There is a definite way that the Lord Jesus follows with unbelievers to save them, equip them for service and prepare them for eternal life in heaven. The willingness and full co-operation of each one of us, according to fixed biblical guidelines, is necessary if we wish to avert the tragedy of a false repentance. We can all share in the wonderful experience to be called by the Lord out of the darkness of sin into His marvellous light.
God Himself shows us the first step on the way of the conversion of sinners (Rom. 8:5) as He calls sinners to repentance (Isa. 1:18). For this purpose the Son of God came to the world to call lost people to Him and offer His salvation to them (Matt. 11:28). This calling is to those who realise that they have a spiritual problem (Matt. 9:13).
It is important to recognise the specific call of the Lord Jesus to you personally, as this will determine how you will respond to it. It is crucial that you should realise the full extent of your problem, namely that you are heading for disaster without the Lord Jesus. There is no room for complacency or self-justification in your state of spiritual darkness, as “there is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). You must face up to the all-embracing nature of sin, and especially your own sins which separate you from Him (Isa. 59:2). There must not be any doubt in your mind that God has imposed the death penalty upon sinners (Rom. 6:23). All unsaved people are heading for eternal condemnation if they don’t repent (Matt. 25:41).
When God the Father calls us through His Son, Jesus Christ, He not only identifies our problem of sin and condemnation, but also offers the solution. The good news is that God loves us and has provided for the forgiveness of our sins through the atoning death of Jesus on the cross (1 John 4:10; 1 Pet. 3:18; 2 Cor. 5:21). The calling of God to the unsaved must be so clear that they fully realise the implications, and count the cost of becoming Christians. Jesus made Nicodemus understand that theological knowledge and a good life was not enough to inherit the kingdom of God – he had to be born again (John 3:3). The condition for receiving forgiveness and eternal life is the confession and forsaking of all known sins.
The Lord Jesus told the rich young man that he first had to break with his sin of materialism and love of money (Luke 18:22). To this young man, who was otherwise very religious, it was hard to part from his besetting sin and he left sorrowfully. Many people find it hard to repent because they do not really want to part from their sins. It is not easy to pass through the narrow gate (Luke 13:24). However, it is a wonderful experience and something worth striving for (Luke 11:9).
The unbeliever under conviction of sin realises his need to get right with God. He is under the deep conviction of his sin and lost state. He feels accused and condemned because of what he has done. His remorse and sense of guilt drives him to Christ – the One who paid the price by dying such a cruel death for the salvation of sinners (2 Cor. 7:10). When Peter denied Jesus, he went outside and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75). That was true sorrow leading to confession which is a condition for forgiveness. You must admit that you have made a failure of your life and trust the Lord to save your soul.
When the repentant sinner realises that he needs to get right with God, he must abandon his former sinful lifestyle, confess his sins to God and ask His forgiveness (1 John 1:8-9; Prov. 28:13). Repentant sinners, as well as backslidden Christians who have again become entangled in sin and unrighteousness, must be fully prepared to abandon their old lives by confessing and forsaking all their sins (Luke 15:18; 18:13; Ps. 51:5-6,9). When we repent to the Lord Jesus we must believe:
- that He is the true God and eternal life, and the only Saviour of the world (1 John 5:20; Luke 19:10);
- that we can only be reconciled to Him by virtue of His death on the cross where He paid the penalty for our sins (Col. 1:20);
- that we have to repent with the confession of our sins to obtain His forgiveness (Matt. 9:13; Acts 17:30);
- that He is able to make us new creatures, that the old things can pass away and that everything can be made new (2 Cor. 5:17); and
- that the Lord Jesus purchases us with His blood when He saves us, and that we henceforth belong to Him to be used by Him (1 Cor. 6:19-20; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).
There are two aspects of the salvation of sinners, i.e. the forgiveness and blotting out of their sins (justification) and the receiving of a new life (new birth). These two aspects are closely linked because fallen humanity is spiritually dead as a result of sin and alienation from God. They need to be both justified and made alive. The basis for man’s justification is the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross, where He paid the penalty for our sins to demonstrate His love and grace to a dying world (Rom. 3:23-25; Isa. 53:5; Eph. 1:7). Every sinner on earth has a list of sins which condemns him and in terms of which Satan accuses him and lays a claim on his life. Jesus blotted out this charge sheet on the cross (Col. 2:13-14).
The clear biblical exhortation to be born again is of the utmost significance in the salvation of sinners. By this concept God clearly teaches us that because of sin and alienation from God, we are spiritually dead and need Him to quicken us. Our ‘old Adam’ nature is a fallen, sinful nature which God says cannot be improved or changed, so we must be born again to become new creatures who can inherit the kingdom of God (John 3:3; 2 Cor. 5:17). During rebirth we are baptised into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13). We become part of His body. Rebirth also refers to the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus (1 Pet. 1:3; Titus 3:5-6).
The first step that a born again person should take is to testify of his salvation. According to Rom. 10:9-10 I should confess the Lord Jesus with my mouth if I am truly saved. The first confession is to Christ Himself when I receive Him as my Saviour. After that, I also give witness to other people that He saved my soul by grace.
The testimony of the new birth is also given by being baptised as a believer – that is after salvation as commanded by Christ (Mark 16:15-16; Matt. 28:19). A testimony of faith in the Lord Jesus as your Saviour is a clear condition for baptism, as exemplified in the baptism of the eunuch in Acts 8: “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized? Then Philip said, If you believe with all your heart, you may. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts. 8:36-37). After his confession he was baptised.
Paul and other converts were also baptised shortly after their salvation (Acts 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:31-33). The water baptism did not save them, but symbolically pointed to their spiritual baptism during salvation. From the Great Commission in Matt. 28:19 it is clear that salvation is followed by baptism, and then by intensive instruction in the Word of God with a view to making new disciples who can lead others to Christ. We should diligently follow the various steps on the way of salvation if we wish to enjoy the full blessing of the Lord upon our lives.
Born-again members of the true church of Jesus Christ are exhorted to deny themselves, be filled with the Spirit, live soberly and righteously, and bear fruit that befits repentance. The first principle of sanctification and discipleship is self-denial and the taking up of the cross (Luke 9:23; Gal. 6:14). According to Luke 14:27-33 the cross of self-denial refers to counting the cost for discipleship. You must make a choice between gratifying the lusts of the flesh (the old nature with all its worldly inclinations) and serving the Lord Jesus with your whole heart under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If you surrender yourself completely to serve the Lord, He will fill you with His Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Through the power of the Holy Spirit it is possible to lead a fruitful life while doing the will of God.
The final step to full salvation is glorification. This takes place at the first resurrection when all true Christians will receive glorified, immortal, resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-52). Full details of our glorified condition in heaven have not yet been revealed to us, but we do know that when Jesus appears we will be like Him. He is the Bridegroom of His church and the King of kings, and we will share in His glory (Phil. 3:20-21; 1 John 3:2-3). In anticipation of our glorification we must now be prepared for the coming life in heaven by being pure and holy. Our present spiritual state determines our future position. Apart from being born again, we must live Spirit-filled lives of dedication to the Lord. We will receive rewards at the judgement seat of Christ for our labour in the Lord (2 Cor. 5:10).
I am filled with gratitude because the Lord saved my soul by grace and entered my name in the Book of Life. I am amazed at the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Salvation is only the beginning of the path of sanctification and service in the kingdom of heaven. I dedicate myself completely to this calling. May my life be a clean vessel through which the light of Christ can shine in a dark world. The supreme aim of my life is to be a dedicated disciple of the Lord Jesus, who will never cease to proclaim His praises. What a joy to know that if I am moving along on the path of my calling the Lord Jesus will be with me always, even to the end of the age.
1. What is the calling of God to sinners?
2. Explain the need for sorrow over sin.
3. What does it mean to be born again?
4. Why should we live holy lives?
5. What is the glorification that the Lord promised to us?
Prof. Johan Malan