A NOTE FROM PASTOR MARGE
A phrase that is not found in Scripture is "once saved, always saved." It has been thrown around quite a lot in various religious communities and societies over the years. Really, the phrase is asking the question, "Can a Christian cease to be or stop being a Christian?" or as it might otherwise be stated, "Can a person who has been saved ever be lost?" The academic, theological debate which has been going on for centuries asks the question, who is right? Is it John Calvin and the Presbyterians/Baptists, who hold to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, which argues that you cannot lose your salvation? Or is it Jacobus Arminius and the Methodists, who hold to the doctrine of conditional salvation, which argues that Christians can backslide and walk away from their salvation if they actively reject the Holy Spirit's influence in their lives? Trying to argue who is right and who is wrong will not do any of us much good. Rather, there are two super important questions that should be addressed. These are the two underlying questions when it comes to the tough question of, "once saved, always saved?" The first question is what do we do when we sin? Question number two is how to we discern genuine, authentic faith?
What do you do when you sin? Every single one of us, even those of us who have confessed and professed that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior, has the ability to train wreck our lives, our families, our work, and our witness. Why? God has given us free will. He has given us the ability to choose Him every day, to choose the path that leads to abundant life, or to choose the ways of this world, the path that leads to death and destruction. So, when you choose the path that leads to destruction, in other words when you sin, what do you do? Do you get defensive? Do you get angry? Do you come up with a million excuses of why you are right and the Holy Spirit is wrong? Do you continue down the path that leads to destruction or do you confess and repent? Confess simply means to admit where you did wrong and repent simply means "to turn from." Repentance is where you have been going one direction, you have been going step by step, choice by choice, decision by decision, walking away from God, and you change course. You turn completely the other way, and you head towards Jesus, towards abundant life. You get on the path that leads to abundance. The book of Romans tells us that it is the loving kindness and grace of God that leads us to repentance. It is Christ’s love and grace for you when Jesus tells you, “That thing that you are doing, that thing that is causing you to walk step-by-step further away from God, is not what I redeemed you for.” The Bible does not teach that we need to be perfect people. It teaches, however, that we cannot receive God's gift of salvation and simultaneously live in rebellion against His commands. In other words, you cannot worship God with your lips and worship something else with your heart. Either you are struggling against sin, fighting side-by-side with Jesus, or you are no longer struggling because you have just decided to engage sin, to engage with the thing that will destroy you. It is God's loving kindness that cuts out cancerous sin in our lives when we repent.
The second question is how to we discern genuine, authentic faith? God’s forgiveness of our sins is unfathomable grace, but we cannot stop there. Our faith does not end with justification, it ends with sanctification, becoming more and more like Christ every single day. It results in a transformed heart and life. This is not works-based righteousness (that we earn our salvation). This is just evidence of the goodness of God transforming your life. If you have ever been run over by the grace train of Jesus Christ, it changes everything about your life. You cannot encounter the infinitely greater power of the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, be run over by it, and then nothing changes whatsoever. It is impossible. Therefore, we need not only forgiveness of our sins, but our lives also need to be different. Our lives should be transformed. We should be displaying the symptoms of a Gospel-infected heart: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the signs and symptoms of a transformed life in Christ and a genuine, authentic faith.
St. Petersburg First United Methodist Church, what are you choosing to do? Are you choosing to walk further and further away from God or are you choosing to go home, into the arms of your Heavenly Father? Are you living a life that will lead to death and destruction or are you turning away from sin and turning towards God, putting your trust and genuine faith in Him, and living a radically transformed life because you have been run over by the freight train that is the grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? The good news for you is that you are never too far gone for the grace of Jesus. That you can turn and change course and God will welcome you with open arms. As we get ready as a church to embark on this Lenten journey, the forty days leading up to the greatest miracle of all time, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you are invited every day and specifically, this upcoming Wednesday on Ash Wednesday, to confess, repent, and change direction. Then, brothers and sisters, you are invited to live a radically transformed life by the power of God's sanctifying grace, the grace that makes possible a transformed life. You are invited to make the choice to walk away from the mess that is your life, and instead, walk towards the empty tomb.
— Pastor Marge