I want to bring the matter of what it takes to be saved to a conclusion. How do we know if we have genuinely been saved? Is repentance necessary? Must we turn from our sins in order to believe? I have stated that we must. Indeed, this is what the New Testament indicates. And yet, how many sins must we turn from? Taken to its logical extreme, this might lead some to believe that some form of perfect repentance of all sins is necessary in order to be saved. But if that were the case, no one would be saved. What then does repentance entail?
But, in this discussion, I have not yet mentioned the obvious. In Ephesians 2:8, Paul reminds us that salvation is by the grace of God. Indeed, salvation is produced by God, and comes about because of God’s free gift, apart from any human effort or works. That is the bedrock. It is for this reason that we must confess that at a very fundamental level, every single conversion contains a mystery. God is at work, initiating the salvation of everyone who believes.
Consider Acts 16:14. Paul is on his second missionary journey and has arrived in the city of Philippi. Since there are few Jews in the city, there is no synagogue for him to begin his ministry, as was his custom. Instead he hears that a group of women were meeting outside the gate of the city by the riverside for prayer on every Sabbath. That would indicate they were God-fearers, Gentiles who loved the God of Israel. Paul joins them, and uses the occasion to preach the gospel to them: “One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.”
This passage indicates that it was the supernatural work of God, not the persuasiveness of Paul, that drew her to Christ. And if God’s supernatural work draws us to him, we might ask, what supernatural work does God then produce in the heart? In the salvation of Lydia, she is baptized and after makes the following statement: “If you have judged me faithful to the Lord….” In other words, not only had God opened her heart, but consequently, her faithfulness became evident.
John says the same thing. 1 John 3:9 states, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” Please notice this: God initiates the new birth, and also implants his seed within us, a seed that leads to ever increasing holiness. Hence, I might argue that salvation is real when it produces in an individual an intense hatred for sin, and an ever increasing appetite for holiness. This is the work of God – by grace.
So, what must we repent of? The answer is simple. We repent of sins! We gain a new attitude towards a life that goes its own way. When salvation is genuine, the convert surrenders his or her lifestyle into the hands of Jesus, allowing Jesus to be Lord over the way we live. That is the evidence of genuine saving faith!