Every Christian testimony is concrete evidence that Jesus Christ is alive and presently in the business of saving sinners. Stories of redemption highlight God’s goodness and grace as we hear about spiritually dead men and women who were brought to life through faith in Jesus.
But the journey of salvation doesn’t stop at conversion. Yes, our justification—God’s declaration of our righteous standing with Him—occurs at a moment-in-time and cannot be changed. Happily, God does not require us to travel a long, strenuous path of obedience before we can have assurance that we are right with God. The moment we place saving faith in Jesus Christ, we are justified and thus united with our Savior in an unbreakable bond and forever at peace with our Creator (Rom 3:26; 5:1). Our salvation is secure and cannot be lost (John 10:27-30; Rom 8:1, 31-39) because it is grounded in God’s sovereign plan (Eph 1:3-14) and Christ’s finished work (John 19:31; Rom 3:21-26) on our behalf.
But the Bible’s emphasis on the stability and security of our salvation doesn’t imply that Christians can now settle into a life of spiritual ease and coast into heaven. Actually, when we are born again by the Spirit of God, we enter into a new battle with sin. Prior to our conversion, we had no genuine interest in warring against our flesh, putting our remaining sin to death. We practiced sin and indulged the flesh at every turn, even if we were otherwise “respectable” citizens, family members, and church attenders (Rom 6:20; 8:5, 8). Now that we have been raised to “newness of life” (Rom 6:4), we take aim at sin in a way that we never did prior to our conversion. The call of the believer who is now under grace (Rom 6:15) is to kill sin, follow after Christ, and pursue holiness by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 6:16-23).
This battle will consist of triumphs over sin, but it will also be characterized by serious difficulty (Rom 7:14-23). Although no longer able to dominate the Christian as it once did, sin is just as potent as it was prior to our salvation. Yes, Christ’s work has secured our ultimate triumph over sin, and now we possess a new spiritual power that enables us to experience real-time victory over indwelling corruption, but our foe will not retreat quietly. There will be days when we feel like we are doing the very things we hate and disabled from doing things we want to do.
Even so, Scripture doesn’t allow the Christian to treat the pursuit of holiness as an optional discipline or discretionary accoutrement to the Christian life. The Bible employs a host of sweet encouragements and severe warnings to motivate the Christian to make progress in their walk with the Lord. Interestingly, Paul and Barnabas made it their first item of business to exhort new believers to “continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43; 14:22). Paul warned the Colossians that they couldn’t have assurance of their reconciliation with God if they failed to “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast” (Col 1:21). In some of the most harrowing passages in the New Testament, the author of Hebrews warns his listeners multiple times to not neglect their great salvation (Heb 2:1-5), or to harden their hearts (3:12-15) or fail to attain to the grace of God (Heb 12:15). In one of the most frightening passages in the book of Hebrews, the author warns his listeners that anyone who experiences the power of the Holy Spirit and tastes of the good Word of God and the power of the age to come only to turn away from Christ will find it impossible to be renewed again to saving repentance (Heb 6:1-8). In another passage, we are reminded that the one who continues in unbelief after receiving knowledge of the truth will find themselves without any atonement for their sins and liable to God’s judgement (Heb 10:26-31). Faith in Christ leading to a pursuit of holiness isn’t optional: “Strive for peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).
But if we are justified at the moment we place saving faith in Christ and our salvation is secure, why do the New Testament apostles and authors exhort their readers so strongly to continue in the faith? Isn’t our continuance in the faith a forgone conclusion? How we answer this question will have a massive impact on how we approach the Christian life.
How God Keeps Us Believing
In order to answer this question correctly, we must first consider the nature of our salvation. When we come to Christ in repentant faith, we are not compelled by our own natural will power, intellect, or wisdom (1 Cor 1:26-31). When we believe in Jesus, what occurs at that moment is God fulfilling His eternal plan for our salvation in time and space. Before the creation of the world, God chose us for salvation (Rom 8:28-30; Eph 1:1-9). Then, at the time ordained by our Creator, we were drawn to Jesus by the Father. This drawing is infallible: those whom the Father has given to the Son in eternity past will come to Christ when God ordains it in time and space. Once we are in Christ, we cannot be lost.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day….No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.John 6:39-40, 44
Although we exercised faith in a message we had come to recognize as true and real, it was God who granted us the eyes to see the truth and beauty of Jesus Christ in the gospel (2 Cor 4:4-6). Prior to faith in Christ, we were dead in sin, unable to embrace God’s gift of salvation (Eph 2:1-3). But in His great love, God raised us spiritually from the dead, enabling us to exercise faith in the gospel (Eph 2:5-9). Indeed, Scripture designates faith as a gift from God (Phil 1:29). Everything required for salvation—righteousness, atonement, forgiveness, even the spiritual eyes to see Jesus and the faith to believe in Him—are gifts from God.
When we say that salvation is secure, therefore, we cannot ignore the crucial role that faith plays in our salvation. There are some Christian teachers who argue, based on the passages that speak directly to the security of our salvation (like the ones we’ve examined above), that even a once-professing believer who stops trusting in Christ and falls away from the faith will still inherit heaven because their salvation is secure and God has promised to never let them go (e.g., Rom 8:39). But this teaching misunderstands how God has secured our salvation.
The way we come into a secure salvation is by faith in Christ. Faith is what justifies and unites us to our Savior so that we can enjoy the benefits of His righteousness, atonement, and resurrection life (Rom 4:5; 5:1; 6:1-4). Without faith, we cannot be united to Christ. A secure salvation, therefore, requires that God sustain our faith so that we continue believing over the course of our lives. In other words, when God saves someone, He keeps them saved by protecting, feeding, and preserving their faith (1 Pet 1:3-5). How does God protect, feed, and preserve the faith of a believer who is in the mighty grasp of Christ and their heavenly Father? That’s where the warnings come in.
How God Keeps Us in the Faith
One of the ways God keeps us in the faith is by giving us serious admonitions throughout the New Testament of what will happen to those who walk away from Jesus. These warnings, however, are not intended to throw believers into a spiritual tailspin and undermine their assurance. Quite the opposite: warnings are intended to strengthen our assurance by motivating us to press on in our walk with the Lord. Therefore, believers—whether young or old, new to the faith or old-timers—must not shy away from these strong admonishments to continue in the grace of God, avoid apostasy, maintain a soft heart, put sin to death, and to pursue holiness. Your gracious God has provided you with these warnings to keep you believing.
But even in giving us these warnings God hasn’t left us without help in our fight against sin and our pursuit of holiness. Actually, one of the most dangerous places for a Christian to be is on their own, away from fellowship and out-of-touch with other believers (Prov 18:1). It’s not by coincidence that two of the strongest warnings in the New Testament fall within a context where the author emphasizes the believer’s need for the local church.
In Hebrews 3:12-13, for example, the author instructs his readers to care for each other by making sure that no professing Christian among them develops a hard, unbelieving heart that leads them to “fall away from the living God” (v. 12). How do they care for each other in this way? “But exhort one another every day as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (v. 13). One vital way our hearts are kept soft to God and His Word is by the regular exhortations of our brothers and sisters in the local body. If we remain outside the local body of Christ, we cut ourselves off from one of the chief ways God keeps us believing which leads, inevitably, to a hardened heart that is susceptible to falling away from God. Hebrews 10:19-26 carries similar logic.
In this passage in the latter half of Hebrews, the author encourages his readers to draw near to God through Christ who has made a way into the heavenly Holy Places by His death on the cross (Heb 10:19-23). Immediately after this encouragement to enter God’s throne room with confidence, the author exhorts his readers to be diligent to maintain corporate fellowship. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25). The command here has a positive and negative component. Positively, these Christians are to think carefully about how to motivate each other to love and good works. Negatively, they must be careful that they don’t fall into a pattern of isolation and corporate neglect. And these two components work together. In order to know their fellow brothers and sisters well enough to provoke each other to love and good works, it is essential that they meet together regularly. Without consistent, face-to-face corporate fellowship, you have neither the knowledge nor the opportunity to stir up your brothers and sisters to love and good works. But maintaining corporate fellowship has more serious implications than that.
“For,” the author continues, “if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Heb 10:26-27). With the word “For,” the author connects what he had just said about the necessity of regular corporate fellowship to his harrowing words about sinning deliberately and the expectation of judgement. What’s the connection? We are in danger of walking in unbelief against the knowledge of the truth—sinning deliberately—when we neglect corporate fellowship. When we neglect fellowship with other believers in the local church, we keep ourselves at a distance from other Christians who know us and who know how to stir up our faith, affection, and obedience.
The church, therefore, is essential in God’s design to your perseverance in the faith. God is good, and He has given you a wonderful gift by establishing the local church as the place where He feeds you through regular Bible preaching, encourages and admonishes you through the ministry of fellow believers, and provides you the place where you can use your spiritual gifts for the common good (1 Cor 12:9).
So, the first step a new believer should take once they’ve come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ is to find a faithful, local Christian church where you can sit under sound preaching and find vital fellowship among other believers. So fundamental is this step that everything else I recommend in this article will be sapped of much of its spiritual power if it is neglected. Along with fellowship and corporate worship in a solid local church, a new believer should build the following disciplines into their life for the sake of their growth and progress in the faith.
Regular Bible Reading, Meditation, and Prayer
The Christian life is, fundamentally, a life of faith (Gal 2:20). We believe in true spiritual realities that we cannot presently see with our physical eyes (2 Cor 5:7). Yet, because we reside in a fallen world among people who reject the Christian faith, and because we still wrestle with our own indwelling sin, our faith will need regular renewal. Faith is not created by our will power, however. Rather, faith is formed and sustained by God’s Word. That’s why Jesus could say, quoting Deuteronomy, that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4; cf. Deut 8:3). Jesus also told His disciples that their fruitfulness was dependent upon His word abiding in them (John 15:8-9). A deep understanding of Scripture enables us to walk in wisdom (Prov 2:6-15), to make accurate judgements (Ps 19:7), to avoid sin (Ps 119:9, 11), to guard ourselves from deception (Matt 23:4), to behold the glory of Christ (2 Cor 3:18; 4:4-6), and to be equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). Regular Bible reading, therefore, is a vital discipline for all believers. Many one-year Bible plans are available online. One of the most popular is the Robert Murray M’Chene Bible Reading Plan which takes you through the whole Bible in one year.
But it is helpful to not just read the Bible, but to meditate on it as well. Biblical meditation, unlike Eastern-style meditation or contemporary “mindfulness,” is not a mind-emptying exercise. Rather, it is the practice of filling your mind with Scripture and ruminating over it, pondering its implications, considering its various applications and connections to other Scripture, and so on. Slow, patient meditation over Scripture is often the bridge from knowledge to obedience, as we see in God’s instructions to Joshua: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do all that is written in it” (Josh 1:8; emphasis added). Meditation upon the Word of God is what keeps the believer in the paths of righteousness (Ps 1:1-2).
Our reading of and meditation on the Word of God should also be coupled with prayer. Scripture exhorts us often to “continue steadfastly in prayer” (Col 4:2) and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). Prayer is the means by which we speak to our heavenly Father, extoll His goodness, confess our sins, intercede for others, and make requests for our own lives and ministries (Matt 6:8-13). Prayer is also the way we ask God for wisdom and for help to rightly interpret His Word (Ps 119:27, 33-34). Prayerlessness is presumptuous because it demonstrates we don’t really believe Jesus when He says, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When you are a new believer, prayer may come naturally, like a newborn baby breathing oxygen for the first time out of the womb. As time moves on, however, you will likely find it challenging to make time for prayer. This is where it will be necessary, with the help of your brothers and sisters in your local congregation, to establish regular patterns of prayer so that you can dwell continually near to God.
Worship and Fellowship
We’ve already noted that regular worship and fellowship in a local congregation is necessary for your spiritual health. But we need reminders to make such corporate gatherings a priority. Like the previous disciplines, the world, Satan, and even our own flesh will try to persuade us that prioritizing regular worship and fellowship is simply not worth the effort. But to yield at this point will surely lead to spiritual trouble, as we saw above.
But neglecting worship and fellowship also robs us of the greatest joys this life has to offer. First is the opportunity to corporately sing to our great God. While it is good to sing to the Lord privately throughout the day (Ps 104:33), it is a taste of heaven to sing together with our spiritual siblings. God is truly glorified by our individual praise and personal times of worship, but the end-game in God’s plan of redemption is a corporate people extolling the glory of His grace at the top of their lungs (Ps 148:11-14; Rev 7:9-10).
Second, God’s presence dwells among His people in the corporate gathering. Yes, due to His infinite Being, God’s presence is everywhere at all times (Ps 139:7-12). And yes, God meets with His people individually in personal fellowship (2 Cor 13:14). Yet Scripture also teaches us that God dwells among His people in a unique way when they are gathered together to worship Him. “Yet, you are holy,” David says to God, “enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Ps 22:3). Indeed, God is present in the corporate gathering in such a way that unbelievers are even able to see it, experience it, and perhaps be drawn to faith and repentance (1 Cor 14:25).
Third, the church service is also the place where you sit under the preaching of God’s Word. While it is true there is an abundance of useful biblical and theological resources available online today, none of these, no matter how good, can replace the in-person preaching of God’s Word (2 Tim 4:2). God meets with His people in a unique way through the preaching event, and we must not neglect this event because we can just as easily listen to preaching while we are driving in the car.
Finally, the local church is the place where you have the opportunity to use your spiritual gifts for the common good (1 Cor 12:9). If we neglect fellowship, we may find that we become spiritually dry, not only because we are not under solid teaching and preaching, but because we are hoarding our gifts and not using them to bless the body of Christ.
Confession and Repentance
The greatest joy of new life in Christ is knowing our great God in a personal, intimate way. While our union with Christ cannot be severed, sin will dampen our communion with the Lord and make us feel distant from His gracious presence. The primary way we remain close to Jesus is by keeping a clear conscience through regular confession and repentance.
Although an eternity-altering, nature-changing event has occurred in your life, you will still deal with indwelling sin this side of eternity. Scripture anticipates this reality and instructs us to find regular cleansing in the blood of Jesus. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” The apostle John writes. “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; see also Ps 51:7-8). The New Testament often exhorts believers to maintain a clear conscience (1 Tim 1:5, 19; 3:9; 1 Pet 3:16, 21), and we now see why: faith cannot thrive in a defiled, guilt-ridden conscience. Thankfully, God has granted us the means by which we can receive regular cleansing and enjoy the blessing of a clean conscience.
Paul prayed that the love of the Philippian believers would “abound more and more” (Phil 1:9). But the apostle added an important qualifier to this prayer: he desired that their love would grow in “all knowledge and discernment.” It wasn’t enough for the Philippian brethren to have warm-hearted feelings toward Christ and other Christians. It wasn’t even enough for them to take steps to actively pursue God’s glory and the good of other believers. Their love needed the complementary quality of knowledge and discernment so that they would love Christ and others in a way that brought the most glory to God and the greatest benefit to people.
Paul knew it was possible—even easy—for Christians to get swept up in feelings of love that actually resulted in faulty worship and unhelpful activity. Growth in love required not only the development of one’s godly affections—the affections themselves needed to be grounded in biblical truth.
As a believer, your love needs to grow in two basic areas: knowledge and discernment. You need to know what Scripture teaches (knowledge) and be able to distinguish between truth and almost-truth (discernment) so that you can protect yourself and others from deception. But these twin fruits of the Christian life can only grow in deep, rich soil. Without the regular study of God’s Word and good theology, you will be unable to know how to fully honor and worship God or serve your brothers and sisters. The world is awash in counterfeit spiritual messages vying for our attention and posing as truth, and without a thorough grasp of Scripture, sound doctrine, and a Christian worldview, we will be susceptible to embracing ideas that can, in the long-run, dilute our worship of God and undermine our ministry to others. Dedicating some time to theological and biblical study will enable your love to abound in a way that glorifies God and really benefits those around you.
Just prior to His ascension, Jesus gave His disciples their marching orders. As they made their way throughout the world, they were to make disciples of all the nations, teaching them to obey everything that Jesus had taught them (Matt 28:18-20). Discipleship cannot occur unless a person first hears the gospel, however. Even so, evangelism is not just the first step to making disciples: it is one of the Christian’s greatest privileges because we have the opportunity to declare our Father’s glorious grace to others and proclaim His excellencies to those who don’t presently know Him and telling others about God’s grace is one of the reasons God’s saved us (1 Pet 2:9). If we neglect our calling as evangelists (for we are all evangelists, even if we do not sense extraordinary skill in this area), we will be missing out on one of greatest channels of joy God has ordained for our lives. As we noted in the introduction to this book, your testimony of salvation is an excellent place to start when sharing the gospel with others and sharing the gospel along with your own salvation story on a regular basis will serve to renew your own assurance and may lead to a sinner’s conversion.
Along with the disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, worship, fellowship, study, and evangelism, I would also encourage you to give regularly to your local church and other biblical ministries. Giving of our wealth is one of the ways we tangibly honor God for His gracious provision (Prov 3:9-10) and supply the needs of the church so that her ministry can continue. Regular giving is also a means by which we can curb our own temptation to greed (1 Tim 6:6-19), provide for others, and experience the joy of trusting in God’s providence to supply us with everything we need—and much more (2 Cor 9:10-11)!
However, if you or a family member has experienced exploitation at the hands of greedy religious hucksters, you might be hesitant to heed this call to give faithfully to your church or other Christian ministries. Jesus understands your hesitation: He expressed disgust at this kind of mistreatment during His earthly ministry (Luke 20:45-21:4). It’s for this reason (among others) that Scripture teaches us to give willingly, “not reluctantly or under compulsion” (2 Cor 9:7a). God delights, not in the sheer act of giving, but in cheerful giving (2 Cor 9:7b). He wants us to give from our hearts out of a happy desire to glorify Him and provide for others. It is essential, therefore, for you to locate a church with trustworthy leadership so you so you can gladly give to the work of the gospel and not fear the manipulation of your emotions or the misuse of your money by spiritual frauds.
Finally, if you are a new believer or a seasoned saint, Scripture calls you to exercise your spiritual gift for the common good (1 Cor 12:9). Even though every Christian has received a spiritual gift or set of gifts from the Holy Spirit at their conversion, not every Christian is able to identify how God has gifted them. The remedy to this impasse is not to complete a spiritual gift assessment or lengthy questionnaire. Rather, it is to join a local church, find ways to serve, and listen carefully to the feedback of your brothers and sisters so you can discern where you are effective in ministry. While you should take your interests and desires into account when identifying your spiritual gifts, the best indicator of how God has gifted you will be found in the response of your local church and their assessment of your effectiveness.
Exercising your spiritual gifts is a vital component to the Christian life, particularly in how God intends for your ministry to bolster your assurance. Jesus Christ has entrusted us with various spiritual gifts, natural talents, and other resources, and He calls us to us these gifts for His glory and the edification of His church (1 Cor 12:1ff; Eph 4:8-12). If we neglect these resources and fail to multiply them for God’s glory, we will have a difficult time convincing our consciences that our faith is real.
In the parable of the talents, it was only the stewards who multiplied their master’s money who received the praise of their master (Matt 25:20-23). But the lazy slave who hid his allotment in the ground was later chastised by the master and consigned to eternal punishment (Matt 25:24-30). So, while we are not justified by our works, our post-conversion ministry does serve as evidence that we have really believed the gospel and that we are making use of the resources Christ has delegated to us. That’s why James says, “Faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). Works don’t make faith alive; they only validate that faith is already alive. As we use our gifts for the common good, we can anticipate Christ’s commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:23).
The call of the New Testament to the Christian is press on. Keep going. Don’t rest on past spiritual experiences or accomplishments. Pursue deeper knowledge of God and more intimate fellowship with Jesus Christ. Make diligent use of the means God has provided to keep you believing in Jesus, bearing fruit, and making progress in the faith. Rest in God’s promise of a secure salvation, the full forgiveness of your sin He has already granted to you in Christ (Col 2:13), strive after holiness (Heb 12:13), and don’t look back (Phil 3:13). Serve the saints with diligence (1 Pet 4:10), plunder the Scriptures regularly for spiritual food (2 Tim 3:16-17), pray continually (Eph 6:18), make the most of your time (Eph 5:15), and give yourself to good works (Titus 2:14).
But in all your striving and laboring for the glory of God and the good of His people, remember that you have been saved by grace alone (Eph 2:8-9). Do not lean on what you have done for God: rely only on what Christ has done for you in His death on the cross and resurrection (Gal 6:14). And when you someday stand before your heavenly Father, look not to your Spirit-empowered deeds or your many sins and failings; look only to Jesus Christ, your life and righteousness (1 Cor 1:30; Col 3:1) and your boast will only be in the Lord for all eternity (1 Cor 1:31). Amen.