The Two Most Important Questions
The following devotions will focus on giving a clear biblical answer to the two most important questions any human being can ever ask. The two questions are:
(1) What must I do to be saved? and
(2) How can I know for certain that I am saved?
If these are indeed the two most important questions any human being can ever ask, then an accurate answer to them is a matter of life and death—even eternal life and eternal death.
According to the teaching of our Lord in John 8:44, the devil is a "liar and a murderer." With all his fiendish fury, Satan is committed to murdering the souls of mankind, and his most effective murder weapon is the lie. It was the murder weapon he used in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve.
The devil knows that if he can concoct, propagate, and sell lying answers to these two crucial questions, he will surely secure success in his massive soul-murdering enterprise. Therefore, nothing is of greater importance than making sure that we have discovered from the Bible God's infallible answers to these two questions.
The first question, "What must I do to be saved?" takes us immediately to the weighty issues of precisely how a holy and inflexibly just God can forgive our sins, accept us as righteous in His sight, and adopt us into His family without in any way staining the glory of His holiness and justice. Also, it takes us directly to the issue of discovering the means by which we are warranted to appropriate to ourselves the gracious salvation which God has provided for sinners and freely offers to all in the gospel.
To answer this question, it is vital for us to understand at the beginning that all the religious systems in the world can be reduced to one of two descriptions. They are either a religion of "do" or a religion of "done." Saving religion as revealed in the Scriptures amounts to a declaration that we are saved on the basis of that which has already been "done."
Many texts of Scripture beautifully summarize this simple fact. Among them, perhaps none exceeds in clarity the words of the Apostle Paul: "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost" (1 Timothy 1:15). In this text, the Apostle underscores the fact that this unique person, Christ Jesus, who by His coming into the world and doing what He did in behalf of sinners, is the one who saves them—even the foremost among sinners.
In subsequent meditations we will direct our attention to who Christ Jesus is and to the very specific things that Christ Jesus did in order to provide us with the salvation that is all "done" and not dependent on our "do."
The Unique Person of Jesus
Last month, in our initial meditation, we began to answer the first of the two most important questions human beings can ever ask: "What must I do to be saved?"
I asserted that the words of 1 Timothy 1:15 contain one of the most succinct yet comprehensive answers to that question in all of Scripture. That text informs us that central to the salvation of sinners is the fact that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."
Those words inform us that in providing a salvation that is "done" and not "do," the person of Jesus is foundational. In other words, Jesus is able to do what He does because He is who He is. Or, to state it yet another way, it is the uniqueness of the person of Jesus that secures the validity and efficacy of the work of Jesus.
It cannot be said of any mere human being that "he came into the world." Such language clearly implies preexistence in another realm prior to existence in this world. When we seek to gather together the biblical witness to understand the identity of Jesus, we can do no better than to read, digest, memorize, and believe with all our hearts the answer to the question concerning the identity of Jesus as found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism (A. 21). In that very condensed yet biblically grounded answer, we are informed that "the only Redeemer of God's elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal son of God, became man, and so was, and continues to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever."
These truths concerning the identity of Jesus are made clear at the very beginning of the gospel records. Matthew 1 records Joseph's perplexity upon discovering that his bride-to-be was pregnant. As he prayerfully wrestled through what action to take, God sent an angel to inform him that Mary was pregnant, not by an immoral act with a man, but by her submission to the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit. The angel further informed Joseph that Mary would give birth to a son who would be named Jesus, which means "the Lord is salvation."
Further on in the same chapter, we are told that the one to be born of Mary was also to be called "Immanuel," meaning "God with us." Therefore, the one conceived by the Holy Spirit who was to be born as a man, is none other than the God-man Christ Jesus. He is God Himself, with all the attributes and characteristics of true "God-ness." He is also man, with all the faculties and capacities of true "man-ness."
God's "done" salvation from sin and its consequences is accomplished by this unique person. If you are ever to know the blessedness of that "done" salvation, it will be as you become savingly related to Him who alone has been appointed by God to be our Savior (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
Jesus Our Representative
In these devotions, we are addressing the two most important questions any human being can ever ask. The first question is "What must I do to be saved?"
In beginning, I answered this question by demonstrating from the Word of God that salvation from sin and its consequences are to be found in Christ Jesus alone (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 1:15).
I then asserted that Christ Jesus is able to do what He does in saving us, first of all, because He is who He is as the God-man—Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). The Son of God, with two distinct natures in one person forever, is the only qualified savior of sinners.
Although He is perfectly competent to be our Savior because He is who He is, our salvation is not procured by His unique person apart from the unique work He did to accomplish salvation for us.
In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, the Apostle Paul spells out precisely what Jesus did to secure our salvation. According to the Apostle, "He died for our sins, he was buried, and he was raised again on the third day." The words "he died for our sins" mean nothing less than the fact that when Jesus died on the cross, he was bearing the full measure of the poured-out wrath of God against our sins. In His death, Jesus was being made "a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). When He cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" that cry validated that He was indeed being "made sin for us" (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Hell we deserved was absorbed by Jesus. Because His soul and body were made the blotter to soak up the just fury of God against sin, He could issue that later cry, "It is finished" (John 19:30), thereby providing for us a "done" salvation.
However, to be received into God's favor and fellowship, not only must the penalty demanded by the law of God be met by our substitute and representative, but also a righteousness composed of perfect conformity to the demands of the law must be provided in our substitute as well.
In Romans 5:12-21, we find Adam and Jesus compared and contrasted as representative heads. What they did in this position is reckoned by God as having been done by those whom they represented. Therefore, the Apostle Paul says, "For as by the one man's disobedience [Adam] the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience [Jesus] the many will be made righteous" (Romans 5:19). Hence, it is nothing less than the perfect doing and the horrific dying of the God-man Himself that enables God to offer to sinners a "done" salvation that does no violence either to His justice or His holiness.
What must you do to be saved? In terms of the basis of your being saved, you must cease from trusting in all your doings, and recognize that if you are ever to be saved, that salvation will be found based only upon the doing and dying of another, even the Lord Jesus Christ.
Repentance and Faith
We take up God's answer to the first of the two most important questions we can ever ask: "What must I do to be saved?"
In this meditation, we will begin to focus our attention on the response that God demands from all who hear the good news of this "done" salvation freely offered to all without distinction in the gospel.
The response that God commands is nothing other, nothing more, and nothing less than a response of Spirit-created repentance and faith. Because the biblical witness to this fact is both consistent and overwhelming, many texts of Scripture could be cited. However, this truth is well exemplified in Acts 20:21. There, Paul summarizes the substance of his preaching at Ephesus over the course of three years, and he affirms that he testified "both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ."
Before considering separately the distinctive objects and actions of repentance and faith, it is crucial to grasp the fact that they are inseparable in any saving response to the gospel of the grace of God. As John Murray so accurately stated it: "It is impossible to disentangle faith and repentance. Saving faith is permeated with repentance, and repentance is permeated with faith."
It is for this reason that there are some texts that only mention the necessity of faith (16:31), and others that mention only the necessity of repentance (17:30).
Because faith is the appropriating activity of the soul, the Scriptures repeatedly emphasize that we are "saved by faith." They never affirm that we are "saved by repentance." However, the Scriptures do repeatedly affirm that we are not saved apart from repentance. Luke 13:3 is one such text, where our Lord Jesus Himself says, "Unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish."
It is for this reason that in the Great Commission as it is recorded by Luke, our Lord Jesus said "that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations"(Luke 24:45).
In our next meditation, God willing, we will focus our attention upon the nature and fruits of that which God calls "repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18). Meanwhile, I commend to the reader's serious study and reflection the profoundly accurate definition of gospel repentance found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism: "Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience"
Repentance That Leads to Life
In Mark 1, we read: "Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel' " (Mark 1:14-15).
In Acts 20:21, Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that the essence of his preaching was "testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ."
Standing before King Agrippa, Paul again summarized his preaching as declaring that men "should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance" (Acts 26:20).
An all-important question is "What must I do to be saved?" In the light of these texts, any answer to that question that omits a call to repentance is a radically defective answer. Our concern now is to identify what constitutes "repentance that leads to life" (Acts 11:18)?
John Murray captured the heart of what is involved in true repentance. He wrote: "Repentance consists essentially in a change of heart and mind and will. The change of heart and mind and will principally respects four things: it is a change of mind respecting . . .
The answer to question 87 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism explains: "Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience."
The word repentance basically means a change of mind, but it is a change of mind that penetrates into the deepest recesses of a man's being. Therefore, the catechism states that the penitent sinner will have a "true sense of his sin" and will experience "grief and hatred" of his sin, issuing in a resolute "turning from it."
Furthermore, the catechism underscores the fact that in true repentance, we turn from a life of self-will, self-centeredness, and self-worship to embrace the one true and living God as our God, with a purpose of rendering to Him the obedience that He demands of us as His creatures (2 Corinthians 5: 15).
What then are the "deeds in keeping with their repentance" spoken of by Paul in Acts 26:20? I can do no better than to quote J.I. Packer: "The New Testament word for repentance means changing one's mind so that one's views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one's whole life is lived differently. The change is radical, both inwardly and outwardly; mind and judgment, will and affections, behavior and life-style, motives and purposes are all involved. Repenting means starting to live a new life."
Finally, since repentance and faith are inseparable (Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21), the catechism reminds us that all true repentance involves "an apprehension of (faith in) the mercy of God in Christ."
The Faith of God's Elect
I have been stating the biblical answers to these two ultimate questions:
(1) What must I do to be saved? and
(2) How can I be sure that I am saved?
The Bible's answer to the first question is unmistakably clear and uniformly consistent. According to passages such as Acts 20:21, if we would experience God's salvation, we must experience Spirit-wrought "repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ."
We are now examining the scriptural teaching concerning the necessity, nature, and fruit of what Paul calls "the faith of God's elect" in Titus 1:1.
Our Lord Jesus Christ in His threefold office as prophet, priest, and king is set before us as the object of saving faith. The faith of God's elect involves the whole man (mind, affections, and will) embracing the whole Christ (prophet, priest, and king) in order to obtain a whole salvation (deliverance from the guilt and power of sin, issuing in growing conformity to Christ and culminating in glorification). In this way, the Lord Jesus fulfills the prophecy made concerning Him that "he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).
Faith is given such a prominent place because it unites us to Christ, and through union with Christ we are made partakers of the salvation procured by Him. According to the Scriptures, union with Christ is the most all-embracing blessing of God's salvation because all other saving benefits (for example, justification and sanctification) depend on union with Christ.
Although every Christian was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and was also in Christ as our federal head and representative when He died and rose again (Romans 6:1-14; Colossians 2:12; 3:1-2), we do not enter into a saving union with Him until we believe. According to 1 Corinthians 1:9, we are brought into this vital union with Christ when we are effectually called and embrace Christ by faith. Only then does 1 Corinthians 1:30 become true of us: "and because of him you are in Christ Jesus."
Think of our union with Christ as a coin with two sides. From the divine side, our union with Christ is secured by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who is the bond of that union (1 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 1:13-14). From the human side, the bond of our union with Christ is the Spirit-granted faith that embraces Him as He is offered to us in the gospel (Acts 5:14; Romans 16:7b).
The power (the Spirit) to believe comes from God; but the act (faith) is our act, though it is guaranteed by the Lord for His elect. Until we believe, we are outside of Christ, and we must believe to enjoy the full benefits of salvation that He has purchased for His elect.
Saving faith is not the act of a moment, but it is the entrance into a life-encompassing relationship with Christ.
Having demonstrated in our previous meditation the necessity, nature, and fruits of true repentance, we now turn our attention to a consideration of the necessity, nature, and fruits of saving faith.
Dozens of texts could be cited to prove the necessity of faith if we are to enter into the blessings of God's salvation in Christ. However, I have chosen four texts that epitomize the universal teaching of the Word of God concerning the necessity for saving faith:
"Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:18).
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).
"For by grace you have been saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8).
"And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 3:23).
If we are to experience the salvation procured for sinners and sincerely offered to us in the gospel, we must understand the nature of this saving faith.
God nowhere gives us one succinct definition of the nature of saving faith. He has done something far better. He has given us multiple pictures and analogies of what constitutes saving faith. The following are but a sampling of the many pictures of saving faith scattered throughout the Scriptures:
Receiving Christ (John 1:12; Colossians 2:6).
Drinking from Christ (John 7:37, 38; Revelation 22:17).
Looking to Christ (John 3:14, 15)
Coming to Christ (John 7:37; 1 Peter 2:4).
Calling upon Christ (Romans 10:13).
Fleeing to Christ (Hebrews 6:18).
Feeding upon Christ (John 6:35).
In all of these pictures of the nature of saving faith, it is clear that the object of such faith is not one or more aspects of the person or work of Christ—rather, Christ Himself in the uniqueness of His person and the perfection of His work is the object of our faith.
Christ accomplishes His saving work in the exercise of his threefold office as our prophet, priest, and king. Through saving faith, we receive and entrust ourselves to a whole Christ—as a prophet to teach us, as a priest who sacrificed Himself and intercedes for us, and as a king to rule over and defend us.
I ask you, do you truly embrace the Christ of Scripture as your prophet, your priest, and your king?
Faith and Union with Christ
In seeking to answer the all-important question "What must I do to be saved?" we have come to that part of the biblical answer that finds us focusing our attention on the necessity, nature, and fruits of saving faith. The Apostle Paul speaks of this saving faith in Ephesians 2:8: "For by grace you have been saved through faith." In Titus 1:1, it is described as "the faith of God's elect."
The faith of God's elect that unites us to Christ is not simply a momentary act that grants us entrance into a life-encompassing, life-transforming relationship with Christ. Rather, the relationship is sustained by faith. The Scriptures describe this faith in various ways: "The righteous shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17); "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7); and "The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God" (Galatians 2:20).
There are several inevitable and universal results from the life lived by faith in Christ. Since this faith unites us to Christ, our representative head, who died for sin and to sin, and rose from the dead as the triumphant victor over sin—our union with Him secures our death to the reigning power and dominion of sin (Romans 6:1-14). Further, because faith unites us to the risen and enthroned Christ, this faith secures our progress in the putting to death of our remaining (but no longer reigning) sin (Colossians 3:1-10).
Because of our union with Christ, who is now exalted in glory and provides spiritual life through His Spirit, we will ultimately share in that same glory. This glory culminates in the blessed vision, whereby we "shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2; see also Colossians 3:4). Faith will at that point become sight.
Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray is a marvelous distillation of biblical truth. In his chapter on union with Christ, Murray writes:
Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation. All to which the people of God have been predestined in the eternal election of God, all that has been secured and procured for them in the once-for-all accomplishment of redemption, all of which they become the actual partakers in the application of redemption, and all that by God's grace they will become in the state of consummated bliss is embraced within the compass of union and communion with Christ.
It is a travesty that the faith of God's elect that unites the believer to Christ and imparts such wonderful blessings from Christ Himself is so often reduced to a cheap "decisionism" that leaves the self-deceived, unconverted sinner still in Adam, wedded to his sins, and on his way to Hell with a lie in his hands. A "decision to accept Christ" is a far cry from that God-produced faith that actually unites the sinner to Christ in life-transforming power.
The Witness of the Spirit
We have been seeking to set forth a balanced (not exhaustive) and thoroughly biblical answer to the two most important questions any human being can ever ask. They are: "What must I do to be saved?" and "How may I know for certain that I am saved?"
I have asserted that any teaching on this subject would be irresponsibly truncated if it did not draw upon the scriptural answer to the second question as given to us in the answer to question 80 in the Westminster Larger Catechism. The catechism affirms that such assurance is possible, and its answer is easily understood as a response to two questions:
(1) Who can attain a certain conviction of his or her salvation?
(2) On what basis does this certain conviction rest?
The answer to the first question in the catechism is that any true believer in Christ who is walking in sincere obedience to Christ, may, without any direct or further revelation from God, be certain of his or her salvation.
The answer to the second question includes three elements.
The first is that assurance arises from resting upon the truth of God's promises.
The second is that this assurance is dependent on the Holy Spirit's ministry in enabling us to discern in our hearts and lives the marks of the true believer.
The third component of a biblically based assurance is described as "the Spirit . . . bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God." This language is drawn directly from Romans 8:16.
In his book Faith and Life, B.B. Warfield gives a very helpful exposition of this text and its parallel, Galatians 4:4-6. He demonstrates that this witness of the Holy Spirit "to or with" our spirits is never separated from the other two components of a biblically based assurance. On the one hand, for someone to claim he has an infallible assurance given by the Holy Spirit while not trusting in the promises of God and manifesting the "birthmarks" of the true child of God, is to be guilty of the grossest form of damning self-delusion.
Warfield quotes with approval the words of George Gillespie: If the witness of our conscience is blank and can testify nothing of sincerity, hatred of sin, love to the brethren, or the like, then the Spirit of God witnesses no peace nor comfort to that soul; and the voice that speaks peace to a person who has no gracious mark or qualification in him, does not speak according to the Word, but contrary to the Word, and is, therefore, a spirit of delusion.
May God be pleased to use these meditations so that each reader will attain an assurance of his salvation grounded in the certain promises of God, manifested in a transformed life and by the ministry of the Holy Spirit giving His testimony to the genuineness of that assurance.
The Basis of Assurance
"What must I do to be saved?" The biblical answer to this all-important question is relatively simple and straightforward. But the biblical answer to the second all-important question "How may I know for certain that I am saved?" is more multifaceted and liable to misunderstanding or distortion.
In my judgment, any teaching on this subject would be incomplete if it did not draw upon the answer to this second all-important question given to us in the Westminster Larger Catechism. Question 80 asks, "Can true believers be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and that they shall persevere therein unto salvation?"
The answer given is: Such as truly believe in Christ, and endeavor to walk in all good conscience before him, may, without extraordinary revelation, by faith grounded upon the truth of God's promises, and by the Spirit enabling them to discern in themselves those graces to which the promises of life are made, and bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God, be infallibly assured that they are in the estate of grace, and shall persevere therein unto salvation.
This answer can be readily understood as a biblical response to two simple questions:
(1) Who can attain a certain conviction of his or her salvation?
(2) On what basis does this certain conviction rest?
The answer to the first question is that anyone who truly believes in Christ and is seeking to walk in obedience to Christ, may, without any direct or further revelation from God, be certain of his or her salvation.
The answer to the second question includes three distinct elements:
(1) Our assurance is grounded on the truth of God's promises. One such promise that has helped untold numbers of troubled believers attain full assurance of their salvation is the promise given by our Lord in John 6:37: "And whoever comes to me I will never cast out." Another such promise is found in Romans 10:13: "For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
(2) Our assurance is dependent on the Holy Spirit's ministry enabling us to discern in our hearts and lives those graces that only the Holy Spirit can impart to the human heart. For example, the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:2-11 are a description of the character traits of all who are born again and have entered the kingdom of God by that heavenly birth (see Galatians 5:22-24). As the Holy Spirit enables us to discern these graces in our lives as a pattern of life, we are assured by the Word of God that we are indeed the children of God.