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John 3:15-16; 20:29

Imagine what it would have been like to meet Jesus face to face when He walked on the earth. Imagine looking at His face, seeing His eyes. Imagine hearing Him speak and recognizing the timbre of His voice—the cadence of the words and the up and down pitch of His speech. Imagine feeling His hand slip into yours as He helps you into a boat or looking at His feet as they gather dust walking along the roads in Galilee. What would that have been like for those who had that opportunity? No doubt, those who knew Jesus during His earthly ministry were blessed. However, Jesus said: “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). This is a simple definition of what it means to be saved. The Bible says that those who believe in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:15-16). The subject of this lesson is: what does it mean to be saved?

Definition of faith

Faith is “the right response to what God has revealed.” In Hebrews 11 there are examples of men and women who believed God. God revealed to Noah that it would rain and commanded him to build a boat. Noah obeyed because he believed what God said was true (11:7). Abraham was commanded to leave his home in Ur and travel hundreds of miles to a new place that God would give to him and his descendants. He obeyed even though he did not know where he was going specifically (11:8-10). Faith always begins with God. He reveals Himself to us through the Bible, God’s revelation to mankind. In the Bible, He speaks about Himself and then commands mankind to trust Him. Thus, faith is not “just believe.” It is a command to rely on the truthfulness of God’s Word. The call to faith is based on what God says about Himself.

Believe what God has revealed—everyone is a sinner

God makes clear in the Bible that every person is a sinner. Everyone has turned away from God, and there is no one who is truly good, not even one (Psalm 14:1). We are all like sheep who have gone astray from the shepherd turning to our own way (Isaiah 53:6). Sin is the transgression of the law of God. The word that is most frequently used to denote “sin” in the Bible literally means “to miss the mark.” The Bible reveals that we all have missed the mark, God’s perfect standard and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Every person needs salvation from sin.

Man’s propensity to sin is explained in Romans 5. The Bible says that by one man sin entered into the world. Who is that “one man?” Verse 14 indicates the “one man” who sinned is Adam. Because we are all connected to Adam, the first father of all human beings, we all are inherently born with a sin nature. This is called “seminal headship.” We are all connected to Adam through our father (he is connected through his father—and so on). Think about it this way. Did anyone teach you to lie before you lied for the first time? Have you ever coveted something that you did not have but others have? (Romans 7:7) The Bible is full of God’s commands which you have broken either knowingly or unknowingly. Worse, James (the half-brother of Jesus) writes that, if you break even one of God’s laws, you become a breaker of the entire law (James 2:10). That is our status. We have all violated God’s perfect standard and are considered “lawbreakers.”

Believe what God has revealed—consequences for sin

Before Adam and Eve sinned, they were innocent before God. In their state of innocence, they were warned that if they disobeyed Him, they would die. God said to them: [if you disobey Me] “you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). This death was both physical and spiritual. Genesis 3:6 indicates that later both Adam and Even sinned against God by disobeying His command. As a result, death entered into the world. Romans 5:12 states that because of the first sin both Adam and Eve began to physically die. From that point forward, every child is born in the process of dying. There is no exception. No one on the earth is free from the curse of death. Everyone dies.

There is another aspect of death. Not only are people dying physically, but they are also spiritually dead. The Bible states that every sinner is spiritually dead “in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). This spiritual death is a horrible reality for anyone who is not saved by Jesus Christ. Jesus said that unbelievers will be face certain judgment where they will be judged for their works.1 After being declared guilty, each will be cast into “the Lake of Fire” where he will exist for all eternity. There is no second chance. There is no escape (Revelation 20:12-15).

The Lake of Fire is explained in three ways in the Bible. First, it is a place of punishment.2 In the Lake of Fire, God will punish those who have violated His commands. Some of the picturesque phrases used in the Bible to explain the Lake of Fire are: “burned with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12); “a coming misery” where the flesh will be eaten “with fire” (James 5:1-5). Second, it is a place of destruction. This does not mean that the individual being judged in Hell is annihilated or destroyed completely. It means that he is forever ruined and suffering.3 Third, it is a place of banishment. Hell means eternal separation from God. There is no opportunity to confess sin and accept Jesus after death. Those who go to Hell will be there for all eternity.4 Revelation 20:14 calls this “the second death.”

This eternal punishment, destruction, and banishment in the Lake of Fire is not unfair or unjust. In fact, the judgment of God is always fair and just. In Romans 2, the apostle Paul explains the judgment of God in four ways. First, he says that it will be “according to truth” (Romans 2:2). No one will be judged for a sin he did not do. There will be no judicial mistakes in the final judgment. Second, this judgment will be according to what a person has done because God “will render to every man according to his deeds” (Romans 2:6). Each person will be individually judged. No individual will be judged for the sins of his parents or for the sins of his children. Each will be judged for his own sin. Third, no important or influential person in this life will be able to slip by or bribe his way out of God’s justice. God has “no partiality” (Romans 2:11). Each will be treated equally. There is no discrimination in God’s judgment for people of different ethnicities, different cultural backgrounds, different educational levels, or various levels of personal wealth. A person who lived as a king on the earth will be judged no differently from someone who lived as a very poor person. Finally, judgment will be according to the good news that Jesus saves (Romans 2:16). Ultimately, the sin of unbelief is that which sentences a person to Hell (where he is judged for his sinful acts while on earth). Just as faith (a right response to what God has revealed) is the means by which a person accepts the grace of God in salvation, so it is by his faithlessness that he rejects salvation from sin (and the horrible punishment of sin). Thus, the judgment of God is absolutely fair and just.

Believe what God has revealed—the gospel of Jesus Christ

There is a way to escape eternal punishment. The bad news of God’s judgment is followed by the great news (gospel) that Jesus saves. After Adam and Eve sinned against God, they were promised that God would send a Redeemer to completely destroy our enemy (Genesis 3:15). Throughout the entire Old Testament, God continually promises that he would send a Redeemer for salvation. The New Testament begins with the birth of Jesus. His name means “Yahweh saves,” indicating that “He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This gospel of salvation is explained clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ “died for our sins according to the scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” The gospel means Jesus became the “sin-bearer” when He died on the cross. God laid upon Jesus all of our sins (Isaiah 53:6). He became cursed for us (Galatians 3:13). Those who believe in Him have redemption from sin through His blood (Ephesians 1:17).

Not only did Jesus die on the cross for our sins, but He was also raised up from the dead

so that we might also live. Each of the four Gospels includes the story of Jesus rising from the dead. The apostle Peter’s great sermon at Pentecost stresses the importance of Jesus rising from the dead (Acts 2:24). Peter and John also confessed this truth to the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 3:15). The apostle Paul’s sermons throughout Acts are filled with references to the resurrection.5 Also, he often teaches on the resurrection in his letters.6 Throughout the centuries, one of the most identifiable markers of being a Christian is that he believes in the resurrection of Jesus.

Respond to what God has revealed—accept Jesus as your Savior

Remember, Faith is “the right response to what God has revealed.” Up to this point we have noticed that God has revealed His own righteous standard of perfection which no person (other than Jesus Christ) has ever been able to meet. Because we are all sinners, God is to rightly judge us for our sins by condemning us to the Lake of Fire. However, we have also concluded that in God’s love and mercy He sent His Son to die for our sins by becoming an atonement for our sins. We have also considered the fact that Jesus not only died, but that He was buried and rose again from the dead. What is your response to these truths? How should we respond to these things?

The Bible teaches that a faith response to these truths is expressed with two ideas—confession and dependence. The right response to the gospel is confession. Confession has three important parts. First, confession is a public, verbal acknowledgement of guilt because of sin. The Bible teaches that God is both faithful and just to forgive those who confess their sin (1 John 1:9). Second, confession includes the idea of repentance. This is a turning away from sin. People who claim to be saved but embrace a life of sin are demonstrating by their behavior that they really are not confessing their sins. Finally, just as confession (repentance) is a verbal acknowledgement of sin, so confession is also a verbal acknowledgement of what God has done to save us from our sin (Romans 10:9-10). Salvation involves confession that Jesus is the Lord and that His death, burial, and resurrection are the means by which God saves us. Thus, this confession is (1) that we need a Savior and (2) that our Savior is Jesus. He saved us by dying on the cross in our place and by rising from the dead. This is the confession of the redeemed.

The second aspect of salvation is dependence. This is the meaning of the word “trust.” Turning away from sin (repentance) is a turning to dependence on the saving work of Jesus.

When someone asks, “have you trusted Jesus as your Lord and Savior,” the question is basically “are you depending on Jesus alone for salvation?” Saving faith abandons any hope of self-salvation. Saving faith cannot be a Jesus plus my own good works. It must be salvation by Jesus’ work alone. The Bible teaches that we are saved by grace through faith; that this (grace through faith) is not of ourselves; that it is God’s gift to us; that it is not of our own meritorious works; that no man can boast of saving himself (Ephesians 2:8-9).

If someone asked you: “how do you know that you are going to heaven when you die,” how would you answer? Maybe your answer would be something like this: “I’m a good person. I try to be kind to my neighbor. I don’t cheat or steal or break the law. I try to live by ‘the Golden Rule.’” If that’s your answer, you are not alone. Many people answer this question that way. Unfortunately, that is not the answer God accepts. Salvation is only by grace through faith. In order to be saved, you must trust in Jesus alone for salvation. You must confess that the only merit you have is that Jesus is righteous; He alone is good. Your answer to that question should be something like: “I am a sinner and don’t deserve God’s favor. But Jesus died for my sin in my place. He paid God’s holy penalty against my sin. Because He died, I don’t have to die. He took my place (we call this vicarious atonement). His blood covers my sin. I am saved because He saved me.” If that is your testimony, then you have been rescued from God’s wrath. You are “saved.” Praise the Lord! There is nothing else that you must do. Salvation comes by simply trusting in God’s saving grace offered on the cross of Jesus.

Personal Reflections

  1. Write out a brief synopsis of your own testimony here.
  2. If you have ever doubted about your salvation, write them here—what are causes of your doubt?
  3. How does this lesson help you see that because you cannot do anything to save yourself, that you cannot do anything to “lose” your salvation?

Further Discussion

  1. Read Peter’s sermon at Pentecost carefully: Acts 2:14-41.
  2. What does Peter mean when he says that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved?”
    1. Who is “the Lord” in the context?
    2. What do you think it means to “call” upon this name?
  3. What did the people do with Jesus according to v. 23?
  4. How many times does Peter refer to the resurrection of Jesus in his sermon?
  5. What is Peter’s answer (v. 38) to the Jews question in v. 37?
  6. What did the people (about 3,000) do according to v. 41?

1 It is likely that there are degrees of punishment in the Lake of Fire. Because each will be judged for his works, those who sinned against God in greater rebellion will be sentenced to a harsher punishment (Rev. 20:12-13).

2 See Matthew 5:20-30, 23:33, 24:45-25:46, Mark 9:42-48, Luke 16:19-31, Romans 1:18-3:20, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Hebrews 10:27-31, James 4:12, 5:1-5, 2 Peter 2:4-17, Jude 6-23, and Revelation 20:10-15.

3 See Matthew 7:13-14, 24-27, 24:51, Luke 13:3-5, John 3:16, Romans 9:2, Galatians 6:8, Philippians 1:28, 3:19, 1 Thessalonians 5:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, 1 Timothy 6:9, Hebrews 10:27, James 1:11-15, 4:12, 5:3-5, 2 Peter 2:6, and Revelation 21:8.

4 See Matthew 7:21-23, 8:12, 13:42, 50, 25:10-12, 30, 41, Luke 16:19-31, and John 15:1-7.

5 See Acts 13, 17, and 23 for examples

6 For example, Romans 1:4, 10:9-10, and 1 Corinthians 15.