George Foster and his wife Dolly were missionaries to Brazil for 25 years in several roles: pastor, publisher, writer, and National Director of Bethany Fellowship Missions. Presently George and Dolly oversee mission outreach in Europe and South America. George's writings have been published in several languages. George will be writing a regular column for Christian Literature Today.
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Copyright © 2001
THE RIGHT ROAD: AM I ON IT?
"Your faith has saved you; go in peace."
1. ARE YOU SURE WHERE THIS ROAD IS TAKING YOU?
HOW FAR WILL YOU DRIVE down a highway if you're not sure where it's taking you? If you're a woman, probably not very far. If you're a man... Let's not even go there! Often when I'm traveling by air, a flight attendant greets me at the door. I sometimes ask, "Where are we going today?" I like to know that I'm on the right plane. Sometimes there is a brief pause or a quick consultation between crew members before I get an answer.
How long will a man or woman continue on his or her way in life without knowing whether the destination is heaven or hell? Can he know? Can she know? Can anyone know?
2. THE ROAD TO HEAVEN
Some say we can only hope we will get to heaven. Others say it will be determined by the way we believe, and still others say it's by the way we live. Does that mean that any route will take us there, as long as we believe it does and we obey the laws of the highway?
Let's look at some people --- folks like you and me --- who broke the laws, but not only believed they were forgiven and bound for heaven, they were fully assured of it because Jesus had given them that certainty.
3. SALVATION HAS COME TO THIS HOUSE
In the city of Jericho lived Zacchaeus, a tax official, who was despised for taking high taxes for the Romans from his own Jewish people. Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus and wanted to see Him, but he did not occupy a situation in society that would allow him to join the crowds that thronged to get near the Lord.
As Jesus walked through the city, Zacchaeus hurried to a strategic location and climbed a tree where he could see the Master pass by without being detected. He must have been shocked when Jesus went right to the tree and called, "Zacchaeus, I need to stay at your house today."
Amazed that Jesus knew him, Zacchaeus climbed down and took Him home for lunch. While they ate, the population outside complained, "What's Jesus doing in the house of that sinner?"
But if they were shocked that Jesus would eat with Zacchaeus, they were stupefied when Zacchaeus came out and said, "Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." (I wonder if the line formed right then and there.)
4. THE LESSON FROM THE ZACCHAEUS STORY
The Bible tells the story of Zacchaeus to teach us that Jesus cares about those whom society rejects for their unacceptable behavior, knows them by name, meets them where they are, redeems them, and calls them to be His followers and friends.
Zacchaeus responded to the call by repenting of his sins and committing his life to Jesus. He changed so much from one moment to the next that he promised to repair his wrongdoing, and live as God wanted him to.
Jesus did not doubt the sincerity of Zacchaeus or his repentance. To remove any doubt that others might have had, Jesus gave a public testimonial to the conversion that had taken place: "Salvation has come to this house," and then stated His mission to the world: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:9-10). Zacchaeus knew from that moment on that he had been touched and saved!
5. FRIEND, YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN
I love the story told in the Bible of the four men who had a paralytic friend. Hearing that Jesus was healing the sick, they took their friend to the house where Jesus ministered. But, because the house was filled with people, they couldn't get in. So they went to the roof, removed a few tiles, and lowered their friend to the place where Jesus stood.
While everyone in the crowd could see that the man needed physical healing, Jesus saw what no one else could see: the man's need of forgiveness and spiritual healing. Jesus looked at him and - disregarding completely the Jewish custom of killing a sacrificial lamb as an atonement for sin-said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven."
This was shocking. Hearing these words without knowing that Jesus Himself was the sacrificial "lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world," the Pharisees and teachers in the crowd questioned, "Who is this who speaks blasphemy? Who but God can forgive sins?"
Jesus, however, knew what was on their minds and asked, "Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? What is easier to say-your sins are forgiven, or get up and walk?" Then, to show them that He had authority to forgive sins, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, "Get up, take your mat and go home." So the man got right up, took his mat and went home praising God (Luke 5:20-25).
From that moment on, the man knew that he was both healed and forgiven. As in the case of Zacchaeus, Jesus filled this man's heart with peace. What do you think it would be like to hear Jesus speak those words of peace to you?
6. NEITHER DO I CONDEMN YOU
One day, when Jesus was teaching in the temple, a group of religious leaders appeared, dragging with them a desperate woman, and saying to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. Moses commanded us to stone such women."
Jesus paused sadly and answered, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her."
One-by-one, upon hearing the words Jesus spoke, they began filing out, until only the woman was left with Jesus.
Jesus asked her, "Where are your accusers? Is no one left to condemn you?" "No one," she said.
"Neither do I condemn you," Jesus said. "Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:4-11).
What relief she must have felt when she heard His words! She could scarcely believe it! Minutes before, she stood condemned by law, tradition, and religious leaders. Now, although Jesus did not condone what she had done, He was assuring her that she was free from condemnation, thus releasing her from her feelings of worthlessness and shame.
The knowledge of her new standing with God would give her the power she had previously lacked to change her ways. She knew what road she was on and where it would take her. She would never be the same.
7. YOUR FAITH HAS SAVED YOU. GO IN PEACE
Another woman with a troubled past performed an unusual and extravagant act of worship: "She brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume on them" (Luke 7:37-38).
Jesus told her, "Your sins are forgiven."
Hearing that, the other guests said, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" Jesus left no room for doubt: "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." She too knew that she was forgiven and her life would be different from that moment on.
8. TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE
Let me share one last example of Jesus communicating full assurance of salvation to a desperate person. It took place at Calvary where the completely innocent Jesus was crucified between two criminals for your sins and mine.
One of the criminals mocked Him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other one rebuked the mocker. "Don't you fear God since you are under the same sentence? We are getting what we deserve. This man has done nothing wrong."
Then he turned his face toward Jesus and said, "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom." Jesus answered tenderly, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:39-43).
Isn't it amazing that at the hour of his sacrificial death on the cross, Jesus could reach out to a repentant sinner with His voice of mercy.
It's also amazing that the forgiven thief, in the hour of his death, became fully assured that heaven would be his home - certainly through no worthiness of his own --- a reminder that we can find hope and assurance even in the last hour of our life --- no matter what we have done with our life!
In these encounters Jesus assured the responsive persons that they were saved. It's no different today. If you and I repent of our sins and receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior, though Jesus is no longer with us physically, three positive witnesses are present to tell us that we are on the road to heaven. I will introduce them to you, but first let me tell you about a man who got their message.
9. WESLEY'S EXPERIENCE
JOHN WESLEY was the brilliant and highly disciplined founder of the Methodist Church who, early in life, left his family and home in England to be a missionary in colonial America. Sadly for him, his goal of converting Native Americans to Christ was not reached because of his own spiritual emptiness. "Alas," he later admitted, "I myself needed to be converted."
Defeated and nearly destroyed, he returned to England. Then one night, as he attended a meeting with a small group of Christians, a Bible commentary was read. To his amazement, he was flooded with assurance. "My heart," he said, "was strangely warmed and I knew that I believed."
This heartwarming experience was God's way of doing for John Wesley what Jesus had done for those whose lives he transformed in New Testament times, filling them with peace, and assuring them of their salvation.
He did the same for a blind songwriter named Fanny Crosby who wrote the well-loved song, "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. O what a foretaste of glory divine."
But even Fanny Crosby's beautiful words cannot adequately express what it means to experience the peace and assurance we have when we put our full trust in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
From the moment Jesus comes into our life we have the answer to the probing question posed in verse by an unknown, ancient writer:
Tis a point I long to know;
As believers in Jesus Christ, we can and must have full assurance of our salvation here and now. We can know and must know that we are forgiven and born of God.
10. THREE WITNESSES TO OUR SALVATION
Just as Jesus gave assurance to those who accepted him during His ministry on earth, He takes pleasure in giving us full assurance when we trust Him today. He does it, as we previously mentioned, by means of three witnesses:
Let's hear the witnesses one-by-one as they bring forth their evidence.
11. THE WITNESS OF GOD'S WORD
The Bible is a sure and certain book. Its Spirit-inspired writers tell us exactly what conditions we must meet to be saved:
Repent. "Repent and turn to God, so your sins may be wiped out" (Acts 3:19). Repentance means turning away from sin and turning to Jesus. It's giving up a self-centered, self-driven, self-exalting, self-empowering, self-pleasing, yet self-destructive way of life and embracing a life that puts Christ in the place of self. When we repent of our sins, God forgives us!
Believe. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 6:31). To believe in Jesus is to trust in Him to do for us what we could not do for ourselves --- change our hearts. To believe in Him is to entrust our self, and our hope of salvation to Him. If we believe in Him, we have His word, "You will be saved."
Accept. "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive him. Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God (John 1:10-12). We accept Him as Lord and Savior of our lives. He accepts us as sons and daughters. It's simple but true and absolutely necessary!
Confess. "If you use your mouth to say, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). Could it be clearer? We confess and believe and are saved. Jesus said, "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven"(Matthew 10:32-33).
We all need a sure, certain word from the Bible. When the apostle John wrote a letter to early Christians who had taken the steps of repentance, faith, acceptance and confession, he expressed clearly his purpose for writing it:
"I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13).
That's the witness of God's Word to our conscious mind. There is also a witness that speaks to our spirit...
12. THE WITNESS OF GOD'S SPIRIT
The moment we put our faith in Christ, He puts His Spirit in us. So definite is that fact that the Bible states, "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Romans 8:9). The Holy Spirit brings the life of Christ into us and assures us that we are God's children.
"His Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God's children" (Romans 8:16).
Some people say, "Everyone is God's child." But the Bible says that those who receive Jesus are born again into the kingdom and family of God.
"Flesh gives birth to flesh," said Jesus, "The Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again'" (John 3:6-7).
It would seem much more gracious and certainly more politically correct to say that everyone is a child of God, but that's only true in the sense that we are all part of the human family which was created by God. Maybe we would prefer that the Bible read He came to His own, but even though they did not receive Him, He recognized that they were children of God.
If we could read it that way, it would be easier for everyone. We could all join hands and march together to the place that He prepared in heaven for all who have ever lived, no matter what they did, no matter what they believed, no matter in whom or in what they trusted for salvation and whether or not they even wanted to go there.
In reality, though, as intolerant and closed-minded as it may seem, we must receive Christ. That's what He himself said. Some argue that it would be unjust to preclude a person from going to heaven just because they do not believe that Jesus died for their sins. But consider how unjust it would be to send Jesus to the cross to suffer for us if we could be saved some other way! Everyone needs to receive Christ and become a new creation, a "child of God" through faith in Him.
Let me tell you of someone who needed desperately to make that discovery...
13. A MINISTER IN NEED OF SALVATION!
Joe Stump (yes, that's his real name) was the son of a pastor and theologian. Joe reached adulthood during the First World War and, like many of his colleagues, enlisted into military service and was sent to battle in France.
One day in the heat of battle, an officer approached Joe on horseback and asked where he could locate another officer. Joe turned to point the way and heard an enormous explosion. When he turned back, the horse was without a rider. The officer lay dead on the ground.
Heavy shelling burst out, and Joe threw himself down for protection. As he lay with his face in the dirt, he promised God, "If you get me out of this war alive, I'll become a pastor like my father."
When the war was over, Joe, true to his word, went to seminary, studied for the ministry, and was ordained a pastor. Within a few years he led a large congregation in Wisconsin.
Working diligently, Joe rose through the ranks and was considered one of the up and coming ministers of his denomination. But Joe had a problem: He had experienced God's protection, but he had not experienced the salvation of his soul. Consequently, the ministry brought him no joy or peace; it only made him deeply aware of his spiritual emptiness.
Joe was married to Nelda, whose mother was a fervent Christian who made things worse by saying things like, "Joe, you're a good preacher. You'll be a great blessing once you know Jesus."
The situation came to a crisis when one of his church members lay dying of cancer. Almost daily, Joe went to the man's home with a prayer book from which he would read a Scripture verse and a prayer.Finally, as death approached, the man asked, "Joe, is this the best you can do for me?" Sadly, Joe said that it was.
Joe was heartbroken. He knew that if it were he who lay dying, it wouldn't be enough for him. How could it be enough for his friend?
When his friend died, Joe performed the funeral and then told Nelda that he needed to get away for awhile. He wanted to deal with his nagging emptiness. He wanted a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, whose gospel he so faithfully yet fruitlessly tried to preach.
He first went to Chicago and asked friends if they knew where he could go to be saved. They didn't know for sure, but someone referred vaguely to The Bowery Mission, an evangelistic center for the down-and-outers of New York City. Joe was so desperate that he took a train to New York and checked into a hotel just a few blocks from the mission.
The first night he was there, he dressed himself in a fine suit and walked to the meeting. Surveying the surroundings, Joe took a seat among the derelicts, joined in the singing, and settled in to hear the sermon that started something like this: "All men are sinners. There are sinners of all types: drinkers, carousers, adulterers, thieves, and murderers. They all need to be saved."
Then the preacher seemed to zero in on Joe: "There are also finely dressed, white-collared sinners. They too need to make their way to the altar and admit their need of salvation."
Joe was incensed. He felt he didn't need to be treated like a common bum. He put on his coat and stomped out into the rain. Walking back to the hotel, he splashed through the puddles, so angry he scarcely noticed them.
When Joe arrived at his lodging, he walked up the stairs and, without taking off his wet coat, threw himself into an easy chair, and complained to God. "It's not fair. I don't need to be treated like a bum. I can find salvation in some other place."
Proud, self-righteous, and yet so needy, he told God all the reasons why he should not have to go to the altar like the common sinners did. As a pastor, some special consideration should be given to him. But as the hours passed, his pride turned to shame and despair. He realized that he was a blind leader of the blind and concluded that he was not too good to be saved, as he first thought, he was too wicked to be saved.
Joe opened the window of his room and considered plunging to his death, but decided he would go back to the mission the next night and hear the message one more time.
When the moment came, he dressed himself again in his fine suit and sat with the down-and-outers. He heard essentially the same message he had heard the night before, but this time he knew it was for him. As the preacher concluded, he invited all who wished to be saved to go to the altar, kneel before God, and pray for forgiveness and new birth.
Convicted so strongly of his need for salvation, Joe abandoned his pride and made his way forward. When he arrived at the front, the preacher told him to move to the end of the altar and make room for those who were seeking God. It wasn't enough to be saved like a common bum; he would have to humble himself more than they did.
But Joe was ready. Christ found Joe at the end of the altar and Joe humbly asked Jesus to forgive his sins and come into his life.
This time when he left the mission, he walked the same street and splashed through the same puddles, but now it wasn't anger that kept him from noticing them; he felt he was walking on air.
Once in his room, he sat in the same chair and cried tears of joy. Joe knew that he was now a child of God. He was beginning a new life. He could neither doubt nor deny that he was born again.
Joe's favorite song became, "It's real, it's real, Oh, I know it's real. Praise God the doubts are settled, and I know, I know, it's real."
Joe had the witness of the Word and the witness of the Spirit. Now let's consider the third witness...
14. THE WITNESS OF A CHANGED LIFE
Jesus Christ is the world's great change agent. When He comes into us, He forgives our sins, gives us new life, takes us into His family, establishes residence in us, and becomes our constant companion. That's change!
In some individuals change is so rapid and so radical that it immediately impresses all who observe it. In others it's gradual, with spurts of progress and occasional setbacks.
But, allowing for variables, let's not forget what's essential: Change must occur! Jesus Christ always brings change. It is inconceivable that Christ could be in our life without making a difference. As surely as Jesus changed water to wine-maybe not always so quickly-he turns lost sinners into living saints.
Once Jesus Christ comes into our lives, we will never again be the same. If we've had a religious experience that brought no change in us, we need to question if we have the reality of Jesus Christ.
God has no interest in merely changing our behavior or feelings; He changes us at the core of our personality. Permanent change starts inside us and works its way out into acts and attitudes.
In the book of First John we find several changes listed that take place in those who belong to Christ-indicators that we have experienced salvation:
We take pleasure in obeying God. "If we obey God... Then we are sure that we truly know God" (1 John 2:3). Previously we may have considered God's laws to be oppressive and, although we may have tried to keep them, we possible felt resentful toward them. Now we take pleasure in following His precepts. Increasingly we become like David, who exulted, "Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." (Psalm 119:97). Obviously, obeying God is not just becoming a zealous Bible student, though the Bible is the surest word, it's also listening for the inner voice of the Holy Spirit and obeying it.
We begin to live like Jesus did. "Those who say they know God should live as Christ did" (1 John 2:6). Jesus is not only our Savior, He is the one we pattern our life after. His values become our values. His word becomes our guide. His wishes become our commands.
We learn to love people. "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers" (1 John 3:14). His first commandment and therefore our first responsibility in life is to love God and our neighbor. Before his transforming power reached us it was our greatest challenge, now it is our greatest joy. We love because He first loved us and, even when "unlovable" people come along, we seek His grace to love them as He does.
We have Christ in us. "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:10-12). A Christian is nothing more and nothing less than a person in whom Christ's Spirit dwells.
We put sin out of our lives. "No one born of God continues to sin... He cannot... He has been born of God" (1 John 3:9). The intentions to love Christ and continue in sin are incompatible. We may fall into temptation or have unwanted sinful reactions, but we do not approve of sin and, when we a commit sin, we don't intend to repeat it. We are not perfect, but we are changed - much for the better -- by God. Our changed life is the third witness that we have indeed experienced God's grace and peace.
Do you identify with the description of a Christian that you just read? It's encouraging to see how change, whether gradual or immediate, bears witness to the presence of Christ in our life. The Bible never recommends that we become excessively introspective about our lives, probably because we will always find something that doesn't quite measure up, but it does say…
Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you - unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5).
15. FAIL THE TEST?
Three witnesses-all of them given by God to bring us the strength and assurance we need to stand firm in faith and freedom. But what if the message we are getting from the witnesses is negative? Quite frankly I've found that the witnesses can be extremely reassuring or enormously unsettling. They serve two purposes: Either they are showing us that we are saved and we should move forward unswervingly on the road we are taking, or they are helping us see that we have taken the wrong road and need to turn around as quickly as possible and get rerouted.
The witnesses are reassuring if we know we have done what the Bible says we should do, because then we have every reason to believe that a faithful God has done what He said He would do. Of course, they are unsettling if we haven't taken those steps. In that case, they are meant to be unsettling.
The witnesses are reassuring if we feel the Lord's presence in our life and His Spirit has made our spirit come alive in Christ, giving us that unshakeable inner conviction that we are His and He is ours. They are unsettling if we know we're missing something that other people have.
The witnesses are reassuring if the changes that should take place in the life of a Christian are taking place in ours. They can be disturbing if we know that we are not changing, as we should.
Whether we pass the test or fail it, the faithful witnesses are telling us what we need to hear, not just what we would like to hear.
If I'm driving down the road and begin to doubt that I'm on the right one, I'd better stop and make sure. If I'm not on the road that I thought I was, I need to have that fact pointed out to me as quickly as possible so I can change directions.
Never allow yourself to be satisfied until His three witnesses assure you that you are on the road that takes you to heaven.
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SOMETHING IS GREATER THAN WONDERS... A Book Of Poems & Free Verses | LOVE COMES SOFTLY, JANETTE OKE'S MESSAGE OF HOPE AND EXPECTATION | TAMAR: SALVATION FOR ALL, Francine Rivers' Canaanite Woman | TAMMY AND TOMMY: THE ENEMY IS AN IDEA | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR
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