When looking back at my conversion to Christianity, the message was hard. The fundamental message that we are saved by grace through faith alone itched in my brain for quite a long time. The message in its entirety, when looking at the Gospel is this; “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a results of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV). In my life I had been taught that nothing is free, we work for what we have, and we repay those who give us gifts. Furthermore, dependence upon another was quite off putting, especially as a “free-thinking”, non-conformist, anti-theist. This message was hard because it is too simple and this is where things, ironically, became difficult. While being a disciple of Christ has a high cost, and it brings about a hard life, the initial moment of salvation is hard to believe because of its simplicity.
In Galatians we can see a similar mentality coming upon those late observers of second temple Judaism as they were brought salvation through Christ’s work. These Christians in Galatia were saved by their faith, but later resorted to the law for salvation. It makes sense to me and we see heresies built off of this mentality all of the time, as sometimes legalism seems easier. While my statement, “sometimes legalism seems easier” may raise some questions from my readers; I digress, as the purpose of this is not to go into a theological exhortation on justification, but just to share the shift that occurs through the process of sanctification.
My first thoughts consist of the fact that I wish that I had reached out to someone and requested that they teach me whenever I first converted, because not only did I take a hard-path, I was on it alone. This brings up a topic of discipleship that needs to be taken more seriously across churches and I mean true discipleship. I’ll have to dive into that some other time as well. While my path was hard I, by the grace of God, remained on a biblical path.
My second thought is that we are misled by people as to what saving faith is, and I believe that some Christians hold tight to a certain misconception and run with it. I would actually argue that a lot of Christians might hold onto this misconception because it is an easy way to avoid apologetics and carry on. The misconception I am talking about is that saving faith is solely believing that Christ exists or even God exists. While believing that Christ and God exist is a prerequisite of sorts, this is not the faith that saves. When looking at scripture it is worth noting that scripture has always presupposed the existence of God and likewise, since the New Testament begins with eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ life, it presupposed the existence of Jesus. In fact, the bible makes it clear that the world is filled with God’s glory and that those who don’t believe in God are foolish and they are without excuse. James 2:19 in the King James Version makes it quite clear, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” This is to say that mere belief in God does little to nothing and this doesn’t even begin touching on some of the misguided beliefs regarding God himself.
Some may read this and think, “I don’t believe this is the misconception”, but ask any “cultural” or “hereditary” Christian and it becomes clear that their acknowledgement of Jesus’ existence is what confirms them safe in their own mind. This explains the lack of knowledge of sin and therefore repentance, which are completely necessary for salvation. Such a misconception also explains those who simply take the message as a “get out of hell-free card”, ignoring warnings of sin and engaging in sin without remorse. Lastly, this also explains progressive Christianity, which is a product of this cultural and hereditary Christianity. Progressive Christianity (not to be confused with politics) begins on the premise that the bible is not the authority in the Christian life and these Christians literally pick and choose what doctrines to believe because of that. This includes dogmatic teachings such as the deity of Christ. While I could spend time on this topic I must fight the urge. However, I must admit that the attendance to church pre-millennials in regards to cultural or hereditary Christianity is interesting. The growth of progressive and new age Christianity, though, has seemingly sent millennials to a place where church is not important or relevant for their cherry picked doctrines.
If faith is not the mere belief in the existence of Christ than what is it? Firstly the faith the bible speaks on is faith in who Jesus is and the works he accomplished. Whenever I was sitting in my apartment, I had confirmed that the historical evidence was clear regarding the person of Jesus Christ despite all the myths circulating (curtsey of the internet). It was also clear to me that, according to the bible, my knowledge of Christ’s existence would not bring me salvation. My acknowledgment was left to whether or not I believed that Jesus was who he said he was, what his mission was, and whether or not he accomplished that mission. Notice what John says in his Gospel regarding the purpose of his account, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). It is not a matter of believing he existed but that he is the Christ and the Son of God. John’s letter focuses on showing who Christ is in order that we can believe and confirm such.
For many of you, this is old news, but carry on with me a bit here. In the New Testament the word that represents the idea of faith is “pisteuo”. It firstly means, “to believe what someone says, to accept a statement as true.” The second is “personal trust as distinct from mere credence or belief”. Both of these are necessary, and the latter will produce the works that James speaks about. This can be illustrated (I think) with me saying to someone “I’m a good driver” and them responding, “oh I believe you!” But later that same person refuses to ride with me because they don’t trust me. While this may be a fall-apart analogy I think you understand where I am going with it. Simply put without the trust there is no saving faith and this is where a lot of self-proclaiming Christians lack. Trust in the work of Christ and what he accomplished changes everything. Of course, though, there is also an imperative truth in sin, God’s holiness, and repentance that we must first truly understand to trust in Christ. We can believe that Christ died for our sins, but until we really know what that implies, it does nothing for us.
After conversion, the initial conversion or commonly known as being born-again, there are “conversions”. I personally find the term confusing, but basically since the Christian life is a series of conviction, repentance, trust, and action (very condensed here) we hit these “conversions”. I prefer to call them growth spurts. If you’re saved you might actually be able to recall these spurts and I don’t know about you, but I can accurately judge when I’m about to go through one, it is almost like God is saying, “hold on bubba, it is going to get bumpy.” These spurts, where our faith increases, are where our trust increases as well. In the beginning of our journey some of us only have but the faith of a mustard seed (Mathew 17:20), and it still is moving those mountains in our lives. The more mountains that are moving out of our way, the more clear the path becomes and traveling becomes easier. When you bear your cross and follow Christ, and those mountains start moving out of your way, the glory of God shines brighter and brighter. Finally, this is going back to the point, the shift that occurs through the process of sanctification. These small instances of trusting in God and thus submitting to God’s will are enough to push us closer to being bigger instances of trust. Just a mustard seed of submitting to God’s will in faith will move one of those mountains!
All of this then brings me back to Ephesians and the “hard message”. It is both a very simple and very hard message to receive, but as we move forward and move mountains on our path, it becomes easier and more natural. Let me take a look here and break down this one verse:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a results of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV).
Right in the beginning of this truth we are hit with a roadblock, “by grace”. I don’t know about you but receiving an undeserved gift is difficult for a multitude of reasons, but as we grow in Christ we not only accept this grace, but also look forward to more of God’s grace (not limited to his mercy) and realize that we need it. Trust in Christ’s work then, faith, is easily identifiable as difficult, but this faith grows through giving a little more trust at a time and the receiving of more grace! This is actually simple to realize because in the same way you gain trust in another person. It is a relationship with Christ and sometimes trust must grow especially for the skeptical types like myself. The joy, though, can be found in knowing that you will never learn that your trust is misplaced because God is faithful! “Not your own doing”, which again goes back to our views of self reliance, independence and ties up with the end, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” I could go off on “so that no one may boast” for quite sometime, but for the purpose of this post, I move on.
The difficulty of not being the cause of your salvation is frustrating and we trick ourselves into thinking that we cannot know whether or not we are saved then since we cannot earn it. This is a mystery to me, but I think about a paycheck, unless we work we won’t get paid. I think we view salvation in a similar light. Not only is not being the cause of your salvation a freedom, but in fact, we can have real assurance of salvation through this truth. To put it simply once you truly accept such a truth, you will begin to thank God that it isn’t up to you because you could never earn your salvation. It takes some time to realize that you could never earn your own salvation, and that realization, I believe, comes from looking at the holiness of God (Isaiah chapter six anyone?). What does that do? Well… that deeper realization that you could never earn your salvation grows into more dependence and trust in God, which then produces more growth. It certainly isn’t a formula, but there is a pattern to be found.
In the end of this “rambling” I want to say that it simply gets easier as you become more mature in your walk. Your new life becomes easier to put on and it becomes more natural. All it takes is trust and abiding in the word. Soak in the Gospels as much as you can, read through scripture as much as you can, and give over some more trust each week/day/hour. And, pray, pray, pray! Take it from someone who had a slow start, at least from my perspective. Connect with someone who is mature in the faith and have him or her help you! Let someone keep you accountable, let someone push you to move towards God, and teach you. To that, always remember that scripture comes first in light of discipleship, as we are firstly Christ’s disciples.
Take all of this as hope as you push through whatever mountains are blocking your path. I’ve tried climbing over those mountains myself, but I will tell you, it is not easy carrying your cross over that mountain. Instead, move it with your trust and hope in God.
Luke 9:23, “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”