In the evangelical/pentecostal churches there are actually two different versions of gospel being presented by people who would claim they take the Word of God as their authority in faith and practice. I want to draw your attention to the fundamental issue in question here, because it has to do with your ETERNAL SALVATION. Of course we could further subdivide the church by looking at their stand on speaking in tongues, divine healing, predestination vs free will, toronto type manifestations, the role of Israel, the American prophetic movement and many other issues – but these issues are not as fundamentally important as the one that will be discussed here.
The issue at stake for us here is this: IS IT NECESSARY TO LOVE GOD FAITHFULLY IN ORDER TO BE FINALLY ACCEPTED BY GOD?
I used the word “finally” to indicate the time a person dies or Christ returns. By a person being finally accepted by God, I mean, that God will accept that person into heaven when they die. A person who is not finally accepted by God will suffer the wrath of God in hell.
None of us want to end up in hell. Can we examine the question then: must I faithfully love God in order to avoid hell and live eternally with Jesus Christ? Nothing is more important.
There are two views on this in the church. Perhaps not everyone would identify with every statement made in regard to one particular “camp” on this issue – but what is presented will I hope be a very useful approximation.
FIRST VIEW – SAVING FAITH CAN CO-EXIST WITH PERSISTENT DISOBEDIENCE
This is a very common view, and it is quite a comforting view also, because as you look around the church you will find us all falling short of the glory of God in various ways. We like to divide sin into two types – the scandalous sins and the normal sins. As the professing church compromises more and more with the world, it is getting harder and harder to identify anything at all as really a “scandalous” sin. Today in America there are open practicing homosexuals who have been ordained as bishops in the Episcopal church. That is, sodomites are now the shepherds of the souls of many. This would have been unthinkable a few decades ago but the agenda is on the table now. We have pentecostal pastors and evangelists who have been unfaithful to their wives and married younger prettier wives, and continue as prominent speakers on the international scene. If it was scandalous in the eyes of the church formerly, today it is normal enough. We have greedy preachers who have learned techniques for milking their congregations for personal gain and enjoying a life of luxury where the ordinary believer cannot come close to them. This is not scandalous today either. We still draw the line at child abuse, but who knows what the position will be 20 years from now.
Such is the state of the church today that even if we have not done such things, most of us have certainly been tempted to do them.
A lot of Christians feel that if they don’t commit or at least don’t persist in scandalous sins, they can be right with God. Sins like prayerlessness, the state of not being in warm contact with God and not even seeking to be, unforgiveness, gluttony, unbelief, undisciplined speaking and the love of money are considered “par for the course” and may not even be recognised as sins by many. But since we all fall short somewhere at various times, a lot of Christians would say that it doesn’t really matter. As long as we have accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord verbally and trust in the merits of Christ’s sacrifice for us, we can persist in all these things and more and we will still make it to heaven. We can be cold or lukewarm towards God but as long as we “believe in Jesus” or say we do, we can rest assured that all is well and we will not suffer the wrath of God.
This view draws support from various interpretations of the Bible, especially some things in the letters of Paul.
“For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”. Ephesians 2:8,9.
For evangelicals who don’t believe that loving Jesus is required for salvation, they will interpret this verse something like this:
“God has saved you from hell and condemnation because you believe you are forgiven, freely forgiving you of all things in a way you don’t deserve, and its got nothing to do with how you have lived OR WILL LIVE, its a gift.”
Then they will usually add: “Of course, if you don’t live right, God will discipline you, you won’t be so happy as a Christian, you won’t have much fruit or eternal reward”.
You will be like the “carnal Christian” in 1 Corinthians 3:15.
But at least you will save your own filthy hide.
This is actually pretty close to the truth in some ways, but it doesn’t accurately represent the whole counsel of God, for which reason it can create a false sense of security where no such sense of security should exist. In true revivals of Christianity, carnal people would come to believe themselves lost, and repented under a crushing weight of conviction.
Ephesians 2:8,9 can be and is interpreted in different ways. A lot hinges on the meaning of the key words “grace” and “faith”. I refer you to the whole Bible if you want to find out what these words ACTUALLY mean.
Traditional episcopal sacramental historical churches interpret this verse Ephesians 2:8,9 differently again. If they consider it at all, they will see it perhaps more like this.
By the grace you receive in the sacraments of baptism, penance and the eucharist you are saved, through THE FAITH – the true Christian religion, of which we are the true guardians. That faith is not something of yourselves – it comes through submission to the Holy Mother Church – her traditions, ordinances and teachings. This religion is what God has given us.
Finally others will see this verse Ephesians 2:8,9 something like this: “By the unmerited power of the Holy Spirit working in your heart and life (grace) which comes through your acceptance of and active response to God’s Word and Spirit (faith) you are saved. It is God’s work and God’s Spirit who comes and works in you, so you cannot boast as if your salvation was something you yourself did.” This is the way I would see this verse, and I think this interpretation fits best into the context, which is talking about all the amazing things God has done for us. Chiefly, God, by His Spirit, has worked in us and made us alive to Him. But what that means in practice has to be learned from the whole counsel of God’s Word. This verse does not have to be interpreted as somehow teaching “irresistable grace”, nor does it have to be interpreted as teaching that if you “believe in Jesus” any old how you are right with God.
Romans Chapter 4 addresses the issue of whether salvation is by faith or by works. Paul there clearly teaches it is by faith, not by works. But however we interpret Romans 4, it should be in a way consistent with the rest of the book of Romans. What does Paul mean by works, and what does he mean by faith? A correct understanding here is vital.
For Paul, works is something which you do expecting a recompense which is owed you as a debt in return for services rendered. In Romans 4:4 it says:
“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt”.
Works have wages. A man who works has a right to expect his wage at the end of the day, week or month. His wage is not a “gift”. So the person who is seeking salvation by works is one who believes that by what he has done for God or others, God owes it to him to save him. We should realize that this kind of approach is never going to fly with God. If we get what we deserve, we will be condemned.
In Romans 4 Paul describes the faith which is needed for salvation in terms of Abraham. Abraham really believed what God said to him in his heart, and though he did not always do the right thing – he was willing to give up everything most dear to his heart because he trusted in the resurrection that God would do. This is the kind of faith God requires from us today if we are to be saved. We must give up every rival to God – every idol, however important it may seem, trusting that God will take care of all our needs.
Real faith then takes God’s Word so seriously that it steps out and acts. It is not that the actions corresponding to faith somehow earn God’s salvation. Rather, the lack of actions corresponding to faith prove that the “faith” is not faith at all – it is merely a kind of mental agreement in the heart of someone who is rebellious and does not trust or love God. When we insist that people must draw near to God to be saved, we are not talking of “salvation by works” but rather of a true living faith which casts away idols and puts oneself under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Savior.
Some Christians are also confused about the role of “the law” in the believer’s life. We can all hopefully agree that we are not under the law of Moses today – although there are people even today who are now calling for us to come back to the Torah and observe more of it if we want to be true followers of Jesus. The law of sacrifices was fulfilled in Christ on the cross and there is nothing we can add to it. Even the Jews today do not have a temple and do not do the sacrifices. This means they are not fully following the Torah. They are following Jewish traditions from the Talmud mixed in with parts of the Torah instead, and call that true Judaism. Some believers in Jesus want to create other mixtures and requirements for us – they are in danger of relying on their systems rather than the true grace of God, which is wrapped up in the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, not in a system of observances of dates and customs.
The moral law of God which is in the Torah still shows us what God expects. Actually what God expects is summed up in the word “love”.
“For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery”, “You shall not murder”, “You shall not steal”, “You shall not bear false witness”, “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does not harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9,10).
No violation of love is acceptable to God. It all needs to be repented of. If we are led by the Spirit, we will walk in love, and we won’t break the commandments. Instead, we will be responding to what the Spirit of the Lord is showing us, trusting God as a loyal son trusts a good father.
SECOND VIEW OF THE GOSPEL – WE MUST GIVE OURSELVES TO GOD AND DEVOTE OUR LIVES TO HIM FULLY IN LOVE AND FAITH. THEN WE CAN RECEIVE GOD’S PROMISES.
If we are to believe that loving God faithfully is only desirable for a Christian, but not essential to salvation, because of a misunderstanding of what “salvation by works” or “living under the law” are, we still need to try to fit in a lot of Scripture which doesn’t seem to fit at all with this viewpoint.
These Scriptures are too numerous to list here. The whole Bible is full of it. But I will begin by looking at what Jesus Christ Himself said in the gospels.
There are those who believe it is safe to ignore everything Jesus taught in the gospels, because it has all been superseded by Paul’s teaching on grace. To these people I would say, “if Paul’s teachings are interpreted to contradict the teachings of Jesus or to supersede them, then Paul’s teachings have been misinterpreted”. This misinterpretation of Paul’s writings has been going on since the days of the early church. See for example 2 Peter 3:16 “as also in all his [Paul’s] epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.”
What did Jesus say?
John 14:23, Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.”
We have the word of Jesus in the New Testament, and through the apostles. Are we keeping them? Do we intend to? Are we drawing near to God that we might be enabled to? If not, it shows we don’t love Jesus.
Is it serious – not loving Jesus?
“But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him”. (1 Corinthians 8:3).
To not love Jesus is to not love God. When we don’t love God, it is because there is something we love more than God – something we are doing instead of loving God. This something is SIN. It is lawlessness.
Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21).
It’s not enough to “confess Christ as Lord”. We also need to “do the will of the Father”.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God”. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).
We clearly can’t get involved in internet pornography and do the will of God. If anyone has slipped in this area, and many have, we can repent, we can stop, we can be forgiven, but we must not stay there, or sin will enslave us and we will be lost.
There are other areas as well where God requires sanctification. Following Jesus means saying no to ungodly lusts and our own ways and taking up the cross of suffering to do God’s will.
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all me, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present age.”
This the true grace of God. It changes our hearts and lives. We now rejoice in Jesus Christ and the presence of God and not in the soulish, earthly and demonic things which are everywhere in the world.
“Do not love the world, or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17).
This passage clearly tells us that sin and the love of worldly things in its three main branches does not come from God. Sin is not something that was created, but rather something that was chosen in opposition to the will of God. Those who don’t have the love of the Father, those who love this present world, will not abide. They will be cast off and thrown into the fire.
“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned”. (John 15:6).
The real Jesus wants it hot or cold. Not lukewarm. The lukewarm will be vomited out of his mouth (Revelation 3:16). The cold will be rejected but they are not as nauseating to Jesus as the lukewarm. Therefore we must “be zealous and repent”. (Revelation 3:19). We need to actually LOVE God. That means we must obey God, but it means more than that. We must first come to know Him by seeking His presence. Then we obey what the Spirit says. We don’t try to “obey God” without loving Him or wanting to be with Him. That is a dead legalism. It is not about trying to keep some rules while rejecting personal contact with God. That can also be our own way of trying to keep control of our lives, and keep God out. It can be tied in with a kind of pride that we are religious and better than others, when in reality we have just chosen a different kind of disobedience. Some disobey God by going after the lusts of this world. Others do it by being religiously zealous but keeping the Living God out of their religion, as the Pharisees did. Both these errors are equally dangerous, and have the potential to keep us in darkness where we will ultimately stumble into hell. Therefore we should,
“Work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
Yes it is God who is at work in us to will and to do His good pleasure. We must allow Him to work, recognizing that we belong to Him only. Then we won’t substitute doing our own pleasure for doing His pleasure, and become carnal, world-loving backslidden lukewarm hypocrites who do not believe with our hearts the teachings of Christ or his holy apostles and prophets, who believe that Jesus died to give us a fire insurance policy so we could live as the world does and expect a different eternal result.
Jesus taught that “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). Our faith will be tested, there will be trials, and we have to cling to God from start to finish. This is what it will take.
God calls us to truly know and love Him. He is God, He has the right to make this call. It hurts Him when we follow the crowd to reject the call of God. And one day, believe it or not, God will take vengeance.
“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.” (2 Thessalonians 1:8,9).
The true Gospel, the one not always preached in evangelical and Pentecostal churches today, is the one first preached by John the Baptist, then by our Lord, and then by his apostles.
“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand.” “Repent and believe the gospel.” This has always been God’s message to people, right throughout the Bible. Check it out.