by J. Macreus
Steps toward salvation
|1. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
"Sinner." It is not a word we like to hear very often. It is definitely not a word that we like to hear directed toward us or toward someone we love. But do you know what this word really means?
Most often this word is associated with the idea that we have done something "evil" or at least "bad" or "disobedient." When we are called a "sinner" we typically assume that the person labeling us as such has, for some reason or another, judged us as "evil" or "bad" and in our society today it seems that the only real sin everyone can agree upon is the sin of judging others.
Sin, however, has a broader meaning and it is this broader meaning that we must truly apply to our lives. This broader meaning encompasses all the "evil" and "bad" actions that all of us, when we are honest, will admit to from time to time. But it also includes a number of actions and thoughts that we may have throughout the day. This broader definition is simply this: Sin = missing the mark.
That means that whenever we do not live up to a certain criterion, we have sinned. It may be intentional, it may not. It may include doing something that "everyone else is doing" or "everyone else thinks is right" or it may not. It may be some action that we assume we have little control over. Regardless of the circumstance, if our actions or thoughts do not meet the criterion they are "sinful" actions.
The question then turns to "what is the criterion?" Simply put, the criterion is Jesus Christ. He is the measuring stick to which God holds us accountable.
The New Testament makes it clear to us that Christ lived a perfect life, a life free from sin. How he was able to do this has to do with the fact that he was God incarnate and that he looked to God the Father for direction in everything he did. Without going into a discussion of Jesus' divinity or the nature of the Trinity, let me just say that for our purposes we can look at Christ as the penultimate example of what our own lives should be. Anytime we fall short of that example, we fall into sin.
Now, you may ask "how is it possible for me to be like Christ? I sure don't know too many people who are." Well, of course you don't. There are no other like Jesus Christ. The Bible indicates that not a single one of us is righteous.
I found this out as a small boy standing in line at a school fair to play a game of needle in the haystack. The child in front of me drew out a needle that had been colored on its tip and won a prize. The needle I drew did not have a colored tip, indicating that I had not won a prize. However, the lady in charge of the game did not see me pull out the needle, so I quickly replaced it and drew out the same needle that the child in front of had just pushed back in the haystack. Pretty smooth, huh? I thought so. Up until I realized that my mother had been watching me the whole time. After her disapproving look I was never able to enjoy that little toy I received as my prize.
While this anecdote may seem like a trivial thing, it emphasizes the fact that even as innocent as we are as children, we do not live up to Christ's example. So, is there anything that you have ever done that you knew was wrong? Has there ever been anything that you were ashamed to admit to? If so then you are a sinner. Just like me. Just like everyone else besides Christ who has ever walked this earth.
You may not consider yourself a "bad" person, but do you consider yourself on par with God in all of His holiness? If you are reasonable enough to know that we cannot live up to that type of standard, then consider yourself a sinner. But don't worry, there's a cure for that.
2. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a)
For many people, this passage of scripture is a major stumbling block in their walk toward salvation. This is probably true simply because of the permanency and seriousness of death. On the surface it seems like death is a much too serious punishment for our everyday sins and shortcomings and even for some of our gravest transgressions. I believe that this attitude toward death as an unjust punishment typically begins with a misguided concept of who God is.
We have heard that "God is good", "God is life," and that "God is love." These statements are true, but we need to understand that God is also just. This trait of "being just" is as strong as His other traits of goodness, life, and love. All of these traits converge at the cross and you will begin to understand this convergence as you continue to take steps toward salvation. For now though, understand that most of us usually only desire to think of God in terms of two traits- goodness and love. To think of God as just means to think of Him as a judge and it is a scary thing to believe in an omnipotent deity who will judge you. That is why we often hear things like, "God is good so He surely wouldn't send me to Hell," or "God loves everyone so it doesn't matter how I live." There are hundreds of examples of this type of belief. Unfortunately, this way of thinking only takes into consideration some of God's character and not all of it. We must therefore reconcile our life and actions with a just God. We have to understand that there is a cost for sin.
James 1:15 indicates that "after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."
Death is a natural consequence of sin. And it is a consequence for this fact: Sin and God cannot coexist. God is an infinite and perfect (sinless) being. It would be unjust for Him to abide sin in his eternal spiritual realm (heaven) because of the pain and destruction it would cause. Sin and God are like oil and water- they just don't mix. Therefore, since it is God who gives us the gift of life (both physical and spiritual), sin cuts us off from that gift. Sin breaks our relationship with Him and the consequence is death. However, it is an avoidable consequence.
“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b)
Have you ever had a birthday party where you received a gift that you were not expecting and it turned out to be something that you really needed? God's gift to you can be very much like that experience just as long as we accept His gift. All too often, however, we want to reject what He has given us.
This may be in part due to the feeling that we often have when someone attempts to give us something that we know we have not earned. Sometimes we feel a little embarrassed when a friend offers to pay for our meal or gives us a present that cost a lot of money. We say, "I appreciate the offer, but I can't accept this." Sometimes we reply, "O.K. you pay this time but I'll pay you back." It seems natural for us feel and respond in this way, even to the simplest gifts that we receive. We often want to feel like we have earned what we receive.
Our society was founded on earning a living for a hard day's work and there is nothing wrong with having a good work ethic. We are told throughout life that we need to work hard in order to achieve success. Do good in school. Work hard in college. Put in some extra hours at the factory. Set goals and earn, earn, earn.
The problem is that what we are so often attempting to earn is only a temporary thing. Our goals, some of which are life-long, are still only life-long. What do we earn for eternity? What goals do we have outside of this life?
Most people believe that they are "good" people and that if they are friendly to their neighbors, don't fuss and argue too much, don't intentionally hurt someone, and follow the rules and laws of the land, then they will get to go to heaven. But all of these things I've listed and most everything we do is founded on how we live here on earth, not how we will live in eternity.
The Bible says, ""Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:20-21 NIV).
Now this doesn't mean that we should not do things in this life like be kind to our neighbors. It only means that the doing of those things is temporary, they are not valued in eternity unless our relationship with God is how it should be.
The Bible also goes on to say, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:22 NIV). And it is the heart, not our works, that God judges. In short, we cannot earn our way into heaven:
"God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).
So, if we cannot earn salvation, how do we get salvation? Simple. We accept it. We accept it as a child accepts a birthday present or a Christmas gift, even if he just pulled the cat's tail or tipped over and broke the lamp. We take it, because it is freely given, by love from our Father. No pride. No thought that it is something that is owed to us or earned. It is given gracefully and we accept it humbly.
3. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:18)
What would be worth dying for?
Some would say their spouse or their children. Some would say their country or their beliefs. Others would risk their lives for more shallow pursuits like money or fame. But what would you freely give your life for?
Would you be willing to give up your life, all that you have, for a stranger? How about for someone who has cursed you, spit on you, caused you pain or injured your family? How about the vilest person you can imagine- someone without any redeeming quality you can think of? What about your worst enemy? The person who seems to live only to make your life miserable?
Still in a sacrificial mood? Ready to shed your own blood?
Well, no need to worry. You do not have to. It has already been taken care of. Jesus did it for you and your worst enemy, for me and the stranger, for your family and friends and the neighbor who lets his dog dig up your flower garden.
Why? Because we are all guilty of being that enemy, or that stranger, or that foul neighbor at least some time in our lives.
Why? Because God loves us. Blemishes and all. Hurt and pain and bitterness and resentment and everything we have bottled up inside.
How? Because He is perfect. He sees into our hearts and desires only to clean us up, brush us off, and draw him closer to Him.
How? By providing the perfect sacrifice. A sacrifice of love, life, goodness, and justice. A sacrifice of His most precious, sweet, and loved child. A child that was part of Him, a child for which all things were made, a child that He loved as He loved Himself- Jesus.
He did not hold back. How can you hold back from Him?
4. “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
Note: If you have arrived at this point and taken to heart what has been written in the four previous steps along with, and most importantly, the Scriptures that have been provided, you may be feeling a little uncomfortable. That is a good thing. Really. I promise. Change is always a little uncomfortable and sometimes a little scary. I encourage you to read on...
We are at the point now where action on your part is required. Up until now, I have simply been providing you with information. However, to continue to truly takes these steps toward salvation you need to take what you have learned and do something with it. As the scripture above indicates, you must call on the name of the Lord.
It has been said that the only prayer God will attend to for a non-believer is a prayer for salvation. Whether that is scriptural or not, I'm not sure. However, what I am sure about is that God will never turn his ear away from someone who is genuinely calling on Him for forgiveness.
But why call on the name of the Lord and not some other name? Simply because it would do you no good. The Bible tells us that "salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12 NIV).
So, take this time to call out to God. You can do that at the top of your lungs or you can do it silently in prayer. It is not the voice, but the heart that matters here. Cry out to be heard. Ask God to listen and then...continue to the last step.
5. “That if you confess 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 confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:9 & 10)
The scripture presented above provides the instructions to receive Christ as your Savior. Hopefully by now you understand that you need to be saved through forgiveness of your sins and that the only way this will occur is through acceptance of Christ's sacrifice.
There is no magic here. No one will wave a wand and "poof" make you a believer. That can only come through God's Spirit making you realize your need for Christ and through your willful acceptance to make Jesus your Lord. What that entails includes realizing you have sinned, desiring to be forgiven of those sins, and turning from your sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions. It requires that Jesus become the Lord of your life. This means that you choose to follow Him from this point on. Also, you have to believe that He is capable of saving you- that His death on the cross did not end His story- that He rose again three days later and therefore proved His divinity and His power over death and sin.
Lastly, you must believe that He will save you. Sometimes this is the most difficult part because we all have a lot of baggage. We may feel that we are not worthy enough to be saved, that we have done too many bad things in our lives. The thing to remember is that Jesus' shed blood is powerful enough to wash away all of that, whatever it may have been. Christ proved that point three days after being crucified. There is no detergent stronger than the blood of Jesus.
So if you are ready to accept these things, to take that step, to walk free of your past mistakes and begin to learn to walk with God, pray to Him and confess your need. Ask God to save you and He will. Do so earnestly and truly. The form of the prayer doesn't matter, just the shape your heart is in as you pray. Then go out and confess to others what God has done for you!
God Bless You!