by David A. Reed COMPLETE BOOK ONLINE
How to Be Saved
When the first humans rebelled against God by the sin of eating the forbidden fruit, it would appear that God had two options for populating this planet as he had originally intended: either destroy the sinful couple and start over again, or redeem some of their offspring.
How easy it would have been to annihilate Adam and Eve and then create a new man from the dust of the ground and a new woman from his rib! But God chose the more difficult alternative: to tolerate human rebellion for thousands of years, during which time he would lay the necessary groundwork through his Chosen People, send his only begotten Son as the savior and redeemer of fallen mankind, and nurture a church of the Messiah's followers. Finally, he would collect the "harvest" from all this effortpeople from every nationand cleanse the earth from wickedness and corruption in a fiery battle of Armageddon. In the end there would remain a redeemed human race living godly lives in peace and harmony in God's kingdom.
The Hebrew writers of the Old Testament presented elements of this divine plan, shedding light on it progressively down through the ages. They pointed forward to the coming of the Anointed One or Messiah, laid the basis for identifying him, and hinted at what he would accomplish. Called "Christ" from the Greek word for "Anointed One," Jesus showed how all of those prophecies fit together and how they would result in human salvation.
The way of salvation that Jesus proclaimed was not through church or organizational membership or through accurate knowledge of the Scripturesalthough both of these enter into it. In order to gain life, people had to come to Jesus personally. Under the "new covenant" he instituted, there would be no other way to the Father, except through Jesus. "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6 New King James Version)
This can be understood best by looking first at the "old covenant" God established with Israel. Jews were in a special relationship with God, through this formal agreement or covenant, by virtue of being members of the nation of Israel. This arrangement was to be superseded by a new covenant at some future time, according to the prophecy of Jeremiah, chapter 31.
"'The time is coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,' declares the LORD . " (Jeremiah 31:31-32 NIV)
Under this new covenant "'they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,' declares the LORD. 'For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.'" (verse 34 NIV) All sorts of sinful peopleeven prostitutes and corrupt tax collectorscame to Jesus and received forgiveness of their sins. The forgiveness was a free gift, not earned by good works. This angered the Jewish religious leaders who wanted people to seek righteousness through the works program they had outlined to them. But those who accepted Jesus as their Savior rejoiced and were overjoyed to feel the burden of sin lifted off their shoulders.
Besides promising forgiveness of sins, the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:34 also said, "'they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,' declares the LORD." This did not mean just additional details of knowledge or information about God, but actually knowing God personally. How? By personally living with Jesus Christ, the Son of God, on a day-to-day basis. When Philip asked to see the Father, Jesus answered, "Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?." (John 14:9 NIV)
Those who actually lived with Jesus (who is the exact representation of the FatherHeb. 1:3) could get to know God in this new intimate way that was not possible for people who just "study the Scriptures" as the Pharisees did. (John 5:39) The "knowing the LORD" that Jeremiah prophesied about is this sort of close, personal relationship with God through His Son.
And Jeremiah was not offering a new covenant for just a handful of men in the First Century. Rather, it would be God's way of dealing with men from that time onward. For example, Paul's relationship with God through His Son began when Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. Later on, Paul told of occasions when "Lord stood at my side and gave me strength" (2 Tim. 4:17 NIV), and when Paul spoke to the Lord about his "thorn in my flesh." (2 Cor. 12:7-9) As a zealous Jew, Paul had had a relationship with God before, but only from a distance. Now, as a Christian, he really knew God.
The different ways in which the two covenants were instituted set the pattern. The old covenant was established with Moses conveying messages back and forth between the God and the people, while the people stood at a distance from Mount Sinai where God appeared:
"When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.' Moses said to the people, 'Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.' The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was." (Exodus 20:18-21 NIV)
By contrast, the new covenant was established at the Last Supper with the Son of God sitting privately to share a meal with his twelve apostles. The setting was so intimate that John leaned back onto Jesus' breast to ask him a question. (John 13:25) That intimacy was to continue, as Jesus made clear in the words that he prayed in the hearing of his apostles:
"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us ... Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." (John 20:20-26 NIV)
Stephen saw Jesus in a vision during his trial. Some time later, after his trial broke up and he was brought outside the city, Stephen called out to Jesus. "And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.'" (Acts 7:59-60 RSV) There is no indication that the earlier vision was repeated then. Rather, Stephen had an on-going relationship with Jesus and felt free to call upon Him.
Were Paul and Stephen unique in having a personal relationship with the Son of God, calling upon Jesus in time of need? Evidently not, as Paul described Christians as "all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor 1:2 NIV)
Jesus promised this continuing relationship with His disciples: "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matt. 18:20 KJV) In fact, we have Jesus' promise that "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. ...and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (John 14:21-23 KJV) The Living Bible paraphrases it this way: "When I come back to life again...I will only reveal myself to those who love and obey me. The Father will love them too, and we will come to them and live with them." (vss. 20-23)
Jesus does not usually reveal himself to people today in a blinding light, as he appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus. Rather, it is more as described at Galatians 4:6"God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Revised Standard Version)
At first I was afraid to approach God in prayer to confess my sin and ask Jesus into my heart as my Savior and Lord. Due to my earlier religious training, I was skeptical and was even afraid of receiving a demonic spirit. But then I read Jesus' words at Luke 11:10-13"For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or it he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (RSV) So, I prayed and received Jesus' spirit into my heart. I experienced a personal fulfillment of Galatians 4:6 and came to know God as my Father in a way that I had never known before.
So, the Gospel of the Christian Scriptures, the new covenant that Jeremiah 31 foretold, is not a new set of doctrines to learn or new facts about God (although some erroneous doctrines may need to be un-learned). Rather, it is a salvation that includes a new life right now, as a new creature by virtue of being born again and living a new Spirit-filled life.
Jesus introduced this new life when He told Nicodemus, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God...Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." (John 3:3-7 KJV)
All of those who come into the new covenant undergo this change: "You, however, are controlled not by your sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. ...Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit who makes you sons. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." (Romans 8:9-11, 14-16 NIV)
When you are born again, you are a babe in Christ at first. And just as toddlers tend to fall while learning to walk, so it is with learning to walk in the Spirit. But the Father will help you grow as His child. You will form a longing for the Word, and the Holy Spirit will teach you as you read. You will see more and more clearly that Jesus could not be merely the first angelic creation, as some cults teach, but that He is, as doubting Thomas finally came to believe, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28 KJV)
Besides learning more about God and growing in love for Him, you will also come to see yourself as part of the body of Christ. This is "the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven." (Heb. 12:23 NIV) The true church, Christ's body, crosses denominational lines and includes individuals both in and out of the various religious organizations that men have set up. It is composed of all those who look to Christ as Head, who have been "baptized by one Spirit into one body." "Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. ...The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!'" (1 Cor. 12:12-21 NIV) So, we need our brothers and sisters in Christ, even if we see ourselves as quite different from them.
It may be difficult at first to adopt this scriptural view of our brothers in Christ: "If a person's faith is not strong enough, welcome him all the same without starting an argument. People range from those who believe they may eat any sort of meat to those whose faith is so weak they dare not eat anything except vegetables. Meat eaters must not despise the scrupulous. On the other hand, the scrupulous must not condemn those who feel free to eat anything they choose, since God has welcomed them. It is not for you to condemn someone else's servant. ...If one man keeps certain days as holier than others, and another considers all days to be equally holy, each must be left free to hold his own opinion." (Rom. 14:1-5 Jerusalem Bible) If you accept this view of the brotherhood, then you will find it easier to fellowship with Christians from other backgrounds.
Ask the Lord to guide you into the fellowship He wants you to be in. He will answer your prayer. Of course, He may put you into a local congregation like the one in Corinth, where the gifts of the Spirit were being misused and where the Lord's Supper was not being celebrated properly. (1 Cor. 14:23, 11:20) Or, He may send you into a church like the one in Pergamum, where corrupt practices and false teachings prevailed among some members. (Rev. 2:14, 15) Or, you may find yourself in a congregation like the one in Sardis that had "a reputation of being alive" but was actually "dead." (Rev. 3:1 NIV) Such experiences can help you to grow and to deepen your personal relationship with Jesus as Lord. "Bear what you have to bear as 'chastening'as God's dealing with you as sons," part of your training from the Father. (Heb. 12:7 J.B. Phillips)
We all should admit, as Paul the Apostle did, that "we can see and understand only a little about God now, as if we were peering at his reflection in a poor mirror; but someday we are going to see him in his completeness, face to face. Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now." (1 Cor. 13:12 Living Bible) So, while 'accurate knowledge' of every detail is not yet available, it is the Christian's privilege to "know" God through a close, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you have not yet done so, tell God right now that you need Jesus as your Savior, and receive Him as your Lord. He invites you: "Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28 Today's English Version) "I will never turn away anyone who comes to me." (John 6:37 TEV)