When the Gospel is preached properly, concerned people will eventually start asking the question, "What must I do to be saved?" How can I be forgiven? It's an age-old question that has been given many answers. Both Catholic and Protestant responses leave much to be desired. God does not want anyone to perish (Peter). Forgiveness and mercy are His very nature. "Whoever wants to come, let him come," says Jesus(John). God sees who will accept and for them He has made a plan.
So what is the plan? Many Protestants say, "Accept Jesus as your personal Saviour." It's a correct response in many ways, and when explained has worked for many, but it is hard to trace this exact verbiage to the writings of the apostles. Biblically it means to accept the forgiveness He hands out freely because of His death on Calvary, and to personalize the offer as though it were coming directly to you. It means he doesn't just save nations and neighborhoods, He saves individuals. All well and good.
Unfortunately, the idea of a "personal Saviour" has degenerated through the years until it almost means the same as the "household gods" of the pagan religions. A "personal" Saviour for many is someone over whom I have complete control, instead of the other way around. I can take him or leave him. I can use him for my personal benefit, but he has no real sway in my life.
The church needs to call men to repent, and receive forgiveness from the Sovereign Lord of all, who desires to be Lord over individual lives as a part of the saving process.
The Roman system has another approach to forgiveness. Because of the words of Jesus to Peter and the apostles about their ability to forgive sins, it has been long accepted in Roman circles that only Rome's men have the power on earth to forgive fully the transgressions of mankind.
Of course, humans are called to forgive. The Lord's prayer has us asking God to forgive us as we forgive others. Here we see forgiveness flowing directly from the Father to the child with no human intervention. We also see the need for His forgiveness to flow through human hearts to other human hearts. Peter was told that 70 times seven times a day we may be called upon to forgive the same person.
But that initial forgiveness, from death to life, from sin to righteousness, the entering into the Kingdom. Is even that Rome's territory? We see how the apostles lived out the forgiveness commission as the history of the church unfolded. They preached a crucified resurrected Christ and laid the blame for His death at the feet of their audience. The crowd was convicted of sin and asked what they could do. The apostles then offered the forgiveness of Christ as repentance took place in their hearts. That same method of forgiveness is available today.
For this reason it is sad to me that the "invitation" portion of the Protestant meetings seems to have gone the way of great hymns & church organs. But it was there that God's people could actually witness repentance taking place, where sinners could publicly testify of their new-found faith. Mini-revivals could take place every meeting.
Yes, the church, God's church, forgives, is the instrument of God's forgiveness in a man's life. When a sinner comes to church and is convicted by what he hears, and tells the church so, that church, through its visible spokesman, tells that sinner, God will forgive you, turn from your sin.
But what of the idea of withholding forgiveness? What of the men and nations who feared the hand of the Pope for those many centuries because they perceived that he could keep God's forgiveness from them?
Once again the apostles show us what that means, and it is a far cry from what Rome teaches. First, they told people what Jesus said. He said that those who come to Him would see life and those who do not, will not see life but instead experience forever the wrath of God (John 3:36). That's one way of withholding forgiveness. Just say what Jesus said.
The other factor is brought up by John in his first epistle.He says there are sins that lead to death and sins that do not. He says you can pray for the latter but not the former. When you don't pray for a person's sin to be forgiven, it is not forgiven.
So what could be a sin that is so great that I would not pray for it as a pastor in a church? Who could come to me that I would have to turn away and resign to eternal torment? I can think of two instances. If a man wants the blessings of God but has never asked for the salvation of Christ available only through the blood, I will tell him, first things first. If he rejects the way of the cross, he is lost and should be told so.
And if there be one who who is living in an obvious sin that he refuses to relinquish, but somehow wants to be a part of the fellowship, even the ministry of the church, we must inform him that that is not how the church operates. First let go of the sin. I cannot pray for your desire for fellowship and ministry if that sin hangs on to your life. You may say you have repented of much, but Christ says He wants all laid on the altar.
We must call men to repent and be saved, not only from their sin, but from this perverse generation. In other words, we issue a call for holiness and taking up the cross from the very beginning, as Jesus did. Then forgiveness flows from Heaven, and the peace that Jesus promised.
Look for Bob Faulkner's home page on http://sermonaudio.com There you will find a combination of love for the Scriptures and a desire for North Korean believers to have their needs met. There are nearly 300 blogs , over 200 Bible teaching MP3's, lists of resources, NK picture albums, and ways to respond to the overwhelming need in North Korea. Let's love Chosun together! Contact me any time at firstname.lastname@example.org
And who am I? A man found of God over 50 years ago, called to the ministry, serving the Lord as needed in my world. Married, member of a local church in the Chicago area, with full time work in public education. Would love to fellowship with believers who respond.