“I asked God into my heart, but I don’t think that it worked,” he said, as if the words he prayed held magical powers inaccessible to him. “I don’t feel different. Nothing’s changed.”
His heartbreakingly honest confession was accompanied by a wide and fearful expression afraid to hope. Did he pray it wrong? Did he say the wrong words? Was he really saved for eternity? Wasn’t something supposed to be different?
Repent and believe
Mark 1:15: and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
How many people have, in a moment of conviction, walked to the front of the church aisle, repeated phrases fed to them, raised their hand or stood up only to wake the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that, defeated because nothing feels different? How many people have wrongly believed that verses like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,” and Romans 10:9, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” means the only requirement for salvation is to repeat some magic words?
Yes, the person who believes in Jesus Christ has eternal life and will be saved. I do not dispute that nor challenge the simplicity and beauty of that wonderful truth. However, the believing and confessing, which secures salvation, includes repentance, holy living, and dying to self. They go hand in hand and cannot be separated. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). Even Jesus questioned the people who claimed to follow Him but failed to obey His commands.
There is no forgiveness without repentance. There is no repentance without a desire to replace sinful habits and actions with God-honouring ones. And nothing changes until God grants the desire to pursue Him and the Holy Spirit transforms a heart.
Perhaps the problem plaguing young man from the beginning is not a failure for the “words to take” but more of a failure to understand what it means to count the cost, pick up his cross, repent, and follow Jesus. Perhaps it was a failure to acknowledge that he couldn’t continue on his merry way, relishing his sin, and making selfish choices. It was, perhaps, a refusal or unawareness of the need to die to self.
“Cheap grace seeks to hide the cost of discipleship from people. It seeks to claim that as long as we make a profession of faith, we are saved. God’s grace covers all our sins. Again, that is a wonderful truth! The apostle Paul says as much when he writes, “Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21). Yet, right after writing that, Paul follows it with this: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). Salvation by grace alone through faith alone is so much more than simply mouthing the words “Jesus is Lord.” We are not saved by a profession of faith. We are not saved by praying the Sinner’s Prayer. We are not saved by signing a card or walking an aisle. We are saved by a living and active faith (James 2:14-26), a faith that manifests itself in repentance, obedience and love of God and our neighbor. Salvation is not a transaction; it’s a transformation. Paul says it best when he says we are “new creations” in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).”
The Great Exchange
“Salvation is not a transaction, it’s a transformation.” Yes, I love that. But it is imperative to define “transaction” in that context. Salvation is not me putting out specific words and God putting in salvation because I parroted the right phrase. In that sense, salvation is not a transaction. But salvation is the exchange of my sin for the righteousness of Christ. In that sense, it is a transaction.
Have you been transformed? Or, like the boy from the beginning, have you only just begun to understand that God is calling you to do more than a repeat-after-me prayer? Don’t be fooled by cheap grace. Examine yourself and see if you are in the faith. Your confession of faith must be accompanied by repentance and change.
Answer the call, repent and believe.