I inadvertently brushed on this topic a few days ago and decided to go ahead and share my views on what has become a somewhat controversial topic in the last few years. If you are completely unaware of the (what's the politically correct word here?) "debate", let me go ahead and give you a little background. We are not in some new era where this disagreement is just now being discussed, but rather we're back in a place where several "famous" religious icons are on opposite sides of the spectrum.
There is one side that speaks all of grace. Come to God with all your baggage, be saved, and live in the grace of God. Don't worry about when you sin, you don't have to repent, all because "it is by GRACE through faith". His grace will get you into heaven and it has absolutely nothing to do with actions whatsoever, therefore no change is required or must be evident for salvation.
The other side says come to God with all your baggage, be saved, and now work every day to be better and maybe you'll make it into heaven if you can get Holy enough. You're a terrible sinner and there's no hope of you ever being better, so the best you have is to weep and cry for your sin every day in hopes that God will show mercy.
Now I tried to give a picture of the EXTREME views. There are many people that are somewhere in the middle of those two ideas. I am definitely one of those people. I am no theologian, I have not studied this subject for 9 years while writing a masters thesis on the doctrinal topic of free grace or lordship salvation. I have simply been interested in the two positions and done a little on the side studying while reading through the Word to decide for myself what I believe.
Here is what I know to be true: It is by grace through faith that I am saved and it is a gift (Eph. 2:8) There is no condemnation in Jesus (Rom. 8:1) I know we have been delivered from the law (Rom. 7:6) I know that it is faith not works that saves us (Rom. 4:5) Salvation is not of works (Romans 11:6)
I also know... That faith without works is dead (James 2:18,19) That trees are known by fruit (Luke 6:44) We are to die to sin (1 Peter 2:24) We are to be holy (1 Peter 1:16) Anyone who is born of God will not CONTINUE to sin (1 John 3:9)
It has really been in the last 2-3 years that I have found a place of peace with this topic. I was constantly battling a condemnation vs. compassion mindset with myself and with others. I have a great desire inside of me for sanctification. Sanctification for myself, for my friends, for my church, for my youth, for my students, for the bride of Christ as a whole. I want to see us living Holy, consecrated, set apart, lifestyles that simply illuminate the life and love of Jesus Christ. That desire can often lead to works based mentality that will ALWAYS lead to condemnation when I fail, because I will fail. So here I am desiring to be better, to grow, to live godly, and every time I mess up beating the heck out of myself in repentance begging God to forgive me because I am such a horrible sinner that will never do enough to please Him or love Him or even earn the right to be used in His kingdom. There is so much jacked up theologically in that statement, in other words, I just did not understand the character of God.
We are saved by grace through faith, there is nothing I have done that has disqualified me and there is nothing I will do that can qualify me. (Not in anyway going to step into the realm of discussing blasphemy of the Holy Spirit right now) His grace, His unmerited favor, is what sent Jesus to the cross, and it's by the blood of the perfect one only that I am able to know that I will spend eternity with my Father.
What proves that I am saved?
Well, there is plenty of scripture on that topic as well, but we believe that when you get saved, that you are given the Holy Spirit. We know that the Holy Spirit has certain characteristics (Galatians 5), we know that Jesus told His disciples they would know them by their love, we know that He said you could judge a tree by its fruit... etc. However I also know that I am not always an example of the fruits of the Spirit, I'm not always loving, I know that sometimes I act in ways that completely contradict what the Bible says we should live and act like. So am I saved one moment and not the next?
This is where Mike Bickle's book "The Pleasure of Loving God" has truly blessed me and shown me in the Word some things that I'd never really seen before.
He says that "spiritual immaturity is not rebellion". With scripture he shows that we will all "encounter the weakness of our flesh". And yet it is not spiritual immaturity or the weakness of our flesh that will send you to hell, it is rebellion. That is the difference in Peter's heart when HE DENIED THE LORD THREE TIMES (immature and weak) and Judas who betrayed Him (rebellion). God knows the hearts of men. We don't. God knows who truly repents and who is walking through the motions of religion. Peter was not rebelling against God in his denials, Peter was simply immature, weak, fearful, confused, and he sinned, but Peter loved Jesus (As Jesus showed later while asking him 3x) and Peter repented.
To me the key factor is the condition of the heart. Salvation changes your heart. Salvation makes you a new creature (2 Cor. 5:17) being a new creature in your heart does not mean that automatically all of your sinful ways are put to death and there is no way you will ever sin again. It means that your heart has been changed. Are you weak and immature.... yes... we all are. Do you have the ability to not sin ever again? No. The mark that I look for in Christians is repentance. Some change faster than others, some trees grow more fruit than others, some seeds sprout little plants real quick, and some take time.
I now have a heart for those who were like I was. Constantly condemning myself for every sin and every mistake. My heart hurts for those who feel that way because I know that is not how God is looking at them. We don't deserve it, but when He looks to a Christian, He sees the blood of Jesus. Romans states over and over and OVER that we have been justified, we were made righteous, we are redeemed. I'm not saying I understand it, I'm not saying I don't think God's a little crazy for it, but He looks at me with eyes of grace. When I sin, I repent, I ask the Holy Spirit to help me because I know I can't fix myself, and God looks at me as a daughter. He still corrects, He still convicts, but He's not waiting for me to reach some magic point where I'll be qualified to work in His Kingdom. He's just waiting on us to be willing.
All of that being said, woe to the man or woman who thinks they can betray the cross of Christ, and continue to sin because of God's "grace". As Paul says in Romans 6:1,2 GOD FORBID IT. If the condition of your heart is so wrong that you try to see what you can get away with and still get into heaven then you're not saved. Your heart has not been changed. You have no faith in the cross of Christ. It is by grace through faith. Do you have faith if you gamble with the grace of God?
The grace of God is sufficient for those who are in the family of God, the sins of the saved are casted as far as the east is to the west, those sealed with the Holy Spirit are redeemed.
Where is your heart?