Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” [John 3:3 and John 3:7]. He was saying that all babies are naturally birthed into flesh, but to be birthed by the Spirit of God – we have to be born again, into a “new creature”. [See: 2 Corinthians 5:17]
In God’s legal system, all of mankind is condemned to hell because we are naturally unable to be holy [“holy” = without sin]. He cannot have sin in His Kingdom. Makes sense: He is holy! His choice – because of His nature. However, He loved us so much that He provided legal forgiveness for any who choose to follow Him. Quite simple, actually. But you have to personally make that choice. Quite momentous – that choice. It affects you for eternity.
This is how LEGAL FORGIVENESS was worked-out by God, as I see it in the Bible:
First: Created for Love. God had a desire to create creatures that would love Him. He already had angels and who knows what other kinds of creatures around Him, but they did not have the capacity to truly love – since they had no choice: they were created in a state of permanent allegiance not conducive to love.
So, secondly: His Plan for the Ages. God put into action His plan for the ages: create humans, created beings who would have a choice to love Him or not. Free will was necessary to truly “love”. But that was not enough. In His omniscience He could foresee that humans would fail to stay sinless, even in the perfect Garden of Eden. They would fail Him, and rebel against Him. He foresaw that even before the creation of earth.
So, thirdly: Legal Forgiveness. God, in His great love, rather than just let humans fail, provided a legal solution to the sin problem: His own Son would sacrifice His life on earth, thus allowing God to legally provide forgiveness through His substitute standing in our place. Jesus planned to come to earth and be crucified as a substitutionary sacrifice. Without a legal solution, there was no saving mankind.
Jesus loved us enough to leave His Throne in Heaven, become a mere man, live on earth, and allow the Romans to mistreat and scourge Him, and then to crucify Him on a cross. THAT was love! He came to earth as a man specifically with a goal of dying on that cross for us, suffering for us – in order to provide the legal option of receiving God’s eternal forgiveness – and starting a new life in Christ.
Fourth: Eternal, new life, begins in the precise moment in time when one accepts Christ as Lord and Savior. Getting born again happens in an instant – by choosing to follow Jesus. You don’t save yourself! God does the saving.
When we come to that point – God Himself accepts our sincere repentance, and God Himself declares us forgiven. God Himself changes us and gives us new birth – makes us born again into His forever family. God Himself declares we will never be under His condemnation again – ever. When we accept His gift of grace, forgiveness in Christ, His grace abounds to cover all our sin.
We are not saved by works. We are not saved by not sinning, nor by going to church, nor by being “better” … nor not by anything in addition to His grace!
We are not saved because we desperately cling to His hand: it is He that holds our hand.
We are not saved because we then never sin again: He gives us legal entry into His family. He frees us from the penalty, frees us from any condemnation against us – for all time. He Himself declares us un-condemned forever.
If we truly repented to follow Him, there is nothing that can cause us to lose our salvation. The thief on the cross [Luke 23:39-43] is an example of God’s declaration of new life by His grace: the thief on the cross did NOTHING except confess his sinfulness, and accept Jesus as Lord of all.
Nothing religious was done by the thief. He merely (1) confessed his sinfulness, and (2) acknowledged Jesus as “the Christ”. And on the basis of that alone – Jesus Himself said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” In that moment in time, that thief became totally acceptable to God and was welcomed into His Kingdom. He did not “do” anything. He confessed and acknowledged. – That Moment In Time
Fifth: Following Christ. We often tend to think that salvation in Christ is a “doing” thing: we gotta get it right; we gotta do better, we gotta do godly things and not sin. We think we have to be good – to be accepted by God into heaven. Nothing is further from the truth. That would be a “works-based” religion. But Jesus does not require “religion”, nor “religious acts”, nor perfection. He does not want your works! He requires we confess/repent/and follow Him.
If we are truly saved, truly born again —- then we will follow Him. Beware if you are not evidencing a new life in Christ! We will sow what we reap.
We are not saved by “doing”, but we know by our doings that we are Christians… because we see evidence of the change He has effected in us – we know that His Spirit is working in and through us.
Example: We know it’s a skunk because… it looks like, smells like, walks like a skunk. But you can’t make yourself a skunk by look/smell/& walk…. You have to be born a skunk to really BE a skunk. And then you start living like a skunk. You start evidencing that you really are a skunk.
We know it’s NOT a skunk when it looks like/smell’s like/walks like… a racoon! A racoon will give false signs to one looking for a skunk.
So, if someone who claims to be “a Christian” (a little Christ, as the word means), or you, are “giving false signs“, you would be well-advised to examine yourself to see if you really are a Christian, or not. You will by no means fool God! What we do, who we are — really matters. The “saving part” is separate from the “doing part”.
What we do reveals who we really are. Remember: this is not a one-time thing. A snapshot “photo take” of any of us on any given day — may very well make us “look” like a skunk.
Even the born again believer sometimes sins, sometimes stinks like a skunk. But God knows the thoughts and intents of our heart. He knows who we really are.
To me, that is a good thing – knowing that He knows me that well. For, every moment of every day… I rely on His grace to get me through the day! [Philippians 1:6] To paraphrase the verse, I say often to myself:
For I am confident of this very thing,
that He who began a good work in me
will continue to perfect it
until the day of Christ Jesus actually arrives.
Re-create and renew; restore and sustain. [Psalm 51:10-12] I never give-up on myself. I do not wallow in my sin – content like a pig in the muck. As one who is forgiven and secure in Christ, I confess and renew, as the Psalmist, King David, did. Psalm 51:1-4, 10-17
1 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For [b]I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
4 Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You [c]are justified [d]when You speak
And [e]blameless when You judge.
10 Create [j]in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew [k]a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will [l]be converted to You.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation;
Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
15 O Lord, [m]open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise.
16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
I am confident in my salvation because I know His grace is sufficient. The truly born again are secure in Him, forgiven for past/present/future sins. It now behooves us to press forward:
Therefore, having these promises, beloved,
let us cleanse ourselves
from all defilement of flesh and spirit,
in the fear of God.
– 2 Corinthians 7:1
His grace is huge. (Although it only “starts” when we come to Him in sincerity and truth.) I don’t worry about my sins condemning me to hell, because I know that I was born again in that moment of my life, and He changed me into a new creation in that moment.
12 Not that I have already obtained it
or have already become perfect,
but I press on [a]
so that I may lay hold of that [b]for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet;
but one thing I do:
forgetting what lies behind
and reaching forward
to what lies ahead,
14 I press on
toward the goal
for the prize
of the upward call of God
in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 3:12-14
I press forward – to please God, not in order to get saved. Now I live to learn more, to be more of all that I can be — for Him. What about you?