In Luke 18:8 Jesus asks, "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" Some who teach people to believe in Jesus, often use the words in Rom. 10:10, "For with the heart one believes to righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation." With this people make it a simple matter: Just say, "I believe," and you're saved! Preachers of this sort do not realize that the Bible has numerous texts dealing with salvation; we cannot base all our teachings on just one verse.
1) Then what are the other texts that deal with salvation?
Answer: Acts 2:38 is a text that covers conversion quite well. "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Here is added a few important conditions to salvation. First we must repent. Repentance is related to true faith. In the Bible, "believe" means to accept all it reveals of Jesus, including our need to repent. It is an important condition. For we are all sinners and must repent before we are accepted of God.
Apart from repentance, we need to be baptized in the name of Jesus. "He who believes and is baptized will be saved." Mark 16:16 So two more conditions are added. Then Peter adds, we will receive the Holy Spirit, to realize what Jesus calls the new birth: "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3.
2) I've heard people say that we're saved by Christ's atonement on the cross; our own good works cannot save us. Then do we need to do any good works at all?
Answer: We cannot be saved by good works, but whoever is saved should perform good works, which Jesus calls "bearing fruit". He says, "I am the true vine; My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit." John 15:1,2. As we believe in our hearts, confess with our lips, confess our sins and receive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit will work in us to bear fruit to God's glory.
3) What are the concrete evidences of the fruits of the Spirit?
Answer: The fruits of the Spirit have the following evidences: (a) Gal. 5:22 teaches that in our daily lives "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control." In a word, there will be a change in our daily living. (b) Then we will want to lead others to Christ, which is also bearing fruit to his glory. So by way of summary, the steps in a man's conversion is to believe with our hearts, confess with our lips, repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit to be born again, and then to bear fruit. Finally the Lord says in Matt. 24:13, "He who endures to the end shall be saved."
4) Oh yes! This sixth condition requires patience to endure to the end. We must not drop out in the middle of the race.
Answer: That's right. In order to endure to the end, we must watch and pray. May God keep us faithful, so that we can always be fruitful branches on the true vine. A Christian is bound to meet with many obstacles; Satan will do his best to make us drop out, bear no fruit and even give up our faith.
5) Some say that once you believe in Jesus, you're bound for heaven. Even if you give up your faith, you'll still be saved.
Answer: That's wrong. Such a teaching makes a Christian slacken his vigilance so that he falls more easily into Satan's trap. Rom. 6:16 says, "Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are the one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?" In the Chinese Bible this "righteousness" is "to become righteous," not "counted righteous" as in Rom. 4. When a man believes in Christ, his past has been a history of sin. Now that he has come to Christ, the Lord accepts his repentance and forgives his sins and "accounts him righteous" according to Romans 4. After this, Rom. 6 says, it will depend on whom he obeys. If he continues in a life of sin as before, quarreling with people, losing his temper, greedy, gambling and indulging his passions, then he is still a slave of sin "unto death." How can he be saved? One who has truly turned to Christ has changed masters---in the past he was a slave of sin, bound by sin; now he must break his bonds and become obedient to all the precepts of God's Ten Commandments.
6) Some say that to stress the Ten Commandments is "legalism", but as long as you have Jesus, you have everything. Jesus has kept the commandments for us, so we need not keep them any more.
Answer: Wrong again! Rom. 6:16 speaks of "obedience to righteousness." A Christian is first counted righteous and then he becomes righteous. The Bible often speaks of the trials a Christian must meet. In each of His letters to the seven churches in Revelation, Christ tells them to overcome. In Rev. 3:5 He says, "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life, but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels." So overcoming is another condition for the Christian to meet, in addition to bearing fruit and obeying. In fact, overcoming takes in all other conditions. Jesus says that the overcomer will be clothed in white garments, which stand for a pure character. In the judgment Christ will not blot out his name from the Book of Life. Jesus kept the Ten Commandments as our example, not to free us from our duty to keep them. A wrong turn of thought can cause one to slip into gross error! One who is not subject to the Law of God can even make Christ's example of obedience an excuse for law-breaking! Jesus says, "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." Christ overcame on order to help us also to overcome, not to give us freedom to break His commandments! As for the expression, "have Jesus", the Bible speaks only of knowing Jesus: "He who says 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." 1 John 2:4.
7) At first we read a text about believing with the heart. Just what is involved in this matter of believing?
Answer: Gal. 5:6 says, "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love." This text links faith with love. True faith causes one to love. This is the truly effectual faith. Luke 7:36-50 cites an illustration.
"Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee's house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.
"Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, 'This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.' And Jesus answered and said to him, 'Simon, I have something to say to you.' And he said, 'Teacher, say it.'
"'There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more? '
"Simon answered and said, 'I suppose the one whom he forgave more.'
"And He said to him, 'You have rightly judged.' Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, 'Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.'
"And He said to her, 'Your sins are forgiven. . . .Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.?" This is a good illustration. Jesus said, "Your faith has saved you." But before that He said, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much."
Here faith and love are well integrated. That woman was saved by faith; we can also say that she was saved by love. It was "faith working through love." The Pharisee had been a leper, and Jesus healed him; so he invited Jesus out of gratitude. But he still needed to know, believe in and love Christ as the Son of God.
8) How could the woman wash Jesus feet when He was having His meal with His feet under the table?
Answer: In those days the Jews did not sit around a table when dining, but reclined on couches lining both sides of a long table. They propped up the body with the left arm and ate with the right hand, with their feet extending outward, thus making it possible for the woman to stand on the outer end to wash Jesus' feet with her tears and wipe them with her hair. Simon did not greet Jesus with the ceremony worthy of a guest of honor. He did not wash His feet, as he felt that a peasant from the countryside did not need such treatment. If Jesus were a city resident or guest of honor, he would have kissed and anointed Him.
Jesus pointed out the motives of the Pharisee, as if to say, Simon, you think that you are treating Me pretty well by inviting me to eat with you. But your love is far inferior to Mary's. In pages 566-568 of Desire of Ages Ellen White relates how Mary had been demon possessed and fallen into sin, and Christ had prayed for her to free her from demons. The Pharisee knew she was a sinner because he was himself a sin-stained soul, and if he had not caused her fall, she would not have been a sinner. Yet Jesus did not expose him, but treated him courteously, using a parable to drive home a lesson to help him see himself. He accepted the rebuke, humbly repented and became an obedient disciple. His change is a good example of the power of faith that works through love.
9) I see from this that a Christian can be hardened into the position of a callous Pharisee, blinded to his own condition.
Answer: Yes. In accepting Christ, we cannot just admit that God exists, and that all things were made by Him. In keeping His commandments and observing the Sabbath we should not do it just from a sense of duty. To keep God's commandments is indeed man's duty (Eccl. 12:13), But we must live and act on the higher plane of obeying Christ because we love Him. In Ezek. 20:12 He says, "I gave them My Sabbaths to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them." So the Sabbath is a loving gift, and we should say out of our hearts, "Lord, I love You, and will gladly do whatever You want me to do. You want me to put aside my daily work to come close to You on the Sabbath, I regard it my greatest privilege and pleasure. I will gladly join other saints to worship You. It is my joy to receive your promised Sabbath blessing, and I thank You for it!
10) That's right! It's a matter of motive. Some preachers use the rewards of Heaven to appeal to the selfish love for pleasure, others use hell fire to scare people, all these do not make the proper appeal.
Answer: Such appeal to selfish motives do not meet the approval of God. Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of the great love of God, which is the only proper way to lead sinners to repentance. He said, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16. Jesus wants people to realize how much God loves them. He wants them to be touched and converted by His love, because only love can awaken love, making a selfish man no longer self-centered, but drawn and captivated by the great love which caused Christ to be crucified for him. Only such selfless love can soften the hardest heart, leading it to repent and be born again.
11) I see that this is the essence of the gospel, which we need to study, contemplate and preach, so that all will be drawn by the matchless love of Christ.
Answer: Yes. The perfection of Christ's character is in the Bible; our purpose in Bible study is to collect these treasurers from this book, so that the tender compassion of Jesus' love may be fully manifest to arouse and motivate the latent powers of the soul. "For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again." 2 Cor. 5:14, 15; "For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's." 1 Cor.6:20.
We need to be constrained by the love of Christ, but let it not be a momentary flare-up that soon cools off, and we quit on the half-way mark. We need to think clearly and look far ahead. A Christian's life is a protracted war and a long march. We need to fight it out with calm assurance. Jesus says, "Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it---lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build, and was not able to finish.' . . . So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple." Luke 14:27-33.
12) These words express the high standards Jesus sets for His followers. We must love Him without reservation, isn't that right? Please explain to us further the close relationship between faith and love.
Answer: Very well. 1 Cor. 13:13 says, "Now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." It also says, "Love never fails." The Bible highly values "Faith working through love." It says, "Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, it profits me nothing." 1 Cor. 13:2. When the devil first sinned, God could have easily destroyed him. But to exhibit force is not compatible with the principle of love. For "God is love" 1 John 4:8. To prevail by force would produce fear, causing all intelligent beings to obey God through fear instead of love. 1 John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love."
God determines to rule by love, not by force. He knows that love awakens love, and will surely prevail. Jesus prayed for His murderers, "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do." Luke 23:34. His enemies mocked Him, saying, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save. He is King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him." Matt. 27:42. For Jesus, who had infinite power at His command, this challenge was hard to ignore; but His determination to be the "Lamb of God" was firm. Even after His resurrection, He did not go to scare His enemies and say: "You told Me to come down from the cross; now I've come out of the grave,." Jesus would not do that, for He did not seek the gratification of revenge, but wanted to give His enemies a chance to repent and confess their sins. Fear cannot cause true repentance. Only love can arouse love.
He told the disciples not to leave Jerusalem until they have received the Holy Spirit, and then go tell His enemies that He loves them. Died for them, and wants them to repent, be forgiven and receive eternal life. Finally, according to Acts 6:7, "The word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith." And Saul, the once rabid persecutor of the Christians, also repented and became the apostle Paul.