|Will I be saved or lost?
That is .
THE ULTIMATE QUESTION
By Roger W. Coon
That is the most profound question you have ever pondered? For me it is "Will I be saved or lost?" As I wrote these lines I learned of two funerals for retired ministers being held on the same day, one in Washington, D.C., the other in St. Helena, California. I knew them both, and taught with one. Now they sleep in Jesus.
And their eternal destiny is fixed. Someday, so will be mine. And the thought that I, a minister of the gospel, a denominational worker for 39 years, a staff member of the Ellen G. White Estate, in short, a leader in this church, could eventually wind up on the wrong side of the walls of the New Jerusalem has been an exceedingly sober thought for me.
If -God forbid- I should eventually be lost, there could be only one reason: I didn't handle the sin problem properly, adequately.
Now, it might be out of ignorance - after all, leaders can be ignorant concerning basics. Jesus once asked a fine old servant of the church, a great theologian and member of the Council of the Seventy, "Art thou a master of Israel, and knoweth not these things?" (John 3:10) The subject was conversion, being born again.
Or it could arise out of carelessness, negligence. For as the writer to his fellow Hebrew Christians inquired rhetorically: "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" (Heb. 2:31) Salvation is not generic: it is personal. You and I are not saved in a church, as wonderful and important as is church membership. And we are not saved because perhaps we are employed by a church. Men are not saved in groups or masses.[Ref 1]
If we are saved, we are saved in a relationship. If Jesus is not my personal Saviour, it does me no good, though He be the Saviour of the world.
No one is saved as a transgressor of God's law. We cannot be saved without obedience. Indeed, to be "almost but not wholly saved means to be not almost but wholly lost."[Ref 2] Day by day, hour by hour, I must experience salvation. If I finally am lost, it will not be God's fault.
And I must know -you must know- what to do to be saved. The sinner has something to do to secure (though not to earn) salvation. Christ does not grant salvation upon mere profession or upon those who do not take the trouble to work out their own salvation.[Ref 3]
There are conditions to salvation, and they have never changed. These are ordained of God; they are laid down in His Word; they are reasonable, plain, and positive; and it rests with each Christian to decide whether he or she will comply with them.
God cannot work out my salvation without my personal consent and cooperation. One of the most sobering sentences Ellen White ever wrote declares: "Many will be lost while hoping and desiring to be Christians" -while hoping and desiring to be saved. The reason is simply stated: "They do not come to the point of yielding the will to God. They do not now choose to be Christians."[Ref 4]
The preceding paragraphs amplify and clarify:
"Many are inquiring 'How am I to make the surrender of myself to God?' . . .What you need to understand is the true force of the will. This is the governing power in the nature of man, the power of decision, or of choice. Everything depends on the right action of the will. The power of choice God has given to men: it is theirs to exercise. You cannot change your heart, you cannot of yourself give to God its affections; but you can choose to serve Him. You can give Him your will; He will then work in you to will and to do according to His good pleasure. Thus your whole nature will be brought under the control of the Spirit of Christ: your affections will be centered upon Him. your thoughts will be in harmony with Him."[Ref 5]
Right and Wrong Action
If there is a right action of the will, logic compels me to accept that there is also a wrong action of the will. The right exercise of the will involves present commitment- "I will not do this or that. "The wrong exercise of the will involves future promise, future hope- "I will later do this or that."
Present commitment means that when I say "I will." I am really saying "I now choose to serve Jesus. I now choose for Him to change my character into what it could be, should be, indeed must be, if I am to walk the streets of the New Jerusalem..
"I now choose to cooperate with Him in this process of transformation. I now choose to combine my limited, weak, error-prone human effort with His divine power.
"I now choose to believe the two things of which Paul was 'persuaded': (1) 'that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day' (2 Tim. 1:12); and (2) 'that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Rom. 8:38, 39). Why? Because 'in all these things we are more than conquerors' (verse 37)."
Now that's good news! First, because God is on our side. Second, "if God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31). And third, if His love is in us we will be enabled to do the impossible: love our fellow church members who are unlovely and unlovable. "We know that we have passed from death unto life. because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14).
In my present weakness I may have to start with a simple prayer: Lord, make me "willing to be made willing."[Ref 6] (Note that the meaning of the first willing is different from the meaning of the second: first, make me willing -that is, I am agreeable to this. I desire this: and second, to be made willing -the true exercise of the will.)
A Personal Matter
Jesus at times spoke in general terms, as in this verse: "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matt. 16:26).
But He also spoke in very personal terms, as to Nicodemus: Verily, verily I say to you, Nicodemus, unless you are born of both water and the Holy Spirit, you'll never see the inside of My kingdom (John 3:5).
Ellen White also spoke in general terms, as in these words: "We have a hell to shun and a heaven to win."[Ref 7] And she also spoke in direct, personal terms, as in a letter to her nephew Franklin E. Belden, whom she feared was going in the wrong direction.
Belden, the son of her sister Sarah, held a responsible position in the denomination's first publishing enterprise in Battle Creek. He wrote more lyrics and tunes for gospel songs than probably any other Adventist composer. At the ministerial pre-session preceding the General Conference at Minneapolis in 1888, he was selected secretary of the pre-session. He was, in short, a prominent leader in the church. Ellen White urged him not to be one of "Noah's carpenters."[Ref 8] What a graphic metaphor! Those carpenters built a ship that could have saved them. They were inside the ark before the Flood, hammering away at the struts and joists. But when the water came they stood outside the ark, hammering -in vain- on the door to be admitted.
But sadly, Belden did not heed the warning. This latter-day "sweet singer of Israel," as he was sometimes called, separated from the church around 1907 because a number of grievances were not resolved to his satisfaction. In the autumn of 1945 Belden was living in Cleveland, Ohio. A young Adventist minister named Kenneth H. Wood, and an older preacher named Carlyle B. Haynes, called on him to talk about his soul. But he remained as ever the recalcitrant curmudgeon.
When the ministers were about to leave, they asked Belden if they might at least offer a word of prayer. He retorted, "Not as long as you believe in that woman." They departed without prayer and with very heavy hearts.
The Good News
When a building is constructed, a scaffolding may be raised alongside it. In the end the scaffolding is torn down; only the building remains. Which are you: scaffolding, or building? I wonder whether Noah would recognize some of his "carpenters" still living today?
It is possible for me to be lost. And it is possible for you also to be lost, even if you are a minister or a leader in your church. If I am not saved, if I am lost at last, it will not be because of sin -generic- but because of sins -personal.
If I am lost, it will be because I did not become an over-comer, for "sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (James 1:15). If I do not over-come sin, it will be because I did not employ my will in the right way. And it will be my fault, not God's, for "the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear" (Isa. 59:1).
But the good news today, friend, is that I can be saved, and you can be saved. We can be over-comers. But "everything depends on the right action of the will." Truly, "thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:57).
"Through the right exercise of the will, an entire change may be made in your life. By yielding up your will to Christ, you ally yourself with the power that is above all principalities and powers. YOU will have strength from above to hold you steadfast, and thus through constant surrender to God you will be enabled to live the new life, even the life of faith."[Ref 9]
Roger W. Coon is an associate secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate at the General Conference.
1. The Great Controversy, p. 490; Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing,
p. 36; Prophets and Kings, p. 232.