From “How to become a Christian”: Chapter 13 – How to be saved – the four basic steps
So, we know that Jesus’ death on the cross was capable of paying the price for the sin of every person, even though there are billions of us. There are no limitations on Jesus Christ. He has an infinite capacity to take all our punishment upon Himself. However, some people have taken this to mean that therefore everyone will actually be saved, regardless of what they do or believe. Sadly, there is no basis for that assumption in the Bible.
Although Jesus is capable of bearing the sin of everyone who comes to Him, not everyone will actually choose to benefit from what He did on the cross. It is reserved for those who meet His very simple (but not easy) conditions. The first two essential foundations, which many people fail to put in place, are to repent and believe:
9That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”Romans 10:9-13 (NIV)
We do not need to be clever or impressive to believe in Jesus. The simplest and most lowly person can manage it easily. Yet, the high and the mighty, the rich and the powerful, the proud and the self-sufficient, find it very difficult. It is especially hard for those who consider themselves to be intellectual. They are often put off by the very simplicity of the gospel.
The idea that by believing in Jesus we can receive forgiveness and salvation seems too easy. Many of us therefore assume there must be more to it and that we have to achieve something or reach some high standard. The answer is no – we don’t!
God deliberately chose to make belief or faith the key to salvation, rather than ability or achievement. That way salvation would be possible for, and available to, everybody. The poor and simple, the uneducated and downtrodden, can easily grasp and respond to this.
Those of us whose lives are more privileged therefore need to humble ourselves and get in line with what God requires by putting our trust in Jesus alone to save us. It is a life or death matter. Listen to what Jesus Himself said:
I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”John 8:24 (NIV)
The above verse seems a harsh one. Yet, take note that it was said by Jesus personally. If we do not believe in Him and put our trust in Him then we will die in our sins! That means that when we die we will still be carrying the full burden and guilt of our sins. If so, we will need to pay the eternal penalty for them ourselves at the Day of Judgment. Yet, if we do believe in Him, then our sins are forgiven and the burden of guilt is removed from us. If so, then we have so much to look forward to for all eternity:
However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)
So, that is a picture of how much God loves us. However the experience of knowing God’s love is available only to those who believe in Jesus Christ. We will not all be saved. We will not all go to Heaven.
The majority of people will not be saved
God has laid down very clear conditions for us receiving His forgiveness and salvation. The benefit of what Jesus did on the cross is available to all of us, but only provided we meet His conditions. Thus we can rule out any suggestion of “universalism”. That is the false idea that everyone will be saved. In fact the Bible tells us that only a minority of people will be saved. And it would seem to be a small minority:
13Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)
Many people are going to fail or refuse to become real Christians. Given the terrible consequences that that will produce for them, we now need to look very closely at what God’s conditions are and how we can make sure we meet them properly.
God’s conditions in more detail – repent, believe, be baptised in water and receive the Holy Spirit
When we take these steps and genuinely mean it, then we are born again and we receive eternal life. The Holy Spirit Himself comes to live within us, such that He can then be our guide, helper and comforter. He will assist us and empower us from then on to live the Christian life as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit comes to live in us because there is no way that we can successfully carry on the Christian life in our own strength or virtue. That is because we do not have enough strength and we do not have any real virtue in ourselves.
But are you genuine and sincere or are you shallow and phoney?
Only we can tell whether we ourselves are genuine and sincere. Nobody else knows the true motives of our hearts. But, if we are sincere, then it is possible for us to have assurance of our own salvation. That means that you can know that Jesus has paid the penalty for your sins, that God has forgiven you, that the Holy Spirit has come to live in you and that you have eternal life. This is clearly expressed in this passage:
11And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.1 John 5:11-13 (NIV)
That is a strong statement and there are others like it in the Bible. However, I can not tell you whether your repentance and belief/faith are genuine. You must decide that. But be careful, because there are many people who complacently assume they have eternal life but have, in fact, only made a false or shallow repentance. Perhaps there was no real repentance at all.
Or they may have just casually announced that they believe in Jesus Christ, but without any clear understanding or heartfelt conviction about it. Many such lukewarm, casual people are in our churches today. They struggle with the Christian life and often fizzle out and fall away, because they have never been born again to begin with.
Often the problem is that Church leaders reassure such people too easily. They hastily tell people that they are saved and can be sure of it when, in fact, they aren’t yet saved. That’s why I am very wary of ever telling anybody else that they are a genuine believer. I have done that in the past, only to see such people fall away badly later on and give up on their faith completely.
There are many people in churches today who are only nominally Christian. They may be church members or churchgoers but it could just be for social reasons, e.g. to make friends, or because they have an interest in the culture, music, liturgy, or trappings of church life.
I have found that such people can be the hardest to talk to about the real gospel. They assume that because they go to church they are obviously already Christians and don’t need to do or believe anything extra or different. They can be highly offended by the suggestion that what they have may not be enough.
I therefore wish to emphasise as much as possible the need for earnestness and sincerity in taking each of these steps. God knows what the real attitude of your heart is. You can’t deceive Him. He knows whether you mean what you are saying. If you merely say these things and don’t mean them, then it will count for nothing. In fact it would only be an insult to God.
If however you sincerely mean what you say and take the steps with a genuine desire to become a real Christian, then you will be saved. You can have complete assurance of that fact, not because I say so, but because the Bible says so. (See chapter 21 for more detail on assurance of salvation.)
Above all, ensure that you are sincere and serious and that you really mean what you say. God is eager to be found by those who are genuinely seeking Him:
‘You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.Jeremiah 29:13 (NASB)