How To Sear Your Conscience

Scripture is filled with warnings concerning our conscience. Jeremiah spoke about his people having, “forgotten how to blush” (Jer. 8:12). Further, he said that when wickedness was done in Israel, “my people love to have it so” (Jer. 5:31). Paul speaks of those who, “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” and therefore do not pay attention to God’s will (Rom. 1:18). Later, Paul again mentions people who had spent so much time in sin that they were, “past feeling” (Eph. 4:19). Jesus Himself spoke of those whose, “hearts have grown dull, their ears hard of hearing, and their eyes closed” (Matt. 13:15).

All those passages point to one frightening truth: it is possible for people to get to a point where sin no longer pricks our conscience and causes us to feel guilty (hence the term, “seared” — 1 Tim. 4:2). When we become numb to the presence of sin, it becomes impossible to please God (Rom. 8:8). How do people often sear their consciences?

Procrastination — When Felix heard the Gospel, he told Paul, “When I have a more convenient time I will call for you” (Acts 24:25). One would-be disciple told Jesus, “Lord, let me go first and bury my father” (Lk. 9:59). Seems like everybody could come up with an excuse for not obeying God today. The result of hearing and not doing God’s will is self-deception (Jas. 1:22). How can we afford to procrastinate when we have no future time promised us (1 Thess. 5:2)?

Rationalizations — Rationalization is the art of making what we know to be wrong seem right. “Well, I lied, but it was for her own good.” “I know God says it’s wrong, but doesn’t He want me to be happy?” “I know it’s wrong, but I’ll do it and ask forgiveness later on…” Rationalization is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to sear our conscience.

Compromise — Christians are commanded to, “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11). However, when standing for what is right might make us a little uncomfortable, the temptation is often to compromise what God’s word says for what will seemingly make life a little easier. It’s frightening how fast one compromise: “It won’t hurt if we just sleep in on one Sunday” can become a habit.

Apathy — Many people are seared by spiritual inactivity and lethargy. From the outside, they may appear to be “good” people, but the word of God has no noticeable effect on their growth and development, spiritually speaking. This is a great concern, for God’s word commands us to grow (2 Pet. 3:18), and be transformed (Rom. 12:1-2). Jesus said that those who hear His words and fail to do them are foolishly building their spiritual houses on a foundation of sand (Matt. 7:24-27).

Pride — Another way to sear our conscience is to hold so strongly to our own beliefs and opinions that we cannot be instructed by God’s word. This is exactly what the Pharisees did; they set up traditions and elevated them to the same status as God’s word (Matt. 15:7-9). When their beliefs were challenged by Jesus, they proudly held on to what someone else had taught them. May we always take care to be teachable, not proud and stubborn.

Levity (Laughter) — Many a conscience has been seared while distracted by laughter. The very context that mentions people being past feeling (Eph. 4:18-19) also speaks of “coarse jesting” (Eph. 5:4). Is it possible in our entertainment culture that Christians are, in the words of one author, “amusing themselves to death?” When a child of God begins to laugh at sin, his conscience is often being seared without his knowledge. May God help us to be as sensitive to sin as He is! —JB

What About the Thief on the Cross?

The Bible teaches clearly that, under the New Covenant, baptism (immersion) in water is necessary to receive forgiveness of sins (Mark 16:15-16; John 3:5; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3-6). One of the most common objections to this teaching is to ask, “What about the thief on the cross?” In Luke 23:42-43, Jesus had a conversation with a thief who was being crucified next to Him. The thief expressed faith in Jesus when he said: “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Jesus responded by assuring the man: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Many have attempted to use this passage as a proof-text in arguing that baptism in water is not necessary for salvation. After all, if Jesus saved the thief who expressed trust and faith in Him, why would He not do the same for people who express trust in Him today? Does the thief on the cross teach us that water baptism is not necessary? Consider:

The thief lived and died under a different covenant than now — The thief on the cross was likely Jewish, since he was being crucified in Jerusalem and seemed to understand something of the Messiah’s mission (Luke 23:42). Thus, he was subject to the Law of Moses during his life. Since it is impossible to be under two covenants at the same time (Rom. 7:1-4), and since Jesus established the New Covenant through His death, which had not yet occurred (Col. 2:11-14), we must conclude that the thief was not a part of the same covenant we are. He lived and died before baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins was first preached in Acts 2.

The Bible says practically nothing of the thief’s background — Those who argue that the thief on the cross was never baptized are obliged to prove it. Luke 23:39-43 records all we know of the thief’s life. Who can say what he had done previously? John the Baptist baptized multitudes in the wilderness (though it was not the baptism of the New Covenant), and it is entirely possible that the thief on the cross had indeed been baptized (cf. Mark 1:4-5). This point is mentioned merely to point out that there is much about this thief that is unknown, and any attempt to say more than Scripture can lead to error (Deut. 4:2).

Jesus had power on earth to forgive sins — The best explanation for why and how the thief on the cross was saved is to look at Jesus’ claim in Mark 2:10. When He raised a paralytic, He claimed that His miracle was evidence of the fact that, “The Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins.” Jesus, while He was on earth, could forgive sins any way He desired. So, when Jesus recognized the faith of the thief on the cross, He was able to forgive him. That same Jesus, on the night before He was crucified, said explicitly that the grounds of forgiveness under the New Covenant would be the shedding of His own blood (Matt. 26:28). Jesus could forgive sins any way He chose while He was on earth, but now forgiveness is found only in contacting His shed blood — something that happens only in the waters of baptism (Romans 6:3-6).

We must look to the Word to see how to be saved — When Saul of Tarsus was confronted by the Lord on the road to Damascus, he did not ask, “Lord, what did the thief on the cross do?” He merely asked, “Lord, what would You have me do?” (Acts 9:6). If we are going to find God’s will for our lives, we must rightly divide His word (2 Tim. 2:15). We must appreciate the difference between the Old and New Covenants, and we must heed the words of Jesus in the Great Commission: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). —JB

Public Confessions

Appropriate Response

“Confess your sins one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16). This passage has stirred much controversy over the years, giving rise to at least two false doctrines. First, some have taken this passage to refer to a “confessional” system in which Christians must confess every sin to some kind of a leader, “discipler,” or priest. Second, some well-meaning brethren have taught and believed that every individual sin must be made known before the church before forgiveness can take place. While there ARE times when a public confession of sin is warranted, a Biblical view of these matters can give us a better sense of what responses are appropriate.

What is Confession? — Confession comes from a Greek word (homologeo) that literally means, “to speak the same,” or, “to agree with.” Thus, a confession is nothing more than our agreement with and acknowledgement of something that is already true. John says, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). To confess our sins to God, then, is simply to say the same thing about our thoughts and actions that God already knows to be true! Confession is agreement with God’s divine verdict in our lives. John goes on to say that, “if we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). These Scriptures make clear that our forgiveness is partly based on our agreeing with God. We must say the same thing about sin that God does, or the truth is not in us.

Must We Publicly Confess All Trespasses? — Confession of sin is not just a matter between man and God. In fact, Jesus commanded us to, “first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:24). The implication is that sin can directly affect relationships between brethren, and when that happens, confession is necessary for a restoration to take place. There is no Biblical precedent for sweeping sin under the rug and acting as if nothing happened. Rather, when our actions and attitudes have offended others, we need to “speak the same thing” that our brethren already know! Public confession is a mutual recognition of something that has deeply hurt individuals. May God give all of us forgiving hearts when sin is among us (Matt. 6:14)!

When, Then, Must We Respond Publicly? — Since confession is an agreement, a mutual recognition of a truth, we must always be ready to confess sins to God (Acts 8:22), for He knows everything about our hearts (Ps. 139:23-24). If our sin has hurt other individuals, we must be willing to make things right with the concerned parties as well (Matt. 5:24). Sometimes, however, our sin is so great that it affects the local church. There seem to be several circumstances under which a public confession of sin is needed. (1) When our attitudes and behavior in the community have brought reproach upon the name of Christ and the local church (Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 4:1-4). (2) When our attitudes and behavior have created strife and division within the local church (1 Cor. 1:10). (3) When our moral life has been an occasion of stumbling for others (1 Cor. 5:1-13). (4) When we have willfully and consistently refused to encourage our brethren by forsaking the assembly (Heb. 3:13; 10:25). (5) When our conscience, guided and convicted by God’s word, tells us we need to make things right before God and the church (Rom. 14:23).

Not every sin demands a public confession, but I suspect that God would be glorified and churches would be strengthened if there was more Godly sorrow in us all (2 Cor. 7:14) — JB

Walking in the Light

Assurance of salvation is within the grasp of every individual Christian. While an attitude of self-examination is certainly healthy (cf. 2 Cor 13:5), we also can and should be confident in our forgiven state. Paul, who called himself the “chief of all sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), was still able to gratefully proclaim his innocence in the blood of Christ (1 Tim 1:16).

The book of 1 John is all about having confidence in our salvation. John defines our confidence this way: “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Our concern, then should be with what it means to “walk in the light.” Consider:

A Submissive Walk — God always has and always will demand obedience from people. The question for us becomes, “Am I willing to submit to God’s will in every facet of my life?” Jesus was our perfect example of obedient submission. He said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (John 7:16). In the garden He prayed, “Not what I will, but Your will be done” (Matt. 26:39). The inspired apostle said of Jesus, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death” (Phil. 2:8). O to have the courage, faith and wisdom to submit like that! Far too many people are “riding the fence” where God’s will is concerned. Our lives should always be lived in obedient submission to the Lord’s will. Do we honestly seek His kingdom above all else (Matt 6:33)? Is our one ambition in life to glorify God (1 Cor 10:31)? Do we truly want to be more like Christ today than we were yesterday (1 Peter 2:21)? Does our continuous course of action involve an honest and sincere effort to keep from sin (Romans 8:1)? If these things are so, we can be confident in the promise of God’s salvation (1 John 1:7)!

A Uniting Walk — “Behold how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). 1 John 1:7 tells us that as we walk in the light, we will have fellowship with others of the same mind. What a beautiful thought! Unity in the Lord fosters some of the deepest, most meaningful relationships we’ll ever have in this life. The Old Testament prophet asked, “can two walk together except they be agreed” (Amos 3:3)? You simply cannot be friends with the world and a friend of God at the same time (James 4:4). And you cannot harbor ill-will toward your brethren and walk in the light at the same time (1 John 2:9)! How many Christians are in danger of God’s judgment because of our attitudes toward fellow believers? One way to answer the question, “Am I walking in the light?” is to ask, “Do I truly love my brothers and sisters in Christ?”

A Cleansing Walk — Walking in the light procures the blood of Christ in our lives (1 John 1:7). God does not forgive half-way. We can stand before Him totally cleansed of our sin because of the power in Christ’s blood. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). Our need, then, is to have confidence in the cleansing power of Christ’s blood! How grateful we should be that we serve a God who chooses to forgive and forget our iniquity (cf. Heb. 8:12)! While we continually need to examine our attitudes, actions, and motives, we also need to remember that God forgives those who truly repent and obey His will. What about you? Are you willing to humbly submit yourself to a life of sacrifice and service, or are you more interested in serving yourself? The paths are clear. The choice is yours (Matt 7:13-14). – John Baker

Motives For Obedience

Have you ever given much thought to why you do what you do as a Christian? Many Christians mistakenly think that the only acceptable reason to serve God is because we love Him (Matt. 22:37). While love for God is certainly a Biblical and worthwhile motive for service, it is far from being the only motive mentioned in Scripture. Consider several Biblical motives for serving God:

Expression of love — Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Genuine Christianity is characterized by a faith that works through love (Gal. 5:6). Our desire to please God because we love Him is certainly a high and noble motive to serve Him with our whole heart (Deut. 6:4-6; cf. 1 Jn. 5:3).

Increased effectiveness for God’s use — Another motive for obeying God’s commands is that we desire to be used more fully in His service. Paul writes about Christians who cleanse themselves from sin in order to be, “a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21).

Fear of God — Some would undoubtedly object to this idea, but God clearly intends that we have a healthy fear of Him. The Hebrews writer warns us not to draw back from serving God, “for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). When Ananias and Sapphira were destroyed for lying to the apostles, “great fear came upon all the church, and upon all who heard these things” (Acts 5:5, 11).

Desire for influence on others — One great motive for serving God is the realization that our lives touch and influence others. Jesus commanded His disciples to, “let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Peter wrote of how Christian wives could win their unbelieving husbands through their example, “without a word” (1 Pet. 3:1-2).

The blessing of a clear conscience — When we understand God’s plan for our justification and we serve God acceptably, we receive the blessing of a clear conscience. We are to be subject to authority for conscience’ sake (Rom. 13:5). The purpose of God’s commandment is, “love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5).

A deeper walk with God — The more consistently we obey God’s commandments, the deeper and richer our walk with Him becomes. The Psalmist declared, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Psalm 66:18). Conversely, however, when we obey we can declare, “Blessed be God, who has not turned away from my prayer, nor His mercy from me!” (Psalm 66:20).

Peace of mind and Joy unspeakable — Obedience leads to blessings not just in the next life, but in this one as well. Jesus spoke of the Christian life as the, “abundant life” (Jn. 10:10). Peter writes of Christians possessing, “joy inexpressible” (1 Pet. 1:8), and Paul wrote of peace, “that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). Such are the blessings of the one who truly obeys God.

Delight in doing what’s right — We are to serve God because we delight in doing what is good and right (Psalm 40:8, 37:4). Christians are to dwell on things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, and virtuous (Phil. 4:8). We serve God because we delight in doing the right thing. What are your motives for serving God? —JB

“The Ninety and Nine”

I’ve often marveled at the depth and profundity of many songs we find in our songbooks. I’ve also sometimes been disappointed that, for whatever reasons, some great songs seem to have faded from the church’s repertoire over the years. One such song is, “The Ninety and Nine” (number 241 in our songbook). Based upon the parable in Luke 15:3-7, this masterful combination of words and music forces Christians to examine the nature of our love for souls contrasted with the way God loves souls — the words are both humbling and thought-provoking.

Let’s examine several thoughts brought out by the author of this song as we consider our love for those who have strayed.

“Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine; Are they not enough for Thee?” — It’s easy to get comfortable with the reality of loss. Retail stores have, “loss prevention” departments, and managers will tell you that their accountants routinely expect to lose up to ten percent of a given store’s merchandise through theft and neglect. Such losses are simply written off the balance sheets at the end of the quarter. Likewise, many churches seem to find it easy to “write off” those who are straying. They seem to be asking the Lord, “Don’t You already have enough?” Jesus clearly taught that God’s love will not allow Him to simply “write off” even one lost soul in this world (Luke 15:4). His message is important: as long as there is even one lost sheep in the world, the church has much work to do. Let’s not be complacent in our love for lost souls — with God, there is no such thing as an acceptable loss.

“But none of the ransomed ever knew how deep were the waters crossed; Nor how dark was the night that the Lord passed thro’ Ere He found His sheep that was lost.” — Luke 15:3-7 teaches that while God is certainly interested in numbers, He never loses sight of the value of an individual. When souls are lost, the Good Shepherd will go to any length to prove His love and concern for them. Singing this verse, I’m reminded of the anguished words of Jesus from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34). We’ll never know the full depth of agony He endured to ransom us from sin, for we simply don’t understand what it is like to be utterly forsaken by God. Jesus endured that kind of sorrow so that all men could be redeemed from sin, but His sacrifice was personal as well. God’s love for individuals is so great that Jesus still would have endured the cross even if only one person was lost. Oh, that more Christians had that kind of love for souls!

“There arose a glad cry to the gate of heaven, ‘Rejoice! I have found My sheep!’” — Jesus said there would be greater joy in heaven over just one sinner who repents than over ninety nine who are already saved (Luke 15:7). Christians ought to derive a great deal of joy from the conversion and restoration of sinners. Often it’s tempting to have an “elder brother complex” and be bitter and resentful toward those who have come back to the Lord (Luke 15:28-32). If we have the same view of souls that God does, won’t we be genuinely glad when people turn to Him? Whatever causes heaven to rejoice ought to cause the faithful Christian to rejoice.

Perhaps it is time for all to examine their attitudes toward straying sheep. Whether the sheep are straying Christians or those who have never known God is not the point. Jesus wants all people to be safe, and safety is only found when He is the Shepherd of our lives. —JB

Victories That Really Count

Having proper values is not always easy. Most people live and die believing that wealth, fame, and popularity are keys to success. In contrast, our Lord rightly asked, “what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul, or what would a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37). A soul is the most precious thing in the world, and yet the world gives very little thought to what really counts. God’s word affirms, “He that wins souls is wise” (Proverbs 11:30).

In his famous poem Invictus, the infidel poet William Henley wrote: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” And yet, like the Jews of old, those who live in sin would no doubt be surprised to find they are slaves to sin (cf. John 8:34-36)! The unrepentant sinner practices the greatest form of self-deception — he lives his life as a slave while telling himself that he is free.

Christians are people whose souls have been purchased at the infinite price of Jesus’ blood (1 Peter 1:15-19). A sinful world tries without success to imitate the peace, joy, and satisfaction that only comes from Christian living. Romans 8:37 boldly proclaims that we are, “more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” The apostle also wrote by inspiration, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). What have we conquered through Christ? Consider:

Victory over sin — “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Without Christ, unbelievers have no means of removing their sin. Apart from His blood, there is no sacrifice to save us (cf. Heb.10:26). Being a “good person” morally speaking wasn’t enough to save the rich young ruler (cf. Luke 18:18-23), nor was it enough to save Cornelius (cf. Acts 10:1-7). The souls of all who have sinned bear a permanent stain which can only be removed by Jesus’ sacrifice. In Him, we have the gift of eternal life and freedom from the wages of sin which once condemned us. “Thanks be to God which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor 15:57).

Victory over self — “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5-6). In a culture where self-actualization and self-realization are held up as noble pursuits, God’s word advises us to lose ourselves in Christ (cf. Gal 2:20). What really counts in life is not the victories we win over others, but the victories we allow God to win over ourselves. Humility, integrity, and righteous living characterize those who have truly decided to follow Jesus. “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Victory over Satan — Since Genesis 3, Satan has been trying to frustrate God’s plan to save man. That old serpent’s head was crushed as Jesus lived a perfect life, died, and rose again from the grave (cf. Gen 3:15). When we are buried and raised with Christ in humble obedience to His will (cf. Rom 6:3-4), we too will have won the victory over Satan. Won’t you come to Christ today? The victory is His, and it can be yours too if you open your spiritual eyes and see what’s really valuable! — John Baker

The Amazing Grace of God

Without God’s grace, it would be impossible to be saved. We can never do enough good to “undo” sin all by ourselves (cf. Rom. 4:4). Surely Adam and Eve regretted their sin in the Garden of Eden, but they also realized that God would have to take the first step in reconciliation (Gen. 3). God did indeed take that step when He sent Jesus into the world: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Let’s consider some truths about the amazing grace of God.

Grace defined — The word “grace” simply means “favor” or “blessing.” Parents bestow grace on their children when they provide them with the necessities of life (food, clothing, shelter, etc.). God bestows grace on mankind in much the same way: “He sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). Every good thing in this life is a manifestation of God’s grace (cf. James 1:17). Most amazing, however, is the grace of God that comes through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:8). Jesus saw and understood man’s sin problem, and He was willing to bless the world through His sacrifice (Phil. 2:6-8). The death of Christ was the ultimate expression of the grace of God. His riches were made available to us at Christ’s expense (2 Cor. 8:9)!

Grace explained — Why was it so necessary for Jesus to come to earth? Couldn’t God have provided some other means of salvation? The answer, simply, is “no.” Sin (man’s disobedience to God’s will) is an ugly cancer before God. His eyes are too pure to look on evil favorably (Hab. 1:13). The moment we sin, we separate ourselves from God (Isa. 59:1-2) and become enemies of God (Rom. 5:10). The universal law of sin is that if someone sins, someone must die (cf. Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23). In the Old Testament, God allowed people’s sins to be atoned for through the blood of sacrificed animals (Lev. 17:11). These animal sacrifices prefigured the blood of Christ that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). You see, it was necessary for God to send His Son to this world because, “it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Through the blood of Christ there is justification before God (Rom. 5:9). God’s amazing grace is seen in the fact that we are right with Him once again through the blood of Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

Grace applied — God’s grace is conditional. If it were not, then everybody alive would be automatically saved regardless of how they’ve lived. God wants all men to come to repentance, not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). His grace is not only saving, but it is instructive (Titus 2:11-14)! Grace teaches us that true children of God must be, “crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20). Jesus Himself spelled out the express conditions through which men must come to Him. He said, “whoever believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25). But is belief alone enough? Jesus also said, “except you repent, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). In another place He said, “whoever confesses Me before men, him will I confess before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32). In the Great Commission to the apostles Jesus said, “he who believes and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16). When we read of men and women being converted in the book of Acts, they always followed the conditions laid out by Jesus Himself! Belief, repentance, confession, and baptism are necessary conditions of receiving God’s amazing grace in our lives. We can’t meritoriously earn salvation, but neither can we ignore God’s conditions of salvation. May we all live obediently in His will! — John Baker

Confessing Our Sins

Swallowing pride is difficult for anyone. God says pride is dangerous to keep around (Prov 16:18), and if left unchecked will keep us from heaven (cf. Luke 18:10-12). Christians need to struggle in being people of humility, always recognizing our place in God’s creation and esteeming others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3)

Problem is, there are times when it’s especially hard to be humble. When we’ve sinned, whether against God or man, asking forgiveness is one of the most difficult things we must do. Godly sorrow, which works repentance (2 Cor 7:10), is difficult to come by when our reputation and our pride are at stake. Admitting we’re wrong is just plain hard!

And pride is a gigantic boulder on the road to reconciliation. When relationships need to be mended, whether with God or men, we need to take heed how we try to mend. Listen to some potentially wrong ways to restore relationships:

“I’m sorry, but it wasn’t entirely my fault” — As soon as we recognize our faults, pride will begin rationalizing and making excuses. Friends, we need to realize that relationships are not healed when we attempt to shift blame to someone or something else. Adam tried to blame God and his wife for his sin (cf. Gen. 3:12), but ultimately he was held accountable for what he could control. Relationships cannot be properly mended unless we personally shoulder the responsibility for our sin, and don’t try to shift it to other people or circumstances.

“I’ve fallen into sin, and need forgiveness” — The Bible teaches individual accountability for sin (Rom 14:12). “I’ve fallen into sin” implies an uncontrollable circumstance when in fact, sin is a choice we make (cf. 1 Cor 10:13)! God expects us to say the same thing about our guilt that He does (cf. 1 John 1:8-10). If God says, “you have sinned!” My response in seeking forgiveness should be to say, “I have sinned” (Psalm 51:4).

“If I’ve sinned against you, I apologize” — Sometimes we know full well what sin we have committed, but this kind of apology is offered in an attempt to salvage our pride. Once again pride rears its ugly head as we admit the possibility of our sin, but not the actual fact. Friends, I believe we rob ourselves of richer, deeper relationships with and in the Lord because we sometimes fail to admit the reality of our wrongs! Sincere, Godly repentance seeks forgiveness for specific failures, not for vague possibilities of sin. How can we be sorrowful over something that might have occurred? And how can God or man forgive something that might have taken place?

The Bible says we are to, “confess our sins one to another” (James 5:16). While this passage is not advising us to “air our dirty laundry” to everyone, there are times when confession is commanded. If we have offended or wronged someone, we need to restore that relationship through properly confessing our misdeed and seeking forgiveness. Here is one Biblical way to confess sin to another:

“I have sinned in ________ (name specific sin), will you forgive me?” — Tremendous humility and courage are needed to make a statement such as this one, but the Bible says that true forgiveness and reconciliation are found in this kind of repentance. Our relationship with God and with men will be stronger when we exercise this kind of confession. May God help us to seek stronger and deeper relationships through admitting our wrongs! — John Baker

What Must I Understand to be Saved?

The Bible clearly teaches that every responsible person has free will. People have the ability to choose whether to obey God’s word or not. God showed His grace to all men (Titus 2:11; John 3:16; Romans 5:8) by sending His Son to die as a sacrifice for sin. However, even though God is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9), Scripture clearly teaches that not everyone will choose to be saved.

If salvation is a choice to be made, then perhaps it would be well to ask, “What must I understand to be saved?”

I must understand what sin is: The New Testament word most often translated “sin” means, “to miss the mark.” Sin is, by definition, transgressing or breaking one or more of God’s commandments. When responsible people choose to sin, sin creates a stain on their soul that can never be removed by merely “doing good.” When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden because of sin, there was nothing they could do to repair their broken relationship with God. Sin leaves an individual hopeless, helpless, and under the righteous judgment of an angry God (Gen. 18:25; Psalm 7:11).

I must understand what Jesus did: Here is where the “good news” begins. God, knowing that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), sent His only Son into this sin-sick world to pay that price. When Jesus shed His blood on the cross, He was offering Himself as a sacrifice for sin (Heb. 9:28). Only His blood can wash away the stain of sin, and only His blood can make things right between God and man. When we were most hopeless and helpless, God made a way out — now that’s good news!

I must understand what repentance is: Repentance is a change of heart, brought about by a change of mind that leads to a change in action. To repent means that one chooses to “put to death” things that are sinful and to “put on” things that please God (Col. 3:5-17). If I am a thief, repentance means that I choose to steal no more. If I am an adulterer, repentance means that I choose not continue in that sin any longer. Wherever I find sin in my life, I find a need to repent. Peter told the crowds on Pentecost to: “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Repentance is essential to salvation.

I must understand what confession of Jesus means: To “confess” means to, “speak the same.” Our words are not to be spoken lightly, for we will give account for them one day (Matt. 12:36). Thus, when the Scripture commands us to confess the name of Jesus (Romans 10:9-10) in order to be saved, we should realize the implications. We are saying the same thing about Jesus that He said — that a person who was despised, rejected, and put to death is in reality the King of kings. To confess Him is to admit our own inadequacy and need for forgiveness, and to admit His inherent greatness.

I must understand what baptism is for: To be saved, one must understand the purpose of baptism. Romans 6:3-4 speaks of water baptism as a burial, a uniting, and a raising with Christ. Baptism is the point in time at which an alien sinner comes into contact with the saving blood of Jesus Christ. Many denominations these days teach that one is saved before baptism, and that baptism is merely an, “outward sign of inward grace.” That is not what Jesus and the apostles taught (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:20-21, etc.). In order to be saved, one must understand that baptism is for the remission of sins. It is not an event that occurs after salvation — as one preacher was fond of saying, “You’ve got to get in the water to get to the blood of Jesus.” —JB