This page is being written to a very specific group of people: those of us who have called on the name of Jesus for salvation, who try to live in obedience to His Word, and who deeply desire to share that wonderful gift of salvation with the lost and dying world around us.
To share the gospel is not just a nice idea, or a good thing, it is the last command Jesus gave his followers before He ascended into heaven:
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
For the true followers of Jesus, spreading the good news of the salvation message is not an option, it is a commandment to be obeyed. But one thing I think we have to be very careful about is the way we present the gospel. The "Roman Road" or "A-B-Cís Of Salvation" and other such methods are fine teaching tools, to help us get started. However, it is of eternal importance to remember there is more to salvation than merely saying a few words or praying the "sinnerís prayer". Yes, it is a free gift, and yes, it does not depend on what we ourselves do, but instead on what Jesus did, but certain elements have to be present in order for there to be true salvation.
We know that no one comes to the Lord unless the Father first draws him. John†6:44 says:
"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day."
So first and foremost, there must be that drawing, that tug at the personís heartstrings, that conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit, that indicates that a person is ready to receive the gospel. If such is not present, then all we are doing is in vain. Psalm 127:1(a) says:
"Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it."
The presence and power of the Holy Spirit must be evident, in order to effectively lead someone to the Lord. Without the Holy Spirit, we are just wasting our time.
Second, There must be genuine repentance for there to be salvation. Salvation requires not just the recitation of some words, but a humble spirit and contrite heart. Ps†34:18 tells us:
"The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit."
We see in Scripture that first John the Baptist, and then Jesus, and the Apostle Peter after Him, all preached not merely baptism, but REPENTANCE for remission of sin. (see Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 13:3; 13:5; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30; 26:20)
There is some confusion as to what constitutes true repentance. Repentance is not merely being sorry for oneís sin. Some people are only sorry because they got caught! No, the original Greek word "metanoeo" (met-an-o-eh'-o) means to think differently, i.e. to reconsider (morally, feel compunction).
Genuine repentance means that our thinking is changed; that we first thought one way, (our own sinful way) but now we begin to think Godís way. It means a change in our thoughts, attitudes and actions. It means turning around, going the opposite direction; we once were lost in sin and going toward destruction, but when we repent, we turn around, give up our sin, and go toward eternal life. It is not a matter of Ďturning over a new leafí, or something we do by our own power. It is the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
The matter of genuine repentance is an important difference. If we are so anxious to lead someone to the Lord that we leave out that part, we are doing that person, as well as the kingdom of God, more harm than good. Remember the dire warning Jesus gave to the scribes and Pharisees:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves. (Matt.†23:15)
Why do you suppose Jesus was so harsh in condemning false witnessing and proselytizing? Well, think of it as an vaccination. A vaccination is a tiny dose of the real thing, only with all the power removed, that keeps you from getting the real thing. For example, the polio vaccine is a real dose of polio, but with it's power removed. That means it can no longer cause the disease, but still keeps you from getting the disease.
A false profession is the very same thing. It is a small dose of the real thing, but with all the power of the Holy Spirit removed. And itís just enough to keep someone from getting the real thing. Thus we make someone worse off than they were before, because at least before, they knew there was something they needed, but now they think they are covered.
The sign of true repentance leading to salvation is the matter of conversion, or a changed life, due to the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his followers, in Matt.†18:3:
"And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
Conversion, or a change in oneís life, is evidence of true salvation. (also see Matt 13:15; Mark 4:12; Luke 22:32; John 12:40; Acts 3:19; Acts 28:27) The end result is a new person, with a new attitude, and a new way of living:
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (II Cor.†5:17)
The Bible also says we will know true salvation by itís fruits. Jesus said:
"Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (Mt†7:17, 20)
"Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance" (Luke†3:8a)
It should truly worry us when someone claims to be "saved", but continues to live the same way they did before their salvation experience. Only God can see a person's heart, of course, and certainly, none of us are perfect, or without sin. But to continue on in the same old patterns, with no visible evidence of a changed heart, should cause us to wonder, and worry, and make every effort to make certain that they really do know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
I believe indeed in the eternal security of the believer: "once saved, always saved", if you must put it like that. I prefer "once saved, always saved, if you were truly saved". I am terribly afraid there are way too many people today who think they are eternally secure because they have said some words or prayed a sinnerís prayer, but just like the vaccination, they do not have the real thing. There was no genuine repentance, there was no genuine conversion, there is no fruit in their life indicating true salvation.
We are commanded by our Lord and Savior to witness to a lost and dying world around us, sharing the gospel message and offering them the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. However, we need to be very careful, we need to make very sure, that there has been a genuine conversion, a genuine salvation experience. We donít want to "vaccinate" them, giving them just enough of a dose that they never catch the real thing. Remember these warnings of our Savior, to those who only think they are saved:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matt.†7:21-23)