Have you ever seen the bumper sticker or heard the phrase that "Christians are not perfect, just forgiven"? This statement gives the impression that the only real difference between a sinner and the Christian is forgiveness. This would mean that the Christian can do the same things and even have the same heart and character as the sinner.
What do you think would happen if the President pardoned everyone in prison? Even with forgiveness these former prisoners hearts would remain unchanged and they would still be criminals.
The main point of the gospel is for man to get a new heart full of God's love. It is impossible to be a true Christian without being born again and getting a new heart. To be born again really means to be born from above or fathered from above.
John 3:3 "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
John 3:7 "Marvel not that I said unto you, You must be born again."
When a person is truly born again, he receives a new heart.
Jer. 32: 39-40 "I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good, and I will put the fear of me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from me."
Ezek. 36: 25-27 "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean, I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols. Moreover I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you, and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will be careful to observe my ordinances."
Deut. 30:6 "And the Lord thy God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, that you may live."
Jer. 24:7 "And I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart."
Jer. 31:31-34 "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was a husband unto them, saith the Lord: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Ezek. 11:19-20 "And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God."
The new birth is the New Covenant, the covenant of a new heart, reborn by a supernatural miracle - the miracle of the "rebirth", which places, as a free gift, the agape love of Christ within the heart of that person. It destroys all systems of human works, all religions of "works". Forgiveness is only part of the New Covenant. Without the new heart forgiveness is impossible.
The whole point of salvation is that Christ would save people from their sins.
Matt. 1:21 "And she shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Jesus: for He shall save his people from their sins."
I John 5:12 "He that has the Son has life; and he that has not the Son of God has not life." This life is not something that God gives independent of Himself. This life is Himself, Christ and the Holy Spirit living and dwelling within the believer. The reality of Christ actually living within a person's being is true Christianity. Any practice of religion without a vital and living relationship with Christ is only deception, emptiness, and death.
A frequently asked question is, are you saved? Deception occurs here when a person just thinks he is saved from hell. Christ came to save people from sin and to bring mankind to be the dwelling place of God. Sinners do not go to heaven. There is no salvation from hell unless there is an actual salvation from sin and selfishness. Either a person is truly experiencing salvation from sin or he is living in sin. Nowhere in the scriptures does it represent the true believer as continuing in sin and rebellion to God.
Christ said that only those that fulfill God's will go to heaven. Matt. 7:21 "Not every one that saith to me Lord, Lord shall enter into heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven." Many people who claim to be Christians never fulfill God's commands and requirements. They just call themselves Christians and do what they want.
2 Cor. 5:17 "Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come."
2 Cor. 3:18 "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image."
Many mistake entirely the nature of salvation, and so fail to embrace and secure its blessings. They are looking for salvation from the punishment of hell. The reason for this is, the thing they have their eye upon is not a pure heart, but a hope to escape sin's penalty. They want to be rid of their fears. They would willingly accept a salvation from hell, but not true deliverance from their sins. They would willingly accept a Savior, but not Jesus, for He saves men from their sins. They cannot get Him to do the thing they want done; for He will only save from hell those who will be first saved from sin. They fail because they are trying to make Jesus Christ serve them in their sins. Their effort is to induce Jesus to take them in their sins, and make them, in this state, His people, and give them heaven. Their essential mistake is that they seek salvation from punishment and not from sin.
So many people are deceived. They strongly believe that they are going to heaven but they never have truly been born again and received the new heart. They may have embraced doctrines of the church and prayed "the sinners prayer". Some even have changed their outward characteristics but their heart remains full of rebellion and sin towards God. To say these people are forgiven is a total lie.
Some characteristics of a true believer are:
1. He has a pure love to God and keeps the commanments.
1 John 5:1-5 "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ the son of God has been born from God. Everyone who loves the Father also loves his children. We know that we love God's children when we love God by obeying his commandments. To love God means that we obey his commandments. Obeying his commandments isn't hard or difficult because everyone who has been born from God has won the victory over the world. Our faith is what wins the victory over the world. Who wins the victory over the world? Isn't it the person who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
John 14:21 "He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him."
1 John 2:3-5 "And hereby we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that says, I know him, and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whosoever keeps His word, in Him verily has the love of God been perfected. Hereby we know that we are in Him."
1 John 3:6 "No one who remains in Him goes on sinning. The one who goes on sinning hasn't seen Him or known Him.
2. He practices righteousness.
I John 2:29 "If you know that He is righteous, you know that every one that does righteousness is born of him."
1 John 3:5-10 "And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin.Whosoever abides in Him does not continue in sin: whosoever sins has not seen Him, neither known Him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that does righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that commits sin is of the devil; for the devil sins from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whosoever is born of God does not commit sin; for His seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever does not righteousness is not of God, neither he that does not love his brother.
James 2:8-10 "If you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, you do well: But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all."
3. He does not practice sin.
I John 3:2-8 "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as he is. And every man that has this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He is pure. Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin. Whosoever abides in Him sins not: whosoever sins has not seen him, neither known Him. Little children, let no man deceive you: he that practiceSrighteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous. He that commits sin is of the devil; for the devil sins from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil."
4. He has a love for others.
I John 4:20 "If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?"
5. He is a doer of the Word.
James 1:22-25 "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was. But whoso looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed."
6. He overcomes the world, the flesh and the devil.
I John 5:4 "For whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith."
One reason there is so much sin in the church is the teaching to expect sin as a natural fact or that we cannot help it. What good is religion that does not overcome sin or a Christ that offers no true deliverance from sin. The devil must enjoy that doctrine.
Matt. 5:48 "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
I Peter 1:16 "Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy."
We can fulfill this command because God never gives impossible commands. Christianity is not a do it yourself kit. It is not just believing doctrines. It is not just applying principles. Jesus is not something you add to self nor is He to be applied by self. Many think that Christianity is just following the teachings and doctrines of Christ. This is not true, for a person can apply the principles in the Bible without ever becoming a Christian. Christianity is not the keeping of a list of laws or rules. It is not a philosophy of living. It is a living relationship with the living Jesus Christ, God and the Holy Spirit.
I John 5:11-12 "And this is the record, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in Hs son. He that has the son has life; and he that has not the son has not life." It is as a result of this relationship that true holiness, righteousness, and good works flow.
The word Christian was first used in Acts 11:26b "And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch." It was the unbelievers who called them this because they were so Christlike. Today we have multitudes claiming to be Christians but have no true fruit or works as proof. I would rather have others call me a Christian because of what they saw, than to call myself a Christian.
The following verse warns that everyone receives payment for his disobedience. If you do not fully obey God you can never expect to get to heaven.
Heb. 2:2-3 "For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him."
Rom. 6:1-18 "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? 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. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection: 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. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death has no more dominion over Him. For in that He died, He died unto sin once: but in that he lives, he lives unto God. Likewise reckon yourselves also indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield you your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Don't you know, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness."
It's not possible to be saved from our sins unless we've had an effective and real encounter with the Cross of Jesus Christ. So it's really a serious thing that we, today, have not pressed in to the Holy Spirit for revelation of the Cross to us. Without it we just simply cannot be saved. Somebody who is living their lives in sin, isn't saved from their sin. The Angel, in announcing to Mary and Joseph, the birth of Christ and what they were to name the Baby, also made the statement, "You shall call His name Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins". Salvation is being saved from sin. If we are not freed from the bondage of sin then we're not saved from anything.
If I can't get through a single day without sin raising it's ugly head in dominance over my life then what's the difference between the way I was before I was a Christian and now in real terms? I'm going around talking about the fact I'm saved and what I really mean when I say that is that I'm going to Heaven after I die and that I'm now going to church and I've adopted a Christian exterior but as far as my lifestyle is concerned, I'm still sinning all the time. Maybe the sins that I am committing are different sins than they were before but we cannot be free from the power of sin until we've had an encounter with the Cross - simply because sin has become, prior to salvation, a way of life for us. We're very familiar with it. We've embraced it. It's part of us and we have actually come to the point where, through our own choices, we have developed sinful habit patterns and actually sin has become our nature. It dictates our every course of action to us.
Paul talks about this state of affairs in Romans - "Is this law?". And Christians, just by virtue of the fact that they have one day gone forward in the church and knelt at the altar and repeated the sinner's prayer, cannot expect that in itself to free them from the bondage of sin because it won't. In salvation is that we're saved from our sins and that we move out of an old life, where sin has had predominance, and we move into a new relationship. It's not a matter of going forward in a church and performing some kind of an act and saying to Jesus, "I accept you into my life", and suddenly God no longer looks at our sin as sin, and now we've got the key to Heaven in our back pocket. When we encounter the Cross it not only deals with the effect of past sin and takes away guilt, it also gives us the ammunition, if you will, to deal with sin that we confront in the future. You see, God doesn't want to just forgive us, He wants to transform us. There are people today who want to be forgiven but they don't want to be transformed. The problem is God won't forgive you unless you allow Him to transform you.
The church today is split right down the middle on this doctrine. There are many, many denominations and Christians who say you can be forgiven of your sin without being transformed. That it's alright to sin every day in word, thought and deed. That God has positionally sanctified you and that you're standing in Christ is something that is different from your actual state. When you sin, it wasn't the new man who did that, it was the old man. We all have this dirty, old man in us who commits all these sins. You see, we don't do it, the old man does it. Yeah, schizophrenic is right! I remember, it was either and Irish judge or a Scottish judge, who was confronted with a man who had just stolen some goods. He was Christian, at least claimed to be, and came before the judge and he said "Judge, that was my old man that did that". And the judge said, "Well, I'll tell you what I think we ought to do. I think we ought to take your old man and your new man and put them both in jail and let them work it out".
God in the covenant that he gave to Israel gave man a two part covenant. The first thing He said He would give them was forgiveness of sins, a pardon. The second thing He said He would give them was a new heart. You can't separate the new covenant down the middle and say, "I'll take half of that covenant but I don't want the other part of it. I like being forgiven of my sins but I also like who I am and I want to still be me. But I want to be forgiven me, I want Heaven but I also want to live the way I want to live here on earth.
I want to have my cake and eat it too." What you're really saying is, "I want to be saved from the results of my sin but I don't want to be saved from my sin itself". Fortunately for us all, God doesn't work that way. God says, "Don't you know that whoever you yield your members to, as servants to obey, you are their servant?" Whether of sin and unrighteousness and death or to God and righteousness and life. You choose. You're either going to be saved through the power of God, through the Love of God as manifest through the Cross, from actual sin, or you're not.
I am repeating this several times because I wanted to go deep into your minds and I don't want you to ever forget it. Salvation means that you are saved from your sin. Not in an abstract way but you really are. It means if you're saved, you don't go around sinning anymore. I'm not talking about sinless perfection. I'm not talking about the fact that once you become a Christian you never sin anymore. I'm not saying that. Well, that's right. We don't go around making sin a matter of life. We don't go around expecting to sin. If you're living a life under the expectation that you are going to sin every day, not only will you sin every day but you will have to admit to yourself that you're really not saved from sin. You will also have to admit to yourself that sin is the most powerful force in the universe and that the Blood of Christ just is not strong enough to cope with the demands and the power of sin.