Must we repent, accept and believe, etc. – to be saved?

The good news message of the Christian gospel is that God’s already “reconciled us to himself (past tense) through Christ,” 2 Corinthians 5:19, “through Jesus’ blood, shed on the cross,” Colossians 1:19-20.

Our salvation, therefore, was totally taken care of at the moment of Jesus’ death. But isn’t our acceptance of that fact also necessary for salvation to kick in for us personally? Shouldn’t we do a “sinner’s prayer” first, or “make a decision for Christ,” or “repent and believe”?

No, says Paul, “For it is by grace you have been saved not by works, so that no one can boast,” Ephesians 2:8-9. Salvation from beginning to end doesn’t depend on anything we do, including our acceptance of it. We couldn’t accept it anyway because our sinful nature wouldn’t let us (Romans 8:7). Any acceptance on our part has to come from God, which is exactly what Paul says when he adds the statement in Ephesians 2:8, “you have been saved through faith – AND THAT NOT FROM YOURSELVES, it is the gift of God.” God GIVES us the faith. We accept and believe because God gives us acceptance and belief.

Jesus also said, “No one can come to me unless THE FATHER HAS ENABLED HIM,” John 6:65. It’s the Father who enables us to accept what Christ has done for us, not us. How did Peter, for instance, understand and accept that Jesus was the Son of God? It was the Father’s doing, Matthew 16:16-17. And where did Paul turn to enable the Ephesians to accept and grasp the enormity of what God had accomplished for them in Christ? To the Father, Ephesians 1:17.

It’s the Father who enables us to believe and accept. And how does he do it? Through the gospel plainly preached, and the Spirit takes it from there. “Before your very eyes Jesus was clearly portrayed as crucified,” Galatians 3:1 – the gospel had been plainly preached, in other words – and from then on the Spirit “worked miracles among them,” verse 5, miracles of hope, faith and love, Colossians 1:5.

No wonder, then, it’s so important to preach the gospel accurately, because that’s the Father’s starting point for enabling belief and acceptance in people. “Faith and love SPRING FROM the hope you heard about in the gospel. All over the world the gospel is producing fruit and growing, just as it has been among you since the day you understood GOD’S GRACE IN ALL ITS TRUTH,” Colossians 1:5-6. First of all, they heard about God’s amazing grace – how through Jesus’ shed blood all humanity had been reconciled to God – and then the Spirit gave them the faith to believe, accept and love it.

Salvation is ALL God’s doing. Nothing required from us.

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Belief, yes, but belief in what?

“Accept and believe and you will be saved,” many Christians say, but accept and believe what, exactly? The usual answer is, “Accept and believe that Jesus is our Saviour, that he died for our sins, and because of his death our sins are forgiven.”

But is that all God wants us to believe, that Jesus is our Saviour? No, it’s also believing that “God is TRUTHFUL,” John 3:33, meaning God has done what he said he would do. Which is? That he would send someone “from heaven (who) is ABOVE ALL,” verse 31. And that’s what we’re being asked to believe – and appealing to everybody else to believe as well – that “the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God; to him God gives the Spirit without limit,” verse 34.

The one God sent, therefore, is mighty powerful. He speaks for God himself, and his power has no limits. We then find out who this immensely powerful being, sent from God, speaking for God, and powered by God, is, in verse 35: “The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands,” and it’s BELIEF IN THAT, verse 36, that makes all the difference. It’s not just accepting Jesus as our Saviour, it’s accepting that Jesus is “ABOVE ALL,” that he has unlimited power, and the Father has put everything – the whole creation and the destiny of every creature in earth and heaven – in Jesus’ hands. Believe THAT and we have eternal life. Believe that and God’s anger evaporates, verse 36. Believe that and we have “certified that God is truthful,” that he’s done what he said he would do – send someone with the power to save all creation. And God only gets angry when we don’t believe that, or when we don’t believe that he sent someone with the power to save everybody and everything.

God sent Paul too, to remind us of what “God purposed in Christ,” that one day “ALL THINGS in heaven and on earth” will be brought “together under one head, even Christ,” because he gave his Son that kind of power. This is the “word of faith we are proclaiming,” Romans 10:8, or what we’re asking people to believe, “THAT,” verse 9, “JESUS IS LORD,” that Jesus is all-powerful, he’s Lord of everything that exists, Lord of our present, Lord of our future, Lord of our eternal destiny, given the power of God himself to bring it all together, exactly as God purposed and sent him to do.

So it’s belief, yes, but belief in one thing in particular, that God is truthful, that he truly did what he said he’d do – send someone with the power to save everybody.

Did God save us because of our belief, or our unbelief?

So how did Paul become a Christian? Because of his belief? Or because he accepted Jesus as his Saviour? Or because he responded to the gospel? Or because he received the gift of salvation? Not at all. Not one tiny bit, in fact, because on Paul’s own admission he was “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:I3).

But while he was being a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man, that’s when God called him. God didn’t wait until Paul believed, or make belief in Jesus a condition to Paul becoming a Christian. The last thing Paul wanted to do was believe in Jesus. He hated people who believed in Jesus. He deliberately persecuted believers in Jesus, Acts 26:10-11 – “I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme.”

And Paul wasn’t about to change his mind, either, or confess that what he was doing was wrong. He thought he was doing God a service by stamping out these Jesus believers. He actually felt justified NOT believing in Jesus, so how on earth did a man in that state of mind become a Christian?

Fortunately, Paul tells us. “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and UNBELIEF,” 1 Timothy 1:13. He wasn’t shown mercy and saved because he believed, he was shown mercy because he DIDN’T believe. The poor man had got himself into such a state of mind, as have millions of people today, that he was so turned off Jesus there was no way he could, or would, believe in him.

So what changed Paul? “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” verse 14. What changed Paul’s mind from unbelief to belief was GOD pouring out faith, or belief, into Paul’s head as a gift of his grace. Paul would never have become a Christian otherwise.

And the reason it happened that way to Paul was that “Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example,” verse 16. To anyone in the future, therefore, who wondered how it is that God saved any of us with the attitude of mind we’ve had toward him, Paul is forever there to remind us that it’s because of our INABILITY to believe that God in his mercy sent Jesus to save us. And it’s only because Christ Jesus GIVES us belief in him that we believe at all, not because we choose to.