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Are you a foolish virgin?

 

It is possible to be a member of the church and attend church, but still be a foolish virgin, or unsaved person. What are the characteristics of such religiosity?

 

 

- (Matt 25:1-12) Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened to ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

2 And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

3 They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:

4 But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

5 While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

6 And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes; go you out to meet him.

7 Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.

8 And the foolish said to the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.

9 But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go you rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.

10 And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.

11 Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.

12 But he answered and said, Truly I say to you, I know you not.

 

 

FOREWORD

 

Are you the kind of foolish virgin about whom Jesus speaks in the previous allegory? (Below we are going to use the term “convert” to describe this kind of a person.) Are you a person who wants to be a Christian, who perhaps attends church meetings but has no "oil in his lamp" (no spiritual life in your heart)? Are you only a nominal Christian? Do you have external Christian habits, but really have not been born again and experienced a living faith?

   It really is possible that if God has not had the chance to awaken us then we are such persons. We can show all the external signs of Christianity. We may have turned away from certain sins and we might think that we are on our way to Heaven even though we are truly going in the opposite direction. This is possible if we have not yet seen our true condition and the need for salvation in the light of God.

   For example, Oswald J. Smith – who met a lot of people during his long career as a preacher – has written about this. He states that many people who thought that everything was okay in their lives did really not have a clear understanding of how a person is saved:

 

Everywhere I go, I meet people who live by the wrong experiences and lean upon the wrong foundation, believing that they have been saved even though they have not been saved. Thousands and thousands of members of churches, hundreds of so-called Christians confess that they cannot tell the foundations of their heavenly hope. They think that in their lives everything is well; they think that they are ready to face God, but when asked a few simple questions their answers reveal that they are as ignorant about salvation as are the heathens of Africa. Satan has blinded their eyes, blocked their ears and darkened their understanding, so that they would not realize their mistake and turn to God. A night almost as black as coal covers their souls, and the enemy’s task is to hold them in this condition. Many ofthem are active employees of churches, faithful members of boards and associations, good, moral, and honest in their lives, but – unsaved. (1)

 

So that you do not remain in a state of uncertainty regarding your salvation, we are going to study this subject. We will try to clarify how a convert – a person who is religious yet has no relationship with Christ – comprehends salvation and what the life of a convert is like. We will also try to show in the light of the Bible how this kind of a person can be released from the foundation of lies that is commonly found in religiosity. Perhaps you who do not yet have "oil in your lamp" can find salvation through this information.

 

 


1. The life of the convert and his condition before God
2. On what do the converts base their hope?
3. View on salvation
4. "You cannot be sure of salvation"
5. "Turning to God and being saved takes a long time"
6. The wrong kind of conversion and a wrong assurance
7. You can be born again!
 

 

1. The life of the convert and his condition before God

 

 Before we begin to study how a convert or a religious person can be saved, it is good to take a look at the life and status of the convert before God. There are certain features that are common to people who are religious, and to religiosity in general. Most of these features are common to all converts. We find a number of people living in this state; it is helpful to place them into groups. Even though there are some differences between groups, we can still find some generally shared characteristics. 

  

THE LIFE OF CONVERTS. When talking about converts we can differentiate two groups:

 

People who emphasize the Law. The first group consists of persons who gladly accept that they must do good things, fulfill the Commandments and be in continuous connection with God. They may be the same kind of energetic Pharisee as was the Apostle Paul before his conversion; they evangelize, and might even become monks or nuns.

   However, it is difficult for these people to accept that we – with our good works and attempts – are under the judgment of God and that we can be saved only by the grace of God. Instead, they strongly emphasize the Commandments; they might be heard loudly proclaiming their own mottos:

 

- "Faith alone is not sufficient; one also needs good deeds."

- "Do this and you will live!

- "If you want to enter eternal life, follow the Commandments!

 

People who emphasize the Gospel. The second and larger group has embraced a clearly evangelical view. It is easy for this group to believe in the love and in the grace of God, in the atoning death of Christ, and in God’s care for them. But the problem for this group is that they do not have a spirit that fears God. They think that they are ready in their relationship with God and have figuratively placed Him in His own little compartment, which they visit only when it suits them and their conditions. Their relationship with God is like that of Felix, who said to Paul:

 

- (Acts 24: 24-25) And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.

25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go your way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for you.

 

These people can live double lives. In religious matters they can be quite spiritual but when they are taking care of their everyday life, they may make sure that God cannot affect them in any way. Their problem is that their heart has become attached to this world and they want to serve two masters. This is impossible, as the next verses of the Bible show:

 

- (1 King 18:21) And Elijah came to all the people, and said, How long halt you between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.

 

- (Matt 6:24) No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

 

- (Luke 14:33) So likewise, whoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.

 

The lines below written in the style of a diary illustrate the nature of this group. These lines reflect what the convert thinks about his or her Christianity and what it really is. The underlying message is that the person is comfortable in his relationship with God and does not want any changes in it:

 

But I didn't need such a Jesus who commands us to hate our own lives. I didn't need Jesus to be the conciliator of my sins. I don’t think I had a lot of sins anyway. (…)

   Of course I want to be a Christian. I am also sure that all that has been written in the Bible is true. But I don’t have such a need of the word of God, which would make me read the Bible or go to listen to it.

   To Martti, God is different. You can see that he deems God holy and doesn’t want to go against His will. That I don't understand. I also deem sin a serious thing. But as Luther says, we sin every day in many ways, and the important thing is that Jesus has already carried our sins on the cross. Martti is afraid of committing a sin on the grounds that grace covers them. He fears that if we start to think that because Jesus has reconciled all our sins, it is not so important if we sin a lot or a little. He says that if we live our lives as we want, we will go astray.

   My answer is that that just isn’t true, because Jesus has also reconciled that sin too. Martti is not of the same opinion. When a Christian no longer takes sin seriously, it shows that he has gotten used to sinning and started to accept it as a part of life. Those to whom this happens will go astray, despite how familiar they are with the Christian dogma.

   When I speak with Martti, I become restless about the idea that I too would go astray. I ask myself whether I ever really found salvation. (…)

   Before, I would have laughed at something like that. I regarded faith in Jesus as my own personal issue, not having much to do with my family. I didn't really think that my faith would have any significance in real life. Now I understand that it is what makes all the difference. (…)(2)

 

CONTENT WITH THEIR STATE. What is typical for some persons whom God has saved and awakened is that they are never content with their own spirituality and spiritual life. On the contrary, they may be very much aware of being miserable human beings corrupted by sin. Similarly, they may worry about not being able to lead a better life. The well-known "apostle of the Pentecostal movement of North Europe," T.B. Barratt, has well described this condition through his own experiences. In this description he also describes his baptism of the Spirit:

 

It took place yesterday, Sunday, October the 7th, between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., and now I will tell you all how it happened. My soul is burning! I feel as if I was the happiest man in the world. Everything has become new. I am full of joy, peace, and love towards God and all people! Through the days he has led me, my heart continually shouting, “Forward! Forward!” Since my difficult illness over 20 years ago, there have always been forces, good forces, which have driven me forward. The question of sanctification has been my dearest subject; I have fought for it, even though I have not experienced it. (…)

   But how wretched I felt in my own eyes before the purity and holiness of God! I saw my own ambition, selfishness, stubbornness, and carnality. Oh, my God, I saw so much, so much that would grieve the Holy Spirit! I was broken and bent to the ground over and over again. (3)

 

Similarly, Romans 7 describes this well. Paul describes his life. Paul writes about, among other things, how he in the light of the law of God deeply understood his inadequacy and imperfection – subjects, that converts usually only experience as talk:

 

- (Rom 7:18, 22-24) For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwells no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.

22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.

24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

 

It is very typical for converts to be content with the current state of things. They are content with their own holiness and repentance, and think that even God is content with them. They can also compare themselves to other "sinful people" (Luke 18), and unavoidably feel that they are better than others.

   The next example accurately describes a person who can find comfort in his or her own mind and life. John Bunyan writes about it in his famed book The Pilgrim's Progress (p. 164,165). This example also shows how many converts see salvation:

 

   Ignorant: Do you think that I am so stupid that I would not know that God sees more than I do? Or that I would come before God under the protection of my good deeds?

   Christian: What do you think about this question then?

   Ignorant: Briefly, I think that I must believe in Christ in order to become righteous.

   Christian: What on earth? You think that you must believe in Christ, even though you do not understand that you need him? You do not understand the original sin or your weaknesses and you think so highly of yourself and your good deeds that you think you do not need the righteousness of Christ before God? How can you then say that you believe in Christ?

   Ignorant: But I do believe.

   Christian: In what way?

   Ignorant: I believe that Christ died for the sinners, and that I will be freed before God from the curse when He in His grace accepts my obeying the law. Christ thus makes my religious acts acceptable to the Father because of what Christ has done for us, and that justifies me.

   Christian: I want to answer your statement of faith.

1. Your faith is fictitious; it is not described in the word of God.

2. Your faith is wrong, because it takes righteousness from the righteousness of Christ and connects it to your own.

3. According to your belief, Christ does not justify you, He first justifies your acts and you yourself only after that – which is quite wrong.

4. That is why this belief is deceitful and will leave you under the anger of the almighty God on the day He returns. The true justifying faith is the soul, which standing before the law knows its lost condition, understands to escape to the shelter of the righteousness of Christ. His righteousness is not an act of grace by which He would change your obedience into righteousness, He himself was obedient before the law when He suffered and did what was needed for us. This is righteousness that the right kind of faith receives, and when the soul is wrapped in it, it can step in front of God as pure, accepted and free from judgment.

   Ignorant: What? Should we trust in something Christ has done without us? In that case, our desires would take a hold of us and we could live any way that pleases us. That would mean that the righteousness of Christ would be enough to justify us everything, no matter how we live, as long as we believe in it.

   Christian: Ignorant is your name, and you really are equal to your name – your answer proves that. You are ignorant about what real righteousness is, about how faith in righteousness can save you from the anger of God. And you are just as ignorant about how faith in the righteousness of Christ affects you, how it can win the heart to God in Christ, make one love His name, His word, His ways, and His people, not at all like you, the ignorant, imagine. (Translation from the Finnish version.)

 

Also, these people do not understand the seriousness and sinfulness of their own condition. They are unaware of any sins that would accuse them; at the most, they may admit to having committed some "little sins" which, however, "don’t matter so much." They really do not have the above-mentioned understanding of the internal corruption in one’s heart simply because they have never totally been in the light of the holiness and the law of God.

   However, it is vitally important for us to understand our own condition. It is not important in itself but it makes us understand our imperfect condition so we turn to the Savior, to Jesus. Only a person who understands his own bad, damned condition and sinfulness can understand the need for the Savior. If we have not understood this basic truth then we probably have not yet received salvation. The next verses, among others, teach us about our state as sinners who, without Christ, stand under God’s judgment and damnation:

 

- (Isa 53:6) All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

 

- (Rom 3:23) For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God

 

- (Luke 19:10) For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

 

The problem of converts is just this: when they continually speak about what "they have done" and compare "their goodness" to others, they do not yearn for the Savior of sinners. Only when we understand that we are in our own righteousness damned and under judgment can we be saved by turning to God. However, these people often have a more difficult time receiving salvation because they strongly hold on to their mistaken belief that they are good people. The well-known late Finnish preacher Niilo Yli-Vainio could easily recognize this when meeting these kinds of people. He said that it is very difficult for these people to see their own condition before God, and because of that it is also very difficult for them to accept the Gospel:

 

It has been at least 25 years since I held meetings in a municipality in Southern Ostrobothnia. God gave a lovely revival, and these days there is a congregation full of life. I especially remember one elderly woman. I talked with her often about the blessedness of her soul. She was extremely godly and converted in the full meaning of the word. I tried to tell her that she too was a sinner before God and needed personal salvation. But I could not get any hold of her. She assured me repeatedly and in many ways that she had not done anything bad to anybody and that God would take her into Heaven as such. In fact, she know nothing about salvation. I wondered how could I show her that she too was guilty before God. But then I remembered that these kinds of people are often very stingy and greedy for money. (…)

   From the human point of view, it sometimes seems to be totally impossible for these kinds of "great", egocentric people to be saved at all. Sometimes, it simply seems to be impossible to show these people that they have sinned, when in most cases they themselves do not think that they have done anything bad or wrong to anybody. They always think that other people have done so, not them.

   Countless times I have totally failed in my work in trying to show the converts and religious people that they are sinners and in need of salvation. Sometimes I have been totally irritated with people who do not understand that they are sinners before God and need Jesus as their Savior. But praise God for this wonderful verse in the Bible, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible”, Matt. 19:26. (4)

 

"LOWERING THE BAR". When converts are content with their condition they usually also create their own image of God. They form this image based on how they think God sees their life and what God demands from them. They may think that when they first do their best, God will be satisfied with them. They do not understand that they, with their acts and self-satisfaction, are constantly law-breakers, lost and in a bad state because they are not as perfect and sinless as God. This is indicated in the next verses:

 

- (Gal 3:10) For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

 

- (Jam 2:10) For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

 

They may also think that God does not demand from them any more than what they are able to do, "because God cannot demand the impossible." They in a way lessen the demands of God’s law concerning them, and "set the bar so low" that they will not be guilty before God. So it is possible that they may say, for example:

 

- "At least I try. Nobody is perfect. I don't believe that God demands perfection.” (5)

 

The late preacher C.O. Rosenius clearly described how these people think, and how a wrong kind of conversion generally takes place. He wrote about the same subject: how converts set the bar of God’s law so low that they can in no way be guilty before God:

 

This can only lead to bad. Some become coarse Pharisees, who can easily be identified. Others become Pharisees in a more refined way.

   They know very well that no one will be declared righteous by fulfilling the law, as Paul says. They never intended to choose that, but somehow have been drawn to it. It started with them looking for salvation. They read the word of God, prayed, and defied the world and sin. They noticed that they really changed from what they were, and thanked God for that. They had a miserable luck in getting comfort and peace from becoming better people. But how did this really happen?

   Perhaps they were never really awoken? They assured themselves only of the danger of walking the wide road and chose the other road. They were sure that now that they walked a different road than the world in general, everything had to be in order. They put away a few sins and changed their way of life, but did not understand that God looks into our heart. Neither did they understand what being born again means but were satisfied with changing their life in a few areas. And when they were not perfectly content with themselves, they thought, “Christians also have their faults, but God is merciful”.

   Here and there, they also started to bargain about the law: no way can God make unreasonable demands! In this way, they arranged their lives and put their bar so low that they escaped from being guilty in the eyes of God. If they somehow took into consideration the fact that the purpose of the law was to bring about repentance and depression, they thought that everything must be all right when they felt bad about some sins in their conscience. But they were never entirely under the judgment and anger of God.

   Putting it briefly, this is the wrong kind of conversion. It is impossible to dig into all the details but briefly, it can be put like this: one who has never lost his wrongful hope about the grace of God, who has never failed in his conversion, never entirely been under the judgment of God, has never really turned to God and been saved. (6)

 

The problem of converts lies in minimizing the demands of God’s law and insufficiently feeling guilty because they do not understand that God's law, the expression of His (God’s) perfect will and His inner nature, cannot be changed (because God does not change) but is always perfect. This perfect law thus indicates to the convert – and to others – that they have not obeyed it but are law-breakers and sinners and accursed, as the verses above teach.

   Therefore, only when they understand that they in themselves are in a bad position, like a man who is drowning and cannot save himself, does the Gospel -- the good news about Jesus Christ’s salvation of sinners -- come to help. Only when converts give up their self-satisfaction can God save them, just like saving a person who is in a shipwreck.

 

- (John 3:16) For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

 

- (1 Tim 1:15) This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

 

What is the greatest sin? At this point let us consider whether or not we are great sinners. As one problem for the converts is that they do not understand their sinfulness before God, so they make themselves guilty of the greatest sin, according to the Bible. They have committed the greatest sin without even knowing it.

   This is mainly because of the greatest Commandment: to love God with all our heart every single moment. The greatest sin must be not obeying this Commandment. Therefore, we have committed the greatest sin:

 

- (Matt 22:36-39) Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

37 Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.

38 This is the first and great commandment.

39 And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

 

In order to make this completely clear, let’s look at it also in the light of the next statement by R.A. Torrey. He talks about meeting a person who, as a convert, did not understand his condition before God:

 

A real life example can help to clarify this Bible verse. I once talked with a very talented young man, who clearly had no feeling of guilt or longing for the Savior. When I asked him if he was a Christian, he answered that he had always been one. There was, however, something in his behavior indicating that he did not have a clear understanding of what was meant with being a Christian. I then asked him if he had been born again, but he still did not understand what I meant. After that I asked him whether he was aware of having committed the greatest sin a man can, to which he immediately answered, "No, I have never done that.”

   I proceeded by asking him which sin he deemed the greatest of them all, and he answered, "Murder”. I took out the Bible, opened it at Matthew 22:37, 38, “Love the Lord your God” and so on (…) and asked him to read these verses, which he did. Then I asked him, "This is the first and the greatest Commandment. What sin is then the greatest?” He answered, "I suppose breaking this Commandment would be the greatest sin”. After that I asked whether he had always obeyed this Commandment, loved God with all his heart and with all his soul and with his entire mind, and always searched for God. He answered that he had not. I then asked him, "What is your sin then?” The Spirit of God made this clear to him and he answered seriously, "I have committed the greatest sin a man can commit, without knowing it.” (R.A. Torrey, Miten johdamme ihmiset Kristuksen luo, p. 21,22)

 

SEEING JESUS ONLY AS A MODEL AND PREACHING. If we look at converts’ view of Jesus, we can see that they may indeed think highly of Jesus. They may regard Him as an outstanding teacher, a good example, a prophet, and even the Son of God; these are all features the Bible teaches us about.

   But the problem for converts is that because they live in the above-mentioned condition of self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction, they normally forget about or at least invalidate the most important aspect: Jesus’ atoning death for our sins by which we are saved. When converts do not notice or understand their own sins, this also remains unclear to them; they normally ignore it very quickly and turn their attention to other "more interesting" aspects of faith. In fact, this kind of a person does not live by the good news of how in Jesus Christ there is atonement for our sins but only sees this as an irrelevant detail, even though so many verses in the Bible clearly teach that Jesus most importantly died for us. He was not only a good teacher and role model. The foundation for Apostle Paul’s life and the core of his message was the atonement of Jesus, not just His providing an example for us to follow, as the next verses illustrate:

 

- (1 Cor 2:1-2) And I, brothers, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring to you the testimony of God.

2 For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

 

- (Gal 6:14) But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.

 

- (1 Cor 1:17-18) For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but to us which are saved it is the power of God.

 

The messages delivered by some converts who are preaching also shows us how they think. The teaching of a convert or a priest who is not a true believer, seldom concentrates on what Jesus has done for us. Instead, their preaching usually focuses on issues like inequality in society, fighting against poverty and oppression, commands, values, peace, world politics, unity, fuller life, responsibility, and caring for your neighbors – issues about which any humanist might speak.

   When speaking about Jesus, they usually refer only to the exemplary life of Jesus and His high moral standards, and forget the heart of the Gospel – the death of Jesus for our sins – even though only that will bring life and salvation to people.

   The next message written by D.L. Moody clearly describes the preaching done by this kind of a person. In this example, the preacher taught about Jesus’ role as an example, Jesus’ life, and held sermons on subjects of morality but did not mention anything about Jesus dying for us:

 

I once stayed in a town of this province, and a young man came to me and said, "If you are right, it means that I am wrong, and vice versa: if I am right, you are wrong.” As I knew him to be a preacher I said, "I have never heard you preach but as you have heard my sermons, you can tell on what you disagree.” He said, "You preach the death of Christ and I preach His life. I tell people that the death of Christ has no connection with salvation. You tell them that the death of Christ is the only thing that can save them, not His life. I do not believe a word of this.”

   I asked him, "But how can you explain this Bible verse: ‘Who his own self bore our sins in his own body on the tree?” "I have never preached on that.” "What about the Bible verse ‘without shedding of blood is no remission?" "I have never preached on that. "What then is your opinion of this: ‘For as much as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” "I have never preached on that either.” "Well, what do you say about this verse then: ‘But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was on him" "I have never preached on that either.”

   I asked him, "What do you preach then?” After considering for a moment, he answered, "I give virtue sermons.” "You do not talk about the atonement at all?” "No, I do not. I cannot do that because then I would be guilty of deceit. I could just as well leave my priesthood without a word.” I said to him, “Virtue sermons about Christ, without saying anything about his death!” This young man admitted that it had sometimes felt like a deceit. He was honest enough to confess this. If we take away atonement, it is all just a fairy tale. (7)

 

THE OBJECTS OF INTEREST AND PRAYER. Regarding the converts’ objects of interest, we can say that these people are generally not interested in others being saved, born again, filled with the Holy Spirit, or in the progress of God’s Kingdom on Earth.  A person who has been born again most of all yearns for these things and speaks about them, but a convert is not at all interested in them.

   To a convert, Paul’s above-mentioned wishes and those mentioned below are very strange and distant. A convert does not wish for any of these, even though they were the most important things during the early church:

 

- (2 Thess 3:1) Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you

 

- (Rom 10:1) Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.

 

- (Rom 9:1- 3) I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.

3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh

 

And how could converts be interested in these subjects since they are not even interested in the salvation of their own soul?! As they neither want to get a strong relationship with God nor are they interested in the lives of other people. Things that interest them are generally concerned with ordinary and earthly matters. So, when two converts come together they generally discuss such subjects as politics, sports, their neighbors' faults, fishing, hobbies, etc.. They happily talk about these subjects, and their minds are occupied by these subjects. In a way they talk out of the overflow of their heart, as Jesus says:

 

- (Luke 6:45) A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

 

- (Matt 6:21) For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

 

The same thing also concerns praying: if converts pray at all, they do not pray for a revival in their hometown. Instead, their prayers concentrate more on themselves and on earthly pleasures. They typically pray for their own well-being and for everything to go smoothly for themselves. These are not bad things to pray for, but it would be more important to pray for God’s will to happen and His work to go forward.

   The well-known late Finnish preacher, Niilo Yli-Vainio, referred to converts’ prayer motives and how they concentrate only on themselves. He wrote about converts’ egocentric prayers as follows:

 

Over and over again rises the question of why a convert or a religious person prays at all. What is the deepest and most fundamental need that they bring to God? Why do they pray Our Father in Heaven throughout their life, without ever fully experiencing the message?

   We sometimes meet converts who say they pray a lot. But why?

   It is a shocking fact that all of the "Christian" activities of a convert are directed only to himself. He himself is the central point of his whole service, not God. He prays for the sake of himself, not because he wants to meet God, and not for other people to come to know God. He only prays to make sure he has a good life here on Earth, food, clothes, health, good job opportunities, a fat bank account, a carefree retirement, God to bless his activities, his business enterprises, and everything that concerns his personal life on Earth. (8)

 

RESISTING THE WORK OF GOD. One of the not-so-nice qualities of converts is that they resist the work of God. They resist it either by rejecting God’s purpose for themselves or by means of direct resistance. If a revival comes to town, the first people to rise against it are not the ordinary people, but priests and religious persons who do not know God. This activity can be seen in events that took place during the time of Jesus and long before that, as shown in the next verses:

 

- (Matt 23:13) But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer you them that are entering to go in.

 

- (Luke 7:30) But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.

 

- (Isa 63:10) But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them.

 

- (Matt 26:59-60) Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;

60 But found none: yes, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses,

 

It is indeed difficult for converts to understand people turning to God and the work of God. To them, all revivals are always an offence; they are "sectarianism," "fanaticism," "wrong faith," or "foreign faith," while they themselves have "the right doctrine" and "the faith of their fathers." If people start to wake up from their sinful life, they regard it as a disturbance of the church’s peace. They are just like the man of whom the evil spirit said, “you torment me not" (Mark 5:7).

   The interesting thing is that these people are not at all interested in the condition of the souls of other people, even if they were deep in their sins and on their way to damnation. Instead, when people start to repent and turn to God, the resistance of these people immediately rises. The next case describes this kind of a situation:

 

The enemy often paints white black and black white. When a town is under spiritual death and darkness, when the shepherds and their herd are asleep, things are usually supposed to be all right. People suppose that they have the right faith and doctrine. If revival comes to town, many are ready to condemn it as sectarianism and as an effect of wrong faith that must be stopped. Many who become believers in those times end up suffering a bloodless martyr’s death because their faith is deemed wrong.

   In one town where God saved some people, a man visited each one of them warning them and urging them to turn away "from the wrong faith." I once had a chance to say to this man, "It is quite strange that you now worry about these people who have been saved. Why did you not worry about them when they were living a sinful life?” (9)

 

ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE WORD OF GOD. Converts may have some respect for the word of God. They may even regard it as the word of God and believe that biblical events have really taken place.

   But as to the practical side of life, we must note that this kind of religiousness always has its own interpretations of the word of God. What is written in the Bible is not enough, these people always apply their own traditions and opinions on every issue.

   These days this can be seen in Western churches where the views of people are not based on the Bible and the word of God but on polls of public opinion, and their own thoughts. For example, attitudes towards homosexuality, immorality, and even damnation ("all people can enter Heaven"), are not based on the Bible but people themselves decide what the correct attitude is and consider themselves to be a greater authority than the Scriptures, Jesus, or the Apostles. Most converts are certainly like this.

   What the convert does not understand, however, is that when he or she tries to be "broad-minded" and makes his or her decisions based perhaps on what they perceive as the commonly held opinion or some other similar issue, he or she at the same time undermines the word of God and deems it unnecessary. These people are quite like the Pharisees who during the time of Jesus acted in a similar manner for the sake of their traditions. There is not much difference between the two. Jesus said to these hypocrites who nullified the word of God:

 

- (Matt 15:6-9) And honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.

7 You hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,

8 This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

 

 

 

2. On what do the converts base their hope?

 

When studying what converts base their hope upon, we must note that they generally do not base it upon Christ and His atonement. Even though they may respect Christ and His work in theory, in practice they put their trust on something else to calm their restless conscience. Below, we are going to take a look at this.

 

Not AS bad AS other people. One of converts’ comforting thoughts is that they are not as bad as other people. They may compare themselves to other people and be at ease before God. In the same way, they may think that nothing bad can happen to them because they are "much better" than many other people.

  A good example is the well-known preacher John Wesley before he became a Christian. In those days, he believed that he would be saved because

1. He was not as bad as other people.

2. He did not have anything against religion.

3. He read the Bible, went to church and said his prayers; he put his trust mostly in what he did and in not being as bad as other people.

 

Another good example is the Pharisee mentioned in the Gospel of Luke. He was a "typical" convert: he spoke expressly about his own actions, what he had or had not done. He compared his life to that of the tax collector, thus showing he was content with his own condition, for which he thanked God.

   However, the fact is that the tax collector was the more righteous one of these two men. This was because he did not talk to God about his own actions but placed his whole trust on the grace of God. As a result he went home being more righteous than the Pharisee:

 

- (Luke 18:10-14) Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote on his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.

 

We might wonder whether there is any advantage in not being as bad as other people before God. Will it help us before God in any way? Will it help us to enter Heaven?

   It does not help in any way because the Bible says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. There are sinners great and small, but all of them are sinners just the same; all fail to meet the measure of God's yardstick:

 

- (Rom 3:23) For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God

 

- (Rom 3:9) What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin

 

- (Gal 3:22) But the scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

 

So from eternity's perspective, our being better than other people makes no difference. It is like a bus driving off the road into a gorge. There would be great and small sinners in the bus, but their fate would still be the same and none of them could change their fate.

   Or if a ship were to sink – such as the Titanic – there would be different kinds of sinners, great and small ones, but in any case their final fate would be the same. Only if they managed to get on a lifeboat might they avoid sure devastation.

    Our salvation can also be illustrated by drawing a picture of a deep bottomless abyss that we must cross. Some of us can jump perhaps 3 meters, others 6 and some even almost 9 meters. However, since the abyss is hundreds of times wider than we can jump there is not much point in comparing how far each one of us can jump. We would have to conclude that "Yet not one of you keeps the law." Furthermore, we would all be "under a curse" with our comparisons and actions:

 

- (John 7:19) Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keeps the law?  Why go you about to kill me?

 

- (Gal 3:10) For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.

 

ActIONs. The most common foundation of converts’ hope is in what they do, in the actions by which they try to affect their salvation. Converts may constantly talk about how they do not smoke or drink, go to church, pray, give alms, do compensatory deeds and other spiritual practices. They may also talk a lot about the grace of God and say that everything comes from grace but in practice speak more about their actions and own life than about the grace of God. The next lines describe well their foundation of hope:

 

I had already begun to know the monk a little, and so I turned to him and asked, "Dear sir, do you believe that you are going to Heaven?”

   His answer was like that of Thanus, "I surely hope so!”

   So I used the opportunity to ask him another question,

"Let us assume that you are standing at the Gates of Heaven and the Lord asks you, 'What makes you believe that you will get into Heaven?' What would you answer Him?”

   His answer was quite typical, "I tried to do my best to be good!”

   "Why did Yeshua have to die as an offering then if it is enough that a man 'is good' to enter the kingdom of God?” Now I was really pushing him.

   Just like Thanus, he had never asked himself these questions. (…)

I showed again the verse to him, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God..." It seemed like the monk was surprised, as if he had seen the verse for the first time in his life. (…)

   A businessman from Israel following my conversation with the monk seemed amused. The monk, however, was rather confused. (10)

 

However, if we take a look at the Bible, we read its clear message that our foundation for salvation is not in what we are and what we do, but in what Jesus was and did for us 2,000 years ago:

 

- (John 19:30) When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.

 

- (Luke 14:17) And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.

 

Jesus, did not come to Earth just to provide us with a good example or to teach as converts often think. He specifically came to die a substitute death for us so that we could be saved. Being the substitute, He also took away the curse from us, carried our sins, and took away the punishment.

   Therefore, when everything has already been done for us, our actions no longer play any part in our salvation. None of us can save ourselves but everyone can trust in what Jesus has already done for us:

 

- (Rom 5:6) For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.

 

- (Rom 5:8) But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

 

- (Rom 8:32) He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?

 

- (Gal 2:20)  I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

 

- (Gal 3:13) Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangs on a tree

 

- (1 Thess 5:10) Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.

 

- (Tit 2:14) Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

 

- (1 John 3:16) Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

 

- (1 Tim 2:6) Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

 

- (1 Peter 3:18) For Christ also has once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

 

- (Hebr 6:20) Where the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.

 

- (Isa 53:5-6) But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was on him; and with his stripes we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

 

- (Rom 4:25) Who was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification.

 

What is the purpose of the law? At this point, it is good to take a look at the purpose of the law. Converts often use the law and their actions as their way to salvation. We must learn that the law has quite another meaning for us. Trying desperately to completely fulfill the law – because no one of us gets even close to that – is not the way to salvation, it is meant to show us that we are not able to fulfill the demands of God. The purpose of the law is thus "to silence every man," and to show us that we are guilty and under the judgment of God, and also to show us that we cannot save ourselves. If we do not understand this, our understanding is not yet complete:

 

- (Rom 3:19-20) Now we know that what things soever the law said, it said to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

 

- (Rom 5:20) Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound

 

- (Rom 7:7-14) What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. No, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, You shall not covet.

8 But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, worked in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.

9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.

10 And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be to death.

11 For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me.

12 Why the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.

13 Was then that which is good made death to me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.

14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.

 

- (Gal 3:19- 22) Why then serves the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

20 Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.

21 Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness should have been by the law.

22 But the scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.

 

Therefore, we must understand that trying desperately to obey the law cannot take anyone closer to God; but it does indicate that everyone is imperfect in front of God. We are all guilty, as many Bible verses say.

   A solution to this problem can be found in another way. As we are not able to be perfect in the eyes of God, the Bible very clearly shows how Jesus came to live under the law and fulfilled the law for us: He was a substitute for us and fulfilled all the demands of the law before God. He was able to fulfill the law because He Himself lived a sinless and pure life. This important issue – that Jesus fulfilled the law for us – is the whole foundation of our salvation:

 

 - (Gal 4:4,5) But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

 

- (Rom 8:3) For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh

 

- (Matt 5:17) Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.

 

- (Hebr 7:26) For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens

 

So what is the purpose of the law then if a man cannot be saved by it?

   This can be answered simply by saying that it has been given to us only as a guiding principle on how to live but it does not have anything to do with salvation. In the same way the law has been given to lead us to Christ, so that we might be justified by faith (Gal 3:24-25: Why the law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.)

   Salvation never takes place through the law or our actions, but these can be the results of salvation. God does not want anyone to stop doing good deeds, He only wants us not to trust in them. Naturally, we should obey the law and do good deeds after salvation. Paul (who was the one who most strongly taught that salvation comes by grace alone and through faith), also wrote a lot about our actions. He encouraged people to do good deeds so that they would not live unfruitful lives. Not to be saved by them, but because they were saved:

 

- (Tit 3:14) And let our’s also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful.

 

- (Tit 3:8) This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that you affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.

 

- (Tit 2:14) Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

 

- (Eph 2:8-10) For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.

 

Becoming better. Looking further into the objects of converts’ trust and hope, we find one of these is "becoming better in the future." They may think that perhaps today they do not measure up to the yardstick of God, but maybe one day in the future they will be so good that they can receive salvation and the grace of God; they see salvation as a process.

   But as we previously noted, we cannot become acceptable before God by ourselves (Eph 2:8: For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God); not now or in the future, even if we tried. This is because all our actions are so insufficient and imperfect. God is only satisfied with His Son Jesus who was obedient on our behalf and in every aspect fulfilled the will of God. Through Him, grace has already been given to us so that we can receive it:

 

 - (Matt 3:17) And see a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

 

- (Rom 5:19) For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

 

- (John 1:16-17) And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.

17 For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

 

- (1 Cor 1:4) I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ

 

Therefore, as grace has already been given in Jesus Christ, we must receive it and not refuse to accept it. Right now is "the time of God's favor" and "the day of salvation":

 

 - (2 Cor 6:1) We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that you receive not the grace of God in vain.

 

- (Hebr 4:7) Again, he limits a certain day, saying in David, To day, after so long a time; as it is said, To day if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

 

- (2 Cor 6:2) For he said, I have heard you in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored you: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

 

Repentance, humility and silence. Some converts may find solace in grieving about their sins and repentance. They may regard this as a good activity. They may also pray to God for grace by saying, "Holy God, have mercy on us!” They may practice "humility" and "silence" (maybe retreats into silence are a part of this kind of behavior) seeing such activity as good.

   But we can question whether we will gain salvation through repentance, humility or silence. Will they help us to be saved? 

   They most certainly will not help if we are not ready to receive salvation. The purpose of repentance is not that God would be persuaded to give His grace in response to our grief, but that we would be persuaded to receive it. Salvation and the grace of God are made ready for us by Christ; we need to receive them so that they would not have been for nothing. It is our hard-heartedness that prevents our salvation:

 

- (Luke 7:30) But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.

 

- (Rom 2:5) But after your hardness and impenitent heart treasure up to yourself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God

 

Let's take an example of a person in the middle of a desert shouting for help and mercy (compare to "Holy God, have mercy on us!”) because he is dying of thirst. Neither his screams, tears, nor repentance can save him; they will not help him in the least if he does not receive the help offered to him. The person must accept help; only then will he be saved.

   Also, if someone is drowning and a lifeboat is offered to him, it is not his crying and grieving that deliver him, but only his accepting help offered. When a person stops turning his back on his helper, he will be saved from certain death.

  Repentance, humility, and silence cannot save anybody; they can lead us to damnation just like anything else. Only when we stop fighting God and receive the help and salvation He offers – when we receive Jesus Christ into our life – only then will we be saved:

 

- (Rev 3:20) Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

 

- (John 1:12) But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name 

 

Denying assurance of salvation is one of the most common features of a convert. Is a person who prays for mercy and salvation while simultaneously rejecting them a hypocrite? If we think logically, that is what it is all about. The Bible talks about these people in the following way:

 

 - (Matt 15:8-9) This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

 

- (2 Tim 3:5) Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

 

- (Col 2:18) Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

 

- (Matt 23:25-28) Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.

26 You blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like to white washed sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.

28 Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

 

 

3. View on salvation

 

“Faith alone is not sufficient. good deeds are ALSO needed.” Regarding converts’ views about salvation we must note that they too may associate faith in Christ with salvation. They may say quite honestly that we must believe in Christ in order to be saved and become righteous before God. They may speak about the grace of God in connection with salvation.

   But when it comes to putting this into practice these people turn things upside down. They talk more about their good deeds and the effect of these deeds on salvation than about the grace of God. They may also make comments similar to these: 

 

- "Yes, faith does justify but we also need good deeds."

- "Faith alone is not sufficient; good deeds are also required.”   

 

Luther, a former monk and a convert, described this attitude in A Commentary On the Letter of Galatians (p. 115). He wrote: 

 

But the truth of the Gospel is this: our righteousness is through faith alone, without acts of the law. Interpreting the Gospel falsely is to say that we are justified through faith, but not without acts of the law. The false apostles preached the Gospel by adding this condition to it. Our Sophists [and papists] teach the same: we must believe in Christ, and faith is the foundation of blessedness, but it does not justify us if it has not been expressed through love. This is not the truthful Gospel but something that only looks like it.

 

But how is it really? Are good deeds needed in addition to faith, or are we saved by faith and grace alone? Let’s take a look at the following points:

 

1. Salvation is a gift

2. Salvation through grace

3. The thief on the cross

4. The prodigal son

5. Not a combination of law and grace

6. Salvation through faith

7. An old heresy

 

1. Salvation is a gift. The fact that salvation is a gift excludes the possibility that we must perform good deeds or meet special conditions.  If we had to pay for a gift or to do something to get it, it would no longer be a gift – it would be something we had earned. The gift must be received as such or not at all; there is no other way:

 

- (Eph 2:8) For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

 

- (Rom 3:24) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

 

- (Rom 6:23) For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

- (Rev 21:6) And he said to me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to him that is thirsty of the fountain of the water of life freely.

 

- (Rev 22:17) And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is thirsty come. And whoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

 

2. Salvation through grace. If salvation were even partly a reward for our efforts, it would no longer be a gesture of grace but one made in response to our merits. We can be saved either by good deeds or by grace, but not by both – they exclude each other. That we are saved by God’s grace is the only reasonable conclusion, because we are not perfect:

 

 - (Eph 2:4-5) But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us,

5 Even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ, (by grace you are saved;)

 

- (Eph 2:8-9) For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

 

- (Acts 15:11) But we believe that through the grace of the LORD Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

 

- (Tit 2:11) For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men

 

3. The thief on the cross taught us that, though we are undeserving, yet we can be saved. He was saved only by expressing faith in Jesus and turning to Him. This was no virtuous man. He had done no good deeds. He was a thief. He was nailed to a cross as punishment for crimes. In his last moments he made one last request. It was enough for him to get to Heaven.

 

 - (Luke 23:32, 42-43) And there were also two other, malefactors, led with him to be put to death.

42 And he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

43 And Jesus said to him, Truly I say to you, To day shall you be with me in paradise.

 

4. The prodigal son is another good example of the grace of God. Even though he had lived in sin, he immediately received grace when he went to his father and admitted that he had done wrong. This was not because he had lived a good life or had done good deeds. He received grace completely and immediately after turning back to his father.

   In the same way, we can all receive forgiveness from God by just turning to him:

 

- (Luke 15:13) And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

 

- (Luke 15:18-19) I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you,

19 And am no more worthy to be called your son: make me as one of your hired servants.

 

- (Luke 15:20) And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

 

5. Not a combination of law and grace. One of the converts’ problems is that they mix law and grace and try to make them valid simultaneously. However, these two can never be valid simultaneously: if grace rules, the law must withdraw; or if the law is valid, then grace will not be valid (if one is 100% true, the other is always 100% false).

   We must understand that salvation is not a combination of law and grace, because they are opposites. Because of our imperfection, our only possibility to be saved is by grace alone, from beginning to end:

 

 - (Rom 5:1,2) Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

 

- (Rom 6:14,15) For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.

15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

 

- (Phil 1:7) Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of my grace.

 

- (1 Peter 2:10) Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

 

- (1 Peter 5:12) By Silvanus, a faithful brother to you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein you stand.

 

6. Salvation through faith. Just as salvation cannot be a combination of law and grace, neither can it be the combination of faith and good deeds. These two exclude each other; one of them must step aside. The Bible specifically teaches us that it is our good deeds that must be set aside when considering salvation because we are saved by faith and not by our good deeds:

 

- (Rom 3:28) Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

 

- (Rom 4:2-3) For if Abraham were justified by works, he has whereof to glory; but not before God.

3 For what said the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.

 

- (Rom 4:5-6) But to him that works not, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

6 Even as David also describes the blessedness of the man, to whom God imputes righteousness without works,

 

- (Rom 9:32-33) Why? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone;

33 As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumbling stone and rock of offense: and whoever believes on him shall not be ashamed.

 

- (Eph 2:8-9) For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

 

- (Gal 2:16) Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.

 

- (Tit 3:5) Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

 

- (1 Cor 15:1-2) Moreover, brothers, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand;

2 By which also you are saved, if you keep in memory what I preached to you, unless you have believed in vain.

 

- (Gal 3:26) For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

 

- (Acts 4:4) However, many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.

 

- (Acts 11:13-14) And he showed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said to him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter;

14 Who shall tell you words, whereby you and all your house shall be saved.

 

- (Acts 15:7) And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said to them, Men and brothers, you know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

 

7. An old heresy. Trying to make good deeds the precondition for salvation is an old heresy. Leaders in the early church were fighting against it (Acts Chapter 15 and the entire letter to the Galatians described this struggle). False teachers were saying that in order to be saved, one must not only believe in Christ but also be circumcised and obey the law. Acts 15:1 introduces the problem:

 

- (Acts 15:1) And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brothers, and said, Except you be circumcised after the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved.

 

However, if we study the same chapter in more detail, we see that neither of these (circumcision and the law) – that were initially meant only for the descendants of Abraham – were necessary for salvation. When Peter addressed these requirements, he pointed out that they were not meant for Gentiles, and emphasized that both groups (Jews and Gentiles) were saved by faith and grace alone, not by anything else:

 

- (Acts 15:6-11) And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.

7 And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said to them, Men and brothers, you know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

8 And God, which knows the hearts, bore them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did to us;

9 And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.

10 Now therefore why tempt you God, to put a yoke on the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?

11 But we believe that through the grace of the LORD Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.

 

Paul wrote about this subject in his letter to the Galatians. He wrote that if the Galatians circumcised themselves and tried to be saved by obeying the law, Christ would be of no value to them. They would actually abandon Him if they were to even slightly place their hope on these actions (it was not circumcision and the law as such, but placing one's trust in them. Taken in the right context, these are good things). Through circumcision, they would have been obliged to obey the whole law, which they were not able to do. Paul wrote:

 

 - (Gal 5:2-4) Behold, I Paul say to you, that if you be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.

3 For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.

4 Christ is become of no effect to you, whoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace.

 

- (Gal 2:21) I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.

 

Paul also reprimanded the Galatians for giving up Christ and listening to false teachers who brought this harmful doctrine to them:

 

 - (Gal 1:6-9) I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel:

7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.

9 As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel to you than that you have received, let him be accursed.

 

- (Gal 3:1-5) O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

2 This only would I learn of you, Received you 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 made perfect by the flesh?

4 Have you suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain.

5 He therefore that ministers to you the Spirit, and works miracles among you, does he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

 

THE Acts of faith. Even though the Bible very clearly teaches us that salvation comes only through faith, some people still resist that message and instead insist on believing that good deeds are required for salvation. Some argue that good deeds are for a prerequisite to salvation because so many references to the law and doing good deeds are contained in the Bible. They refer to the letter of James in this context.

   We must understand, however, that Bible references to good deeds are noted because they were influenced by faith. A person's mind must be illuminated by faith; then good deeds follow. Faith is never the result of good deeds – good deeds cannot create faith. Faith produces good deeds. Thus, faith always comes first and is the foundation for everything else, just like a railway engine pulls carriages that automatically follow.

   Faith is like a tree that produces its own kind of fruit. This tree of justifying faith exists before the fruit; when the tree is good it produces good fruit – good deeds – because that is what it is meant to do:

 

 - (Col 2:7) Rooted and built up in him, and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.

 

- (Matt 7:17-18) Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit.

18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

 

- (Gal 5:22-23) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,

23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

 

When we consider the significance of faith and good deeds there is no difference between the letters of Paul and James, just as there is no difference between the roots and the fruit of the tree. Where Paul only emphasizes the roots -- faith without good deeds -- James writes about the fruit -- the result of the quality of one's faith. We are justified through faith alone without good deeds, but the same faith produces good deeds and the desire to live according to the will of God (the result of a living faith) (Jam 2:26).

   The significance of faith also comes up with many heroes of faith. These people did not receive faith after their good deeds; it was with them already before the deeds. In fact, it actually affected everything they did. These good deeds were only a consequence of the faith already affecting their hearts. The next verses of the Bible refer to these people of faith, and to the significance of faith and good deeds in general:

 

 - (2 Thess 1:11) Why also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power

 

- (Rom 1:5) By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name

 

- (Hebr 11:4-11) By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaks.

5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing where he went.

9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

10 For he looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised.

 

Martin Luther wrote (in the Commentary on the letter of Galatians, pages 321-322) that there first must be faith in one's heart so that we can produce the right kind of actions or good deeds. They will properly come about only when faith has first had the chance to affect us:

 

When you read from the Bible about the righteous effect of the fathers, prophets and kings, about how they raised people from the dead, won kingdoms and so on, remember that these should be explained according to unusual theological language. This is how the Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11, explains it: Through faith they kept righteousness in force, through faith they raised people from the dead, through faith they won kings and kingdoms; and so faith is connected with good deeds giving them the right context. The opponents cannot – if they have any common sense left – deny this, nor do they have anything to argue against or remark about. They may actually scream about how the Bible repeatedly talks about good deeds and affecting people. We will answer again and again: the Bible talks about good deeds that are carried out through and as the result of faith. The mind of a man must first be enlightened by faith before it can have an impact; and only after the right thoughts and knowledge, the "right view" of God, will the actions come alive and begin to unite with faith, and so all that is dedicated to faith is also dedicated to good deeds, simply because of faith. (…)

   If they do this, they can easily explain all those Bible verses that seem to support the righteousness of good deeds. True good deeds are, as I mentioned, the result of faith – in other words theological – for he who looks for righteousness from good deeds does not have righteousness at all.

 

"You can do whatever you WANT". One claim the converts and religious people often make when talking about salvation by faith and grace alone, is: "If so, then we could do whatever we wanted and live the way we wanted because of the presence of grace, and nothing would make a difference." These people are in fact very similar to the people who lived in the times of Paul, accusing him of the same thing. Paul wrote about this as follows:

 

- (Rom 3:8) And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.

 

So which is true? Is the previous view of the converts true or not? Can we live as we wish because of grace? Let’s take a look at this in the light of the following examples:

 

A new creation. When we turn to God, we become "new creations" who want to live according to the will of God; we become the temple of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us creates the desire to a new life. If we do not feel any desire to live according to the will of God, it only proves that we have not really been saved at all:

 

 - (Rom 7:22) For I delight in the law of God after the inward man

 

- (2 Cor 6:16) And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? for you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

 

- (Eze 36:26-27) A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them.

 

Paul's teachings do not imply that we should live in sin, even though everything is based on grace. On the contrary, he very powerfully emphasizes that sin should not be our master because we live under grace. He wrote as follows:

 

 - (Rom 6:1-2) What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?

2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

 

- (Rom 6:14-16) For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.

15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.

16 Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?

 

- (Gal 5:13) For, brothers, you have been called to liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.

 

Faith that is dead. The previous view is also wrong because if we continually live in sin and as we like (there is a difference between living in sin and falling into sin), it only proves that our faith is dead. We have the same kind of dead faith as evil spirits, and it will not save us:

 

 - (Jam 2:17) Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone.

 

- (Jam 2:19-20) You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

20 But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

 

- (Jam 2:26) For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

 

- (Rom 8:5-8) For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.

6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.

8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

 

What is saving faith LIKE? Sometimes people get confused about what saving faith is really like; it is not always easy to explain it. However, we try to study this vitally important issue in the light of the next examples:

 

1. Not theoretical faith. Saving faith is not theoretical faith, which is what many people have. These people may believe in all the essential things in the Bible such as the love of God, damnation, Heaven, and Jesus dying for them and rising up. They do not doubt their reliability. Read Oswald J. Smith’s description of his family’s theoretical faith:

 

(…) This was my difficulty. I knew that I had to believe, but I did not know in what way. In fact, I had always believed. There has never been a time, when I did not believe. Since my earliest childhood, I believed as much as I believe today, but still I did not know whether I was a Christian or not.

   You see, in our locality there were no atheists or doubters. I had never heard about godless people. Everyone believed. There was not a single person who would have doubted, and yet I knew quite well that in the neighborhood some were drunks, others swore and cursed, some lied and stole and did not consider themselves Christians; but they still believed. I did not know a single soul who would have questioned the word of God.

   Are not millions of people in the same situation? I have met them everywhere I have traveled. In the Soviet Union, Spain, Italy, and many other European countries, there are literally millions who believe and yet are not saved. And if millions who believe in Christ are not Christians, what does it mean to believe then? (11)

 

Instead, living faith, made alive by God, is not merely intellectual faith. Living faith requires that one turns to Jesus and God and when it comes to salvation, sets his whole trust on Jesus. It also includes turning to Jesus in prayer and receiving Him into your life, as the next verses indicate:

 

 - (John 5:40) And you will not come to me, that you might have life.

 

- (Matt 11:28-29) Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29 Take my yoke on you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.

 

- (John 6:37) All that the Father gives me shall come to me; and him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out.

 

- (John 1:12) But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name

 

2. Not a struggle, but a matter of trust. Saving faith is not a struggle or an attempt to pay for salvation or something we must do. Instead, it is giving up all attempts to affect our salvation and simply believing in the work someone has already done for us. (The author’s intention here is not to belittle good deeds but to emphasize that we should not put our trust in them; one can and should do good deeds after being saved) Believing is not a command at all but a promise of the work someone has done for us.

   When we realize that we cannot pay our debt of sin and save ourselves, we must look for rescue to someone who is already carrying our sins and reconciling us with God. We are saved simply by hearing and trusting – without a struggle – when we put our trust in the redeeming work of Jesus. The next Bible verses teach us about hearing and trusting (= believing):

 

- (Rom 10:14,17) How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

 

- (Rom 1:15-17) So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God to salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.  

 

- (1 Cor 1:18,21) For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but to us which are saved it is the power of God.

21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

 

- (1 Cor 15:1-2) Moreover, brothers, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received, and wherein you stand;

2 By which also you are saved, if you keep in memory what I preached to you, unless you have believed in vain.

 

- (Eph 1:13) In whom you also trusted, after that you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that you believed, you were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,

 

- (Mark 16:15-16) And he said to them, Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

16 He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned.

 

- (Acts 15:7) And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said to them, Men and brothers, you know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.

 

3. Not believing in faith, but believing in Christ. Salvation is not about our reliance on our own faith or anything else that is self-centered.  It is not about observing ourselves and our feelings or measuring whether we have faith or not. Instead, the object of saving faith is always outside of us, in the fulfilled work of Christ and in His word. It means to believe in someone else than ourselves, that someone being Jesus Christ. The next verses talk about this:

 

 - (John 1:12) But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name

 

- (John 3:14-16) And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

15 That whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

 

- (John 6:40) And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which sees the Son, and believes on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.

 

- (John 20:31) But these are written, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you might have life through his name.

 

- (Acts 10:43) To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins.

 

- (Acts 13:39) And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.

 

- (Acts 16:30-31) And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your house.

 

- (Rom 10:11) For the scripture said, Whoever believes on him shall not be ashamed.

 

- (Eph 3:11-12) According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:

12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.

 

- (1 John 5:13) These things have I written to you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God.

 

 

 

4. "You cannot be sure of salvation"

 

One of converts’ most common arguments is that we cannot be sure of salvation. They may claim that we cannot know whether we are living under grace or not; it is something we will not know until the Day of Judgment. They think that it is something we can only hope for. Luther described this way of thinking:

 

I say this in order to disapprove of the harmful doctrine of the sophists and monks. They teach and believe that no-one can know for certain whether he is under grace, even though he was to do good deeds according to his best abilities and live blamelessly. This common and quite widely embraced view has in a way been the foundation and basis of the Catholic Church. (12)

 

Niilo Yli-Vainio, the well-known Finnish preacher, met thousands of people and was also confronted with the same concern. As a general rule "ordinary sinners" admitted that they were not yet saved, but the converts beat about the bush in this issue:  

 

In the course of my spiritual work, I must have asked thousands of people if they were believers. An ordinary sinner admits, “Not yet.” But the convert beats about the bush and does not give a direct answer to a direct question. He wants to be a Christian but he lacks the internal experience. That is why he cannot really even lie properly. He does not want to deny – or admit – that something in his innermost being says that there is no assurance of what has been talked about. (13)

 

But can we be sure of salvation? Many converts think that we cannot but if we look at the Bible, it says we can. Among others points, the next emphasize this:  

 

Jesus’ advice. Jesus advised His disciples to rejoice because their names were written in Heaven. They had assurance of their salvation. It is quite impossible to rejoice over something about which you are not sure. The most natural explanation is that the disciples did not doubt it:  

 

- (Luke 10:20) Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.

 

Several Bible verses. Certainly the best indication of having assurance of salvation is found in several verses in the Bible. These verses explain that we can be born again, and that we have eternal life, salvation, righteousness, grace, the adoption of God, forgiveness of sins, and assurance of salvation now. If we deny this assurance, we nullify all these Bible verses:  

 

Eternal life:  

 

 - (1 John 5:11) And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

 

- (Phil 4:3) And I entreat you also, true yoke fellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life.

 

Salvation:  

 

- (Tit 3:5) Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;

 

 - (2 Tim 1:9) Who has saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,

 

- (Col 1:13) Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:

 

Righteousness:  

 

 - (Rom 5:1, 9) Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.

 

Being pardoned:  

 

 - (1 Peter 2:10) Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

 

Being born again:  

 

 - (1 Peter 1:23) Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and stays for ever.

 

- (Jam 1:18) Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

 

The adoption of God:  

 

- (Rom 8:15-16) For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.

16  The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God

 

- (Gal 4:6-7) And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

7 Why you are no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

 

The forgiveness of our sins

 

 - (Ps 32:5) I acknowledge my sin to you, and my iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD; and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

 

- (Col 3:13) Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do you.

 

General assurance:  

 

 - (2 Tim 1:12) For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him against that day.

 

WhY ARE WE UNSURE of OUR salvation? There are mainly three reasons why converts do not have the assurance of salvation. Firstly, they have not been saved yet. Secondly, they have neglected the role of the Mediator. Thirdly, they lack faith. Let's look at each of these three issues separately:  

 

1. They have not yet been saved. One of the reasons for converts’ not having the assurance of salvation is, naturally, that they are not yet saved. They may practice silence and maintain a humble attitude; they may pray, sing in a choir or do all sorts of other things they regard as being useful; yet, they are unsaved.

   Another problem is that they are often completely content with their condition; they are not even looking for assurance. Or if they are looking for something, they may not even want to find it. They are just looking for the sake of looking, thus being dishonest.

   Converts must understand that this is the wrong kind of attitude to have before God. They must be freed from their dishonesty and understand that they can be saved if they really want to; no-one has to remain a dishonest searcher.

   Everyone who wants to find the truth and assurance certainly will. Jesus, for example, spoke about this as follows:  

 

- (Matt 7:8) For every one that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks it shall be opened.

 

- (John 7:17) If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.

 

2. Neglecting the role of the Mediator. The second reason for a lack of assurance of salvation is that converts neglect to take into account the role of the Mediator, Jesus. Although they may respect Jesus as the Mediator and as the forgiver of our sins, they are really looking for the foundation of salvation in themselves and their inner experiences, in how much they have changed and what they do. Thus, they confess Jesus only with their mouth and words but in practice they deny all of it because they do not believe it has any significance in their lives.

   Converts also do not understand that if they want to find assurance, they must stop looking at themselves and turn to Jesus Christ – just like the anchor of the ship is never thrown inside the ship but always outside. By looking away from themselves and toward Jesus – who has already carried their sins – they can receive assurance:  

 

- (John 1:29) The next day John sees Jesus coming to him, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.

 

- (Gal 3:1) O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you?

 

Converts must also understand that their own imperfect works are not in any way sufficient before God: they need a mediator who will reconcile them to God. They must understand that Jesus has already come as the Mediator to narrow the gap between God and man. That is why we do not have to do it: it has already been done for us. 

 

- (1 Tim 2:5) For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus

 

- (Hebr 9:15) And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.

 

 3. Lack of faith. One reason for lacking the assurance of salvation is lack of faith. Some converts regard lack of faith and a condition of uncertainty as being good qualities; even as humility. They think it is arrogant to trust faith. For them it may seem odd when some people say that they are sure of their salvation.

   However, converts do not understand that when they deny that assurance, they at the same time also deny the power of God, Jesus Christ. They deny that the atonement of Jesus has any significance in their life or salvation or that of other people. The Apostle Paul referred to these hypocrites when he wrote that they have a form of godliness, but deny its power, Jesus, and that these people would appear especially in the last days:  

 

- (2 Tim 3:1-5) This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

3 Without natural affection, truce breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

4 Traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

 

Another thing converts do not understand when denying all assurance is that they are actually accusing God of being a liar. When they do not believe the testimony God has given about his Son, it unavoidably leads to them to deem that God is unreliable and His promises are lies. They do not believe that we could have eternal life through the Son of God immediately after being born again: they think it is impossible. The Apostle John wrote about this and about deeming God unreliable:  

 

 - (1 John 5:9-11) If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he has testified of his Son.

10 He that believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself: he that believes not God has made him a liar; because he believes not the record that God gave of his Son.

11 And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

 

The worst consequence that can follow from converts’ lack of faith is they are not found acceptable before God. When they reject Jesus and want to remain in their lack of faith, they are always unacceptable before God. Even if they were to do all kinds of good deeds to please God, if they all the while remain in their lack of faith and reject Jesus, they will never be acceptable. This is indicated in the next verses:  

 

- (Hebr 11:6) But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

 

- (John 3:18) He that believes on him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

 

Only when a convert wants to give up his or her lack of faith and turn with all his or her heart to Jesus – who is our defender and mediator before God (1 John 2:1) – can the convert enter a good relationship with God. They have to give up their continuous resistance and lack of faith, because God wants to save them:  

 

- (1 Tim 2:3,4) For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior;

4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

 

- (Eze 18:23,32) Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? said the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?

32 For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies, said the Lord GOD: why turn yourselves, and live you.

 

 

5. "Turning to God and being saved takes a long time"

 

One of converts’ basic beliefs is that turning to God and being saved takes a long time and that one must grow into it. They do not believe in quick conversions and may deem them foolish, thinking that they themselves are humble when denying the possibility. They may think that it is completely impossible for a man to receive grace, salvation, and eternal life in a split second – without any merits.

   The well-known preacher D.L. Moody wrote about this. He writes about a convert who did not believe in quick conversions. Mainly because of this Moody spoke about this subject in that town:  

 

People speak about conversion. What is conversion? The best way to find out is to turn to the Bible. Many people do not want to believe in quick conversions. But as we can die in a split second, could we not also receive eternal life in a split second?

   When Sankey and I were in Europe, there was a man who in a few places rose to resist the dangerous doctrines we were said to preach – one of them being quick conversions. The man explained that conversion is something that requires time and growing into. My dear reader, do you know what I do when someone resists what I preach? I take out my Bible and look at what it says. And if I see that I am right, I preach even more vehemently. In the above-mentioned town, I preached about quick conversions more than in any other town I had ever preached in. I would very much wanted to know how much time Jesus spent on the conversion of Zaccheus, how long on the wife whom he met at the well in Sychar, how long on the wife in the temple who had been caught committing adultery, how long on the wife who oiled his feet and wiped them with her hair. Did she not leave with these words of the Savior ringing in her ears, "Go in peace?"

   No one could predict that Zaccheus would turn to God when he had climbed the sycamore tree, and yet he had turned to God when he came down from the tree. The conversion must have then taken place as he was coming down the tree. Wasn’t that a quick conversion? "But," someone may say, "that was because Christ himself was there.” My friend, people turned to God much quicker after Jesus had gone to Heaven than when He was on Earth. Peter preached, and three thousand turned to God in one day. Another time, Peter and John healed a man in the portico of a temple at 3 p.m., after which they went to preach into the temple. By the evening, the congregation had increased by five thousand who had turned to God, and all of them were Jews. Was this not also a very quick conversion? (14)

 

So, if we want to know whether the conversion takes a long or a short time, it is best to check the Bible. The Bible teaches us that in biblical times, conversions were quick and happened in a split second. Let's study this in the light of the next verses: 

 

- (Luke 7:50) And he said to the woman, Your faith has saved you; go in peace.

 

- (Luke 19:2-9) And, behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus, which was the chief among the publicans, and he was rich.

3 And he sought to see Jesus who he was; and could not for the press, because he was little of stature.

4 And he ran before, and climbed up into a sycomore tree to see him: for he was to pass that way.

5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said to him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at your house.

6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully.

7 And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.

8 And Zacchaeus stood, and said to the Lord: Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.

9 And Jesus said to him, This day is salvation come to this house, as much as he also is a son of Abraham.

 

- (Acts 2:41, 47) Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.

47 Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

 

- (Acts 4:4) However, many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.

 

- (Acts 9:32-35) And it came to pass, as Peter passed throughout all quarters, he came down also to the saints which dwelled at Lydda.

33 And there he found a certain man named Aeneas, which had kept his bed eight years, and was sick of the palsy.

34 And Peter said to him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ makes you whole: arise, and make your bed. And he arose immediately.

35 And all that dwelled at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.

 

- (Acts 11:20-21) And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spoke to the Grecians, preaching the LORD Jesus.

21 And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned to the Lord.

 

- (Acts 16:25-34) And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God: and the prisoners heard them.

26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.

27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.

28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do yourself no harm: for we are all here.

29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,

30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your house.

32 And they spoke to him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.

33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

 

- (1 Thess 1:9) For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God

 

Where does converts’ view of the impossibility of quick conversions come from? As we search for the reason why converts generally do not believe in quick conversions, we can see that it might be because they do not believe the grace of God can be received in a split second. The usual way of thinking is that we must do something to earn our salvation and that nothing comes simply through grace. They think that we need to do good deeds, and need time in which to do them, in order to earn salvation, which makes quick conversions quite impossible.

   Since converts establish their own righteousness through a long process and do not understand that salvation is a gift, they obviously cannot believe in quick conversions. A change in converts’ way of thinking can only take place when they understand that salvation is a gift, and stop trying to justify themselves. This important point is underlined in the next verses: 

 

 - (Rom 10:3) For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God.

 

- (Rom 3:24) Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus

 

Oswald J. Smith described receiving salvation as a gift. He wrote that the gift is always received in an instant. One moment you do not have the gift and the very next you do: 

 

How could it be otherwise? Assume that I offer you a gift. In that moment you do not yet have the gift, but in the very next moment, you do. The gift must move from my hand to yours in a second. Eternal life is a gift. There is a moment when you do not have it, and then there is the next moment when you have it. There must be a specific moment when you receive it. No other way is possible. We do not know of a single case in which conversion was gradual. Eternal life is always received instantly.

   When did it happen to you? Where did it take place? Has there been a moment in your life when you stepped forward, knelt at the altar, talked to a pastoral care worker? Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior? How did it take place? Perhaps you do not know the exact moment or hour, but do you know that it has happened? Are you sure that you have experienced this? If so, let me once again say that it happened in one moment. (15)

 

 

6. The wrong kind of conversion and a wrong assurance

 

In the foreword we talked about how a person can be like a “foolish virgin.” He can attend church and act and speak like a Christian, but has no spiritual foundation in Christ. These people really can exist; they look very Christian but have not yet experienced living faith or been born again. These people can also be quite knowledgeable about Jesus and appear to be living in His company yet, in fact, they are not saved:

 

- (Luke 13:26) Then shall you begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in your presence, and you have taught in our streets.

 

But if these kinds of people exist, how have they ended up like this? How have they become "foolish virgins"?

   We try to clarify this below. We will consider the act of conversion, and look at right and wrong kinds of conversion. Then we will study the kinds of meetings and situations that create foolish virgins. Finally, we will look at the wrong kind of assurance that some foolish virgins may also have, and also at the fruits of conversion.

 

How DOES THE right kind of conversion and RE-BIRTH take place? Three overlapping events are generally associated with conversion and spiritual re-birth. We will consider each one:  

 

1. Understanding of own condition

2. Repentance and turning to God

3. Receiving

 

1. Understanding one's own condition. The first event associated with a genuine conversion is understanding one’s condition. This is not a precondition of salvation and not to be forced or squeezed out of oneself. Our part is simply to turn to Jesus and give Him permission to step into our lives. In any case, we can see the following points in this issue:

 

Seeing our own sinfulness. First of all, we see our sinfulness in a new way. Different things in life, including sins that we may have passed off lightly and not been bothered by at all, will rise to the surface and we wish that we had not ever done those things and that we could be different now. We may also see our former life as having been full of sinfulness, and in the light of God see our present life as just as sinful. This kind of a new condition is described in the next verses:

 

- Eze (36:31) Then shall you remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations.

 

- Isa (6:5) Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the middle of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

 

The next excerpt describes the condition of this kind of a person. In this example, a person describes how he – before his genuine conversion – experienced a false conversion that did not lead to a new life. He writes:

 

Earlier, faith in my mind was most of all a matter of will. I gave my life to Jesus at a winter camp and experienced an enormous feeling of freedom. I thought that this freedom was an assurance of being saved and so I started to live like a Christian. Among the young, I had been converting others to become similar kinds of Christians as I was.

   I now understand that I myself also belonged to that group of people who faithfully walked with Jesus when He was on Earth. They saw His acts and heard Him preaching. (…) But they never became His disciples. (…)

   Now I understand that I have been just like that all these years.

   When I gave my life to Jesus at the winter camp, I did so because people have to do so in order to become Christians. After that, I only had to start living like a Christian. I thought I could do that by hanging out with other young Christians.

  I now understand that during all that time that passed from the camp to this day, I hadn't properly received Jesus into my life.

 

It feels strange that I did not feel lost or helpless before I started to search for God again. I knew everything was not as it should be, but I wasn't worried about that. I was a Christian after all; I had done everything one must do to become a Christian. The mere thought of not being saved felt impossible.

   (…)These days I simply just do not know whether I am a child of God. I now completely understand Martti. There really is cause to wonder whether I am a Christian at all.

 

I told him about my conversation with Martti, and about the terrible time I had the following autumn. By them, I had begun to realize that I was full of sin and misery. I was astonished that Jaakko had never experienced that. Or if he had, it must have been years ago. He no longer considered himself a great sinner. He knew he was one, but did not have any personal feelings about it.

   (…) I was brave enough to say that his problem was not knowing God as He really is. The law had never had the chance to make him feel defenseless or guilty before God. Therefore he did not need the Gospel. (16)

 

One does not find comfort in himself. Understanding one's condition comes when we begin to see that we cannot find comfort in ourselves and our lives. We are not contented with our own repentance or sanctification, and have given up on ourselves. We see that in ourselves there is nothing that would be good enough for God.

   Feeling discontented with ourselves is important because it leads us to see that we must turn to Jesus. When we realize that there is no way we can save ourselves on our own, the good news of Jesus doing so much for us comes to our rescue. It is only when we have lost hope in saving ourselves that we start looking for salvation outside of ourselves, from something Jesus has done for us.

   On the other hand, we may remain content with our condition. If we continue to happily think, "I also have some good qualities" (before God), even though we admit to committing some sins, we have not yet experienced a real conversion. We might have only experienced a false conversion, as the foolish virgins.

 

Seeing things in the light of God. The third event associated with understanding our condition is seeing it as it has always been and as God always sees us. We realize that we are damned, separated from God and sinful, and can in no way save ourselves. We realize things that have always been true, but only now become alive to us. Seeing the truth about ourselves is possible by considering our condition in the full light of God’s judgment. (If this seems strange to you, don’t worry. Simply turn to Jesus and confess being a sinner needing salvation. He will save everyone who turns to Him.) Consider:

 

To illustrate this, let us think about two non-believers. One of them knows that he is a sinner. He has been in many spiritual meetings and often heard preaching on sin. The clear preaching has made him understand that he is a sinner. When he applies this to himself, he may still speak about it laughing, as if the matter meant nothing to him. The other person hears the same preaching and is faced with the light of God. The Spirit makes him feel so guilty that he throws himself on the ground and confesses, "Oh dear, I really am a sinner". He has not only heard that he is a sinner from the word of God, he has also "seen" this to be his real condition. He condemns himself. He is deeply depressed. Understanding all this, he can confess his sins and receive salvation from the Lord. After this, he will never speak lightly or jokingly about sin that he has "seen" in himself. But the previous person who spoke about his sinfulness as a joke has not "seen" it and for this reason he is not saved. (17)

 

2. Repentance and turning to God. The second observation connected with true conversion and salvation is repentance: turning to God. It does not mean improving oneself or attempting to become better in order to earn God's approval. There are no acts of remorse or other deeds that we should do before we turn to God. 

   Instead, we must turn to God immediately. Giving ourselves and our life completely – without conditions – to God requires that we change our minds. This is described in the next verses:

 

- (2 Cor 3:16) Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.

 

- (Acts 20:21) Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

- (Acts 9:35) And all that dwelled at Lydda and Saron saw him, and turned to the Lord.

 

The story of the prodigal son is another example. He did not have any personal merits; he turned to his father as he was, and admitted being a sinner who did not deserve forgiveness. He received forgiveness because his father, as an act of grace, had mercy on him. The same applies when we turn to God: we will receive forgiveness as an act of His mercy and grace: 

 

- (Luke 15:18-20) I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you,

19 And am no more worthy to be called your son: make me as one of your hired servants.

20 And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

 

3. Receiving. Receiving is connected with a genuine conversion and being saved. Mere realizing of our damned condition and the need for salvation do not help us any way – just as it is of no use for a shipwrecked person simply to realize the condition he is in – we must also receive and not reject salvation. Realizing one's distress does not help but being saved from it does.

   So, as salvation is a gift, we must also receive it as a gift and not reject it. It takes place simply by asking Jesus to come into our lives, because in Him there is complete salvation (Acts 4:12). If we have received Him, we have then the adoption of God and eternal life, as the next verses indicate:

 

- (John 1:12) But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

 

- (1 John 5:11-13) And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

12 He that has the Son has life; and he that has not the Son of God has not life.

13 These things have I written to you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God.

 

IN What situations DO WE FIND foolish virgins? Looking at the kind of situations that generally produce foolish virgins, we can find at least two (perhaps more) commonly found examples: the fear of hell and ordinary difficulties in life; and certain kinds of meetings. We will look at both of these separately:

 

The fear of hell and difficulties in life. The fear of death and going to hell, and daily struggles in life, can motivate people to convert to Christianity, though this is generally a false conversion. Such a conversion is characterized by one having a very strong sense of religious behavior and morality. These persons may call to God for help with all their strength and promise to repent. They may also pray, read the Bible, confess their sins, and try to change their lives. It seems as if -- they may even believe this themselves – they really have received a new life. But what is unfortunate is that this state normally lasts only for a short time. This kind of a person may have experienced the "quick conversion" described in the Book of Jeremiah:

 

- (Jer 2:27) Saying to a stock, You are my father; and to a stone, You have brought me forth: for they have turned their back to me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us.

 

It is good to understand that the fear of judgment or bargaining with God cannot bring about real change; real change comes only from one turning to Jesus and wanting to follow Him unconditionally. We should also remember to distinguish between repentance under the law and repentance according to the Gospel. A characteristic of legalist repentance is that it only gets us to fear the anger of God and damnation, while the latter produces the fear of sin. The earlier is only worldly sorrow that does not bring about life and generally fades after the fear of judgment or after life's troubles ease. The latter, however, is Godly sorrow that brings about repentance leading to salvation and life (2 Cor 7:10).

  The fear of judgment and hell was written about by John Bunyan, the well-known preacher. In his biography (p. 48) he refers to the people who did not receive eternal life after all:

 

What scared me most was having seen a few people rather looking for relief from their distress than forgiveness of their sins, even though they were crying and praying when they were hit by their conscience. They also did not care about how they could get rid of their debt, as long as they got it out of their mind. Having been freed from it in a wrong way, they had no part in sanctification, but were hardened and blinded even more, becoming worse than ever. This scared me, and I prayed to God that the same would not happen to me.

 

Bunyan described this (the conversion that comes from the fear of hell and judgment) in his other well-known book, The Pilgrim's Progress. We include this excerpt from that book because this matter is so important (own translation from Finnish):

 

   Hope: As we are now talking about him, we could also consider why he and similar kind of people so quickly give up.

   Christian: It might be useful, but you go ahead and start.

   Hope: As I see it, there are four reasons for it:

   1. Even though their conscience has been awakened, their minds have not changed. When the guilt eventually subsides, they no longer have any reason to be religious. That's why they turn back to their own ways. In the same way a dog that becomes sick from the food it has eaten keeps vomiting as long as the sickness lasts. It doesn’t do it out of its own free will – if we can say that a dog has a will – but because of its stomach being messed up. But when the sickness is over, the dog doesn’t detest its vomit, and so it turns to eat the whole thing. It is true what has been written, “A dog returns to its vomit.” Because these people try to get into Heaven only because of the fear and fright of Hell, their yearning for Heaven and salvation subsides as the fear of judgment and hell disappears. When the feelings of guilt and fear have disappeared, the hope of Heaven and happiness will disappear and they will return to their own ways.

   2. Another reason is that slavish fears captivate them. I now speak about their fear of man because the fear of man will prove to be a snare. Even though they seem to try to get to Heaven as long as the flames of Hell roam around them, they immediately withdraw when that fear weakens. They want to be wise and not endanger everything for the sake of something they are not sure about, or at least want to avoid getting into unnecessary difficulties. So they return to the world.

   3. The shame of religion is an obstacle in their way. They are proud, and religion is in their eyes low and despicable. When they have lost the fear of Hell and the fear of the forthcoming anger, they will return to their former ways.

   4. To them, thinking about guilt and fear is repulsive. They don’t want to see their misfortune before they are confronted with it. If they were to look at it with open eyes, it could drive them to escape to where the righteous run for protection, but as I said, they reject thinking about guilt and fear. When they have gotten rid of their fears and thoughts about the anger of God, they will harden their minds and choose a way that increases their hardness.

   Christian: You are close to the truth: behind everything is the fact that the mind and will have not changed. That's why they are like a criminal standing before a judge, seeming to repent from the bottom of his heart, but only because of the fear of the gallows and not because of his crime. This is seen from his actions: when he is free again, he will steal again and is thus still a criminal; if his mind had changed, he wouldn't do that.

 

Certain kinds of meetings can also bring about a false conversion. They can lead to a person’s experiencing some kind of a conversion but not receiving life. Characteristics of these kinds of meetings are, among other things, the following:

 

No Gospel. The first and the most remarkable feature is that the sermon does not contain the Gospel for sinners. It does not state our state and condition before God; how we are apart from Him, sinful and damned; similarly the sermon does not tell how God alone wants to save us and how we have already been reconciled and our sins have been paid by the crucifixion of Jesus.

   So, when someone gives his or her life to God in this kind of a meeting, it is only about them attempting to save themselves, like making a New Year's resolution. It is similar to many heathen religions in which people themselves try to build a way to God. When the Gospel, the news about the work Jesus did for us, is not preached, it unavoidably leads to a person trying to replace the salvation of God with his or her own work. They may not understand that salvation is received as a gift, and one cannot do anything to earn it.

   The second issue connected with the first stages of becoming a Christian is that perhaps the law has never had the chance to make a person feel helpless. Perhaps it has never had the chance to indicate his or her guilt before the judgment of God, and the person being unable to save himself. When a person has not seen his or her own wretched condition, they do not necessarily understand their need for the Savior and salvation. Things may remain superficial so the Godly sorrow that is associated with genuine conversion may not be experienced. It is understandable that people coming from this kind of situation or these sorts of meetings are similar to foolish virgins.

   People becoming foolish virgins during certain kinds of meetings is described in the following conversation (J.F. Lövgren: [Våre lamper slokner] Lamppumme sammuvat, p. 85,86). It discusses how certain kind of preaching can only create confessors, persons following others, but does not bring about real life:

 

- A feature of the foolish virgins is that they have a confession without life. People can, by themselves, adopt a religious attitude. People start to follow Christ by their own decision. People may raise their hands and choose the new way of life offered to them. But the miracle of being born again and life from above can only be given by God and by God alone! Your preaching brings about confessors, persons following others, but it does not bring anyone new life.

 - Why is that?

   Ling bent to his master.

- Because there is no Gospel in your preaching!

    Ling jumped from the chair and began to pace back and forth on the floor.

- Were you offended by what I said?

- Not at all! But it is difficult for me to sit still when you're killing me with slow, painful strikes!

    Ljunghed was not a killer. He sat and looked at his visitor. His eyes were in tears. He suffered for his brother, and with him.

   Finally Ling sat down.

- So you think I don't preach the Gospel.

- No, you don’t. For the basis of your preaching is wrong.

- What is my basis in your opinion?

- That a man is not damned!   

    Ling gave a deep sigh.

- Aha. So you mean that I don’t use enough words to tell people how miserable they are!

- I mean that your attitude towards people is that they are not completely bad and damned. When God has a chance to work on us refine our will and actions so -.

- The task of the preacher of the Gospel is to assure people to choose a new life and new goals! Ling interrupted, irritated.

    Then Ljunghed said something that felt like he had put the knife on Ling’s throat:

- Herbert, have you yourself been born again?

    Ling turned pale.

- Y-es. At least I hope so.

- How did it take place? Did you force yourself into salvation, did you get all sentimental about it or was it an act of God?

- Now you're speaking rubbish, Ansgar. God was behind my will. I wanted to be saved, and as a consequence I was born again. Of course being saved is the act of God.

- Born of human decision, Ljunghed pronounced heavily. - Is that so? Is that what salvation is?

- You mean that I too... I too... I was a foolish virgin?

    Ling's hands trembled noticeably.

- Perhaps you are. I can only say that that your sermons have helped me to understand how the children of God are made by man...

- Herbert, you gather the pieces of a broken man who has gone astray and by appealing to his remaining selfishness and instinct of self-preservation start to sew him back together with beautiful promises. Then you blow the breath of suggestion to scrap heap that is his life. And so, spiritual life sparks in the old man. But in fact, he is just a mere slave who has seen the daylight.

- Terrible, cried Ling, - Has this been the part of all those who have bent to the hands of God in my meetings?

- That I do not know, Ljunghed said. - Certainly some have been saved in spite of your preaching. They have received direct guidance from the Holy Spirit. God will save them through the Holy Spirit, who has come from Heaven.

    Ling rose and started to pace on the living-room floor.

    He stopped by the window and looked out. Then he took a handkerchief and wiped his eyes.

 

Tactical methods can be used in these kinds of meetings. Different tricks are used such as compelling music. This same danger exists even when we sing worship songs in which more focus might be placed on creating "a gorgeous atmosphere" than on God. Continuous choir singing and filling the message with touching stories are used. The goal is to get people to experience powerful feelings and thereby come to some kind of a religious solution. Generally, the preacher also knows beforehand when the people will cry or laugh and to which results certain kinds of tricks will lead.

   The main difference between "normal" meetings (in which the Gospel is preached) and these meetings is that the main emphasis in the latter is on the tricks and methods and not on what God has done for us and on our condition before Him. The main emphasis of these meetings may also be on feelings, not letting the word of God do its job in peace. Normal preaching of the Gospel can also arouse feelings, but manipulation of emotions should never be intentionally done. Our feelings are meaningless and cannot save us.

   The well-known Chinese preacher Watchman Nee, who is perhaps more aware about this issue than many people of our time, addressed this practice. He describes those things that are generally connected with these kinds of “revival meetings.” He also says that the effects of this kind of a revival generally vanish in a couple of weeks or months because people have not really been born again:

 

How are the revival meetings usually led? (I am not against rousing believers, this I want to make clear enough. I am only asking whether the leading of these kinds of meetings comes from the Spirit of God.) Is it not true that in many revival meetings a certain kind of an atmosphere is first created so that people would be excited and warmed up? The choir will repeat and repeat a song to warm the audience. Some shocking stories will be told to add to the atmosphere of the testimonies. These are methods and tactics but not the power of the Holy Spirit. When the atmosphere has been warmed up, the preacher will step on the stage. Already when he preaches, he will be conscious of the results he wants to achieve that day. He has prepared in advance various strategies. He assumes that he can get some people to shudder and some to cry through skilful planning – sins will be confessed and conversions take place.

   This kind of an awakening must be renewed every year or so, because the effect of the previous medicine will slowly evaporate and the old situation will return. Sometimes, the effect of the meetings already vanishes after a few weeks or months. In the beginning of the revival, great enthusiasm and willingness is shown but after a while, all of that has gone. This is because of the lack of real life. (18)

 

The consequences of these meetings are often such that, with time, people realize that everything is based on nothing at all. Even though some people may experience very powerful feelings such as regret for sinful actions, fear of God’s anger, or joy, time often shows that these feelings really were much ado about nothing. The real change or permanent fruit of the Spirit may not be seen at all, people have only gotten some kind of a brief emotional experience that will not change them in any way.

   The next example refers to this:

 

We have ended up with a situation where everything is acceptable as long as we "get results". If music that has been created by the devil can get young people to make a decision to turn to God, it is accepted. How dangerous! Most of these young people have been touched only on the level of the feelings. The Holy Spirit has not penetrated deeply into their hearts to expose sin. They have not been urged to abandon the world, their old habits, and old friends. Only a little or not at all repentance of the heart can be seen. In the end, it's like voting for Jesus, giving Him one vote. God in His never-ending grace draws some of them to Him, but only because of other convictions they have. (19)

 

In the meetings of so-called sleeping or trance preachers people can also be converted and experience "salvation," even though there is no real change and rebirth in their hearts. The next example tells about this kind of a case. In this example, a former trance preacher tells how she had to preach under the influence of an evil spirit, knowing hidden things and even advising people to pray for their salvation. There was a man whom she pushed on his knees and advised him to do so. The woman herself was later freed from this spirit.

   We can thus understand that if it was an evil spirit (= a demonic "python" spirit, Acts 16:16 and Deut 18:11) that affected this person, it could not have led people to the right experience of salvation – even though the message were to seem Christian. Nor could this kind of a "falling into a trance" be God’s way of acting (quite the contrary: the evil spirits require people to be like passive machines, and this is characteristic to mediums: trance preachers are completely like them, even though the message seems to be Christian), because He never requires passiveness or inactivity in people.

   This former trance preacher tells about her former activities and also about being freed from them as follows:

 

The following week I had a meeting again in Kotka. That is when I fell into a trance and I did not know what I was preaching. This took place every evening at 7 p.m. for six months. I did not know anything and could not remember a word I had spoken, but there was a spirit in me who knew in advance all that would happen.

   People were amazed and happy that there now was a seer among them, and gathered in multitudes to hear my sermons. I preached and prayed for people and unveiled hidden things. (…) Once, when a group of boys had come to our house, I took one of them from the shoulders and forced him on his knees and ordered him to pray for salvation. I myself was often on my knees before people praying for them. (…)

   When I had been freed from this spirit, I called a doctor and when I told him that I had gotten rid of the spirit by reading the Bible and praying, he said it to be cheap medicine. After that time, doctor Sederholm has often asked about the state of my faith. Thank God I have been able to answer that it is constantly becoming stronger and stronger.

   Yes, I believe that each trance preacher can be freed if he or she wants to be freed. I do not believe that any of those trance preachers whom I have met is a believer. (20)

 

false assurance. Experiencing a sense of a false assurance can also be one characteristic of a foolish virgin. These kinds of people differ from many others in not placing their trust in their actions but rather in the internal revelations, dreams, and voices they have experienced.

  These people may base the assurance of their salvation on, for example, a voice that has told them, "Your sins have been forgiven!" or "You are my beloved child!" Or they may have revelations about Christ hanging on the cross or see some other image of Him as the Savior, such as the Christ stretching His arms towards them. They may have placed their assurance on this kind of an image or voice.

   A good explanation of this kind of a false assurance is presented by Jonathan Edwards, who lived in the 1700s. He describes how people can get these false revelations and images even about their own salvation. They may see these false revelations as being the Holy Spirit's message to them:

 

Then there are those people whose assurance comes from false religious experiences. These are of the worst kind. Their assurance often comes from assumed revelations. They call these revelations the ‘testimony of the Spirit’. They experience various kinds of revelations and might claim that the Spirit of God has revealed future events to them. It is no wonder that people, who accept such experiences, indeed do get different kinds of revelations even about their own salvation. (…)

   Imagine a person who has had a fear of Hell for a long time. Then, Satan comes and deceives him to thinking that God has forgiven his sins. Let us assume that Satan deceives him by a vision, in which there is a man with a beautiful, smiling face and open hands. The sinner believes that this vision is coming from Christ. Or perhaps Satan deceives him by a powerful voice, saying, ‘Son, your sins have been forgiven’, and the sinner takes this as the voice of God. So the sinner believes that he is saved, even though he does not have a spiritual understanding of the Gospel. (…)

   All of these religious feelings can appear together like this. However, the person whom we assumed to have experienced them is not a Christian! His feelings have come from the natural processes of the mind, not from the saving work of the Spirit of God. Anyone who wonders if this is possible knows very little about the human nature. (21)

 

Charles G. Finney also tells about this kind of a case in his book Ihmeellisiä herätyksiä. He describes a woman who based her assurance of salvation on a dream she had seen as a young girl – based on which she believed her sins to be forgiven:

 

During the revival, my attention was focused on a certain sick woman who had been a member of the Baptist church and was very well known in the locality but in whose piety people did not trust. Tuberculosis was rapidly weakening her and I was called to meet her. So I went and had a long conversation with her. She told me of a vision she had seen as a girl, which made her think that her sins had been forgiven. This was her argument and no evidence could shake her. I tried to convince her that this dream was by no means a sign of her conversion. I told her directly that her friends had assured me that she had never lived a Christian life or displayed a Christian disposition. I had come to try and get her to give up her wrong hope and to see whether she would like to receive Jesus Christ into her life so that she could be saved. I was very kind towards her but made my purpose very clear to her. She was, however, very insulted and when I left she complained that I only wanted to take her hope away from her and make her anxious, and that it was cruel to harass a sick person like this and disturb her peace of mind. Shortly after that she died. As her death approached, she received such a vision of God and the holiness that the inhabitants of Heaven must have that she cried in anguish and said that she was going to Hell. In this condition she died, as I was later told. (22)

 

How is the assurance experienced? One characteristic of the above-mentioned false assurance is the different kinds of visions and revelations about Christ or a whispering voice promising forgiveness. (This can also be preceded by a powerful fear of hell – we dealt with this already in the previous passage – or even remorse over the sins, until finally, after experiencing these kinds of visions and voices, the people start believing that God loves them.) People then base their assurance of salvation on these.

   However, it is important to understand that a real assurance of salvation is not connected with any supernatural revelations, visions, or whispering voices that the devil is more than happy to give people.

   Instead, real assurance is about simply understanding what salvation is all about. It is about understanding and being assured of the truth of the Gospel: that Jesus is the Son of God and that by Him we can be saved. Thus Peter, who understood that Jesus was the Son of God, did not receive a special vision about it or hear a whisper. He simply understood that this is how things are. He only got a clear understanding and was convinced about it:

 

- (Matt 16:15-17) He said to them, But whom say you that I am?

16 And Simon Peter answered and said, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

17 And Jesus answered and said to him, Blessed are you, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father which is in heaven.

 

Jonathan Edwards, who lived in the 18th century, also wrote about this. He says that many have gone astray as a result of having thought the testimony of the Holy Spirit to be some kind of an internal voice or a revelation:

 

When the Apostle Paul says that the Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children, he does not mean that the Spirit will give some supernatural message or revelation to us. (…) The testimony of the Holy Spirit is not a spiritual whisper or a direct revelation. (…) Terrible damage has come from thinking that the testimony of the Holy Spirit is some kind of an internal voice, a message or an explanation from God to a man saying that he is loved, forgiven, chosen, and so on. How many seemingly real but false feelings have risen from this delusion! I am afraid that many people have gone to Hell being bluffed by this. That is why I have focused on this for such a long time. (23)

 

THE Fruit of BEING BORN AGAIN. If the conversion really has been genuine, it should bear fruit. We will look at this in the light of the next points:

 

It is possible to experience the wrong kind of conversion. It is possible that one can be so deceived that he thinks he has experienced salvation and that God has accepted him, when in fact he has only experienced the wrong kind of conversion.

  Jonathan Edwards dealt a lot with this matter in the 1700s. He noticed that talking about conversion did not always prove that the conversion was genuine. It was time that revealed that those "who had experienced a conversion" had actually not experienced a real conversion, after all:

 

Giving a touching testimony about one's feelings and experiences does not prove that the person is a real Christian. Anything that resembles God's work usually touches the believer's heart. Believers love to see sinners turning to God. It is not at all surprising that our hearts are touched when someone tells about being born again or gives a touching testimony about his experiences. And yet, it does not prove that the conversion is genuine.

   The Bible urges us to evaluate people by the life they lead, not by what they speak. (…)

   Let me put it this way: people who claim to have turned to God look beautiful, smell good, and give touching testimonies about their experiences. However, it all may come to nothing. Words prove nothing. (…)

 

What then should we think of a person who claims to have experienced a conversion but whose religious feelings soon die, leaving him to be the same person as he was before? He seems as selfish, worldly, stupid, lecherous, and non-Christian as ever. This speaks against him more firmly than any religious experience speaks for him. In Jesus Chris, circumcision or uncircumcision, dramatic experiences or quiet ones, great or bad testimonies mean nothing. The only thing that matters is a new creation. (24)

 

Rodney M. Howard-Browne wrote about this in his book Mitä tarkoittaa uudestisyntyminen ("What does it mean to be born again", free translation from the Finnish title, p. 4, 5). He described people who stood in line and said, “Jesus, I confess that you are my Lord and my Savior,” but who were never changed in their hearts:

 

The Lord told me, "Many people have even not been born again. They have never experienced being born again. They have never come under the cross. They have stood in line and said, ‘Jesus, I confess that you are my Lord and my Savior’ but in their hearts they have not changed."

   Being born again is not something that happens externally. Being saved is not done through reasoning. It takes place in the heart when one accepts Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. That is when he will change. He will become a new creation. This very thing is so exiting in being born again. (…)

   Do not come to tell me that you have been born again while you still live your life as before. I will not believe you. I do not care about the congregation you attend to. I do not care even if your father were a deacon. I do not care even if you were the leader of the elders. I do not care even if you belonged to all possible committees. When you are born again, you will change. You will become a new creation.

   People who think they can be born again and yet carry on with their lives as usual deceive themselves. Their relationship with God is not right and they cover it so well that even they themselves do not see it. They have never repented.

   In fact, there are people who think that they are a good deal to God. They think that God somehow owes them salvation.

 

What proof is there of a genuine conversion? Certain features reflect genuine conversion. These features, which we are going to list, are actually a much better proof of genuine conversion than miracles (compare Matt 7:22-23), or abundant speech about spiritual experiences and feelings. These can be characteristic of many people who have the wrong kind of assurance. If you do not find the next qualities and attitudes in your life, you have probably not received salvation and have not been united with God:

 

The desire to do the will of God is the clearest sign of a genuine conversion. One may not always recognize or obey the will of God, and may struggle with it, but if he or she does not have any interest in doing God's will whatsoever, he or she has not been saved:

 

- (Rom 7:22) For I delight in the law of God after the inward man

 

- (Rom 6:17) But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.

 

Wanting to live a holier life is in principle the same as the previous point. This means that one continually wants to live a purer life and conquer the imperfections in his life.

   At the other end of the spectrum, there are many people who have wrong assurance and are often content with themselves and their life. They may live in a conversion that took place in the past but not live for God in the present. They actually trust in Christ to be their Savior from sin but do not want to be freed from sin in their lives.

 

- (Matt 5:3) Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

- (Matt 5:6) Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

 

Constant renewal and the fruit of the Spirit are another sign. This does not mean that the change should be visible after a few days but a change from one’s previous life should be visible after some time. If after five to ten years, one is still the same as when he or she was "born again," it most certainly means that he or she has not been saved:

 

- (2 Cor 3:18) But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the LORD.

 

- (2 Cor 4:16) For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.

 

- (Rom 6:22) But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end everlasting life.

 

Accurate observations of the wrong kinds of attitudes in one's life and giving them up belong to the process in which the Holy Spirit exposes the wrong attitudes in our heart and also helps us to give them up. Often in this process we can feel ourselves quite miserable and thoroughly sinful as did the Apostle Paul:

 

- (Isa 6:5) Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the middle of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.

 

- (Hebr 4:12-13) For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.

 

- (Rom 7:24-25) O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

 

Concern for the salvation of other people is one of the most important signs. When we ourselves have been saved, we immediately start to worry about the destiny of others. If we do not have this concern for other people, we have not been saved:

 

- (Rom 9:1-3) I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

2 That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.

3 For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh

 

- (Rom 10:1) Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.

 

- (1 Cor 9:22) To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

 

The desire to pray, especially for the salvation of others, is an immediate result of the previous. When we have understood that other people do not have eternal life, we will immediately start to pray for them so that they would be saved and the work of God would go forward. Prayer and the desire to pray even more are signs of genuine conversion:

 

- (Rom 10:1) Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved

 

- (1 Tim 5:5) Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusts in God, and continues in supplications and prayers night and day.

 

- (1 Sam 12:23) Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way:

 

The desire to read the Bible and respect it as the Word of God belong to a genuine conversion. By reading the Bible we can get an internal understanding about this, even if we had thought quite the opposite previously. We can also grieve when the authority of the Bible is degraded or if the will of God does not come true in society:

 

- (Ps 119:103-105) How sweet are your words to my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

104 Through your precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.

105 Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.

 

- (1 Thess 2:9,13) For you remember, brothers, our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God.

13 For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when you received the word of God which you heard of us, you received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually works also in you that believe.

 

- (1 John 2:14) I have written to you, fathers, because you have known him that is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God stays in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.

 

The desire to share one's life with other Christians is one sign of conversion. This desire is not always so strong but if a person does not have it at all, one might ask whether the person has experienced a real conversion at all:

 

- (Rom 1:11-12) For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, to the end you may be established;

12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

 

- (1 Thess 3:12) And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you

 

- (2 Peter 1:7) And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.

 

What should a right conversion be like? People who are not truly converted may emphasize things that are quite unessential or insignificant in God’s eyes. People may emphasize their special visions, miracles that have taken place through them, overflowing feelings, or some physical signs and regard those as evidence of Christianity. (When saying this, we do not want to undermine the real gifts of God – if they are from God – that are useful and necessary.)

   Such activities are not proof of someone's spirituality. They do not mean that we are very spiritual; indeed, the devil can cause similar effects and confound the work of God.

   Instead, the more essential thing is how someone's faith is put into practice, in his or her personality and actions.

   One’s personality should not reflect selfishness, anger, pride, quarrelling, or any other not-so-desirable qualities (we are often quite far from being perfect!). One should maintain a loving, humble, and forgiving nature. Actually, we should have a similar kind of attitude as that expressed by Jesus. He was humble, loving, and forgiving (Matt 11:29, John 13:1, John 1:14). It is true that we are often far from this, but it certainly is God's highest goal in the life of every man. Consider:

 

- (Phil 2:3) Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

 

- (Rom 13:8,10) Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law.

10 Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

 

- (Jam 3:16-17) For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

 

Everyday activity is another aspect of true conversion. Their importance is indicated, for example, in the list below, which also talks about obeying the authorities – thus, we can see that any kind of despotism, disorder, illegal behavior, or violence cannot be right. Looking at this list, we most probably feel ourselves imperfect but at least we have been given a model of how to live our lives. On the other hand, we can question whether one really is saved if he does not have any desire to live according to the will of God:

 

 - (Jam 2:1-4,8,9) My brothers, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.

2 For if there come to your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;

3 And you have respect to him that wears the gay clothing, and say to him, Sit you here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand you there, or sit here under my footstool:

4 Are you not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?

8 If you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you do well:

9 But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors.

 

- (Jam 2:15-17) If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

16 And one of you say to them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled; notwithstanding you give them not those things which are needful to the body; what does it profit?

17 Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone.

 

- (1John 3:17-18) But whoever has this world’s good, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him?

18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

 

- (Matt 5:44) But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you

 

- (1 Peter 2:13-14) Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;

14 Or to governors, as to them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.

 

 

 

7. You can be born again!

 

In this last chapter, we will deal with being born again. We will consider how you can be born again and receive eternal life. This is very important because if you are not born again from above, you can neither enter the kingdom of God nor see it. You will be left outside. Jesus' words to Nicodemus refer to the significance of this:

 

 - (John 3:3) Jesus answered and said to him, Truly, truly, I say to you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

 

- (John 3:7) Marvel not that I said to you, You must be born again.

 

What Does IT NOT MEAN TO BE BORN AGAIN? Being born again is sometimes confused with other, sometimes opposite, experiences. We consider some of these below:

 

Not a new way of life. Being born again does not mean starting to live in a different way than before. When we are born again we also receive a new life; we gain this life by turning to Christ. Merely changing one’s habits does not produce a new life in us:

 

- (John 5:40) And you will not come to me, that you might have life.

 

- (2 Cor 5:17) Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

 

Not a process. Being born again is not a process, just like natural birth is not a process. It takes place in an instant. It does not take a year to be born and that is why we have our birthday once a year.

   In addition, several Bible verses tell that being born again is something that has already taken place in a believer’s life, not something that is in the process of happening:

 

- (1 Peter 1:23) Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and stays for ever.

 

- (Jam 1:18) Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

 

- (1 Peter 1:3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again to a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

 

Not an attempt to save oneself. Being born again is not about us trying to save ourselves. This is just as impossible for us as it is for a drowning man to save himself or a dog to start speaking and live the life of a human. Thus, we cannot through our own attempts receive salvation; we can receive it from the grace of God alone as a gift:

 

 - (Rev 21:6) And he said to me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to him that is thirsty of the fountain of the water of life freely.

 

- (Rev 22:17) And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is thirsty come. And whoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

 

Not a bunch of external Christian habits. Neither does being born again mean adopting external Christian behavior. We may have been baptized, attend meetings, fill our life with Christianity, or come from a Christian home, yet not have experienced real salvation.

   The next story about Pandita Ramabai is a good illustration of this. Ramabai, a former Hindu, turned to Christianity but had not been born again; this did not take place until eight years later when she really found Christ and received a new life:

 

Pandita Ramabai, a well-known Christian teacher from India, was one of these people. She herself told her amazing story. After having turned away from Hinduism and other wrong religions to Christianity, she was baptized. She joined the church and lived and worked for eight years as faithfully as any English member of the church, perfectly accepting the Bible to be her guide, building her life according to the teachings of the Bible.

   But Pandita Ramabai was not a Christian. She herself tells that she never experienced regeneration. She did not know Christ as her personal Savior. She had accepted Christianity, but not Christ. She had adopted the Christian religion but did not know personal salvation. There was no change of the heart. Her actions were the result of duty rather than love.

   But there came a time in her life eight years after turning to Christianity when she for the first time in her life saw herself as a damned sinner who needed a Savior, as a dead spirit needing eternal life, and that is when the great change took place. From that moment, her entire life was different. Now she knew Christ of the Christian religion. She had been born again, not only converted but the Holy Spirit had made her a new woman. This is her testimony in her own words:

   "I thought that repenting from sin and rejecting it was necessary for forgiveness, that baptism ceremonies meant being born again and that my sins were wiped away when I was baptized in the name of Christ. These and other thoughts like these that are related to the religious thinking of the Hindus, filled me. Eight years passed from my baptism before I came to see that I had indeed found the Christian religion but I had not found Christ who is the Life of the religion. I needed Christ and not merely His religion." (25)

 

You can be born again immediately! If you have read the preceding message about salvation and being born again, you should not remain an outsider and a bystander: you can experience salvation and be born again right now. It takes place in the following way:

 

1. Turn to God and give your life to Him. The first stage in being born again and receiving salvation is, naturally, turning to God and Jesus Christ. You can confess to God that you are a sinner who needs salvation and that you want God’s plan to come true in your life. You do not first need to try to become a better person, just turn to God as you are with all of your imperfections.

 

2. Receive Jesus into your life. As eternal life is only in Jesus Christ, it is obvious that you have to ask Jesus to come into your life (You can simply say, “Lord, Jesus, come into my life!”). According to the Bible, He already stands outside the door of your heart, waiting to step into your life:

 

- (Rev 3:20) Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.

 

If you have received Him into your life, you are adopted by God, you have received eternal life and you have been born again – regardless of your feelings – as the following verses teach:

 

- (John 1:12)  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name

 

 - (1 John 5:11-13) And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

12 He that has the Son has life; and he that has not the Son of God has not life.

13 These things have I written to you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God.

 

THE PRAYER OF SALVATION. Lord, Jesus, I turn to You. I confess that I have sinned against You and I have not lived according to Your will. However, I want to turn from my sins and follow You with all my heart. I also believe that my sins have been forgiven by Your atonement work and I have received eternal life through You. I thank You for the salvation You have given me. Amen.

 

                                                               

 

References:

 

1. Oswald J. Smith: Maa johon kaipaan, p. 26,27

2. Hans Erik Nissen: Enkö koskaan tule paremmaksi [BLIVER JAG DA ALDRIG BEDRE], p. 27,29,30,64.

3. Martin Ski: T.B. Barratt – helluntaiapostoli [T.B. BARRATT - DOPT I ÅND OG ILD], p. 108-110

4. Niilo Yli-Vainio: Kristitty vai käännynnäinen, p. 41,101,102

5. Kai Kjaer-Hansen / Ole Chr. M. Kvarne: [MESSIANSKE JODER] Messiaaniset juutalaiset, p. 106  

6. C.O. Rosenius: [VÄGLEDNING TILL FRID] Tie rauhaan, p. 29,30.

7. D.L.Moody: Veri Vanhassa ja Uudessa testamentissa, p. 38-40.

8. Niilo Yli-Vainio: Kristitty vai käännynnäinen?, p. 24,25.

9. Lauri Hokkanen: Mikä usko on oikea?, p. 4.

10. Jakov Damkani: [WHY ME?] Siionin poika, p.204,205.

11. Oswald J. Smith: Maa johon kaipaan, p. 65, 66

12. Martti Luther: Galatalaiskirjeen selitys, p. 449

13. Niilo Yli-Vainio: Kristitty vai käännynnäinen, p. 21

14. D.L.Moody: Miten Raamattua on luettava, p. 71,72.

15. Oswald J. Smith: Maa johon kaipaan, p. 52

16. Hans Erik Nissen: Enkö koskaan tule paremmaksi [BLIVER JAG DA ALDRIG BEDRE], p. 47, 48, 38, 39, 99, 100

17. Watchman Nee: Hengen vapautus [THE RELEASE OF THE SPIRIT], p. 103,104

18. Watchman Nee: Sielun piilevä voima [THE LATENT POWER OF THE SOUL], p. 76

19. David Wilkerson: [SET THE TRUMPET TO THY MOUTH] Pasuuna soi, p. 100,101.

20. Armas Von Bell: Totuus unissasaarnaajista, p. 12,15.

21. Jonathan Edwards: Oikea hengellinen kokemus [THE EXPERIENCE THAT COUNTS], p. 34,27.

22. Charles G. Finney: Ihmeellisiä herätyksiä, p. 59,60.

23. Jonathan Edwards: Oikea hengellinen kokemus [THE EXPERIENCE THAT COUNTS], p. 44

24. Jonathan Edwards: Oikea hengellinen kokemus [THE EXPERIENCE THAT COUNTS], p. 37,58,77

25. Oswald J. Smith: Maa johon kaipaan, p. 96,97 

 

 

More on this topic:

Theoretical belief. Many have faith in God, having outward forms of Christianity, and some are even church workers, but they still do not know the matter of salvation

Religiousness or faith? What is the difference between religiosity and saving faith in Jesus and God? They are not the same thing

About salvation. How do Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses understand salvation, and how their teaching differs from traditional Christian and biblical teaching?

Jesus and the Catholics. Mary, the merits of the saints, the works of atonement, and the sacraments have supplanted Jesus in the Catholic Church. Therefore, most lack salvation and certainty

Church leaders and God; that is, how many priests and bishops have drifted beyond the Christian faith

Misled priests; that is, how modern priests have created their own religion based on the basic assumptions of atheism

A message to a Church employee. Modern priests want to appear tolerant and progressive, but at the same time they give their support to injustice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life

 

 

  

 

Grap to eternal life!

 

More on this topic:

Theoretical belief. Many have faith in God, having outward forms of Christianity, and some are even church workers, but they still do not know the matter of salvation

Religiousness or faith? What is the difference between religiosity and saving faith in Jesus and God? They are not the same thing

About salvation. How do Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses understand salvation, and how their teaching differs from traditional Christian and biblical teaching?

Jesus and the Catholics. Mary, the merits of the saints, the works of atonement, and the sacraments have supplanted Jesus in the Catholic Church. Therefore, most lack salvation and certainty

Church leaders and God; that is, how many priests and bishops have drifted beyond the Christian faith

Misled priests; that is, how modern priests have created their own religion based on the basic assumptions of atheism

A message to a Church employee. Modern priests want to appear tolerant and progressive, but at the same time they give their support to injustice