Growing up in the Bible Belt, I often had this horrifying thought: “What if I am not saved?” I was hopeful that if I did all of the things I was supposed to do. Surely I would get into the “Christian Club.” I raised my hand at the invitation. I walked the aisle to the front of the Altar, to ask Jesus into my heart. I even sealed the deal by a public display of “my decision” to accept Jesus by obeying the Lord’s command to be baptized. I had done all the things I was told that I needed to do to make sure I was accepted into God’s family as a born again child of God. This was very important to me because I did not want to go to hell. I used to believe that if I did not do all of the things to get saved the right way, hell would be my final destination. Looking back, this is tragically ironic. God had already gifted me with what actually keeps me out of hell; faith and belief in Christ.
Still, there were many times I did not act like I was “born-again.” If I asked Jesus the “right way” to come into my heart and life, then why did I still sin? I did not think I was moving on from the baby milk of the gospel to the substantial spiritual food of living a more holy, obedient life as a “mature Christian.” I even tried wearing a WWJD bracelet, to try even harder to live the What-Would-Jesus-Do-centered life. Yet this modern shackle of the Law did nothing more than remind me daily that when I sinned, Jesus would never do what I just did.
I rededicated my life as many times as I could when the guilt was unbearable. I would read my Bible more and pray more, yet I still struggled. I knew deep down, I was breaking God’s heart with my failure at being his child.
For several people who read this, much of the above may sound very foreign. You may have grown up with churches and preachers who look and sound like Rod Rosenbladt, Steven Paulson, and Jim Nestingen. And thank God for that gift! However, for me, and many others like me, the misunderstandings above would have been considered normal Christian living.
Who Is Running The Verbs of My Christian Life?
Many years later, I heard the wonderful news that I had been wrong about my understanding of the Chrisitan life.
- God did not infuse me with, or impart to me, the ability to live a holy and righteous life in order to be accepted by God. God imputed to me the righteousness of Jesus Christ who lived a holy and righteous life for me. I am accepted by God by faith in God crediting to my account the righteousness of Christ. The good works that I do are also promised by God. They are created by Christ for me to walk in them.
- I am not saved because I decided to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I am saved because Jesus decided to die in my place and he accepts me because he is my Lord and Savior. Faith in Christ doing this for me was God-given to me. All as a gift of grace from him.
- I am not forsaken or disowned by God because of my broken promises to be a “good Christian.” God forsook his Son Jesus on the cross for me, and he has promised to forgive me of all my sins because he is a good God. He promises to never leave me nor forsake me.
- I am not born again because I did the right things, said the right prayer, or repented the right way. I am born again because God’s Triune Name was spoken and connected with water when I was baptized into it. God’s word of the gospel was put into my earballs giving me faith in Jesus. And faith is given to me every time I consume the Lord’s Supper, which is given for me. Faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of my sins is handed over to me every time I hear, “By the command of and in the name of Jesus Christ, Son of God, I tell you that you have the entire forgiveness of all your sins.” The gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. I am born-again because God gave birth to me.
- I am not the active agent in my salvation, justification, sanctification, or my baptism. God is the active agent. In my baptism, he connected certain and specific promises to me. Promises that trump any doubts, feelings, terror, or thoughts that I may not be saved. I did not just “get” baptized—I am baptized. Baptism is not a past event that was done by me. It is a present and forever reality of my identity: I am a baptized child of God. This is a daily truth for me because God says so. So when I have doubts (and I still do), the water reminds me that I am his baptized child, and he promised to save me, forgive me, and adopt me into his family.
Did you notice a pattern in my misunderstandings above? I dare say in many Christian circles, there is a pattern of overemphasis on the action of the Christian, at the expense of the action and promises of Christ FOR the Christian. It is deeply rooted in American Christianity and infested in our hymns, Study Bibles, Sunday School curriculum, seminaries, and sermons. There are historical reasons why this is the case, but that can be a topic for another day.
You may ask, “But why do I still struggle with sin?” This is a common question. The understanding that we are simultaneously a sinner and a saint helps to answer this question. Go discover 1517 resources that will explain this better than I can.
The Apostle Paul also described our struggle very well in Romans 7:15-25. Some will twist those verses to say Paul described himself before he was a Christian. However, that ignores the three rules of Bible study: Context, Context, Context. Anyone who denies our struggle with the tension between our fallen flesh (Old Adam) and the New Man we have become in Christ, has to deal with what Paul describes.
Good News: Christ was crucified for the forgiveness of your sins! Past sins, present sins, and future sins. He died for all sins when he took your place on the cross. He became your sin and was reckoned as a sinner on the cross for you. And you are reckoned as righteous in Christ. Believe that brothers and sisters—it is most certainly true!
Find Someone Who Will Hand Over The Goods
- Find someone who will remind you of God’s promise of baptism (and baptize you if you have not been baptized).
- Find someone who will hand over the “It is finished” word of the gospel to you (John 19:30).
- Find someone who will hand over the gift of Christ’s body and blood, broken and shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins in the Supper.
- Find someone who will hear your struggle with sin and will say to you: “According to Christ’s command and in the name of Jesus Christ, I forgive you of all your sins.”
If you don’t have anyone to do that, get a hold of me. I will tell you this truth. It will be my joy to remind you that you are forgiven. The devil will only accuse you of who you are outside of Christ. Good News: he has no case for those who have been buried with Christ in baptism. Fellow baptized “Child of God”—believe your identity. Go in peace.