T. A. McMahon
The objective of this two-part series is to stress the critical necessity of knowing and living out the fundamentals of biblical Christianity. As was noted in part one, not knowing the essential teachings of “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” raises serious questions and creates a host of problems for all who profess to be Christians.
Questions will arise, such as: “What do I believe or need to believe that would qualify me to receive the free gift of eternal life with Jesus Christ?” Since there are numerous diverse, not to mention contradictory, beliefs that are said to be Christian, this series is focusing on biblical Christianity, meaning that which is true to God’s Word regarding one’s faith and practice.
The gospel, as noted last month, is first and foremost. What follows for the one who has received the gospel by faith alone is the act of living it out in his or her life. No one is saved except by grace, and no one can live his life in a way that is fruitful and pleasing to Jesus—except by grace. Ephesians:2:8-10: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it [salvation] is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto [not “by means of”] good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” God’s grace is administered through the Holy Spirit to everyone who puts his faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins—which Jesus covered—past, present, and future. Once that takes place, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within every believer (John:14:16-17) and enables him or her to live according to the teachings of God’s Word.
The life of a Christian is a miraculous affair. It is neither by one’s own might nor one’s own power but “by My Spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah:4:6).
So, what exactly does the Holy Spirit supply for the believer in our Lord and Savior? That, of course, would take far more space than this article could supply. Romans chapter eight, however, gives us a number of things to consider. The Holy Spirit enables us to walk not after the flesh; to be spiritually minded; to experience life and peace; to please God; to experience His righteousness; to mortify the deeds of the body; to be led of the Spirit; to end our bondage to fear; to be helped in our infirmities; to aid us in our prayer life; to know the will of God, and to know that He makes intercession for us.
All of those things are truly wonderful, but if I were to select one verse in that chapter that encourages us in these days of rampant uncertainty among Christians, both those who are young in the faith and the older ones alike, it would be verse 16: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” In times when our confidence wanes regarding our relationship with the Lord and His promises seem distant, it’s a blessing to know that the Holy Spirit is there to confirm the fact that we are indeed God’s children, and Jesus will never leave us nor forsake us! (Hebrews:13:5)
As God’s children, the Holy Spirit enables our lives to be fruitful: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” And without His enablement, none of those virtues have eternal value.
Regarding the theme of these two articles, which again is getting back to biblical basics, the process of hearing, understanding, and believing the gospel is primary. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans:10:17). “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John:5:20). “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” (John:5:24).
Without a biblical understanding of the gospel, a person has no true basis for choosing to be saved. How can he know why he needs to be saved? Or know what he is being saved from? What of the consequences of being eternally separated from God? What of the horror of having to dwell in the blackness of darkness forever? What about suffering the vengeance of eternal fire? What of the Lake of Fire, where those who have rejected the gospel are tormented day and night forever and ever?
These conditions are part of the penalty for sin (which Jesus paid in full for all mankind). That knowledge is significant when one has to make a choice regarding where he will spend eternity.
One’s choice also involves knowing what a person is saved for. Jesus Christ Himself suffered the punishment for the sins of humanity so that all who accept His payment for their sins will live in His presence forever. That involves living in a place where sin cannot enter. It’s a place where righteousness, joy, and peace abound and where there is no death, no sorrow, no pain, no tears.
Everyone’s temporal life consists of making choices. Some are of little significance while others, such as schools to attend, career decisions, marriage plans, where to live, home and auto purchases—all of these may have an impact on one’s life,and possibly even a major one. It’s rare that these matters are not given a great deal more consideration, because the outcome of an uninformed choice could have dire consequences.
Most people are aware of that and therefore perform due diligence in order to avoid a bad result. Tragically, however, most people do not apply the same criteria to where they will spend eternity.
What then of those who choose to accept the free gift of eternal life for which Jesus paid and that He offers to all who put their faith in Him? What is the (and I mean the!) basic, fundamental, and essential component of which a believer’s life in Christ must consist?
The answer is love.
How fundamental is love in a Christian’s life? There is nothing that a born-again Christian can do that has any eternal value whatsoever when love is not both the primary motivator and major ingredient.
That being true—which it is, according to the Word of God—why is it not being actually taught (rather than vaguely referred to) throughout Christendom? Why isn’t it central in every sermon preached, including those churches that claim to be Bible-believing?
Perhaps you’re thinking that I’m pushing this particular fundamental concept too hard. Well, in the light of Isaiah’s inspired words, “Come now, and let us reason together” (1:18), let’s start with what the Bible sets forth in its teaching regarding Christianity. It begins, as one would expect, with what Jesus called, “The first of all the commandments…” (Mark:12:29). Adding the second, He declared, “There is none other commandment greater than these.” He seems to be laying the foundation of the faith for those who have committed to following Jesus. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke give slight variations of those commandments, and John supplies more details. The foundation is, of course, love.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus answered one of the scribes, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (12:30-31). Can everyone truly love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength?
I remember a time shortly after I accepted the gospel. I was formerly a Roman Catholic for thirty years. I had never read the Bible, but after being born again, I had an insatiable appetite to do so. At one point, however, I had to stop reading it and became horribly depressed. I had just finished reading Mark:12:30-31 and realized that I couldn’t even obey the “first commandment”! I didn’t love anyone more than myself—not my parents, not my sisters, not my wife, and certainly not God!
In a serious panic, I called my then new-friend-in-the-Lord, Dave Hunt. After describing in detail my emotional distress, there was what seemed to me like an unending silence on his part of the line.
His response shocked me. He exclaimed, “Praise the Lord!!” He then went on to explain that no one in and by himself can obey that commandment. It can only be accomplished by the Holy Spirit working in us and through us. That was when I first learned that my life in Christ, or anyone else’s life in Him, must be a miraculous endeavor. It also helped me to recognize the futility of my former Catholic years of self-efforts and works-salvation.
Dave made some thought-provoking points about the first and great commandment—points that may be found in our TBC archives: “If loving God with one’s whole being is the greatest commandment, then not to do so must be the greatest sin—indeed, the root of all sin. How is it, then, that loving God, without which all else is but ‘sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal’ (1 Corinthians:13:1), is not even found in the course lists of our theological seminaries? How can it be that this ‘first and great[est] commandment’ is so neglected in the church?
“The sad truth is that among today’s evangelicals, it is not loving and esteeming God but self-love and self-esteem that are presented as the pressing need! To love God with our whole heart, and our neighbors as ourselves, is not something we can produce by self-effort. Love for our fellows must be the expression of God’s love in our hearts; nor can we love God except by coming to know Him as He is.”
Dave continued, “Most of us have an all-too-shallow knowledge of God. Nor can our love for Him grow except from a deepening appreciation of His love for us—an appreciation that must include two extremes: 1) God’s infinite greatness; and 2) our sinful, wretched unworthiness.
“That He, who is so high and holy, would stoop so low to redeem unworthy sinners supremely reveals and demonstrates His love. Such an understanding is the basis of our love and gratitude in return and will be the unchanging theme of our praise throughout all eternity in His glorious presence.”
He added, “There can be no doubt that the clearer one’s vision of God becomes, the more unworthy one feels, and thus the more grateful for His grace and love. Such has always been the testimony of men and women of God. Job cried out to God, ‘I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor [hate] myself, and repent in dust and ashes’” (Job:42:5-6).
“Isaiah likewise lamented, ‘Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts’ (Isaiah:6:5).” Such recognition of their sin and unworthiness did not decrease but enhanced the saints’ love for God and appreciation of His grace. The more clearly we see the infinite chasm between God’s glory and our sinful falling short thereof (Romans:3:2), the greater will be our appreciation of His grace and love in bridging that gulf to redeem us. And the greater our appreciation of His love for us, the greater will be our love for Him.
Remember the woman who washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and dried them with her hair? We’re told that she loved much because her many sins were forgiven.
Most of us are probably familiar with 1 John:4:19: “We love him, because he first loved us.”
I used to think this meant that the Holy Spirit just zapped us with God’s love and gave us the ability to love Him when we became believers. That’s true to a degree, but loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength has to do with our personal, intimate relationship with Him. Although it’s a commandment—and to fulfill it God’s grace must certainly be involved—it’s also a personal act on the believer’s part. My “heart” has to be given to Jesus.
Solomon wrote, “My son, give me thine heart...” (Proverbs:23:26). That’s what a love relationship with our Lord and Savior is all about. It’s a willful action on a believer’s part. So, how do we grow in loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Obedience must be included. Jesus said in John:14:23, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” Yet, I believe 1 John:4:19 sets the course—at least it has for me. “We love Him, because He first loved us.”
Think back to the last time you received communion (hopefully not too long ago) in obedience to His ordinance for remembering His atoning sacrifice for us. The more we remember and meditate upon what He has done for us, how could we not love Him more? And that’s just one aspect of knowing Him. The better we know Him through His Word, the more His love for us becomes clearer to us.
My prayer is that we all will be led to revisit the biblical basics, beginning with the gospel, and thereby deepening our understanding of the “good news” as well as our ability to explain and share it with whomever the Lord gives us the opportunity to do so.
For those who have only a vague understanding regarding what it means to be saved, I pray the Holy Spirit will bring them to an assurance of their salvation through knowing without a doubt what they believe and why they believe it. Being unsure of the clear and uncomplicated gospel is not something to be taken lightly. It may be an indication of whether or not one who professes to know Jesus is truly saved.