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Are My Children Saved?

Are My Children Saved?

We have reached a new milestone, in our family – one for which I have prayed since before I even had children.

Both of my children have made the personal decision to follow Christ – to make Him the Lord of their lives.

My father just baptized my youngest daughter recently – my oldest having experienced the same a couple of years before. With both of them, it was a moment of poignancy, beauty, joy, and even relief. I already have two children in heaven – ones who never had to struggle through the sin and difficulty of this life. Now, I have the security that my other two will be there, as well.

Right?

Or do I?

I recognize, more and more, the older I get, just how complex matters of the soul are. What the world understands as “becoming a Christian” – recognizing and repenting of one’s sin, believing that Christ paid the price for that sin through his death and resurrection, and confessing one’s faith in Him – is but the first step in a very long, winding, complicated journey. So many Christians believe that once they walk up the aisle and confess that Jesus is their Lord, they’re “in”. Signed, sealed, delivered.

Good to go, as far as eternity is concerned.

The older I get, and the more I learn, the more I recognize that the truth is a bit more complex.

 Justification

 

What most people understand as “being saved” is, in theological terms, justification. Through the grace of God, not any work of our own, once we simply choose to accept Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, we are made good – just – in the eyes of God. Our guilt is covered by His righteousness. So much of scripture underscores the fact that salvation is a work of grace, initiated by God – it is nothing we can attain for ourselves by works we perform:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

“For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Romans 3:28

“We… know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:16

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2

David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

“Blessed are those
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord will never count against them.” Romans 4:6-8

We believe in Him, and His grace justifies us, so we get eternal life. Simple, right?

Oh, how I wish it were so.

Sanctification

 

There is this other piece of salvation, called sanctification. And sanctification goes hand-in-hand with justification, when it comes to our eternal destiny.

Sanctification is the process that begins AFTER justification. After we’ve accepted Christ’s sacrifice, and His blood has covered up our sins so that we are justified before God, the process begins within us by which the Holy Spirit helps us actually become what Jesus’ blood says we are. In other words, through justification, Christ paid the penalty for our offenses, so, as far as the judge is concerned, our debt has been satisfied. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are still, in our souls, the person who committed the crimes. We’ve been declared righteous (because God sees Jesus’ righteousness instead of our own), but we actually aren’t yet righteous.

Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit in actually making us into what justification through faith declares us to be.

“I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” Acts 26:17-19

“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:22-23

Baptism Ash-1783On the Path to Holiness

So what, exactly, does all this mean?

It means we cannot obtain salvation by any efforts of our own, but if we have truly obtained salvation through Christ’s grace, we will necessarily be on the path toward becoming more like Him. True justification – and salvation – means we will be on the path to righteousness. Justification and sanctification are intertwined and cannot be separated. Justification declares us to be holy in God’s sight. Sanctification is the process of making us holy.

An easier way of saying it: If we have truly experienced salvation, we will necessarily be on a path toward becoming like Christ so that our sin nature gets replaced by His holy nature.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.” Romans 6:5-14

Note the connection between justification and sanctification in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

 “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

What About the Change?

So this means our eternal destiny is not dependent simply upon some words we say, or a belief we have, but in a change that occurs within us, due to the work of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is a life-transforming experience in which, once we truly accept Christ’s grace on the cross, the Holy Spirit comes to reside within us and does a work that starts transforming our very nature from one of sin to one of holiness. There is no salvation without transformative change. There is no justification without sanctification.

Jesus explained it this way:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown….

11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Luke 8)

18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:18-20

On a theological, abstract level, this is not horribly difficult to grasp. If God is holy (and He is), and there is no sin in Him, the only way we can be one with Him forever is to share in His nature – if we become holy as well. The Holy Spirit does that work once we agree that we want it. We can get that.

When it comes to applying this concept to any particular individual, however, this concept becomes excruciatingly difficult.

How do we know if sanctification is actually happening? Since we all sin, even after making the decision to follow Christ, what actually differentiates the life enslaved to Christ in which sin is being overcome slowly through the process of sanctification, and the life in which a pattern of sin (or enslavement to sin) indicates sanctification (and therefore justification) has never actually occurred?

Because there are very different eternal outcomes for those.

 Two Different GroupsBaptism Ash-1785

One key to the answer is repentance.

For the first group, scripture says:

 “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:22-25.

For the second group, scripture says,

No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him….The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning…No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” 1 John 3:6-10

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth… If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. John 1:5, 6, 8

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 7:21-23

At least one significant difference is that in the individual undergoing the process of sanctification, the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, and that individual then repents of it. In the individual who is not undergoing the process of sanctification, there is no recognition of the need to repent. It is the difference between hearing God’s guidelines according to His Word and living out:

1) “Here is the standard; Forgive me, Lord, because I just fell short of it”

versus

2) “No, that is not the standard for me at all”.

Scripture shows that the first is characteristic of the saved person, the one redeemed, whereas the second is characteristic of one condemned.

It is one thing to understand this concept in the abstract. It is another, entirely, to try to apply it to individual persons.

Producing Fruit

We, of course, can never make definitive determinations about the eternal destiny of any person, and trying to do so never leads to a good place. We never know what “being on the path to righteousness” looks like in the life of another; the soul condition of another person. We cannot know where he or she began, how far God has brought him or her, or the role of repentance in one’s heart. No, the principles around justification and sanctification, while important to understand and point to the truth of in the abstract, should be applied in practice to ourselves.

Yes, Jesus was clear that it is our fruit that distinguishes whether or not we are truly His:

“A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit. 44 For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart (Luke 6:43-45).

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:1-8

Yet beyond simply presenting that truth to others, we should not, nay cannot even begin to ferret out who is producing fruit and who is not. We can, and should, as Christian brothers and sisters, hold one another accountable to living according to God’s moral guidelines. But we cannot make assumptions about how well the living by or falling short of those guidelines is indicative of one’s spiritual status or eternal destiny. We cannot ever know the full picture; we only “see through a glass darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We can only work to ensure that in our own lives, in our own souls, we are allowing Christ to produce His fruit in us by listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, repenting of our sin, and responding in obedience to what He tells us to do.

But the idea that sanctification necessarily partners with justification should, at the very least, give us a sense of both humility and responsibility: humility, because salvation involves a daily commitment to allowing the Holy Spirit to change us – something none of us naturally wants to do, and responsibility to share the truth about the importance of producing fruit, because so many people have an erroneous assumption that if they simply believe, or pray the sinner’s prayer, that they are then “in”, as far as eternal destiny goes, and can pretty much live life the way they choose.

Salvation is so much more than that.

Baptism Ash-1800Leaving It In His Hands

As I watch my youngest child’s baptism, my eyes mist in joy for this momentous decision she has made. She has chosen, as best her 7-year-old soul understands it, to follow Christ and make Him Lord of her life – and I rejoice at this blessing.

But I also pray fervently, because I know that she has only just begun this long and very challenging journey. And there is a whole lot of life ahead of her, with its enticements and pleasures and pain and sin and disillusionment. I know that right now her faith is significantly influenced by our family, and that as she matures she will have to appropriate faith that is completely her own – to decide that she believes not because it is how she has grown up, but because she has experienced God as real. I know that concepts she understands only marginally now – concepts such as forgiveness, sacrifice, and self-denial – will have to become tangible realities in her own heart and life. I know that she will have to move from devotion to the Lord being a familial custom and discipline to being a daily commitment and personal desire.

It is a long road. A narrow way. But she is in the hands of a God who goes after one lost sheep until He finds it (Luke 15). And a God who doesn’t want “any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And a God who sends angels to encamp around those who love Him (Psalm 34:7). And a God who woos (Hosea 2:14), and pursues (Hosea 3) and is jealous for us (Joel 2:18, Ezekiel 39:25-26). I know she is in the hands of a God who spent the whole of the Old Testament pursuing His people who continually rejected Him.

I do not know or understand the interplay of justification and sanctification for eternal salvation in any individual’s life, nor can any of us know. Yes, there is a lot of life to go and an arduous spiritual journey for my children yet to walk. Yes, their faith is primarily, right now, the faith of their family. No, I cannot predict or determine how all of this is going to play out for them – or what level of justification/sanctification is going on in their lives at this time (or at any time).

But I believe they have made the choice to follow Christ with the best information and ability they have at their current level of maturity. And I believe the seeds of Christ’s truth and love have been planted in them. And I believe God is, as Francis Thompson and then C.S. Lewis after him, coined, the “Hound of Heaven” who never, ever stops pursuing us, to bring us to Himself – both through justification by way of accepting Christ’s sacrifice, and through sanctification by the work of the Holy Spirit in making us righteous as He is.

So I will pray for them, and their spiritual well-being, every single day. And I will continue to teach them, as best I know how, God’s Word and will. And I will endeavor to make Christ the center of my world, so that, with His grace, they might be able to see, somehow, in my life, the realities of which I speak.

Beyond that, I leave it in His hands, and I trust the God who loves them even more than I do.

 

Hound of Heaven

by Francis Thompson

 

I fled Him down the nights and down the days
I fled Him down the arches of the years
I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears

But with unhurrying chase and unperturbe’d pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat, and a Voice beat,
More instant than the feet:
All things betray thee who betrayest me….

Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save me, save only me?
All which I took from thee, I did’st but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.

All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost,
I have stored for thee at Home.
Rise, clasp my hand, and come.
Halts by me that Footfall.
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
Ah, Fondest, Blindest, Weakest,
I am He whom thou sleekest…

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