Jesus answered and said to him,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again
he cannot see the kingdom of God.” – John 3:3
In the prior chapter, you have read the good news of the gospel and seen that our hope is in Jesus of Nazareth – the Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Savior, your Redeemer, Immanuel (God with us) and God in the flesh. You read that God sent His only Son Jesus out of love for us, to save us from bondage under sin and death, and so that no one be lost in judgment to eternal death. You read that He was born of a virgin, lived a perfect and sinless life, and that He willingly gave His life for you being crucified on the cross as a substitutionary atoning sacrifice for your sins – the “spotless lamb,” “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
You read that it was Jesus who redeemed you from bondage under sin, Satan and death, and that it is only through the blood of Christ that you can be saved and stand holy and blameless, justified and declared righteous (sins forgiven) before the Lord on the great Day of Judgment and receive eternal life. You also read that He rose again to life after three days and is right now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven ruling and reigning in His kingdom – and interceding on our behalf with God the Father.
So, let us now start on the path towards eternal life. In this chapter I give an outline of that path. I set a solid foundation on which to proceed and try to give you an overview of the way of a Christian. Each step will then be covered in greater detail in subsequent chapters of this book.
THE NEW TESTAMENT PLAN OF REDEMPTION/SALVATION
The path to eternal life starts with being “born again,” as it is written:
This is commonly referred to by various terms:
- Accepting Christ,
- Believing in Christ or Becoming a Believer,
- Placing Your Faith in Christ,
- Being “Saved,” or
- Being “Born Again”
Unfortunately, you will find that people mean different things when they say those words, for there are many false teachings in this area (I address those shortly). So, I want to provide an overview of what Scripture gives as the plan of salvation (i.e., the path to eternal life), for unless you have the high-level map you might be deceived and come up short of eternal life. Scripture tells us that the road to eternal life involves all of the following:
- You Must Be Born Again (Accepting Christ) – This is the very first step in the path to eternal salvation. When you are born again of the Spirit, your sins are forgiven by the blood of Christ on the cross. No one can earn forgiveness of sins through “good works” or by simply being a “good and moral” person; forgiveness is only found through the atoning sacrificial death of Christ by the grace of God. To be born again, one must:
- 1.1 Believe in Jesus (by hearing the gospel): You hear the gospel as laid out in the New Testament and respond to that message by accepting Christ (believe in Him) and place your complete faith, trust and hope in Jesus as your Lord and Savior,
- 1.2 Repent of Your Sins: You genuinely turn away from your sinful behaviors and turn towards Christ (repentance means a change of heart and attitude towards sin and God),
- 1.3 Confess Christ: You verbally confess Christ as your Lord and Savior (and King), and
- 1.4 Be Baptized: You get baptized by immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins. It is at this time you are raised to new life, a new creature (person) in Christ.
- Obedience to Christ – Once born again, you have been redeemed (purchased) by the blood of Christ; you are therefore a bondservant of Christ and must submit yourself to the will of Christ (and thereby the will of God). This is commonly referred to as turning your life over to Christ and also “picking up your cross.” You must be obedient to the commands of Christ as given in the New Testament of the Bible. [Please also know that we are not under the Old Testament Mosaic Law/Ten Commandments given to the ancient Hebrews at Mt. Sinai – the Mosaic Law was fulfilled by Christ and nailed to the cross and is no longer in effect in this New Testament church age of grace. We are now under the New Testament Law of Grace.]
- The Role of Works (Bearing Fruit): True Christianity is as much about action as it is about profession. A truly saving faith will have as it’s natural result “good works,” also called “bearing fruit” for the Lord (i.e., good works are the natural outpouring of genuine faith). We are following the examples set by Noah, Abraham, Moses and others who not only proved that their faith is genuine (both before man and before God) by their works (actions), they also abounded in the work of the Lord. An idle profession of faith is not pleasing to God and is not a saving faith – it is called a “dead” faith, for it is written: “faith without works is dead.”
- Persevering in Faith – And finally, you must persevere in faith unto death no matter what, even in the face of trials, tribulations and persecution. Those who persevere in faith until death will receive their “crown of life.” Scripture is abundantly clear that one can still fall-away from or quit the faith even after one has been born again!
This book uses the term “accepting Christ” to be synonymous with the entirety of step 1, when one is properly born again in accordance with Scripture, which includes all of the following: belief, repentance, confession and baptism. Also, please know that the list above is not something that I just made up out of thin air! This is not “my opinion” on the matter – I am presenting to you what is plainly taught in New Testament Scripture, without the myriad of myths, fantasies, beliefs, traditions and false teachings of man.
BEWARE FALSE TEACHINGS
Now you will hear much disagreement among men over what I have just written above. You have probably heard the saying: “a lie circles the world twice before the truth even puts its shoes on.” In similar fashion, false teachings are absolutely rampant today in the world of Christendom, and they are shouted from the rooftops and pulpits in ferocious volume seemingly everywhere you look (especially in America). These false teachings come from what appear to be “Christian” sources – from churches which claim to be “Christian” and even use the name of Jesus and/or Christ in their names. But be not deceived, they are what Scripture calls “ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
Take our Gospel IQ quiz to see if you are already
under the influence of the wolves and false teachers!
(The quiz takes about 5-10 minutes)
Scripture warns us that the way to eternal life is fraught with peril, with traps, landmines, dead-ends, false short-cuts, side paths to nowhere (death), dark alleys of man-made false teachings galore and other snares and pitfalls. These are laid up in front of you nearly every step along the way like a giant obstacle course! Scripture refers to these as “snares” which are placed in front of you to try to keep you from reaching your goal: which is to be with Christ for eternity. Always remember, we are in a spiritual war. Your enemy, the devil and his forces and followers, are trying to stop you!
You may have noticed that whenever you are at a critical step on the path to God and eternal life, you will find that Satan (and those who follow him) has set up an array of false teachings to try to trick you, to stop you at that point or steer you out of the straight and narrow path given in Scripture. When we first discussed God’s Creation, you saw that there were many false teachings posing as science (emanating from the secular God-denying world), which in fact are nothing more than the “theories” of man (i.e., fake science). The purpose of those false teachings was to try to stop you at the very first step: coming to a belief in God.
If they (Satan, the forces of evil) couldn’t stop you at that first step, they fall back and regroup at the next step. So when we discussed the coming Great Day of Judgment, you saw another avalanche of false teachings (this time coming from mainly within the so-called “Christian” church) to get you to procrastinate in taking all this “God, Jesus and judgment stuff” seriously, causing many to delay day after day after day in accepting Christ and preparing for eternal life. And if they weren’t able to stop you on that step, they again fall back and regroup and will try to stop you at this step – the step of accepting Christ being born again. It is here therefore that you will also find another cluster of false teachings.
So not only must I teach you truth as given in Scripture, I must also prepare you to know what is not truth, so you are not cheated or tricked out of eternal life, for it is written:
Know also that these snares and false teachings do not stop even after you accept Christ and are born again, in fact, they seem to intensify. You will face a mind-boggling, bewildering array of false teachings from many so-called “Christian” churches, which try to turn you out of the straight and narrow way, back towards things like legalism (Old Testament Mosaic Law) and other ways of man. Why? Because when you accept Christ, you have now moved to the front-lines of the (spiritual) war where the battle is being fought. The forces of evil know that they may still be away to turn you away from the straight and narrow path to eternal life, and even if they cannot turn you back, they may be able to hinder you from helping others hear about and follow Christ.
So, before we continue on in truth, I must call your attention to a few false teachings because they are widely taught and preached in nearly all denominations, churches, pulpits and books. Please also be aware that these false teachings overlap and are interconnected with each other in many areas – and in nearly all cases, where you find one false teaching, you will surely find others lurking nearby within the same church, sect or cult! Even further compounding the difficulty here is that when you hear someone today say that they are “saved,” they often mean different things, and they are almost always meaning that they believe in some (or all) of these false teachings.
While these false teachings are covered in the Beware the Wolves chapter, I am also listing some of them here because you will with nearly 100% certainty encounter them:
- The Sinner’s Prayer: This false teaching proclaims that one is born-again (accepts Christ) simply by making a one-time profession of faith, often called the “sinner’s prayer.” This is usually performed as part of an “alter call” at the end of a church service or in a giant stadium evangelism or revival event. But contrary to popular belief, you are neither born again nor saved to eternal life by simply saying a magical set of words. This teaching is not in Scripture anywhere! At best the “sinner’s prayer” that you may be led to speak by your church or pastor is only a way to help you verbalize steps 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3 listed above, although nowhere does the Bible prescribe a certain set of words that must be used.
- Baptism Isn’t an Essential Condition/Component of Salvation: Some falsely teach that baptism isn’t a required condition, component or element of salvation (i.e., one does not need to be baptized to receive forgiveness of sins, to be born-again, or even to receive eternal life). They claim that baptism is simply performed out of obedience and they almost always also claim that baptism is a “good work” of man (see the next false teaching) and therefore excluded from salvation. However, this book shows you that baptism is not a “good work” of man, and that it is at baptism where one is both forgiven of sin (by the blood of Christ) and born-again (raised to new life in Christ).
- You Are Saved by Faith Alone (Faith Only): This false teaching denies that obedience and works have any part whatsoever in the plan of salvation. However, Scripture is clear that “faith without works is dead” and that the life of a true child of God is marked by continued obedience to Christ, bearing fruit for the Lord (the role of works) as a bondservant of Christ. True Christianity is as much about action and a life of service as it is about profession of faith. A dead faith (“faith without works”) will not save you to eternal life! To support this false teaching, Paul’s writing in the letter to the Ephesians is widely distorted and taken out of context. Those who proclaim this false teaching almost always compound their error by also falsely teaching that baptism is a “good work” of man and therefore not a requirement for salvation. However, this book is showing you that they are therefore triply wrong, because: a) baptism is not a “good work” of man, b) it is required for salvation (to be born again), and c) Scripture also teaches us that works do play an important role in the biblical plan of salvation.
- Once Saved Always Saved: Another enormously popular false teaching today proclaims that once someone has accepted Christ, they can never lose their salvation regardless of how one subsequently lives the rest of their life (i.e., once saved, you are always saved to eternal life no matter what). In this false teaching, it is viewed that your (final eternal) salvation occurred at an instant of time when you first accepted Christ. This false teaching is also called “perseverance of the saints” by Calvinists. This teaching is not in agreement with Scripture, for the Bible clearly and repeatedly warns that one can “fall away” or “depart” from the faith (apostatize), “backslide,” “turn back,” quit the faith or even be deceived and tricked out of your crown of life – even after you are born again! While it is true that God will never forsake or leave you, Scripture is abundantly clear that you can choose to leave/quit Him, and also that many will do just that even after being born again.
- Being Born Again is Sufficient for Eternal Life: Right on the heels of the prior false teachings (this is a close cousin of them) comes another false teaching which claims that our ultimate and final goal is simply to be born again. This false teaching equates being born again with receiving eternal life – i.e. that there is no difference between initial salvation and forgiveness of sins (being born again) and eternal final salvation (when you receive your crown of life). This false teaching is therefore a sort of by-product of combining the “saved by faith alone/only” and “once saved always saved” false teachings together. However, Scripture is clear that our goal is eternal life (final salvation) with God and His Christ in heaven, and that being born again is only the first step on the path to eternal life. Being born again represents your initial salvation and the moment when you receive forgiveness of sins at your baptism (by the blood of Christ). However, the way of a true Christian continues throughout the remainder of their life in continued obedience, repentance, works and perseverance until death resulting in final eternal salvation. Said another way, being born again is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for obtaining eternal life. Christianity isn’t a one-time prayer…sure it often starts that way, in an instant when you see the light and decide to accept the truth of Christ…Christianity is a way of life until death.
- Predestination. Many adherents to the Calvinistic (i.e., “Reformed Protestantism”) set of false doctrines believe that God chose certain people to be saved, and others to be damned, before the world began and therefore your destiny is completely out of your own control (i.e., that man has no free-will choice to either accept or reject Christ). According to this false teaching, God apparently has pre-chosen people like one would program robots ahead of time. This is just one of the many false teachings of the man-made dogma known as Calvinism. Scripture teaches that each person is born sinless (not in “original sin” which is still yet another false teaching!), comes to an age of accountability where they understand right from wrong (and therefore become accountable for sin) and then must decide/choose for themselves to either accept or reject Christ. We will all be personally accountable for our own sins and sinful actions. God gave each person free will; and coming to accept or reject Christ is a free will choice each person will make. God, while ultimately sovereign, does not override your free will choice. Scripture is clear that it is each person’s choice to either accept or reject God through His Son Jesus Christ, so those who end up in hell will do so because of their own free will choice.
While I’ve done my best to untangle and explain these (and other) false teachings for you in this book, in reality, they are all interrelated and interwoven together in a giant tangled web or knot. Some “faith alone/only” advocates do believe that a Christian must live a life in accord with Scripture (i.e., they believe in obedience), while others don’t. Some deny the role of baptism in salvation, some don’t. Some “faith alone/only” people believe you can fall away from the faith, while others believe in “once saved always saved.” So, there are many variations and permutations of these false teachings, where some groups believe in one false teaching and part of another false teaching, or vice versa.
Furthermore, to say one believes in one false teaching often implies another as an inescapable consequence. For example, can you really say that you were “saved” to eternal life by saying a “sinner’s prayer” without also implying (whether you realize it or not) that you also believe in “once saved always saved” and even further that you are also saved by (a simple profession) of “faith alone/only”? By conceding that the “sinner’s prayer” saves you, aren’t you therefore also implicitly denying the role of baptism, whether you admit to it or not? Similarly, can one really believe they are saved by “faith only/alone” without also (perhaps even unknowingly) believing that being born again is all one must do to receive eternal life? So, you see, they are all jumbled together in reality, spun into one giant web of deception.
Wow…what a mess man has made of the simple teachings of Scripture! I think a real-world example of how these false teachings show up in practice will go a long way in illustrating what I’m talking about here. And in my experience, whenever you see someone (a church, group, book etc.) leading off with the “sinner’s prayer” false teaching, you can rest assured that you will find many of the other false teachings in their materials as well (as a general rule). Jason Jackson writes about receiving a “Christian” tract that was being handed out. In examining the tract, he writes: 
As you see, the tract was full of false teachings despite being from a well-meaning “independent of any denomination, Bible-based in every part of ministry, soul-winning and missions minded, and distinctively Christian” church (their very own words). Unfortunately, false teachings won’t be clearly labeled as such for you when you encounter them in the real world – they are cleverly disguised by mixing in what appears to be biblically sounding language. Indeed, the tract appears to be very “biblical” on the surface, but in fact, it is not in agreement with what is taught in Scripture. And since the tract has the “sinner’s prayer” false teaching in it, so you can rest assured that other false teachings are lurking nearby from whatever church, sect or cult put it out.
I hope you are starting to see the daunting task you will be facing in seeking actual Scriptural truth as opposed to man-made opinions, schemes and false teachings. This is one of the main reasons why I decided to write this book, as I had to sort through all these false teachings myself trying to find truth. Please don’t just blindly believe whatever you hear being taught or preached as actual biblical truth without fully checking it against Scripture. It doesn’t matter if you hear it from a man on the street corner or from someone in a position of authority with lots of initials and abbreviations placed before and after their name dressed up in an expensive suit behind a fancy pulpit at a large and famous church. And this also goes for anything I write – check everything against Scripture for yourself, for the Bible is the final Word (pun intended).
By the time you have finished this book, my hope is that you are able to not only recognize and defend the truth as given in Scripture, but also able to recognize what is a not truth. Remember though, false teachings won’t be clearly labeled as such by those who are teaching them; they aren’t always easy to spot. You must first know what Scripture actually teaches as truth in order to be able to recognize a false teaching when you encounter one.
THE ALLURE OF FALSE TEACHINGS
Why are these false teachings so widespread and popular? It is because they offer a feel-good, safe, easy and superficial form of “Christianity” – but that is not what the Scripture teaches, nor what history bears out as proof in the lives of the saints which have come before us. Scripture tells us that the path forward to eternal life isn’t always easy, and that it takes courage, strength of character, discipline and perseverance.
We are plainly told in Scripture to “count the cost” of following Jesus. When you decide to follow Christ, you may suffer the loss of friends, loved ones and even family members who turn their back on you, or ridicule you because of Jesus. You may face discrimination and setbacks or loss at work or business. In fact, many Christians who have gone before us were put to death for declaring (and sticking to) their faith in Christ! I highly recommend reading Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (The Actes and Monuments of the Christian Church) so you can get an idea of what followers of Christ in earlier days have had to suffer. Many had to seal their testimony with their own lives. Some of you who are reading this book and decide to follow Christ may also suffer severe persecution. It’s easy for us to forget the reality of persecution, especially those of us who live in nations where freedom of religion and speech are allowed.
I’m not trying to scare you; I’m simply presenting to you the truth given in Scripture. We read in Scripture that when we look back from the other side of eternity, any time of persecution and suffering here on earth will seem to have been done and over with in an instant, a flash in time, quickly gone and behind you – it will pale in comparison to the glory of God and heaven for all eternity. The great apostle Paul, who suffered many things for preaching the gospel, wrote this:
It is also written:
So, know that you will be able to stand firm in your faith and persevere in all things by the power of Christ who now abides (lives) in you – this is called living in the Spirit and is discussed more in an upcoming chapter.
SEEK THE THINGS ABOVE
Choosing to follow Christ often means sacrifice. You will need to give up seeking the things of this world (fame, fortune, lustful pursuits, power, etc.) and instead seek the things which are from above, the things of God. The example recorded in Scripture about the rich young man at the time of Christ is instructive here:
We must be willing for sacrifice all things for Christ – worldly possessions, wealth, fame, and even life itself. The rich young man written about in Scripture above wasn’t willing to give up his worldly possessions for the treasure of Christ and eternal life in heaven! How sad, tragic even. And it was a decision of lasting eternal consequences and duration. There are further warnings in Scripture about seeking worldly material possessions and wealth:
These topics are covered in more detail in later chapters.
INITIAL SALVATION VS. FINAL SALVATION
And finally, know that there is a difference between initial salvation/forgiveness of sins (which happens at baptism when you are born again) and final (eternal) salvation. You will find much emphasis is given about being born again (and rightly so); but modern liberal “Christian” churches are simply not doing a good job of explaining the complete plan of salvation, much of which happens after one is born again. Scripture is abundantly clear that initial salvation/forgiveness of sins (i.e., being “born again”) is not the same as final (eternal) salvation. Your ultimate goal is not being born again – it is having eternal life with God and His Christ in heaven.
Being born again is simply the first, but by far the most important, step on the path to eternal life. Said differently, being born again is a necessary but not sufficient requirement for eternal salvation. When you are “born again,” you are a “new creature,” “infants in Christ” – but never forget that it is only your first step on the rest of your Christian pilgrimage! You must “press on to maturity” through obedience, action (works) and perseverance. Scripture is very clear that many who start out in faith (i.e., they are born again) will not finish their journey to eternal life. Let me give an analogy to help you understand. Suppose you want to be a doctor. Getting admitted to medical school is a very important (and necessary) first step, but unless you actually graduate so you can properly be called a doctor and practice medicine, it will have been meaningless.
Eternal salvation doesn’t occur in an instant; it is a continually progressive process (called sanctification) that starts when one is born again (having been cleansed by the blood of Christ at baptism). It is a process that continues throughout the life of a Christian as they walk with the Lord until death. Wayne Jackson writes: 
The process of sanctification (and salvation) isn’t completed until one receives their crown of life – which is awarded to you on the great Day of Judgment. Sanctification means being “set apart” for Christ, set apart from sin (by the blood of Christ) and becoming dedicated to righteousness and to the service of God. It conveys the sense of being made to conform more and more to the image of Christ.
And finally, we are not to take our (eternal final) salvation for granted! We are called to be diligent and attentive to the Word of God, always “growing in the grace and understanding” of the Lord, being obedient to the commands of Christ as given in the New Testament, and making sure we do not come up short of our goal – which is eternal life. Scripture therefore exhorts us to:
- “Make your calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10 KJV),
- “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12),
- “Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Timothy 6:12),
- “Finish the course…keep the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7), for
- “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day [the Great Day of Judgment]” (2 Timothy 4:8)
This vital topic is addressed in more detail in the upcoming chapters titled You are Born Again and Walking in the Way.
GOING FORWARD IN TRUTH
Now, therefore, let us start on the correct path to salvation and eternal life with God and His Christ in heaven. The following chapters in this section of the book show you how to be properly born again in accordance with New Testament Scripture. Remember that being born again is only the first, but by far the most important, step on the path towards eternal life.
FALSE TEACHING(S) YOU WILL ENCOUNTER:
- False Teachings on Baptism (it isn’t required to be born again, etc.)
- Saying a “Sinner’s Prayer” Saves You
- You Are Saved by Faith Alone/Only
- Once Saved Always Saved
- You Get a “2nd Chance” After Death
- Being “born again” is all that is required to obtain eternal life (i.e., obedience, works and perseverance not required)
- Some are “predestined” to eternal life by God and others to eternal death – and no one has a choice in the matter
- Sabbath Keeping/Legalism
- Universalism (i.e., any name or religion, even one you make up, even no belief at all, can save you to eternal life)
- Roman Catholicism Masquerading as Christianity
- Mormonism Masquerading as Christianity
- Cults Which Deny Christ
Take our Gospel IQ quiz to see if you are already
under the influence of the wolves and false teachers!
(The quiz takes about 5-10 minutes)
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water [baptism, not birth] and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He [Jesus] who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.” – John 3:1-13
But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!”
However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. – Romans 10:8-17