Lesson 5 What Are The Obstacles To Saving Faith?

“If I tell the truth, why do you not believe Me?” (John 8:46), the Lord Jesus asked. That is a question worth thinking about. Why do people not believe the only completely truthful man who ever lived? Why can they not believe what they are told by a God who cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18)? Consider this verse: “He who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son” (1 John 5:10). Yet multitudes in effect do call God a liar by reason of their unbelief. It is said of the Lord Jesus, “He marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:6).

The underlying problem in this unbelief seems to be in the area of the will. Since God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), why doesn’t this happen in accord with His will? He has chosen in His sovereignty to grant people the right to choose whom they will serve (Joshua 24:15). They may elect to choose evil over good, rebellion over obedience, false gods over the one true God and their own way rather than God’s way.

Some theologians believe in what is called “the bondage of the will.” They deny the ability of people to freely choose their way in life. However, every verse of Scripture which calls upon man to choose, obey or submit to God’s will is one which denies this doctrine of inability to respond. Listen to these words of the Lord Jesus speaking to the multitudes in Jerusalem: “How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing” (Luke 13:34). We see in these words man’s willful, sinful refusal to respond to God. The Lord Jesus said in John 5:40, “you are not willing to come to Me that you might have life.” Here, plainly stated, is unwillingness to come to Christ, not inability. He is willing to save “whosoever will,” but the majority will not come to Him. Willingness is the key. “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine” (John 7:17).

Stubbornness and its parent, pride, are a function of the will. The Lord’s condemnation of the nation of Israel clearly charges the people with this sin. “I knew you were obstinate and your neck as an iron sinew and your brow brass” (Isaiah 48:4); “I have stretched out my hands all day long to a rebellious people” (Isaiah 65:2). God was reaching out but the people stubbornly were refusing His warnings given through the prophets. The principal outcome of a stubborn will is a refusal to submit to the control of your life by the Lord. If you wish to be a follower of the Lord Jesus you must understand that this is unacceptable to God (Luke 6:46). Still, some people try and the next section shows how they expect to succeed.

Lack Of Submission To The Lord Jesus Christ

Such people, as identified above, imagine they can neatly separate receiving Jesus as Savior from the fact that He is Lord. Presumably you could thus receive “the gift of salvation” as you would accept a package from its place under a Christmas tree. Then they think they can defer until some later date the need to have Him as Lord. Juan Carlos Ortiz has likened this to standing up in a marriage ceremony and saying to your wife-to-be, “I receive you as my own personal cook,” separating one aspect of the relationship from the responsibilities of the full marriage commitment. The object of salvation is the Lord Jesus Christ. We have no authority to divide His person when we come to Him to be saved. In the New Testament He is called “the Lord” over 500 times. It was the regular form used by the disciples to address Him personally. It is the title by which He is proclaimed in the book of Acts (2:36; 10:36; 16:31; 20:21) as well as in the epistles (Colossians 2:6; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Romans 10:9). Only about a dozen times is He mentioned as Savior alone.

Those who support the idea of separating His lordship from His saviorhood often misrepresent the position of their opponents by appealing to evangelical prejudice. They say we are saved by faith alone and not faith plus lordship. Of course, it is not faith plus lordship but a faith that involves the full Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have no right to narrow the scope of faith by narrowing the identity of the Person who is the object of saving faith. Further, it is sometimes said that we are calling people to a dedication to His Lordship. Rather we are calling people to Him, not dedication to a doctrine.

Objectors also say it is not possible to define “how much lordship,” ignoring the fact that one could easily say the question is, “How much faith?” Of course, it is not how much but in whom we are trusting. The critics say we are “subtly adding works to faith,” but there is no meritorious work involved in submitting to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. They say no one can know the full scope of the Lordship of Christ when he or she is saved, or be expected to apply this in advance. This is true, and the unsaved should not be expected to do this. But they should be open and surrendered to whatever He commands. Some teach that Lord in Romans 10:9 means only that we believe Jesus is God but does not include the idea that He is also our Master. How could one receive Jesus as God and refuse the companion idea that He is also Master? Anyone who truly believes Jesus is God will assuredly acknowledge His authority as Lord. Salvation comes when there is “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

God’s Grace and the Holy Spirit’s Work Required

Are we suggesting that people can be saved by their own efforts? No. God’s initiative is essential for any person to be saved. Left to our own devices, none of us would be saved. God is presented in Scripture as the Great Seeker of His fallen creatures (Genesis 3:8-9). The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Unless God had sent His Son to earth we could not be saved. Unless He gave His Spirit to convict us of our sin and need, we could not be saved. Unless His Spirit regenerated us into new life, we could not be saved (John 3:5). Unless God drew us to His Son, we could not be saved (John 6:44), but this verse does not state that only a select few are drawn, as some infer. God says, “I will draw all men to myself* (John 12:32). Without the undeserved favor of God (grace), we would not have the opportunity to receive the gift of salvation, apart from works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is a gift in the sense that we cannot buy or earn it by human efforts, but it is not a gift in the sense of a free ticket to do as we please. Salvation is of the Lord in initiation, provision, accomplishment and protection. None of these truths should be used to deny the necessity of human responsibility in receiving the divine message.

What is the relationship between God’s sovereign will and our human responsibility to respond? The omniscience of God foresees all that will happen in the future. It takes into account the degree to which human action is considered (1 Peter 1:1-2). In this sense then those who are destined or appointed to eternal life will believe (Acts 13:48). At the same time, however, the Lord Jesus was grieved over those who were unwilling to believe (Matthew 23:37). There is a universal provision for all persons to have saving faith (1 John 2:2). The Scriptures never indicate that anyone cannot believe because God has failed to give him or her the necessary enablement. God calls on all people to listen that they might live (Isaiah 55:1-3). They are able but they must also be willing.

Continuation And Endurance Of Faith

True saving faith will continue throughout life by God’s help. We can find great encouragement in Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.Saving faith is not limited to the time when a person makes a commitment to Christ for salvation. Faith is not a passing phase or momentary decision but the beginning of a permanent relationship. Four times the Scripture says, “the just shall live by faith.” Assurance of salvation depends on our continuation in the hope we have in the Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 3:6,12,14;1 Corinthians 15:1-2). But this is not salvation depending on behavior. The verses cited show that defection from faith indicates it was never real (1 John 2:19; 2 John 9; 2 Peter 2:20-22). Abiding proves reality (1 John 2:24). Judas Iscariot is an example of defection. The book of Jude adds an extensive description of apostates, those who fall away (Jude 11-16). The endurance of true faith is supported by God’s provision of new life in Christ and the indwelling presence and power of His Holy Spirit. It is also maintained by the intercessory prayer of the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 7:25). Clearly, saving faith is not “temporary faith,” which is not really true faith (Luke 8:13) but faith that endures.

Moral And Transforming Consequences Of Faith

Some people think they can become Christians without any significant life change. Scripture teaches differently. Change should be expected of those who have truly passed from death into life, from darkness into light. “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is a very clear statement of the life-changing impact that occurs when a person is born again by the Spirit. How could people, with the life of God now functioning in them and the Holy Spirit indwelling them, exhibit no change from the old life? The changes might be either subtle or dramatic at first, depending on the kind of life lived before. Even a person who has not lived an immoral life should be aware of selfishness in relationships and of his or her past neglect in seeking a relationship with God.

Faith is more than mental agreement. True faith transforms people within and without. It has been asked, “If you are not saved from continuing in your sins in this life, from what are you saved?” Change was certainly dramatic in the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:9), in the early Jewish converts (Acts 2:40-47), and in the disciples who left all to follow Jesus. Faith that does not result in a life change, marked by good deeds, is said to be dead (James 2:14-16). Can such a faith as this save a man, asks James. The answer is “No.” In commenting on this under the heading “Mere Belief,” G.W. Bromiley (New International Standard Bible Encyclopedia) writes, “James is warning against the conclusion that mere assent is the justifying faith of Abraham and his believing successors, and in this James and Paul are wholly at one. See also Hebrews 11. While faith in Christ justifies, this faith is demonstrated in works, which operates by love (Galatians 5:6), and which necessarily implies obedient action.

The practice of righteousness is a mark of a saved person (1 John 3:7). The practice of sin, that is, habitually practiced sin, knowing it is wrong, is a mark of one who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 John 3:4-10; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Ephesians 5:5-6; Galatians 5:19-21). People are warned about listening to those who try to deceive them on this issue by insisting that a sinful lifestyle does not prove the lack of salvation. Those who “profess to know God but by their deeds deny Him” are said to be detestable (Titus 1:16).

In an effort to separate the issue of righteous living (sanctification) from the assurance of salvation, some teachers point out that justification and sanctification are entirely different, which is certainly true. Justification is a divine act whereby a holy God pronounces the sinner who believes in Christ to be righteous and acquits that person from all charges (Romans 3:24; 4:4-5). Sanctification, which comes from the word “to set apart,” means the separation of the sinner negatively from the defilements of sin and positively to the purposes of God. Because the terms are different in definition, these teachers claim it is necessary to separate the process of sanctification from salvation, which they would limit to include only justification. This implies that holiness or sanctification has nothing to do with salvation. The answer to this argument is that although justification and sanctification are different terms, both are a part of coming to Christ and then following Him. Without sanctification or holiness, “No one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

Sanctification is an integral part of the salvation experience (Acts 26:18). We are saved and called to a “holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9). We are set apart positionally as saints from the moment of salvation (1 Corinthians 1:2). Saints means “holy ones.” Salvation’s purpose includes holiness. Having died with Christ and hence being justified, it is inconceivable that we should continue to live in sin (Romans 6:2).

Salvation is presented in differing tenses in the New Testament. We have been saved from the penalty of sin (1 Peter 3:18). We are being saved from the power of sin (Romans 6:6). We shall be saved from the presence of sin (Revelation 21:4; 1 Corinthians 5:5). The same three tenses are used in speaking of our sanctification. There can be no salvation without sanctification. “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24).

The above statements are not intended to imply that believers never sin or that there is no such thing as failure or being temporarily out of fellowship with God. Yet one cannot practice or habitually engage in lawlessness, or rebelliousness, as a way of life and still have Biblical hope of being one of the “children of the light” (1 John 3:9-10). One of the greatest props to such false hopes has been the misuse of 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 concerning the so-called “carnal Christian.” Immaturity and division are mentioned in this context, not habitual sin (E. Reisinger, The Carnal Christian, Banner of Truth). Many who think they are “carnal Christians” may well be deluded souls whose professions of faith are false.

Relation Of Repentance To Faith

The above sections concerning life change should have alerted us to the idea that there is no reason to turn to Christ as our Savior from sin (Matthew 1:21) if one has no desire for such a change. Many people would like God to spare them from their difficulties^” give them an insurance policy to go to Heaven. But they have no real desire to change their lifestyle. The forerunner of Jesus was John the Baptist, sent to prepare the way of the Lord. He preached the necessity of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:2-4). Those who heeded his message were baptized by him, “confessing their sins.”

John the Baptist made it plain to them that God sought changes in their lives, not empty words (Luke 3:8-14). Here we can see that repentance is related to an attitude about our sins. He did not ask them to weep for days, first stop sinning, reform their lives or make some kind of atonement or penance for their wrongdoing. He did seek a desire in their heart to have a change in the way they were living. This is consistent with the Old Testament message of God to a sinful people. “Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him” (Isaiah 55:7).

In the New Testament, Jesus says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5). His disciples went out and preached that the people should repent (Mark 6:12). On the day of Pentecost, Peter’s first sermon after the resurrection of Christ cut with conviction to their hearts. When they asked what needed to be done to be right with God, Peter answered, “Repent” (Acts 2:38). The warning was repeated many times (Acts 3:19; 11:18; 17:30; 26:20). It has been said by some teachers that to repent means the same thing as to have faith. Yet the two are carefully distinguished in Acts 20:21. The words do not mean the same at all. Repentance leads to faith in Christ. That is why John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way of the Lord.

Repentance means a “change of mind” but we cannot know what this change of mind is about unless we see how it is used. There are other uses of the word, such as references to God having repented, where the meaning is different. Unger’s Bible Dictionary defines salvation repentance as “a fundamental and thorough change in the hearts of men from sin and towards God.” H.A. Ironside in Except Ye Repent says it is to “change one’s attitude toward self, towards sin, toward God, toward Christ.” The use of the word repent also includes the idea of willingness to turn from sin, not just to believe in Jesus (Revelation 2:5,21; 3:3,19; Acts 8:22; 3:26). It is not faith plus repentance but a faith which includes repentance.

It is sometimes argued that because the word repent is not used in John’s Gospel, and only once in Romans, it is not necessary for salvation. These two books are important but we have no authority to eliminate a teaching found in the Gospels, Acts, Epistles and Revelation because it is not expressly mentioned in some other books. Certainly when Jesus brought the woman of Samaria to acknowledge her immoral life, He was seeking her acknowledgment of sin (John 4:17-18). When He warned a man to “sin no more” (John 5:14), He was not ignoring repentance.

Another claim is that repent is a word only for the Jews. Yet the New Testament says it is for both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 11:18; 20:21). It is argued that since sinners are “dead in sins” (Ephesians 2:1), they are incapable of any such response to God. Ironside writes, “To say that because a sinner, whether Jew or Gentile, is dead toward God, therefore he cannot repent, is to misunderstand the nature of that death. It is a judicial, not an actual death. He is spiritually dead because he is separated from God.”

Those who oppose repentance as necessary to salvation have rightly pointed out that the word does not require prolonged anguish of soul, reformation of life or cessation of sinning as a prior condition to saving faith. Obviously, we need His enabling power. This is accomplished through regeneration unto new life and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Unless we have a change of mind (repentance) about the way we have lived, as disobedient sinners, we are not prepared to receive Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Summary And Concluding Appeal

The extensive discussion in these two chapters may leave some with the feeling that we have made “simple faith” so complicated it is beyond the understanding of many. After all, you might say, the thief on the cross came to Christ without understanding all these aspects (Luke 23:39-43). That is a fair objection. We must remember, however, that “the good thief was face to face with Christ and in the extreme hour of dying. Yet he exhibited more comprehension than many of those praying to “accept Jesus” today. He looked to the Lord Jesus as one who would be victorious over death. He acknowledged Him as a King who was able to take even a thief (Matthew 27:44) into His heavenly kingdom. He turned from being a fellow blasphemer with the other thief and took sides with the Lord. He bowed to His authority and committed himself to the Lord Jesus for salvation. That was sufficient then, and still is as a minimum basis.

We may summarize by saying that salvation begins with the initiative of God in sending His Son to save us (Luke 19:10). This is totally of grace. He draws us to Himself and convicts the sinner of the need of salvation by His Spirit (John 16:8). God sends His messengers to proclaim the good news that God is willing to save sinners through His Son. It is God the Son who came, died on the cross for our sins as a substitutionary sacrifice and rose from the dead a victor over sin, death and hell. When we understand this, when we repent, turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, obey the gospel and rely entirely upon Christ to save us apart from any works of our own, then the Holy Spirit regenerates us and gives us new life. This life will endure and will be characterized by transformation.

Remember:

The only persons who need a Savior are those who have recognized their own sinfulness and helplessness to bring about salvation by their own efforts.

Such a person must necessarily depend upon what God provides for salvation, which is His Son “who made the substitutionary sacrifice for us.

That person seeks a true relationship with God through Christ alone, as the one who becomes his or her Lord and Savior through faith, which will result in the person’s obedience to God’s Word.

The purpose of God is to change lives here and now, bringing us to follow the Lord Jesus, as well as take us to Heaven.

Study Guide Lesson 5 What Are The Obstacles To Saving Faith?

1. What have you found to be the major problems in talking with someone who needs to be saved? Why is this so, in your opinion?

2. Why can’t we just ask Jesus to be our Savior and postpone a surrender to (or not even mention) Jesus as Lord? Is this not adding works to salvation? Give Scriptures to support your answer.

3. Is it possible to be saved without any enduring life transformation? Why not? Give Scriptures to support your answer.

4. What is true repentance? Why is repentance an important part of coming to Christ to be saved?