Attending church itself doesn’t just lead to salvation. We can reach salvation only after we thoroughly repent that we were sinners and receive the Holy Spirit. The ‘faith’ we have before we receive the Spirit is called ‘faith that leads to salvation’. The Spirit is given to us when we repent of our sins thoroughly. After we receive the Spirit, we will have ‘the faith that confirms salvation’.
To enter Heaven with belief in Jesus Christ, we must become believers who possess ‘the faith that confirms salvation’ and practice the Word of God, it is not being just ‘churchgoers’. So, let’s delve into the ‘faith that leads to salvation’ and the ‘faith that confirms salvation’.
- Faith that leads to salvation
It happened when Jesus was crucified on the hill of Golgotha. The following verses from Luke 23:39 describe the two criminals who were hung on either side of Jesus at the time of crucifixion.
At that time one of the criminals was hurling abuse at Jesus, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him and spoke a confession of faith calling out the name of the Lord. He was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”
Then, Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” He promised that the criminal would receive salvation and enter Paradise. Through this, it was proclaimed that He is the Messiah, that is, the Christ who can give forgiveness to men and allow for them to reach salvation.
But there are some people who misunderstand this incident, thinking ‘I will live as I please and I will be able to receive salvation if I accept Jesus Christ right before my last breath, just like the criminal in the Bible.’ But the criminal could receive salvation because he had already had the ‘faith’ that leads to salvation before he was hung on the cross. We could see the faith when he rebuked the other criminal who was mocking Jesus and he also said to him that Jesus was crucified without any wrongs.
The criminal had heard about Jesus who is the Son of God before, and acknowledged Him from his heart. Then, how embarrassed he might have felt seeing Jesus who said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” That is why he could ask Jesus for his salvation, saying, “Remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” even while he was suffering severe pain on the cross.
What if the criminal weren’t crucified and his life had been extended? What kind of life might he have lived? He probably would not have committed evil deeds any more. He would have thoroughly repented and tried to live according to the Word of God. That is why Jesus said, re-insuring him of his salvation, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
Then, what is the kind of faith the criminal who was saved have before he remarked the confession of faith to Jesus? What is this ‘faith that leads to salvation’? This is the faith that people have who have no assurance of salvation, but they are heading towards salvation.
For anyone to possess the assurance of salvation, the faith that leads to salvation should be changed into the faith that confirms salvation. For this to occur there must be our own effort. That is, when we try to have faith, God will give us grace through which we can realize our sins and repent of them and gain the assurance of salvation.
Those who have not yet experienced the assurance of salvation need to have their own efforts to listen to and learn the Word of God diligently and to change their faith that leads to salvation into the faith with the assurance of salvation. We can realize what sins are by listening to and learning the Word. When we find God earnestly and try our best in that way the grace of God comes upon us.
We come to realize how big a sin it is not to believe God the Creator from the heart and thoroughly repent of it. We come to realize and believe that God is alive and the Jesus’ crucifixion happened for the sake of ‘my’ salvation. When this happens we can naturally say, “I am the sinner of sinners.” Then, God pours down strength from above so that we can’t repeatedly commit sins anymore.
As explained, the faith that we have in the process of trying to become God’s child and coming to thorough repentance is the faith that leads us to salvation. If the true repentance occurs in you, the Holy Spirit comes into you and you feel light-hearted and have the assurance of salvation. Because you unload the burden of sins that nobody can solve, you feel like you were flying and joy is overflowing. It is now that you have the faith that confirms salvation.
- The faith that confirms salvation with the assurance of salvation
After we receive forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit is received as a gift, our names are written in the Book of Life in Heaven. This is the beginning of salvation. From then on we need to achieve complete salvation in the guidance of the Spirit. When we receive the gift of the Spirit, we come to have assurance of salvation and gain qualification to call God ‘our heavenly Father’.
It is a truly amazing event for us to believe Jesus Christ, receive the Spirit, and gain the right to become God’s children. This is because our status was totally changed from the servant of the enemy devil and Satan into God’s child. In the past, we had nothing to rely on even in trials and afflictions. But after we accept the Lord, we can call God the Creator and our heavenly Father and lead a joyful life with hope for Heaven.
Faith that we come to have after receiving the Spirit is called ‘the faith that confirms salvation’, which is faith that makes us God’s children who have the assurance of salvation. Faith that leads to salvation is faith that we have while trying to become God’s child until we repent of our sins. In other words, the standard of discerning between the faith that leads to salvation and the faith that confirms salvation is in whether we’ve received the Spirit or not.
If we receive ‘the faith that confirms salvation’ we come to want to live according to the Word of God by breaking old and wrong habits where we used to dwell in. We come to practice the Word of God with our hearts and give thanks for God’s love in our free will and not by any sense of coercion.
Some people stop drinking and smoking right after they receive the Spirit and obey the Word of God with joy. They start with faith that is like a small mustard seed, but they will grow up to have great faith, by listening to and practicing the Word, just like a huge tree that is strong enough to endure any strong winds or downpour of rain to bear abundant fruits.
As a baby grows up to be a young child, a child, a young adult, and then a father, our faith grows up over time in a similar manner. Although we have small faith like that of little children, we can grow up to have faith of young men and finally have great faith like that of fathers after we go through a certain process. ‘The faith of little children’ is the level where people have just accepted Jesus Christ and received the Spirit. Then, they increase their faith and then they will have faith of children.
The faith of children is the faith with which they know God the Father. But children know about a part of their parents, not the depths of them. So, even though those who the faith of children know the truth and experience it they can sometimes practice the Word of God and sometimes they can’t. The faith of children grows to become the faith of young men.
The faith of young men is at the level where those with the faith are not completely mature, but still the Word is in their hearts and they can achieve a victory by breaking the evil scheme of the enemy devil and Satan. They don’t see the worldly things but they rather stand on the Word of God with their hearts fixed on hope for Heaven. They have strength not to sway in any kind of tests. They can win in trials, giving unceasing prayer and giving thanks and praise.
The faith of young men grows up to become the faith of fathers. The faith of fathers is the faith of knowing Him who has been from the beginning. Here, ‘knowing God’ with the faith of fathers is totally different from little children’s knowing Him. Just as people say they can understand parents’ hearts only after they themselves become parents, we as God’s children also can understand the heart of God the Father only when we come to have faith of fathers. At this level, they can understand the depth of God and even His origin.
Those with faith of fathers set a good example among all people and humble themselves, so they can embrace any person and they can stand on the truth without swaying to right or to left and without shaking. Because they have mature faith that has virtue and love and the fruits of the Spirit have been borne in them, they can enter into the glorious place that shines like the sun in Heaven.