|Volume 24 Number 2 February 2022
“If we are not perfect, how can we know we are saved?” As a youth with a Catholic background, I experienced some missteps whiling searching for the one true church and salvation. After each attempt to secure the salvation, the questions remained: “What’s changed? How can I know that I’m saved?” The mere assurances of mortals like myself was not reassuring. There had to be something more – something definitive. There was, of course – the Word of God.
First, let’s establish that no one is perfect is the strictest sense. Yes, no one is perfect. “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one’” (Romans 3:10 NKJV; cf., Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Mankind has always needed a Redeemer through Whom salvation is attainable.
Secondly, a Redeemer and true salvation appears only in the Christian Age relative to the New Testament – not in Patriarchy or Judaism of the Old Testament. “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world… Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 4:14-15). However, the salvation afforded humanity through Jesus Christ is conditional upon obeying Him (Hebrews 5:9). Generally, salvation relates to obedience to the Gospel – “that form of doctrine.” “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered” (Romans 6:17).
Failure to obey the Gospel will result in tragic eternal consequences. “…When the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).
What, then, is the Gospel plan of salvation, which must be obeyed? Depending on the degree of progress toward salvation, inspired penmen recorded instructions that were given to New Testament persons about activities on their part needed to obtain salvation – the forgiveness of past sins and the legitimate prospect of receiving eternal salvation, too.
The precursor to biblical faith is biblical instruction. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
Beyond any doubt whatsoever, belief or faith that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God – the Messiah or Savior – is a prerequisite to be saved. Jesus said, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
Jesus said, “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Jesus said, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). Compare the similar affirmation by the apostle Paul. “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10). “Will be” and “unto” signal a step in the progression toward salvation – not salvation attained at this point.
Romans 6:3-6 illustrates “that form of doctrine” or the Gospel that must be obeyed, which culminates in immersion in water for the remission of sins.
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
Compare Colossians 2:12, which reads, “Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” Imitating the burial of Jesus Christ through baptism (immersion) climaxes one’s progression toward or “unto” salvation and removes one’s sins. The shed blood of our Lord – accessed through imitation of His death, burial and resurrection – takes away a person’s past sins (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Revelation 1:5). “Whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed” (Romans 3:25).
Clearly, the purpose of Christian baptism is the forgiveness of sins. “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins’” (Acts 2:38). “There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).
However, it is possible for one who once was forgiven of his past sins to sin again – even to the point of abandoning the Christian faith. “But Peter said to him, ‘Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money!’” (Acts 8:20).
For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:20-22)
“Not forsaking [abandoning] the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (Hebrews10:26-27). The consequence of rejecting Jesus Christ as one’s Savior is eternal condemnation because there is on one else to whom one can turn for salvation. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Souls can reach a point beyond which they are no longer sensitive to the Gospel and Jesus Christ our Savior. One’s conscience can become “seared” (1 Timothy 4:2). However, Jesus Christ is Savior to Christians who have committed sins but have repented of them. “Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). Faithful Christians need to recover wayward Christians. “In humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26). “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
Christians are forgiven sinners, whereas non-Christians are sinners, too, but they have not been forgiven. Yes, Christians commit sins also. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. …If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8,10). However, continuing to obey Jesus Christ – continuing to obey the Gospel – and repenting of the sins of which we are aware (Acts 8:22) keeps the child of God in a saved fellowship with the Godhead. “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin… If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (John 1:7, 9).
With the foregoing knowledge and activities in one’s life, he can know that he is saved from his past sins, as well as from any subsequent sins for which he repents or from sins of which he is not aware. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1); this verse mirrors 1 John 1:7. “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him” (1 John 2:3-5). Thus, we can know that we know we are saved.