Girl on Mountaintop

Born Again Christianity: Is it Necessary for Salvation?

What qualifies us for salvation? When we ask what qualifies us for Salvation it is often for one of two reasons: (1) We have never met Jesus and really have no idea what the next step is or what to shoot for, or (2) we’re asking how close we can get to the ‘line’ and still receive salvation without ‘having to do more than necessary.’

If you’re reading in regard to the latter, I have to admit I’m a little worried.

Salvation is determined by the condition of our souls – which is really a matter of the heart and conscience. And while only God can (clearly) see and judge that, we have to do our part to ensure we’ve searched out God’s will for us and aimed for heaven based on what we’ve learned. (I call this cooperation with the Holy Spirit.)

But to ask where the line is in an effort to minimize what must be ‘done’ is dangerous.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say, ‘Yep…(stretch and sigh)…you just do what you can do to try and be a good person and hope that’s good enough…’  [Me:???]

While there is an element of truth to this – we can never do anything to earn our own salvation (this is a loving gift of God’s grace)… 

[“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9]

… we must remain aware that the condition of our soul and the state of our heart is what is going to get us to the promised land.  When we are genuinely in love with God, we cannot help but find ourselves cooperating with the grace He’s given.  We have to own our faith, offering our bodies (i.e. our works, actions, and choices) to God in an effort to conform to His likeness and will [See Romans 8:29]. 

“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” – Ephesians 2:10  

I’m going to repeat that: ”…to be our way of life.”  This. Is. Key.  

Because How We Live Matters

We know that how we choose to live matters, not only because it is repeated so many times throughout Sacred Scripture, but because the ultimate goal in salvation is our willingness to become one with (i.e. live similarly to) Jesus Christ.  And since He always and only did good works, it would only make sense that we should try to do the same.

In John 10:37, Jesus said: “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me.”  

The great commission in the gospel of Matthew (to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit”) was Jesus’ last request of us before he went to be with the father.  It declares the absolute necessity of going about our lives as missionaries.  And if convincing someone to believe Him could be based on the measure of the quality of His works (or the power, depth, and genuine nature of His love) [per John 10:37], how would it not be the same for us?  

If our actions don’t matter – in terms of salvation, then what was Paul talking about when he said: 

“For He [God] will repay according to each one’s deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.” (Romans 2:6-8)

And further on in Romans 2:13:

“For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

We Cannot Pick And Choose Scripture – Putting Some In Our Hearts And Others On The Shelf.

Who are we to devalue the words that God himself told us have value?  [“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” – 2 Timothy 3:16] God didn’t say to pick and choose which words we would believe based on our personal understanding.  He said to go and be taught; to seek and we would find.  

He said this because it all matters; the complete content and context of scripture will direct us more closely to Jesus Christ.

Further on, Paul speaks of running a race in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (yes, I’m really driving this home here?):     

“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may win it.  Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.  So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.”

What point would there be in training (or working) if works don’t matter?  To not cooperate with the Holy Spirit is a slap in the face of the Giver (i.e. God).  Who would I be to receive a gift of Grace and say, ‘no thanks, God, Jesus suffered and died for me so my sins would be covered by His blood.  Now I’m saved so I’ll just go about life my own way…but I really do appreciate it’ (half-smile and nod included).  

I apologize if this comes off cheaply.  

I believe a lot of us Christians are a lot closer in belief than we realize. I know a lot of my Protestant friends would never live this way even though it is their belief on paper (Sola Fide).  They were, after all, the first ones to show me a life lived out of a full faith – and why would they bother living their faith if it was a waste of their time and effort?  I know many of them know well that anyone who would even consider living by the ‘live as well as you can and hope’ motto is only hanging onto a cop-out, and definitely not in-line with what God intended for us.  God wants our lives to be full; to reflect His love. And this can only be done by acts of cooperation with His grace. 

So, How Do We Cooperate With God’s Grace?

And how much effort do we need to put forth in comparison to what part is God’s? I’ll answer with a counter-example:

If one of us who is married secretly walks into a bar to meet a man or woman that is not our spouse, we are not cooperating with God’s grace.  In that situation, I would be allowing myself to either be tempted into cheating or purposefully moving in the direction of that act.

Of course, in this example, I should not expect God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to pick me up with a candy-machine-like claw and drag me out.  Where something is wrong, we have to choose not to do it.  God will provide the grace for wisdom in awareness and “will not let you be tested beyond your strength…but will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Yes, this is a strong example with a heavy sin, but the point stands:  

“Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, sins.” (James 4:17)

We have to pray daily in gratitude for the grace we’ve received and ask for more awareness that we would continue to grow more in and like God the Father (and His Son, Jesus Christ) in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Does this make sense?  Good deal.  

Real Love Matters

So while action and faith in grace absolutely have an impact on our salvation, it’s the love that really matters and drives it home.  Yes, we need to do the ‘right’ things, but that comes eas[ier] when we love the one we’re doing them for.  Who wouldn’t do just about anything to please someone they really love? [P.S. I’m not talking an acceptance of co-dependent behavior here; love works both ways – in safe and healthy forms of give and take.]  

A friend was having breakfast with me a couple weeks ago and shared that one night she had felt completely overrun by her pregnancy hormones and was totally overworked as a part-time employee.  Tired and exhausted she came home from work one evening to find her husband had prepared a candlelit bath for her, fully loaded with soaking fizzies, tea, and a book so she could just breathe and relax.  

He had to make the choice and an effort to do this.  And though it took him time and work, he didn’t mind because it was done in love for her; he wanted to make her smile.  

It’s the same in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.  God provides the grace to grow and change our hearts while we do our best to offer our actions and remain in His love.  Nothing we do could ever make Him love us more or less; his love is unchanging.  But no doubt He appreciates even our smallest efforts and they make Him smile.

[“My Lord, God…I believe that the desire to please you, does, in fact, please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.” – Thomas Merton]

The ultimate goal is the first and greatest commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  (Matthew 22:37)  Jesus continues on in verses 39 and 40 that, “a second [commandment] is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Boom – sainthood!

So, How Do We Get There?

Maybe you don’t love God yet.  And, maybe the idea sounds completely foreign.  Think of it in terms of meeting someone new.  

The Dating Phase (take time to get to know Him):

Read the Bible:

When meeting a new friend, or someone you like, you say, ‘hi’ and then try to get to know them.  One of the ways you get to know God is by reading His Word (i.e. Holy Scripture).  In reading the bible along with supplemental theologically sound Christian books, we get to know the man-God that is Christ. 

Then begin meditating and praying on/about what you read.  I used to write verses of scripture that spoke to me on little 3×5 notecards and hung them in places where I found myself often (i.e. taped to the window above the kitchen sink, the microwave over the stove, the master bathroom mirror, etc.). 

By knowing and spending time with scripture, we are spending time with God and thereby giving Him the approval to begin taking root in our hearts.

Pray:

In addition to reading and meditating, we need to pray.  And I’m not just referring to memorized prayers, such as the Our Father and others like it.  While these are holy prayers, we need to pray more than this. We need to begin to talk to God like we would our closest friend – and we need to do it every day.

Turn off the radio, television, phone, or whatever noise you tend toward in your alone time and instead just sit with Him.  Sit and tell Him whatever is on your mind.  There is no right or wrong way, no rules to follow or special way to sit (or kneel, lay, stand, etc.). He just wants to be with you, however you are – right now.

Last, Go to church:

Haven’t been in a while? That’s okay. Lots of kids? That’s okay, too. (There are a good number with nurseries, childcare, and/or separate liturgies for children that will take them away for a while and help them understand in a way that better relates). Nervous or uncomfortable? Great – that’s usually a sign that something incredible awaits you.?

Not only is church where you learn, worship, and begin to develop roots with your brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s also where you meet (and if Catholic, get to become one) with Jesus Christ – your Lord and Savior. (Want a Catholic Church? Click here.)

[Yes, I’m Catholic. If you’re curious why check out the Why I’m Catholic series.]

Learn To Apologize (i.e.Confession)

You’ll also find as you draw nearer to God in relationship, that there are places you’re getting things wrong, or making spiritual mistakes (i.e. sinning).  This is where repentance and confession come in.   Just like in our human relationships, when we screw up, we have to apologize.  Relationship is no different with God.

As a Catholic, I believe in seeking out a Catholic priest for confession (FYI: you can find confessional times on almost every Catholic Church’s webpage or you can click here to find one near you.  No worries if it’s been a long time. Most priests (Like Jesus) are incredibly excited to have you back. For those of you who might have experienced otherwise, I cannot apologize enough). 

That being said it is critical to repent before you confess.  This means being genuinely sorry for what you have done wrong and moving forward with the real intention of avoiding it in the future.

If you’re having a hard time, try meditating on Jesus’ suffering and death (in which he offered himself as a martyr for your personal love and salvation).  If that’s not resonating, you can also look deeper into the sin; try to really understand why it is wrong (since sometimes this might not be so obvious).  And if the answer you find still doesn’t hit home, pray and look further.  Keep digging.  God will eventually make it ‘real.’  Sometimes you just have to wrestle with him a bit!  

[But always remember: It is personal.]

Engagement Phase (accept Him into your heart):

At this point, if you are ready, you can take the next step and accept Him into your heart.  (Think of this as the engagement stage.)

[If you’ve never done this, there is an example prayer at the bottom of this posting or you can click here to read it now.  This is not the only prayer you can say – there are many more on the internet and in books, but it is a starting point.  Remember: it is not so much the specific words that matter as it is a matter of the heart (and how much you mean it). ?]

In John, chapter 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, “…no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  To which Nicodemus replies, “How can anyone be born after having grown old?  Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”  And Jesus confirms, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”

Marriage Phase (i.e Baptism/Confirmation):

We’re now moving into the Marriage phase (yes, we move quickly?). I say this especially if you’re an adult entering into the church with a mature faith.  If you’re more like me and were baptized as an infant and confirmed in the Catholic Church without a mature faith, your sincere acceptance and surrender to the power of Christ in personal relationship can stand for your ‘marriage’ because the grace is already there, and now your heart is moving with and toward God.

Being re-born of water takes place through Baptism (with Catholics receiving their Confirmation as a final seal).  These Sacraments can be sought out at churches that believe in the holy grace that is bestowed upon the recipient by the power of the Holy Spirit.  But, remember, being reborn of the Spirit is also a [very personal] matter of the heart.  

[“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body [in martyrdom] so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)]

We Have To Seek Him First…With Our Whole Heart

This matter of the heart that I’ve been speaking of has to be so great in change that it inherently impacts our actions.  That’s when we can know [or hope and trust] that we are in the right place for salvation.  Jesus wants us to sincerely offer our hearts so we can begin to reflect Him in our everyday lives.  Others will see Him in us and want to know what it is we have that they don’t.  And as we allow Him to change us, we’ll begin to naturally reflect the light of His glory.

But this love doesn’t come from just reading about Him.  We have to seek Him with our whole hearts; we have to earnestly want Him and be open to the changes He’ll bring.  Jeremiah 29:13 tells us: “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart.”  And this is often where the feelings/emotions of a relationship begin.

[But beware: we cannot completely rely on our feelings and emotions – they guarantee nothing and can have us chasing our tails.  Scripture tells us that “the heart is devious above all else; it is perverse – who can understand it? ” – Jeremiah 17:9 We must draw near to God and trust in His promises. When life feels dry, we must continue (in trust and faith) to do what He asks.]

We also know that every human experience (love, emotions, relationship, etc.) is a reflection of a greater good that can be had with God.  Relationship is a matter of the mind (determination) and the heart (emotion/feelings). The mind has to make a choice; a step in faith that relinquishes control…and then…more often than not, we see that the heart follows.

[But…if the heart does not follow, that doesn’t mean we take our foot off the gas, it means we determine with our minds that we have to go from 60 to 90 m.p.h.]

Then Comes The Holy Fire

Out of that choice of faithfulness will usually flow a love from and for the Holy Spirit; a love that will come alive.  [If you’re looking for a jumpstart, look into the Charismatic Renewal and/or Holy Spirit 101 – think personal Pentecost that will increase your courage and love as the Apostles experienced after Jesus’ ascension.] It is here that you will find yourself encountering the personal heart of God.  And when you feel it, you will know it is Him because it will set you on fire.  

People all over the world are giving up their lives as martyrs for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ.  This is not just because they read a good book, but because they met Him in THE book [the Holy Bible] and fell in love.

You see, we have to read the Bible in contemplation of the entire context.  When we’re in love with God, the good works that Paul speaks of so regularly will flow naturally from the wellspring in our hearts.  The cycle of daily quiet time, prayer, reading of scripture, church-going, repentance, confession, and surrender aren’t so much a chore (though sometimes we may not be ‘feeling it’ and have to choose to remain faithful) as they are time spent with our best friend and greatest lover.  

It is in this cycle that we see we no longer feel the need to be preoccupied with whether or not we are saved because we rest in knowing we are loved.  Loved so much that, were you the only individual left to be saved from death (i.e. Hell) that the one and only Son of God would have come to this world through the Virgin Mary to suffer and die His suffocating death on the cross just for you.

But He already did it; He already won. You are worth it and it is personal. If you really believe He did this, it will set you on fire in such a way that you will do something about it. Believing is moving in line with our faith.

And as long as we remain faithful to our belief in Jesus Christ, the grace, joy, comfort, and peace that surrounds those of us who know the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will only draw us deeper and deeper into the love, safety, and security that is God.

Salvation Is Here

And it is found in the context of rebirth (by water and spirit), in cooperation with the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, that ultimately enkindles a loving heart and holy state within the depth of our souls. In this condition, we don’t have to worry about where the ‘line’ for salvation is because we’re too busy trusting and loving on the One who holds us in the palms of His hands.

“You are rewarded not according to your work or your time, but according to the measure of your love.”
– St. Catherine of Sienna


If you’d like to accept Jesus Christ into your heart (i.e. surrender your will to His), you can offer the following prayer:

Lord, Jesus Christ, I want to be for you.
I thank you that you came to Earth to be born of the virgin Mary, and suffer and die for my sins that I could be with you for all eternity.
Please help me to see my sins, accept them in humility, and be sorry for them.  Where I know I have done wrong, I already repent and turn to you for grace.  

Lord, Jesus Christ, I accept you into my heart.  Let this be a turning point for my mind, body, and soul that I could begin to understand, know, and faithfully obey the first and second greatest commandments:”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) I open my heart to you that you would come and meet with me personally – let me encounter your love through the almighty power of your Holy Spirit. 

[Wait and listen]

I beg you that I would grow into such complete, genuine, and utter love of you, and with such fervor, that you would overflow from me into everyone I see and meet.  Grow me to shine in Your love for the sake of Your name and the sake of your glory – that you would increase and I would decrease.  

Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.
Lord, I trust you – help me to trust You more.
Lord, I love You – help me to love You more.


All glory in heaven and on Earth be to the father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen


Tonight: TobyMac (feat. John Cooper)

This song echoes our need for God; the fact that this life is restless without Him.

It’s the story of all of us who’ve recognized, that without God, life is an exhausting string of ups and downs. We find ourselves constantly caught in the trap of seeking out our next high. And after each pinnacle, we wander aimlessly until we can reach the next mountain that in turn also becomes empty…so we’re done with it. We throw it off. Now, we vow our lives to Him who died to save us – Jesus Christ.

And in doing so we find love; a love greater and more vibrant than anything we’ve ever known or will know on this Earth. Life doesn’t become perfect, but it gains purpose and eternal hope.

“Right here, right now, under the stars, I promise you my heart…cause it starts tonight.”

In Love,

Christina Marie

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