I recently received a letter which started out thus, “I want to know the right way to be saved and be sure of it.” Since this question is one that should be asked by so many millions of people today and since the answer is of eternal consequence, I am publishing my answer in tract form. May God use it as He chooses.
I received your letter yesterday and am going to try to answer it in a way you can understand. This is not easy because according to Scripture, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14). This, of course, is the reason youcould not understand the tract, THE DOCTRINE OF “FALLING FROM GRACE”. One thing is certain, if you are to everbe saved and know it as you say so well in your letter, you must get your eyes off of the conduct and opinions of other people and on the unchangeable Word of God.
SALVATION IS OF THE LORD
Salvation is not at all in what you do, or do not do, even though it certainly should produce a change of action, as well as good works. Salvation is of the Lord. When Paul was asked the very same question you asked me, he answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). Since I certainly could not, I will not try toimprove on this answer. This means much more than to believe in God or even to just be of the honest opinion that Jesuswas the Son of God. The heart of saving faith is best expressed in the words of Simon Peter in Matthew 16:15-16, “He (Jesus) saith unto them, but whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter was stating that Jesus was the anointed of God (the Christ), the Messiah, the One God had eternally planned as a sacrifice for sin. He was “The Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” Now the Lord told Peter that this was not a revelation from other men, but a supernatural revelation from God. Therefore, God must give you saving faith and repentance without which there is no salvation. He does this through two means, and always uses them both. One is His Word, and in particular, the Gospel. The other is the Holy Spirit. One of these (the Gospel) is committed to men and is my responsibility toward you. Of course, I must and gladly do trust God to, by His Spirit, give you understanding whereby you can receive the following message.
YOU ARE A CONDEMNED SINNER
You must first (by God’s grace) come to the realization that you are a sinner. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Now there must be much more than the knowledge that the Bible says this about you. There must be a spiritual conviction of its truth. You should feel guilty, ashamed, unclean, and that the condemnation of God that is now upon you is just and proper. May you feel that if God should (even now while you read this letter, and before you finish it, or come to the knowledge of the truth) plunge your soul into hell, He would be just and glorious for doing so, realizing that you have grievously sinned against Him. Such a sorrow for sin will certainly come before repentance in the case of an adult sinner such as you. And “…except ye repent, ye…perish” (Luke 13:5). If even now you feel that you are too unclean and unrighteous to ever be fit for the kingdom of God, it is by God’s grace that you feel this way. His blessed law, which is good, just, and holy was given to spiritually persuade you of this truth. “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good. Was then that which is good made death unto 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” (Romans 7:12-13). Think of all your pride, selfishness, self-righteousness and hatred. All of these are anti-God and terrible. Perhaps these sins in you are accompanied by lying, theft, adultery, fornication, blasphemy, cursing, drunkenness, evil thoughts, evil words, etc. Look at the sins among these of which you are guilty, and surely youwill think yourself to be even more ungodly than I have described you to be. Now I hope that you may feel not only afraid of God’s just judgment because of being in such a state, but also that you may feel sorry that you have so sinned against a holy and just and loving God. If so, then God is working repentance in your heart which is absolutely necessary if you are to be saved. This working of God’s grace in you will cause a change in your attitude toward sin. You will come to dislike it and want to cease from it although in the flesh you will never be able to stop.
REFORM IS FUTILE
You must also realize, however, that no amount of effort on your part can ever save you. “Salvation is of the Lord” (John 2:9). If you wept over sin until your neighborhood was flooded, or if every waking moment of your life were spent in the most sincere effort to abandon all your sin and do good, and if you were baptized until you were waterlogged, and ifyou joined every church in your state; you would still be just as unsaved as you are now. You must be born again and birth is something in which the one born is the recipient, not the author. Now, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The beliefspoken of here is the faith confessed by Peter in Matthew 16:16. That faith is not of yourself, but is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). Here in a nutshell are the facts that must precede this saving faith.
THREE BASIC FACTS
1. You have sinned, as I have tried to convince you in my previous words, and as these Scriptures along with hundreds of others like them state. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” (Romans 3:23). “What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jew and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-12). “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).
2. The wrath of God (eternal judgment) abides upon you because of your sin. (Romans 1:18, John 3:18-19, Ezekiel 18:20, Psalms 9:17). These Scriptures and hundreds of others should make this more than plain to you.
3. Jesus Christ gave Himself to ransom people such as those named above. “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). By giving Himself a ransom,the Bible simply means that He died to pay the sin debt for them. On Calvary’s cross, Jesus paid the price for every single one of my sins from the cradle to the grave. He also gave to me His perfect righteousness. This is the whole basis of my salvation, and it is the basis of my peace with God.
WHOSOEVER WILL MAY COME
Now, at this point you might be saying, “But how can I know He is mine? How can I know He would accept such a sinner as I?” You can know this by the very fact that you want to be saved. I don’t mean by the fact that you want to escape hell. There is no evidence of the working of divine grace in this. If you, however, want cleansing from your sins, if you want favor of God, if you want to be brought near to God; it is by divine grace that you have these desires. In Revelation 22:17, the Scripture says, “And let him that is athirst come.” Notice it did not say, “Him that is afraid,” but “Him that is athirst.” This means the man that thirsts for God’s righteousness and forgiveness and presence, etc. This isfollowed by the words, “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Jesus Christ is the water of life and if youwant Him, you are invited to take freely. The very fact that you want Him is given here as divine evidence that forgiveness and eternal life are available to you. If you can, by God’s grace, believe this, He is yours also. Do you believe God’s Word and does His Spirit bear witness in your heart? Can your heart say, “Jesus Christ died for me?” Does your heart feel like saying to Him, “Thank you Lord for dying on the cross for me?” Can you trust Him and His work on the cross as all you need? If you can, I can say to you as the Lord said to Peter, “Flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”
DO YOU NEED MORE HELP?
If you yet have questions or doubts, get under the sound of Gospel preaching. “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation, unto everyone that believeth.” (Romans 1:16). You mentioned a Baptist friend who was not what he should be. Please do not judge his church by him. There is no place where you can hear the Gospel proclaimed so clearly. I recommend a good, Independent Baptist church, if there is one to which you can go.
CONFESSION, BAPTISM AND CHRISTIAN SERVICE
Now when repentance toward God (which I dealt with in the first part of this tract) and faith toward Jesus Christ (which I dealt with in the last) have been worked in your heart (by this I mean when you detest your sin and when you are trusting Jesus Christ alone to atone for it), go forward in that church and confess Him as your personal Savior and follow Him in scriptural baptism. Unite with that church and serve God and grow there. This is God’s plan for you.
SALVATION IS IN A MAN, NOT A PLAN
You said you wanted to be saved and be sure of it. The answer to both of these needs is Jesus Christ. I have not pointed you to prayer, baptism, church membership, good works, abstinence from sin, or any such thing for salvation although earnest efforts in these directions will follow regeneration. I have not directed you to a “plan” of human steps for salvationis not in any plan except Calvary. God’s plan of salvation is Jesus crucified for our sins. I point you to Christ and Him crucified. If you trust anything else besides, or in addition to Christ’s work, you are not trusting Him and you will have no peace. May God in His mercy bring you to the knowledge that Christ died for you and in Him you have eternal life. When you long for peace of mind and security of heart about your salvation, do not look back to any act or change in or by yourself; look back to the cross! That work is certain, it was rightly motivated, it is divine, its effect is eternal. You can thus say, “I am saved because Christ died for me. I have security because He died for me.” When this is all your hope, then circumstances, failure, or heresies cannot make you doubt your future in heaven. Amen.