“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

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I suspect the notion that “once saved always saved” allows for willfully and unrepentantly, continuing in sin is a lot like the controversy the apostle Paul was addressing in Romans 3. Paul’s response in verse 8 leaves no doubt about his position on abusing God’s abounding mercy: “Why not say—as some slanderously claim that we say—’Let us do evil that good may result?’ Their condemnation is just!” Paul goes on to write, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). I don’t understand claiming to cherish love, while reviling repentance. Are they not one and the same? The message God has put on my heart is one of love, but not the fallen, distorted love the flesh revels. No wonder salvation is so misunderstood.

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16). Like the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 3:9, Paul wasn’t referring to the lost here, but rather, the righteous in Christ, including those whom God is patiently waiting (to use a human analogy). No amount of good works can grant us the reconciliation, which only His grace can provide. I see our works as evidence of our faith, which is why I believe James declares that faith without works is dead (2:14-26). Related themes seen in Romans and Galatians, for example, Paul declares to the Ephesians that they had been saved by grace, which is a gift of God, not from themselves, so that no one can boast, and goes on to call them God’s handiwork and that good works were prepared in advance for them to do (2:8-10). Likewise, Paul writes to the Roman believers that God’s patience is intended to lead them to repentance (2:4). Our actions testify to our sanctification. It is God who justifies; His love transforms us. There’s so much more to Jesus than what we might be accustomed to reading on the side of a coffee mug, or finding in a feel-good, inspirational meme. There is a reason Jesus was nailed to a cross. There is a reason Jesus angered His critics to so intensely that they gnashed their teeth. There is a reason the world hated Him then and continues to hate Him every bit as intensely today. Brothers and sisters, let us cast off the old, and embrace the whole person of Jesus Christ, lest we embrace an imposter.

As I wrote yesterday in Harvest, “The godless man who makes a death bed confession may go into eternity a pauper, but he was wheat nonetheless; likewise, think of the apostle Paul, then Saul, one day prior to that fateful trip to Damascus.” Therefore, don’t become discouraged if your conversion didn’t immediately eliminate all your personal struggles. If it did, the epistles would have been quite different; those early believers had some serious growing pains. Trust me, I’ve been there and done that, and I’m still working out a few. Your bad habits didn’t form overnight, and they probably won’t be broken any sooner. Our experiences effect us, and it takes time to relearn better ways. But put your faith in the Good Shepherd; He is more than up for the challenge. God plays a long game. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). So, let us not be content to remain as lost sheep meandering in the field, but rather, desire to grow and mature, because brothers and sisters we’ve been found! Pray without ceasing, because you will be tested, and yes, you’re going to stumble, but keep pressing toward the prize. For it is in pressing toward the prize that the righteous in Christ will be revealed! After all, Jesus doesn’t just save souls, though that would be enough. Jesus changes lives!

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