How to have a right relationship with God
In the Bible, God reveals to us who He is and how to have a right relationship with Him. Many think that people were saved one way in the Old Testament (OT) and another in the New Testament (NT). However, Scripture clearly shows continuity in how the saints before Christ and after Christ were saved.
In the Old Testament
Very early in history, it was revealed that salvation was possible for those who had a right relationship with God. Enoch “pleased God”, and he was “taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him” (Hebrews 11:5). Noah believed God when he was told about a global Flood—an event never seen before or since—and “in reverent fear constructed an ark for the salvation of his household” (Hebrews 11:7).
The outstanding example of faith in the OT is Abraham. Genesis 15:6 says that he “believed the Lord”, and that God “counted it to him as righteousness”. This is repeated in Romans 4:3, as well as in Galatians 3:6 and James 2:23. Also, James 2:21–23 tells us that Abraham proved his faith was genuine by his obedience in offering up Isaac. So, the Apostle James links faith and obedience together and says in effect that faith that does not show itself in obedience to God is not true faith (James 2:26).
After descendants of Abraham via Jacob became the nation of Israel, God instituted the sacrificial system recorded in Leviticus. This sacrificial system did not, could not, and was not meant to abolish sin (Hebrews 10:4), because only Christ’s death on the Cross can do that (1 John 3:5). The sacrificial system was a means whereby the Israelites could confess their sin and show their repentance. It demonstrated that sin was worthy of death, and that (at that time) God accepted the blood, i.e., the death, of a spotless animal substitute as a temporary atonement/covering for their sins.1
All this prefigured the sacrificial death of Christ on the Cross. The animal sacrifices were meant to demonstrate the meaning and necessity of the future death of Christ the Messiah, as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, cf. Isaiah 53:6, Hebrews 9:11–14).2
We could summarize what the OT teaches about salvation by saying that God, acting in grace, accepted people at that time on the basis of their faith, which showed itself in their belief, repentance, and obedience.
In the New Testament
At the right time (Galatians 4:4), God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to Earth, to be born as a human, to live without sin, and to shed His blood on the Cross as the ultimate penalty for sin. Why? Because God could maintain His total righteousness and still forgive sin if someone else, who was without sin, paid the penalty in the place of the one who sinned. Jesus could do this as our substitute, because:
- He was born through the virginal conception, and the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary so that Jesus lacked the sin nature that infects all other people from conception.
- He is truly human and lived a perfectly sinless human life so His righteousness could be credited to us (2 Corinthians 5:21).
- He is truly God (the Second Person of the Trinity)3 and so His sacrifice was adequate to pay the penalty for all sin for all time—no mere creature could have borne that penalty (Isaiah 53:6).
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).
Christianity is about people coming into a right personal relationship with God by recognizing that they are sinners, repenting, and believing that Christ has paid the penalty for their sins. There is no formula laid down, but certain concepts occur over and over again in the words of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel (which was written “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31)), and in the words of the disciples in Acts and other NT books. They are:
From John’s Gospel (Jesus’ teachings before His crucifixion and resurrection):
- Receive Jesus and believe in His name (John 1:12)
- Be born again (John 3:3)
- Believe in the Son (John 3:16)
- Believe in and obey the Son (John 3:36)
- Drink the living water that Christ gives (John 4:14)
- Hear the word of Jesus and believe (John 5:24)
- Abide in the word of Jesus (John 8:21)
- Enter through the door (Jesus) (John 10:9)
- Hear the voice of Jesus and follow Him (John 10:27)
- Believe in Jesus (John 11:25)
- Believe in Jesus (John 12:46)
- Abide in Jesus by keeping His commandments (John 15:4, 10)
From the preaching and writing of the Apostles (after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus):
- Repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38)
- Repent and turn (Acts 3:19)
- Believe with all your heart (that Jesus is the Son of God) (Acts 8:37)
- Believe in Jesus (Acts 10:43)
- Believe in the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31)
- Repent as there is a future judgment with Christ as the Judge (Acts 17:30)
- Repent and turn to God, doing things that show repentance (Acts 26:20)
- Confess that Jesus is Lord and believe God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9)
- Hold fast to the word that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
There are other verses that could be annotated, but the above are typical. Let us summarize what these verses say:
- Believe that Jesus is God, and that He died on the Cross for our sins, and rose again.
- Repent of our sins.
- Receive Jesus.
- Obey Jesus as Lord.
So the biblical Christian is someone who has done/is doing all of these things. The Church is not mentioned in these contexts, so we need to say that the Bible says nothing about being saved just by going to a church.
What is meant by faith?
The question then arises: What is faith? And who or what are we meant to have faith in? Faith is trust; biblical faith is not blind trust that has no foundation, however. God and His promises are valid objects of faith because God has shown Himself to be faithful throughout Scripture, and most dramatically in Jesus’ death and resurrection which saves us. And He is the Creator, so is powerful enough to accomplish anything that He promises.
Consider Abraham—what was his faith that was so wonderful that “it was counted unto him as righteousness”? In Genesis 15:1–5 God gave him various promises and then in verse 6 it says that he “believed in the Lord”, i.e., he believed what God had said. Why? For no other reason than the very valid one that God had said it.
How do we know that “if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)? Answer: For no other reason than the very valid one that God has said it. And so on. Not surprisingly, then, when we believe and trust what God clearly says He did in Creation Week, and about His judgment of sin by way of a global Flood, we can readily see that there is a great deal of real-world evidence that confirms God’s Word.
This is the same reason why, ultimately, we are to believe in other Gospel-related issues taught clearly in God’s Word, i.e. because God has said it. For instance, what is the point in believing that Christ, the ‘last Adam’, died for our sins if we think that there was no real “first man Adam”, and no real Fall into sin (Genesis Chapter 3, 1 Corinthians 15:45), which ushered in the death from which Jesus died to save us?
In summary, then, what God has told us is that we should have faith in the blood of Jesus, shed on the Cross as a full, complete, once-and-for-all forgiveness for the believer’s sin, and faith that Jesus rose from the dead.4 Faith of the right sort will show itself in our repentance for sins committed, and in our obedience to God now and in the future. When we believe this about Jesus as it applies to us, we are saved. In order to believe it we must see ourselves as guilty sinners in need of forgiveness. When we truly believe it, we will want to obey the Lord who has saved us, and we will want to believe His Word.
References and notes
- Grigg, R., Why did God impose the death penalty for sin? creation.com/why-death. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The Incarnation: Why did God become man? creation.com/incarnation. Return to text.
- Sanders, L., Our Triune God, creation.com/triune-god. Return to text.
- Grigg, R., Dawkins’ dilemma: how God forgives sins, creation.com/dawkins-dilemma. Return to text.