One of the more sobering realities of being Christian, considering the amazing grace of God and the assurance we have through faith in Christ Jesus (i.e., John 3:16; Eph. 1:3-8; etc.), is that not everyone who claims to be saved or thinks they are saved is actually saved. Shallow faith is dangerous, precarious faith. Consider Jesus’s words:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt. 7:21-23). These are “Christians” who at judgment will believe they had been “saved”; they will claimed to have done “saved” kinds of things while living—things of the Holy Spirit, even; but they will, in reality, have never even been saved—“I never knew you,” Jesus said.
This warning by Jesus is certainly not popular, and only the most legalistic actually enjoy bringing it up. That Christ says there are many in this lot is even a graver reality (Matt. 7:13-14). But in the end, it will prove an important thing to have known for those who heeded and responded rightly to it while still alive!
Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had said in an explanation of a line from the “Lord’s Prayer” (v. 12), “if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:15). And in his parable of the “unforgiving servant,” he further solidifies this reality when the forgiving king actually restores the debt of the one he’d forgiven when that servant failed to forgive another (Matt. 18:21-35). God clearly can and will restore the debt of unforgiving Christians, it seems from the parable.
Nor is the command and warning that Paul gave to the Corinthian church a pleasant one for the complacent Christian, “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 Cor. 13:5). Even as Christians, it is paramount that we examine and test our faith (1 Cor. 11:28). Is it of Jesus; or is it merely of us? Is our faith a mere wish based on fancy; or is it a firm expectation (biblical hope) based on evidence and reality?
Deception is Satan’s chief art, and it is each of our responsibility to not allow ourselves to be deceived (1 Cor. 15:33-34)—“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forcesof this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2:8), and “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (2 Cor. 11:3-4). We must accept responsibility for our part in the covenant Jesus offers us. Grace is free but it is NOT without conditions.
But when our loved ones die, we like to immediately imagine them into some heavenly realm—“a much better place,” as we like to believe. However, what we believe to be does not make it so. We cannot believe something into existence or reality. And preachers cannot simply preach someone into eternity with God! It is what God says it is; not what we say it is!
Cheap grace is seeming a sort of “social commodity” among Christians that is being marketed, doled out, and presented as a kind of pseudo-reality. But it is not so. It does not exist. Grace is always costly—for God and for each of us! It cost Jesus his life—every day of it! And it costs us ours—every ounce and every day of it—“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24, italics added). The more modern Christian martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945 A.D.), wrote a whole chapter called “Costly Grace” in what is now his Christian classic, The Cost of Discipleship. All Christians would be wise to read it and ponder his thoughts.
And anyone saying otherwise is not telling the truth of Jesus. However, as Peter says, we can indeed ensure our “calling and election” and believe in God’s truly “blessed assurance”—“Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:10-11). This is not a work of merit and trust in our own human effort (Eph. 2:8-10); it is faith in Jesus’s efforts on our behalf—“This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent” (John 6:29, Common English Bible). Faith and repentance (changing our minds and direction) are what we do; our salvation is what God does. Our surrender in baptism is completely passive in our regard but is rather about what God does—it is done to us on the outside by another; it is done on the inside by the Holy Spirit of God (Acts 2:38-39; Col. 2:9-12).
Reading, thinking open-mindedly, studying, comparing and contrasting interpretations, seeking, praying in the Spirit, listening to and following those whose way of life backs up a solid faith (Heb. 13:8; 1 Cor. 11:1), and daring to question our most basic beliefs is essential to “loving God with all of our minds”! The ONLY truth that actually exists is God’s truth. What we believe to be truth does not make any of it so. Biblical faith is based on truth and evidence (Heb. 11:1, 6; Acts 1:1-5); not conjecture and human “wishes.” But too often, we prefer simple affections that pleasure our moods over complexities which trouble our selfish humanistic sensibilities.
Faith is not about believing God will fix it all for us regardless of our lives and behaviors; faith is trusting that God sees in our heart and knows when we are seeking, trying, and giving our all. Therefore that his grace is sufficient to make up for our weaknesses (2 Cor. 12:9).
*(Taken from Pope, Alexander, 1688-1744 A.D., “Essay on Criticism”, Lines 215 to 218)