This is the second part of series; click to read part one.
If you have pastored for even a year, you recognize among our congregations a general lack of concern for their eternal lives. It’s seen in the ease in which people dismiss services, dismiss their obligations to the church, and dismiss the commands of God’s Word for a more culturally acceptable position. As pastors, we should not be shocked that our people don’t care about the eternal souls of others because by their behavior they lack concern for their own souls. Why do our people seemingly not care for their eternal souls? I believe it stems from a second false implication about the finished work of Christ on the cross that has settled in our Baptist churches.
False implication #2:
Because Jesus died on the cross for my sins, I don’t have to pursue salvation.
Mix some of our favorite invitation hymns (“Only trust Him, only trust Him, only trust Him now. He will save you, He will save you, He will save you now.” “Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.” “Victory in Jesus, my Savior forever. He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood.”) with spiritual laziness on the part of the believer and you get sinners content in their rebellious lifestyle, claiming their eternal salvation based on a said belief in Jesus as the Son of God who died on the cross for their sins.
This false implication takes the complete work of the death of Christ and the biblical understanding of the security of the believer to an illogical conclusion. The thinking goes, “Since Jesus death obtains eternal salvation for me and I can’t lose my salvation, then I don’t have to pursue eternal salvation.” This frees people to pursue the American dream instead of experiencing God in their lives. Just a few weeks ago during the Easter season, the news across America fixated on people standing in lines for hours to buy tickets for a $640 million lottery jackpot. How many of our people came to church that Sunday more disappointed that they didn’t win and had to go to work on Monday than excited about encountering the living God who bought their eternal souls with the blood of His one and only Son?
True implication: Because Jesus’ death on the cross obtains my eternal salvation through faith, I will do everything in my power to remain in a close relationship with Him.
John Bunyan’s classic work Pilgrim’s Progress chronicles the life of “Christian” who leaves behind a pursuit of the city of destruction for the Celestial city of heaven. Along his journey he encounters several others distraught by the obligations of following Jesus, discouraged by the trials followers of Jesus endure, or distracted by a love for the world. Through all the encounters, Christian perseveres and enters heaven at the end of his earthly pilgrimage. Bunyan picks up on a theme driven throughout Scriptures: entering in to the Promised Land is not a one-time act but a life-long pursuit.
God depicts the salvation of souls in the Old Testament by establishing His people in the Promised Land. Abraham is called to go to a land God would show him. The promise is reaffirmed with Isaac and Jacob. Then, Moses leads the people out of bondage to the edge of the Promised Land which is conquered by Joshua. Space prevents us from recounting all of the adventures, challenges, setbacks, and victories experienced by the Israelites, but they rarely enjoyed rest from their journey. Even when they resided in the Promised Land, their “rest” is challenged by their disobedience to God’s commands. Then when they endured the deportation and exile, the promise for the return and rebuilding of Jerusalem kept their hope alive.
Fast forward to the New Testament and hear Jesus’ words on the Sermon on the Mount, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33)” and His emphasis on “staying/remaining” with Him in John’s gospel (1:38-39; 6:66-68; 15:1-15). Faith in the Bible is more than thinking or feeling the right things. It begins and ends with a pursuit of the salvation of our souls that’s visibly seen in our pursuit of Jesus.
The apostles in their writings continued on the theme of pursuing salvation even after people believed in Jesus. Peter tells his readers to “be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you (2 Pet. 1:10). John states in his first letter that he writes to confirm the eternal salvation of those who have believed in the Son of God (1 John 5:13), but with this confirmation is a call for them to love God, love their brothers, confess their sins, test the spirits, and purify themselves as they long for the return of Christ.
Perhaps Paul provides the clearest witness to a continual pursuit of eternal life for those who have placed their faith in Christ. While many passages share Paul’s desire for others to pursue salvation, the most enlightening are the autobiographical statements about Paul’s pursuit of eternal life. It can probably go without saying that Paul championed the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone; yet when he speaks about his relationship with Jesus Paul often speaks of his pursuit of eternal life. In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul speaks of his evangelistic strategy of becoming all things to all people in order to save some and concludes by making the personal comment, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it (v.23).” Paul then employs two sporting illustrations so we understand his passion in pursuing eternal life. He wants to win the eternal “prize” and disciplines his body, “so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified (v.27).”
How could Paul the Apostle, the champion of justification by faith alone in Christ alone, the champion of eternal security (Rom. 8:1; 26-38), and the champion of election (Rom. 9; Eph. 1), ever think himself to become disqualified for heaven? The answer is simple. For Paul, faith in Jesus is not something simply declared with your mouth but also demonstrated with your life. If either your confession or your life reveals a lack of genuine faith, then your soul is in danger. To ensure that Paul never endangered his soul, he pursued his salvation (“finished the race, kept the faith”) till his dying breath by pursuing his relationship with Jesus. He states in Philippians 3:12-14 “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
One gets the sense that salvation obtained through faith in Jesus is the greatest pursuit someone can go after in this world. For with it comes God’s indwelling presence, His abiding peace, and His never-ending power toward us who believe. Yet so many have given up the pursuit because some preacher or Sunday School teacher told them that once they prayed a prayer, then it was a lack of faith to question their salvation. So, many in our churches have faithfully abided by this encouraging but misguided advice. They have settled securely in a mental assent to the teachings of the Gospel but have stopped pursuing the eternal Promised Land. May we follow the wonderful charge by the author to Hebrews to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2).