When we've been there ten thousand years,
bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
than when we first begun.
--From anonymously added fourth verse to Amazing Grace
Understanding the grace of God is, I think, one of the very hardest of tasks. I at least want to “help” God along in my salvation, and I do remember my first impulses as a new Christian to go out and dazzle the world. At the time, I knew little of sound doctrine, and less of the Holy Spirit. One of my first painful lessons was that I could not, under any circumstances succeed in the Christian life. Instead, it all depended on my giving my life to the power of the Holy Spirit, who powers me to do what I cannot.
As I say, I was some months growing in doctrine, starting at a baseline near zero, and so all things were new to me. I was like the new creature in Christ, absolutely reveling in the glory of his presence. I knew that I should have seen him; I knew that I should have discerned his love for me in so many ways, but I had been totally blind in sin. But now I could see. I knew I was like the one mentioned in Romans who was without strength, but in due time, Christ had died for me, the ungodly (5:6). But now I knew; I could be better; I could stand on my own two feet, and tell the world what I had found. Oh, woe is me, for the folly I believed then was simply not true. Christ had commissioned me in a new life, but it was, as I found out, a life that was impossible to live.
Look at some of the commands that Jesus left us with. “Love one another.”—even when your child tries your patience at the end of a long hard work day. “Do not grow weary in well doing.”—even when you aren’t feeling that well. “Rejoice evermore.” –even on the way to work on a Monday morning. “Quench not the Spirit.”—even when your spirit is feeling sorely tried. If I was to list all of the other things we are to do, Christian living would be quite an impossible task.
In fact, I thought of telling you that scarcely a minute goes by without my awful head countenancing some sin. And I would do that. Except I think the angels in heaven would be found laughing. I can just hear them now. “Do you believe that guy?” “A whole minute without sin?” “Why we have to go back fifteen years in his life before we find that whole minute without sin.” “And then he was sleeping!”
The problem for most of us is just that. We do not discern the needy condition of our sinful hearts. We do awful things like comparing ourselves to others, and saying, “At least I am not as bad as all that.” Anything to take our eyes off of ourselves, for if we look at ourselves candidly what we often find is not at all pleasant.
Most of us manage to live our lives just like that. Not looking to closely at ourselves, and pointing at least metaphorical fingers at others. We do not understand the depths of our depravity. We think that we have small sin—thus the grace of God becomes small to us also. And small sin plus small grace equals a small God. I am convinced most of us live, serving a small God with the notion that somehow we really did deserve his grace after all. We won’t say that, but we do think it, or at least act as if it were true. We think God has forgiven our small bump of sin, because we do not see the mountain of sin that makes us be us, total monsters in the face of God.
We have a man in our church who is famous for not just saying thank you when something nice happens to him, but to actually say it three times: thank-you, thank-you, thank-you. He even does this in his prayers, repeating his thankfulness over and over. That man has a firm idea of grace—it is something he totally does not deserve, and he marvels over it. How like that man we should be!
In a nut-shell, I am really talking about Romans chapter 6. Understanding Romans Six will help you move away from the small-sin-small-grace-small-God concept that is all too familiar to many of us. In essence we need to know this—that God absolutely condemned our sin. He did that condemnation in sending Jesus to the cross. It was a total complete punishment, and it was necessary for your sin, and for mine, that we might be forgiven totally. Notice the total punishment, and the total forgiveness. He did not tell us that he would do 90% of our salvation, and that we must do the rest. He did it totally, completely judging the sins of the world by taking those awful sins into himself. It is at that moment that he cried, “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?”, for in that awful moment of total sin he lost fellowship with the Father. Romans 6 tells us, “Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life”
Every single one of your sins, and mine too, were future at that point, for you and I were not to be born for many generations yet. But the sins of the world were poured out on him, all of my sins, and all of yours. All of the sins were taken, and paid for, and when we believe God, when we accept Jesus as our God and Savior, at that moment we are forgiven. How forgiven are we? Totally. There is grace for every single one of our sins! No exception. If there were an exception I would surely perish, for how would I ever maintain myself? I cannot do it. You cannot do it.
Romans goes on to say, “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin (6:6).” We are able to sin without penalty. But God forbid that we should do so. We are called not to serve sin, for we have been made free, and for the first time have the choice of turning to God. As we yield ourselves to God, he is able to, through his Spirit, give us a life where “the yoke is easy and the burden is light, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Thus figuratively we died with Christ, that our bodies of sin might too die. “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord (6:11).
Similarly, we are to consider ourselves raised from the deadness of sin to live a new life with Christ. “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead. . .” (Romans 6:13). When Christ died, and when we become Christians, we are to reckon our own bodies as crucified, and we are to live a new life, typified by the resurrection of Christ.
Thus I come to a roundabout answer to our question: am I saved forever? As to the human heart, that is a question that awaits the final judgment. I cannot see into the hearts of others, and instead must rely on the outward appearance of what someone does. If what they are doing seems to be in the power of the Spirit, and displays the new life in Christ, I can trust that they are saved. Of course such trust will be revealed on that day when every man’s heart is opened before God.
To say that we are not saved forever is to insult the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Once, and forever, did he die upon the cross, and if we come to feel that maybe our sin is just too grievous for the Lord to forgive, we are denying the completeness of what Christ has done. We are saying to God that what he did for us was not enough—and sometimes we even have the audacity to try to help God along with his salvation plan, believing that if we just show enough repentance and try a bit harder, we can be saved. Nonsense!
We are saved by faith in Christ’s work on the cross. It is that work that Paul later refers to in Colossians 3, similar to what he teaches us in Romans 6. I call it the succinct plan for the Christian; everything in the Christian life is filled in with these principles. “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory (v. 1-4). Notice the repetition of what we already covered in Romans:
1. We are dead and our life is hid with Christ.
2. We are risen with Christ.
3. We are to seek things above.
4. We are to look forward to appearing with him in glory.
For all of these reasons, we are to “put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him (v. 10).
Yes, indeed, we are saved forever! For it is not dependent in the least on you or me, but on what Christ accomplished on the cross. That is why Paul wrote his ascending climax of Romans 8, where he reminds us that nothing, “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (v. 38, 39). It just cannot get better than that!