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Assuming Salvation

Never assume

By Dennis Pollock

On the weekend after Easter at our local church, an assistant pastor announced that over the previous weekend 222 people were saved throughout the church’s various campuses. I have been hearing similar declarations from pastors and evangelists ever since my earliest days as a Christian, many decades ago. I’ve never felt comfortable with such statements. It’s not that I don’t appreciate positive responses to the gospel. I surely do. But I have a problem with equating the raising of a hand or coming forward in response to an invitation as having a perfect one-to-one correspondence with being genuinely born again. It would have been far more accurate and honest to say we had 222 people who raised their hands in response to an invitation to receive Jesus. Whether all 222 were born again right then and there is something only God knows. We certainly cannot look into the hearts of these people and determine that the new birth was happening at that moment. In all probability some of these folks were already saved, while others, by the raising of a hand and/or the praying of a “sinner’s prayer” were expressing a vague desire to be acceptable to God while being entirely unprepared and unwilling to fully surrender their lives to Jesus.

Throughout much of the history of the church, Christians have tended to equate salvation with certain physical acts. During much of church history it was assumed that if a baby was sprinkled with water shortly after birth, they would be transformed into Christians and afterwards, have no spiritual worries. Just get that baby christened by all means, and all will be well. Some churches have insisted upon baptism only after a child reaches the “age of accountability,” which is essentially how I see things, but they sometimes mistakenly conclude that baptism equals salvation. If you have been baptized you are saved; if you have not been baptized you are not saved. And the moment your body goes under the water salvation automatically occurs – no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it! Your salvation can never be questioned the rest of your life, by others or by yourself.

The truth is, there is no physical act that any human can do that will automatically guarantee salvation – not baptism, not raising one’s hand at an invitation, not the signing of a card, or joining a church, or coming forward at the invitation of an evangelist, or filling out a page in the front or back of your Bible, or anything else. These things may or may not be useful in helping unbelievers to receive Christ, but they can never become the equivalent of true heart-belief. And when we put so much confidence in them that we assume that anyone who does them is automatically saved, we reveal our spiritual ignorance. More importantly we sometimes lull unbelievers into a false sense of security. It can be both unhealthy and spiritually lethal for men and women to assume they are children of God simply because they made a physical response to the gospel at some point in their lives, even though their hearts have never yielded to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in genuine faith. For some, it proves much easier to sign a card or raise a hand than to submit their bodies and their lives as living sacrifices to the King of glory.

To Be a Christian

To understand this fully we need to see the full Biblical revelation of what it means to be a Christian, and the very distinct possibility of deception in this area. Nowhere in the Bible do we find the idea of any physical act automatically guaranteeing salvation. There is a physical act which is associated with salvation, which is baptism. When we trust in Christ we are called to be baptized in water. Much could be said about baptism, but let it suffice here to say that it is a command and not a suggestion. But baptism does not save us, nor does it mean that we are saved because we have been baptized.

Throughout the New Testament there are numerous references to the possibility of being deceived in the area of salvation. Paul tells the Corinthian church members:

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified… (2 Corinthians 13:5).

If baptism or raising a hand or coming forward at an “altar call” or any other physical act guaranteed salvation, there would be no need for self-examination to see “whether you are in the faith.” You could simply ask yourself: “Have I been baptized?,” or “Did I really raise my hand?,” or “Did I truly walk to the front at that evangelistic event?”  If the answer is yes, then of course you must be in the faith. But this is not how Paul saw things. He wanted these folks who called themselves Christians to do a serious spiritual inventory and make absolutely sure that they were genuine followers of Jesus Christ, and not disqualified by their ungodly lives and spiritual lethargy.

“Not Everyone Who Says…”

Jesus warned that at the Day of Judgment He would tell some professing believers who claimed to do great wonders in His name that He did not know them, and command all those who had practiced lawless, amoral lives to depart from Him. The implication here is unmistakable; not all who identify with Jesus and claim to be His disciples have truly been transformed from darkness to light through the new birth. Their continually lawless living was certain evidence that the miracle of grace had never been a part of their experience. What they thought they were and what they truly were, were two very different things.

The reason that no physical act can ever guarantee salvation is simple: salvation is not a physical event; it is a spiritual one. It is summed up by the word “believe.” We find numerous references to believing being linked to salvation:

  1. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).
  2. “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:26).
  3. “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:29).
  4. “Having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Ephesians 1:13).


Without question, believing on Jesus Christ is the Biblical way of salvation. Martin Luther discovered this and his “faith alone in Christ alone” preaching revolutionized the church of his day. Unfortunately, some have seen this belief as a dry intellectual belief, divorced from passion, divorced from life-transformation, divorced from repentance, divorced from obedience, and essentially divorced from God. In their minds there is no reason to look for or expect change. Simple dry, cold, lifeless acknowledgment is all that matters. Just like one might believe that George Washington was the first president of the United States, without having any particular feelings toward him, knowing almost nothing of the kind of man he was, or the life he lived, some have concluded that if we can repeat the words “Jesus is the Son of God” in a prayer, regardless of what we know of Christ, whether we love Him, whether we ever intend to serve and follow Him, whether we ever intend to change our ways or attitudes, we are given a free ticket to heaven.

The Real Faith

But the Biblical concept of belief which produces eternal life is far more than that. It is white-hot in its intensity and reflects a spiritual warming of the heart toward the Lord Jesus; not a cold, lifeless mechanical formula or the acquisition of one more intellectual fact by the memory. And this belief always is associated with repentance – a change of mind that leads to a change of lifestyle.

Let us consider a man who is a raging diabetic, and who has terrible eating habits. He stuffs himself every day with doughnuts, white bread products, and sugar-laden snack cakes. His blood sugar is through the roof, his eyesight is failing, his circulation is terrible, and his liver is barely functioning. He reads a book about reversing diabetes, which relates numerous studies, clinical trials, and case histories all which prove two points – that diabetics 1) must give up on all forms of sugar and white bread products, and 2) should focus on eating healthy fats and low-carb vegetables. The man puts the book down after reading it and is in a state of shock. It turns out that his dietary lifestyle was absolutely the worst thing he could do for his condition, and it is killing him.

Suppose a friend comes over, sees the book on the table, and asks the man if he believes the book. The man answers in the affirmative. Then the friend asks him, “If you really believe this book, raise your hand in the air.” The man raises his hand. Then his friend announces, “If you really, really believe this book get out of your chair and come and sit in the chair on your porch!” The man promptly gets up, walks to his porch, and sits in the chair. Then his friend declares, “Now if you really, really, really believe this book, get a glass of water and pour it over your head.” Without hesitation, the man gets a glass of water and pours it over his head.

So, is this man a true believer? Well, maybe or maybe not. But all he has done so far does not reveal the answer to that. Just because he raised his hand in the air, moved from one chair to another, and poured some water on his head may or may not indicate genuine belief in what he read. What would prove the man is a true believer? The answer is, of course, a change in the man’s diet. If he gives up all his white bread foods, snack cakes, and doughnuts, and starts making healthy fats and low carb vegetables his primary diet, then you can be certain that he not only heard the message, but really, really, really believed it. A transformed life is evidence of a living, vibrant, warm faith.

Transformed by Christ

And so it is with the faith in Jesus Christ that saves and produces eternal life. If your faith is the real deal, if it is 100 percent genuine, you cannot remain the same. You will stop your lying, stealing, and sexual immorality, and will begin to live a life of self-control, compassion, gentleness, and patience. The God-breathed, God-enabled faith inside you will carry you places you could never have gone in your own strength.

There is always an element of surrender mixed and mingled with this faith. There is a spiritual receptivity to Jesus, and that receptivity produces a willingness to obey the Lord. It cannot be seen. It may come simultaneously with water baptism or when one prays a sinner’s prayer or when one walks to the front at an evangelistic event. But we cannot see its appearance, and therefore we never really know who is being saved and who is not. Nor can we assume that we ourselves are guaranteed a place in heaven until we have examined ourselves and found that we are “in the faith.” John writes that “Whoever is born of God overcomes the world.” Not, “he that signs a card,” or “he that raises a hand,” or “he that repeats a certain prayer,” but “he that is born of God” will overcome the world. John the Baptist, the first baptizer, worried that his “converts” were submitting to baptism but remained unchanged in heart, and he demanded, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance!”

Faith in Christ Alone

It is not that physical acts are unimportant or unhelpful. It was Jesus, after all, who instituted the practice of baptism. And I always invite sinners to come forward in our African crusades and pray with me to receive Jesus. Often, in taking a physical step which demonstrates commitment to Jesus, faith is strengthened. But we can never trust in that physical act. Nor should we Christians be so presumptuous as to say that at a particular meeting, a specific number of people were saved. God alone knows that.

Belief in Christ is of the heart, and surrender to Jesus is always a spiritual event. And, at least from time to time, it would be good for us to examine ourselves and see whether we are truly in the faith. It is not necessary that we see perfection, but we should see a conscience eager to please the Lord, and a life free from flagrant sin. Most of all we should see a love for Jesus, the One who said, “If you love Me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

 

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