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Today we're addressing "What the Bible Says About Salvation."  In contrast to the last installment in our "What the Bible Says" sermon series, I only had two verses of scripture read about "salvation" (as opposed to the 20 or so verses from 5 different books of the New Testament concerning hell).  But that's not because there is any shortage of information about the subject of salvation.  

In fact, the very words "save," "saved," and "salvation" occur no less than 413 times in the NIV translation of the Bible (132 of which are in the New Testament).  And that doesn't begin to account for the number of times the subject of salvation is addressed without the actual use of that word.  The concept of God's offer of "salvation" is also wrapped up in the related terms; "preserve," "protect," "rescue," "deliver/deliverance," "defend/defense," "safety, "liberty," "welfare," "prosperity," "health," "help," and "victory."  For when I looked up the root meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words translated "save" or "salvation" in the Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, I found all those defining words.

In addition, my own knowledge of the Bible tells me passages that speak of "forgiveness," "redemption," "atonement," "justification," "sanctification," "peace with God," or "hope of heaven" are also closely related to the subject of salvation.  

Indeed, one might even say that the salvation of mankind is the over-riding theme of the entire Bible from Genesis chapter 3 forward, and the ultimate purpose of everything God has done to intervene in the affairs of human history.  The possibility of mankind's eventual salvation is the reason God searched diligently for a man of faith (i.e. Abraham), through whom He could raise up a nation of faith (i.e. Israel), through whom He could then send a messiah (i.e. Jesus)--i.e. so that mankind might be "saved!"  

  • Gal. 3:24 tells us the Law of Moses was given as a "guardian" (NIV) and "schoolmaster" (KJV) to "bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith."  
  • The book of Hebrews reminds us the entire O.T. system of worship including the sacrifices, priests, tabernacle, temple, & even their furniture were all types and symbols designed to represent greater spiritual realities that have to do with salvation.  
  • The eventual salvation of mankind was the reason God raised up certain judges, kings, and prophets.  And it is quite obviously the reason He came to earth in human form offering Himself in the person of His Son, Jesus, as a substitutionary sacrifice on the cross.

I.

Need of Salvation

When we speak of "salvation," our minds naturally drift to the question, of what we need to be "saved from."  A diseased man needs to be saved from the pain & debilitating effects of his malady.  A drowning man wants to be rescued from the water. But many "unsaved" people do not realize their dire predicament.  They are like the man whose cancer has not yet been diagnosed. It is already doing its destructive work, but it's not yet recognized.  Or they are like the sailor in the middle of the ocean whose boat has an undetected leak. The danger is not yet apparent to them, but is no less certain.

So, what is it about mankind's spiritual situation that puts us in jeopardy and needs correction?  From what do we need to be saved?

A.

We need to be saved from the penalty of sin.

Man was created for fellowship with God.  God is the giver and sustainer of life. We were made by Him and for fellowship with Him.  We will never know true and lasting contentment until we are fulfilling that purpose for which we were created.  Augustine said, "Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee."

But sin separates and alienates us from God, for He is perfectly holy, just, and righteous.  Ro. 6:23 tells us "the wages [penalty] of sin is death;"--meaning spiritual death which is separation from God.  And unfortunately, "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Ro. 3:23).  We're all unrighteous, guilty of sin, and deserving of  condemnation & punishment.

In mercy, God has delayed the execution of final judgment upon sin.  If we cannot be reconciled to God by the end of our physical lifetime, then our spiritual separation from God becomes permanent and eternal.  We know it as "hell" (about which we spoke 2 weeks ago).

Adam & Eve are the perfect illustration of what has happened to us all.  When they ate of the forbidden fruit, disobeying God and committing sin, their harmonious relationship with God was severed.  Their sin brought corruption & decay upon themselves and their environment. They were evicted from their garden paradise, and deprived of their special relationship with God.  I suspect no living man or woman since Adam & Eve (save Jesus Himself) could fully appreciate the loss that came about as a result of that broken relationship, for no living man or woman since Adam & Eve (except Jesus) has experienced the fullness of God's presence.

Sin is disobedience to God, and it separates us from God.  Sin may offer temporary pleasures, but ultimately it disappoints and destroys.

B.

We also need to be saved from the power of sin.

Sin not only results in an ultimate, future judgment; but also brings with it several inherent consequences for this present life.  That is, sin enslaves the sinner in the here and now!  Paul indicated this in the first chapter of Romans when he wrote that God "gives men up" or "gives them over" to the consequences of their disobedience. (Ro. 1:24, 26, 28).  In his book, What the Bible Says About Salvation, Virgil Warren lists some of these present day consequences of sin as perverted drives, weakened will power, intellectual confusion, insensitive conscience, personal guilt, and social alienation. (Warren, pp. 38-41).

Sin reinforces the tendency to turn inward focusing on self and self-gratification, which in turn perverts our affections from loving people to loving things (which, by the way, do not ultimately satisfy).  Furthermore, sin dulls the senses and hardens the conscience so that it takes increasingly bigger "doses" of pleasure (or money, or power, or excitement, or whatever) to achieve the same temporary effect. This leads to more and more extreme measures for self-satisfaction, and the process eventually ends in self destruction.  Yielding to the pull of unwholesome activities creates weakened will power. It's most easily seen in alcohol or drug addiction, but is true of all forms of sin. Giving in to anger or greed makes it harder to handle those temptations the next time.

To summarize, then, we need to be "saved from" both the power and the penalty of sin.

II.

Process of Salvation

But how can/does that happen? We've already pointed out that we are "guilty as charged" with regard to sin.  

  1. Salvation's Source

We are saved by Grace!

The source of our salvation is God's grace!  The fact is, there is nothing we can do of our own selves to restore the broken relationship we have with God.  We cannot "undo" our sin, or somehow "make up" for it. Eph. 2:1-5 states, "1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.  Like the rest we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved."

God loved His creation so much He was not willing to give up on us.  Since the "wages of [or penalty for] sin is death," God decided to pay that penalty for us Himself in the incarnated person of Jesus.  This is called "grace." Grace is unmerited favor; an unearned and undeserved gift from God.  Someone made an acronym out of the letters in the word "grace" and defined it as "God's Riches At Christ's Expense."  God has already done everything necessary for our salvation.  Christ died on the cross so that we might be saved!

 But of course, God doesn't force salvation on anyone.  It is a free gift, but we have to accept that gift for ourselves.  How do we do that?

  1. Salvation's Means

We are saved through Faith!

While the source of salvation is God's grace, the means by which we appropriate it (or take advantage of it) is faith!  We might think of "grace" as God's part in the plan of salvation, and "faith" as man's part.  That passage from Eph. 1 goes on to say, "8For it is by grace you have been saved through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--9not by works, so that no one can boast." (Eph. 2:8).  Ro. 3:28 likewise affirms, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law."

A very important question then, is; What does Paul mean by "works" in Eph. 2; "by grace you have been saved through faith...not by works"?  Paul himself tells us what he means in the Ro. 3:28 passage.  The "works" that do not save and cannot save are "works of law."  He says it again in Gal. 2:16; "[We] know that a man is not justified by observing the law [KJV = "the works of the law"] but by faith in Jesus Christ."   

There are also works of faith!  Jesus Himself referred to faith (or belief) as a "work."  Jn. 6:29 = "Jesus answered, 'The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'"  Or consider Abraham, the "man of faith" (Gal. 3:9) and "father of the faithful (Gal. 3:7)."

 

  • Heb. 11:8 = "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went..."
  • Heb. 11:17 = "By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice."
  • Js. 2:21 = "Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?  You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did."

 

What "works" saved Abraham?  Not works of the law (like animal sacrifices and religious rituals), nor moral blamelessness.  (Abraham was sinful like anyone else.) Rather, Abraham was saved by works of faith!  That is, Abraham was saved because he acted in faith, doing what God asked him to do!  "The only works that save are the works of faith; and the only faith that saves is the faith that works!  Faith means taking the Lord at His word and yielding to His teaching..." (Wilson).

Think of it like a doctor who diagnoses a serious heart problem, requiring open-heart surgery.  Theoretically, you have two choices: do it yourself, or trust the doctor to do it for you. But even if you decide to trust the doctor to do it for you, there will be some instructions for you to carry out before he can do the surgery--instructions that require you to trust him.  He may tell you not to eat or drink before the surgery, or to take certain preparatory medications. He will tell you show up at a certain time and place. And if you refuse these instructions, he will not come to your house, tie you up, and drag you to the operating room against your will.  And even after the surgery he will give you certain instructions to carry out for your own recovery.

So we are saved by grace.  Grace is the source of our salvation.  And we are saved through faith.  Faith is the means.

  1. Salvation's Occasion

We are saved at (in) Baptism!

Baptism is the time, or the moment, or the occasion of our salvation when we pass from the ranks of the "lost" into the association of the "saved."  Comparing the dividing line between the saved and the lost in the days of Noah's flood to our own, Peter writes, "...and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.  It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ..." (1 Pe. 3:21).  Twice Peter tells us that baptism has something to do with our salvation.  But he does not mean there is something so wonderful, or meritorious, or difficult about the mere act of being lowered into and raised up out of water that somehow thrills God so much that it makes up for our sins!  Rather, he means that our baptism into Christ is the occasion of our salvation even as the flood in the days of Noah was the occasion when he was saved.

I intend to say much more about baptism next week (as it was one of the subjects I was specifically asked to address in this sermon series--and asked by more than one person).  But for now let me just add that baptism into Christ as the moment or occasion of our salvation makes perfect, logical sense since Peter told his hearers on the Day of Pentecost it was "..for the forgiveness of your sins" and "the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Ac. 2:38).  The Greek language is very clear here that the word "for" indicates a purpose or reason to be baptized--a result of being immersed, and not some kind of afterthought to picture what already happened previously.  The Acts 2 text continues; "40With many other words he warned them; and pleaded with them, 'Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.' 41Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day." (Ac. 2:40-41).

  1. Salvation's Purpose or Result

We are saved for Good Works!

There is one last aspect of this process of salvation that we must address.  It has to do with the purpose (or the result) of our salvation.  For what purpose did God save us anyway?  What does He expect of us? We may be saved by grace, saved through faith, and saved at (or in) baptism, but we are saved for good works!

Ephesians 2:8-10 makes it clear; "8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

The songwriter was correct when he wrote "God loves people more than anything."  But God did not abdicate His throne and place us upon it.  We are His servants; not the other way around.  Our service could never "pay Him back," nor does it earn us special privileges and recognition.  

And though we are not saved by our good deeds nor by our obedience to His commands, that does not mean our obedience is optional or irrelevant.  "Under grace we still have a 100% obligation to obey 100% of the law commands of Scripture that apply to us under the New Covenant.  We have a 100% obligation to be 100% good. ... [For] Though we are under grace and though our sins are forgiven, SIN IS STILL SIN, AND RIGHTEOUSNESS IS STILL RIGHTEOUSNESS!  Though your sin will not keep you out of heaven, your sin is still wrong." (Cottrell).

We "serve" God, and we do "good works" as an expression of gratitude to, and continued faith in Christ.  We serve Him by serving others.  In doing so we become more and more like Him, and therefore enjoy greater and greater fellowship with Him.

Conclusion:

We are saved...

...from the power & penalty of sin.

We are saved...

...by grace, through faith, at baptism, for good works.

 

Sources for this sermon include:

  • Jack Cottrell, "Receiving God's Grace" workshop handout, dated April 2007, (probably from Mo. Christian Convention)
  • Virgil Warren, What the Bible Says About Salvation, College Press, 1982
  • Seth Wilson, Salvation is by Grace Through Faith...Real Faith, essay appearing in an old issue of Ozark Bible College "Compass" newsletter, date unknown.

 

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