It is so difficult to become a Christian. There are so many rules.
I used to think that rule #1 was to attend church every week. You know what I learned after I started going to church every week? The church meets throughout the week, too. Turns out, Wednesday nights are mandatory, too. Some churches have bible study on Wednesday nights. We have Outreach here. If you want to be a good Christian, Sunday morning isn’t enough. You need the Sunday evening service, too. Then the Wednesday service. Also, there are bible studies on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Friday nights often have church sponsored socials, those are mandatory, and don’t forget Saturday evening service.
There never seems to be anything scheduled on Mondays, though. Weird.
And different churches have different rules, so if you want to be saved, you must follow all the rules. If you go to a Pentecostal church, you must speak in tongues. If you go to a Baptist church, no dancing or drinking is allowed. And if you go to a Catholic Church, you may only to a Catholic church. At the Catholic Church, you can drink and dance but you can’t speak in tongues. It’s complicated, being a devout Christian.
And when you come to church, there’s a mandatory dress code. For men, coat and tie. I wore a coat and tie for a while this year, but then the summer came. It just shows how spiritually weak I am, not to wear a coat and tie when it’s 105 °F outside.
For women, well, I’m not an expert on women’s clothing. I just know that you’re doing it wrong.
And then there’s the tithing. Whatever you’re giving, it’s not enough. You might think the rule is 10%, but that’s so Old Testament. In the New Testament, we give with joy. We keep increasing our giving until it hurts, and that’s where we learned we’re not as full of joy as we thought. We are supposed to be filled with joy, so if we find giving hurts, we’re not joyful. Give more, God’s working on you.
And quiet time is mandatory. The first hour of every day should be spent in quiet time with the Lord, followed by an additional hour to reflect on the conversation in the first hour. And then quiet time again in the evening. Amateur believers like us limit ourselves to just these three hours of quiet time every day. But if you want to go to heaven, three hours probably isn’t enough.
And all these rules are for other people to follow. If somebody askes us if we spend 3 hours in quiet time, we are to mumble a vague answer and let them think we do, because, hey who has time for all that, but I still want them to think I’m a Christian.
Man, it’s complicated being a Christian.
II. Paul & Peter, Gentile & Jew
We are in Galatians 2 and we are going to focus on verse 11 following. Paul is in Jerusalem and writing to the church of Galatia and he’s dealing with the “Judaizers”. These were former Jews who claimed to be Christians, and these Jews wanted the gentiles that converted from Paganism to Christianity to also submit to Jewish law. After all, there are a lot of rules if you want to be a Christian. These Jews were essentially proclaiming a “Jesus Plus Moses” doctrine. Yes, believe in Christ, plus do all these things Moses taught.
I’m going to read verses 11-13 from The Living Bible. Paul is telling the Galatians about a discussion Paul had with Peter at Antioch:
But when Peter came to Antioch I had to oppose him publicly, speaking strongly against what he was doing, for it was very wrong. For when he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians who don’t bother with circumcision and the many other Jewish laws. But afterwards, when some Jewish friends of James came, he wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore because he was afraid of what these Jewish legalists, who insisted that circumcision was necessary for salvation, would say; and then all the other Jewish Christians and even Barnabas became hypocrites too, following Peter’s example, though they certainly knew better.
These “Judaizers,” these “Jesus plus Moses” Jews in the Christian Church were so persuasive that the apostle Peter changed his behavior, then Barnabas, then apparently many others in the church. There are rules for being a Christian, you know. Rules, I tell you! Church attendance, clothing, tithing, and even who you eat with will determine your salvation!
Paul both confronts Peter and identifies with Pater. After all, they are both Jews by birth and followed Jewish Law. They heard Jesus admonish the Pharisees for all their strict rules and regulations that not even the Pharisees could follow. And both Paul and Peter know that, even if they could follow the Law perfectly – which they could not, nobody can – obedience to the Law would not save them from their sins. Here is Paul’s message to Peter in verses 14-16 –
When I saw what was happening and that they weren’t being honest about what they really believed and weren’t following the truth of the Gospel, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Though you are a Jew by birth, you have long since discarded the Jewish laws; so why, all of a sudden, are you trying to make these Gentiles obey them? You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And so we, too, have trusted Jesus Christ, that we might be accepted by God because of faith—and not because we have obeyed the Jewish laws. For no one will ever be saved by obeying them.”
Have you ever heard of the doctrine of Lordship Salvation? In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Obviously true, because Jesus said it. Some churches teach that this verse says that obeying Jesus is necessary for salvation.
In context, Jesus has been talking about false prophets in the church that say one thing and do another, and we can know they are false prophets by their deeds. Even if they can perform miracles in Jesus’s name, if they do not trust in Jesus, they are not saved.
In the doctrine of Lordship Salvation, one can recognize true believers by their changed lives. In the doctrine of Lordship Salvation, you demonstrate that you are a believer by making Jesus your Lord. In the doctrine of Lordship Salvation, one must both receive Christ as Savior and cease from sin (or at least be willing to cease from sin) in order to be saved. If you do not have a changed life, you may not be a true believer.
There’s a lot of truth in Lordship doctrine when it comes to the life of a Christian. To truly grow in faith, to be sanctified, to regenerate as a new believer, then indeed one must turn from sin and surrender to Jesus. But those works are for spiritual growth, not for salvation. What is required to be saved? Faith alone. Nothing we do, except for our faith, saves us, and even the faith we have has been given to us. Two verse in Ephesians 8 makes it clear in verses 4-9,
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. It’s all about Jesus and it’s never about what we do or don’t do. God made us alive when we were dead. We have nothing to do with raising ourselves to life.
I like to think of it flipping a light switch. Flip a switch, the light comes on. Practically simultaneously. But the electricity comes first, and instantly there is light. The Holy Spirit is like that electricity and gives us light and as Christians we shine in this dark world. But to expect that light to shine first makes no sense. All salvation comes as a gift from God and not ourselves.
And that’s exactly what Paul is pointing out to Peter in his letter to the Galatians.
You and I are Jews by birth, not mere Gentile sinners, and yet we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins.
What does it take to be saved? Faith alone, and that faith has been given to us by God’s grace.
III. Misconceptions About Salvation
There are many misconceptions about what it means to be saved. As Christians, we probably cause that confusion. We might have heard the phrase “Jesus Plus Nothing” but we have such a hard time practicing it. Let’s discuss a few of them.
A. Ask Jesus into your heart.
Do you have to do this to be saved? I read a testimony from an evangelist who had shared the gospel and told the student to invite Jesus into their heart.
But later the student was mad when he found out scripture said Jesus was the only way to God. The student disagreed, he was a follower of eastern religions that believed there were many prophets that could point to God, and to cover his bases, he had invited Jesus in with all the other prophets. This phrase, “ask Jesus into your heart,” is confusing and incomplete.
It’s usually based on this scripture from Revelation 3:19-20 –
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
The key to understanding scripture is location, location, location. Jesus isn’t speaking to nonbelievers, these are not instructions on how to be saved. Jesus is speaking to the church of Laodicea, He is speaking to followers of Christ who already believe. He is instructing believers how to have a closer relationship with Him. Likewise from Ephesians 3:16-17,
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
Paul is teaching believers again. Christ does indeed dwell in the hearts of believers, but it is a result *of* salvation, not a requirement *for* salvation. “Ask Jesus into your heart” is not anti-biblical, it’s just what happens when you believe. It is the belief, it is the faith through God’s grace, that saves.
B. Be sorry for your sins.
Should you beat yourself up for all the bad things you did before you became and Christian, and to be honest, for all the things you continue to do? Do you have to regret what you’ve done to be saved? Let’s look at a couple of pieces of scripture. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul says,
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
But again, Paul is talking to believers that sin against the Lord. Such Godly sorrow leads one to turn from sin and leaves no regret. No regrets! In other words, every Christian has a past. Leave it there.
What about non-Christians? Should they feel sorry in order to be saved? How in the world are they supposed to have Godly sorrow when they do not have the Holy Spirit inside them? No, feeling sorry for your sins doesn’t save us. Let’s try this version of John 3:16 –
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever feels really bad about what they’ve done should not perish, but have everlasting life.
That certainly isn’t right. It’s whosoever believes in Him. I am saved by faith alone through Christ alone by grace alone.
C. Give up your sins.
This is probably one of the most difficult misconceptions to explain. After all, we preach repentance, do we not?
I know I myself have taught this incorrectly in the past. “Repentance” is indeed required for salvation. But I’ve discovered that the definition of “repentance” has been distorted through the years. Sometimes we define it as “turning away from evil and toward God.” Those are indeed things Christians should do, but are they required for salvation?
Well, let’s look at the word translated as “repent,” the Greek word is “metanoeō,” and it is defined as “to change one’s mind, to think differently, to reconsider.” Sometimes indeed when the word “metanoeō” is used in scripture, it means “to turn from sin,” or more accurately, “to change one’s mind about sin,” but when used that way, the word “repent” is not connected to salvation. But in Acts 11:18b, it says,
God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.
In other words, change your mind about Jesus. Change your mind about God. That sort of repentance leads to salvation, a trust in faith through Christ that He died for our sins. The gospel of John mentions the word “believe” 85 times in order to be saved without ever mentioning the word repent a single time. To believe is to change one’s mind about God, to repent. The word “repent” does not mean “change your behavior,” though changing one’s behavior often follows from changing one’s mind first.
So, give up the sins? If we are a follower of Christ and we are listening to the Holy Spirit dwelling within, repenting of sins is important for spiritual growth. In this case, we are repenting, we are changing our mind, we are saying, “I am going to agree with God about my sins,” and then giving up your sins and winning the spiritual battle over the flesh is what we are called to do. But that is after we are saved, not before. Jesus accepts us for who we are, where we are, in all of our filthy clothes. We don’t have to clean up our act first before we are saved, that comes after. Romans 5:6-8,
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Thank God I didn’t have to clean up my act first. That burden of cleaning me up I give thanks to Jesus *after* I became a believer. I am saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.
D. Pray a prayer.
All you have to do is say the sinner’s prayer and be saved, right? Romans 10:13 says,
“Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Let me put it this way: can you say a prayer while silently not placing your faith in Jesus? If the answer is yes, then the prayer itself has no power.
But can you place your faith in Jesus silently? Of course you can. There’s nothing wrong with the prayer itself, but it can lead one to a false sense of security that if they prayed correctly, then they are saved. It is not the prayer that saves, is it the faith behind the prayer. I am saved through faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.
E. Give your life to Jesus.
Do you have to give your life to Jesus to be saved? I can give you one major example of somebody who gave their life to Christ and yet was not saved: Judas Iscariot. Devoting your life to Jesus clearly doesn’t save you.
What does save you? Acts 16:31,
They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
To be saved, you have to change your mind about who Jesus is, to place your faith in Christ. By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. Nothing else.
IV. Christ Did It All
Let’s turn back to our scripture in Galatians 2 and see what Paul says to Peter next, verse 17-21,
But what if we trust Christ to save us and then find that we are wrong and that we cannot be saved without being circumcised and obeying all the other Jewish laws? Wouldn’t we need to say that faith in Christ had ruined us? God forbid that anyone should dare to think such things about our Lord. Rather, we are sinners if we start rebuilding the old systems I have been destroying of trying to be saved by keeping Jewish laws, for it was through reading the Scripture that I came to realize that I could never find God’s favor by trying—and failing—to obey the laws. I came to realize that acceptance with God comes by believing in Christ.
I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats Christ’s death as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping Jewish laws, then there was no need for Christ to die.
What Paul is saying is that we keep trying to add things to Christ in order to be saved. The Jews were promoting Jesus plus Moses. In effect, they were saying, Yes, Jesus came to fulfill the law, but *you* still have to fulfill the law, too.
That is not trusting in Christ. Paul says that if we could obey the law and be saved, then what was the purpose of Jesus? What are we putting our trust in? Our own ability to be good, or the sacrifice of God? Or maybe we’re hedging our bets. Sure, let’s trust in Christ, but to be on the safe side, let’s do all these other things, too. Circumcision, abstain from unclean animals like pork, mixing different types of fabrics in our clothes. Why don’t we abstain from all of those with a “Jesus Plus Moses” attitude?
Perhaps I should ask instead what “Jesus Plus” attitude is still prevalent today. We impose a great many rules for others – not for us, really, rules are for other people. Attending church once, twice, or even three times a week. Or attending church at Christmas and Easter. Attending bible study. Walking the aisle when giving one’s life to Christ. And still to this day we have our ideas about what clothing is acceptable to wear to church and what is not.
Let’s consider baptism. Is it required to be saved? Some Pentecostal churches believe that not only baptism is required, but when you come out of the water, you must speak in tongues. If you don’t speak in tongues, back into the water you go. I suppose this is repeated over and over again like some sort of loving Christian waterboarding.
Let’s be clear about this distinction: I believe baptism is mandatory. I believe it is a demonstration of our willingness to follow the Lord and it is almost always our first act of obedience… *after* we are saved. It is not a requirement *to* be saved. It is not required for salvation, it *is* required for spiritual growth. If you are Christian and haven’t been baptized, I think it’s time to put aside your resistance, call Jesus “Lord” and ask him to lead you to baptism.
We are not saved by good works. We are saved for good works.
Let’s use that analogy about the light bulb again: You’ve accepted Christ, the electricity has been applied, and you’re asked to shine your light for others. You can refuse and stay dark. Or you can follow Christ and shine His light. But either way, the electricity has been applied and we are saved.
Or consider this: you’ve given your best friend a present because you love them. Which response from them would you prefer:
- Thank you. I love you.
- Let me pay you back.
Remember: By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone. There is nothing we can add to that without taking it away from Christ.
V. The Simplicity of Christ
I know first-hand that living as a Christian has challenges. I also know those challenges have purposes ordained by God to train me in His way, to increase my faith and trust in Him, to encourage my spiritual gifts to be developed. There are a great many things I must do to grow as a man of God.
But nothing that I must do to be saved. Christ did that for me, because I could not do it for myself. And my response to His sacrifice is to worship and praise a mighty God that loves me enough to die for me so that I may live.
While there are many challenges to living as a Christian, becoming a Christian is the easiest thing in the world. All we have to do is accept what has been done, and our eternal salvation is secure, firmly held in the palm of His hand, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and no one can snatch us out of His hand. It’s not that some of the work has been done for us, or most of the work has been done for us. All of the work has been done for us. We don’t have to say, “Hey, thanks for picking up dinner, let me pay for the tip.”
There is simplicity in being in Christ. I know, because the bible says so in 2nd Corinthians 11:3,
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
The story of the bible is not what we do for God. It is what God has done for us.
It’s not “Jesus Plus Moses.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Church Attendance.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Feeling Guilty.” It’s not “Jesus Plus Anything.”
It’s just Jesus. By faith alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone.
That is the simplicity of being in Christ.
To God be the glory. Amen.
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