Salvation by Doctrines?
by Toby Joreteg
Could this really be true…?
“We Are Good”
“Isn’t it wonderful to be a member of God's church? What an incredible benefit and joy it is to belong to the elect, the Remnant, and to have the truth! We keep all God’s commandments! We have the right lifestyle and the correct understanding of the prophecies. How special to really understand the texts concerning Jesus' second coming, the state of the dead, etc. What a joy! It feels like we almost automatically will be saved, just by belonging to the right Church. All the above facts support that! God must have been exceptionally good to and pleased with us! “Thank you, dear Lord, that we are not like so many others.”
My friend, who had listened patiently to my somewhat strange proclamation, responded like this: “The reality seems, however, to be somewhat different. Have you ever considered the fact that today all churches in the westernized world combined, appear to have less spiritual power than what the twelve Apostles had after Pentecost! We often hear about how hard it is to reach people with our message and that people have very little interest in religion nowadays.”
“Oh, Just wait,” I told my friend. “Very soon the ‘latter rain’ will come and then everything will be different. It will be so wonderful, probably even better than Pentecost. Then we will be filled with Power from on High and have the victorious experiences that we long for. Just wait and everything will be great. THEN you will have nothing to say!”
Power at Pentecost
My friend is not satisfied and starts asking some probing questions. “I wonder when the Christians will start to live truly spiritual lives? When Jesus was asked when the kingdom of God would come, He answered that it is within you. He also said that this victorious power would come at Pentecost. My question to you is, when did God remove His Holy Spirit? It appears as if we all are so spiritually poor today. No one seems to have real faith. There are hardly any successful evangelistic series today in the western world. In most places, we at best see status quo but often declining membership. We say that we still are faithful, but things don’t look too good.”
My friend paused for a moment and then he continued. “Have you ever thought of what we are faithful to? It appears to me that we are still faithful to our Church, but…”
“But, what,” I asked my friend impatiently? “But…the question is if we really are faithful to God. Don’t misunderstand me,” said my friend. “I do not say that we should stop being committed to our Church, but…where do we see true faithfulness to God? Have you ever thought of what it means? Are we faithful to our Lord by paying tithe, keeping the doctrines of our Church, having the right lifestyle, accepting the right understanding of prophecies, etc., or is something more needed? What does God expect from us? Have you asked God about this?”
“Yes,” I said with some indignation. “I can guarantee you that we always ask God! We always pray to God for guidance when it comes to all bigger issues—in our board meetings, conferences, seminars, etc.—and we do it every time! This we have certainly fulfilled! In regard to this you have nothing to say,” I said with the slight irritation befitting a righteous saint.
My friend then said, “Well, that sounds good! Can you give me any examples where God has answered these prayers? What does He tell you when you ask Him for advice? Does God usually tell you what you should do? Is it a one-way or a two-way communication?”
“No, we are not charismatic,” I exclaimed! “What do you think?! After we have prayed, of course we continue our duties regardless…”
“Regardless of what?” my friend asked.
“Well, regardless if God answers our prayers or not. Honestly, I have never thought about that before. God has never spoken to me, and I don’t know whether He has spoken to anyone else either. I am not aware that God really does answer our prayers by speaking to us. It sounds almost scary! Would God really tell us what we ought to do?”
A Prayer Story
I continued despite being somewhat intimidated, “That reminds me of a story I heard recently. A pastor went to a hospital to visit an older church member who was very sick. The woman was unconscious and was getting worse and worse. She was obviously dying, so the pastor made a very short visit. He talked to her, but he wasn’t sure she heard him. No reaction was seen. He finished his visit by praying for the woman. He did not know why, but this time he was a little more bold than usual. At the end of his prayer, he even asked the Lord to heal the sick woman.
When the prayer was done, he sat back and just looked at her. Suddenly she opened her eyes and started to look around. Some moments later she sat up in bed, stretched her arms, pulled out the feeding tube, stood up, and walked to the bathroom, where she changed her hospital clothes to her own, packed her few belongings, and walked out of the unit.
The pastor could not believe his eyes! Totally astonished he just sat there and couldn’t say a word. He had never in his career experienced anything like this. Quite confused he left the hospital and walked to his car. There, as he came to his senses, he prayed to God, “Lord, let this never happen to me again!” That was all he could say! The pastor was in shock and could not grasp what had happened. Such a magnificent answer to prayer was more than he could handle.”
My friend took his Bible, and I looked somewhat jealously at how well-read it was. Then I remembered he had told me earlier that he usually spends 1-2 hours every morning in prayer and Bible study before he starts his daily work. I have silently admired my friend for his spiritual strength and wisdom. He always seems to be filled with a deep joy. It seems he carries a treasure in his heart. You can both see and hear that he is a Christian.
My friend then asked me, “Have you ever studied why the Israelites failed as God’s covenant people? What was the reason for this?” Since I didn’t know, I motioned to my friend to continue. He said, “In both the Old and New Testaments, we can find the reason for their failure. In Exodus 15:26 we read that they did not keep the Commandments of God, and secondly that they didn’t listen to His voice. To say it in more general terms, they didn’t obey the Word of God or the Spirit of God. We think that we are pretty good at following the Scriptures but honestly we are quite poor at listening to God’s voice, aren’t we?” I nodded slowly.
“This is not an isolated text,” my friend continued. “Read also from Deuteronomy 30:20, Psalm 95:7-8, Daniel 9:9-11, Jeremiah 6:10, etc. Jeremiah 7:13 says, “While you were doing all these things, declares the LORD, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer” (all verses are from the NIV).
“This is the reason why they failed as God’s covenant people. The Israelites didn’t obey God’s written Word, nor did they listen when God spoke to them in various ways—neither through Spirit-filled kings, judges, priests, and prophets, nor directly to the individuals. Most frequently, however, God spoke to people in various leadership positions.”
A Prophet of God
My friend went on to say, “Those who proclaimed God’s will were scorned and spat on. Consider what happened when a king in Israel got the message that a big army was heading for his country. The king had not heeded the message of the Lord, and therefore his kingdom faced this threat. He gathered the wise men together, and they bowed down before the king and gave him a pleasant message: ‘Everything will be fine. You will be victorious. You will defeat the enemy.’ Even if the king had been unfaithful to God, he sensed that they were not telling the truth” (1 King 22:1-18).
“Therefore, the king called a prophet of God and asked the same question. What shall I do and what will the outcome be? The man of God was usually alone against scores of so-called ‘Wise Men.’ The message from God was often very harsh like: 'You will not succeed; you will lose this battle and your life as well. The reason is that you have not heeded the voice of God and not obeyed His Commandments.'”
My friend reminded me that because of the harsh messages, the men of God in the Old Testament were hated. “But please notice they were always right! If the king at that moment would change and obey God with all his heart, he would be saved. The big crowd or the multitude of counselors did not speak the truth. Therefore, it is critically important to ask God and wait for His answer before we do anything!”
The New Testament
I must admit that I was impressed by my friend’s exposition of the Bible and realized that he was right. If the Old Testament people failed due to disobedience to God’s Word and by not listening to His spoken voice, then I wonder if the same is true in the New Testament. Personally, I have not taken time to listen to God! I wonder if my life would be different if I had done that.
My friend could see the questions in my face and gave me texts from the New Testament. We read John 10:3-5, 16, 27, 8:47, 18:37, and more. The verse that made the biggest impression on me was one from Revelation. Here Jesus stands at the door to our hearts and obviously He has something to say. Revelation 3:20 reads:
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
Though the text hit my heart and probably would have been to my benefit, I was not ready to discuss the Laodicean message at this time. I didn’t feel spiritually strong enough. May the Lord have mercy on me, I thought.
My friend talked to me at length about God’s desire to have a dialogue with us. “We are so used to having a monologue! God wants to guide our lives in a personal and specific way. He is not like a clock maker who, when he has made the clock, lets it run by itself. God wants to guide us to the right path and helps us avoid the wrong ones. He strongly desires to walk by our side all the way! He wants to use His love and wisdom to help us in our daily lives. He truly wishes to have a relationship with us.”
It Starts to Sink in
I started to understand that nothing is wrong with God or with the people around me—but with me! Am I the reason why my church is so dead? I read my Bible for less than five minutes most days and then I pray a couple of minutes. The rest of the time I act completely after my own will, according to my own wisdom and inclinations. No wonder that my spiritual life had no power! All of a sudden it dawned on me that I was the Lord of my life and not Jesus. If He really were my Lord, I would like to listen to Him and follow His voice with all my heart.
But the biggest shock came when I realized that I had behaved exactly like the Old Covenant people. They were right in theological issues, had a correct lifestyle, honored the true Sabbath, and had received the prophecies, and yet they still did not recognize the Messiah when He came. They even resisted Him in their eagerness to do the right thing. They rejected the Son of God in spite of the fact that they were God’s denominated people!
Somewhere it says that their hearts were not circumcised. They had the knowledge but it didn’t help them. The devil actually knows more than all of us together, but that will not save him! I realized that we are not saved by our knowledge about God, but by our relationship to Him. The Old Covenant people kept the Sabbath better than I have ever done, but it didn’t save them. They knew the prophecies, but that didn’t save them. They had the right lifestyle, but it didn’t save them.
If God could not keep them as His Covenant People because they disobeyed His written Word and didn’t listen to His voice, what about me? What will happen to me when Jesus comes back? For me “truth” had always been to observe the right doctrines. You can have knowledge about God without a personal relationship with Him. Moreover, I realized that to belong to “the elect” was not identical with being saved. You are elected for a specific task, but saved if you let Jesus be Lord of your life (Matthew 7:21-23). Then for the first time in my life it became clear to me that:
My church membership would not save me!
Who Am I?
Suddenly God had opened my eyes to see my hypocrisy. My first thoughts about how happy I was to have the truth, the right lifestyle, keep the Sabbath, belong to the elect, the Remnant, know all the prophecies, etc., now made me feel nauseated. I realized that all these things only had significance if I were led by the Spirit of God because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God (Romans 8:14).
This text was not true in my life because I had shaped my own life! Surely, I had always been a good Christian! But if I really wanted to be saved, I had to follow Romans 8:14 too! Next, God reminded me of 2 Chronicles 7:14. “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
I said above that “God reminded me of 2 Chronicles 7:14,” and for the first time, I realized that it was God who had spoken to me when this text came to my mind (John 14:26). That was a big eye-opener to me! God is interested in me personally!!
I now also realize that we are not really humble when we conduct evangelism because the whole point is to proclaim that WE are right, that WE know better, that WE have the truth! I call that “salvation by comparison.” That is, WE know and understand things better. At least that is what I perceive when I listen to our messages on TV, radio, and in public meetings. Is the little interest from the hearers a result of our poor relationship with God? When I thought about that, I knew that God had spoken to my heart again. I felt ashamed, and I thought about Matthew 23:12, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
I realized that it was time for me to humble myself before the Lord. My attitude had been far from meek, but now I understood that only when I humble myself am I interested in being led by His Spirit. Only when He is Lord of my life will I daily experience His victorious power, which I had been longing for. Only then will God successfully reach others through me! Only then will the “latter rain” fall on me! Only then will I belong to the saved when Jesus comes back!
My friend, who was very humble, was right. And I, who thought I had it all right, was wrong.