Like many young Christians I found myself surrounded by a multitude of voices and views. People gave me pamphlets and books to read. Many took different positions on how God saves. I attended many Bible studies and listened to a variety of Bible teachers. Many took different positions on how God saves. It was a wonderful time in my life, but I must admit it could be confusing.
The Evidence I Needed
I was often invited to share my testimony of being saved out of atheism because of being well-known in the community as an outspoken atheist on my radio talk show. My testimony was pretty basic. I told people what they already knew – I was a mocking atheist – and what they didn’t know – that I had investigated the truth claims of Christianity and become a Christian. I had the evidence and the proof I needed that the claims of Christianity were true.
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8
- Claim – Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures
- Evidence – He was buried
- Claim – He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures
- Evidence – He was seen alive by His closest friends and by hundreds of other people who knew Him
- Evidence – Paul, an unbeliever and persecutor of Christians, saw Jesus alive and became a believer
There’s the Gospel: Jesus died, was buried, rose from the dead and was seen alive by hundreds of people. Even His most intense human enemy, Saul of Tarsus, became a believer when he saw Jesus alive and spoke with Him. That’s what I believed to be true and why I trusted in God’s provision for my salvation. However, the question remained about what role I played in my salvation, “if” any.
As I shared my testimony at a wide variety of churches, pastors’ groups, men’s groups, prayer breakfasts, etc., people would sometimes attempt to correct me on something I had shared in my testimony. I slowly learned that there was within Christianity some serious theological divisions concerning everything from how God saves to whether the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was eternal or a created being and whether the Holy Spirit was a Person or a Force.
An Important Lesson
I was surprised to learn about such deep disagreements and divisions within Christianity. As someone recently saved from atheism, I had a bright view of Christianity. I had yet to learn about some of the darker aspects about the Church.
I spoke at length with my pastors and the men who helped me during my investigation into the truth claims of Christianity. Some believed salvation was all of God and sinners had no part in it other than being saved. Some believed salvation was something God did with everyone by getting them started down a path toward eternal life (prevenient grace). People could choose to believe or not. One pastor told me salvation was like going through a big door. The sign over the door of salvation that everyone could see read “whosoever will.” The people who walked through the salvation door saw a different sign that read “chosen by God.” Some people told me salvation was a matter of good works. They said that at the end of my life, if I had more good works than bad works, I would be saved and God would let me into Heaven. That made my salvation up to me. Some people told me I needed to be baptized within a particular Christian denomination. They said that attending the wrong church and getting the wrong baptism would leave me unsaved at the end or possibly just a friend of the bride of Christ and not part of the bride.
I heard so many different things in those early years. Why were there so many opposing views about how God saves all taken from the same written material (the Bible)? If the Bible was true, which I believed it was, it seemed that something as important as how God saves would be clear and indisputable.
I had read about warnings of divisions in the New Testament and learned that some of the divisions went back centuries, even to the early days of the Church.
I knew that Jesus and His apostles wanted unity among believers:
Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. John 17:11
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13
I also knew that Jesus and His apostles warned about people who would work diligently to bring about disunity among believers:
For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. Matthew 24:24
Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Acts 20:28-30
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 2 Corinthians 11:13-14
Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. Galatians 2:3-5
O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge— by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. 1 Timothy 6:20-21
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber … These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 2 Peter 2:1-3, 17-20
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. 1 John 4:1-3
We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. 1 John 5:19
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Ephesians 6:10-13
There was my lesson. The warnings from Jesus and His apostles had come true. The Church has had a powerful enemy from the beginning. He is the devil. Satan wants people to be like Eve in the Garden and think of themselves as being “like God.” That includes Christians. The devil tried to rob God of something that belongs only to God and He will not share it with anyone:
Reaching A Conclusion
I needed to come to a decision about something so important as how God saves people. I remember how I came to that decision as if it were yesterday.
My wife and I were living in a small house in a very cold part of the country with two very young children. The hard winter months meant less travel for work and more time to study and focus on my Bible college classes. Earlier classes had been about hermeneutics (how to study the Bible), theology, apologetics, counseling and some of the Old and New Testament writings. The Bible book I was studying that winter was Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I had studied it a few years before on Sunday nights as one of our pastors taught verse by verse through Ephesians from the Greek. This college class would give me the opportunity to go through the monumental letter again and search for answers to one of my most important questions. How does God save?
I spent one very cold winter in the mid-1970s in a small room in our house where we kept a small library of Christian books and a place for me to do my studying and writing for college classes and Christian radio programs I was producing at the time. The most important Book in the library was the Bible, of course, but I also referred to Hebrew and Greek language dictionaries, lexicons and linguistic keys to better understand the Bible in its original languages.
As winter turned into spring, I had reached a conclusion. God saves by grace through faith and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. I believed what Paul had written the Christians in Ephesus was true.
God chose us before the foundation of the world. We were part of His eternal plan. He knew us by name before He started creating the heavens and the earth. Our names were important to Him because part of that eternal plan included our adoption as His children.
“… just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” Ephesians 1:4-5
God determined from before the foundation of the world that He would redeem us with the precious blood of His Son.
“… knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 1 Peter 1:18-21
God saved us and called us with a holy calling that was according to His own purpose and grace before time began.
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 2 Timothy 1:8-10
God promised eternal life before time began and even chose Paul to preach it.
Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior. Titus 1:1-3
Salvation is all of God. It is by grace through faith and neither one of ourselves – it is not of our works of righteousness – lest anyone should boast. The only boast I can and should make is in Christ. He did everything for me. He did everything for you.
So, if salvation is all of God’s will, then what about my will? He chose me, but what about my choosing God? How could someone who was spiritually “dead in trespasses and sins” respond to God’s call to salvation? I could see that God called dead people, but how did dead people hear the call?
We’ll do our best to answer that question in the next part of our special study, Calling The Dead.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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