What is your Theology? Part 2
True conversion and life in the Spirit
Another important aspect of the Christian doctrine of salvation is regarding those who will make claims something to the effect that so long as one has prayed a “prayer of salvation” they are “eternally secure”. Whether one believes they can depart from the faith or not, this teaching is clearly a line of heresy not found in Scripture and has led to the false assurance of millions.
Many will say in that day, ‘Lord, Lord’… and I will declare unto them, depart from me, you who work iniquity I never knew you. – Jesus Christ (Matt.7:21-23)
Jesus said, “Many will say in that day, ‘Lord, Lord’… and I will declare unto them, depart from me, you who work iniquity I never knew you.”(Matt.7:21-23) Jesus is saying that ones behavior demonstrates whether they actually do “know God”, whether they actually are a child of His. True faith produces a change of action, a change of behavior. Repentance (change of mind) goes hand in hand with saving faith. The growth process will be different for everyone, some may struggle with imbedded sins for years after their initial conversion, but there will be growth, there will be evidence of the sanctifying work of the Spirit anywhere true conversion has taken place.
Paul defines this concept of true conversion further in Romans 8 vs.14 when he says “they that are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God”. The evidence of being a son of God is being led by the Spirit of God. What does it mean to be led by the Spirit of God? Paul makes it clear in the context of the passage, “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit”(vs. 1). In Galatians chapter 5, Paul describes the battle between the flesh and the Spirit and defines what the “works”, or “evidence” of the flesh and of the Spirit are. He says of the works of the flesh, “they that do (practice) such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom”(vs. 21). He also says in the passage in Romans 8, “if you live after the flesh you will die”, clearly not talking about physical death, because he says in the same verse, “but if you through the spirit, mortify the deeds of the flesh, you will live”(vs. 13). Obviously, we are all going to die physically, so this passage is not talking about physical death but spiritual death.
Paul is saying in Romans 8 as well as Galatians 5 that you either walk in the spirit and do not fulfill the lust of the flesh (5:16) and you will inherit eternal life, or you walk in the flesh, and there is therefore condemnation, you will die, you will not inherit God’s Kingdom. How is this consistent with “justification by faith”? Very simply. True faith, the faith that saves, is a rational commitment and trust in God that produces in us a change of behavior; namely a Spirit-filled and Spirit-led life. The good works that follow our justification are never a means of acquiring or maintaining our justification before God. We do these works because God’s Spirit has cleansed us, saved us, and Christ’s merits have been applied to us and we are forgiven and made children of God. We do good works because God has saved us, not to ear our salvation. But we will do good works.
Some might say, but what of His grace? Ephesians 2 tells us we are saved by “grace through faith… not of works lest any man should boast” (vs. 9). But it doesn’t end there. It goes on to say we are His workmanship, created for good works (vs.10). Titus chapter 2 tells us that God’s grace, “which brings salvation” teaches us “to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age.” It goes on in the next verses to tell us that we were redeemed so that He might make a people unto Himself, “zealous of good works”(vs.13). John emphasizes obedience as well, stating,
If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 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. – (1 John 1: 6-7)
The whole purpose of salvation is not just to save us from hell, nor to secure us a mansion in heaven, but rather to produce beings who would love Him, walk with Him, and be conformed into His image, through the power of His Spirit. That is His grace operating in our lives, both for salvation and for sanctification. This is how John could say in his first epistle, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 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.” (1 John 1: 6,7) and again in the next chapter, “Hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments, he that says ‘I know Him’, and does not keep His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.” (2: 3,4)
God wants us to be holy, to be pure, and He has provided that for us through His Spirit. Does this mean we are always perfect? No. Just the opposite, it means we recognize our fallen and sinful condition and walk in repentance, brokenness and contrition in His presence. A heart that is broken and bowed before God has no place for the lust of the flesh, nor for self-righteous “false perfection”. As Jesus told the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector, the one who was “not like other men” but was self-righteous, went away condemned, whereas the tax collector stood in the back of the temple, beat his chest, and declared “Be merciful to me a sinner”. This was a demonstration of true repentance and true faith. Jesus said that man went away justified. “The Lord is near unto those who are of a broken and contrite heart”. One will never be more holy than when they fall on their face in genuine repentance before the cross of Christ. This is what our God requires of us. This is what our theology should bring about.
Is that all that matters?
There are many doctrinal debates that have a huge effect on how we live our lives that would not be “primary” doctrines. They are not doctrines that determine whether we are Christians or not, nor are they doctrines over which Christians should divide and break fellowship. For example, what we believe about pacifism versus the justification of the use of force, our view of divorce and remarriage, speaking in tongues, Calvinism vs Arminianism, conditional versus unconditional eternal security, the purpose and application of the Old Testament law for today, and a whole host of other issues are vitally important.
Yet, Christians on different sides of these issues will be standing together in the Kingdom of our Lord. If they are saved and the Holy Spirit is fellowshipping with them than so should we. A good dose of humility, and an understanding that the unity of the body of Christ is as important as any of these issues, (though they are very important issues) will go a long way in helping us not just in formulating our theological convictions but also in the broader work of the Church in advancing God’s Kingdom on the earth.
“though…I understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing.” – (I Cor. 13:2)