Nice comments below by John McArthur
Are You Really Saved?
John MacArthur: When I was in high school I had a very dear friend—played on our baseball team, played on our football team, we were buddies, he played first base, I played short stop, he played a backup quarterback position, I was a tailback—and we were close. His father was real active in a church group and, of course, my father was a pastor and we did a lot of personal evangelism in those days, we’d go down to the Pershing Square in LA and witness. Ralph went away to Redlands University—I saw him after his second year, after I’d been away to college, and I was so glad to see him and he said, “John, something’s changed.” I said, “What?” He said, “I’m an atheist.” I was shocked. I said, “What do you mean ‘you’re an atheist’?” He said, “I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe any of that “blankety-blank” stuff in the Bible.” I just didn’t have a category in my theology to put him in at that point.
I went away to college. I had a very, very similar experience with a number of guys that I knew, who named the name of Christ at one point in time, and who abandoned Christ. The guy that sticks in my mind most of all—I was in my senior year at college. He was my running mate in the backfield; he was a great football player. We had great times together. He was a youth pastor on the weekends; he taught the College Sunday school class in a Presbyterian church, and I taught the College Sunday school class for my dad—we always compared notes. He graduated. I went on to seminary. He went on to get a Ph.D. in Psychology; he went to teach at Cal. State University in Long Beach, and I picked up the Times one day to find out that he had brought nude students into the classroom and was demonstrating sexual stuff in front of the whole class. He was defrocked—kicked out of the school…found out he was selling drugs on the side…he wound up with a seven-year prison sentence. You know, when you play football with a guy for three years, you get close. He was the student body president, I was vice president; his father was a pastor, a good friend of my dad’s; to this day he denies Christ.
I went away to seminary—the son of the Dean of my seminary married a Buddhist and set up a Buddhist altar in his house after graduating from Talbot Seminary. I struggled through a lot of that kind of stuff. Then, I went to a church and I baptized a guy who was a porno film maker and within 2 months, he was back making porno films.
As a pastor, I have seen them come and go and come and go and come and go…and trying in my own heart to access the nature of true conversion was very much a personal struggle with me, not a theological one. Then, I began to study the gospel of Matthew and I preached in Matthew for 8 years at our church and in that process of going through Matthew, I began to come to grips with the whole gospel record, because I was doing a study of the synoptics and John at the same time. I began to fix on how Jesus evangelized and what he called for and so forth and born out of that, I began to look at the church at large.
I began to look, for one thing, at the Charismatic movement, which I say this with compassion in my heart, has been, without question, the most disruptive disastrous thing that has happened to the church in the last 50 years. It has devastated the church in America in a number of ways. I wish I had time to go in to them. And then coming behind it, this psychological salvation stuff. The combination of this has created the illusion of salvation in our society.
I’m not trying to make people insecure; I’m just trying to make sure there aren’t some people thinking they’re on their way to heaven, who are going to wake in hell, and fulfill Matthew 7:21-23 and say, “Lord! Lord! What about us?” That, to me, is the most frightening passage in all of Scripture. It’d be one thing to go to hell and know you were going there, it’d be one thing to go to hell and not expect anything different; it’d be another thing to go to hell and wonder why you got there when you thought you were a Christian. I just don’t want any responsibility in my life or any of your responsibility with regard to that doctrine.
So, that’s really what motivated me through the years, just going over that and trying to deal with the reality of that issue and then watching people who name the name of Christ, but their life is the same.
Board Member: Another question here then, John. If I were an unsaved man coming to you today in desperate need of salvation, and were to ask you, how I can receive eternal life, what would you tell me? How much would I have to understand concerning Christ, to get saved? Please give the Scripture you would use.
John MacArthur: Well, you’d have to understand who Christ is—I mean, you can’t believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved unless you know who the Lord Jesus Christ is. You would have to understand that He is God in human flesh who came into the world to offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin and that He accomplished the atonement on the cross, paying the penalty for your sins and thus allowing God to grant forgiveness to those who put their faith in Him.
So, you’d have to explain Christ and then it would be a question of believing in Him. The issue is what do we mean by belief? Do you believe that Jesus came into the world, God in human flesh? Yes. Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross and rose again the third day? Yes. Do you believe Jesus died as a substitute for your sins? Yes.
Is he saved? Not necessarily. I believe all that; so do the devils…James 2, “…they tremble…” There’s something else. There’s got to be some content in this believing. Jesus said, you know, He didn’t commit Himself to people who believed in him. Many believed on Him, but “He didn’t commit himself to them because He knew what was in their hearts,” remember that?
So, the first question I try to ask in the book is: what is the nature of saving faith? What is it that sets saving faith apart from non-saving faith? I am sure that every person in this room would affirm that there is such a thing as a non-saving kind of belief, right? The Catholics will sign on the dotted line, everything in the life of Christ, His death, His resurrection…That doesn’t save them. What does? Well, somehow, saving faith has to have some component. Let me suggest the components to you.
Component #1—Saving faith forsakes all human means of salvation.
Listen to the apostle Paul. Acts 9 was the history of his conversion; Philippians 3 is his heart attitude. You want to know what Paul was feeling on the Damascus road? Read Philippians 3. What does he say there? He says, “I was circumcised the eighth day. I was of the nation Israel. I was of the tribe of Benjamin. I was a Hebrew of the Hebrews. As to the law, a Pharisee. As to zeal, persecuting the church. As to the righteousness which is contained in the law, I was,” what?, “blameless.” I mean, that’s some heavy-duty credentials.
What was all that stuff to him? That was all of his asset column; that was all profit. “These things I counted as gain,” first. Right? This was my assets. Why? Because his hope of salvation was in those. Salvation by race; salvation by ritual (circumcision); salvation by rank (tribe of Benjamin—one of the highest ranking of all tribes. I mean, they got the territory in which Jerusalem existed; they were the only son born in the promise land, and on and on it goes).
And then he says, “I was a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” What do you mean? I’m a Hebrew son…Hebrew parents. I kept the tradition. I kept the language. I kept the customs. I got it all. When it comes to zeal, do you want to see a sincere believer in God?! I killed the opponents of the old covenant. I killed the opponents of salvation as I understood it. That’s how zealous and sincere I am. The guy had it all. As to the law: blameless, from the human viewpoint. They couldn’t hold anything on me. I kept the law; I was a Pharisee: strict, loyal.”
6,000 Pharisees—that’s all there were at that time; he was one of those—that small little elite group. So, he says, “That’s all in my asset column and I hoped in my salvation for that and then I met Christ on the Damascus road.” And, you can believe this: he already knew the facts of Christ, right? And he already knew what the gospel preachers were preaching—that’s why he was persecuting them. But, all of a sudden, he met Jesus Christ and what he saw was skubalon, rubbish, excrement…and he trashed it.
And what does that say? That says that salvation comes to someone who turns his back on any confidence in the flesh whatsoever. Paul says, “I counted it rubbish. It was gain to me—I counted it as loss.” He doesn’t say, “Well, it was nice, but it wasn’t adequate.” He says, “It was excrement.” That’s the word skubalon. “Why?” you say, “to be a Jew, to be from Benjamin’s tribe,…why was it such a vile thing?” I’ll tell you why. Not because in itself it’s wicked, but because when you trust in it for salvation, it’ll damn your soul. That’s the issue. So, he says, “I counted it all loss in order that I might gain Christ. And what did I gain? The knowledge of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, the power of Christ, the fellowship of Christ in His sufferings, and the glory of Christ in the resurrection to come.” That’s the exchange.
You say, is that taught in the gospels? Absolutely. What did Jesus say in Matthew 16, “What will a man give in exchange for his,” what? You see, Paul had to make an exchange. He had to give up all of the stuff he was trusting to trust only in Christ. That’s exactly what Jesus meant in the parable of the treasure and the pearl. When the guy found the treasure, he sold everything he had and took the treasure. When he found the pearl, he sold everything he had and took the pearl. It is an exchange of all that I have trusted in for my salvation, for Christ. It’s all rubbish.
So, the first thing about saving faith is it has no confidence in the flesh. It is by pure grace, through faith, plus or minus nothing.
Component #2—(I believe you must affirm this to a person) is that it involves a turning from sin.
How can anybody argue with that, when that’s what Jesus preached: repent…and that’s what John preached: repent…and that’s what Paul preached…”We preach repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,” Acts 20. It’s “Repent! Repent!” Now, I know people say it means you change your mind about who Christ is; I don’t believe that. I mean it is a conscious recognition that I am a sinner and I am turning from my sin to a Savior. I think that is just all through Scripture.
And then I believe there’s one more element of that saving faith and that is…
Component #3—it is a commitment. It is the entrusting of my life to the Lordship of Christ.
Now, let me say this. I believe that you are turning from all confidence in the flesh, you are turning from sin to a Savior who can forgive your sin, and you are committing your life to the care of a sovereign Lord. Now, let me say this. I do not believe that at the moment of salvation, you or anybody else, fully understands all the implications of that kind of a thing. I’ll tell you right now, you may not understand it a few years after your salvation because it’s an ever-increasing awareness of what that meant.
“But, ah,” you say, “well, is that a human work, to turn from your flesh?” No. “Is it a human work to repent?” No. “Is it a human work to submit?” No. That is the divine work. It’s God who produces the loss of confidence in the flesh. It’s God who produces the repentance. It’s God who grants repentance; it says in the book of Acts, “God granted the Gentiles repentance.”
Are you willing to turn from anything you’re trusting for your salvation and trust only in Jesus Christ? Are you willing to turn from your sin—commit it to Him—ask Him to cleanse your life…and, are you willing to follow Him? What did Jesus say, “Make a decision for me”? No, He said, “Follow Me.” Continuity—that’s the way I would give the message. I don’t think everybody understands the full implications of it.
The second thing I tried to point out in the book—the first is the nature of saving faith—the second is the nature of conversion. What is conversion? If you tell me conversion is where you get saved but don’t change, I got a problem because I don’t understand that that’s what the Bible teaches. So, maybe we need to talk about that…that’ll probably come up.