The questions surrounding salvation are most critical when the study comes to the point of defining a person’s relationship with God. Most folks consider themselves Christians and, in all good conscience, they pursue some semblance of a moral life as evidence that they belong to God. However, “faith comes by hearing” (Romans 10:17) is more than a catch phrase committed to memory; one cannot have confidence in salvation unless faith is founded in God’s Word.
Therefore, when the question of one’s salvation comes up, the issue becomes: at what point is one saved? It is at this juncture that Bible study discussions become foggy. Some were saved on a bright clear morning astride a horse watching the beauty of a sunrise. Others reference some traumatic crisis in which a life-changing event redirected their path with new perspective. Many relate to a powerful message at some worship assembly where a skillful speaker brought their emotions to the biting edge of spilling concession and swearing conviction. These, and various other testimonials, are fascinating and sincere, to be sure, but are they descriptive of conversion incidents in Acts? Do these salvation accounts accord with what we read about in the New Testament when inspired writers recalled or revealed faith’s journey to Heaven? If our faith comes from the Bible, where in the Bible are incidents like these represented?
A faith derived from Divinity has little in common with modern conversion experiences. In fact, what is overwhelmingly and consistently evident is that emotions make their play after the hearing of the word, not before. And, the emotions fall largely into two categories: wrath or rejoicing.
Take, for instance, the Ethiopian in the wilderness (Acts 8). Here was a fellow who was totally confused about a passage in Isaiah that spoke prophetically of Jesus. When Philip joined him and “preached unto him Jesus,” he was not overcome with emotional satisfaction, awash in a phantasmic sea of good feelings, or receptive to some still small voice. He asked forthrightly, “See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized.” It was after his baptism that “he went on his way rejoicing.”
The other type of reaction is not so pretty. Stephen is a classic example of truth lost in translation, not that the word of faith was too complex to be understood or that Stephen was not clear. No, when the word of God is not mixed with faith, “the word preached did not profit them” (Hebrews 4:2). Worse, the emotions that do surface are as ugly as pond sludge. Stephen’s audience “gnashed on him with their teeth” (and that can’t be good!) and they unceremoniously dragged him without the city and stoned him to death.
The thrill of becoming a Christian is a response to a truth that is revealed, comprehended, and (the deciding factor) obeyed. It is not a sensation, a feeling, or an experience void of personal action. Emotions are a vulnerability upon which hucksters play heavily when plying their proselyting ways (Romans 16:17-18). It is the truth that makes you free, not the blind faith of feeling good. Faith in the truth obeyed is saving faith.