Book: By Grace You Have Been Saved— Now What?

Critical to understanding this subject is to realize that God’s salvation is actually a process which takes place over time—over most of one’s lifetime, in fact. As the apostle Paul phrased it, you are “being saved”—present progressive—as long as you abide in the love of God and follow the teachings and example of Christ. “Now I am declaring to you, brethren, the same gospel that I proclaimed to you, which you also received, and in which you are now standing; by which you are also being saved, if you are holding fast the words that I proclaimed to you; otherwise you have believed in vain” (I Cor. 15:1-2; also see I Cor. 1:18).

But there is also a definite point at which a person is “saved”— that is, they have come to be under God’s grace. However—contrary to the false Protestant teaching of “once saved, always saved”—this status is not automatically permanent. As long as the believer remains faithful to God’s way of life and abides in His grace, he or she can be assured of full salvation. As we will see, the process of salvation is ultimately complete only when one is born into the divine family of God as a spirit -composed son or daughter of God.

Directly related to the “process of salvation” is conversion. In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become [a process] as little children [childlike in heart and spirit], there is no way that you shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Peter said, “Therefore, repent and be converted in order that your sins may be blotted out…” (Acts 3:19).

Genuine conversion is so much more than merely “accepting Jesus” or “giving your heart to the Lord.” Conversion means change. It begins with sincere, heartfelt repentance of sin—the transgression of God’s law—and beseeching God for His forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. And while it begins with repentance and baptism, conversion is a process—a lifelong process of change. The entire process of salvation, however, begins with a special, personal calling from God Himself.

Salvation Begins with God’s Calling

Though physical, God has given to every man and woman a human spirit—called the “spirit in man”—which gives life, consciousness and the capacity to think, imagine, plan, and make decisions and choices. Because of this “spirit in man” (Job 32:8; Eccl. 3:21), our minds are able to grasp abstract concepts like mathematics or economics. However, as amazing as the human mind is, we are unable to grasp certain higher spiritual concepts of God necessary for salvation. As Paul wrote, man needs an additional spirit—the Spirit of God: “For who among men understands the things of man except by the spirit of man which is in him? In the same way also, the things of God no one understands except by the Spirit of God” (I Cor. 2:11).

In is through this same Spirit that God the Father personally initiates your calling, spiritually drawing you to Him through Jesus Christ. “No one can come to Me [Christ] unless the Father, Who sent Me, draws him...” (John 6:44). Certain spiritual concepts are revealed by the Spirit of God as He begins to work with your mind and spirit. God begins by enlightening your mind, giving you the desire to seek Him, the desire to understand His way, and the willingness to follow Him.

The Spirit of God—the Spirit of the truth (John 14:17)—brings you to understand the choices God puts before each of us. All have lived the “way of man”—the antithesis of God’s way (Eph. 2:1-3; Isa. 55:8)—the way that seems right, but one that leads to death. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12; also see 16:25). Indeed, “all the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirits.... Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD ponders the hearts” (Prov. 16:2; 21:2). The prophet Jeremiah wrote that the human heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked...” (Jer. 17:9).

In time, as God continues to work with you, you will come to see yourself as God sees you. Ultimately, God will lead you to repentance through His grace. Notice what Paul wrote: “[Do] you despise the riches of His kindness and forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that the graciousness of God leads you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4). It is through God’s grace that you come to see the wickedness of your own human nature—to comprehend the enormity and consequences of your sins—to understand to the depths of your being what sin really is!

Through His grace, God draws you to Christ—giving you faith or belief in Jesus. Where does this belief come from? How is it that you come to believe? The fact is, we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior through God’s grace! Paul refers to the saints as those “who had believed through grace” (Acts 18:27).

Yet, why is it often difficult to choose God’s way? It is because of our carnal minds, the nature all humans are born with. Human nature wants its own way, not God’s way. Humanly, we simply do not want to obey God. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God; neither indeed can it be…. Because the creation was subjected to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who subjected it in hope, in order that the creation itself might be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:7, 20-21).

God subjected humans to a selfish, carnal nature with the hope that—in spite of our natural pulls—we might ultimately choose God’s way, the way to eternal life. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). A few verses later, He summed up for His disciples what that way consists of: “If you love Me, keep the commandments—namely, My commandments” (verse 15). It is the same choice God placed before ancient Israel when He said, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life, so that both you and your seed may live” (Deut. 30:19).

The true Christian makes the deliberate choice to live God’s way when he or she accepts God’s freely given salvation—His underserved grace—through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Repentance and Justification

On the day of Pentecost, Peter said to the crowd, “Repent and be baptized each one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you yourselves shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

Repent of what? Of your old ways of breaking God’s laws— from doing what seemed right in your own eyes. Repent of “dead works” of the flesh (Heb. 6:1; 9:14; Gal. 5:19-21). Repent of living in sin.

But what is “sin”? Too many have only a hazy idea of what defines sin, and therefore don’t really understand what they are to repent of. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth the law, for sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4, KJV). The Bible’s definition of “sin” is the breaking of God’s law. The law of God defines sin and shows people how to live their lives. The ceremonial laws of ancient Israel, or the picky regulations of Pharisaical Judaism, or man-made codes of conduct imposed by corporate church organizations—none have such a spiritual purpose. Only the eternal law of God shows mankind how to live—and thus sin is defined as the breaking of that same law.

True repentance—the prerequisite for the receipt of God’s grace and forgiveness of sin—involves an abhorrence of sin and your complete surrender to God and His way. “ ‘Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do good.... Come now, and let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool’ ” (Isa. 1:16-18). “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:7).

The description of repentance is the same in the New Testament—turn from the way of sin and begin to obey God. James, the brother of Jesus, writes, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded!” (James 4:8). Notice what Paul wrote to the Romans: “[The] hearers [alone] of the law are not just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13).

Paul is not saying that one is justified “by” obedience to the law. He is saying that one cannot be justified if they are unwilling to begin obeying the law. The prerequisite for forgiveness is to turn from transgressing the law—to stop sinning. You cannot be forgiven in your sins while you deliberately continue to commit them; you can only be forgiven for your past sins as you are turning from them. Of course, it is understood that we all sin occasionally—because we are weak and carnal. But the intent of the heart is to not practice sin as a way of life.

When one truly repents of sin before God and asks for His forgiveness, it is only then that the blood of Christ is applied, canceling out the believer’s past sins and paying the debt of the death penalty which had been incurred through sin. John tells us, “[The] blood of Jesus Christ ... cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7). Paul adds, “Not by the blood of goats and calves, but by the means of His own blood, He entered once for all into the holiest, having by Himself secured everlasting redemption for us” (Heb. 9:12).

After you have repented and received forgiveness for sins, the next step is to be baptized by immersion in water—not into a church organization, but into the spiritual body of Christ (Acts 2:38; Matt. 28:19-20). Baptism symbolizes following Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. Paul wrote, “Or are you ignorant that we, as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptized into His death? Therefore, we were buried with Him through the baptism into the death; so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, in the same way, we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).

After baptism, the new believer is granted God’s Holy Spirit by prayer and the laying on of hands. “Then they laid their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:17). What we receive at this point is an initial portion of the Holy Spirit—like a down payment toward our ultimate inheritance of salvation. Paul writes that the Holy Spirit “is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:14). Indeed, “He Who is working out this very thing for us is God, Who has also given us the earnest of the Spirit” (II Cor. 5:5).

Thus, the initial stage of salvation is accomplished. You have been “saved”—that is, justified and reconciled to God by the blotting out of your sins (Rom. 5:9). The penalty of sin—the second death in consuming fire (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 20:6, 11-15)—has been removed. You are now “under God’s grace”—which you did not and could not earn.

Justification—being put in right standing with God the Father—comes by His gracious forgiveness of your past sins through Christ’s sacrifice. Through death, Jesus paid in your stead the penalty of death which you had earned. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, but are being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24). This redemption is “through His [Christ’s] [sacrificial] blood, even the remission of sins, according to the riches of His [God’s] grace” (Eph. 1:7).

Of all the aspects of the manifold grace of God, justification— with the subsequent gift of spiritual righteousness—is most important. “For we also were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving all kinds of lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the graciousness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we practiced, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He richly poured out upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior; so that, having been justified by His grace, we would become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7).