Salvation Is…!dI very seldom listen to the radio anymore while I am driving. In my opinion, there isn’t much to listen to. This includes contemporary Christian radio.

Maybe this is a sign I am getting old, but the rhythms and rhymes (or the lack thereof) don’t appeal to me as they once did. I am leaning back towards the old hymns, especially those that came out of the periods of the Reformation and the Great Awakening.

However, there are a couple of songs on the radio that speak to the theme of what I have been trying to convey in my blog over these last few weeks. The title of the first song is “More than Anything,” sung by Natalie Grant. Here is the chorus…

Help me want the Healer more than the healing
Help me want the Savior more than the saving
Help me want the Giver more than the giving
Help me want you Jesus more than anything

A second song is “First,” by Lauren Daigle. Even though I am a great fan of Lauren Daigle, I don’t care that much for the music of this particular song. Yet the message clearly expresses the sentiment that should be foremost in the heart of everyone who calls himself Christian.

Before I bring my need, I will bring my heart
Before I lift my cares, I will lift my arms
I wanna know You, I wanna find You
In every season, In every moment
Before I bring my need, I will bring my heart and seek You

The chorus ends, “More than anything I want, I want You first.”

For most people – at least in my generation (Boomers) – the primary message of the gospel is escaping the wrath of God, being delivered from the wages of sin, avoiding hell and walking on streets of gold.

The primary message of today’s gospel – and the primary emphasis of modern evangelism – seems to be about Me, Me, Me…and what I get from salvation or what I avoid by being saved.

We have made the primary emphasis of salvation about the gifts and not about the Giver, about being saved instead of about the Savior. Most will encourage the new convert to be baptized, join a local fellowship of Christians, and get involved in the ministry of a local church, but very few evangelism programs invite or call people to abandon their own lives and join the work of the kingdom.

Personally, I have never heard of an evangelism program that talked of dying to self, taking up one’s cross, and following Jesus all the way to death. It seems we fear that, if we tell the prospect the truth about following Christ, he will likely never confess Christ as Lord, never “invite Jesus into his heart,” and never get saved out of fear of the consequences.

Yet the invitation of Christ is all about dying, taking up, and following.

Luke 14:26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple… 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

I have heard someone else ask, “If you knew that all of the gifts of salvation awaited you in heaven, but God would not be there, would you still want to go?”

For far too many people who call themselves Christian today I believe the answer would be “Yes,” because that is what most people understand about salvation. Most of us who “invited Jesus into our hearts” did not do so because of any desire to magnify God the Father through worship, to demonstrate their love for God the Son through obedience, or to respond to the influence of God the Holy Spirit through surrender.

For too many, the greatest part of salvation is the assurance of a rescue from hell and the promise of an eternity of peace and ecstasy in heaven. This is not their fault, because this is the way they were evangelized and the way they were taught.

Yet among the greatest evidences of our love for God is worship and obedience and surrender. Our love for God is not proven by our profession, but by our practice. Jesus taught this very thing as we read from the gospel of John.

If God were your Father, you would love me…If you love me, you will keep my commandments…Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me…If anyone loves me, he will keep my word…Whoever does not love me does not keep my words…

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love…You are my friends if you do what I command you. [1]

The Apostle John would later write in a letter to the church…

By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. [2]

Salvation, then, is not simply about us receiving gifts to cherish as if it were our birthday or a Christmas morning. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not discounting the gifts that accompany salvation. Rewards are an essential part of the plan of God, but they are not the primary effects of salvation, any more than continued sexual intimacy is the primary goal of a marriage.

Salvation is the means by which fallen humanity, separated from God by their sinful nature, are set free from the bondage of sin, reconciled to God the Father, and made qualified [3] to serve in the ministry of the kingdom of God.

A Second Question

After the previous article, I had a question that relates to this theme of faith and works, or rather salvation and obedience. The question dealt with deathbed confessions and the thief on the cross.

I assume the question came in response to the teaching that God calls us to salvation so that we might be actively involved in the work of the kingdom. That is the meaning of Paul’s message to the church through his letter to Ephesus. (Eph. 2:10)

Obviously, someone who makes a profession of faith during their final days of life can do very little to actively affect the kingdom of God. The same truth applies to the thief on the cross. Yet both professions of faith may be readily effective as testimony to the grace of God in salvation if those who witness them, or learn of them later, continue to share them with others.

The thief’s confession of Jesus as Lord continues to be an effective testimony today as it has been throughout the ages. Almost every study or teaching on the crucifixion of Jesus will certainly include at least a reference to the thief’s confession.

Since they are deceased, those who make deathbed professions of faith, including the thief on the cross, can scarcely live a life that gives continuing testimony to the grace of God. Since they cannot read the word of God, then they are not subject to the exhortation to walk in the same way that Jesus walked – at least, until the day of Resurrection.

The Bible is a living book written “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17) Therefore, God gave the Bible to living people who have made a profession of faith and whose lives either continue or fail to reflect the glory of God. God provided the Bible as the primary resource to equip those who are alive for the good work for which they were saved.

While I would not disparage the profession of faith of a dying person, such a profession does lend support to the belief that the primary understanding of salvation in our culture is that of rescue, not of service. A dying person makes such a profession to make peace with God after living a life in rebellion. Why?

Admittedly, I cannot see into the mind of such a person, and I know that one must judge each case on its own merits. Nevertheless, my heart tells me it is because they fear the wrath of God and hope to avoid it through their confession. I pray that such is the truth.

People will often cite the thief on the cross as the biblical justification for believing in deathbed professions of faith. Yet I believe that the events surrounding the thief on the cross teach a very different lesson. [4]

In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells a parable about a man who hired laborers to work in his vineyard. Let me encourage you to stop now and read that story, either in your own Bible or by clicking on the link above.

Without too much explanation and expounding of the text, I will say that this parable speaks to the sovereignty of God in salvation. He saves whom He wishes to save when He wishes to save them. One may be called into the kingdom very early in life, even before elementary school. Another may be called in midlife. The fact that God may call a person to salvation on their deathbed is His prerogative. “Salvation belongs to the Lord.” [5]

The salvation of the thief on the cross is further evidence of this doctrine. The thief on the cross certainly confessed that Jesus is Lord (Luke 23:42), which aligns with Romans 10:9. However, at least two things had to happen before he could make such a profession. First, the man had to have been called to salvation by God the Father (John 6:44, 65). Secondly, he had to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to make the confession that Jesus is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3). Following these things, Jesus promised that the thief would enter Paradise, thus declaring that the thief was saved (Luke 23:43).

God could have saved this man at any time during his life, but He (God) waited until, in His perfect timing, He could display His sovereign grace in salvation before an entire world. This one act of grace proved the merits of the cross as well as the power of God in salvation.

The thief joined Christ in Paradise on that same day, because his work on earth was done. God saved him “unto good works,” and the thief was obedient.


[1] John 8:42; 14:15,21,23-24; 15:10,14

[2] 1 John 2:3-6; 5:2-3

[3] Col. 1:12 Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet (ESV: qualified us) to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. The word translated “made us meet” means “to make sufficient; to render fit; to equip one with adequate power to perform duties…” It originates from a word meaning worthy. (Strong) Thus the word may also mean “to make worthy.” (Zhodiates) Therefore, salvation first makes us worthy to serve the Lord God, and then empowers us with authority as well strength and ability to complete that service.

[4] Let me encourage you to read an article by Pastor Stephen Cole on the subject of deathbed confessions.

[5] Jonah 2:9; Ps. 3:8; 37:39; 68:20; Rev. 7:10; 19:1

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