"Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 5:1
Opening prayer: Father, I want to spend eternity with You, in Your presence. Help me understand how to be SURE of my salvation, I pray.
This is a continuation of our series on the Transformed Life. If you haven't done so already, I encourage you to study our previous lessons in this series:
In our previous lesson, we saw how all of us fall short of God's glory. Perhaps you come closer than I do, but we all come short of His standards of perfection. Without the Big Loophole, we are all doomed to Hell. If you are not familiar with the Big Loophole, I suggest clicking on the link above to review the lesson. Otherwise today's lesson won't make much sense.
As we learned before, there are only two known ways to enter heaven. Either be as perfect and sinless as Jesus (Hint: it's already too late for me or you). Or receive heaven as a free gift, on the merits of Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross. If there's a third way, the Bible is silent about it.
To emphasize that point, let's begin in Romans chapter 4, verses 1-3:What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."
When I was a little kid, hearing stories about Bible heroes, guys like Abraham and David seemed like Supermen. They did lots of good deeds. But verses 1-3 make it clear that Abraham's works didn't save him. Notice that "Abraham believed God, ..." (he acted in faith on what God said) "...and it was accounted to him for righteousness."
The word "accounted" translates a Greek business term, meaning to assign something (e.g. a payment or bonus or dividend) to somebody's account. Abraham didn't earn heaven by attending 400 consecutive synagogue sessions, or reciting Torah verses, or by sacrificing oxen and sheep. Abraham pleased God by acting in faith on God's promise. As a result, God wrote "Paid in Full" on Abraham's ticket to heaven.
We continue with verses 4-8:Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. 5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: 7 "Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, And whose sins are covered; 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin."
According to verse 4, if we were capable of earning salvation by our works, then God would OWE us something for doing all that religious stuff down here. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how invested you are in religious stuff), God doesn't count our works. He counts our faith.
Note that in verse 5 we get the really Good News: "But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness." In other words, forget your religious-sounding STUFF and put your trust in the completed work of our Lord Jesus.
Why does Paul keep repeating himself on this subject?
Because most church buildings are full of religious warm air and rituals.
Aren't you being judgmental, teacher?
Back in the mid 1970s, your teacher spent a frustrating two years going from church building to church building, hoping to find SOMEBODY who could clearly explain the way of salvation. I was unsaved and wanted to become a Christian, whatever that meant. But all the pastors sounded alike, with lukewarm sermons about love thy neighbor and thou shalt not covet.
When I finally heard, in 1977, that we're saved by faith and not by works, it hit me like a lightning bolt. What a crazy concept! Can this be true? If so, why weren't all the OTHER pastors preaching this?
It took several months of studying Scripture, but after reading and re-reading this passage in Romans, I was convinced.
Now verses 9-12:Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised.
Are you ready for a lesson on Bible jargon? OK, our word for today is "the circumcision." In the Bible, it refers to the practice of the Law of Moses, symbolized by the mark of the circumcision on Hebrew men. Abraham underwent circumcision AS AN ACT OF FAITH that God was able to keep His promise. The circumcision was the outward SIGN of Abraham's inward faith.
Paul's times were just like ours -- most of the pastors (rabbis) were infatuated by all the rules and regulations of the Law, rather than by God's call to faith. Then, as now, pastors (rabbis) found it easier to preach about sin rather than teach about faith. They trusted in their observance of the Law to EARN them heaven. God surely OWED them an eternal DEBT of gratitude for all their tithes and all those Passover observances.
Paul had a notable religious career as a zealot for the circumcision. God personally ended Paul's religious career, and explained the way of salvation more clearly (see Acts, chapter 9). Paul thought he was perfectly righteous -- until God struck him down. And Paul was fortunate that God didn't strike him dead.
What God showed Paul is that NOBODY is good enough. Maybe you don't feel like a bad person. But if you think your own goodness is good enough, you are heading straight for hell.
Jesus astounded His disciples by saying that "unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven." (Matthew 5:20) If THOSE guys (advocates of the circumcision) weren't able to do enough good works, take a hint. Neither can you. Neither could Abraham, nor Paul.
Jesus allows no neutrality on this point. Either you trust your own works and go to Hell, or you trust in Jesus' completed work and go to Heaven. There is no in-between place where the flames are only lukewarm and the torment is only temporary. There is no Purgatory. There is no "Hell Lite."
Jesus offers you a choice: Work your religious tail off and go to Hell, or receive the free gift and go to Heaven. Choose one. God will respect your choice.
Moving on to verses 13-16:For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.
To reinforce his earlier points, Paul repeats that the Law was given to the nation Israel AFTER Abraham exercised faith in God's promises. That makes it clear that the promises derive from faith in God rather than from faith in the Law (i.e. in our own goodness and works).
To finish chapter 4, let's read verses 17-25:(as it is written, "I have made you a father of many nations") in the presence of Him whom he believed-God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; 18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be." 19 And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. 20 He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. 22 And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness." 23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
The story of Abraham is pretty remarkable. How many of YOU would have the faith to undergo a painful surgery, at age 99, on the promise of having a natural son through a known-infertile 89-year-old woman?
Verses 19-21 are astonishing. Abraham did NOT waver at the promise of God through unbelief. He had faith. He gave glory to God. He was fully convinced that God was completely able and willing to keep His extravagant promises.
God counted THAT faith as righteousness. And -- wonder of wonders -- we can put our faith in the perfect work of Jesus and gain the same benefits of righteousness by faith.
God grits His teeth at my shortcomings, but He honors my faith. And He'll honor yours.
Salvation by faith IS the Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ. We realize that we can be sure of our salvation, because it doesn't depend on our merits. Amazingly enough, there's even more good stuff involved than inheriting heaven at some unspecified future date. There are great benefits available NOW to believers.
In chapter 5, verses 1-4, Paul explains some of these benefits:Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
This is really great stuff:
- We have peace with God,
- We have access to God, in person, through our faith,
- We can rejoice in confident hope of experiencing God's glory face-to-Face.
So WHY does Paul start talking about tribulation in verse 3? Isn't that the Bible word for trouble?
Yes it is. Better yet, Paul says we "glory in tribulations."
We do? How CAN we?
Because if we keep trusting God to keep His promises, God strengthens us accordingly. Tribulation, experienced in faith, produces endurance in us. When we practice endurance in faith, God strengthens our character. When the Holy Spirit, working in our hearts, builds up endurance and good character, then we can have faith and hope in any circumstances. Nothing can shake our confidence in the faithfulness and integrity of our God. Therefore nothing can shake our confidence in our hope of eternal glory.
Now verses 5-11, one of the most amazing passages in the Bible:Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Think about it. Now that you've begun trusting in the completed work of Christ, you've become a new person. God has actually begun changing your crusty old heart into something resembling His own. Most days, you're a decent person. In fact, you've been REALLY good for several hours now.
But Jesus didn't die for you a few hours ago. He died for you before you cleaned up your act -- or more correctly, before you permitted the Holy Spirit to begin cleaning you up.
Jesus died for the prisoner on Death Row, centuries before that prisoner repented of his sins.
Jesus died for the Apostle Paul, who wrote this epistle, while he was still known as Saul. Furthermore, Jesus not only forgave Saul for persecuting (murdering) His disciples, He permitted Saul/Paul to have an effective ministry that still benefits us today.
That type of love is too much for me to grasp. I'd be willing to lay down my life for my children, and you'd do the same for yours. But would I sacrifice my life to save a hardened murderer like Saddam Hussein or Charles Manson? Neither would you.
Jesus willingly laid down His life for every sinner on earth, and thereby suffered the most painful death ever experienced. Once this concept becomes real to you, you will never again doubt the character and faithfulness of God. Once you realize how God Himself suffered -- for YOU -- you will never again begin a sentence, "How could a good God allow..." Once you really grasp the awesome span of God's love, you'll never again doubt a single word of Scripture.
Verses 9-11 return to the subject of assurance of salvation:Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
Face it: while you were still trying to EARN your salvation, you were an enemy of God. You didn't FEEL like His enemy, but you were still in rebellion against His plan and His Son. Remember your attitude toward "those born-again religious" folk? Now you realize the cold fact: YOU were the religious one.
By repenting of your religious works and trusting in the merits of Jesus' perfect sacrifice, you became reconciled with God and set free from bondage to man-made religions.
Why are you making this such a big deal, teacher?
Because your salvation was/is a miracle. Being reconciled to God was impossible for the religious person that you formerly were. You were determined to do things your own way. You were as far from God (and as hostile) as today's Palestinian terrorists.
Now, through your faith, you have become reconciled to God's way. You can be sure of your salvation.
Only true Christianity can promise you assurance of salvation. Only true Christianity bases your salvation on faith, rather than your religious performance or your feelings about your religious performance.
Be honest with yourself. Even now, your performance is inconsistent. You have "good" days and "bad" days, and even the good days come short of God's glory. But you can always cling to your faith in Jesus and His merits.
What must we do to STAY saved?
The rules don't change after we come to Jesus. Faith in Him is all that can save us. Faith in His completed sacrifice is all that can KEEP us saved.
Some religions teach that you can lose your salvation at any time by committing certain sins. They (conveniently) also teach that you can regain your salvation by performing certain religious rituals. But these doctrines put too much reliance on the works of men and distract attention away from the completed work of Jesus.
Paul had strong words for the church in Galatia, where false teachers insisted that Christians must observe the Law of Moses in order to be saved:Galatians 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?
2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?
In a future lesson on the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, we will see that God expects us to walk in our faith. If we walk with Him in faith, abiding in Jesus, allowing His Holy Spirit to change our hearts, our lives will bear fruit. We can truly experience His joy and peace in the midst of this world's turmoil and sorrow. We can have a personal relationship with the God of the universe, and walk in the assurance of our salvation.
But teacher, my church says I'm going to hell if I don't observe all its rules.
Scripture makes it clear that your faith, not your works, will determine your eternal destiny. Jesus already paid the price for every person in your denomination, regardless of how much fun they had last Saturday night. Nothing you can do can improve on the merits of His sacrifice or lessen its effectiveness.
The book of Hebrews, chapter 7, verses 24-27 make it clear that Jesus' redemptive work is completely finished:But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. 26 For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
THAT is the Lord that I serve. Jesus loved me enough to pay a terrible price for my salvation. I can trust a Lord like Him. I cannot trust my own works. Neither can you.
If you would like to ask further questions or discuss this in more detail, please feel free to send me an e-mail by clicking the "mail-to" link below. Explain your concerns and we'll respond as quickly as we can (assuming the first rapture event hasn't already happened).
Closing Prayer: Lord, thank You for paying such a price to save a religious fool like me. Lord, I put my trust completely in the merits of Your perfect sacrifice. Thank You for reconciling me and giving me assurance of my eternal future. Amen.