Conviction of Sin
The teachings of evolution and humanism have dulled people's senses to the old-fashioned concept of the sinner. In the past hundred years, there has been a great falling away in mankind's general perception of sin until most people today reason that man's laws determine what is "right" and what is "wrong". The problem is that God's standards of right and wrong have not changed for centuries, and they are very different from man's laws.
Just because man has forgotten about sin, it doesn't mean that God has forgotten. He still knows about and records every one of our thoughts, words and actions. He knows when we lie, what we steal, whom and what we lust after, how we blaspheme His holy name, disbelieve His promises and mock His judgments. Some of the greatest sins in God's eyes are not committed by the murderers and rapists, but by people walking in self-righteousness, those who turn would-be believers away in droves to a comfortable life of self-will and a seared conscience. There is less hope of reaching some of these people with His gospel than the murderer who is rejected even by society. At least he knows he has done wrong.
The great majority of people do not commit crimes worthy of punishment by the State, but nonetheless, their lives can be full of sins according to God's definition from James 4:17 - "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."
"Whatsoever is not of faith is sin." Romans 14:23
Try this simple test. Have you ever lied? Cheated? Ever lusted after somebody sexually? Ever used the Lord's name in vain?
Most people would answer "Yes" to these questions, because that's what people naturally do. It's in our human nature to lie, steal, and take revenge, to justify our wrong-doing and falsely accuse others. And even if you don't end up in the State's law courts for these "minor" offences, they are sins in God's eyes.
An even more subtle form of sin is pride, something that the world upholds as an essential part of character. However, in God's eyes, pride was the root of Lucifer's rebellion, and today it's still at the root of almost every other sin. Why do we lie? To save face or get out of trouble. That's an outcome of pride. Why do we do things that are wrong and think we can get away with it? Pride. Why don't we confess our wrong? Pride. Why do hit back? Pride. Why do we argue? Pride. And so the list goes on. You'll be surpirsed at how thoughts of pride dominate our lives, motivating the sin which besets us all.
Try to honestly write down all the blessings you've ever had from your pride. It will be a very sort list, if you get one at all. The fruits of pride are never any more than fleshly warm feelings about ourselves and the inspiration to be selfish, unloving, cruel and vengeful to our fellow man. Pride never encourages us to love one another as Jesus loved us, it never makes us more honest, or even happy.
When Jesus gave us the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, he started with a blessing for those who are "poor in spirit", or humble. Then he gives another blessing for the meek.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3
"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." Matthew 5:5
Nowhere in scripture do we find exhortations to puff ourselves up with feelings of self-esteem and self-worth. Rather, it is the opposite.
Here is Jesus again:
"Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 18:4
Here is Paul:
"For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith." Romans 12:3
"Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble." 1 Peter 5:5
"But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." James 4:6
Paul gave us this example of the humility of Jesus:
"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:5-11
If we are to come to salvation, we need to put down our pride and come humbly before God as a sinner in need of his grace and power. A proud person can never do that. The very worst kind of pride is spiritual pride, which becomes a self-righteous attitude denying the power of God and the need for humble obedience to His word. Jesus tackled this hypocritical evil in the Sermon on the Mount with exhortations to pray and fast in private, and to not make a public show about giving alms. He also publicly rebuked the scribes and pharisees for their spiritual arrogance.
So, unless a person has a consciousness of their sinful nature, and the burden of guilt about those sins is driving them to seek relief, there is also no hope of salvation.
However, if a person is seeking salvation, what is he to do? The following sequence of events has been gleaned from many books in the New Testament, not just from one, so you can be sure that this is the gospel that Jesus taught and that his Apostles followed. It has been proved many times to be a practical and rewarding path for any who seek to be reunited with the Lord.
Further reading: Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; 18:14; Colossians 3:12; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6; Matthew 23:1-7; Exodus 10:3; 1 Kings 21:29
The Steps of Salvation
To be saved from sin, a man or woman must obey the following clear commands of Christ and His Apostles. In the life of a person coming to Christ, these six steps would normally be taken closely together (but not necessarily in the order we have here), centred around water baptism.
1. A person must recognise and confess his sin, and repent of it. This involves hating his sin in his heart, admitting it with his mouth, turning right away from it, and completely giving it up. The call to repentance was the first New Testament message to the Jewish people from John and Baptist, and from Jesus Himself, who said
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." Mark 1:15
This exhortation from the apostle Paul explains what is expected of the thief, but the principle applies equally well to the liar or adulterer.
"Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth." Ephesians 4:28
Repentance should never be an attitude of grief just because we got into trouble. True, godly repentance centres around the fact that we have sinned before God. We are burdened because we did wrong and have broken our relationship with God.
"For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death." 2 Corinthians 7:10
Further reading: 1 John 1:9; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30; 20:21; 2 Peter 3:9
2. The cornerstone of our success in the Christian life begins with our faith in the existence of god,the eternity of the soul, and the judgment of God. Furthermore, a person coming to faith must believe that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of God who died in his place, and shed His perfect sinless blood, and then rose again from the dead, that he might be forgiven his sin and cleansed from all unrighteousness. It is only by the grace of God that any man can be saved. He must also accept the whole Bible, and most especially the New Testament, as the inspired Word of God, and as the final and absolute standard for everything we believe and do in the Christian life. Without these issues as the foundation of faith, a person's life eventually crumbles under pressure from the world, the flesh and the devil.
"But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed." Romans 10:8-11
Further reading: John 3:16-18; 8:31; Mark 16:16; Ephesians 2:8,9; 16:30,31; Romans 5:1; Hebrews 3:19; 4:2,3,6; 11:6;
3. He must be baptised (which literally means to be immersed or submerged) right under the water as a repentant believer to bury his old sinful nature, and to be raised up with the new nature of Christ. It is contrary to godliness for babies, infants, and anyone else incapable of understanding the Gospel to be baptized, for without faith it is impossible to please God. Babies, infants and some others are not yet able to understand Biblical teaching or exercise faith. However, those who bring forth fruits meet for repentance and who truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God may be baptised.
Notice the order in which the Apostle Peter gives instuctions to a crowd seeking salvation on the Day of Pentecost: repentance, then baptism. This was the first sermon ever preached on New Testament salvation. The instructions here apply even today.
"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." Acts 2:38
These two acts are rewarded with a promise - that of the Holy Ghost, an essential element in a convert's ability to continue living a life free from sin.
In the following story of Philip baptising the Ethiopian eunuch, note the eunuch's confession of faith, and the fact that baptism involved him coming up out of the water - he had been fully immersed.
"And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing." Acts 8:36-39
Most modern versions of the Bible completely leave out the verse about the eunuch confessing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, which opens the door to the baptism of babies, infants and those who cannot exercise faith.
Further reading: Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38,41; 8:12; 10:47,48; 19:3-5; 22:16; Romans 6:1-7; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:12; 1 Peter 3:21
Confessing the Lord
4. A new convert must confess with his mouth the Lord Jesus, for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. This can be time that sorts out how well you're going to handle the criticism from friends or family who may react with concern at your new-found joy in the gospel. There are many testimonies from people who have been disinherited, rejected or literally chased from their homes by families who can't accept that someone has been converted to Jesus Christ.
". . . if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." Romans 10:9,10
Further reading: Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8; Philippians 2:11; 1 Peter 3:15; Acts 2:21
5. He must totally surrender his will to the will of God, and obey every commandment of the New Testament, as did Jesus, who became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him. Jesus Himself set the example for this on the night before His crucifixion.
"And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." Matthew 26:39
In His own flesh, Jesus did not want to go to the cross, but He knew that the salvation of mankind and thousands of years of promises and prophecies depended on His obedience to the Father. So He put aside His own will and surrendered to the will of God. And so must we if we are to please God. Only when we determine that we will direct our will to doing the will of God can we truly be counted as being born again, and the sons of God.
Further reading: Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; John 1:12,13; 14:15,21-24; Hebrews 5:9; Romans 6:17; 1 John 2:3-5
6. He must forsake all that he has to follow Christ. This involves a complete death to self, so that no longer will he hold any thing or person in this life to himself for his own pleasure or purposes, but rather seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, trusting in Him to provide. He must gladly forsake all his own possessions, assets and money, giving them either to the poor and needy of this world, or to meet the needs of his brothers and sisters in Christ. He must love and obey God before family, relatives, friends, or anyone else; and forsake any person, career, commitment, pleasure, or any other thing that would turn him away from doing the will of God.
"So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:33
Further reading: Mark 1:17,18,20; 10:28-30; Matthew 8:21,22; Luke 9:57-62; 14:26-33
All those who obey these six commandments from the heart will be saved from sin, and will have become truly converted, born-again children of God. This is the only way to become a true Christian. In doing this we can fulfil the wonderful promise of God:
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17
In the life of a person coming to Christ, these six steps would normally be taken closely together (but not necessarily in the order we have here), centred around water baptism.
Victory over Sin
In the original language of the New Testament, koine Greek, the concept of being saved had three parts - I was saved, I am being saved, and I will be saved. The initial steps of salvation outlined above soon become part of a person's past - "I was saved", while the final concept of "I will be saved" comes when death opens the door to eternal life. In the meantime, we enter into the day-to-day business of "I am being saved".
For many who call themselves Christians this can be a very precarious time of life. While some believe that their initial spiritual experience carries them through life and there's nothing else to be done, the scripture teaches that the Christian life must have a discipline in order to fulfill the on-going need of salvation.
Nowhere in the New Testament does Jesus teach that we are saved once and for all. His commandments always indicate a daily commitment.
"And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." Luke 9:23
The Apostle Paul explained this in practical terms of putting down his fleshly thoughts and desires each day. And once again, these exhortations are for ALL Christians, not just for the leadership.
"I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily." 1 Corinthians 15:31
"This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies,envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." Galatians 5:16-25
As believers walk in the spirit they testify to the miracle of being born again, overcoming temptation and sin. The normal Christian life should be one of walking in victory over sin. On occasions when a person may fall back into sin, he should repent and move on again in faith. The important thing is that we overcome. As Jesus said:
"And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved." Matthew 10:22
Further reading: Matthew 24:12,13; 1 Corinthians 15:2; 1 Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 10:38,39; 3:14; 1 John 5:4,5; Revelation 2:7,17,26; 3:5,12,21