Posts Tagged 'Our great salvation'

Our Great Salvation, Final

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Jeremiah 8:20

 The harvest is finished; the summer is over, and we are not saved.   (TLB)

In our final look at Our Great Salvation, we’re going to look at a startling aspect of this topic:  people who think they are saved but are not.  Jeremiah 8:20, our text, has a real historical context that cannot be ignored, and we will examine that context shortly.  But there is real problem in the church of Jesus Christ today that, believe it or not, was predicted by our Lord before the first church was even built.

The field is the world, and the seed represents the people of the Kingdom; the thistles are the people belonging to Satan.  The enemy who sowed the thistles among the wheat is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels.  (Matthew 13:38, 39  TLB)

The Kingdom, of which the visible church is a part, is made up of true believers and unbelievers; that’s the whole point of the parables in Matthew 13.  A lot of those unbelievers think they are true believers, but in fact, they have never experienced any kind of meaningful conversion.  We have already learned that a “conversion experience” is a component of salvation; that a sinner doesn’t “ooze into” Christianity; he moves decisively from the darkness to the light.  That conversion experience is different for everybody, but nobody is born a Christian; nobody gets educated into being a Christian; going to church week after week doesn’t make anybody a Christian.

In its simplest terms, “to be saved” means to be separated from the world.  It means that, while at one time the things of this world nourished you and were the reasons behind everything you did; now everything you need is found in God.  It means living for God when once you lived for yourself.

You may wonder how this is possible; how can a person think they’re saved, but not be saved?  There are many reasons why this has happened, not the least of which is the altar call, the most ineffective way of bringing a sinner to Christ.  Anybody can “come forward” and think they are accepting Christ because they were emotionally moved by a stirring sermon.  But are they really saved?  The same thing is true of “confirmation,” a process many mainline denominations practice, whereby children who were baptized as infants go through a series of classes and tests and are finally deemed to be Christians when they pass those tests.  But are they really saved?

To help us understand this problem, we look back to a time before the church existed; back to the days of the prophets.

Historical context

Jeremiah had it tough.  It was his job to preach repentance to his people.  This he did for his entire life, yet they would have no part of it.  It was an uphill struggle for Jeremiah to fulfill the call of God on his life.  Beginning with chapter 7 of the book that bears his name, a great revival had broken out in the land of Judah.  You can read all about this in 2 Chronicles 34, 35 and in 2 Kings 22.

Young King Josiah had ordered the restoration of the Temple and its grounds.  After years of neglect, it had fallen into a sorry state of disrepair.  When the workmen had cleaned it up, a priest named Hilkiah, father of Jeremiah, found a long-lost copy of the Law.  Finding the Law, reminding the people of what it said, along with the restoration of the Temple, brought about a kind of national revival.  For the first time in a long time, the Temple was back in use, sacrifices were being offered and people from all over Israel streamed into the Temple.  It all looked very good.

But was it?

Then the Lord said to Jeremiah:  Go over to the entrance of the Temple of the Lord and give this message to the people: O Judah, listen to this message from God. Listen to it, all of you who worship here.   (Jeremiah 7:1, 2  TLB)

The message was not all that good.  Remember, the Temple was now back in use.  The Law was found again and was being taught.  Throngs of people came to the Temple, just like in the old days.  But God’s Word to the people was not a word of encouragement, but a word of warning to return to Him by changing their ways.  In other words, returning to the Temple was NOT the same thing as returning to Him.

You think that because the Temple is here, you will never suffer? Don’t fool yourselves! Do you really think that you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and worship Baal and all of those new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are saved!”—only to go right back to all these evil things again? Is my Temple but a den of robbers in your eyes? For I see all the evil going on in there.  (Jeremiah 7:8—11  TLB)

During Josiah’s day, returning to the Temple was THE thing to do because everybody was doing it.  However, many of those clamoring to get into the Temple were also visiting the other temples—temples of Baal.  These people wanted to have it all!  They wanted to worship Yahweh, but also Baal.  They wanted to be a part the believing class, but didn’t want to give up their sinful habits.  Their attitude, which may seem silly to us, was in reality a dangerous one.  They thought that just because the Temple was restored and a religious revival had broken out and the economy was doing well that God was happy with them, even while they continued to sin.  They believed God would just continue to bless them and protect them and that He was turning a blind eye to their sin.  They had completely deluded themselves into thinking they were saved.

Yet they were not.

Once again give them this message from the Lord: When a person falls, he jumps up again; when he is on the wrong road and discovers his mistake, he goes back to the fork where he made the wrong turn. But these people keep on along their evil path, even though I warn them.  I listen to their conversation and what do I hear? Is anyone sorry for sin? Does anyone say, “What a terrible thing I have done”? No, all are rushing pell-mell down the path of sin as swiftly as a horse rushing to the battle!   The stork knows the time of her migration, as does the turtledove, the crane, and the swallow. They all return at God’s appointed time each year; but not my people! They don’t accept the laws of God.  (Jeremiah 8:4—7  TLB)

So, things were bad in Judah in spite of what it looked like.  All those sins and idolatry were bad enough, but the worst thing of all was their rejection of God’s Word:

How can you say, “We understand his laws,” when your teachers have twisted them up to mean a thing I never said?  (Jeremiah 8:8  TLB)

And this is the biggest problem, not only in the church today, but in America as a whole.  In spite of Judah’s willful ignorance of God’s Law, they thought they were wise.  And it’s no different in America today.  We have enjoyed the blessings of a Godly heritage for generations, and we think they will continue because we “tip our hats to God” every now and again, and we open our ball games with a prayer, and our politicians talk about “God’s blessings.”  But, as we have seen, God wasn’t happy with His people merely because they crowded into the Temple while their hearts were far from Him, so what makes us think we’ll fare any better?   We have preachers twisting God’s Word out of all proportion so as to allow any and every sin; they never preach against anything for fear of offending their biggest givers.  We have a government making and enforcing ridiculous and often immoral laws because they are, by their own estimation, so much smarter than everybody else.  How are we any different from ancient Israel?  We deny God’s Word; we stubbornly refuse to do what it tells us, all the while talking about God’s presence among us and His blessings in our lives.  How deluded are we?  Do we really think God would put up with that kind of behavior for long?

Results

God is a God of love, yes.  However, He is also a God of righteousness and holiness and He demands those things from anybody who claims to be a believer.  Because of Judah’s continual sin and rebellion, God had no choice but to bring upon them the promised punishment, because He is also a God of justice.

Therefore I will give their wives to other men and their fields to new owners. From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.  (Jeremiah 8:10, 11  NIV)

Self-delusion plagued Judah and it’s a curse on American society today.  Like Judah of old, we are more concerned about our crops and grain than we are about our salvation.  We may have, for the moment at least, dencent retirement accounts and enviable lifestyles, but in the main most Americans can say along with the people of Judah, “We are not saved.”  It’s a pathetic place to find yourself:  more focused on the temporary things of this life than on your immortal soul.

The results of Judah’s pseudo-conversion were devastating.  Jerusalem was besieged.  Its inhabitants, suffering beyond measure, waited in vain for help to arrive, which it never did.  And it’s not like the Babylonian horde was a surprise to the people; prophet after prophet warned them that Nebuchadnezzar was closing in.  Time and again the people were opportunities to repent and “get saved.”

The questions we should all be asking ourselves are these:

Am I truly saved?  Only you can answer that question.  If someone were to ask you this question, you’d probably look at your questioner with a measure of contempt.  Yet the question must be answered:  Are you born again?  Or have you deluded yourself into thinking you’re saved?  Don’t let your present circumstances, good or bad, influence your answer.  It’s the state of your heart that’s important, not that of your bank account.  Have you experienced the life-changing power of Jesus Christ personally?  Is the Holy Spirit dwelling within you?  Many in the church today claiming to be Christians are, in fact, just very good people.  But they’re not saved.  They’ve never experienced the reality of the risen Lord.  How about you?

Where are you looking for salvation?  It’s heartbreaking to think of how many harvest times—how many golden opportunities have come your way, and you’ve not noticed.  Sermon after sermon; evangelist after evangelist; friend after friend; all these opportunities came your way, and you ignored them or brushed them off.  Where are you looking for salvation?  If you’re looking to your family, you’ll be disappointed.  If you are looking to your career, your education, your talents; all those things will not save you.  Only a relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ will save you.

Here’s the thing:  The salvation offered by God is great because He is a great God and He does so much for us. Sure, our entrance into Heaven for eternity is guaranteed; our sins are forgiven and we no longer have to worry about judgment and condemnation; for the first time ever, we may experience God’s agape love.  But our great salvation gives us a better today, not just tomorrow.  We may experience God’s richest blessings; His abundant provision; His personal care and protection; these are the wonderful benefits of salvation we may be enjoying today.  Everything you are looking for is found in one place:  Jesus Christ.  Get smart; get saved.

Our Great Salvation, 7

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Saved By His Life

 Romans 5:10

 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (NIV)

Hold on a second!  Weren’t we saved by His death?  What exactly was Paul saying here?  And to what life was he referring?  The life Jesus lived before the Cross?   The life He poured out on the Cross?  Or the life He is now living since the Cross?

Probably the best commentary on this one verse (also the shortest) comes from J. Vernon McGee, who simply wrote:

You see, He died down here to save us; He lives up yonder to keep us saved.

Who are we to argue with Dr. McGee?   Paul cannot be referring to the life Jesus lived before the Cross.  Nobody is saved by living like Jesus lived.  He left us a good example of how to live, but merely copying His example gets us nowhere.  In fact, if you try to copy how Jesus lived you’ll end up frustrated!   Without the benefit of salvation, nobody can come close to living the kind of life Jesus lived.

If we look at Romans 5, we can see that Paul is simply writing about the benefits of salvation.  We’ve been justified by faith, and we’re on our way to heaven, but there are some wonderful benefits available to believers in the here-and-now.  These benefits, by the way, are things that those who don’t believe spend a fortune trying to attain.  Even some believers are not appropriating these benefits for reasons that may make sense to them, but not to the Lord.  He makes these benefits available; they are free for the taking.  But He won’t force any of His children to enjoy them; it’s up to us to reach out and grab hold.

How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every blessing in heaven because we belong to Christ.  (Ephesians 1:3  TLB)

The benefit of PEACE

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… (NIV)

The very first item on Paul’s cornucopia of justification is peace.  Now, in a very real sense, peace is a blessing reserved for our future, as Paul mentioned already:

But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who obey him, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.  (Romans 2:10  TLB)

This future peace is something we as Christians can look forward to.  However, no less real is the possibility of real peace today; right now.  Prior to salvation, we were at odds with God; we were His real enemies.  In fact, all God’s work for us was done while we were His enemies.  He did not love us when we were loveable.  We were completely helpless, ungodly sinners when Jesus Christ died for us.  We were worse than passive sinners, actually.  We were His enemies.

But all that changed on the Cross!

It was through what his Son did that God cleared a path for everything to come to him—all things in heaven and on earth—for Christ’s death on the cross has made peace with God for all by his blood.  (Colossians 1:20  TLB)

There it is, in the past tense!  Christ’s death on the cross has MADE peace with God.  Thanks to His work on the Cross, God is no longer angry at man because man is no longer God’s enemy.

For Christ himself is our way of peace. He has made peace between us Jews and you Gentiles by making us all one family, breaking down the wall of contempt that used to separate us.  (Ephesians 2:14  TLB)

Real peace is available only when a sinner is made right with God.  Real peace doesn’t come from treaties or weapons or spending a fortune trying to find it, make it, preserve it, it or buy it.

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart! And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.  (John 14:27  TLB)

The benefit of ACCESS

… through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  (Romans 5:2a  TLB)

The word “access” means that now, unlike before, we are able to approach God in prayer.  Understand what this means:  the unbeliever doesn’t enjoy this privilege at all.  Unless he is praying the prayer of salvation, God doesn’t hear him.   It’s Jesus who has cleared the way for us to approach God; it’s Jesus who has, as it were, taken an unworthy sinner by the hand into the very throne room of God.

Now all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, may come to God the Father with the Holy Spirit’s help because of what Christ has done for us.   (Ephesians 2:18  TLB)

How unfortunate and sad it is that some Christians don’t take more advantage of this access to God.

The benefit of HOPE

Not long ago, Mark Steyn observed:

Hope is for losers. Hope is passive. Hope is lying on the floor hoping something turns up. Hope is like luck. It might show up. You might be walking down the street and $1 million may drop in your lap, but it’s highly unlikely to. Hope cannot achieve the impossible.

Of course, he’s talking about hope with no basis in fact.  The hope the Bible speaks of is different. Hope in the Bible is always linked to the work of God.  And hope in the Bible is not passive, but it’s active.

It [God’s grace] teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ…  (Titus 2:12, 13  NIV)

So hope in the Bible involves believers living right—living lives that glorify God—but looking ahead to a better future; a future full of the presence of Christ!

The world is looking for hope today.  Politicians run on platforms of “hope,” but, as Steyn remarked, that kind of “hope” is for losers.  This is why so many people are so restless today; the want hope; they need hope, yet they can’t find it.  The Christian, though, possesses a hope that doesn’t rest in any man or movement.  Our hope looks like this:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28  NIV)

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38, 39  NIV)

The benefit of TRIUMPH

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  (Romans 5:3, 4  NIV)

What Paul is describing here is perspective.  In Christ, we no longer view “our sufferings” the way we did before.  Now we “glory” or we have “joy” in them because we now know all “our sufferings” have a purpose.  They work to our benefit; they perfect our character in ways we can’t imagine.   Just look at the words associated with “sufferings” in these verses:  glory, perseverance, and hope.  All positive things!

It should be noted that while we may indeed have peace with God, we may not have peace with man.  We are still living in a world that is essentially hostile toward God, the things of God, and the people of God.  Sometimes those negative aspects of this world brush against us.  But we have the benefit of knowing that while the enemy of our soul may be trying to harm us, any trouble or suffering that comes near us actually benefits us.  We grow stronger and closer to God as we triumph over our sufferings.  The strength in us is brought out by trouble.

But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.  (Job 23:10  NIV)

The benefit of LOVE

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts…  (Romans 5:5a)

It’s not until the sinner finds Christ as Lord and Savior that he finds this love.  No man, save a Christian, may experience God’s love.  It’s foreign to us; God’s love is not naturally found in us; therefore, it must be poured INTO us!  And God’s love is not the same as human love; human love is often a caricature or parody of God’s love.  Think about it:  human love disappoints; it frustrates; sometimes it angers; occasionally it fails.  But God’s love never does any of those things because it’s perfect.  Shedd comments:

The Holy Spirit produces in the believer an immediate and overflowing consciousness that he is the object of God’s redeeming love, and this is the guarantee that hope will not disappoint him.

The love of God, that is, the reality of God has been poured into our hearts.  Since “God is love,” then, when we became believers He imparted something of His own nature to us!

The benefit of the HOLY SPIRIT

…the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.  (Romans 5:5b)

The Holy Spirit is the key; He is the One who makes all the present benefits of salvation real and He guarantees the future blessings will come to pass.  It was through the work of the Holy Spirit that, for example, God’s love was “poured out” into our hearts.  That phrase, “poured out,” refers to an inexhaustible supply.  In other words, God’s love never ends.  But it goes even further because the Holy Spirit mediates ALL the blessings found in Christ, which means all of His blessings never come to an end.  What a marvelous thought that is.  Here on earth, we say:  “All good things must come to an end.”  This is the nature of all aspects of human life:  they’re temporary.  No matter how hard we try to cling to the good things of this life, they disappear.  But the blessings—the benefits—of salvation are eternal.

The benefit of DELIVERANCE from wrath

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!  (Romans 5:9  NIV)

God’s love has been established; it’s been demonstrated in verses 6—8.  Since God has already done so much for us, we may reasonably expect Him to bring our salvation to it’s final consummation, and part of that is the fact that there is NO wrath coming at the believer from God.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…  (Romans 8:1  NIV)

What does it mean to be “saved from God’s wrath?”  It refers to our final deliverance from the last, great Judgment to come.  This is guaranteed, not by our good lives or conduct, but by our justification—by what God has done for us in Christ Jesus!

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!  (Romans 5:10  NIV)

The benefit of JOY

And all the preceding brings us to the final (for the purposes of this piece) benefit of our salvation:

And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.  (Romans 5:11  KJV)

This is much more powerful verse than it appears.  It means, among other things, that wherever you are, whatever you may be going through, you can rejoice in God.  You may not be able to rejoice in your health or in the state of your bank account, but you may rejoice in God.  You may find this hard to believe, depending in what state you may find yourself in today.  You may not feel like rejoicing in the least.   But the fact is, this joy is something that exists outside the sphere of this world, and functions independent of anything in.  This joy was put in you by the Holy Spirit as one of the fruit of the Spirit!  So, it’s there, and all you have to do access it, release it, and enjoy it.  But, like all of the benefits of our great salvation, it’s all up to you.  You choose whether to enjoy them or not.

Our Great Salvation, 6

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Saved by Losing, Matthew 16:25

For anyone who keeps his life for himself shall lose it; and anyone who loses his life for me shall find it again. (TLB)

Paradoxical words, indeed! But this wasn’t the first time Jesus said them:

If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will save it. (Matthew 10:39 TLB)

This verse forms part of one of the most significant sayings of Jesus that begins with verse 24:

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 TLB)

Jesus had been discussing His impending death with His disciples:

From then on Jesus began to speak plainly to his disciples about going to Jerusalem, and what would happen to him there—that he would suffer at the hands of the Jewish leaders, that he would be killed, and that three days later he would be raised to life again. (Matthew 16:21 TLB)

The thrust of Jesus’ words must have caught His followers off-guard. Not only must Christ face the Cross, but so must His disciples. If ever a teaching deals a death-blow to the “casual Christian” notion, it’s this section in Matthew. According to Jesus, there is no such thing as a “casual Christian.” If a person wants to follow Jesus—to take on His Name—they must do some pretty radical things. The servant is not above his master, and if Jesus, the Master, gave His all for us, then we must give our all TO Him and FOR Him. And the thing is, it’s not an option! Living your life means you must first lose it, because if you lose it for the sake of Christ, you’ll find it. That’s the essence of discipleship.

Let’s take a closer look at our Lord’s teaching on discipleship and see if we are ready to be His disciples.

Self-denial is the key

Even though Jesus is talking to His disciples here, the teaching is really for anybody the least bit interested in following Jesus:

If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 TLB)

Someone wrote: “Self denial are the words written over the gateway to the kingdom of God.” It’s a highly unpopular topic in our narcissistic society that tells us “we” are the most important person in our lives and that our needs are more important than anybody else’s. Apparently this was problem 2,000 years ago, too.

Verse 24 is actually spoken in rabbinical language, which makes sense since Jesus was a rabbi. A “disciple” is a “learner,” somebody who follows after another, learning from them. Traditionally, the disciple of a rabbi would leave home, his family and friends, and literally follow his rabbi.

Following Jesus, though, requires the ultimate in self-denial: one must literally disown one’s self. The Jews disowned the Messiah, but His followers must disown themselves. This act of self-denial is the highest form of humility. It involves seeing yourself as God sees you: a sinner in need of saving; a redeemed sinner in need of His constant care, provision, and direction. For the self-sufficient type, seeing yourself dependent on anybody is huge pill to swallow. It means admitting that you don’t have all the answers; that you don’t have all the resources; that you need Someone bigger than yourself to look after you.

Not only must believers assume that attitude, they must also “take up His cross.” That’s a difficult phrase to get a handle on, but essentially it means roughly what Paul wrote elsewhere:

Your old evil desires were nailed to the cross with him; that part of you that loves to sin was crushed and fatally wounded, so that your sin-loving body is no longer under sin’s control, no longer needs to be a slave to sin… (Romans 6:6 TLB)

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 TLB)

Taking up your cross” was supposed to have occurred the moment you claimed Christ as Savior, but it is also refers to a continuing characteristic of a disciple of Christ. It means being “dead to sin” in the sense that sin has no claim on you because, well, you’re dead to it. But it also means being “dead to yourself,” meaning you no longer live for yourself—you no longer live the way you may want to live; doing the things you may want to do. Now, you live for Christ; you do the things that He wants you to do.

The great disciple, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once made this important observation:

Discipleship means adherence to the person of Jesus, and therefore submission to the law of Christ which is the law of the cross.

Deny,” “take up,” and finally, “follow” Christ. That last word, “follow” is written in the present tense, meaning a continuous action. Yes, following Jesus is something Christians are supposed to be doing all the time, everyday of the week, not just on Sunday in church. Following Jesus is to be the lifelong ambition of all who call themselves “Christians.”

Letting go means hanging on

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matthew 16:25, 26 NIV)

Jesus’ logic is sure and unrelenting. If you want to follow Him, He insists on total commitment. This is something a lot of us have trouble with. But Jesus will not yield and concede ground to the “casusal Christian” on this point. If you can’t give Him your all, don’t waste your time with giving Him some.

Our Lord demands that the person following Him have the same commitment to Him that He has to them. Jesus has shown us how much He loves us and how much He is committed to us by suffering and dying for our sins. He gave His life for us! And this is what He expects from us. He is looking for people who would risk everything to be counted as one of His disciples.

Jesus really nails it with verse 26, driving His point straight through our hearts. Being good followers of Jesus is up to us. It is not something God will make happen in us. But Jesus makes it clear that “eternal life” is the reward for the good disciple. This reward is like the carrot dangling in front of the horse. It’s a motivation for the Christian: would you rather be in possession of all the so-called good things of this temporary life or would you rather be in possession of eternal life, which never goes away. The awful thing, though, is that the “things of this world,” temporary though they may be, have the capacity to rob you of the gift of eternal life. To this, Jesus says, “What good are all the things of this world if they can do that?” Well, the answer is they are not good at all; they are highly dangerous to the Christian. Many a believer has become a sloppy disciple because he became more interested in living for himself than living for Christ. And before you ask, you CANNOT do both at the same time.

That great troubadour for the Lord, Keith Green, wrote these powerful lyrics:

The world is sleeping in the dark
That the church just can’t fight
Cause it’s asleep in the light
How can you be so dead
When you’ve been so well fed
Jesus rose from the grave
And you, you can’t even get out of bed!

The church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century finds itself, not asleep in the light, but comatose in the light! The words of Jesus have never been more urgently needed because we have a generation of Christians who do not understand the value of their own soul. Spurgeon knew well the worth of his soul:

Nothing can be compared with eternal life. The soul’s value cannot be estimated by ordinary reckonings. Worlds on worlds were a poor price. “What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” Barter is out of the question. His soul is so a man’s soul inheritance that if he has lost it, he has lost all.

Today’s Christians have no concept of this. We barely have a concept of what the soul is, let alone its worth.

If we want to care for our souls; if we are concerned about our eternal destination, we must let go of our lives here. That doesn’t mean we live recklessly or fail to plan for the future. But it does mean that keep an eye on eternal values and not get all caught up on the temporal.

Another motivation

Eternal life is seen by Jesus as a good motivator for being a sold-out disciple. That’s what we may call a “positive motivator.” But there is a “negative motivator” for those not moved by that positive one:

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matthew 16:27 NIV)

This verse means exactly what it says, so don’t read more into it. Entrance into or exclusion from Heaven depends wholly on the grace of God. Salvation is wholly by grace, through faith. You cannot earn salvation in any way, and that is not what this verse is saying.

Verse 27 teaches that there will be degrees of punishment and degrees glory or reward, and each will be based upon two considerations:

(1) How much knowledge an individual posses.

All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

(2) How faithful an individual has been. A person’s faithfulness is manifested by how he has lived his life—what he has “done” with the knowledge of God he possesses. You can measure a person’s faithfulness to God; it will be apparent if you look at how he lives his life and the things he has done.

That’s definitely “negative motivation!” And yet, in a sense, it is also positive at the same time. If you let go of your life, you will get it back and then some. There are rewards waiting for the one who practices good discipleship.

The cross is the emblem—the symbol—of our faith. Some people like to wear a cross around their neck, others as cuff links or lapel pins. The jewelry of the cross doesn’t do anybody any good. The cross must be emblazoned on our hearts if it is to mean anything. The world is worth nothing to the person whose soul is lost and no price can redeem the lost soul.

The Lord is calling us to a deeper, more committed walk with Him. It’s not easy, and most of us won’t be very consistent. But if we want to please the One who holds our souls in the balance, we must put forth the effort. Every day.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Philippians 2:12 NIV)

Our Great Salvation, 5

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Saved by Washing, Titus 3:5

according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost…

Truth be told, nobody is saved simply by washing. Paul is not talking about Godliness being linked to cleanliness. In fact, we are saved “by the washing of regeneration and renewing.” How do those two things, regeneration and renewing, save us? Let’s take a closer look at what Paul was trying say to Titus. It all starts with some obligations…

Being civil

Remind your people to obey the government and its officers, and always to be obedient and ready for any honest work. They must not speak evil of anyone, nor quarrel, but be gentle and truly courteous to all. (Titus 3:1, 2 TLB)

There’s just no way around it: Christians have a duty to government. You may not like your governing authorities, but you have a duty to be obedient to them; that is, to obey the laws of the land. Paul’s complete philosophy of government is found in Romans 13:1—7, but it begins with the idea that the state is given its authority by God Himself.

Obey the government, for God is the one who has put it there. There is no government anywhere that God has not placed in power. (Romans 13:1 TLB)

That admonition, however, must be tempered with something Paul wrote in the previous chapter:

Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible. (Romans 12:18 TLB)

The words “anyone” and “everybody” mean just that: it is the obligation of Christians to live at peace with “anyone” and “everybody,” and that includes the government. But there is a caveat. Christians are to be at peace with “anyone” and “everybody” but only “as much as possible.” In other words, there may be times when things like civil disobedience are the only way for a Christian to respond to their government. The Christian has every right to resist any governing authority that attempts to, for example, stifle freedom of worship or silence the preaching of the Gospel because it is not possible for a Christian to obey such laws for they are opposed to God’s law for the Christian.

So, with that caveat in mind, we understand Paul’s advice to the Cretan Christian to be general in nature. At this time in history, the Cretan government was no in any way oppressing Christians, therefore, being “good citizens” was a practical demonstration of their salvation.

An interesting point to observe is that the phrase “obey the government” or “to be subject” in the NIV, is written in the middle-voice infinitive, a fancy way of saying Christian obedience or subjection to the government is completely voluntary. In other words, the Christian understands that while he may be a citizen of Heaven and subject to the Laws of Heaven, as long as he is living temporarily on earth, he will voluntarily abide by the laws of the land as long as those laws do not contradict the Laws of Heaven.

The same admonition holds for citizenship in general. Christians should be ready to participate in activities that make their community (even their country) a better place to live. The NIV’s translation captures this perfectly:

be ready to do whatever is good…

Whatever is good” may include such things as running for public office or taking an active role in the decision-making process of your local municipality. Some Christians cringe at this; they think believers should withdraw from society and not be a part of it. Jesus taught that we should be “in the world” but “not of it.” But He did not mean that we should stand apart from the rest of society.  The reality is, part of “being a light in the darkness” is to show just how positive and constructive Christianity truly is as a force for good in society. Christians need to be informed and engaged.

Christians also have a duty toward their unsaved neighbors. We are to be careful how we talk to them and be aware of our attitude in general when we are in their company. It’s not always easy for the Christian to treat the unsaved in humility and grace, but if we want to exhibit the character of Christ, then we must.

Motivation

Why should Christians be such exemplary citizens? Is it because we’re such nice people? Is it because we love our country more than non-Christians do and we are, therefore, more patriotic? Not at all!

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient; we were misled by others and became slaves to many evil pleasures and wicked desires. Our lives were full of resentment and envy. We hated others and they hated us. (Titus 3:3 TLB)

Non-Christians are, by definition: foolish, disobedient, misled, slaves to sin, full of resentment, envy, and hatred. That’s how Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, describes the unsaved. It’s shocking, isn’t it? Christians, by virtue of their relationship with Christ, are the opposite; we are: wise, obedient, led by God, freed from sin, generous, gracious, and loving. And this is why we are supposed to be the best citizens in our communities; full of integrity and well-spoken of. Now, if we break this down, we discover that our motivation is two-fold.

First, our past dictates how we act now. Once we were just as bad and as lost as the unsaved are. But now we are Christlike; we are to act in a way that is opposite to the way the unsaved do. Once we acted foolishly, now we are to act wisely. Once we were disobedient, now we are to be obedient. Once we were easily led astray, now we have discernment. Once we couldn’t help but sin, now we can just say “NO” to sin. Once we were full of resentment and envy and we hated those whom we thought had a better life than we, but now we are gracious and compassionate, and we are able to love all people in Christ. Christ changed us from the inside out! The way we used to be is not the way we are now.

Second, our salvation has changed us in remarkable ways. Our salvation was a real event in history:

But when the time came for the kindness and love of God our Savior to appear, then he saved us… (Titus 3:4, 5a TLB)

Our salvation is why our lives must have changed. We cannot be the same person we were before Christ saved us. Our behavior cannot have remained the same. The change in our lives—spiritual and otherwise—is a work of grace in God. In His plan, at a specific time of His choosing, He intervened in our personal stream of history to radically change us. For the first time ever, our eyes flickered open and we saw the reality of God: He is full of kindness and love. It’s a difficult phrase to translate, but this revealed “kindness and love of God” relates to His enduring affection for man. God loves us; He cares about and for us. Our word “philanthropy” comes from this phrase. And this is why He sent Christ into the world, and this is what we see when we are saved.

Our salvation—and indeed God’s feeling of affection toward us—is not at all based on us our our merits.

not because we were good enough to be saved but because of his kindness and pity… (Titus 3:5b TLB)

Consider what Paul says here: He—God—saved us. This is the historic fact of what He did for us and to us. Once we were NOT saved, but now ARE saved. The aorist tense indicates a past act; God did something for us and in  us and we NOW possess salvation. It is incomplete, awaiting its fulfillment in the future at Christ’s return, but we do possess salvation. And because He did this for us, we have been changed; something has been added to us. We now possess salvation and we have experienced His lovingkindness, and that has to impact how we treat others.

Finally, we read this:

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit… (Titus 3:5c NIV)

This is a powerful, two-pronged statement. This is: (1) how he saved us, and (2) how we are able to live the way Paul says we should. God’s salvation was mediated to us “through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” It is utterly impossible for any man to save himself; God has to do the saving—God does the “washing.” A man does not clean himself up, preparing himself to be saved! He comes to Christ, “just as he is, without one plea.” God washes Him—God cleanses the sinner from the defilement of sin. It is God that does the work of rebirth or regeneration. This is a ministry of the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit takes the lead and He proceeds to make the sinner clean—to make him holy. “The washing of rebirth,” or as Paul said elsewhere—

When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! (1 Corinthians 5:17 TLB)

makes the redeemed sinner into a “brand new person,” or a “new creation.” And a new person does not act the same way as the old person did because he is living a new and different life. That’s why a believer’s behavior must be exemplary—because he is a new and better person.

But how is this possible? This is where the “renewal by the Holy Spirit” comes in. A variant of this word, renewal, is found in Romans 12:2—

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)

Paul urged believers to “be transformed” by changing their habitual ways of thinking. Now, mark this carefully. “Regeneration” is completely a work of God. It is God who does this for the sinner and in the sinner. A repentant sinner does not regenerate his life. A repentant sinner received his new life from God. But, renewal is a little different. While it is a work of the Holy Spirit in the believer, the believer must work in concert with the Holy Spirit—he must co-operate with the Holy Spirit. And this is why Paul spends so much time admonishing believers to live in such-and-such a way; to stop lying and stealing and so on. Living exemplary lives—living as good citizens—living the good life—requires an effort. Changing the way you think takes work. “Renewal” requires the conscious, continued surrender of man’s will to God’s.

Conclusion

Our former state—the person we used to be—is over and done with. Our new life is well under way; the blessings of that new life have been received. And now, in verse 7, the result and the purpose of the blessings of our new life are given:

having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (NIV)

Just to make it clear, Paul makes sure that his readers—both Titus and us—understand that we were saved, we have been born again, NOT for the purpose of making our country or our community better places in which to live. Those are purely secondary results of our salvation. We have been made new creatures so that we may become heirs of the Kingdom and have the hope of eternal life.  We  have been completely and eternally justified by God.


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