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Mark Vestal's answer is an excellent explanation of the theology of the gospel, but I would like to add some things that scripture explains about how we can actually recognize when our belief is genuine and we have the 'Holy Spirit,' (who is GOD's arriving 'confirmation' that we have truly entered His Holy Covenant in Christ). Early in the history of the Church, Christians were all of Jewish lineage. No one receiving the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost had 'pagan' lineage, (Acts 2). Yet, Messiah was promised to all of the nations and salvation to 'all mankind' regardless of race, class, gender, or age, (Joel 2:28-29). This meant that GOD wasn't done yet 'pouring out' His Spirit. In Acts 10, we read of the moment when Yahweh poured out His Holy Spirit upon 'pagans' for the first time, starting with a Roman Centurion named 'Cornelius' and his band of men. The Jerusalem Temple was still operating at the time, but these new believers weren't permitted into it to worship Yahweh by His own law, so what was GOD planning? As it turns out, GOD had always planned to allow unbelieving pagans, (the ancient Romans), to destroy the old Temple and He had no plans to rebuild it because the Old Testament era was over and the believers themselves would be the new 'Temple,' (1 Corinthians 3:16). Except this hadn't happened yet and the Christian Jews were confused about whether they should teach the new Roman Christians the Torah and encourage them to follow its elaborate laws. Some tried and some did not. Finally, the Holy Spirit stepped into the situation and gave the apostles something called the 'essentials,' (Acts 15:28-29), which became a set of 'decrees,' (Biblical Greek: 'dogma'), to replace the decrees of Torah, (called the 'mitzvot'). They began to announce these decrees and deliver them to everyone regardless of their ethnicity, (Acts 16:4). These commands have become the basis of all Christian canon law and ecclesiastical law to this day. So why do Christians need 'decrees' when the whole point of Christ's gospel is freedom from the old laws and salvation ONLY by grace through faith? We need them for one reason alone, to answer the very question you asked here on this forum. How can I know for sure that I am saved and not going to hell? How can I be sure that I have truly entered the Holy Covenant and I am not deceiving myself? How can I be sure from GOD Himself that He actually heard me confess my belief in Christ's resurrection? (Romans 10:9-10). These are all perfectly reasonable questions and GOD has the answers for you. The purpose of the new 'decrees' is to help you recognize that you were once spiritually 'dead' and now you are spiritually 'alive.' That you have a 'regenerated soul' with a brand new conscience that responds to very particular things in a new way. The 'essentials' are measuring sticks and 'tests' (2 Corinthians 13:5). They tell us how 'spiritually alive' we are. Following and obeying them has no bearing on our salvation, though they do affect whether we are building up an eternal reward. They also can tell us with certainty whether we are truly saved, since the 'unregenerated soul,' (the 'unsaved'), responds to them like a 'dead' person responds to anything. They just don't react to them at all. What are they exactly? 1) 'Idols' and their victims, (which includes 'celebrated' persons), and any idea that demands human life or robs the resources that sustain human life; 2) Contact with raw blood, images or circumstances of violence; 3) Strangulation, (which includes poisoning); 4) Sexual arousal or activity from any of these above things, (Biblical Greek: 'porneia' meaning, 'prostitute culture'). While Christians have the 'liberty' to participate in these things, we have powerful reactions of conscience to them and 'feel bad' during or afterwards. The unregenerated don't. They find them 'life affirming.' This is because they still fear death and we don't, (Hebrews 2:14-15).
There is only one factor that will determine where you spend eternity, and that is faith. The requirement for heaven is to have faith in Jesus Christ and the finished work that He completed on the cross on our behalf (Galatians 2:16). Do you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for the forgiveness of all your sins? Do you believe that He was buried, but rose again on the 3rd day for your justification? If you truly believe this then you are a member of the church which is the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). You have been made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21)! 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; 2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. 3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:" You can know with certainty that you are saved when you have believed the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified. You cannot lose your salvation once you are a true believer, as you have been sealed with the holy Spirit of promise until the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30). If you could lose your salvation, how would you gain it back, when faith alone in Christ alone is the only means of obtaining it (Ephesians 2:8-9)? Our sins were forgiven nearly 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ died on the cross. It is by God's grace through our faith in this that salvation occurs, believing this gospel. God was in Christ not imputing the world's trespasses (2 Corinthians 5:19). Understanding and believing this is how you know you have an eternal savior in Jesus Christ. Jesus took the punishment on the cross that we deserve and there is nothing we can do in the flesh to add to His perfect payment. It will not be our sins that send us to hell, as ALL our sins were forgiven through the death of Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:14). We would miss the heavenly offer by lack of faith, not accepting the fact that Christ's death alone was THE sufficient means of payment to God for us. Attempting to add to what Christ completed only puts us into debt with God (Romans 4:4). Believers work for God AFTER salvation, because they know they ARE saved, and not in an effort to obtain or maintain their salvation, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). God has offered the free unmerited gift of salvation to anyone that will believe (Romans 1:16). Accept God's free gift and find true rest by belief in what our savior Jesus Christ completed for us!
Good Friday and Easter approach. Luke 23:39 says, "One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, 'Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!' 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, 'Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42 And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.' 43 And He said to him, 'Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.'” The first of 2 criminals on one of the only 2 crosses next to Jesus was unrepentant (Luke 23:39). He rejected Christ. His was the Cross of Rejection. (Luke 23:39: One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”) This was blasphemy! Are you repentant? If so, know there’s a consequence for rejecting God’s salvation. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The other thief (Mt 27:38) or criminal as Luke calls him, repented of his sin in his last dying moment. His was a deathbed confession, so yes, that is possible, but don’t count on it—you might die too quickly. Luke 23 tells us about him in Luke 23:40: “But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ 42 And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ 43 And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” This is the Cross of Repentance. Jesus said, “Repent or perish” (Luke 13:5). This thief repented, and it is our choice today as well. I chose to repent because I did not want to perish. You can too. Please do it today before it’s too late. Then and lastly, there was a cross in the middle as Jesus was crucified between 2 thieves. This is the Cross of Redemption. The Bible says, [Jesus,] “You have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.” To redeem means to buy back. Sin is looked upon in Scripture as a debt. (“Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” in the Lord’s Prayer meant that suppliants are asking for forgiveness of sins.) I have been redeemed. You too can be redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, as of a “lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19). Don’t put it off. Settle it today. Then you can know with certainty, as I do, that you are going to heaven, and not to hell. Seek life.
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