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Salvation versus Discipleship – Part 5: Timeline

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This is Part 5 of a five-part series on the topic of Salvation versus Discipleship. In this Part 5, I’ll present a graphical timeline view of salvation versus discipleship that summarizes all that I’ve covered in the first four parts of the series. This visual timeline will hopefully drive home the fact that salvation and discipleship are not the same and help us to better understand the differences so that we can more correctly communicate the Gospel. Let’s get into it. 

Recap of Parts 1 and 2:

First a quick recap. In Part 1, we showed how having a correct understanding of salvation and discipleship is critical for correctly understanding and communicating the Gospel. Some people, for example, because they don’t understand these differences, take verses that have to do with discipleship, which occurs after a person is saved, and mistakenly apply them out of context to salvation, thinking that those things a disciple of Jesus is commanded to do are things that a person must do to get saved or to stay saved. The result is often a distorted, unbiblical, works-based view of the Gospel of salvation.

In the five parts of this series, we’ve been going through 12 key differences between salvation and discipleship.

In Part 1, we looked at the first 5 foundational differences. 

In Part 2, we looked at the rewards of salvation versus the rewards of discipleship.

Then in Part 3, we looked at the role of repentance in salvation versus in discipleship.

Then in Part 4, we looked at the sureness of repentance in salvation versus in discipleship.

So now in Part 5, let’s wrap up this series by presenting: 

A Timeline View Of Salvation Versus Discipleship

Our timeline starts with a very simple concept: That God exists and that He created mankind in His own image with free will. All of us were physically born with that God-given free will and with a conscience or ability to understand right from wrong. However, with our free will, we chose to disobey God. As a result, sin came into this world. The word, “sin” means “to miss the mark of pleasing God.” 

Sin is a big deal to God, because God is perfectly holy. Therefore, no sin can ever exist in His presence without being judged. That means no sinner can ever exist in heaven with God.

God declared in Romans 3 that:

all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;” Romans 3:23

“there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Romans 3:12

That’s the bad news, that no one is regarded as being “good” in God’s sight, because God’s standard is perfect holiness. So no one can enter heaven because all of us are sinners. In Romans 6:23, God declared that:

“the wages of sin is death Romans 6:23

The Bible defines death as eternal separation from God in a place of judgment, a place of punishment, called Hell. In Revelation 20, God said that He has set a time for when this final judgment of sin will occur. It will happen after the second coming of Christ and after His 1,000 year millennial reign on earth. Until then, God, in His mercy, delays His judgment of sin, giving everyone time to repent and be saved. 

If God’s holiness was His only character trait, then we would all have no hope, for all of us have sinned. But the Bible declares in 1 John 4:8 that: 

“God is love 1 John 4:8

In addition to being perfect holiness, God is also perfect love. Both characteristics are present in God. 

In His perfect holiness, God has declared that there will be a day of judgment where He will judge all sin. But in His perfect love, He has provided a way of forgiveness for every one of us, so that we do not have to experience His judgment. This way of forgiveness is through His Son Jesus. Jesus is the ONLY way of forgiveness God has provided. 

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

Because of God’s perfect holiness, the required payment for sin is death. But because of God’s perfect love, God chose to willingly pay that price for us. Therefore, God became a man, the man Jesus. He lived a perfect life and offered Himself unto death, dying for us on the cross, paying the very penalty that His perfect holiness demanded. God’s perfect love is further demonstrated by Jesus being raised from the dead, where God showed us the total forgiveness and eternal life that He offer us. Through God’s forgiveness, our debt of sin can be paid and we can live with God, in His presence forever, with all the blessings that this brings.

That forgiveness unto eternal life is a free gift from God and is offered to everyone. But it is not automatically received by everyone. God will not violate our free will, and so His one requirement to receive this free gift is to believe in His Son, Jesus:  

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

Salvation is a free gift that operates through faith in Jesus. It involves each person:

  1. Accepting God’s Word that they are sinners who stand guilty before God and that they cannot save themselves by trying to be good.
  2. Believing that only God can save them through His Son, Jesus; that Jesus died to pay for 100% of their sins and that He rose from the dead to show the eternal life that God offers.

The birth, death and resurrection of Jesus has divided human history. Even time is marked by His passage on our calendars, where we have BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini – “In the year of our Lord). And so it divides our timeline as well, where each person has a choice to make, to either believe in Jesus and receive God’s free gift of forgiveness and eternal salvation, or to reject Jesus and be judged for sin, spending eternity in a place of punishment called Hell.

The decision to believe in Jesus is what brings us into Salvation, which means believing in Jesus as Savior and trusting that His death completely paid for all of your sins. The moment a person places his or her faith in Jesus, four things happen:

  1. All sins are forgiven – past, present and future. That person’s debt of sin is counted by God as paid for by Jesus, 100%. The Bible refers to this as justification, which means God declaring a guilty person to be just or righteous.
  2. The forgiven person is then indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This is a permanent indwelling, meaning that God’s Holy Spirit comes to permanently live inside the believer. Ephesians chapters 1 and 4 say that the Holy Spirit seals each believer unto the day of redemption, when we will be given our eternal and perfect bodies that are incapable of sin. God guarantees that this seal will never be broken, guaranteeing our eternal salvation.
  3. They are spiritually born and become a child of God, with all the rights, privileges, blessings and access to God that comes with being in God’s family.
  4. They are saved forever, crossing over from death to life. We do not wait until we die to see if God will grant us eternal life. No. This crossover from death to eternal life happens the moment we believe in Christ.

Jesus put it this way:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24

From this point forward, the believer in Christ is eternally saved. Nothing can change that. The believer cannot lose his or her salvation. They cannot lose it because salvation is based entirely on the promise of God, not on our own works of obedience:

“And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.” 1 John 2:25

If salvation is based on the promise of God, then it is not based on our own works of obedience or lack of obedience. Therefore, God says of the believer in Christ, unconditionally:

“I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”  Hebrews 13:5

Eternal security is a fundamental doctrine of Christianity. If you don’t understand it, then you will have an incorrect understanding of the Gospel, what it takes to be saved and to stay saved. If you are not certain of this doctrine of eternal security, I urge you to review Part 4 of my series, where I go through Scripture in detail, proving eternal security. I even looked at the many warning verses and judgment verses about sin, where it says that “they which do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God,” and show how these warnings and judgments do not in any way affect our eternal security. That’s because all of our sins – past, present and future – were nailed to the cross and paid for the moment we believed in Jesus. So when God opens the record books of our lives, all sins have been blotted out, even the ones we committed after being saved, so that there’s nothing left for Him to judge. 

Eternal security is such an important topic. If you don’t get the concept of eternal security right, then you won’t correctly understand Christianity or the Gospel, and you won’t understand what Christ actually did for us on the cross. So again, if you have questions about this, please review Part 4 of this series.

Moving on in our timeline:

After a person makes the decision to believe in Jesus and is spiritually born, having all sins forgiven, being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, becoming a child of God and crossing over from death to life, that person then begins the process of discipleship.

A disciple is a follower. To become a disciple of Christ means that you follow Christ and begin to live like He lived and live for Him. So whereas Salvation involves believing in Jesus as Savior, Discipleship involves living for Jesus as Lord. Paul puts it this way about how we are to be transformed daily, becoming more and more like Christ: 

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:1-2

First, this verse is addressed to Christians, not the unsaved, so it applies to discipleship, not salvation. Notice that it’s addressed to “brethren.” As we go through the Bible and particularly the New Testament, it is vitally important to look at the context as to who each verse is addressing, an unsaved person or someone who is already saved. We get into all sorts of misunderstandings of the Bible when we take a verse that’s written to believers, those already saved, and apply it out of context to the unsaved. Always read verses in context, not in isolation. 

Second, when Paul says to “present your bodies” and “be transformed,” that requires an act of will on our part. When we become Christians, God does not take back the original gift that He gave mankind, which is free will. As long as we are alive, we each have free will and God will never violate our free will. God does not make us into robots the moment we become Christians. Our free will is always in operation. This means that after we are saved, we still have to choose whether to obey or disobey God.

Therefore, throughout the New Testament, we see three main types of Christians:

  1. Spirit-filled Christians: Those saved believers who are living obediently to God, walking in His Spirit, experiencing the liberty of Christ, becoming like Christ in every way, entering His rest and being led by God unto good works. Becoming a spirit-filled Christian is the goal of discipleship. It includes the lifelong process of “sanctification,” which means being set apart by God toward holiness. A spirit-filled Christian is one who lives his or her life constantly growing in likeness toward Christ and maturing from sin to holiness, repenting of sin and becoming holy as God is holy.
  2. Lukewarm Christians: Those who are lukewarm in their faith. They believe in Jesus and are saved, but in their Christian lives they are neither hot nor cold for Him. They are not committed to walking daily in His Spirit, but live to a great extent for this present world, not for the coming Kingdom of God. They are alive but, in a sense, asleep. Some other characteristics of a lukewarm Christian may include prayerlessness, worldliness, or they might be legalistic or overly religious, caught up in the rituals of church versus walking by faith and developing a personal relationship with God. They may not spend much time with the Lord. They may be walking in their own strength rather than depending on God and walking in His strength. And, ultimately, they may end up wasting the gifts that God has given them for service and so accomplish very few good works.
  3. Carnal Christian: These are those who experience God’s salvation and forgiveness but then choose to still live for sin and the pleasures of this world. They are often trapped in continual, willful sin, and choose to live in the flesh, just like the unsaved. They are unrepentant of sin and may well be ashamed when Christ returns. 

Because of free will, we see these three types of Christians in the New Testament. While God’s Word encourages us and even commands us to live for Christ and to walk obediently in His Spirit, it is up to each of us, in our free will, to choose whether we will obey God or not.  

But it’s important to note that each of us, as Christians, will not just be one of these three types, but will instead exhibit at times all three of these types of discipleship behavior. A Christian is not solely spirit-filled, lukewarm or carnal. As Christians, we still live in bodies that are subject to sin. So there are times, sometimes within the very same day, where we have moments when we are spirit-filled, while other moments we give in to sin and are carnal, and in between, we may have moments when we are lukewarm. Every Christian experiences and exhibits at times all three types of behavior. 

The goal of discipleship is to become mature in Christ, becoming more and more like Jesus, represented by the top line on this chart. As we mature in our faith, our lives should have less and less to do with being lukewarm or carnal. But this takes time. A new Christian who lived extensively in sin before being saved may struggle with sin for years after being saved. They may start their Christian life on that carnal line and it may take the Holy Spirit a long time, working inside of them, to bring them to maturity in Christ, where their lives start aligning with that top, spirit-filled line. 

Maturing in our faith to where our lives align mostly with that top spirit-filled line of the chart is a life-long process called sanctification, which means being set apart for holiness. As we mature in Christ and because of God’s Holy Spirit working inside of us, we should become increasingly sanctified or set apart from being carnal or lukewarm.

The important questions for every Christian, then, are:

  1. Which line would you characterize yourself as being closer right now – the spirit-filled, lukewarm or carnal line?
  2. In which direction is your life moving – upward toward the spirit-filled line or downward toward the carnal line?

How you answer those questions is a good barometer of your discipleship, your goal of living for Jesus as Lord. The good news is that God never gives up on us and has given us His Holy Spirit to help us mature in our faith. So if you are struggling with sin, don’t be discouraged, but set your sights on that top line and ask God to help you get there. He is faithful and desires to help you do that very thing.

As far as salvation is concerned, we know that the spirit-filled Christian who is truly living for Jesus as Lord will be saved. These are Christians who are obedient to God and are maturing from sin, repenting of sin, and moving toward holiness. They are true disciples of Christ and will be saved for all eternity.

But what about the other Christians? Will those who are lukewarm and carnal still be saved? I go through this in detail in Part 4 of this series, but let’s summarize it here.

First, let’s consider the worst case: the carnal Christian. Will a carnal Christian who has been saved but then willfully disobeys God and lives in continual, unrepentant carnal sin still be saved? 

The answer is, most definitely, yes. That unrepentant carnal Christian will still be saved. And we have an example of it in the New Testament.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about a saved believer who was engaging in gross sexual immorality by sleeping with his father’s wife. The believer was continuing in this sin and was totally unrepentant. Everyone in the church knew about it. It was that flagrant and widespread. Here’s what Paul wrote:

“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife…For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed…To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” 1 Corinthians 5:1-5

Paul said that this unrepentant, sinning believer would be put to death, turned over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh. But then he said something amazing: that this sinning believer’s spirit would still be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. The man would not lose his salvation, even though he was unrepentant and he was committing the very sin of sexual immorality that Paul himself said, in Galatians 5, that:

“they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:21

Was Paul being inconsistent? No, of course not. Then how can this carnal, unrepentant Christian still be saved? 

He is saved for the same reason the spirit-filled Christian is saved: because all of his sins (past, present and future) were nailed to the cross the moment he placed his faith in Christ. As Paul says in Colossians, chapter 2:

“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath He quickened together with Him, having forgiven you ALL TRESPASSES; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross;” Colossians 2:13-14

The moment we place our faith in Christ, all of our sins are nailed to the cross. Our debt to God is paid in full. And then God does something amazing: It says He blots out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us. Literally, He wipes our record of sins completely clean from His books that He uses to judge people. For this unrepentant sinner in the Corinthian church, even though He did the very sins that Scripture says, “they which do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God,” Paul clearly says that, nevertheless, the man’s spirit will still be saved. That is because the man’s sins had been wiped clean off of God’s record books, even the sins the man neither confessed to nor repented of. So God’s Word remains true, that “they which do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.” But when God looks at His records for that man to see if he has committed any of those sins, there’s nothing there. All of the man’s sins were blotted out the moment he believed in Jesus. There was nothing there to judge.

When we place our faith in Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are declared just. We are justified in God’s sight. All traces of sins – past sins, present sins, and even future unconfessed, unrepented sins –  are blotted out of His records.

That’s why the Bible says,

“As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us. Psalm 103:12

“I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins.” Isaiah 43:25

So just like this sinning Corinthian believer, a carnal Christian will still be saved. 

How about the lukewarm Christian? Will he still be saved? Yes. The lukewarm Christian is living more obediently than the carnal Christian, so if the carnal Christian is saved, so is the lukewarm Christian. 

We also have proof of this in the New Testament, where Paul tells the Corinthian church about what will happen to them when Christ returns:

” For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10

Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15

Here, Paul explicitly says that if a believer appears before Christ with absolutely no good works done during his mortal life, which would be the definition of a lukewarm believer or even a carnal believer, then that person’s works will be burned up upon examination and he will receive no rewards, or may possibly lose rewards. But his spirit will still be saved. He will not lose his salvation. That’s because salvation is based entirely on the promise of God, His gift of grace, and we are kept saved by the promise and power of God. We do not keep our salvation by our own obedience. So we do not lose our salvation by a lack of obedience. The power of our salvation is the promise of God and our salvation can never be lost.

As a side note, let’s look briefly at Revelation 3, because I’m sure some will object to saying that a lukewarm believer will still be saved and will quote Jesus, where He said:

“because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:16

Does this verse apply to the lukewarm believer? No. Absolutely not. Let’s prove it.

First, the passage in Revelation 3 concerns the Laodicean church that Jesus described as being lukewarm, neither hot nor cold. The people inside this church are not saved believers who are living a lukewarm Christianity. They are unsaved. They have the form of a church but the people inside are lost. How do we know this?

The first clue is that Jesus is on the outside of the church, knocking on the door trying to get in. It’s an amazing picture. Here is a church full of people, all proclaiming to be Christians, and they have locked Christ out of the church. Is such a church possible? Sure, we see it all the time. Some churches go through the motions of church without ever preaching the Gospel or being led by the Spirit of God. Some may, for example, have as their primary mission the promotion of social justice, or the elimination of racial inequality, or only proclaiming the love of God and never anything negative that might upset anyone, such as their need to repent and be saved. There can be a whole host of reasons people gather together and call themselves a church.

They have the form of a church but the primary mission of the church is missing, which is to go into all the world, preach the Gospel and make disciples of all men. Churches can have very nice services, sing pleasant songs and preach lovely sermons, but be totally dead inside. Such churches have locked Christ out. And so Christ stands at the door and knocks, saying:

“if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20

It’s quite sad.

We also see that the people inside the Laodicean church were unsaved by the way Jesus described them:

“knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:” Revelation 3:17

Where in the New Testament is a believer in Christ ever described using these terms? Nowhere. One who believes in Christ for salvation is NEVER called wretched, miserable, poor, blind or naked. Just the opposite. That’s what the unsaved are called.

The people inside the Laodicean church are NOT SAVED. But they think they are. So Jesus gives them a wake up call, telling them He’s about to spit them out of His mouth. But He’s not saying this to any believers who may be in that church.

If fact, in the very same chapter of Revelation 3, Jesus promises to never blot out the name of anyone who believes in Him from His Book of Life. 

“He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before His angels.” Revelation 3:5

Exactly who is an overcomer? The same author, John, tell us:

“Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 5:5

John said that the one who overcomes is anyone who simply believes in Jesus. Period. To overcome does NOT mean to live obediently, without sin, after being saved. 1 John 5:5 could not be any clearer: anyone who believes in Jesus is an overcomer. And for all overcomers, those who simply believe in Jesus, which would include a believer who is living a lukewarm Christian life, Jesus Himself promised in Revelation 3:5 that He will NEVER blot out their names from the Book of Life. This is firm proof of “once saved, always saved.”

So all three of these types of Christians will be saved: the spirit-filled Christian, the lukewarm Christian and even the carnal Christian. It is totally impossible for a saved Christian to lose his or her salvation. 

But what about free will? If someone is truly free to choose, doesn’t that mean they could decide to abandon the faith and give up their salvation?  The answer is theoretically yes, but practically no.

Theoretically, a person with free will could choose to leave the faith and, thereby, lose his or her salvation. But practically, that’s never going to happen, because God has taken upon Himself the responsibility of keeping all of His children in the faith.

“Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,” Jude 24

“waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:7-8

“To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1 Peter 1:4-5

Notice that it is God’s power that keeps us saved, not our own obedience. I went through this in detail in Part 4 of this series. It is God Who will keep us from falling, confirming us to the end and keeping us saved with His power. He does this without violating our free will. Here are some of the ways, or “means,” God uses to keep His children from falling away.  

How God Keeps Us From Falling
The “Means” He Uses

  • Warnings in His Word
  • The work of the Holy Spirit inside a believer
  • Warnings & encouragement from believers
  • Teachings in the church
  • The Body of Christ working in your life
  • Chastisement or discipline
  • Allowing consequences of sin to happen
  • Sickness or disease
  • Angels working in our lives
  • Intercessory prayer
  • Lifting God’s protection, allowing spiritual oppression into our lives
  • Early death – “There is a sin unto death:” 1 John 5:16

Whenever we start to stray from the faith, God begins using means like these to turn us around so that we freely choose to not fall away and lose our salvation. God knows how to persuade His children so that His will is accomplished, namely, that none are lost. And He does it without violating our free will. God doesn’t make His children into robots who can no longer choose to take the wrong path. But when we do take the wrong path, God is faithful. He knows how to keep His children and He persuades them so that none are lost. But if all of these means fail to turn a person around, then God may resort to the last means on the list: ending that person’s life early. God would rather end a sinning believer’s life early than allow that believer to become irretrievably lost for eternity. God would not be a loving Father if He allowed His children to lose the eternal salvation that He paid for and promised to give them.

So the bottom line is this: salvation can never be lost. It’s not up to us to keep ourselves saved. It’s not up to our obedience as believers. It’s entirely up to the promise, the grace, the faithfulness and the power of God to keep all of His children saved so that none are lost.

As it says on our timeline regarding John 5:24 – whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. It doesn’t say, “whoever believes and lives in obedience, putting an end to sin.” It merely says, “believes.” Who is he that overcomes? He that believes in Christ. And for the one who believes, Jesus Himself said He will NEVER blot their name out of the Book of Life. In all of the New Testament, there is not one example of someone losing their salvation, crossing back over from life to death. 

But what’s the difference then between the three paths if all are saved? Doesn’t this give a Christian license to sin however he or she wants and still be saved. Yes, it does. But this life will not go well for the Christian if he or she does that. Think of all the means I just listed which God uses to turn straying believers around. It is a terrible thing to fall under God’s discipline and experience all that suffering in this life, including possibly God ending your life early. The Bible says: 

“God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Galatians 6:7

When believers choose to sin, they forfeit blessings they could have had in this life and come under God’s discipline. That’s not a pleasant thing. And then when they die, rewards may be lost in their eternal life.

A saved believer will never experience the Great White Throne judgment, where all the unsaved will be judged and sentenced to Hell. But all believers will appear before the Judgment seat of Christ, where Jesus will reward each person for good works done in this life. I went through this in detail in Part 2 of this series.

For those who live as spirit-filled Christians, becoming disciples of Christ, living holy lives unto good works, there will be many rewards. For lukewarm Christians who did very little to serve Christ, there will be fewer rewards or no rewards. And for those who live as carnal Christians, there will be a loss of eternal rewards, though they themselves will be saved “as through fire,” which to me does not sound like a very good experience, possibly including much regret, standing before Christ and seeing how you wasted the life He gave you, even though you are saved.

What we do for Christ in this life matters and counts for eternity. We cannot begin to imagine the rewards He has for those who live faithfully. For those who don’t live faithfully in this life, how terrible it will be to see the kind of rewards they could have had but lost because they chose to live a lukewarm or carnal Christian life. 

But even then, the very worst carnal Christian will still be saved. They will experience heaven with the Lord for eternity. The Judgment Seat of Christ or Bema Seat as it’s also called in the Greek, is not a place where Jesus looks at sin in our lives. The Judgment Seat of Christ will happen the moment Christ returns for His Church at the rapture. No sin will be mentioned here because all sins have already been paid for, nailed to the cross. This will only be a place where rewards are determined for the good works we did in this life. The word “Bema” in Greek culture referred to a raised platform where winners of the Olympic games would stand to receive their awards. The Judgment Seat of Christ is not something to fear, for it is a winners celebration. It’s where we receive crowns of victory. And for all eternity, we will use those crowns to cast them in worship at our Savior’s feet. 

So in saying all this about rewards, we see a major difference between Salvation and Discipleship. Salvation is based on faith in Christ alone. We are saved by faith, not by works. But the rewards for Discipleship are based on our works, not just faith alone. Faith has the major role for salvation, but for disciples of Christ, our works, guided by our faith, play the major role and, ultimately, will determine the types of rewards we receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ. We are saved by faith (referring to salvation) and then, afterwards, faith without works is dead (referring to discipleship). The reward of salvation is eternal life and that can never be lost. But the rewards of discipleship only come through our good works, where we allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to accomplish the good works God desires.

Finally, I want to close this timeline out with one of the most important topics in the Bible, which is repentance. Part 3 of this series was entirely about the role of repentance in salvation versus discipleship. The word “repentance” does not mean to turn from sin, but that may be an outcome of repentance. The word literally mean “a change of mind that results in a change in direction.” Most of the repenting done in the Old Testament was God repenting, such as Him repenting that He had made Saul king. That resulted in a change in direction, giving us instead King David. The idea of God repenting may sound strange if your definition of repentance is to turn from sin, because God never sins. But if you have a correct, biblical definition of repentance, which is a change of mind that results in a change in direction, then it makes perfect sense that even God can repent. 

As for mankind, God calls on all people to repent, to have a change of mind resulting in a change of direction.

“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now
commandeth all men every where to repent:” Acts 17:30

And there are two areas of repentance in the Bible:

  1. Repentance of Our Beliefs, or more specifically repenting of unbelief in Jesus to belief in Jesus.
  2. Repentance of Behavior, or repenting of personal sins and turning from sin toward holiness.

Together, our beliefs and our behavior make up the entire human experience and God calls on all of us to repent of both. But they don’t occur at the same time on our timeline.

Repentance of beliefs is for salvation, while repentance of behavior and turning from sin is for the church and occurs after salvation during discipleship.

To be saved, a person must repent of their unbelief in Jesus and trust in Him for salvation. But an unsaved person who does not yet have the Holy Spirit cannot repent of behavioral sins, such as lust or coveting, and turn from them. That is because it is the Holy Spirit indwelling a person that enables them to turn from sins. That indwelling of the Holy Spirit does not happen until salvation. So turning from sins will not happen until after salvation, after we have the Holy Spirit. An unsaved person may and should feel great remorse and guilt over sin, and may even try to turn from sin, but they will not be successful at turning from sin until after they are saved, after they have the Holy Spirit inside them to enable them to do what they could never do before, which is obey God.

It Part 3, we looked at the New Testament work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. The Holy Spirit:

  1. Saves us by causing us to be spiritually born again – John 3:5-6
  2. Seals us and abides with us forever – John 14:16-17, Ephesians 4:30
  3. Adopts us into God’s family – Romans 8:14-16
  4. Gives us access to the Father – Ephesians 2:18
  5. Makes us the very temple of God – 1 Corinthians 6:19
  6. Sanctifies us (sets us apart unto holiness) to obey Christ – 1 Peter 1:2
  7. Teaches us and reminds us – John 14:26, 1 Corinthians 2:9-16
  8. Leads us and guides us into all truth – Romans 8:14, John 16:13-15
  9. Helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us – Romans 8:26
  10. Helps us to not fulfill the lust of the flesh– Galatians 5:16-25
  11. Enables us to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law – Romans 8:4
  12. Teaches us to abide in Jesus – 1 John 2:20, 27
  13. Gives us spiritual gifts – 1 Corinthians 12
  14. Testifies to us about Jesus – John 15:26
  15. Convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment – John 16:7-8
  16. Speaks to the world through us – Matthew 10:18-20, 2 Peter 1:20-21
  17. Empowers us – Acts 1:8,
  18. Enables us to defeat the enemy – Matthew 12:28, Ephesians 6:17
  19. Gives us boldness to proclaim the Gospel – Luke 4:18-19, Acts 4:31
  20. Enables us to pray – Jude 1:20
  21. Gives us freedom – 2 Corinthians 3:17
  22. Unites us into one Body with Christ – 1 Corinthians 12:13
  23. Fills us with all joy, peace and hope – Romans 15:13
  24. Comforts us – John 14:16

Do you see all that the Holy Spirit does to help us turn from sin? An unsaved person does not have this help because they do not yet have the Holy Spirit. So it is impossible for an unsaved person to repent of and turn from their sins. The only thing an unsaved person can do is become aware of their sinful condition before God, their lostness, with all the regret and remorse that this brings, and then cry out to God for salvation through Christ.

As the church, when we share the Gospel, we should not be telling the unsaved that they need to repent of their sins to be saved. That is not the Gospel. Repenting from unbelief to belief in Jesus is the Gospel of Salvation. Repenting of sins and turning from sinful behavior is important and God wants everyone to repent of sins. But it’s not going to happen for anyone until after they have the Holy Spirit indwell them so as to help them via all of these ways that I just listed. 

So from the standpoint of sharing the Gospel to the lost, the only objective is to get them to repent from unbelief to belief in Jesus. Once they are saved, then comes repenting of sinful behavior during discipleship. Repenting of sins and turning from sin is for the church, for discipleship, not for salvation, because the unsaved do not have the Holy Spirit that enables them to turn from sin. 

When we tell an unsaved person that they must repent of sins and turn from them to be saved, not only is this incorrect and a false Gospel message, but even worse, it places a huge wall between that person and God, preventing them from being saved. That’s because, by telling them they must turn from sin to be saved, you are asking them to do the impossible. Even the Bible says,

“the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14

Does God want the unsaved to repent and turn from sin? Absolutely! But it’s not going to happen until they have the Holy Spirit inside them, enabling them to turn from sin. So in sharing the Gospel, we need to make the unsaved aware of their sinful condition, their lostness before a perfectly holy God and point them to Jesus to be saved. We need to lead them through repentance of their beliefs, or more specifically, help them move from unbelief to belief in Jesus. 

Then, after they are saved and they begin the walk of discipleship, repentance of behaviors becomes the focus, the turning from sin toward holiness. The key to that is: 

Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16

And then Paul also tells us how we do this:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

By yielding ourselves to Christ, allowing Him to live through us, walking with the faith that His Spirit and His strength will help us be victorious, we become able to turn from sin. It’s not up to us to bear down and try harder to stop sinning. Turning from sin is entirely about allowing Christ to live through you and walking in the Holy Spirit’s strength. God never intended for us to battle sin on our own. That’s why He gave us the Holy Spirit.

Do you see how having the Holy Spirit is essential for turning from sins? Then, in sharing the Gospel, don’t make turning from sins a condition for salvation. Turning from sin occurs during discipleship. If this still isn’t clear, I urge you to review Part 3 of this series. 

The Gospel message is being butchered on the Internet and misstated because people do not understand this key difference between repentance of beliefs, which occurs for salvation, and repentance of behaviors or turning from sins, which is for the church and occurs during the life-long walk of discipleship. Turning from sin toward holiness occurs during the process of sanctification and discipleship, not salvation. It is for the church, not the unsaved.

With this addition of repentance of beliefs and repentance of behaviors, our timeline of salvation and discipleship is now complete.

I’ll close this series by going back to the very Scripture verses I used to start the series in Part 1, which is the Great Commission. Jesus commanded us, saying:

Mark 16:15 – Salvation

“And He(Jesus) said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and PREACH THE GOSPEL to every creature.” Mark 16:15 

Matthew 28:19-20 – Discipleship

“Go therefore and MAKE DISCIPLES of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.” Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV 

We see both salvation and discipleship represented in the Great Commission. We’re not called to just preach the Gospel and get people saved, but to help people through this entire timeline, all the way through becoming spirit-filled disciples of Christ. 

In all that I’ve covered in these five parts of this series, I hope you can see the vast differences between salvation and discipleship. Our ability to understand these differences will affect how well we understand and can correctly communicate the Gospel.

….   

Finally, I do this in all my videos, if you are not 100% sure that you are saved, that if you died today, God would welcome you into heaven, I urge you to make your commitment to Jesus secure right now. Here’s a prayer for salvation that you can pray. But keep in mind that a prayer does not save you. You are saved only when you place your trust in Jesus alone, believing in your heart that He died to pay your debt of sin to God and that He rose from the dead to show you the eternal life that He offers. This prayer, then, is just a way of formalizing that decision, putting a stake in the ground, saying that you are trusting in Him and never going back. If that’s what you would like to do, please pray with me:

“Lord, I have sinned and I need you to save me. I believe that Your Son Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins and that He rose from the dead to show us the new eternal life You have for us. I believe solely in Jesus to save me, that He paid my debt of sin 100%. Please forgive my sins and save me now, Lord, according to your promises. In Jesus Name.”

If you prayed that prayer and meant it from your heart, know right now that you are eternally saved.

So if you notice on this, we have on the left-hand side, Salvation, which is believing in Jesus as Savior. And on the right-hand side we have Discipleship, which is living for Jesus as Lord. In the middle is where people make a decision to believe in Jesus and are spiritually born. All their sins are forgiven and they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It is on the left-hand Salvation side that the only repentance a person can do is to repent of their unbelief. They cannot repent of sins until the Holy Spirit is in them, on the right-hand side. On the left-hand side, they can be aware of their sins and we need to talk to people to make them aware of their sinful condition. And they can feel grief and remorse over the sin in their lives. But they can’t turn from it. They can’t save themselves. They can only repent of their unbelief.

But then the good news is that God helps us. Once we are spiritually born and the Holy Spirit is in us, then, as part of discipleship – living for Jesus as Lord, becoming a Spirit-filled Christian – that we learn to repent of our sins, turning away from sin and walking in holiness, becoming living-sacrifices for Jesus. 

So what does this mean in terms of sharing the Gospel? Simply this:

NEVER

 Tell An Unbeliever That They MUST
Repent of Their Sins
And Turn From Them

To Be Saved

That would be taking something that happens only in discipleship, AFTER salvation, and trying to apply it TO salvation. This would be telling someone to do the impossible, for it is totally impossible for an unsaved person who does not yet have the Holy Spirit in them, to turn from their sins. That is not the Gospel. But some Christians and churches make it the Gospel, because they don’t understand the difference between salvation and discipleship or the work of the Holy Spirit. They simply take a verse like 1 John 1:9, where John tells THE CHURCH, those already saved, that they need to confess their sins, and apply it way out of context to the unsaved. 

 For those of you who know you are saved: Did you repent of ALL your sins and turn from sin BEFORE you were saved? No. It doesn’t work that way. 

When you tell an unbeliever that they must repent and turn from their sins to be saved, all you are doing is putting a great wall between them and God, a wall that’s impossible for them to get through. The only thing that’s going to do is lead them into despair or further unbelief.  

Does God want an unsaved person to repent and turn from their sins? Absolutely! But that’s not going to happen without the Holy Spirit being inside of them. So when witnessing to the lost, don’t put that wall there. Don’t put that barrier there that says you must repent and turn from all your sins to be saved. That will happen AFTER they are saved.

As Christians, we need to realize that the lost CANNOT save themselves. They cannot repent of their sins and turn from them before they are saved because they do not yet have the Holy Spirit. Confessing sins and turning from sins is for the church, not the lost. Save the lost first. Then God will work inside each of them to help them turn from sin. 

John wrote:

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9

John wrote that to the CHURCH, NOT the unsaved. So don’t quote this as a requirement for salvation! The unsaved can only REPENT from their UNBELIEF to BELIEVING in Jesus. So we need to help them:

  1. Recognize their lost condition (sinfulness before God)
  2. Believe in Jesus

We need to GET THEM SAVED FIRST!

And then, AFTER salvation, God’s Holy Spirit in them will help them get rid of sin. That is the process of SANCTIFICATION. That happens in DISCIPLESHIP. 

So, as far as salvation and discipleship are concerned, the role of repentance is to

  • SALVATION: Repent of UNBELIEF to BELIEF in Jesus
  • DISCIPLESHIP: Repent of sinful behavior leading us toward holiness

 

So, that concludes part 3. We now have two sections left in this series:

Part 4: Sureness of Salvation Versus Discipleship

Part 5: Timeline View of Salvation Versus Discipleship

We already looked at a small piece of the timeline in this lesson, but we’ll develop it more in Part 5.

….   

Finally, I do this in all my videos, if you are not 100% sure that you are saved, that if you died today, God would welcome you into heaven, I urge you to make your commitment to Jesus secure right now. Here’s a prayer for salvation that you can pray. But keep in mind that a prayer does not save you. You are saved only when you place your trust in Jesus alone, believing in your heart that He died to pay your debt of sin to God and that He rose from the dead to show you the eternal life that He offers. This prayer, then, is just a way of formalizing that decision, putting a stake in the ground, saying that you are trusting in Him and never going back. If that’s what you would like to do, please pray with me:

“Lord, I have sinned and I need you to save me. I believe that Your Son Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins and that He rose from the dead to show us the new eternal life You have for us. I believe solely in Jesus to save me, that He paid my debt of sin 100%. Please forgive my sins and save me now, Lord, according to your promises. In Jesus Name.”

If you prayed that prayer and meant it from your heart, know right now that you are eternally saved.


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