We are continuing with our study on the steps to Christian transformation with Step Four – understanding a need for forgiveness. As with step three, being concerned about personal sin, step four is a step all believers have been on at some point.
4. Understand a Need for Forgiveness
People in step four realize that they have broken some type of moral code. They have searched to find out what they should do next; what steps they should take as a result of their sin. In step four, people encounter the Jesus of the Bible. This is totally awesome, right?
Bear with me here. This is where I start to disagree with George Barna in his interpretation of the data he collected. I will explain why, and then you can form your own opinions on the matter. Keep in mind that these “10 Steps” are just an arbitrary, human way of understanding the process of salvation and sanctification.
In step four, people discover Christianity. They find out that their sins have broken God’s laws. They become aware that only Jesus is capable of forgiving this sin.
Barna describes this as the point where people confess their sins and ask Jesus to be their Savior. This might be represented by repeating the “sinner’s prayer”. While I do not disagree that people can jump straight from understanding a need for forgiveness to surrendering their hearts to Jesus (#8), I do not see these steps as the same thing. Here’s why. Barna goes on to state that people who reach step 4 (and even steps 5, 6, and 7) can revert to step 2 and harden their hearts completely to God. This would suggest a “loss of salvation”. Since the church age is characterized by the very Holy Spirit of God sealing us until the day of our redemption, I don’t believe we can “lose” salvation. Thus, if we can revert back to step 2 from any of the steps up to and including step 7, we are not truly saved yet.
The Holy Spirit is referred to as the “deposit,” “seal,” and “earnest” in the hearts of Christians (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30). The Holy Spirit is God’s seal on His people, His claim on us as His very own. The Greek word translated “earnest” in these passages is arrhabōn which means “a pledge,” that is, part of the purchase money or property given in advance as security for the rest. The gift of the Spirit to believers is a down payment on our heavenly inheritance, which Christ has promised us and secured for us at the cross. It is because the Spirit has sealed us that we are assured of our salvation. No one can break the seal of God.
To understand step 4, I would suggest that this step includes an intellectual awareness of Jesus as Savior and of a personal need for salvation from sin. This can most definitely include an emotional response to the gospel. What is lacking in step 4 is a connection between intellectual assent and heart response. What has sprung up will wither and die if it does not anchor firmly upon Christ. What has sprung up will be choked out by the cares and concerns of this world if a true “heart transplant” does not take place.
They went out from us, but they did not belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But their departure made it clear that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:19 BSB)
My sweet brothers and sisters, being aware of a need for forgiveness is not an endpoint. Praying the “sinner’s prayer” is just idle words if your heart isn’t transformed. There is no formula or prayer that can transform a heart. Make no mistake, step 4 is an important process, but we must keep going. We must press on!
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12 ESV)
Approximately 9% of the population of “Christians” stall in step 4 and do not move on.
Please Pray With Me:
Thank you for Your gift of eternal life. Thank You for bringing me here, to this place. I pray that my eyes would be opened and that my heart would fully respond to the good news of the gospel that is found in You and You alone.
I want to review the knowledge that is gained in step four. This is probably very familiar to most of you but please read it all the way through.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…
(1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV)
1. Know How God Sees You
God loves you, and has known you from before the creation of the world. He knew there would be a “you”. You were created specifically to be in His family, in relationship with Him. So, what’s wrong? Why does it feel like God doesn’t care – that He is absent?
The answer is sin. Sin separates us from God. Sin is anything we think, say, or do that goes against God’s laws. This world is broken because people are trapped in sin. Our sinful choices affect ourselves, each other, and even entire generations and societies. God has given us free will to choose to do as we please, and many times, people choose sin.
What is the Law of God? In the Bible, God has given many instructions for living right before Him. These include the 10 Commandments among others. But apart from the Bible, God has written His commands on human hearts, which we refer to as “conscience”. Our conscience is what tells us that murder is wrong. It is what makes us angry at injustices, abuses, and crime. We know we violate our consciences. The telltale signs are lying about it, hiding it (doing it in secret), or covering it up. This is how God can hold us as being without excuse.
Above all, God tells us to love Him with all our soul, heart, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If you love anything in your life more than you love God (or a fellow human being), you have broken this command. Whenever you do anything you know you shouldn’t (lying, gossiping, pornography, stealing, cheating, sleeping around, saying “Oh my God”, disobeying your parents, etc), it is “sin”. We hold ourselves up to God’s standards and see that we fall hopelessly short. We’ve blown it, many times, and we know it.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV)
You may ask – What if people choose to be good? Our human condition can be compared to a drop of poison in a glass of water. Whether there is one drop or many drops, the water is still poisoned. There are many non-religious and religious people who are good and kind. But no matter how “good” we are, we aren’t perfect. God’s law requires us to be perfect.
God’s laws are a mirror, to reflect back to us where we have failed.
2. Know Where You’re Headed
You know you’ve sinned, you’ve broken God’s laws. So what does that mean?
Our physical bodies die someday. However, God created humans to be eternal. That means the part of you that’s “you” – your spirit/soul – is going to live on forever. God says that He has “placed eternity in the hearts of men” – deep down, we know that physical death is not the end. When you die, you will stand before God and give an account of EVERYTHING you have done while alive. Everything done in the darkness and secret will be brought to light before Him (and perhaps before the angels and the rest of humanity as well). Everything you do is recorded in a book.
According to God, breaking even one of His laws, once, results in the death penalty.
“For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 ESV)
Death?? Isn’t that extreme? God, as a supreme holy and righteous being, cannot tolerate any sin (breaking of the law) in His presence. God sees one sin as the same as being guilty of all sins. That’s how high His standard is. Unless we repair our relationship with God we will “die” for eternity. Eternal “death” is actually eternal separation from God and others, in the “lake of fire” – a place of torment and suffering.
While your physical body is alive, you can determine the eternal destiny of your spirit. Once your physical body dies, there are no second chances.
Yes, there are indications that there are different levels of suffering in hell, and that those who do worse things may suffer more. However, everyone will suffer there, and you don’t have to suffer AT ALL.
3. Want to Change
We pursue, pursue, pursue, and when we accomplish it is exciting but also empty – now what? The rich never have enough money, the mighty never have enough power, the beautiful always have some flaw. We move from one thing to the next, never satisfied. Why?
There *is* something missing.
We are like lost sheep – wandering around aimlessly. Sure there are some “good things” and distractions in this world. But when it really counts, if we lost it all, if we face a car crash or a terminal illness – what is this life about? We were meant to live in harmony with God, our Father. His Spirit is meant to comfort us, to guide us, to bring us love, joy, peace, and hope. Apart from Him, everything is meaningless.
We are born into this world as spiritual orphans. We remain that way unless we listen to God’s call and find our way home.
Once God shows you how lost you are, and what that means, you now have a choice. You can choose to ignore Him, or you can choose to do something about it. God wants to restore the relationship. But you have to want to restore the relationship too. Relationships go both ways. We must truly want to be changed, to be restored to right relationship with God.
4. There’s Only One Way Out
There is nothing *we* can do to fix our “wrongness” – no good work, no sacrament, no penance. But because God our Father loves us, He has given us a way to restore the relationship.
Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.” (John 14:6 ESV)
God does not want you to be separated from Him for eternity. He created hell and the eternal Lake of Fire for satan and the fallen angels, NOT for humans. But you will go there if you reject God’s rescue plan. He wants you to come back to His family. So He sent a part of Himself, Jesus Christ, to die for you. The Bible makes it clear that every sin has to be punished by death and paid by the penalty of innocent blood. Jesus lived a perfect life on Earth – though He lived as a man under God’s Law, He never broke the Law. This qualified Him to take our sins upon Himself to become a perfect sacrifice. Jesus died on the cross to take our punishment for us. His blood paid the price required by God for our sins.
“But God demonstrates His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV)
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV)
It doesn’t end there, though. On the third day, Jesus was raised to life, to a new eternal body. When we join God’s spiritual family, we, too, will get a new eternal body someday.
“the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Romans 3:23 ESV)
This is not the end, but it is unfortunately where many people stop. We cannot stop here if we truly desire to be saved! Join us for our next few lessons to learn how to receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord.