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. (Matt 7:13)
Unfortunately human beings are always trying to find methods, rituals, actions, deeds, special words, or prayers in order to be saved. Here are a few examples:
- Baby Rituals - Many people arrange a baptism, christening or dedication for their new-born baby believing that this might secure their salvation. The Jews had circumcision and offerings for babies which was part of their law and related to membership of their community. The New Testament, however, does not mention any equivalent rituals for babies of Christians. It is inconsistent with the gospel message to suggest that God will change the eternal destiny of a child because of our rituals. It does, of course, make sense to pray for the parents and for our babies to come to repentance and faith in Jesus as they grow up - this is what can change their eternal destiny!
- Christian Families and Communities - Some rely on the heritage from their family, community or nationality which labels them as Christians as opposed to some other religion. Christian faith, however, involves a personal decision which cannot be inherited from others - we all need to become Christians individually.
- Church involvement and Membership - It is possible to be an active member of a church and even in a leadership role and yet not be saved. Membership of a church or other Christian organisation and signing up to statement of belief does not save!
- Baptism by Immersion in Water - Immersion in water is the biblical way for people to testify that they have repented and believed in Jesus as their saviour. Baptism on its own, however, does not achieve salvation.
- The Sinner's Prayer - Often in evangelical circles, people are encouraged to say a prayer which usually includes elements of repentance, faith and inviting Jesus into your life. Sometimes people who have recited this prayer are informed that they are now Christians and saved. This kind of prayer has helped many people come to faith and I have used it many times, but the danger is that "saying the prayer" is seen as the way to be saved. We are not, however, saved by a saying a prayer - there needs to be evidence of a change of heart and a transformed life.
- Good Deeds and Giving - There is no way of earning our way into heaven by our good deeds or generosity. We are only saved by the grace of God through faith - not by our works (Eph 2:8).
- Encounter with God and Experience - It is popular these days to seek an encounter with God believing that it is the way that God will touch your life. Although knowing God and Jesus is an essential part of being a Christian (John 15:4, 17:3, Phil 3:8, 10, 2 Peter 1:2), it was not a way of salvation offered to unbelievers by Jesus or the apostles. Sometimes people do have genuine dramatic encounters like the apostle Paul which leads to their conversion - however, these are initiated by God! It is also possible to have powerful experiences because of the emotion generated by a highly charged meeting, music, repeated phrases, meditation, and other psychological effects - these may not be genuine encounters with God but may be similar to experiences in other religions.
- Prayers and Rituals - Many people hope that the prayers and rituals administered by priests or other Christian leaders will save them. This might involve confessions, prayers, burning candles, rituals before death, after death or at funerals etc. There is no biblical support for these ways to be saved.
The way to be saved
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matt 7:14)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
...and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:47)
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Cor 7:10)
It is common for all of us to regret and have remorse for our actions and words. We may have spoiled our own lives and hurt other people and we just wish that we could go back and do things differently. We may be ashamed that we have been found out and saddened by our behaviour and disappointed by its consequences. We may also decide to change our behaviour in the future, apologise to people and try to make amends. All these things may improve our life but they are not the repentance that leads to salvation.
- Aware that I am a sinner - We have all sinned and we are all sinners (Rom 3:23, 5:12). This is the starting point for us all in our approach to God (Isaiah 6:5, Luke 5:8, 15:21).
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 18:13-14)
We need to remain humble and never forget that we are sinners. Even as Christians, we are sinners saved by grace and will never be perfect in this life. We may be redeemed, holy, God's people, born again, a new creation etc. but remain vulnerable and capable of terrible sins (Matt 6:13, 26:41, Gal 6:1, James 1:13-15, 1 Peter 5:8-10). We need to continue to repent as necessary!
- I have sinned against God - Our sin is always against God - our sin offends him. King David was described as a man after God's own heart (1 Sam 13:14) but he sinned very badly. He committed adultery with the wife of one of his soldiers, Uriah, and then went on to deceive Uriah and eventually arranged for him to get killed (2 Sam 11:1-27). The prophet, Nathan, pointed out David's sin and his reply was simply "I have sinned against Yahweh" (2 Sam 12:1-14). This was a very different answer from Adam and Eve who instead tried to shift the blame for their sin (Gen 3:11-13). David expands on his repentance in Psalm 51:1-19 and makes no excuses but declares that he has sinned against God and pleads for forgiveness and restoration.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. (Psalms 51:2-4)
Of course David had sinned terribly against Uriah and his wife and many others in this incident but his sin against God was of primary importance to him because it was linked to his eternal salvation.
- I apologise to God for my sin - We are created by God and are accountable to him for our conduct and he will be our ultimate judge. Apology to God and being truly sorry for our sin is part of our repentance (Psalm 51:17). We may also need to apologise to other people we have sinned against. Of course we will be unable to remember every single sin we have committed but when they do come to mind, we need to apologise to God (Psalm 139:23-24, 1 John 1:9).
- Appealing to the mercy of God - Sin is very serious - it leads to separation from God, the judgment of God and eternal loss. We cannot save ourselves by our own actions and we must appeal to the mercy of God and the saving work of Jesus in order to be saved. One of David's biggest fears after his sin was that he would lose his friendship and fellowship with God which he valued so much (Psalm 51:10-11, 12).
- Determination to turn around and live a different life - Repentance also includes a desire to change our behaviour, thinking and way of life. This can actually only be achieved by God's power at work within us (Acts 3:19-20, Rom 6:22, 8:11, 1 Thess 5:23). An important part of repentance is forgiving other people who may have wronged us (Matt 6:14-15, 18:35).
- Repentance is just the beginning - John the Baptist was only able to deliver a baptism of repentance which was just the beginning. The gospel of salvation was completed by Jesus who came with a message of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the full gospel! (Mark 1:4, 7-8, 14-15, Acts 19:4-6)
To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:43)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Necessary faith that does not save
When a person becomes a Christian, they will not understand or believe everything. Eventually, however, they will need to acknowledge these basic beliefs but which in themselves do not save.
- I believe in God - In the Old Testament, the true God is revealed as Yahweh (the LORD) (Exodus 20:2). He is the creator of all things (Gen 1:1), he is the God of heaven and earth and the only true God (Deut 4:39). In the New Testament he is revealed further as Father Son and Holy Spirit. He is eternal and has always existed and will always exist (Rev 1:8), he is all-powerful and almighty and can do all things (Gen 17:1, Luke 1:37), he is everywhere and all-knowing (Jer 23:24), he can read our thoughts and hear our prayers (Psalm 139:2, 4), he is holy, righteous, loving, faithful and just (Exodus 34:6-7, Psalm 33:4-5, 97:2, 103:13, 100:5, John 3:16, 1 John 4:8-9). The devil and demons know these things about God, but they are not saved! (James 2:19)
- I believe Jesus lived, died, was raised from dead and is coming again - This is belief in the historical story of Jesus as recorded in the Bible. It is important to believe these facts but this knowledge does not save you.
- I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the saviour of the world etc. - You can actually believe all these things about Jesus are true but may not have the faith that saves. Again, the devil and demons know these things about Jesus! (Mark 1:24, 5:7, Acts 16:17, 19:15)
Faith that saves
So what is the faith that saves? What do we need to believe? This is the faith that saves!
- I believe in Jesus as my saviour - The faith that saves is personal. To believe in Jesus is to trust in him as the only person who can save me and give me eternal life. Without him, I am lost! (John 3:16, 36, 6:40, 10:9, 11:25-26, 14:6, Acts 2:21, 4:12, 10:43, 16:31, 1 Tim 2:5, 2 Tim 3:15, Heb 7:25, 1 Peter 1:8-9, 1 John 5:13)
- I believe that as Jesus died on the cross he took my sin and gave me his righteousness - This is the mechanism of salvation. Jesus died on the cross in my place as my substitute and as a sacrifice. He took away my sin and its penalty, and made me righteous (justified) in the sight of God (Rom 3:22-24, 4:5, 5:1-2, 9, 1 Cor 1:18, 21, 2 Cor 5:21, Phil 3:9, 1 Peter 2:24). I am saved by his grace!
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth...For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:14, 16-17)
- Grace is the free, unearned and undeserved gift of God - We can only be saved because God loved us and sent Jesus to rescue us. Grace is sometimes described as God's Riches At Christ's Expense. (Rom 6:23)
- We cannot be saved by works - "Works" are obedience to God's laws, good deeds, religious acts etc.
- Repentance and Faith are not works - If a free and undeserved gift is offered to us, we can receive it or reject it - receiving the gift cannot be described as earning it - it is a free gift! Repentance and faith are the means by which we receive the truly free gift of salvation and eternal life.
- Born again - Becoming a Christian is not merely a decision or a mental exercise. As I truly repent and believe in Jesus, a supernatural change happens within me. I am born again and become a child of God (John 1:12-13, John 3:3, 5, 1 Peter 1:3, 23), I am in Christ and a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), my old life has died and I can live a new life by God's power, Christ is in me (Rom 6:8, 11, Gal 2:20, Col 3:3).
- Grace for living - It is by the grace of God that we are able to live our lives for God (Titus 2:11-12, Heb 4:16, 1 Peter 4:10-11). Good works are the the fruit of the grace of God and the Holy Spirit in our lives (Eph 2:10, Gal 5:22-24, Titus 3:4-6, 7-8). God's grace can also enable us to rise to the challenges to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus (Mark 8:34, 35-36), to have a good attitude to riches (Matt 19:24-36) and to be bold in our witness (Rom 10:9-10).
A true story
John Wesley was a pious Anglican minister who preached about obedience, purity of life, discipline, good works and religion. He eventually realised that this preaching was not really helping his listeners or enabling them to be saved. He visited a Moravian meeting house on 24 May 1738 and was profoundly changed by his experience there. He wrote this in his journal:
"In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."
This realisation led him to preach the true gospel based on grace and personal faith in Jesus Christ as saviour. During the next 50 years he travelled up and down Great Britain on horseback preaching in the open air and in buildings - many thousands of people came to saving faith in Christ!
1) Are babies saved?
- The Bible does not give certainty about the salvation of babies. When we are born, we inherit the sinful nature of Adam (Rom 5:12) - we are the spoilt image of God, and this quickly leads to actual sin. As we are made sinners by the disobedience of Adam, it is possible for us to be made righteous by the obedience of Jesus (Rom 5:19). There is no special route for salvation for children because of their innocence - Jesus provides the only route to God (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, 1 Tim 2:5). I have taken funerals for babies, children and even a foetus but have never claimed their salvation because of their innocence but have presented hope based on Jesus welcoming children and the righteousness, justice and mercy of God (Psalm 116:5, 145:17, Matt 11:25, 18:10, 19:14-15, Luke 18:16-17).
2) Can people from other religions be saved?
- The Bible is very specific about the name and nature of the only true God. In the Old Testament, only Yahweh was recognised as the true God and it was sinful to worship other gods with other names or other characteristics (Exodus 20:3). Yahweh was not only the God of the Israelites, but he is the creator and sustainer of the universe (Isaiah 42:5). In the New Testament, Yahweh is revealed further as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus declares that he himself is the only way to the Father (John 14:6, 1 Tim 2:5). There is no other way to be saved except through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as he died on the cross (Heb 10:12) - it is the only way to be made righteous - justified - in the sight of God (Rom 1:16-17, 3:21-22, 5:1, Gal 2:16).
- Other religions may bring peace, pleasant experiences and encourage good living, but without faith in Jesus Christ these people will be eternally lost. There is no back door into the Kingdom of God. Since the time of Jesus, the mission of Christians has been to preach the gospel of salvation through faith in him. This was why the apostle Paul and many others have travelled around the world, risking their lives and enduring hardship (1 Cor 9:22-23, 10:33). The eternal salvation of souls is the primary aim of any true Christian mission. Education, medical help, church planting etc. are only extras to the primary objective. We follow in the steps of Jesus who came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10, John 3:17, Acts 16:30-31, James 5:20).
3) Can a saved person become lost?
There are a variety of views about this among Christians! The two main views are:
- 1) Once saved always saved - This is linked to Calvinism and claims eternal security for born again believers - it emphasises the sovereignty of God. There are many Bible verses which support this view. God chose us before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4-5, 1 Thess 1:4-5, 2 Thess 2:13, 2 Tim 1:9, James 2:5), we were elected (Rom 9:11), appointed (Acts 13:48), foreknown and predestined (Rom 8:28-30, 1 Peter 1:1-2), for doing the work of God (Eph 2:10, 1 Peter 2:9). Our names are in the book of life (Phil 4:3, Rev 3:5, 13:8), we are called (1 Cor 1:9, 23-24, Eph 1:18, 4:1, 2 Thess 2:14, 1 Peter 5:10, 2 Peter 1:3, 10) and we are secure in our salvation (John 3:36, 5:24, 6:38-40, 47, 10:28, Rom 8:1, 38-39, Eph 1:13-14, Phil 1:6, 1 Peter 1:3-5, 1 John 5:13). This view suggests that if you made a genuine confession of faith as a young person but do not pursue an active Christian life you will still be saved - but there will be judgment after this life on a rewards basis (Rom 14:10, 12, 1 Cor 3:12-15, 2 Cor 5:10). This is a comfortable view but it may be dangerous to rely on it because there is another view!
- 2) You can fall away and lose your salvation - This is linked to Arminianism and takes the view that even if we are born again believers, it is possible to fall away by losing our faith or by sin - it emphasises our free will. There are also many Bible verses which support this view. Jesus warns us of the danger of falling away through persecution and testing - the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matt 10:21-22, 24:9-10, 13, Luke 8:13, John 16:1-2, Rev 2:10, 3:5). He also warned about the influence of false prophets and false christs (Matt 24:4-5, 24). Others also emphasised avoidance of false teachers who might divert us to a gospel which does not save (1 Cor 15:1-2, Col 1:23, Gal 1:6-7, 9, 1 Tim 4:1-2, 6:20-21, 2 Peter 2:1). The book of Hebrews has clear warnings that we should not have sinful, rebellious, disobedient, deceitful and unbelieving hearts like the Israelites who failed to reach the promised land (Heb 3:8-9, 10-11, 12, 14, 18-19, 4:1-2, 11, 10:35-36, 39). The serious consequences of falling away are also highlighted:
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Heb 6:4-6)
We are also warned of the danger of continuing in sin (Heb 10:26-31) or returning to our old sins as a dog returns to its own vomit (2 Peter 2:20-22)! It is important to continue to abide in Christ and in the truth of the gospel (John 15:6, 1 John 2:24-25, 28) and work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12-13, 2 Tim 2:10)!
- Some try to reconcile these two views by suggesting that people who are truly chosen, called and born again cannot fall away. There are those who only appear to be born again - these can fall away because they were not actually saved in the first place! The verses above, however, do seem to describe believers who fall away. It is, of course, possible for unsaved people to give a convincing display of faith and they may even be leaders or worship leaders etc. in churches (Matt 7:21-23, Luke 8:14, 2 Cor 11:14-15, 13:5, Gal 2:4, 1 John 2:19).
4) Can I be sure that I am saved?
After reading this article, you may be doubting your own salvation! Here are a few pointers which help me to be assured of my salvation:
- Can I see God's hand and his guidance in my life? - Often we can only see these things clearly when we look back. We can see events in our lives and interactions which were clearly from God - particularly those which led to us coming to know God and guidance throughout our lives. This gives us confidence that we are chosen and called by him.
- Am I aware that I am a sinner and have a repentant attitude? - In his letters, apostle Paul refers to himself in various ways - these three are in chronological order - the least of the apostles (1 Cor 15:9-10) the very least of all the saints (believers) (Eph 3:8), foremost of sinners (1 Tim 1:15). He was always aware that he was unworthy and only saved by the grace of God. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6, 1 John 1:8-10).
- Do I love God and and believe in Jesus as my saviour? - Our faith in Jesus is not a side-line or hobby, it is the central pivot about which all other thing in our lives rotate. We love and follow our Lord Jesus in this life knowing that we will spend eternity with him. (John 8:42, 14:3, 21, 23, 16:27, 17:24, Rev 21:3)
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)