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by Jacob Ninan
One of the many sayings of Jesus that has been downplayed by preachers is, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matt.7:13,14). God wishes to save everyone (1Tim.2:4) and He has made all provisions for that (1Jn.2:2). But He recognises the possibility that only a few will respond to Him when He offers them salvation. We also need to reckon with the fact that even among the people who respond to the true Gospel, there are only a few who become faithful (Rev.17:14).
The Good News (Gospel) is about God's offer of salvation to sinful people who deserve only punishment. But here's the problem – all people do not hear the Gospel in the same way! It may even be said that all people do not hear the same Gospel (2Cor.11:4)! There are universalists who proclaim that God is so nice that He will forgive everyone in the end; this could not be farther from the truth. For many people, the Gospel is about going to heaven when they die, and once they believe they have ensured that, they have no further place to go in their 'Christian' life. For many others, God is all about making them healthy and prosperous and sorting out problems through prayer. Though it is possible that after having come near to God in this way some of the people mentioned above may come nearer and get to know God truly, a greater possibility is that most of them have not become children of God and are deceiving themselves. Jesus talked about entering the sheepfold through the gate and not climbing in some other way (Jn.10:1). Even though He was talking here about false 'shepherds', who were only interested in exploiting the sheep, we can also understand that there is a proper way to enter the kingdom of God which some miss.
In the true sense of the Bible, 'salvation' is to restore people who are separated from God and are living in sin and darkness to a Father-child relationship with God and to transform all aspects of their life to be in line with the life of Jesus. However, we find very few people defining it to this extent or seeking to receive it. Apart from the false renderings of the Gospel such as the ones mentioned above, many Christians have downsized the scope of this salvation to different levels.
Some people assume that since the Bible is the word of God, every verse in it can be taken individually as statements of complete truth. Think of "if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Rom.10:9). While this belief and confession are a part of a person who gets saved, it is not right to think that this is all that is required to enter into salvation. That will become clear when we look at all the other verses in the Bible that teach about the necessity to repent from sin. See how many people will actually miss salvation as a result of preaching based entirely on this verse!
The most common mistake seems to be to confine salvation merely to justification. Admittedly, justification is a major part of salvation, but it is not salvation in full. By justification, we understand that sinners who admit their sins, repent and believe in the work of Jesus on the cross to pay for them (which is all implied in the term 'faith') are treated as righteous as an unmerited favour from God.
'Justification by faith' was indeed the clarion call of the Reformation, but that is not complete salvation. If we don't recognise this, we may say we are 'saved' and ask others, "Are you saved?" as if it is a one-time event that can then be described as past. The implication then is that there is nothing more that is to be done except confessing our sins whenever we fall and telling others they too need to experience it.
But did Jesus come just to offer forgiveness while we continued to sin as we used to earlier? "God forbid!" (Rom.6:15). As someone has said, God accepts us just as we are when we go to Him in repentance, but He does not want to leave us as we are. He wants to begin the work of transforming us through the process the Bible calls sanctification. This is how He helps us to be transformed in our thinking and behaviour in a real, practical way to become more and more like Him. He accepts us by washing our sins away with the blood of Jesus and crediting His righteousness to our account. But isn't it also a fact that the fellowship we can have with Him is dependent on how much we have become like Him? An earthly father loves his child even when he is only a baby, but surely he has more fellowship with a grown-up son who has become like-minded with him.
Some Christians imagine, based on verses like 2 Corinthians 3:18, that all that we need to do to become like Jesus is to 'behold' Him in the Bible, assuming that the more we see His glory, the more we will be transformed. But the reality is, the more we see Him, the more we realise how different we are from Him. Then we can start seeking to become like Him.
Based on verses such as 2 Peter 1:4, some Christians assume that if they believe in the promises of God, He will automatically fulfil them in their lives. This, like the one above, is due to the wrong habit of treating different verses in the Bible as if they are truths that are complete in themselves without having to be balanced by other truths in the rest of the Bible. In this case, there are many other verses that tell us how to appropriate what God has promised (e.g., Php:2:12,13).
Some others have misunderstood the roles of grace and law. They know that no one can be good enough according to God's standards and nothing we do can be sufficient to appease the requirement of His justice and righteousness. But then they assume that since justification is entirely a gift from God with nothing we can contribute to earn it, sanctification too must be like that. Then they think that the moment anyone talks about 'doing' something, it would be going back under the law.
The Law of the old covenant promised blessings if people kept God's commandments and curses if they disobeyed them (Deut.28). We are not under this system any more, under the new covenant that Jesus made. But it does not mean that we are not under any law at all! We are under a new law called the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Rom.8:2). We follow this law, not to earn God's favour, but because we now want to keep this law – obey the Spirit of God – as a normal response to the life of God working inside us. This is not getting back 'under the law'.
Some Christians seem to get into exaggerating grace, keeping themselves from any hint of our having to do anything at all. But once we are clear about the difference between the law of the old covenant and the law of the spirit of life in Christ, we can accept that obedience to the Spirit is required from our side in order to live the Christian life and to become more and more like Christ.
Here is where discipleship comes in. It is as disciples, who want to come under the Master's training, that we can have any hope of becoming like Him. Some Christians seem to imagine that becoming believers in Jesus is enough and that becoming a disciple is an option that is only open to super-spiritual people! No. Becoming a disciple is the only way to become like Jesus, and that is the key to sanctification.
Disciples 'follow' Jesus. But this 'following' is with the clear intention of learning from Him and ultimately becoming like Him, and not like those who are following Him for getting things from Him (Jn.6:26). True disciples have to learn to do whatever the Master asks them to do, believing that whatever He asks is the best for them. They have to count everybody and everything else as less important than the Master (Matt.10:37,38).
When we begin our journey as disciples, we will find that our flesh (our old sinful nature) instigates us to please ourselves. That is when we have to place ourselves and our sinful desires 'on the cross' and deny ourselves in order to be pleasing to God (Rom.6:6;Lk.9:23). It is those who walk on this path who will get sanctified and become like Jesus.
Our life as a disciple of Jesus will affect every area of our life, including the way we think, live as a family, manage our money, do our secular work, interact in society, do our ministry, etc. We will become like Jesus in everything we are and do. That is also how God can use us as salt and light in this world to influence the world around us and perhaps lead them also to salvation.
"If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me" (Matt.16:24). Any other way of going after Jesus misses the point altogether. Let us not downsize God's salvation, and let us not miss any part of it.
-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, April, 2019
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