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How to know the moment when you really got saved

I grew up in the Deep South, an area heavily influenced by the evangelical Christian faith. For many of us southern believers, the best articulation of our theology of salvation was the phrase, “Once saved, always saved.” The idea basically boils down to this: Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and once you say the “sinner’s prayer,” you are forever saved, and it can’t be undone, no matter what you do. 

Growing up, I loved that idea. It was neat, clean, easy-to-explain — and most importantly, it was final. Except it wasn’t. As I got older, I noticed that many “saved” people later claimed they needed to redo the whole procedure, including baptism, because they didn’t really mean it the first time. Plus, preachers often stoked my own doubts when they said things like, “If you can’t remember the exact moment you were saved, then you probably weren’t.” Yikes.

That “exact moment” thing really threw me off. I mean, when I was five, I asked Jesus into my heart, but truth be told, I didn’t really understand the magnitude of what I was doing. Not only that, a lot of my motivation came from the desire to get the oyster cracker and grape juice offered during communion. So maybe that wasn’t the exact day for me. Maybe I wasn’t even saved.

Naturally, I began living with anxiety and uncertainty over whether I had done the right combination of things to ensure my eternal security. But eventually, that anxiety pushed me to search the Bible to see what it actually said about being saved. What I saw there stunned me.

It said that when Jesus was on the cross, He actually “became” sin itself (2 Corinthians 5:21). Did you get that? Jesus literally became our sin. And when Jesus died, our sin died — all of it, past, present, and future.

That time you committed adultery? It died on the cross.

All that gossip you’ve shared about your boss? When Jesus’ heart stopped beating, it evaporated forever.

That damaging word you spoke to your child? Though some of the consequences remain in this life, as an eternal matter, it’s in the grave.

All of our sin is dead and gone forever, and it died with Christ. And according to Jesus, if you believe in Him, you’ve been “born again” (John 3:3). Now I don’t remember the day I was physically born any more than you do, nor am I certain about the day I believed and was spiritually reborn. But that’s not the focus of our salvation anyway.

Regardless of when we said “the sinner’s prayer” or got baptized, the focus of our salvation is on what Jesus did, not what we’ve done. With that perspective, it’s easy to pinpoint the exact moment of our salvation: It was late one afternoon 2,000 years ago on a hill called Calvary. And if that isn’t enough to convince you of your salvation, nothing will.

This originally appeared on Fox News Opinion on FoxNews.com.  To read more of my writing at Fox News, click here. And if you’d like an email with a weekly recap of what I’ve written, click here.

15 Comments
  1. Graeme Phillips #

    Sounds like people in the Deep South are a bit mixed up regarding doctrine.

    The sinner’s prayer is what is known as easy believism, which is totally separate to once-saved-always-saved. Just mutter a few words half-heartedly and you are saved, no need for genuine repentance and a change of heart.

    Once-saved-always-saved is a pithy statement that refers to the perseverance of the saints, which is the last of the five points of Calvinism, denoted by the acronym TULIP.

    When asked for scriptural evidence supporting the perseverance of the saints, J. C. Ryle responded in a letter mentioning 44 passages. The main ones I can think of are born again of incorruptible seed and those who the father has given me, none may pluck them out of my hand.

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    December 20, 2015
  2. Drew #

    Great article!!!!

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    December 21, 2015
  3. John #

    Jesus did die for all the sins of the entire world for all eternity. But how is this saving Grace is applied to each individual sinner’s life? The above article is undeveloped theology kicking the can down the road. Here is a book that will give a more complete theology of how Jesus’ death and resurrection is applied to our lives and how it saves us.

    http://www.amazon.com/Salvation-Controversy-James-Akin-ebook/dp/B00A7IGI8S/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1450701878&sr=1-1&keywords=the+salvation+controversy

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    December 21, 2015
    • Graeme Phillips #

      This leads to the doctrine of limited atonement of the TULIP acronym. Christ only suffered for the saved, because otherwise, sins would be punished twice over.

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      December 21, 2015
  4. Steve Harris #

    This is without a doubt the best explanation of salvation and once saved always saved I’ve ever read or heard preached. If we as Christians aren’t “once saved always saved” then the penalty for our sins Christ paid by becoming sin for us forever couldn’t be true. Praise God I’m saved once and forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    December 21, 2015
  5. Yes 2000 plus years ago Christ died for sinners, and we all are sinners and we cannot earn our salvation and yes if we believe we are saved…..Problem is even the devils believed that Christ was the son of God. Saying you believe is one thing, LIVING A LIFE that testifies to that belief is quite another….Churches are full of easy believers, people who actually think, that because they walked down the isle, or answered a few questions and got baptized, they are in……They are good to go…….Then you see in life that a lot of these folks divorce, they drink too much, they curse like sailors, they don’t read the Bible, they don’t pray, except when they are in a jam, and there really isn’t any visible difference between them an the average good atheist. Yet they think they are saved…..Read Matthew chapter 25 and you’ll see that many in the end thought they were saved and found out in the end they weren’t…..Believing is fine as long as you grasp that believing is simply the reflection of your life…..And if you aren’t living it, you are likely not a Christian.. You shall know them by their fruit…….They are producing, not just believing.

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    December 21, 2015
    • I’m not always in agreement with John MacArthur, but I do like the way he explains this: “[T]here cannot be any continuing unbroken pattern of sin because this dramatic Holy Spirit miracle has taken place in which the Spirit of God has utterly and completely and absolutely and forever transformed your nature by planting in you the seed of God, divine life through the means of hearing and believing the gospel…Is this some kind of perfection? No. But it is a direction — THE direction — of the life of a true believer. ”

      I think it’s interesting that Jesus uses the metaphor “born again” to describe what happens to believers upon conversion, which should naturally provoke repentance. How many times could a person be spiritually reborn though? We should be a new creature with a new nature, yes, but babies have to grow up, and our heavenly Father is patient with us as we grow. Once a spiritual baby has been delivered into His arms, He’s not looking for an excuse to put the sometimes-disobedient child on the doorstep. But yes, as you’ve said, that child is going to have a different nature than he had before – of course the child will. He has the very Spirit of God in him!

      Remember one more thing about children of God: they are made prefect in Christ, even if we don’t see it yet. As Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by one offering He has *forever perfected* those who are *being made* holy” (emphasis added).

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      December 21, 2015
  6. Joshua, you are a Primitive Baptist. You have described our doctrine accurately and clearly without even realizing it. We believe God chose a countless number of people in Christ before the world began (more than could ever be saved if it depended on anything we do to get it (accept Christ, be baptized, etc.). God predestinated all of them to be in heaven. Jesus saved all of them on the cross 2,000 years ago. Some time during their lifetime, he sends spiritual life into their heart, i.e. that is they are born again. They are as passive in it as they are their in their natural birth. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many (not a few) brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we say then to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:29-31). Primitive Baptist do not believe that God “predestinates” events or behavior. He only determined the final destiny of His people. All of those he loves, according to His mercy, not according to their choice, will be in Heaven. Jesus came to save them and he did: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21). Did she have a son? yes. Did they call him Jesus? yes. Did he save his people from their sins? yes. Notice they were HIS PEOPLE before he save them. In other words he saved them because “…he (God) hath chosen us in him (Jesus) before the foundation of the world…”. How then are they “born again”. “…because ye are sons, God hath sent fort the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6). Notice again that they were his people BEFORE they were born again. Some people say this doctrine is not fair. However, God is not seeking our approval. Otherwise, we would be God. “But God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever HE hath pleased. (Psalm 115:3).

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    December 21, 2015
    • In contrast to John MacArthur’s beliefs, the gospel simply means “good news”. As you described your own struggle you illustrated that knowing the truth doesn’t give spiritual life. It gives rest to the one who has spiritual life (i.e., the born again child of God) when he knows what’s going on inside of him. Only a person who is alive naturally is conscious of the what’s going on in the natural realm. Only a persons who is alive spiritually is informed and comforted by the gospel.

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      December 21, 2015
  7. Luke #

    Joshua, I am very thankful for your article. It is so similar to my experience its like you took the thoughts out of my head. I was brought up being told that the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and ‘accepting Jesus’ were the gateways to my salvation. I eventually saw the truth of salvation by grace and joined the Primitive Baptist church. I am glad to see another Primitive Baptist comment on here. Buddy explained our beliefs very well. I took the time a while back to write down how I ended up embracing the truths you have written about. If you have 15 minutes or so to read it you may find it very similar to some of the thoughts you have. Thanks again for the article.

    http://seekingtheoldpath.blogspot.com/2015/01/my-journey-to-primitive-baptist-church_14.html

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    December 22, 2015
    • I’m glad you were encouraged, and I appreciate your feedback. Just to be clear, although there’s apparently some overlap between my beliefs and those of Primitive Baptists, I’m not a Calvinist by any means. But the most important thing is that you and I both believe that salvation is defined by what Jesus did, not by the symptoms of righteousness in the life of a person who has been saved.

      >

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      December 22, 2015
      • Luke #

        Thank you for your response. I would like to point out that the Primitive Baptist that I am among do not claim to be Calvinist either. Many people think that those that believe in predestination and election are Calvinist. The fact is, Primitive Baptists have never been a part of that group, and would disagree with Calvin on many points. Primitive Baptist derive their existence from Christ and the Apostles. Thank you again for your article.

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        December 22, 2015
  8. Joshua, You addressed a question that most avoid. I am glad you were bold enough to do so. And I wish you were correct regarding once saved always saved. What are you thoughts on Heb 6?

    “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.”

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    December 23, 2015
  9. Richard #

    Thank you for this encouraging post. You bring up a very good point, that the focus of our salvation depends on what Jesus did and not what we’ve done.

    Getting too caught up trying to figure out the exact moment of your salvation can cause too much unnecessary stress, but real assurance comes when a person sees in his life both a trust in Christ alone for peace with God and continued growth of a new nature.

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    December 23, 2015

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