Today, as I was reading the Scriptures, I found myself drawn to the 16th chapter of Leviticus, to the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, and the elaborate ceremony God established whereby Israel found atonement and forgiveness for their sins. It’s a fascinating chapter dealing with quaint, prescribed rituals that are difficult to understand but find their fulfillment in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, these ancient rituals are literally packed with truth for us today.
From the humility demanded of the high priest in the very clothes he must wear (Lev. 16:4) to the offerings he must make for himself (Lev. 16:6), for the Holy Place (Lev. 16:16) and for the people (Lev. 16:17), we see clearly that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Then two goats are chosen by lot: one to die and shed his blood for the sins of the people and the other to be set free (Lev. 16:8-10). One goat is killed as a sacrifice for their sins and its blood sprinkled upon, and on, the mercy seat (Lev. 16:15). The other goat, the scapegoat, is to have the sins of the people imputed to it and then led into the wilderness never to be seen again. It’s a vivid picture of God and His gracious mercy and forgiveness whereby He promises to blot out our transgressions by the blood of His Son and remember our sins no more (Isa. 43:25).
But there is more.
In Leviticus 16:20-22 we read: “And when he has made an end of atoning for the Holy Place, the tabernacle of meeting, and the altar, he shall bring the live goat. Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.”
God has forgiven the sins of Israel and they have been imputed to an innocent goat led far from them into the wilderness to be seen no more. God wants nothing to do with their former sins and doesn’t want His children to look for them once again either. They are gone. Banished. Removed from His sight and their lives forever.
But watch what happens next.
A “suitable man” (Lev. 16:21) was chosen to lead the goat into the wilderness, far from the children of Israel, and leave it there. Since the sins of the people were now imputed to the goat, this “suitable man” was to take the sins of the people, the goat, and remove them to a place where they would never be found again. Why? Because God wants to show how His forgiveness is forever and to demonstrate the importance of not returning to the sins the blood of the other goat has already atoned for. Get the point? What has been forgiven should never have to be forgiven again. If the shedding of innocent blood was required to forgive a particular sin, then that sin should never be committed again. Why? Because it would require more blood, more pain, more death, and more sacrifice and devalues and cheapens the importance of blood and life given to make one free. It makes the sacrifice seem almost worthless.
Israel was not to go out into the wilderness and look for the goat, their former sin, that has already been forgiven. They were to remain in the camp, in the presence of the Lord, sanctified, holy, and righteous.
Leviticus states the “suitable man” who led the goat into the wilderness was to “wash his clothes and bathe his body” before he came back into the camp (Lev. 16:26). Why? Because he had been in close proximity to the very sin, the goat, the Lord wanted driven far from His people and he was, by that close proximity, contaminated by it. Also, the man who took the remains of the sacrificed goat outside the camp to burn it must also “wash his clothes and bathe his body in water” before he came back into the camp (Lev. 16:28). Why? He was also contaminated by his close contact to sin— and there was no place for sin among the people of God. In other words, for sanctification to be complete we should abstain, leave, renounce, and forsake anything that had to do with the sin, the old life, God had already forgiven. There was no place for former forgiven sins among the sanctified, Holy people of God.
We should “abstain from even the appearance of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22).
So how does that apply to us? How much of your old life do you bring into your new life? Do you still dress the new you with clothes of the old life? Do you crucify Him again and again by refusing to renounce the sins for which He died? Do you continually live in the shadows, the lukewarm areas of our culture, knowing Christ’s death has “set you free from sin”? (Rom 6:18). Do you live your life in such a way that you “crucify again the Son of God and put Him to open shame”? (Heb. 6:6).
We must leave the sin that was atoned for outside the camp. We must remove from our lives the trappings, the clothes, the relationships, the affections and passions, the carnal wants and desires, the pride and arrogance, everything that is tainted by sin and be washed by the pure Word of God and joyfully enter into fellowship with Him. To do anything else is to make light of the atonement Christ provided for us on the cross.
In essence, if you claim to wear the mantle of being a Christian, then act like one.
Anything else is sheer hypocrisy.
Sometimes we accept the forgiveness of Jesus and assume it’s simply a one-sided act. He does all the work and we reap all the benefits.
It’s like changing the lyrics to the old song that goes: “Jesus paid it all.” And with this we agree. “All to Him I owe.” Uh, not so fast. I’d rather just take the forgiveness and go home.
But that’s not how it works in the Kingdom of God. In John 8 we see a woman forgiven by Jesus and left with the following command: “Go and sin no more.” Did you ever wonder why He said that to her?
To find out more, keep listening.
The following is a study on John 7:53-8:12.
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Since we have established the fact that salvation is a spiritual experience and can also involve the emotions or feelings, the question to be asked is what happens when the salvation experience is devoid of any change in emotion or how someone feels? What happens when the person never feels anything, no change, nothing new, after they pray the “sinner’s prayer” and ask Jesus into their heart? What does that mean?
I know, just the mention of the “sinner’s prayer” gives one pause, doesn’t it.
What is the sinner’s prayer and what does it mean? What is a proper “sinner’s prayer”? What specific words have to be spoken in order for true salvation to take place? How much of the actual prayer does the sinner need to quote properly in order to get saved? What’s a passing grade? And how much of the prayer do you really have to believe to make it into heaven? After all, we don’t want to miss the cut by just a few points.
See the confusion? Let’s take a look at the “sinner’s prayer” together.
The Sinner’s Prayer: What it is
In the church today, evangelism is often focused on simply getting someone to say a prayer or a formula that we believe always leads to salvation. Why? Because we have reduced the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to a short creedal statement of mere facts about Jesus, or redefined it as a set of steps or laws, much like a cake recipe, one must follow. If we can get the person to pray the formula or recite the facts, or just agree with us while we mouth the magic words, then our theology states salvation has taken place. Why? Because, we reason, they have “confessed with their mouth the Lord Jesus”— and we assume “have believed in their heart that God raised Him from the dead”— hence, we conclude they “will be saved” (Rom 10:9). And, to be fair, a casual look at this Scripture could give you that impression.
This prayer, popularly known as the sinner’s prayer, can vary widely in how it’s administered or recited, but always includes some required key elements in order to make it valid. It’s a prayer that fulfills the confession requirement in Romans 10:9. And we just assume that to confess means to pray and believe what we feel are key components about Christ and His nature and His atonement. It becomes a sort of short mini-catechism or dwarfed creedal statement.
One of the key requirements in the sinner’s prayer are some words that indicate the person understands they are, in fact, a sinner and in need of salvation. This is obvious. In this part of the prayer they would acknowledge their sin and guilt before the Lord and confess they have fallen short of what God’s intention was for them (Rom. 3:10, 23). There would also be an understanding of their eternal state apart from Christ and His forgiveness and a distinction between heaven, the desired place, and Hell, the default place (Rom. 6:23).
Another required component in the sinner’s prayer would be the understanding of what God has provided for them through His Son Jesus Christ in order to have their sins forgiven and forgotten. The prayer would include some words that acknowledge the fact that their sins were imputed to Christ and His righteousness was imputed to them and they are trusting in His completed work for the atonement for their sins.
The sinner’s prayer might go something like this: “Lord, I know that I am a sinner and that I have lived my life for myself and not for You. I confess my sins before You and ask that You forgive my sins because I believe that Jesus paid the penalty for my sins for me when He died on the cross. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He was raised from the dead on the third day and I’m asking You to come into my life to be my Lord and Saviour. I renounce my life of sin and self and accept the healing and cleansing that only You can give. Thank You for hearing my prayer and forgiving my sins. For the rest of my life I want to love and serve only You. Amen.”
Then, as far as we know, we assume the person praying the prayer was sincere and, therefore, is now saved. But the Scriptures tell us the evidence of salvation is not a verbal prayer, no matter how sincere that prayer may be, but fruits that only the Holy Spirit can bring (Matt. 7:17-20). But as not to get sidetracked, we’ll look into the evidence of true salvation at a later time.
The Sinner’s Prayer: What it isn’t
The sinner’s prayer is not an incantation or mantra that always leads to salvation. More often than not, it leads to a false sense of security for the unbeliever and literally innoculates them from true salvation. It can function as the billboard to the wide road that leads to destruction Jesus warned us about (Matt. 7:13). Let me explain.
For the past century or two we have been taught, both in seminary and from the pulpit, if a person says the sinner’s prayer they are saved. And, under that assumption, we quickly baptize them to somehow “seal the deal” without any observable evidence of their salvation— no changed nature, no redeemed affections, no spiritual fruit, nothing. We simply accept them at their word and on the authority of the prayer just prayed and forge ahead as if everything was fine.
But when warning sirens go off and they say something’s wrong, they don’t think they’re saved, or they begin to doubt the magic prayer worked, we ignore their pleas and chalk it up to Satan “just trying to make you doubt what God has already done in your heart.” We point to Romans 10:13— “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”— and say, “Did you call on the name of the Lord? Are you a whoever? If you did, according to this verse, you’re saved! So just believe it and don’t worry about how you feel. The feelings will come later.”
Really? So it’s more like the Amway slogan of “just fake it until you make it.” No, I believe salvation, as we’ve stated before, radically changes every aspect of your life, and so much so, that you would know experientially if you had truly died and been raised to a new life in Christ (Rom. 6:4).
Reciting or memorizing historical facts about Christ does not, of itself, lead one to salvation. For example, at the end of a Sunday service a young man walks down the aisle and tells the preacher he wants to get saved. The preacher would, most likely, say something like this:
“Young man, do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?”
“Do you believe He died on the cross, was raised on the third day, ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and is coming again in glory?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Are you asking Him to forgive you of all your sins and inviting Him to be the Lord of your life?”
“Yes sir, I am.”
“Great. Then repeat this simple sinner’s prayer with me and you’ll be saved.”
But Satan could also recite these same historical facts about Jesus. He could even pray most of the sinner’s prayer and still not receive the gift of salvation. How can that be if the sinner’s prayer saves?
“Satan, do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?”
“Absolutely! I know it to be a fact.”
“Satan, do you believe He died on the cross, was raised on the third day, ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and is coming again in glory?”
“Yes, I know what He did on the cross and all about His resurrection. And I also know, and dread the day, when He will come back in glory. I know all these things to be true.”
“Satan, are you asking Him to forgive you of all your sins and inviting Him to be the Lord of your life?”
“No. I will not bow my knee to the Lordship of anyone but me.”
As you can see, salvation is much more than a simple prayer, it’s an acknowledgment, a life-long commitment, a fervent trust, a submission, originating from the very core of our being, that Jesus is Lord. We focus on the confession part of Romans 10:9 because it’s easy, and not the object of that confession, the Lordship of Christ, because it’s so hard. Simple, yes. But very hard. For it’s only belief, or faith, in the object of that confession, Jesus is Lord, that brings about salvation and not the simple confession itself.
That if you confess with your mouth (the confession) the Lord Jesus (the object of the confession) and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).
To restate, there’s more to salvation than just mouthing the sinner’s prayer. And we would all like to think by repeating the sinner’s prayer the seeking person is actually declaring to God their total reliance on Christ as their Lord and Saviour and trusting in His completed work on the cross as all sufficient. And we also understand there are no magical words needed to be said in order for salvation to take place. Why? Because salvation is by faith through grace in Christ alone, plus nothing and minus nothing (Eph. 2:8). But there’s more.
The Sinner’s Prayer: The Caboose of Salvation
The reality is that a believer is actually saved before they even utter the first words of the sinner’s prayer. Are you shocked? You shouldn’t be. It’s not the prayer that makes a sinner a Christian, it’s the prayer of a sinner, already now a Christian, giving God glory by testifying what He has already done in their life. And what has the Lord already done? Election, the effectual calling of the sinner to Himself, conversion, regeneration, and much more. Sound confusing?
Regeneration and conversion have already taken place by the time the sinner places His faith in Christ and, based on that faith, utters the words of the sinner’s prayer. Plus, the very faith placed in Christ is faith given by God for that very purpose. Why? Because Scripture states, “there is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God” (Rom. 3:10-11). So the only way someone seeks for God is if God places that desire for Him in them. And the only way we can place faith in Christ, faith we don’t have in and of ourselves, is if God gives us the faith to place in His Son. Because on our own, as Romans 3:10-11 teach, we would not seek God and would not have saving faith to place in the work of Christ. It’s all a gift from Him, a sovereign act of grace.
From start to finish, from election to glorification, salvation is all God. And since this is true, then we’re saved before we even utter the first words of the sinner’s prayer.
Are you confused? Does it seem strange to you?
We’ll look into this topic in greater detail, next.
Jesus, at the close of the Sermon on the Mount, speaks some of the most frightening words in all of Scripture. He draws a clean distinction between those who are saved and those who are deceived in thinking they are saved.
He begins by explaining the narrow way to life and the broad way that leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14). And many, He says, go the way of destruction.
He then tells us we will know those who are deceived by the lack of fruit in their lives. Spiritual fruit is the only evidence, according to Jesus, of true salvation (Matt. 7:15-20).
Finally Jesus tells us many will be deceived on the Day of Judgment and be cast from the Lord’s presence. Why? Because they “practiced lawlessness” (Matt. 7:21-23).
Incredibly sobering words. Want to hear more? Then keep listening.
The following is a study on True Salvation.
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Previously we looked at the three phases or tenses of salvation— past, present, and future— from the golden chain found in Romans 8:29-30. We can sum up what we’ve discovered as follows:
Past – Justification – Separation from the Penalty of Sin
Present – Sanctification – Separation from the Power of Sin
Future – Glorification – Separation from the Presence of Sin
But there’s so much more in these few verses. Let’s take a look at them one more time. Romans 8:29-30 reads:
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Once again, this golden chain, as it is called, goes from eternity past (foreknew, predestined) to eternity future (glorification) and includes the point in between where we become aware of our salvation (justification). Some of these links in the golden chain of salvation can be personally experienced by each of us emotionally. Some, we can only appropriate by faith. And this is where confusion enters into the equation.
Faith, Feelings or Something Else?
For centuries, since the Reformation, the church has preached salvation by grace through faith— plus nothing and minus nothing (Eph. 2:8). And this, without a doubt, is true and orthodox. The church has tenaciously fought against adding anything to salvation and somehow cheapening Christ’s sacrifice on the cross or deeming it less than sufficient to redeem those He died for. To add to the completed work of Christ is, in itself, one of the greatest forms of blasphemy. But we will look at that topic in detail in the future.
In addition, to guard against the deception and false salvation that can come when emotions are added to the salvation mix, over the last century and a half much of the church has equated any emotions as of the flesh and the antithesis of faith. In other words, faith is non-emotional. Faith is the opposite of emotions or feelings. And, if our faith is centered on our emotions and not on the tenets of the Gospel, then true salvation doesn’t take place and the emotional, recent convert is still dead in their trepasses and sins (Eph. 2:5).
But not all of that is true. Yes, if someone’s faith is placed in their emotional feelings, such as tears at the altar or a euphoric sensation of bliss or peace, and not on the completed work of Christ on the cross, true salvation doesn’t take place and the individual is still in their sins. That’s a given. But that doesn’t mean faith and feelings are mutually exclusive and cannot even be together in the same room. The Scriptures simply don’t teach that matter is bad and spirit is good, like ancient Gnosticism, nor that all emotions are evil and the opposite of faith. Why? Because repentance and conversion and the dying of the old man and the resurrection of the new man can, and should, be a spiritual and an emotional experience.
This exchange of the old life for the new life should impact the very depth or core of the repentant sinner (2 Cor. 5:17). Salvation and the imparting of the Holy Spirit as our guarantee of our future inheritance with Christ (Eph. 1:14) should dramatically affect the entire person: physically, spiritually, emotionally, morally, socially, and intellectually. There’s not a single door in our makeup that Christ will not now invade. The Holy Spirit now takes up permanent residence in our lives and will create in us “rivers of living water” (John 7:38).
So salvation is by faith through grace and not of any human work (Eph. 2:8) and is first experienced by us at justification (Rom. 8:30). It’s here, at justification, that we first become aware of our cleansing by the blood of Christ and the fulfillment of His promise to give us the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-17; Acts 2:38). It’s at this point the crushing gravity of our sins are revealed and we understand, maybe for the first time, that we are guilty, condemned, and sentenced to an eternity of torment in Hell for those very sins. Our utter hopelessness is paraded before us. Our supposed good works, our ace in the hole, our own self-righteousness, is now seen for what it really is— filthy rags, refuse and putrid garbage (Isa. 64:6).
We repent of our sins, our failures, our arrogance, pride and rebellion and receive, by grace through faith, the forgiveness provided only by the death of Christ— an eternal forgiveness and reconciliation offered by Christ alone. Conversion takes place. Regeneration. And now we take the faith God sovereignly provides us and place it in the hands of the living Lord Jesus believing, above all else, that His death atoned for our sins, satisfied our eternal debt with God, and were paid in full (1 John 2:2). As Jesus said from the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), or “Paid in full!” Our sins were imputed to Him and His righteousness is imputed to us and we are free, forgiven, saved and justified in the sight of God (2 Cor. 5:21).
Sorry, but what we just described, the salvation experience, would also involve your emotions as well as your spirit. Just look at the emotions involved in repentance alone.
And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil (Luke 7:37-38).
You also have the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-24) and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) and many other examples of those whose repentance of their sins was accompanied by great emotion. Emotions of joy, emotions of gratitude, emotions of shame, emotions of hope. They run the gambit.
So, you ask, “What is this so important? Why are we making such a big deal of this?”
The reason is simple, part of our golden chain of salvation can be experienced by us in real time, in the flesh, emotionally. We know for example, and not just on blind faith, when justification took place in our lives and the old man died to sin. We can also know, looking back, of God’s effectual call on our lives when we could sense Him moving us towards Him. Any testimony you hear will include elements of God’s effectual call. “I was listening to the radio and, well, I don’t know… something a preacher said just resonated with me. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Later, when I came to Christ, I realized God was calling me to Him long before I actually came and surrendered my life to Him.”
The entire journey of sanctification can be known emotionally as well as spiritually. We know when we fail God and we know when we can feel His pleasure. We know when we are convicted of our shortcomings, driven to our knees in repentance, suffer the grieving of His Spirit for some selfish sin, and can feel the joy and exhilaration of experiencing a renewed relationship with Him. We’ve all experienced some, or most, of these and we know when they happen. They are both spiritually and emotionally appraised.
On the other hand, glorification is something we can only know by faith. And so is God’s foreknowledge and His predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29). We accept these on faith since we have no emotional way of knowing or confirming when they happened or if they happened to us at all. Some of the golden chain is known spiritually by faith alone and some is known spiritually by faith with an accompanying emotional aspect to it. No, make that a wonderful emotional aspect to our salvation. After all, simple love is more that faith, it is also emotion
But what happens when someone claims to be saved, to love Jesus more than anything, and yet has no, none, nada, zero emotional affection to the Lord, His church, His Word, or other Believers? What would we say about a person like that? Are they saved? Or, are they just quiet, not a people person, private, withdrawn, an introvert, stoic, or maybe… “Uh, I don’t like to talk in front of people”? What happens when someone tells you they love their wife and kids more than anything but feel nothing towards then? Do they really love their kids? Are they a liar?
Or maybe they are deceived?
We will look deeper into this issue next.