“Make your calling and election sure”
It is important to understand that the new birth is the first step toward being finally saved. The apostle Paul wrote,
‘Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after; if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 3.12-14).
The Greek verb sozo (‘to save’) has three basic tenses: I am saved – I am being saved – I shall be saved. This is why Jesus said one must ‘endure unto the end [to] be saved’ (Mt. 24.13). And for this reason Paul admonishes that we should seek to be entirely sanctified in order to ‘be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Thess. 5.23). We insist therefore that sanctification is the whole purpose of justification, and that our moral perfection is the purpose of sanctification. Perfect conformity to the image of Christ is therefore the essential purpose of the Cross, so that to deny the Cross the power to sanctify the believer wholly in this present world, completely and instantaneously, is to denigrate and corrupt the Gospel of Christ and the power and effect of our Lord’s sacrifice and resurrection.
We may be ‘born again’, but we must continue to persevere in faith, and in fact ‘go on unto perfection’ in order to be saved. The spirit of obedience must continue to work in us until we ‘grow up into him in all things’. Peter says ‘add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity …’ (2 Pet. 1.5-7). And further, ‘For if these things abide in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful … Wherefore … brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall’ (vv. 8-10).
The justified person must seek to be sanctified; the sanctified man or woman must seek to be empowered with the Holy Ghost; and the Spirit-baptized brother must continue to grow in grace ‘unto a perfect man’. In regard to the baptism with the Spirit, one of our veteran overseers was asked years ago if one had to have the Holy Ghost to go up in the rapture. He answered, ‘Why, I wouldn’t go to the grocery store without the Holy Ghost’. The baptism of the Spirit is not so much a personal qualification for the rapture, but an empowerment – an anointing! – for service here and now. One of the signs of the present ‘falling away’ among so many today is this very thing—uninspired leaders who lack anointing and a clear biblical vision of the power and effect of the Gospel. We must restore the spirituality and biblical soundness of the church in order to accomplish our mission in the world. We must proclaim the true Gospel!
We see then that salvation is a battle unto the end. It is a struggle, a constant warfare. For this reason, the great apostle speaks of the ‘hope of salvation’ in the context of spiritual warfare, admonishing believers to wear this hope like a helmet in order to overcome the principalities and powers that oppose our final salvation (Eph. 6.11-17; 1 Tim. 5.8). This ‘hope’ encourages believers to love and serve God under all conditions and circumstances – for better or worse, in sickness and in health – till Jesus comes or calls. The Psalmist declared, ‘He is my rock and my salvation: he is my defense; I shall not be moved’ (Ps. 62.6). Jesus said,
‘Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father’ (Mk 8.34-38).
Contrary to many popular Calvinistic preachers today, we can be saved today and lost tomorrow. This is why we must persevere in faith in order to be finally saved. The writer of Hebrews declares, ‘the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back my soul shall have no pleasure in him … but we are not of them that draw back … but of them that believe to the saving of the soul’ (Heb. 10.38, 39). And Peter says of the backslider, ‘For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than after they had known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire’ (2 Pet. 2.21, 22).
Salvation is a journey that must be taken to its destination. Paul says, ‘God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth; whereunto he called you by our Gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Then he adds, ‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught in word and by our epistle’ (2 Thess. 2.13-15). Again Paul admonishes Timothy to study the Scriptures, for they are able to ‘make you wise unto salvation’ (2 Tim. 3.15). These passages show that salvation is a goal yet to be obtained – a hope which encourages one to press on until it is fully realized. The same apostle makes it perfectly plain in his admonition to the Romans: ‘awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed’ (Rom. 13.11).
The Initial Entrance—the New Birth
Now let’s probe here into the mystery of the new birth; for it is this very doctrine and experience that is being corrupted by the present falling away among Christians. This was the basis in fact for the revolutionary action we took in April 2004, which resulted in the reorganization of the church under a new administration. Yes it was necessary because the very pillars of the biblical order of salvation were being distorted, and were in the beginning stages of being completely removed.
Satan knows very well that if he can erode the core substance of this pillar of our faith that he will eventually bring the whole house crashing down. This is why he is attacking the nature of salvation so viciously today. Make no mistake, the devil ‘cometh not, but to steal, kill, and destroy.’ He wants us to confuse confession with true repentance, sacraments with actual transformation, water baptism with regeneration (what some call ‘water salvation’), and the Lord’s Supper with sanctification. He is attempting to breathe new life into old sin, and scheming to get us to water down the power and effect of the new birth – to get us to believe there is no actual deliverance from the grip of sin in this present world. He wants us to accept that we are bound to live with sin, and that the Lord himself is bound to co-exist with sin in the lives of believers. Even the celebrated Martin Luther, under this old delusion, taught his followers this corruptible doctrine. Indeed, the Old Serpent had hatched this lie not long after man had fallen from grace in Eden. He also concocted the lie that once a sinner is converted he is eternally saved. In all of these cases, Satan was either supplanting the actual power of the Gospel or corrupting it.
See here; the new birth is not merely an intellectual decision – a ‘turning over a new leaf’; neither is it the same thing as confession, though confession is a part of it. Contrary to the teaching of the popes, patriarchs, and bishops of the Dark Ages, the new birth is not obtained in a sacrament; nor is it obtained according to many Protestant teachers through a sacrament; nor yet does Christ experience it for us, as some others teach. We hold to none of these teachings in Zion Assembly. We teach rather that the new birth begins with the conviction and arrest of the sinner by the Holy Ghost. It is a personal experience, but not a private one. It does not happen in a little dingy confessional booth, mediated through a screen or grill by a priest who is himself in most cases in need of true repentance and cleansing.
For my salvation must its doom receive,
Not from what others, but what I believe – John Dryden
Roman Catholic penance is not true biblical repentance. The new birth is rather a transformation, a deliverance! that happens by the power of God in view of the watching world. It is meant to be a public manifestation of God’s grace and glory.
Salvation’s free, we tell! we tell!
Shouted the old Methodist bell
Here is how the spiritual transformation happens more or less: the Spirit reveals to the sinner his sin against God, and pronounces his eternal judgment. The sinner then realizes his bondage and becomes conscious of the everlasting consequences of his sin. He realizes that he is guilty of capital crimes, and that his just punishment is eternal death. Then, the moment he realizes his doom, the Spirit breaks in and announces the ‘Good News,’ that Jesus Christ has purchased his pardon – and it’s free! The sinner can hardly believe ‘the glad tidings’ because he knows he is not worthy of it, and because he believes there is no one in existence so gracious to pardon such a vile life as his own. It is because of the revelation of this very fact – that he knows he is not worthy of such a gracious Savior – that he smites his breast and falls on his face before the Righteous Judge, saying, ‘Who art thou Lord!’ And while the Spirit is still revealing to him his own exceeding sinfulness, and he begins to feel the weight of his sin and guilt, the Spirit reveals also the goodness and holiness of the Lord. The sinner then consequently begins to confess and repent, saying, ‘I believe, Lord; please forgive me!’ In the face of the revelation of God’s majestic Presence, the sinner cries out (at least inwardly), saying, ‘Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips … and all of [my] righteousness is as filthy rags’ (Isa. 6.5; 64.6).
The sinner further surrenders and commits himself ‘to go and sin no more.’ And when he has fully surrendered through this act of faith, he begins to sense through his entire being the pardon of his sins and the power of the Fountain that is filled with blood! He can hardly comprehend the transforming miracle happening in his own soul; but he knows that he is a new creature, that old things have passed away, and that all things have become new! He knows because in that transforming moment – in a split second of miraculous grace – love has replaced hate, forgiveness revenge, peace turmoil, and power weakness.
This is why the new creature in Christ cannot keep it quite. Those who were forgiven and cleansed in the Scriptures ran out and told everybody, saying, ‘Come, see a man which told me all things.’ Even when He commanded those who had been healed and delivered of demons ‘to go and tell no man’, the news got out. ‘He arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered a house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid: for a certain woman, whose daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him and came and fell at his feet’ (Mk 7.24, 25). This is why we encourage confessions of salvation to be made public, instead of in private alone with a priest or minister. Confessions are meant to mark the believer before the world – to identify him publicly with Christ. This is why the Greek word, martyr, is translated in our King James Version as ‘witness’, for many early Christians had to give their lives for their testimony. Open confessions glorify God, and open up the soul to the forgiving grace and cleansing power of God.
We see then that the new birth is no mere sentimental feeling or emotion; it is rather a redemptive power! It does not happen except the Holy Ghost probes into every infected thought and pus pocket of the sinner’s corrupt being and reveals to him the exceeding sinfulness of his sin. Neither is the new birth something done for you; it is rather something done within you! It is not the clearing of a court record, as Luther taught, and which his followers still teach, but rather the creation of a new life. Regeneration is not a legal concept; it is the impartation of divine life, by which we are made ‘partakers of the divine nature’ (1 Pet. 1.4). It is a quickening, a resurrection from the dead. A miracle of grace! No one is justified who has not experienced this spiritual transformation. ‘If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature’ (2 Cor. 5.17); and ‘if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his’ (Rom. 8.9). Even Christ himself was ‘justified in the Spirit’ (1 Tim. 3.16).
This is why we cannot join in with the false ecumenical movement in the world today—to get in the harness with ‘Babylon’. We will not knowingly sit at the Lord’s Table with the unclean and thereby against the counsel of Christ ‘put our light under a bushel’. We must not allow the world to think that we are willing to tolerate fornicators, adulterers, pedophiles, extortioners, thieves, liars, and such like in our church fellowship. To do so would be to reproach Christ and His church. God has called us to ‘put a difference between holy and unholy, and between clean and unclean’ (Lev. 10.10). We will not stay on the same ship with officers and crew who knowingly violate God’s law and who encourage others to do so. If necessary we are willing to sail alone in the Old Ship of Zion. And we believe there are millions who feel the same way.
Grace and ‘Godly Sorrow’
The new birth is instantaneous; one cannot grow into the new life, anymore than he can grow out of the old one. It is not a repair job on an old building; it is rather the spontaneous combustion of something new! It works out of ‘godly sorrow’. Paul says, ‘Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation’ (2 Cor. 7.10); which is to say, the revelation of one’s sin – particularly the fact that he is treading underfoot the precious blood sacrifice of Jesus – somehow touches the heart of the sinner in a way that he senses his guilt and becomes sorrowful for his rebellion against Christ and his separation from God.
In simple layman’s terms, here’s what I believe happens in the new birth. The Holy Ghost in a great mystery causes the sinner to realize somehow the familial relationship that man had with God before the fall. He senses the love and holiness of the Father through the Son in the light of the Spirit. He is awakened to the fact – to the reality – that God is the Father whom he never knew, and that he has been separated from his heavenly Father through sin and disobedience. He realizes somehow through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit that he is lost, and suddenly becomes conscious that he is being called home—back to fellowship with God. It is a wonder! ‘Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I’m found,
Was blind, but now I see.
This ‘godly sorrow’, working out of grace, creates in the sinner a desire to be restored to fellowship with God. He senses deep within his being a loving God calling him home! He begins to desire this fellowship – this restoration – more than life itself; he hungers and thirsts for it; loses sleep over it; ponders its possibilities; falls into a desperate hunger for it. He desires sweet peace and reconciliation. Jeremy Taylor once said, ‘A man may be damned for despairing to be saved.’ The great Puritan preacher, Richard Baxter, declared that no one will be saved except he love God above ‘father, mother, and even his own life’. This heavenly call is the gift of God working by grace: the pleading of a loving Father calling home His prodigal sons and daughters.
“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Heb.3.12).