There are many different beliefs about salvation among believers in Christ, but the most popular theme today is that man is born in sin and can therefore do nothing of himself to gain eternal life. This doctrine is rooted in the premise that Adam and Eve, when in the Garden of Eden, rejected God and His commandments and willingly followed the influence of the devil. As such, they became "children of the devil" and no longer belonged to the family of God.
Because of this rebellion on their part, God cursed Adam and his posterity. From that time forward, all children are "born in sin" and automatically become "children of the devil." (John 8:44) This means that every person born on earth will automatically go to Hell when they die because they are not God's children but Satan's and must therefore suffer the same fate as he is worthy to receive.
To illustrate this point, it is often pointed out by those who believe in such a concept of man, that children don't have to be taught to do wrong; they do it naturally. If left to themselves, a child will automatically lie to protect itself from being punished and will deliberately steal to get what it wants, without ever having been taught to do so. A child's first impulse is to think of itself first and last rather than be considerate of others. Even when taught to behave properly, their natural tendency is to disregard the counsel of righteousness and easily return to the path of unrighteousness.
The only solution to this horrible situation, according to some students of the Bible, is for people to admit they are a sinner - a child of Satan - and accept God's gift of mercy. At the moment they confess Christ as being their personal Savior, they no longer are subject to the devil but are reborn as children of God and thereafter belong to the Family of Christ. Before this rebirth they were never a part of God's family, but belonged exclusively to Satan, but, once reborn, however, they are rescued from the power of the devil forever and can nevermore be lost; Satan has no more claim over them.
Since this is the only solution, anyone who doesn't accept Christ - for whatever reason - is considered evil and wicked and will be cast into a lake of fire and brimstone, along with their father, the devil, and all of his angels, to suffer unimaginable torment and suffering for ever and ever.
All Christians believe in the existence of Satan, and further believe he is a real force upon the earth today. He leads people astray, tempts them to do wrong and influences them to lie, steal and cheat. Satan and his angels fill the heart of man with selfishness, and stir him up to anger, hate and murder. Satan has been called the god of this earth (II Corinthians 4:4) and, as his children, we willingly follow his ways when he speaks to our heart.
Such a belief seems to be borne out by the Bible when it states, "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created." (Genesis 6:5-7)
Although this was just prior to the time of the great flood, it is argued that man hasn't changed since then; wickedness and evil are just as much a part of man's character now as it was then. Consider the words of the Psalmist when he wrote, "The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." (Psalm 14:2-3) "For there is not a just man upon the earth, that doeth good and sinneth not." (Ecclesiastes 7:20) Even Jesus Himself declared, "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God." (Matthew 19:17)
We are all evil, we are all filthy, we are all unrighteous, and there is not one of us who is good. At least, that's what the scriptures seem to teach. But what about our deeds of kindness, caring and love; isn't that being good? There are those who believe that the term "good" is relative. No matter how righteously we may try to behave, our actions are only "good" when compared to other wicked individuals, but when compared to God's goodness, however, we all fall miserably short. The words of the prophet Isaiah seem to bear this out when he said, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." (Isaiah 64:6)
It would seem from such verses of scripture that our actions have no influence with God, that whatever works of good deeds we may perform mean nothing to God, and that faith alone is the only requirement for receiving God's salvation.
In the Book of Revelation the apostle John wrote, "And behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." (Revelations 20:12-15)
The explanation some give concerning these verses of scripture is that the names of those who accept Christ on faith alone are written in the Book of Life, and everyone else has their name written in another book. Since only those whose name appears in the Book of Life will go to heaven, not because of their works, but because of their faith and reliance on Jesus Christ, then obviously, that leaves everyone else to go to Hell.
To bolster their argument, they quote, "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his work." (Matthew 16:27) "...the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not god, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power." (II Thessalonians 1:7-9 italics added)
Why will they be punished with "everlasting destruction"? The explanation is that these people "knew not God" and they "obeyed not the gospel" message by receiving Christ into their life. The argument logically concludes that because they didn't receive Christ's sacrifice for their sins, they must be judged according to their works and not by Christ's atonement. Since all of their works, of course, were evil, the just reward for their works is everlasting punishment.
But, if this is true, then why do we need a devil? Since we are born as sinners, unable to keep ourselves from doing evil, and we're all going to go to Hell regardless of our actions, then what purpose is there for having the devil tempt us? If we are created with the inclination to sin, what need is there to have someone prompting us to sin more? Since all of us sin naturally, and since it takes only one sin to condemn us to Hell, what threat does the devil pose in our lives?
Furthermore, if, once we have accepted Christ as our personal Savior, we cannot become "unsaved", it is only logical to conclude that Satan has no real power over us. He may try to tempt a saved Christian, and that Christian may even succumb to the temptation, but he is still "saved" regardless of the enticements of Satan. Therefore, if once a person has become a child of God, and Satan has no claim on them, what importance does the devil have in our lives, and why worry about the legions of his angels bothering us if they cannot rob us of our salvation?
But there is another aspect to consider. In the Bible there is no mention of different degrees of suffering in Hell, which would lead most people to conclude that everyone who goes to Hell endures the same torment. Indeed, every mention of Hell in the scriptures gives the distinct impression that there is only one punishment for all sinners.
The logical implications of this is that if someone doesn't accept God's gift of salvation, they're punishment in Hell will bear no relationship to what they've done in their life.
For example, Mother Theresa is a Catholic Nun who has spent most of her life helping relieve the pain and suffering of poor people all over the world. Through her tireless efforts, she has established a worldwide organization to bring hope and joy to millions of impoverished people. However, Mother Theresa's faith teaches her to obey the Pope, baptize infants, pray to Saints and say the Rosary. But these are "works" and belief in such things would disqualify her, in the eyes of many, as being a true believer in Christ. Therefore, since some would consider her as being unsaved, they must also believe she will suffer the same horrible torment throughout all eternity as will Adolph Hitler, who deliberately encouraged the torture and death of over six million Jews.
According to such a believe, all of these Christ-like deeds mean absolutely nothing to God unless a person accepts Christ into their life, or they will be condemned to the identical fate of people like Emperor Nero, Joseph Stalin and Saddam Hussein. Yet, if there is no mention in the Bible of such a distinction between the citizens of Hell, then it is logical for people to conclude that this must be so.
In that case, what incentive is there for anyone to treat others with honesty and decency instead of indulging in a self-centered, materialistic, sensual life if the virtuous will be punished as severely as the wicked? Why shouldn't we get as much out of life for ourselves before we die if God intends to equally inflict pain upon every sinner? It would seem there isn't any reason for us to do good.
Under such a scenario, what difference does it make if we follow Satan's influence or try to resist him? Since, in the end, we're all going to suffer the same, what more damage can the devil do to us than we're already going to face?
With this type of belief, Satan has no meaning in our life. We need not be afraid of him leading us astray, nor do we need to resist him. Whether we reject God, or accept Christ, the devil plays no significant role in our salvation or punishment. His existence and power are irrelevant to those who believe that our actions have nothing to do with our salvation.
If there is no meaning to the temptations and works of evil by the devil in our lives, then what purpose does his existence serve? Why is he here on earth? Since the scriptures tells us he and his followers were forcibly evicted from heaven (Jude 6, Revelation 12:7-9), then we must ask ourselves: If he can be permanently barred from heaven, why is he not removed from the earth? According to the scriptures, that's exactly what will happen to him when Christ returns (Revelations 20:1-3), but why wait until then? What reason is there for him to be allowed to freely roam this planet now if his influence over us has no meaning? Why chain him into a bottomless pit at the second coming of Christ if his ability to further harm us is irrelevant?
It is true we are born in sin. We are born with the instinct to preserve our life, and that instinct compels us to think about ourselves first above everything else. We are constantly concerned with the things the body needs to survive - food, water, and shelter. However, this is not a failing in our character, as some infer the scriptures teach, but a necessary element, designed to help us grow stronger physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. It is a deliberate burden placed upon us by a loving God so we may learn how to control the urges and carnal tendencies of the physical beast we call the human body.
The desire to eat is absolutely necessary to life, but, if allowed to go unchecked, it can lead to a variety of health problems. The yearnings for sexual activity are absolutely necessary to keep the human race from becoming extinct, yet, if not used properly, it can bring physical and emotional suffering. The feelings of anger, hate and displeasure are absolutely necessary to prevent us from become complacent and uncaring. When directed against that which is wrong they give us the motivation and energy to stand up for that which is right, but, when they become uncontrolled, they are the source of much sorrow.
In and of themselves, the "weaknesses of the flesh" are neither "evil" or "good"; it is how we use them that makes the difference. Unfortunately, no one is perfect, and every one of us has failed to properly control these physical instincts in a righteous manner at one point or another in our lives. Since just one unrighteous act can keep us from the Kingdom of God, the atonement of Jesus Christ becomes absolutely necessary for salvation, even for the most righteous person.
Without a deep belief in Jesus Christ as someone who has the ability to forgive our sins and save us from the consequences of our errors, there is no reason to keep His commandments or to repent, and without repentance, Christ's atonement for our sins has no effect on us. That's why the scriptures tells us to, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." (Acts 16:31) "Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins." (Acts 2:38) "repent and turn back to God and do works meet for repentance." (Acts 26:20) "When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he committeth, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive." (Ezekial 18:27)
However, it isn't all that simple. Besides our own natural inclination to be selfish and sensual, God has provided still another obstacle for us to surmount - the devil and his angels. They seek to tempt us to do wrong, encourage us to give in to our base desires, cloud our vision of the truth, and do everything in their power to lead us astray. In short, they use our own weaknesses against us. They use deceit and stealth to attack us any way they can, and when we begin to have success, they multiply their efforts to make us fail. They are tireless in their mission and ruthless in their tactics.
But, this is what God wants us to face; there is a Divine purpose behind all of this wickedness. It's by struggling against such odds that we grow stronger and wiser. Like a weight-lifter who continually adds more weights to his exercise routine, God adds more problems to our lives as He seeks to develop our spiritual abilities. Only through adversities can we find the means to improve our character, and only by struggling do we become better. The harder the struggle, the more opportunity we have to grow. God doesn't want us to be wimps; His goal is to help us become spiritual giants.
Although this provides us with a great opportunity to improve ourselves, we are also faced with the equally great potential to fail. Since we don't always have the strength to do it all by ourselves, we need to rely upon God's love to provide the assistance necessary to succeed. There is a truth in the saying, "Pray like everything depends on the Lord, and work as though everything depends on you."
We are partners with God in our struggle to become more Christ-like. Without His forgiveness our efforts would be meaningless, without His teachings we wouldn't know what to do, without His watchful eye we would stray, and without His help we would fail. Yet the responsibility to control our self-serving tendencies, regardless of the obstacles, remains with us. If it wasn't, we wouldn't learn and grow. Despite all of God's provisions for our salvation, without our determined efforts, we will still fail to achieve the goal for which God has given us these "weaknesses" and temptations. As someone once put it, "God votes for us, the devil votes against us, and we're asked to cast the deciding vote."
However, as we discussed earlier, not all students of the Bible understand the scriptures in this manner. According to some verses, when a person accepts Christ as their savior, their old, sinful nature dies, and they become a new creature in Christ. (Romans 6:6, II Corinthians 5:17), which then makes it possible for God to mold them into a Christ-like person. "A new heart will I also put in you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stoney heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments and do them." (Ezekial 36:26-27 italics added)
According to the way some understand these scriptures, the believer in Christ cannot take credit for their actions, because whatever good they accomplish it's not the result of their own efforts, but God working through them, causing them to walk in God's ways. They take literally the scripture which says, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13)
If it is true that a reward is something we earn because of something we've done, then, according to those who believe that works don't matter, there can be no Godly reward for those who accept Christ because they haven't done anything worthy of a reward, because it's God who has done the work and not they themselves. However, it was Jesus who declared, "Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in heaven." (Matthew 5:12) How can we be worthy of a reward in heaven unless we have done something to earn it? If we are in partnership with God to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), if the responsibility for doing good or evil is ours, then it is easy to understand why Christ would make such a statement.
And what about the devil? What role does he play if man is not worthy of doing good without Christ and is not responsible for his righteous actions if he does accept Christ? What need is there for any Satanic temptations? What purpose does it serve to have the devil exist on this earth?
But if our actions and good works are important, then we need to be very concerned with the devil and his angels. If what we do with our lives does have meaning, then the devil's influence is very important to understand. If God does reward each person according to the deeds done in the flesh, good or bad (II Corinthians 5:10), then Satan's power can do great damage to us. If God's judgments are just and fair, then there is every reason to do all we can to minimize the threat Satan poses to us.
Why is there a devil? What we believe about salvation will determine our answer to that question. If we believe that our deeds have no bearing on our salvation, then consciously or unconsciously, we must also believe that Satan has no effect on man. But, if there is a devil who does have the power to destroy our soul, I can't think of a better deception than to convince people that he has no power in their life.
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