Trust is a critical issue for us all. The very first sin involved the issue of trust, the choice to distrust God’s counsel and believe Satan’s counsel. A right relationship with God has always been by trust, also called “faith.” Abraham was saved by faith in God (Rom. 4:3). Salvation is by faith (Eph. 2:8-9). Living a saved life pleasing to God is done by faith (Col. 2:6). What are the ingredients of this faith that the Lord so highly values?
A favorite verse for many on this topic is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” When we use this verse with an unbeliever, when we consider evangelizing our children, exactly what are we wanting them to do? What does it mean to “believe in Him”?
In John 1:12 we read that “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believed in His name.” The word “received” means “take hold of,” which implies active application. What is involved in receiving Jesus?
Knowledge. There must be intellectual awareness of the facts. Did anyone discuss the planet, Pluto, before there was knowledge of Pluto? A person must know the truth about Christ and His work of redemption before he can consider how to respond to it.
The person must be aware of the fact that man has disobeyed God’s commands. This is called “sin.” Every one of us fails to glorify God with perfect obedience. This disobedience to God makes us guilty before Him and earns the penalty of physical death to an eternity of separation from God. But God, being rich in mercy, sent His Son, Jesus, to pay that penalty so that those who believe in Him might be given peace with God now and for eternity.
However, knowledge does not save. James 2:19 says that the demons believe and shudder. Though they believe Jesus is the Son of God, they do not turn to Him for salvation. They know the facts but they do not have saving trust in Christ.
Agreement. In addition to knowledge, a person must agree to the facts. Here is where it draws a little closer to being personal. The person must agree that he has disobeyed God by living his own way (called “sin”) and is guilty before God, that Jesus is the sinless Son of God who took on human flesh, that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for sin so that the person can be forgiven, and that He rose again to show that His payment was sufficient.
Yet agreement is not saving faith. For example, Paul taught knowledge of Jesus Christ to King Agrippa with a view to leading Agrippa to place his trust in Christ for salvation. Paul stated that Agrippa believed the prophets and their prophesies about Christ. Agrippa replied, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:27-28). So he knew and agreed to the facts about Christ, but he did not entrust himself to Christ.
Commitment. Jesus made very clear the whole-hearted commitment that He requires: “If anyone wishes to come after Me let him deny himself, take up his cross daily [die to self] and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). He requires daily dying to self, to what we want in life and in each moment, and instead obey Him.
This is nothing less than an about-face repentance from the heart. It is heart change that results in thought and behavior change. That means turning from sins and from my own ways. I am no longer in charge of my life; He is. I serve Him.
Commitment to Christ is not hoop-jumping. We walk the aisle, pray the “sinner’s prayer,” or “make a decision,” and we’re in. Now we can do what we want and claim to be covered. If someone challenges our worldly living, well, “You don’t know my heart. You can’t question my salvation. You expect too much. I prayed and that’s good enough for God, so it should be good enough for you.” Instead, commitment to the narrow way isn’t about having your cake and eating it, too. Self-indulgence demonstrates a love for self. Love for Christ is demonstrated by obedience to Him.
Nor is following Christ a matter of ticking off good deeds. “I go to church. I’ve been baptized. I don’t do drugs anymore. I’ve done this and this and this and this. I must be a Christian!” By definition, in a salvation by faith, works cannot count. If a person can do a work to earn salvation, then he need not trust in Christ alone but can trust also to his own efforts. Ephesians 2:8-9 says that salvation by grace through faith “is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast.” Repentance is a change of heart, not just of deeds. God demands that we turn from our “good” works and self-justification, to agree with God that we can do nothing to earn His acceptance. It requires turning from my own way of gaining peace with God and relying solely on Christ to make that peace.
So then, saving trust in Christ requires knowledge, agreement, and a committed, obedient dependence upon Christ to one from the penalty that sins have earned and grant eternal life with Him. It demands that I am no longer ruler of my life; He is.
Even with these ingredients, turning from self to Christ is impossible without the Holy Spirit. Because we are born with a sin nature, committed to our own way, we would never submit self to God unless He transforms us. Salvation is possible only if the Holy Spirit, by His grace, draws us and gives us the faith to believe (John 3:4-8; 6:44).
Have you made this commitment and demonstrated it by repentance? Are you teaching your children a full understanding of what it means to trust in Christ for salvation?