Focal text: Ephesians 2:1-13
As we continue in this study on basic Christian theology, continuing what we as Christinas truly believe and attempting to clarify maybe some of the confusion that may be cluttering the mental landscape of those, myself included, who find themselves at odds with what is Scripture and what we as a church actually believe. I mean, let’s be honest: does what we as individual believers do actually line up with the teachings of Christ or what we have been taught by men? Now, we like to hope that the men who taught us stood on the authority of Scripture and did not use Scripture to give themselves authority, which is sometimes the case. As Christians, one of our central ideals is that, because of Christ, we are as individuals fully right to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. What I mean by that statement is not that we are allowed to decide for ourselves what salvation consists of, which is by grace through faith in Christ alone, rather it is how we allow that reality to play out in our lives through the process of sanctification, or the involved process of growth in the Christian faith.
In our previous session, we discussed man’s fall into sin and what is necessary to get him/her out of that fall, salvation, so I need to backtrack some to set up for this discussion. Salvation is a process, sometimes it is a long process, sometimes a short one. By a long process it can involve a person living a life in which they know for a long time that their life is fully in rebellion against God, and one day they just simply give up and fall into the arms of God’s marvelous grace. For others, it is instantaneous: confronted by the gospel they instantly know they need God’s salvation and grab onto it tightly and preciously. I thank God for his mercy in both instances and praise him for his grace as well, but they both follow the same pattern.
The first step is conviction. This is the the sudden realization that there is something amiss. People are constantly under conviction by the Holy Spirit that something is missing in their life, that there is some element missing from inside them and they grope as blind men in darkness trying to find that piece. They try any number of things to fit that great hole: bad, unhealthy thing such as drugs, alcohol, and outrageous excitement; good things too like food, relationships, and even work. And when you try to put anything into that place which God alone is supposed to occupy that is sin. My job standing here before you is not to make you feel guilty; it is to let you know why you feel guilty. It is because your god is anything less than God alone.
The second step is repentance. The New Testament word repentance comes from the Greek word metanoia, and it simply means to change the mind. Isaiah 1:5-6, in the Living Bible, reads like this when it speaks of sin, “Oh, my people, haven’t you had enough of punishment? Why will you force me to whip you again and again? Must you forever rebel? From head to foot you are sick and weak and faint, covered with bruises and welts and infected wounds, which are un-anointed and unbound.” God’s laws are like a solid wall, and in our sin we are constantly bashing ourselves into that wall, trying to break through something that is impenetrable and unmoving. We beat ourselves against these until we are broken and injured, unable to move because of our brokenness. I heard of a man who had a broken leg once, and he knew it was broken, but he decided to not go get it fixed right then. His leg did heal, but it was painful, and all out of sorts. As a result, he could never walk very far on it, so he limited himself to the walk between his tiny house and barn and his tiny garden. Several years passed, and eventually he went to the doctor about his leg. The doctor examined his leg and told him that that his leg would have to be re-broken, and he would require grafts and months of extensive, expensive therapy. The man shook his head in disbelief, “I can’t afford it.” The doctor said, “If you’d have come to me when you first broke it, it would have cost you $350, and you’d have been back up and running in six weeks.” If the man had simply changed his mind earlier, the cost, while still steep, would have been more effective. Now he was faced with the choice of being crippled for the rest of his life, or suffering months of surgery and therapy. And this is the same when it comes to sin and the issue of repentance. The decision you and I have to make is this: is my life worth what Christ paid for it, which is his own life, or am I going to just walk around crippled and broken for eternity. When my mind toward God is changed, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I choose life; when I reject the offer, I choose death. In repentance, by faith, you are turning to the one Person who can heal you from the deadly disease of sin.
The third process of salvation is acceptance. So by God’s grace, having been chosen for life I accept Jesus, alone as my savior, thus making him the Lord, the only rightful ruler of my life. The only reason that any of this is possible is because I have been born again, that is, I have been regenerated by the Spirit of God. There needs to be some clarification made from this point forward.
Salvation is not about education. It is not about knowing enough to make a decision; it is in knowing that you must make a decision, a life of death decision. We often have these clichés, “Believe in your heart” and “open your heart”, what we mean when we say that is not the organ that pumps blood but the part of your being which makes the decisions that ultimately affect your life. Once we accept Jesus as savior, he automatically becomes the ruler because what he has done has been done by his own power and by his grace. Acceptance gives effect to the affect of Christ on the life of the believer, because that is what you now are, a believer in Christ.
The final leg of salvation is confession. You have just become fast and intimate friends with the most famous person in the world, who would not absolutely want the shout that to the world, or at least to your friends and family. But confession is not just about telling it is about living. Jesus makes a pretty clear statement in Matthew 10:32-33 (NKJV) “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” The initial assent to this within Christian consideration is believer’s baptism, something we will cover more in depth later. And for new believers, one of the best gifts we can give to them is good, sound counseling and discipleship which reflects biblical doctrine, not simply throwing them in the deep end. “Well brother, that’s how I learned to be a Christian.” Things like that are what cause apostasy in the church. Left alone, a new believer could fall into heresy or worse, become a carnal, defeated Christian. Our saving faith is more than a positive outlook, more than mental assent; it is a total, committed response involving all facets of our lives.
Finally, this must be clear: our faith is intellectual and is not blind. Our bibles embrace two distinct levels of record: historical facts, and historical miracles. God’s works in his creation are a matter of public record: look at your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, in the mirror, at the world around you, this is the record of fact. The record of miracles requires something more than historical fact, it requires you and me to say, “I believe not because it is possible in my understanding, but because it is in line with who You, God, are and have represented in the historical record”; it requires faith, that faith is in trusting in who God is and what he has done and in loyalty to him as king. Faith is that part which chooses to accept those facts which are crucial to salvation.
Our faith is also emotional. Everyone is different and salvation is responded to in different ways: some with great emotion, some with very little. As salvation is an experience which involves the entire being, emotions can and should be part of the experience, not the focus. Tears may or may not be shed. Emotions don’t complete or result in salvation, no matter how powerful they may be, it is the depth, the quality, the fact that a person is cut to the very soul and now realizes what has happened.
Our faith is volitional. That is Christian faith relates to the will and is a matter of conscious choosing. Faith sometimes comes across as a vague and mysterious word and is sometimes obscured in our post-modern world and sometimes seems to refer to a belief in a set of facts, or a mystical feeling, or refer to a denomination or religion, but the bible’s definition of faith is somewhat different. Luke 14:26-33 (NKJV) “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it— lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.” One has to be careful in choosing this life, because at some point it will cost you something, and you will have to decide if it is worth it. Fortunately though we have the testimony of someone who did count the cost, the Apostle Paul, “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11, NKJV)
For us who believe, salvation, because of its price, should mean more and more to us each day. It is more than what we say and do; it should be cut into us like leaven into bread because it means something so special. First it means that salvation is three-fold in its working. From the moment in which we believe we are saved. In the course of our life we are being saved. And at the end of our life, we will be saved (Phil. 2:12). Our salvation is not of works, or Sunday would simply be a checking-off day, when we come into church to get our cards punched and our name taken down for the week. Our salvation is a free gift.
It also means that we have been called with a purpose, which can sometimes be refered to as election or predestination, which Calvin defined and set the stage for centuries of debate. Some who have taken the extreme on this teach that God has determined that certain people would be saved and others would not. Many who hold this view are strongly opposed to missions as presuming on God’s sovereignty. The old arguments on predestination are rarely heard today so it is possible for us to examine exactly what predestination is in a more profitable way. The doctrine of election emphasizes the work of God in salvation. the bible uses words such as predestined, called, chosen, elect, and fore-knowledge to refer to God’s action in salvation (Mark 13:20; John 13:18; Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:4; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:1-2). Now here’s the thing, every one of these terms and contexts are in the very same tone that is used to describe the choosing of Israel as the people of God. The thing that is often overlooked in the arguments around predestination is that God is the one who took the initiative. God is the one who chooses and calls each believer personally, extending his call to the entirety of the human race. “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”” (Romans 10:14-15, NKJV) When we witness much, many respond. When we witness little, few respond. God’s ability to save is directly tied to our willingness to obey him, and serve the purpose he has set for our lives, divine purpose for the salvation of many.
Salvation also means adoption. It is a term which the New Testament uses to describe the new relationship available only through the blood of Christ and are now considered as sons and daughters as a result of that (Rom. 8:15-17; Gal. 4:1-7). The evidence is found to exist nowhere more clearly than in the Model, or Lord’s, Prayer; in there we are shown that we can call him Father, which at the time was a revolutionary thought. Jews did not even so much as dare to pronounce God’s name, much less dare to call Him Father. The Old Testament would sometimes care Him Father in regards to the idea of Him as the Father of Israel, but not in an individual relationship sense. More than that, the word used by Christ is very intimate, endearing word: Abba, similar in meaning to the word daddy. And being adopted as children has such great implications. It means that we are now co-heirs with Christ: we share in his glory, whatever marvel that entails. It also means that God relates to us as His own children: teaching, guiding, shaping, molding, using, blessing, protecting, correcting, and, as a divine parent, is either pleased or grieved by the response shown in our lives.
Through salvation we are united with Christ. In John 14:20, our Lord makes a powerful statement, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” Later in 15:1-8, in describing His union with the believer in the description of the vine we see how we are joined with Christ, how we are nourished by him and the fruit produced in us and through us is all that He would produce. The depth of our union is described by Paul in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” We, through our faith, believe that we have a dynamic oneness with Christ which gives us inexhaustible energy for carrying out the purposes of God. It is a power that heals, redeems, cleanses and forgives, flowing from the risen Christ into the hearts of all committed disciples.
A final quality of the sanctified life is that we are safe and secure. Joining a church does not make one secure. Have you ever been talking to someone and heard, “You know, So-and-so got saved and joined the church last month.” The question out of my mouth has been, “Have they been back? Are they involved in a ministry, serving the Lord? Living a life worthy of Christ?” “Nope, they just got baptized and joined the church.” Have we become some desperate for numbers that we have forgotten what these things, baptism and church membership mean. These things don’t save you; they don’t make you eternally secure. They look good on a resume’ but won’t get your foot across the threshold of heaven. The writer of Hebrews exhorts us in 4:14, “Hold firmly to the faith you profess.” Our salvation and its meaning must be held onto like a pit-bull on a rag-doll.
The gift of salvation cannot be lost. John 10:28-30 in the Living Bible reads like this, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one shall snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else, so no one can kidnap them from me. I and my Father are one.” The picture Christ is displaying would be like one pair of hands grasping something, then a second pair of larger hands wrapping around those and holding on tight. Our salvation is given under a double-lock, into hands more capable of holding onto it than we are, independent of our own strength.
True experience and commitment to Christ will lead to perseverance. We are human, we will stumble and we will fall, but a true believer feels God’s disapproval and repents. The sincere desire of the true believer’s heart is to do the will of God so to have fellowship with Him. We also reject the notion that a believer can simply live as he or she wishes since salvation is solely dependent upon God because it fails to acknowledge the effect salvation has upon a person’s life. We must be careful to interpret what salvation means in light of scripture, or the sanctified life will be fraught with carelessness or fear.