by Jacob Ninan
Jesus came into the world, first of all, to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21). God also knows that we have need of many things for life on this earth and He will provide them to us (Matthew 6:25-32). But it will be foolish of us if we focus on all those things and neglect this salvation that Jesus came with, because that is the best part of the gospel.
a. The corruption of sin
Sin is described variously as disobeying the commandments (1 John 3:4 KJV, NASB – lawlessness), coming short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), doing things without faith (Romans 14:23), not doing what we know we should do (James 4:17), etc. Sin can be in our thoughts, words, action or attitudes. God created Adam and Eve as innocent people with a freedom to choose. Their first test was when they were forbidden from eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. When they disobeyed that commandment, sin entered into the world for the first time. (The first recorded instance of sin was when Lucifer the leader of the angels became proud of himself and wanted to exalt himself above God. He became Satan, and God cast him out of heaven. It was he who came and tempted Eve to sin against God.)
God had warned Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed God they would die (Genesis 2:17). Death here basically meant spiritual separation from God. When sin entered the earth, the whole earth became corrupted as a result, and life on earth became very hard. Thorns and thistles began to grow, and man had to work with the sweat of his brow in order to make a living, and woman would have to go through much pain to give birth to babies (Genesis 3:16-19).
When Adam and Eve lost the immediate fellowship with God and suffered spiritual death, the whole race of man which came from them inherited the spiritually dead nature from them. Now all people are ‘born in sin’ (Psalm 51:5). We are born as children of the devil (John 8:44; 1 John 3:10). (This why we need to be born again in order to become children of God – John 3:3.) We are born with a corrupted nature referred to in the Bible as ‘flesh’ (Greek – sarx) which is different from our physical body. We have lusts (strong, driving desires) and passions in this flesh (Romans 13:14) through which we are tempted (James 1:13-15). We are tempted when these desires entice us. If we say “No” to the desire, we gain victory. But if we yield to it by enjoying it in our mind, we sin. Then when we act according to it, sin is ‘born’ and bears fruit that affects everyone around.
b. The need for a Saviour
Because we are born under sin we end up doing things we do not want to do, and not the things we want to do (Romans 7:19). As a result of this, all of us have sinned (Romans 3:23). Some of us have fallen into gross sins because we grew up under certain circumstances and faced certain temptations. But even others who have lived in comparatively good environments have sinned in many ways such as by being selfish, proud, callous, lacking compassion, etc. None of us can look down on another person because we would probably have done the same or worse things if we had been in their position. Since the punishment for sin is death, that is what we all deserve. Even if it were possible for us to somehow stop sinning from now onwards, we would still die because of the sins we have already committed. By offering sacrifices for sin under the Old Covenant people’s sins could be covered (for the time being till Jesus came) but not wiped away (Psalm 32:1). The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). All this essentially implied that no one could make himself right with God by anything that he did. Man needs a saviour.
God loved us whom He had created so much that He did not want us to perish. But at the same time He could not just wish away our sins. He is a righteous God, and His righteousness demand justice. Sin must be punished. Since God knew that we could never get right with God and we were all doomed to death, He took our punishment on Himself. He sent His only Son to die in the place of all humanity (John 3:16). When Jesus died on the cross, the sins of the whole world were placed on Him (1 John 2:2). Now anyone who acknowledges himself as a sinner and claims the sacrifice of Jesus as sufficient for him can receive forgiveness from God and also become a child of God. At the same time, there is no other way any one can come to God except through Jesus (Acts 4:12).
c. Repentance and faith
God now offers salvation—a complete package that includes forgiveness of sins, adoption as His children, transformation into the character of Jesus, power and authority over Satan and his forces, fellowship with all the other children of God, eternal life with Jesus in heaven and enjoying all the wonderful things He has prepared for us in heaven—as a free gift. There is nothing that we can do to earn this salvation. It is an undeserved favour from God. The door to salvation hinges on two aspects from man’s side, namely repentance and faith. These are essentially actions of the heart that produce fruits in our lives in the form of changed behaviour.
Repentance is like a 1800 turn—from our earlier direction where we were doing what pleased us and unknowingly heading for hell, to loving God, wanting to be pleasing to Him and doing what He wants. Earlier we were our own masters (or thought so, even though we were allowing Satan and other people to move us around) and doing what we wanted. Now we recognise that we were actually sinning against God and heading for hell. Repentance has two sides to it: we are truly sorry for the sins that we have already committed, and we decide we don’t want to sin any more.
Repentance is not a promise that we make that we will never sin again. We may fall again, because of weakness, carelessness, ignorance, etc. But genuine repentance is a change of heart by which we decide that we don’t want to sin again. God says in His word that He does not want us to sin again, but He also says that if we fall, we can get forgiveness for that sin (1 John 2:1).
Faith is the other factor in ensuring our salvation. A genuine faith has two main aspects to it. First of all we believe a set of facts about God, ourselves and sin: a) I am a sinner who deserves death and hell. b) I will never be able to be good enough to go to heaven. c) God loves me not because He sees anything good in me, but because He created me. d) God is so holy, just and righteous that He can never take me to heaven as I am because I am a sinner. e) Because of God’s great love for me, He let His only Son Jesus die in my place so that my sins could be punished and I could be set free from their claim. f) God has forgiven me my sins because Jesus died in my place. Secondly we trust Jesus and place our lives entirely into His hands in love and gratitude.
When God sees a sincere repentance and faith in our hearts, He washes our hearts with the blood of Jesus Christ and makes us white like snow (Isaiah 1:18). He places His Holy Spirit in us and gives us a new heart. He begins to renew our conscience with sensitivity towards sin and the voice of the Holy Spirit. He accepts us as His children.
Forgiveness for our sins is the first thing that we receive from God as a part of our salvation. When we repent and believe in Jesus God gives us forgiveness for all our sins. He forgives us not just because He is merciful, but because Jesus has already borne our sins on the cross. He forgives us through grace—as an unmerited favour from His side—and He does not want us to do anything in order to receive it but repent and believe in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8,9).
- God’s forgiveness is not cheap; He had to pay with the blood of His Son (Eph. 1:7)
- God forgives us because He loves us, and does not want us to be lost (Jn. 3:16)
- God forgives us when we repent (Ac. 2:38)
- God forgives us when we confess our sins (1Jn. 1:9)
- God’s forgiveness is free for us; we don’t have to pay for it; Jesus has paid for it
- God’s forgiveness is not to be treated lightly (Heb. 10:29)
- When God forgives, He promises not to bring up our sins again (Heb. 8:12)
- God cannot forget our sins, but He will not remember them (bring up our sins again) again
- God will not forgive our sins if we will not forgive the sins of others (Mt. 6:15)
- God will take back our forgiveness if we proudly refuse to forgive the sins of others after He has forgiven us (Mt. 18:23-35) (This does not refer to us if we are struggling to forgive others)
- God wants us to forgive others without limit (Mt. 18:21,22)
- God wants us to forgive others when they repent, and also when they don’t repent (Lk.17:4;23:34)
- God is the Lawgiver and He waits for people to repent before He forgives them; we are those who have received forgiveness freely from God, we have no right to judge, and we have to forgive freely even if people do not repent or acknowledge their sins. Jesus gave an example of this when He forgave people from the cross. He forgave those who were crucifying Him, even though the Father would forgive them only if they repented.
- Forgiving others is a decision we make; we may not feel like forgiving those who have done us much harm. Forgive as a matter of choice, and feelings will change after some time.
- Forgiveness is not the same as pretending nothing has happened. We know harm has been done, and we may be still suffering the consequences. Forgiveness means to say that we give up our right to judge them. They still come under the authority of God and perhaps also under human legal procedures.
- Forgiveness does not mean that we automatically behave with those who have harmed us as if nothing happened. It may take time for us to regain confidence in them, that they would not repeat what they have done. Forgiveness means that we will not hold grudges or bitterness in our hearts against them. We have to be wise in dealing with them.
Many people are suffering from a sense of rejection from people and God, thinking of some flaws or lacks in themselves and imagining that no one could love them the way they are. Many have faced real rejection from people including parents, relatives, friends, teachers and others and live with a sense of inadequacy, not being able to fulfil God’s potential for their lives. But we must understand and experience God’s acceptance of us just as we are, and also learn to accept others in the same way.
- God has created all of us differently. There are no two people on earth who are exactly alike. It is foolish to compare ourselves with others.
- God has given all of us some abilities. We are not in competition with others. In the parable of the talents the master did not ask the two talent man why he did not produce as much results as the five talent man (Matthew 25:14-30).
- There are some things in our lives we can change, but there are also many things we cannot change. We must learn to change those things we can change, and accept the things about ourselves that we cannot change.
- The Son of God was born in a poor family, in a manger, showing that wealth, status and family names are not the things that God values.
- Jesus and the disciples were not highly educated, showing that education has no special value in the kingdom of God.
- God looks at the heart, and that is what God values above all (1Sam. 16:7).
- Once we come to God trusting in Jesus, God accepts us (Eph.1:6 KJV).
- God accepts us by grace—unmerited favour—and not based on how good we are (Eph.2:8).
- When God accepts us, we still have lots of faults, and we are not perfect at all. God knows all about our past sins, our present faults and even our future. He has accepted us as His children knowing fully about every aspect of our lives.
- God does not get shocked when He sees one of our sins. His love for us is so great that it covers all our sins (1Pe.4:8). He hates sin, but He loves us.
- He has not just accepted us, but He rejoices over us, shouting for joy, because we have responded to His love (Zeph.3:17).
Rejection and acceptance:
- Some people have gone through different types of rejection from people.
- Perhaps your parents did not want you to be born
- Perhaps your parents did not like something about you when you were born—your colour, features, gender, etc.
- Perhaps your parents compared you wrongly with your brothers or sisters.
- Perhaps your parents or teachers told you that you were hopeless or worthless.
- Perhaps your classmates made fun of you or insulted you.
- Perhaps you were abused physically, emotionally or sexually in your childhood.
- Perhaps you lost a parent, close friend or pet in your childhood and felt abandoned by God.
- Are you angry with God or people because of what has happened in your past?
- Do you feel hopeless or insignificant because of what others have told you?
- Do you think that you are guilty thinking that you were responsible for some of the bad things that happened between your parents?
- Remember that God saw with tears what was happening to you as you grew up.
- Remember that God was planning even then for your welfare.
- God will cause all those things also to work together for your good now (Rom. 8:28).
- When you turn to God in your need, weakness and confusion He will draw near to you and heal you.
- God will make something new to come out from you; you will forget the sadness of the past (2Cor. 5:17).
- God wants to transform you to become like His Son Jesus in your character (Rom. 8:29).
- Forgive everyone who has harmed you; they did not know what they were doing (Lk.23:34).
- If Jesus could forgive the people who had crucified Him, you too can forgive every single one of those who has harmed you in your past.
- Remember that when you forgive, your Heavenly Father will rejoice over you. Then you can rejoice in His acceptance of you.
If God has accepted you knowing all about your faults, can you not also accept others who have their faults?
God does not want to merely forgive our sins and let us continue in the same way that we used to live before. He wants us to set us free from the guilt of sin, as well as from the power of sin. He takes away our condemnation (Romans 8:1) and He also gives us victory over temptation (Romans 6:14; 2 Corinthians 2:14). For receiving forgiveness we need to repent and confess our sins (1 John 1:9). We do not have to do anything to earn our forgiveness. For getting victory over sin, we need to receive God’s help (grace) and take up a battle against temptation (Romans 6:13; 8:13).
What is temptation? It is a pull towards something (which is wrong according to God) that would give us some pleasure. We are tempted because we are born with certain strong desires (lusts) in our flesh. [‘Flesh’ (Greek – sarx) is a word the Bible uses many times (not always) to refer to the seat of these lusts and desires (Galatians 5:24; Romans 7:5). Some new Bible translations have unfortunately translated this as ‘body’ which loses this meaning.] Temptation comes usually in the form of a thought that stirs up one of these lusts (James 1:14). These thoughts may come from ourselves, the devil, or other people. If we agree in our mind with the temptation and yield to it we sin (James 1:15). We may sin by continuing to enjoy the thought in our mind or speaking or doing something according to the temptation. Sin gives us pleasure. But afterwards comes the result of sin which is spiritual death—distance from God and corruption of our mind (Romans 6:23; Galatians 6:7,8). But if we say ‘no’ to the thought of temptation, we get victory! This means we do not let the temptation produce fruit in our lives—or, as the Bible says, we do not allow the temptation to conceive (James 1:14-15).
If we have yielded to temptation in any area many times in the past, it will be difficult for us to get victory in that area the first time we try to overcome. But if we do not give up and keep resisting the temptation, we will notice that the power of temptation becomes less and less till it practically ceases to bother us. (But it can get revived if we start yielding again!) Also, since the temptation comes from our own lusts, we need more than our resistance to overcome—we need God’s grace. So we also need to keep asking Him for help to get victory. We should also take practical precautions such as keeping away from people and situations that can tempt us.
A victorious life is a progressive life. This means that we get victory little by little over more and more areas in our life as we progress in our spiritual life. Victory is also not permanent or once for all because there is a possibility that we can backslide.
g. Justification, sanctification, glorification
When we are born again, we are spiritual babies, however old we may be physically. We have to grow spiritually and develop in all aspects of spiritual life. Our spiritual life goes through three different stages, namely justification, sanctification and glorification.
Justification is an instantaneous process that happens when we repent and come to Jesus trusting Him. We who were classified as sinners and who had no right to stand before God or enter heaven are made right with God on the basis of Jesus having borne our punishment. We become ‘justified’ in the sight of God.
Justification deals with our entire record of sin so that what was red because of sin is made white like snow (Isaiah 1:18). There is no sin that is so bad that the blood of Jesus cannot wash it clean (1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5). Justification deals with the whole issue regarding sin in our life that it is sufficient to deal not only with our past sins but also our future sins. If we sin in the future what we need to do is to claim this justification by confessing our sins (1 John 1:9).
As someone said, to be ‘justified’ is to be treated by God ‘just as if I’d’ never sinned. God wipes away our record of sin and promises not to bring it up against us ever again (Hebrews 8:12). Justification takes away all our condemnation and guilt and gives us acceptance with God. It gives us the right to enter God’s presence boldly (Hebrews 10:19), and also boldness against Satan’s accusations and power.
Sanctification is the process that starts after justification. Essentially it means to be ‘set apart’ for God and also to be transformed into the character of Jesus (Romans 8:29; 6:22). God has set us apart for Him (1 Corinthians 1:2), and now we have to set ourselves apart for Him. We do this by obeying God and placing ourselves into His hands as living sacrifices (Romans 6:19; 12:1). God wants us to be sanctified entirely in our body, soul and spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:23). This is a lifelong process, starting when with our justification and ending with our death.
Justification brings all people to the same level as children of God. But sanctification takes people to different levels depending on how each one cooperates with God and works out his or her own salvation in response to the work of God (Philippians 2:12,13). The more we love God, the more we will submit to God’s sanctification in our lives.
Glorification is the process by which we will be changed into the nature of Jesus as He is now (1 John 3:2). This will take place in an instant through rapture (1 Corinthians 15:52) or when we are resurrected (Romans 6:5). We will have a glorified body just like Jesus after He was raised from the dead.