I received the following questions:

Since Christ said the gate is narrow and few enter through it (Matt 7:14 & Luke 13:24), how does modern “Christianity” fit into this description – since few even know the God they profess to worship? What is the Biblical meaning of salvation anyway? Since faith and belief are the same, and since faith does require an action, how can “saving faith” not require an action, but simply require believing in the Lord Jesus?

Whether or not one is connected with modern day “Christianity” has little to do with whether one has actually entered through the gate into life or not. There are many who have been “Christians” and who have said “Lord, Lord” all their lives who will end up being cast out into darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. What saves one is faith in Jesus Christ, not faith in Christianity. Yet there are some connected with what we call “Christianity” who have believed the truth regarding Jesus Christ, and who have passed from death to life. We cannot deny this either. When a group of these gets together, even in the modern “church” setting, there can be good and godly results. The very nature of such groups, though, cannot keep the pretenders and religious fakers out, and so even an effective church ministry can soon be tarnished.

Ultimately, the very best that we can get from a church is kind of a “club for believers,” where we can meet social contacts, make friends, have our kids form friendships, and so forth. Once one has advanced far in the truth, there seems little likelihood for beneficial teaching in these organizations, but opportunities to teach could be most welcome for an advanced believer. At the worst, though, church can be a distraction from what is really important, a counterfeit of what is real, an empty religion, and a Satanic mockery of what is truly worship. I discussed these things in a recent audio message entitled “High Places and Synagogues.”

The “theological lingo” of the day has made the word “salvation” to be something that it is not. We tend to think of “salvation” always in the context of redemption and deliverance from sin. This results in a passage like I Timothy 2:15 being a great puzzle to many people. “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.”

Yet if we would consider even the meaning of the English word “save,” we could learn much that we can apply to the Biblical use of this word. When I “save” money in the bank, have I delivered it from its sins, or any other danger? Certainly not! I have preserved it in the bank, however, in view of future use. So the word “save” does not only mean deliverance, but can almost mean preservation, and can even have in it the idea of blessing. When God “saves” us, He does not just deliver us from sin, but also preserves us unto future, aionios life, and blesses us with His great blessings even now. So “salvation” speaks of deliverance, preservation, and blessing. “Salvation,” then, does not have to have anything to do with a danger that we have been delivered from, but can be used exclusively with the idea of a blessing we are preserved unto. Thus, it can be used to speak of the future kingdom, for we are saved, not FROM, but UNTO, that.

As you say, faith requires a response. That is not necessarily an action. Nor is it necessarily the same action in every case. For example, one who has been a Hindu will have to stop being one, and stop doing the things that go along with being one, when he truly believes. One who has trusted in works or in church attendance for salvation will have to stop trusting in these things to truly believe. If I say I trust in Christ for salvation, yet then turn around and decide that I am not good enough to be saved yet, or decide that I must now get baptized or some such thing or I am not saved…well, then I have not truly had the response of faith to the good news of Christ’s death for my sins. I am still trying to earn my way to salvation, at least in part, on my own. Many give lip service to faith in Christ, but when it comes right down to it, they have faith in other things.

The temptation is always to come back to trusting in something I do rather than in what Christ did. If I look for evidence in my life to prove that I am saved, rather than looking to Who Christ is and what He did to prove that I am saved, then I am looking in entirely the wrong place. Others may look to my life to try to figure that out, but I can only look to Christ and what He did. If I start looking to my life for evidence, then I have taken my eyes off Christ to start looking at the wind and the waves, and I will soon start to sink. Our lives can never measure up to His perfect standard.

Our lives are hid with Christ in God, my friends. We cannot always know who truly believes and who does not. We can know one thing, though: who has reached maturity and who has not. I think perhaps this is what you are getting mixed up with salvation. Understand that in Paul’s writings, four stages, if you will, that believers are to grow through are set forth. First of all is babes in Christ. Then immaturity. Following that comes maturity. And finally, grounded and settled in the faith.

Now all start out after having true faith in the stage of babyhood. As one goes from no knowledge of God and starts to grow, he passes through infancy into a stage of immaturity. He should continue to grow from there, but, alas, this is as far as many ever reach. In fact, though the “church” might preach the gospel and help one to grow up to this point, this is as far as that organization can ever take anyone. Once immaturity is reached, a believer must strike out on his own to ever hope to attain to a place of maturity. This does not mean that he cannot do it while still attending a church, but the church will never be what takes him there. It is only through his own study and growth in relationship with God and knowledge of the Word that the third and then the fourth stages will ever be reached. The problem is that most churches never encourage their members to grow beyond immaturity. Unfortunately, many even discourage it, for immature believers make far better church members than mature or grounded and settled ones.

What happens to a believer who remains in immaturity is not good either. Like a young adult who never grows beyond having his parents make all his decisions and live his life for him, these believers never grow beyond relying upon the church and those supposedly mature believers around them to teach them everything and decide everything for them in matters of faith. As this continues, what once would have been a good and natural stage in growth becomes a sad parody of what should have been. As the behaviors that are natural and expected in a teenager are grotesque and somewhat sad in an adult of forty or fifty, so these stunted believers become a sad shadow of what they should be as they continue perpetually in immaturity, never reaching to what they should reach and never even seeming to know what they are missing. Often they become so settled in their immature state that they mistake their settled adolescence for maturity, and imagine themselves to be quite the good believers.

Now sometimes it can be hard to tell between such a settled immaturity and what we would call a pretender who never believed in the first place. Once one has taken the step beyond immaturity, though, and has started to grow into a mature believer, then there can be little doubt left as to the sincerity or genuineness of one’s faith.

Remember, though, that belief is a private transaction between God and an individual, that is only ultimately known to the two of them, and of the two God knows far more what is happening than the believer does. We cannot fit faith into a cookie cutter event, like the orthodoxy of Fundamentalism or Evangelicalism tries to do. What happens when one believes over another might vary significantly depending upon the person.

The bottom line is that I think you are mistaking evidences of maturity for evidences of belief. There are two stages to go through before maturity. Many never get beyond the second stage of immaturity. Satan is working overtime to see to it that most never do.