Recently, I was corresponding with a young man that no one in the church knows, and I asked him this question: How is a person saved from hell and guaranteed a place in heaven for all eternity? To which the young man (who, by the way, stated that he was a Baptist preacher) answered: "A person is saved from hell by accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior. After doing this in order to guarantee a place in heaven for all eternity, you must live your life in a way that would please God." What do you think of his answer? Are you ok with it? What would you correct, if anything? Let’s start with his first sentence: "A person is saved from hell by accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior." May I suggest that his word choice of "accept" is unfortunate? And the reason I say "accept" is not the right word to use is because we can’t find that terminology being used in any evangelistic encounters in the NT. Instead, the word that is used most often is "believe." Accept and believe are not the same and cannot be considered equivalent. I accept the fact that it might rain today, or I accept your invitation to dinner. However, nowhere in the Bible are there any suggestions that we accept Christ. In fact, it is just the opposite. He accepts us into the body of Christ (Eph 1:6, KJV). While it is true that one must accept the gospel as truth in order to be saved, mere acknowledgement of the Gospel does not save. James 2:19 tells us "the devils also believe, and tremble"; only true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His work on our behalf justifies the believer. First, I want to define "faith" to ensure that you understand that it is not the same as "accepting." Again, my acknowledgement of the fact that Christ died on a cross for my sins is not the same as putting my faith in Christ as my Lord and Savior. The former is different from the latter. When I have faith in something, I am expressing my confident assurance in the reality of its existence. To accept the fact that a ladder will hold my weight is not the same as standing on that ladder and trusting in it to sustain me. While you may think that this difference is just a matter of semantics, a careful study of Scripture reveals that the Bible doesn’t agree with you. Second, I want to expand on the idea of saying one "accepts" Christ as Savior. The Bible teaches that one believes in the gospel to be saved. This sounds simple, but the reason I emphasize this is because faith in a Christ who did not die and was not resurrected is not sufficient for salvation. The only Christ that can save you from hell is the Christ; He is the Son of God, who was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified, buried, and rose again on the third day. Any other Christ simply will not do. A person is saved when he or she puts his or her faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). When a believer shares the gospel, Jesus Christ must be the central character of the story—the Jesus Christ who was crucified, buried, and rose from the grave on the third day for our sins ("our" pertains to the recipient of the gospel and to all who believe). This, of course, implies that believers recognize themselves as sinners in need of a savior, which is an indispensible component to becoming a born-again follower of Christ. Finally, we must take exception to our young friend’s final statement: "After doing this in order to be guaranteed a place in heaven for all eternity, you must live your life in a way that would please God." Are you ok with this statement? Does my living a life pleasing to God guarantee me a place in heaven? Of course the answer is an emphatic "no!" It is Christ, and Christ alone, who secures my position in heaven for all eternity; He is the One who redeemed me; His shed blood on Calvary’s cross freed me from my bondage to death; He grants eternal life to all who believe. Jesus said: "That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:15). Notice that this is not a conditional expression. Jesus did not say, "whosoever believes in me and lives a life that is pleasing to my Father will be granted eternal life." On the cross Jesus declared, "It is finished." If my eternal life is conditionally based on the life that I live, then I may rightly ask: "What was finished on the cross?" Certainly, the salvation of the elect was not finished because God would then be waiting to see if each of the elect lives a life that is pleasing to Him. Following that premise, one may logically ask—how pleasing is pleasing enough? I know that I don’t live a life that is pleasing to God at all times. While I try to live a life that is pleasing to God, and I recognize the importance of living a life that is pleasing to God, I know that I don’t do it consistently enough. Therefore, I am thrilled that my eternal life is not dependent upon my behavior being pleasing to God! Instead, it was the Father who was pleased to accept the Son’s work on the cross on my behalf, and I am trusting in that good news—are you?
Have you ever considered how important it is for you to be able to forgive those who sin against you either by what they do or what they fail to do?
Are you guilty of thinking that you need to wait until the person asks for forgiveness before you can forgive them for the offense that is wearing at your heart and causing you to struggle with speaking to them?
If these questions resonate with you and the struggles you are experiencing, you are not alone. The Apostle Peter wrestled with a very similar question. In Matthew 18, the apostle records a conversation Peter had with the Lord Jesus concerning this idea of forgiveness. And since nothing has changed in terms of people sinning against people, I suggest we eavesdrop on this conversation and see what we can learn. Peter asked, "Lord, how often will my brother [or sister] sin against me and I forgive him?" Wow! Two thousand years ago, brothers and sisters were sinning against each other just like today. In Israel, folks were sinning against each other, and in the church today people are still sinning against each other. We say the most unkind and uncharitable things to one another, and we are often guilty of using forums like Facebook, blogs and other social media sites to air our grievances to the world. And like detectives doing an investigation, our readers are able to connect the clues so we all know who we are talking about even when specific names aren’t mentioned.
So, what is the answer? How many times must I forgive my sister or brother when they say something nasty about me on a social media platform? Peter asked the Lord "Is it seven times?" Surely seven times for the same offense would be enough. Certainly the Lord does not expect me to keep on forgiving the same sister or brother over and over again, does He? Can’t I just be done with them? Can’t I simply unfriend them on Facebook, stop following them on my Twitter account, and sit on the opposite side of the church from them? The answer to this very tough question is found in the gospel. Yes, the gospel! Jesus answered Peter with, "I do not say to you seven times, but 70 times seven." And to drive His point home, Jesus went on to tell a story that comes directly from the gospel. In modern English, the story might sound like this today.
The Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him tens of thousands of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt. But the man fell down before his master and begged him, "Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all." Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him 58 dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. "Be patient with me, and I will pay it," he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full. When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, "You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?" Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. Then Jesus said, "That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart."
But you say, "I am saved. I don’t have worry about being sent to hell." Yes, you are correct, and that is the point of the story isn’t it? Saved people forgive each other. They aren’t easily offended and are quick to restore the broken friendship. They breathe grace and are known as peacemakers, and as such, they are blessed.
Perhaps you have heard of the "soul-winners" crown, I don't think Paul is referring to a literal crown in this passage. But what then is he referring to in 1 Thessalonians 2:19–20?
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy.