From Fear to Faith
Romans 10:6-13 May 15, 2022
Over the years as a pastor, I have pondered questions, “How does one know that one is genuinely saved and will enter heaven?” And, what are the characteristics of a person who is saved? Of course, the best place to find answers to these questions is in the Bible. The Bible trumps any notion people have about salvation. The Bible takes priority.
When I was working as an Associate Pastor in a large church in Lafayette, the Administrative Board gave the Senior Pastor and me the task of visiting inactive members. In many churches the membership list contains the names of people who quit living out their membership vows of upholding the church with their prayers, presence, gifts and service. Among others, I was given the name of a woman who had been absent from the church for more than ten years. When I talked with her, she told me she had no interest in the church but still wanted her name on the membership rolls. We had a long talk about being a disciple. It is sad that people disappear from active membership and have little understanding that membership means more than having one’s name on a list. I have thought about that situation many times and pondered what membership means in relation to being a disciple of Christ Jesus.
In the 1730’s, John Wesley, an ordained Anglican Priest, went to Georgia to, in his words, “convert the Indians.” On the way to Georgia, the ship dealt with many dangerous storms. Wesley came to realize his fear of dying. During one particularly severe storm, he noticed the difference between the actions of the English passengers and the German Moravians. The English were screaming in fear while the Moravian Christians were calmly singing hymns. The English had great fear of dying while the Moravians were fearless. He talked with the Moravian leader and learned that both men and women had no fear of dying. Wesley realized that something in his faith was missing. He knew Christ Jesus but only as Savior of the World and not in a personal way. He did not trust Christ alone for his salvation. He did not have a sense of being reconciled to God. This led him on a journey from fear to faith. If the founder of the Methodist Movement, dealt with faith issues, such a challenge is in some sense normal for believers in Christ Jesus. The big question is, “How can we have the assurance of our salvation so that we need not fear even dying?”
There are many verses that discuss salvation and help us understand what it means to be saved. In Acts 16:31, we find a simple verse: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” At base, if one believes in Christ Jesus, one will be saved. Salvation is not just a onetime experience it is a journey of faith that lasts until and perhaps beyond one’s life on earth. Another verse, 1 John 5:1 tells us, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his child as well.” Again, we see that salvation is directly related to believing in Christ Jesus.
The Apostle Paul writes a succinct statement about salvation in his letter to the Romans. He writes, “. . . if you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).” Notice he uses the word believe but he writes about more than an intellectual assent as believing in Christ Jesus. Some people believe many things about Jesus but they don’t believe in Jesus. They don’t believe he is the Messiah, Son of God and Savior of the world. It is one thing to believe in Jesus and it is another to believe things about Jesus. Paul speaks about a heartfelt belief, not an exclusively intellectual belief. Belief is more than simple knowing the facts. Demons believe that Jesus is the Messiah but they do not have a saving belief in him. James writes, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” When Jesus encountered demons, they recognized who he is and that he had power over them. A belief about Jesus is not the same as believing in Jesus. A saving belief is more than knowing the facts.
What is a saving belief that leads to salvation? It begins with recognizing that one is a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. It takes some degree of humility to acknowledge one’s sin. Prideful people have no recognition of their sin. I have heard people say that they are good people and have no need of God’s forgiveness. The Bible tells us otherwise. Paul writes, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”
I had what is called a liberal education. We were taught that humans are basically good. When I heard that some denominations believe in what they called “the total depravity of man,” I thought that was clearly untrue. How foolish I was! One has to ignore reality to believe that humans are essentially good. All we have to do is be aware of the local, national and world news to see that humans are very much not good. The 20th century wars should have destroyed the delusions of traditional educational liberalism. One writer wrote that “Genuine saving faith occurs when someone recognizes their unworthiness before a holy God, confesses and turns from their sin—falling short of the glory of God, of God’s holiness—and then makes a conscious decision to live for God each day.” The first step in believing that leads to salvation is recognizing one’s sinfulness and one’s need for a Savior.
There is a common misunderstanding about salvation that we might call “performance based religion.” It is making salvation contingent on something we do. Religion is performance based. The First Century Jews lived out a performance based system of salvation. They believed that they must follow all 613 rules they gleaned from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. If I tried to live out a performance based religion, I know I would fail. There is no way one can live out 613 rules. It is impossible. One of the things Jesus pointed out about the Pharisees was that their trying to live out the rules lead to pride and arrogance. So-called Christian cults are performance based. In fact, I suspect most church members believe in a form of performance based religion. Once I tested that hypothesis. I asked members a simple true or false question: “True or False—I must work as hard as I can to please God in order to be saved.” The majority of those who answered the question circled “True.” It appears that clergy either teach a performance based Christianity or have done a poor job in teaching the Gospel.
Paul writes in his letter to Ephesians a clear statement about Christian faith: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).” Salvation is a gift of God, not something we earn through anything we do or accomplish. One popular understanding is that when we die we will be judged on the basis of what we have done. We will stand in front of a scale and on one side they will stack our good deeds and on the other the bad things we have done. Our salvation is contingent on our good deeds outweighing the bad things we did. Thank God the salvation that Christ Jesus offers us is a gift and not the outcome of weighing our good and bad deeds. Salvation is not contingent on anything we do except receiving God’s gift of grace. I know there is a salvation quote in Mark that might give one trouble. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16a).” What happens to people who die as believers but are not baptized? Is salvation contingent on being baptized? We have a problem if we say “Yes” to that question. Salvation is a free gift from God and is not contingent on anything but receiving it. We receive it. We cannot earn it or make ourselves worthy of it.
Genuine salvation recognizes that instead of working for salvation Jesus has already done what needs to be done. The salvation we receive comes from the saving work of Christ Jesus on the Cross. He has done all that needs to be done to atone for our sins. On the Cross he took on the sin of the world—your sin and mine. Performance based religion overlooks what Jesus has done for us. It says that something more must be done than Jesus accomplished. What more needs to be done that Jesus has not done? We are saved through the work of Christ Jesus alone and nothing more.
Paul wrote that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…” Is our having faith the work that makes salvation possible? No, it is by grace—God’s gracious gift of salvation—that we are saved. Theologian B. B. Warfield writes, “The saving power of faith resides thus not in itself, but in the Almighty Savior on who it rests . . . It is not, strictly speaking, faith that saves us, but that Christ saves us through faith.” True saving faith involves repentance from one’s sin and a complete trust in the work of Christ to save from sin and make one righteous. It is the work of Christ Jesus that is paramount.
What are signs of genuine saving faith? One writer reports there are five signs of genuine faith. (1) We have the desire to walk in holiness. (2) We bear good fruit. (3) We walk in forgiveness and love. (4) We long to know Christ Jesus more. And (5) our love for God overflows to others.
John Wesley taught that Christians can have the assurance of salvation and eternal life. Two years after his devastating experience in Georgia, he was in a Bible study and while the leader was reading from the Preface to Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans, he recognized that he had genuine faith and need not fear even dying. He wrote, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust Christ, Christ alone for salvation: And an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” Wesley made the journey from fear to faith. You too can live without fear of anything, even dying, as you find God’s forgiveness and trust in Christ alone for your salvation.