We, as a society (and as Christians), are becoming more and more timid and fearful to discuss sin. We do not want to sound judgmental, we do not want to be labeled a bigot, we think we will be hypocrites for defining sin if we ourselves do not live a perfect life, and we are afraid that we will push people away. Political correctness, in all of its glory, is making us into a people with soft sin who think that we can ignore reality by burying our heads in the sand and pretending nothing exists. And in church-ese, we have become very comfortable to invite people “as you are”, we want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome to be a part of our weekly gatherings and worship services, because we just want to “get you saved”.
But what does being saved actually mean?
When we talk about Jesus, forgiveness and salvation with children, we often use terminology like, “ask Jesus into your heart”. Not only is this concept unbiblical, it is extremely dangerous. It is superstitious. It will damage many people for a long time. Why? Because salvation the culmination of a person understanding his position before God, grasping the weight of his sin and consequences thereof, confessing his sin and repenting from it, asking God for forgiveness based on the sacrifice of Jesus, being covered by His blood and clothed in His righteousness, and living a lifestyle that is continually dying to self, obeying God and persevering through trials. Yes, there is a mutual abiding that occurs – us in Jesus and Jesus in us (John 15.4-9). Yes, God does also place the Holy Spirit within us to convict us of righteousness, sin and judgment (John 16.8). And yes, we are a temple for the Holy Spirit to indwell (1 Cor 6.9). But Jesus never commanded anyone to ask Him to come live in his heart. Paul never preached the Gospel as thus. Rather, it focused on repentance and making Jesus the Lord over everything.
What this all means is that the salvation experience beings with understanding of sin. We cannot “get you saved” until you understand that every single human being who has walked the face of this Earth (besides Jesus) is utterly wicked (Rom 3.23), is an enemy of God (James 4.4), is dead Spiritually (Eph 2.1), and deserves an eternity in Hell as just punishment. And since this is true of every single human being, this is true of me and this is true of you. I am, by nature, wicked. You are, by nature, wicked. We are, because of our nature, separated from God and bound towards Hell.
God hates sin.
God hates all sin.
And because God hates sin,
God will not overlook any sin.
God will, at the end of time, judge every human being by the deeds they preformed in the flesh.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
– 2 Cor 5.10
Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.
– 1 Cor 3.8
“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”
– Rev 22.12
“I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”
– Rev 2.23
And God, being perfect, will not sweep any sin under the rug. He is just, He is righteous, and He does not show leniency towards any sin that is preformed. This is a terrifying reality. Because while it is true that murderers deserve to go to Hell for killing another human being, we also deserve to go to Hell for eating a cookie that our moms told us not to eat when we were six years old. Think about it: that is exactly why God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden, damned to Hell, and the entire world put under the curse: eating a piece of fruit that God said, “Do not eat”.
Would you have cursed all of creation over that?
Probably not, because we are comfortable with a level of sin. We know, in our hearts, that we are all sinners and we show grace to the little sins and pretend like they are nothing. But God will repay everyone accordingly, and His standard is perfection: the Law.
“Vengeance is Mine, and retribution,
In due time their foot will slip;
For the day of their calamity is near,
And the impending things are hastening upon them.”
– Deut 32.35
We cannot find salvation until we understand from what we need saving. We are not simply trying to introduce people to Jesus so that they can have a relationship with Him, we are trying to help people understand the dire situation in which they are living and flee from it. Jesus will not enter into relationship with you until you recognize, confess and repent from your sin.
Now, hear me. This does not mean that we have to get all of our sin in order before we come to Jesus for salvation. Only Jesus can empower and enable us to fight and conquer sin. We cannot clean ourselves up enough to make ourselves acceptable to Him. But the salvation process and experience begins with us recognizing our wicked nature, its consequence, and our turning from sin to Jesus.
Jesus came to the world and lived a perfect life – one not deserving of death – but yet He died in our place. We have been sentenced to death – physically and Spiritually – and Jesus stepped in and paid our debt. God does not, by our asking for forgiveness, overlook our sin, He pays our penalty in Jesus. He does not just say, “It’s ok, I forgive you”, He says, “I have poured out all of my wrath for your sin on Jesus. He suffered so that you do not have to.”
When we grasp the weight of our sin and fate, and when we then grasp the weight of our forgiveness – that it is not flippant but cost Jesus His life – then we begin the life of getting to know Jesus, learning what God has to say about how we are supposed to live and how we are supposed to act, and changing.
Yes, Jesus wants to have a relationship with you. But that relationship is fundamentally Him as Lord and you as servant, follower and lastly friend. Jesus is not your homeboy, He is God. He is king. On a throne. And He will be respected. He will be worshiped. On the day that we meet Him, every knee will bow (Phil 2.10). We will not even be able to stand up in His presence.
And Jesus takes the sin matter extremely seriously. So seriously, in fact, that Scripture teaches us that if we come to Jesus for salvation, but then continue sinning, we are not saved. There is very little hope for us, in fact:
“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”
– Heb 10.26-27
This does not mean that will not sin. Scripture offers us great comfort and peace when we stumble in a moment of weakness:
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
– 1 John 2.1-2
What this means, then, is that we cannot make peace with sin. We cannot go on sinning willfully and assuming that Jesus will forgive us. Jesus wants us to love Him and obey Him out of that love. If we are striving to honor Him in our daily lives, but falter in a moment of weakness, He will forgive us. It is covered by His blood. But if we think that we are buddy-buddy with Jesus and that we can live however we want and assume His forgiveness, then we are not saved. True love for Jesus is rooted in a sober understanding of our sinful nature and overwhelming gratefulness for His sacrifice – paying our debt – and is exemplified in our complete surrender to His will and desire. In short, because of what He did for us, we do everything that we can to honor Him and to make Him proud of us.
This is what abiding in Him means. Not that we just ask Jesus into our hearts and obtain some eternal fire insurance. It means that the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and convicts us of sin and helps us to change.
“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”
– John 16.8
In summary, God wants to have a relationship with us. And that relationship is based on love – God is love, and we only know love if we know God. But that relationship also is built on our submission and obedience to Him. And the outpouring of our love and appreciation for the gift of salvation is getting to know Him by reading the Bible, applying His truths to our lives, turning away from sin and glorifying Him in everything that we do.