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What's the truth about salvation through Jesus Christ? Is there eternal security, or is it a self-dependent conditional salvation?
The Bible tells us that we are all sinners, and the penalty of sin is death; but that we can be saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the Gospel, or Good News, of Jesus:
"As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one." (Romans 3:10).
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23)
"For by grace are ye saved through faith..." (Ephesians 2:8)
What is grace? Grace is undeserved kindness or mercy. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He who was without sin paid the penalty for us that we, who were yet sinners, couldn't pay for ourselves. And still can't. In fact, there is no way for us to earn our own salvation. It's impossible. Since the very first time you sinned in your life, you are condemned to death.
In the Old Testament, God required the sacrifice of a perfect animal in order to forgive the sins of His people, the Israelites. He said that without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission (or forgiveness) of sin. Jesus is the Perfect Lamb who was sacrificed for the remission of our sins. This is why when John the Baptist saw Jesus, he said "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
What Is a Gift?
What is a true gift? A true gift is given freely with no strings or conditions attached. If a gift is later taken away by the giver, it wasn't really a truly free gift after all. A gift cannot be deserved or earned; otherwise it would be called a reward, right? A gift cannot be dependent some future action; otherwise it would be called an incentive or a bribe, wouldn't it? A gift can neither be earned nor obeyed.
But what about the one who receives a free gift? One does not receive a gift until he makes a decision to accept it.
But one can also reject the gift. Or one can accept a gift and then abuse or neglect it. One can accept a gift and then throw it away. One can accept a gift and then carelessly leave it exposed to thieves. In other words, even though a true gift given freely will not be taken away by the giver, it can still be rejected or neglected or even thrown away after being accepted.
Can these things also be true of God's free gift of salvation to us?
A brief Old Testament event (read Numbers 21:6-9) foreshadowed Christ's redeeming sacrifice on the cross and exemplified a truly free gift from God. Jesus Himself referred to that event when He said:
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:14-15)
And here is my brief summary of that event: The people of Israel were plagued by fiery serpents, and many who were bitten died. But God provided a cure: after being bitten, if they would merely look upon the serpent raised up on the pole, they would live.
The cure was unbelievably simple! But they did have to believe in the cure enough to accept the cure by looking upon the serpent on the pole. They had to trust in it. If they didn't believe in the cure after hearing about it, they probably wouldn't have bothered to look; but once they were bitten, if they remembered and accepted the cure by merely looking upon the serpent on the pole, they were cured of the deadly bite once and forever. Simple! And this is the event Jesus used as an analogy to help explain His impending sacrifice the cross in John 3:14!
Also, remember the thief on the cross who was crucified with Christ:
"But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:40-43)
It was that simple. The thief simply admitted his own guilt and being deserving of his own punishment and not only believed who Jesus was but also trusted in Him enough to ask Him for His mercy, and he got it right then and there in no uncertain terms! And I'm sure his hope in this assurance from Jesus gave him great relief and joy during those last painful moments!
It appears to me that Jesus' reply to him was an unconditional guarantee with full assurance of the future, even with time left on the clock, and clearly without any follow-up requirements on the part of the thief. Period. No magic formula, no follow-up work to do, no ifs, ands, or buts. Guaranteed by God Himself.
Accepting the Gift
Once someone admits that he is a sinner who deserves the penalty of death, and chooses to believe all the Truth about who Jesus is and trusts in His ability and mercy to save Him, and then asks Jesus for the free Gift of His forgiveness and His promise of eternal life, thereby puts their faith in Him for salvation and accepts Him as their Savior. Like the Israelites bitten by serpents or the thief on cross, when we realize our desperate need for salvation, and we decide to trust in Jesus for the cure, and we ask for His free gift of salvation, and we accept the gift and keep it and cherish it, then we have the same hope of the blessed assurance that Jesus gave the thief.
It would seem that there is nothing else we have to do except believe in Jesus:
"That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:14-15)
This, however, is too simple for the natural mind of man to accept. In this world, we know that nothing is ever really free. In this life, it seems that with any "free" thing, there's almost always strings attached. But beware of your natural mind, where it concerns the things of God:
"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him..." (1 Corinthians 2:14)
But what about "believe"? What exactly does that mean?
"Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." (James 2:19)
Satan knows and believes all about Christ, but his fate is sealed in the lake of fire:
"And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." (Rev 20:10)
Therefore it must not be enough just to believe about Jesus. There are many who believe about Jesus. So what's the difference? There is a difference, and that difference is faith. Faith is believing in, and having hope and trust in Jesus, not just believing about Him.
"Now the just shall live by faith..." (Hebrews 10:38)
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1) "But without faith it is impossible to please Him..." (Hebrews 11:6)
So here's your quiz: What does it take for you to have Christ's blessed assurance of your certain salvation? You have just read the answer.
What Other Requirements?
As I said, nothing in this world is ever really free. But the key phrase there is "this world". God only gives perfect gifts, and a perfect gift has no strings or requirements attached. Too hard to believe, or just too hard to understand? There's a BIG difference there. We don't have to fully understand something in our own mind in order to accept it and believe it in our heart:
"Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God." (Heb 3:12)
"Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding." (Pr 3:5)
"Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures," (Lk 24:45)
"For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." (1Cor 1:19)
"The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power," (Eph 1:18-19)
"Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Eph 4:18)
"And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil 4:7)
If it is true that salvation is a free gift offered to us by God, and that we are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus, is there anything must do to complete or ensure our salvation? Just before Jesus died, He said, "It is finished." His blood was shed, and His death for our sins was complete. It is a perfect gift; there is no requirements for us to do to complete it; but just to accept it and cherish it.
Yes, it's true that God loves every person and that He is not willing that any should perish, but it's only those who believe in Jesus that have eternal life. The Lord is our Shepherd, but only if we are His sheep.
Remember that a truly free gift cannot be taken away later by the giver. But also remember that if one does not value a gift he has accepted, he might forget it, or abuse it, or deliberately throw it away, or let it be stolen by a thief.
But if one considers a gift to be priceless, he will treasure it like a "pearl of great price". He will accept it with gratitude and keep it, and treasure it, and be mindful of it, and protect it, and guard it from thieves.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it." (Mt 13:45-46)
Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."
Now go and find what are His commandments, the two commandments He gave in the New Testament. Start reading at the beginning of the New Testament in the book of Matthew, the first of four accounts of the life of Jesus. If you love Him, really love Him, then you will want to read all about Him. You will want to know Him, really know Him. He is your shepherd only if you are one of His sheep.