Can reading just one scripture save your neck? It sounds outlandish, but King Henry II of England, crowned in 1154, issued a decree that ultimately allowed certain English prisoners to do just that.
King Henry issued a law that stated, “A person subject to the death penalty could appeal for the benefit of clergy.” A minister or cleric assigned to the prison would then be called in to stipulate a passage of the Bible that the prisoner would have to read aloud. The accepted passage came to be verse 1 of Psalm 51.
If the prisoner could read this verse, he could literally save his neck. However, by the late 1700s the law had been watered down and no verse need be read. The prisoner simply had to appeal to the “Benefit of Clergy.”
Similarly, some who claim to be followers of Christ and want God’s salvation believe that they need only profess that Christ died for their sins, and they are saved. They’ve accepted Christ’s sacrifice for their past sins, and now they’re under grace because Christ fulfilled the law; therefore they’re under no obligation to keep God’s law. Some even believe that they can depend on a death-bed declaration of faith to save themselves.
Is the matter of eternal salvation really that simple? Or does our salvation in fact have much more to do with building spiritual character throughout our lifetime by overcoming sin on a day-to-day basis? If that’s the case, then our focus should be on the process of building a right relationship with God.
In a sense, King Henry was right. Every human being who has the death penalty hanging over his or her head must appeal to the Benefit of Clergy. In this case, we appeal to Jesus Christ who is “THE High Priest” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
“…And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” Acts 2:21, NIV.
There are a number of verses in the Bible that say basically the same thing, and many professing Christians stop right there. However, Christ also said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven,” Matthew 7:21. The question is not so much, “Do you know the Lord?” but rather, “Do you know God’s will and are you doing it?”
We know that no one can come to Christ unless the Father calls them. If we respond, we’re admonished to live a life worthy of that calling. The spiritual conversion that is required for salvation is a process that happens over a period of time.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life…For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love,” 2 Peter 1:3-9.
Without God’s Spirit we would never be able to overcome the pulls of this world, Satan’s influence, or even our own human nature. But through God’s Spirit over time, it is possible to grow in grace and knowledge. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, if we have in fact been a participant in this life-long process of overcoming, changing, and enduring.
Let’s engage ourselves in this process that God is using to bring us into His eternal Spirit family. For all of us, all we have is time. Use it wisely in overcoming and changing, and we will be there when Christ presents us to Himself as a radiant church, Holy and blameless.
by John Hinds