Christians believe that the Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died to save the whole world and was raised by the glory of the Father so that whoever turns in repentance to God and has faith in Jesus Christ will be saved (John 3:16).
The word generally used to describe becoming a Christian is the word conversion. It indicates a change of direction and a change of heart. It means entering into a new relationship with God in which unbelief is replaced by humble trust, resulting in new life.
Although we are sinners, God declares us righteous because of our faith in Jesus Christ. We are accepted by God just as we are. We do not deserve such acceptance, neither can we earn it or repay it. We can only experience the joy of forgiveness and open conversation with God.
God seeks us before we even desire to seek him. His grace awakens us, convicts us of sin, convinces us of hope, enables us to respond and leads us to new life.
Life in Christ requires continual reliance on the grace of God and not on our own goodness to earn God’s favour. We are always in God’s debt, always undeserving, always accepted by grace alone.
Repentance and faith
If we are to experience the saving effects of the atonement, we must respond with repentance and faith.
Our repentance is a gift of grace through the Holy Spirit. Although often accompanied by sorrow, it is joyful because it is our response to the good news of salvation. We become more aware of our sinfulness and this moves us, not down into despair, but upward towards God. We are drawn to confess our sins, renounce selfish life-styles and to make restitution for the sins of the past.
True repentance, however, must always be accompanied by faith in Christ. We can be sorry for acts of transgression and want to leave them behind. We can bear deep guilt over past sins and want to clear our conscience. We can even make a major change and turn in a new direction. All this may be called repentance: but it is not the repentance that leads to life in Christ. Salvation results only when repentance is combined with faith in Christ as Saviour.
Faith is our personal response to the grace of God. It is a trusting acceptance of the good news of the gospel that God accepts us because of Jesus Christ. It involves a commitment of ourselves to him.
Therefore, faith is more than intellectual belief. Faith involves heart, mind and will, and is made possible by God himself.
Those who attempt to win acceptance with God by their own performance are doomed to fail because the greatest human effort can never fulfil all the requirements of true righteousness. Even if our outward lives appear to be flawless in conduct, we know that our thoughts and motives fall short of pleasing God.
But when we abandon human efforts and cast ourselves in repentance on the merciful grace of God, his grace is freely given. We are freed from guilt and accepted as righteous.
Grace and free will
We believe that God destines to salvation all who believe in Jesus Christ. Without the grace and mercy of God, we have no hope. But it is possible for grace to be resisted or abandoned. The grace of God does not compromise the free will God has given us.
The love of God is such that, with profound sorrow, he allows us to reject him.
To turn away from our sinful life and to come to Christ in repentance and faith is to experience a kind of death. We are called to the same obedience to God and letting go of self that led Jesus to the cross.
When we put our faith in Christ we come into new life by receiving the Holy Spirit. We hear the call to follow him and we experience his peace and joy in our hearts. We are sensitive to sin and eager to seek forgiveness. The Spirit guides us as we reach out to share the love of God with others.
Resurrection is not only something that happened to Jesus Christ, it is also, very powerfully, something that happens to his followers. In Christ, all of us can experience power over sin and death. We will all die physically, but that ultimate death, which is the consequence of sin, has no more power over us. Our hope for the future is guaranteed by the living presence of the Holy Spirit in us.
The Holy Spirit assures us of the truth of the gospel message. We can be assured because the Holy Spirit speaks to us and our lives have been changed.
Assurance does not mean that we are never troubled by doubt after our conversion or that we are always consciously aware of the work of the Spirit within us. At times when we are not consciously assured of our salvation; however, we remember that an ongoing union with Christ depends on his work and not our feelings.
It is God’s will that his children should know they belong to his family and so continue on their way in joyful confidence, not in fearful uncertainty. The gospel call to salvation is to faith, not fear.
Continued obedient faith
Our salvation is assured as long as we continue to exercise faith in Jesus Christ. Such faith is expressed in obedience to his leadings, will and commands. Obedience as a free-will choice is a consequence of faith, and without it, faith dies.
- Source: abridged from ‘Salvation Story: Salvationist Handbook of Doctrine’, Salvation Army International Headquarters, London 1988