Last month I was on a three hour flight and was providentially sitting next to a pastor from Los Angeles. We got into conversation and quickly realized that we had very similar belief structures, the same heroes of the faith and overall worldviews. Because of some recent conversations I had been having and also the anonymity of talking with a stranger, I asked him his opinion on a question I have wrestled with for most of my Christian walk:
“What is the minimum by which a person can be saved?”
What I mean by that is, what does it take? Because at times the Scripture seems so clear:
“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
– Rom 10.9
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
– 1 John 1.9
“…for whoever will call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
– Rom 10.13
And then of course Jesus’ continual teachings:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
– Matt 22.37
“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’.”
– John 3.3
But my question has always been, how do you know if you have sincerely done that? Jesus also says that we can know a tree by its fruit (Luke 6.44), and we are exhorted to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2.2). This is no small deal here, we are talking about eternal salvation or damnation. I want to know beyond a shadow of a doubt, to know that I know that I know.
And this pastor’s answer has been etched into my mind. He said, “If a person has been truly broken over his sin, and turned to God for forgiveness.”
Repentance is the key. Turning from sin. But to truly repent, one has to understand his depravity, his sinful nature, his just deserts of damnation and his complete, utter need of a savior. Brokenness.
Do you grieve over your sin?
Does it break your heart that your sin puts Jesus on the cross?
“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COVET.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
– Rom 7.7-12
Paul, in the book of Romans, spends a great deal of time and energy speaking about the Mosaic Law: a list of things to do or not do to maintain our standing before God. Paul is very clear in this passage that the Law is holy, righteous and good (Rom 7.12). We are often tempted to say that the Law was bad and grace is good. But the reality is that our sin is what is bad – and when our sin meets the Law, it fosters more sin. But when we die to the Law, we are made alive to grace and God gives us the Spirit to empower us to fulfill the Law. Our actions do not change, from being under the Law and living under grace: obedience. Our hearts change in motive.
But Paul makes a dynamic statement in Verse 7: “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law.” It is extremely important that we know our sin. We do not revel or glory in it – and when Christ redeems us and sets us free from it, we ought not remember it in any light other than to praise God for how He has changed us and is continually changing us. But there is no salvation apart from repentance, new birth and becoming a new creation.
And we have to know and be broken over our sin to in order to repent.
Do you know your sin? Do you know what God has defined as sin? There are in-exhaustive lists throughout Scripture:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”
– 1 Cor 6.9-10
“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
– Rev 21.8
All sins are damnable. And God, as creator, gets to define what sin is. We do not. And while these lists include outward and inward sins – sins of action and sins of the heart, Paul sums it all up to say that “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Rom 14.23).
Let us examine and probe our ways,
And let us return to the Lord.
– Lam 3.40
Let us know our sin. Let us be broken over our sin. Let us ask God what He considers sin, and let us confess that His truth is right and our understanding is flawed. Let us repent of our sin. Let us turn to a Savior. Let us be broken, and let us be saved.