I’m Saved, but I’m not Getting any Better! (PH)

By Paul Hayden. 

Here’s a question: What’s the minimum amount of doctrine we need to know in order to be saved to eternal life? 

Do we need to believe in the Trinity, perhaps?

To join the unbiblical, ecumenical World Council of Churches, we do. Unitarians are excluded. Every other theological position under the sun is accepted, but to not believe in the Trinity isn’t. Belief in the Trinity is somehow seen as the ultimate litmus test of being a Christian, and everyone else, even simply those who admit they don’t quite understand the concept, is classed as an heretic.

Do we need to believe a creed, perhaps?

Many churches think so. In fact one of the orthodox creeds of the early church, the Athanasian Creed, states precisely that. To be fair on Athanasius, I don’t think he wrote it, it’s simply based on his theology with regards the doctrine of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. So the theology is good. But, without quoting it in full because it’s quite long, the words below are the ones that bother me:

“1 Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith; 2 Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. 3 And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;.... [then follows a lengthy definition of the Trinity]....

28 He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. 29 Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 30 For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man.... [then follows a lengthy definition of the orthodox view on the being of Christ]... 

44 This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.”

But the thief on the cross never believed any of this. I didn’t believe any of this when I became a Christian. I only came to an understanding on these things later. You don’t have to believe all this to be saved, correct doctrine though it is.

The film “The DaVinci Code” opened my eyes to this issue. (It didn’t open my eyes to anything else. Don’t watch it, it’s rubbish). At one point in the film it is argued that, one day Christ was not God, and the next day (after the Nicene Creed had been passed by the Ecumenical Council) Christ was God. But the passing of a creed in some ecumenical council somewhere, does not define the truth. Christ always was God, whether anybody believed it, or dogmatised it in a creed, or not.  

Assertion of a creed does not determine who is saved to eternal life and who isn’t. In Islam, it does. All you have to say is, “Allah is the one true God, and Mohammed is his messenger,” and you’re a Muslim. That’s their creed. Just say the words. It’s not like that at all in Christianity.

So, do we need to believe the gospel, then?

Surely we do. Surely Paul’s answer to the Philippian jailor is our minimum requirement 

Acts 16:31

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved... 

Well, that’s the gospel message that we are called to send to the ends of the earth. Let’s tell people that message. The proclamation of that message is the normal means God uses to bring people to Himself, although He’s free to bypass those means if He so wishes. But what do we actually need to know in our minds, in order to be saved 

Do we need to know:

– that Christ died for sin?

– that I must repent and exercise faith in Christ in order to be saved?

– that Christ died on the cross as a substitutionary atonement to take away sin?

– that Christ died for me personally?

– that Christ atoning sacrifice on the cross is the alone and sufficient sacrifice for our sin, without anything of our own, either in whole or in part being at all added to it? 

Do we need to know one of these, some of these, or all of these, in order to be saved? How much do we actually need to know 

The answer to that question is actually.... nothing! 

But, surely we at least need to know about Christ, his atoning work, and put our trust in Him for our salvation? Well, hang on a minute, let me explain. 

To be saved to eternal life, there’s only one criterion:

John 3:7

Ye must be born again.

We must be born again by the Spirit of God. 

John 3:3

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

We need the Lord to give us a new heart:

2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 

Ezekiel 36:26

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. 

The Bible is quite clear that we are saved by grace alone:

Ephesians 2:8,9

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. 

2 Timothy 1:9

Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. 

Titus 3:4-7

But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Jonah 2:9

Salvation is of the Lord. 

John 6:44

No man can come to me [Christ], except the Father which hath sent me draw him.

The gospel call is a call to repent and believe in Christ. So, yes, we must respond to it. In order to do that, we need repentance and faith. But the Bible tells us that these are gifts of God:

Ephesians 2:8

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.

Acts 11:18

Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.

We can’t whip these attributes up from within ourselves. We need to be born again by the Holy Spirit first. Only then can we receive and exercise faith and repentance. Only then can we respond to the gospel call.

So, does this mean that we can all just sit back in our armchairs and do nothing, thinking that if God wants to save us, He will, but if not, that’s just the way it is? Of course not. God forbid that we should think that way! People use that idea as an excuse not to bother with the things of God at all.

The least we can do is realise our inability to respond, be bothered by it, and cry to God to grant us these gifts, even though we don’t deserve them. We can only smite upon our breast and cry:

Luke 18:13

God be merciful to me, a sinner. 

Even if God won’t hear us and we end up in hell-fire for ever, that’s just what we deserve anyway, so God won’t have done anything wrong to ignore our cry. But the Bible tells us that He is a merciful God and that He does save sinners. That’s marvellous, and what’s more, it’s the only hope we’re ever going to have.

Am I saying then, that it is possible to come to salvation without knowing anything about the Lord Jesus Christ? What about people who practice other religions? Can they be saved even though they never come into contact with the truth in any way? Again, I say, God forbid! Ordinarily, the Lord uses means, and causes all those who are going to be saved to come into contact with the truth somehow. Whether it’s contact with the Bible itself, or a tract or a gospel meeting or a church or a Christian or anything else.  

We Christians must concentrate on going where the Lord sends us, and not worry about others elsewhere. At one stage, the apostle Paul was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go to Asia:

Acts 16:6-7

Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not.

Does that mean God didn’t want those in Asia to be saved? No! At that specific time He wanted Paul to go to Macedonia instead. Paul himself went to Ephesus later, and by the time John wrote the book of Revelation there were at least seven churches in Asia (eight if you count Colossae). So God did have a plan for Asia, but He always makes the best use of His resources. Which means, wherever He sends us, it won’t be a waste of time. God will make sure that all His elect will come into contact with the truth, through which He can then work to bring them to Himself. 

What I am trying to get across is that it is not what we know that saves us, neither is it even what we believe, but salvation is only of the Lord. Many people have been to church for years, and know their Bibles backwards, but they’re not saved. Only when the Lord regenerates their heart does the truth of the Scriptures, that they may have known for many years, come alive for them. We can do nothing to attain this new birth for ourselves, it’s a gift of God. Neither our faith, nor our understanding, can help get us to heaven, otherwise we could boast that we did something our neighbour didn’t do, namely have faith, or understand the Scriptures better. No, no, no. Salvation is of the Lord alone. We learn everything else later. 

The Word of God is living and powerful: 

Hebrews 4:12

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 

The Word of God has power to regenerate hearts: 

Psalm 19:7

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.... 

But after we’ve been born again in the heart, the Scriptures become even more important to us. Christ prayed to the Father: 

John 17:17

Sanctify them [i.e. his disciples] through thy truth: thy word is truth. 

This is the reason we need to stay close to the Word of God for as long as we’re in this world. We’re made right with God by grace through faith alone, but we’re sanctified - set apart for the Lord’s use - through the truth, the Scriptures. 

It’s here that we learn about the doctrine of the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, and every other truth the Lord has revealed to men. And if we’ve been born-again, we’ll not only learn truth with our minds, but we’ll know it for sure in our hearts. And that in turn will change us from the inside, because the Bible is living and powerful. 

But, the Bible is also a book which anyone can read, so it is also possible for those without a new heart, unaided by the Holy Spirit, to know some correct doctrine in their minds. But just knowing the truth can’t change anybody. We can say we believe in all the orthodox creeds and all the orthodox doctrines we like, and mean it, and still go to hell in the end. Only after we’ve been born again do the Scriptures truly come alive to us. 

Sanctification is our being more and more set apart from this world, unto the Lord. But many Christians make a mistake by thinking that sanctification is me “every day in every way getting better and better.” They think that as we mature in the faith, we really become better and better people as a result. I’m a lot better than I was, say, ten years ago. 

But I find in myself that this is just not true. Try as much as I can, even with the Lord’s help, I’m still not getting better and better. In fact I feel I’m getting worse. Well, I’m in good company. The apostle Paul said: 

Romans 7:14-26

I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. 

This is not a description of Paul before his conversion to Christ, because there was no battle going on at all in his soul then. No. It’s a description of the truly converted Christian, with the spiritual battle against the flesh continually going on within him until he dies. 

Our proper understanding of this, will lead us to realise that we’re not getting better and better at all. But rather we’re coming to see our sin more and more, sin that was always there but we didn’t see it at first. Our very need of Christ then becomes clearer and clearer as we grow in the faith. 

I’m just as much a totally depraved sinner in need of Christ the second before I die as I was the second after I was conceived, even though, in between, I’ve been born-again and had a new heart put within me. If for one moment I was getting better and better, it would mean that I’m in need of Christ less and less, which can’t be true.

Christ said of Himself:

John 17:19

And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.

Christ said that He sanctified Himself, who was altogether perfect and couldn’t possibly get better. Rather, Christ was setting Himself more and more apart from the world, to perform the task He came to do.

And we’re not getting better and better either. We’re becoming more and more set apart from the world and all that is false, in order to live for Christ. But all the time, we’re still the vile sinners that we always were by nature.

Only after death, does sin disappear completely from our lives (what a glorious thing to look forward to!). While we are in this world, we must spend our time, with the Holy Spirit’s help, mortifying the old nature, and nurturing the new. 

We may not be getting any better, but we do grow in two things: 

2 Peter 3:18

....grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

The rate at which we grow in grace is directly proportional to our knowledge of the Scriptures. Only as the Holy Spirit opens the Scriptures to us, do we become more and more set apart to the Christian life. More and more humbled to the dust. More and more able to suffer wrong. More and more desirous to be like Christ. 

Upon having a new heart put within us, our slavery to sin is immediately broken, so anyone with an addiction has hope! It can be broken, if you come to Christ! However, sin itself will still be there. We have our bondage to sin broken, but we still need victory over individual temptations as they present themselves to us. The drunkard can have his habit broken if he comes to Christ, but it would still be a good idea for him to avoid the pub. 

The more Scripture we understand, as we mature in the faith, the more weapons we have in our armoury, as we fight the world, the flesh and the devil. Overcoming sin does not become easier, but the weaponry at our disposal increases in the constant battle that we have against our spiritual enemies – a war which won’t end, until we rest and go to be with Christ, which is far better.

One day, in heaven, there’ll be no more need for the Bible. Sin will have gone from our lives completely. There will be no more need of setting ourselves apart; we will be apart from our enemies for ever, as they all get thrown into hell-fire and we don’t. But while we are here on this earth now, we need the Word of God, for our sanctification: 

Romans 12:2

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.