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Salvation

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

 

During my last two appearances in the pulpit, we’ve considered both mankind’s biggest problem and the only possible solution to that problem.  Only Jesus can possibly save us from our sins. 

However, knowing the what doesn’t tell us the how.  I can know that a jack can help me to change a tire, but unless I know how to use the jack to change the tire, that doesn’t help me much.  Similarly, the knowledge that we can be saved through Jesus doesn’t tell us how to lay hold of that salvation.

Sadly, the devil has sown a great deal of confusion on this subject.  Some in the world believe things that aren’t in the Bible at all, such as that you only have to be a good person.  Others take part of what the Bible says about salvation and act like it’s all you have to do. 

If we want to help people like this, we have to know the whole counsel of God, and we have to declare the whole counsel of God.  This evening, then, let’s consider the Biblical pattern for salvation.

Assuming that a sinner recognizes his need for salvation, the process of being saved begins with BELIEF.  To establish this point, there’s no reason to turn anywhere other than John 3:16.  We saw last week that Jesus is our Savior, but His salvation is only for those who believe in Him.  Only they have the hope of eternal life. 

However, many people are mistaken both about the meaning and the significance of belief.  Let’s start with the former.  Lots of people think that faith is nothing more than acknowledging something as true, that we believe that Jesus is the Son of God in the same way that we believe that Paris is the capital of France. 

Biblically, that’s not accurate.  The only time belief is used in this way in Scripture is in James 2, where it’s talking about the demons’ belief in God.  That is not saving faith!  Saving faith isn’t mere mental assent to the existence of Jesus.  It is trust in Him and loyalty to Him.  Saving faith is inseparable from action.

This truth is a stumbling block for many.  They turn to passages like Ephesians 2 and talk about being saved by faith, not by works.  However, that’s a misreading of the text.  In Ephesians and Romans, when Paul is talking about salvation by works, he’s talking about the works of the law of Moses.  He’s talking about salvation by perfect law-keeping.  His point is not that we have to do nothing in order to be saved.  It’s that we can’t earn our salvation.

In addition to belief, the Scriptures emphasize that REPENTANCE is a necessary part of our salvation.  As Shawn and I observed during the evangelism class last quarter, repentance is generally one of the main problems that people have with becoming a Christian.  Next week, I intend to preach a whole half-hour study sermon on repentance, so you can think of this as a quickie point for people who don’t struggle with the truth. 

For purposes of this study, though, consider 2 Corinthians 7:10.  In this text, Paul distinguishes between two kinds of grief:  worldly grief and godly grief.  Worldly grief is grief at God’s word that does not produce a change of heart.  When the rich young ruler went away grieffully, that was worldly grief.  We see this kind of grief today with people who accept that they’re in an unscriptural marriage but never separate.

Godly grief on the other hand, is grief that produces repentance, which is a sincere resolution to stop sinning and live righteously.  Repentance itself is entirely mental.  The Greek word here literally means “changing your mind”. 

Thus, somebody who repents of their sins doesn’t have to eradicate all those sins before they are baptized.  However, genuine repentance is always followed by action.  If somebody’s life doesn’t bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, that’s reason enough for us to call their original repentance into question.

CONFESSION is the next thing that we must do to lay hold of God’s gift of salvation.  Here, let’s look at Romans 10:9-10.  The first thing that we ought to notice here is that Paul didn’t believe that salvation was the result of Just One Thing.  He certainly affirms the necessity of faith for salvation, but he also says that you have to offer a confession that Jesus Christ is Lord.  A little earlier in Romans, he talks about the necessity of baptism.  Anybody who takes one of those passages out of the context of everything Paul says about salvation is guilty of the worst kind of proof-texting.  Rather than focusing on one thing a New-Testament writer says about salvation, we need to focus on everything he says.

Also, let’s pay attention to what kind of a confession this is.  Often, when we hear the word “confession” our mind turns to a confession of sin.  Confessing our sins is certainly a Biblical concept, but when we find people in the New Testament doing that, it’s people who already have been saved.  That kind of confession is extremely important, but it’s not part of the process of salvation.

Instead, the confession that does accompany salvation is what Peter describes as “the good confession”.  It is a statement claiming Jesus Christ as our Lord, as Jesus Himself confessed His Kingship before Pontius Pilate.  There are many different confession formulas in Scripture.  The exact wording doesn’t matter.  However, it is supposed to be a pledge of faith.  If we confess Jesus before men, He will confess us before His Father in heaven.

The process of salvation concludes with BAPTISM.  As with repentance, this is a subject that can require a half-hour study all its own, at least!  I’ll be preaching that sermon next week too because sometimes baptism is an issue with people.  Sometimes, though, it isn’t.  I’ve seen people choose to be baptized after studying only one passage having to do with baptism.  If that’s the case,  Acts 2:37-38 will serve as well as any. 

This is another text that contains a subject we’ve already studied, in this case repentance.  Also, it’s contextually apparent that Peter’s audience in this context already believes.  That’s why they’re asking him what they can do to escape the wrath of God for crucifying Jesus.  The only step that’s missing is confession, but that shouldn’t bother us.  When we’re telling a story to our friends, we don’t cover every detail every time.  Instead, we bring out only the details that are significant to the story. 

Luke is doing the same thing.  He’s hitting the high points of what happened, not mechanically going through every little detail of every story of conversion.  People who demand that every detail be in every story are expecting something that nobody actually does.

Second, notice that Peter is appealing to these Jews to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.  This does not mean that they are being baptized because their sins already have been forgiven.  If that’s so, why are they crying out “What shall we do?” five seconds earlier? 

These are people who know they are not forgiven, and Peter is telling them what they need to do in order to be forgiven.  Only through baptism can they, and we, receive forgiveness of sins.  If we believe in the Jesus of the gospel, and we want to be saved according to the terms of the gospel, we must obey the gospel through baptism.

The Opinions of the Fool

Monday, April 08, 2019

 

Some proverbs are easier for us to handle than others.  The grayer we get, the better we like Proverbs 16:31!  Others, though, should make us pause for some sober self-examination.  On this list, I would include Proverbs 18:2, which reads, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”

It’s very easy for us to make this proverb about somebody else.  There’s that know-it-all at work, that pompous bore on Facebook.  Don’t they ever listen to themselves?  Don’t they ever realize how clueless they sound?  Don’t they ever shut up?  Maybe we could figure out some discreet way of getting them to read this, and it would cure them!

Proverbs 18:2 is certainly strong medicine, but it’s supposed to be taken internally.  God doesn’t mean for us to go around labeling others based on how insufferable they are:  “They’re a fool, and they’re a fool, and they’re a fool, and. . .”  Instead, He wants us to consider whether we’re seeing a fool when we look in the mirror.

To paraphrase the webcomic xkcd, someone is always wrong, and not just on the Internet.  There are wrong people at work.  There are wrong people in our neighborhood.  There are wrong people at church.  We can tell that they’re wrong because they don’t agree with us.

All too often, we respond to people like that by sticking our fingers in our ears and telling them the Truth at top volume.  If we’re aren’t in the mood for confrontation, we check out of the conversation and count ceiling tiles while they blather on, secure in the knowledge that whatever they say, they will continue to be wrong.

Guess what doing that makes us.  It makes us fools.

Here’s the thing.  We might think they’re wrong, but they don’t think they are.  They have some reason for saying what they’re saying.  If we don’t want to end up on the wrong side of Proverbs 18:2, we need to give them an honest hearing.  Yes, I know it’s out of fashion to listen to people we don’t agree with, but we ought to try it anyway.

First, even people who are so absurdly, ridiculously wrong that they disagree with us still can tell when we aren’t paying attention to them.  They appreciate it when we hear them out respectfully, and they don’t appreciate it when we don’t listen.  It costs us nothing to be courteous, and courtesy is worth a great deal.

Second, the better we understand them, the better equipped we are to help them understand us.  We’re much more likely to be persuasive when we address their actual beliefs and arguments, rather than our pre-conceived caricature of those beliefs and arguments.  There is no substitute for hearing a position explained by someone who endorses it.

Finally, and I hesitate even to bring this up, it’s always possible that in some disagreement, our position might be the one that’s, um, not-right.  I know; I know—everyone who is reading this has got it all figured out.  But what if we don’t?  Hypothetically speaking, that insufferable, pompous bore on the other side may have a point, but if we don’t listen, we will never realize it.  I’d rather be embarrassed for a little while and right thereafter than wrong forever.

Fools want to be right.  The wise want to be wiser.  The path we go down is entirely up to us.

Psalm 28

Friday, April 05, 2019

 

To You, O Lord, I call;
Do not be deaf to me;
If you are silent, I’ll descend
To depths of misery.
With pleading in my voice,
I cry to you for grace;
Regard the lifting of my hands
Toward Your most holy place.

O do not drag me off
With those who practice sin,
Deceiving all with words of peace
While evil lurks within.
According to their works,
Give them their due reward,
For surely they must be undone
Who do not fear the Lord.

How blessed is the Lord,
For He has heard my voice!
With all my heart, I trust in Him,
And with my song, rejoice.
Our refuge and our strength,
He saves us from all harms;
O Lord, bless Your inheritance,
And bear us in Your arms!

A Note on _Unplanned_

Thursday, April 04, 2019

 

This past weekend, the movie Unplanned opened.  It follows the transformation of a woman named Abby Johnson from abortion-clinic worker to pro-life activist.  Suffice it to say that the reaction from the secular left has not been ecstatic.  It received an R rating from the MPAA for its graphic depictions of abortions.  Strange.  I didn’t know a depiction of a medical procedure could be graphic.

Theater owners have refused to run it.  Reviewers have generally ignored it, and those who have seen it have evaluated it on progressive-morality (“Worst.  Movie.  Ever.”) rather than artistic grounds.  Even the movie’s Twitter feed went down on opening night, for reasons that have yet to be adequately explained.

If you will pardon the pun, we’ve seen this movie before.  Back in the day, the sensational Gosnell trial was roundly ignored by the mainstream media.  So too was the film produced about it.  Pro-life Supreme-Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was treated to the most impressive smear campaign in recent memory, with uncorroborated accusations treated as gospel and fabrications advanced as plausible.

Just ‘cause you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

With a little thought, the reason for this one-sided narrative becomes obvious.  It’s not about the truth of the matter.  In their heart of hearts, everybody knows that abortion is about killing babies, whether or not they will admit it.  Instead, it is about the progressive idol of sexual autonomy, the idea that everybody should get to have all the unrestricted sex they want without consequences.

However, sex as designed by God is a consequential act.  Its most significant consequence is the creation of new life.  Once you have to reckon with those consequences, the idol of sexual autonomy is revealed to have feet of clay.  The only way for progressives to resolve the problem is to make it possible for the consequences to. . . go away.

See?  No harm done!  Continue fornicating!

Unfortunately for them, the pro-choice case started out weak and is getting weaker.  Viability used to be the buzzword for distinguishing between a baby and a clump of cells.  However, as medical technology continues to advance, babies born as early as 21 weeks now have a chance at survival.  The day may come when even an embryo can be nurtured outside the womb.

This reveals what always has been true:  the pro-choice position is based on magical thinking.  What you want something to be—in this case, a fetus—determines what it is.  The wanted fetus is a baby to be defended with an arsenal of medical might; the unwanted fetus is a malignant growth to be scraped out and discarded.  If that’s the argument you have to defend, then, yeah, you’re going to do whatever you can to shut the other side up.

One final thought, though.  The treatment of Unplanned reveals a great deal about the abortion debate, but it also reveals a great deal about the mass-entertainment elite.  They want to stifle Unplanned because they believe that if watched, it will have a powerful effect on the moral convictions of its audience.  They believe that movies are very effective propaganda.

What does that tell us about their goals with the movies that they do produce, that they do promote?  What does it tell us about all the other movies that we watch?

Knowing Jesus

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

 

At some point or other, I would imagine that most all of us have seen that fish symbol on the back of a car.  Most of them are either empty or say “Jesus” in them.  However, back in the 199os, when I first remember seeing them, many of the original fish symbols contained letters that look to us like IXOYE.  So. . . what does a fish symbol have to do with Jesus have to do with those funny letters?

Let’s start with the funny letters.  They aren’t normal letters like we use.  They’re from the Greek alphabet, and they are the letters iota, chi, theta, upsilon, and sigma.  Translated into our letters, they spell out I-CH-TH-Y-S, and ichthys is the Greek word for “fish”. 

Thus for the fish, but what about Jesus?  Here’s what’s going on.  Ichthys doesn’t just mean “fish”.  It’s also an acrostic sermon outline, a very old one, going back at least to the second century A.D.  Early Christians used it to teach others about Jesus.  I figure we might as well use the outline for the same purpose today, so for our fourth half-hour study sermon, let’s see how the fish symbol teaches us to know Jesus.

The first letter in the sermon outline, iota, stands for Iēsous, which is Greek for “Jesus”.  Just like “Jehovah” in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, “Jesus” in Greek starts with an I. 

The second letter, which looks like an X to us, is a chi, a “ch” sound, and it stands for Christos, from which we get our English word “CHRIST”.  Jesus is called Christ hundreds of times in the Bible, but perhaps the most significant usage of the word appears in Acts 2:36.  Here, we particularly need to notice that Peter says that God has made Him both Lord and Christ. 

This seems weird to us.  A lot of the time, we think of “Christ” almost like a last name.  Sometimes, we’ll hear profane people throw in an H when they’re blaspheming the name of Jesus, as though H is His middle initial.  Really, though, “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name.  It is one of His titles, and it means “Anointed One”.

In the Old Testament, there were three classes of people who were anointed, and Jesus is the only person ever to be a member of all three classes.  The first of these classes is the class of prophet.  Prophets were anointed like Elijah anointed Elisha.  Jesus too was anointed by the Holy Spirit.  Because He is an anointed prophet, Jesus has the ability to declare the word of God by inspiration.  This means that all of us are responsible for listening to His teachings.

Second, priests were anointed under the law of Moses, from Aaron onward.  Jesus too is anointed as a priest.  Indeed, He is our great High Priest.  Under the law of Moses, the high priests interceded with God for the people.  Today, Jesus intercedes for us.

Third, kings were anointed under the law.  The Scriptures tell us about the anointing stories of Saul, David, and many others.  Jesus, though, is anointed as our King.  God has put all things in subjection under His feet, and He has the right to demand our obedience in everything.

The next sermon point takes up two letters in our acronym.  The Greek letters theta and upsilon stand for Theou Yios, which means “GOD’S SON”.  Again, there are many passages that affirm that Jesus is the Son of God, but let’s look at Peter’s famous statement in Matthew 16:15-16. 

There are a couple of senses in which all of us are the offspring of God.  He created us in the first place, and those of us who are Christians have been adopted as His sons and daughters.  In some places in Scripture, angels are described as the sons of God. 

However, Jesus is not the Son of God in any of those senses.  Instead, it means first of all that Jesus is fully divine.  He is not Michael the archangel or any of that other nonsense.  Instead, as the Father is God, so Jesus the Son is God too.

Second, we must understand “Son” as a statement of relationship, not origin.  This is usually different for us.  When I say, for instance, that Marky is my son, I mean that I helped bring him into existence, and anybody who looks at the two of us can see the family resemblance! 

However, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God does not mean that Jesus is a created being!  Instead, it primarily explains His subordinate relationship to the Father, just as Marky is subordinate to me.  Jesus is part of the “let Us” of Genesis 1.  He is uncreated as God the Father is uncreated.

Finally, Jesus is the Son of God because He was begotten as the Son of God.  In one of the most mind-bending events ever to take place on this planet, He took on flesh and became like one of us.  In an earthly sense, but only in an earthly sense, God fathered Jesus like I fathered Marky.  Other than Adam and Eve, no one else has this divine parentage.

The last letter of our sermon acrostic is sigma, standing for the Greek Sōtēr, which means “SAVIOR”.  For the third time, this concept is all over the New Testament, but let’s look at Acts 13:23. 

Today, when we see the word “savior”, we generally assume that it has religious connotations.  However, it wasn’t necessarily that way 2000 years ago.  In fact, it was a title most commonly applied to human kings.  Many of the Greek kings who fought over the remains of Alexander the Great’s empire took the title of Sōtēr.  In these cases, though, it’s not terribly clear who is saving whom from what, except possibly conquest by a foreign country.

Jesus, though, is a different kind of Savior than any earthly monarch.  He didn’t come to save us from some hostile human empire.  Instead, He came to save us from our sins.

Additionally, Jesus’ methodology as Savior is unique.  All of those human kings acted like lords.  They climbed to the top of the heap, taxed their subjects into ruin, then formed a huge army and ordered it around. 

Jesus did the opposite.  Even though He had more right than anybody to be treated as Lord, that is not how He behaved during His time on earth.  Instead, He humbled Himself and became a servant.  All through His life, He lived for others rather than demanding that they live for Him.

This pattern of servant-lordship is most obvious in His death.  Those Greek kings would have sacrificed every one of their subjects in order to save their own lives.  Jesus, though, sacrificed Himself to save every one of His subjects.

Unlike us, Jesus was sinless.  He did not owe the spiritual death penalty for His sins.  However, He willingly submitted to death for our sakes, paying off the blood debt that every one of us owed God for our wickedness.  Because He died, we can inherit eternal life.  Jesus is our Savior because He saved us from a fate too horrible to contemplate!

However, the salvation of Jesus does not automatically apply to everyone.  Those Greek kings only fought battles to protect those who were their people.  In the same way, the protection of Jesus only applies to those who are the people of God.  Next time, we’ll examine what it takes for someone to join God’s people.

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