After some of the hurricanes in the southern United States, we have seen images of people, like that above, of people who were stranded and waiting for help. The man in this picture clearly cannot help himself, is in great trouble and needs someone to rescue him.
That is the bottom line of salvation. We are in great trouble, need help and God has provided it. This morning, we will examine what our confession of faith says about salvation.
Please read the confession of faith article with me. We believe people are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The basis of this salvation is Christ’s life, His atoning death and His resurrection. Justification, the new birth and the transformed life come about through repentance and faith in Christ. His atonement covers children until they reach the age of accountability (II Samuel 12:22-23; Matthew 18:1-14; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 24:47; John 1:9-13; 3:3-8, 15-18; Acts 4:12; 20:21; Ephesians 2:1-10; James 2:14-24).
We believe it is the privilege of all Christians to know that they have passed from death to life and that God can keep them from falling. Faith and obedience are essential in maintaining this assurance and growth in grace (John 8:31-32; Romans 8:14-17; Galatians 3:11; II Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 1:5-11; I John 3:14; 5:13).
Greg stated it well last week. He presented to us the fact that we are desperately in need of help.
The first thing we need help with is that we are sinners. The Bible says in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” We are not what God intended us to be and we miss what God has for us because of our sin. We are under the power of sin and don’t seem to be able to get out from under it. At its core, sin is rebellion against God. When we rebel against the one who made the world and created us, we miss out on the blessing of being in tune with the creation and the creator. Our pride and self centeredness drag us deeply into sin and its consequences.
The biggest consequence of sin is death. The Bible says in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…” Since we are all sinners, we will all die. No matter how well we eat or exercise, we will all die. We can’t escape that and we need help.
It is a desperate situation.
Good news! God has provided a solution. Our confession of faith speaks about salvation and that “The basis of this salvation is Christ’s life, His atoning death and His resurrection.” At the centre of the help God has provided is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only way by which we can overcome the power of sin and the power of death. Acts 4:12 tells us that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” What did Jesus do to bring this salvation?
Salvation was accomplished by “…Christ’s life, His atoning death and His resurrection.”
What did the life of Jesus accomplish towards salvation?
First of all, the life of Jesus was lived on earth. That speaks of the incarnation, the coming of God to earth in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. The story often told at Christmas time communicates it so well. A man who was not a believer sat at home one evening as his family went to church for the Christmas program. During this time, a storm began to blow up and all of a sudden he noticed that a group of sparrows was flying against the window trying to get into the house and out of the storm. He went out and opened the door of the shed and tried to shoo the birds into it so that they would be protected from the storm. As soon as he tried to do that, they flew in all directions. He wished that he could become a bird so that he could communicate his help to them. At that moment, he suddenly understood the message of Christ coming to earth. God has come to us in order to help us.
His life also saves us in that he lived it perfectly. The life of Christ was without sin and as such was a radical departure from anything we see or expect in our world. The whole world is steeped in sin, it is permeated by it and all aspects of society are influenced by sin so that we cannot conceive of life apart from it. When Jesus came into the world, he was something entirely different. He was not at all permeated by sin and did not live according to the assumptions of sin. Thus in His life we see what God is like, we understand how God wants us to live, He showed us the perfection of holiness. He did not have a veil of righteousness over a body of sin. He began with sinlessness at his core and manifested it in all aspects of his being. He saved us because He lived a pure and holy life and so became a pure and perfect sacrifice for sin.
Above all, Jesus saved us by becoming a sacrifice for sin by His death on the cross. II Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” That verse picks up on the righteous life of Jesus and shows how that righteous life became a sin offering for us. Jesus died on the cross in our place. Because he was perfect and innocent, he did not die for his own sins, but for ours. He took our place so that we might become what God wanted us to be in the first place.
Jesus also saved us by His resurrection. I Corinthians 15:20-22 says, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” God demonstrated acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross by raising Him from the dead and because He did he made it possible for us to follow in his way and live. Eternal life is assured because Christ rose from the dead.
These are the things which Jesus did, but what did Jesus accomplish through what He did? We most often speak of what He accomplished as salvation or the new birth, but there are numerous ways of speaking about what Jesus accomplished.
The word salvation helps us understand one aspect of what God has done for us. It reminds us that we were in trouble and that God helped us become free from that trouble. We weren’t only a little bit in trouble. Ephesians 2:1 says, “you were dead in your transgressions and sins.” The passage goes on to say that “God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, it is by grace you have been saved.” What a blessing to know that there is a way out of the desperate situation we are in! That is salvation.
Another way of speaking of what God has done is to realize that our sins have been atoned for. Romans 3:25 says, “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” The imagery of atonement comes from the Old Testament in which we learn that sin must be covered by a sacrifice. Jesus made that sacrifice once for all so that we would no longer be under sin, but that our sin would be atoned for, or covered.
Justification gives us another way of looking at what God has done. Justification emphasizes freedom from the guilt that is ours before God. Because we are guilty, there is no hope, we are under His wrath. But God has sent Jesus and through His death and resurrection, we are made right with God. We are not guilty any more. Romans speaks much about this. Romans 3:24 says, “and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 5:1 goes on to say, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Another wonderful way of looking at what Jesus accomplished is in the word reconciliation. If the essence of sin is that we have disobeyed and rejected God, becoming His enemies, then it is wonderful to know that God has made us friends again. Colossians 1:20-22 says, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.”
The other common way of speaking about what God has done is with the idea of the new birth. When Jesus met with Nicodemus and told him “you must be born again” Nicodemus had no idea what he was speaking about. Today, it is common to speak of being born again, especially in North American evangelicalism, but I wonder if everyone who speaks about the new birth really understands what that means any better than Nicodemus did? New birth means that God has come into our life. It means that we are no longer in charge of our life, God is. It means that we live now by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus meant when he said “you must be born again” and explained by speaking about being “born of the Spirit.” Why is it that people claim to be born again, but look so much like they did before? When we are born of the Spirit, God’s Spirit must be evidently present in our life.
Jesus accomplished salvation, atonement, justification, reconciliation and new birth for us, but what he accomplished is not just to be known about or talked about, it must be embraced, it must become ours.
Our confession of faith says, “We believe people are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Justification, the new birth and the transformed life come about through repentance and faith in Christ.”
There are different words used to describe what we need to do in order to receive what Jesus has accomplished. What is clear is that a response is required. Each one of us must respond to what Jesus did.
One part of what we must do is that we must repent. One misconception is that we have to be really bad before we can repent. Closely related is that there may be some who have nothing to repent of. Neither of these ideas is true. If the core of sin is disobedience to God and self-centeredness, then all of us have something to repent of. Repentance means that we agree with God that we have done things our way and not His way and that we will turn from that. The Bible speaks of repentance often. In Acts 3:19 Peter was preaching the first gospel message after the coming of the Holy Spirit and told the people, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” According to II Peter 3:9 we learn that repentance is God’s will when it says, ”The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Have you repented?
The second thing that we must do is to believe. Faith is the means of receiving reconciliation, salvation, the new birth. The Bible speaks often about the need for faith. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Many other verses also speak about faith. There are two things we need to know about faith. One is that faith has an object. We can not blankly speak about faith. Whenever we speak about faith, it must be “faith in” something. The content of faith is that Jesus is the Son of God who came to this earth to die on the cross and rise again and that He can forgive our sins and give us eternal life. The second thing we need to know about faith is that it is not something we do, but something we put our hope in. Faith is not a work, it is letting God do the work. It is an act of resting in what Jesus has accomplished. Do you believe?
Another way of speaking about our part is that we need to receive Christ. This idea comes from John 1:12 which says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Once again we are encouraged that God has done it and we need to receive what He has done as a gift of grace.
If this is the only way out of this desperate situation, one question that has troubled many believers is, “what about children?” There are churches who believe that children must be baptized and that the act of baptism is essential for salvation. Others believe that it is necessary for a child to become a member of the community of faith. They look at the imagery of circumcision in the Old Testament which allowed a person to become a member of the people of God. It is understood that when they became older, children will embrace faith themselves. As Anabaptists, we look at things differently. We believe that “His atonement covers children until they reach the age of accountability.”
This thinking comes from several passages of Scripture. It comes first of all from silence. The gospel is very clear – we need to respond to God’s offer, but nowhere in Scriptures does it say what to do when a child is too young to make that choice. If God has not clearly communicated what to do, then we should not invent things. It is clear that God wants children to be saved. Matthew 18:14 says, “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” It is God’s intention for “little ones” to be saved. Since that is true, we trust the grace of God to do what is right. We understand that a just and gracious God will save children who do not understand yet. We believe that He knows when a child is old enough to understand and accept or reject Him. Besides that, we also accept the Scripture found in Matthew 18 which indicates that children are much quicker to respond to the gift of God than adults.
These are the promises of God that if we repent, believe and receive Christ, we are saved. Yet we come from a church background which at one time was not so sure about this. You may know some who have really struggled to have assurance of salvation. I have spoken to more than one of the older church members and learned that even though for the last forty or fifty years they have been told that they can have assurance of salvation, the teaching they received in their earlier days still has an impact on them and causes them to doubt that assurance.
Our confession of faith says, “We believe it is the privilege of all Christians to know that they have passed from death to life and that God can keep them from falling.” Let me encourage you once again with what the Scripture says. The Bible is very clear that we can know for sure that we have had our sins forgiven and been given eternal life.
When Romans 5:1 says that “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” we know that we have assurance of salvation. Justification is through faith and the result is peace. If we do not know, then we cannot have peace, but since we have been justified through faith, we have peace and therefore we know that our sins are forgiven.
There are two that bear witness to assurance of faith, the Spirit and the Word.
Romans 8:16 indicates that “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” The Spirit of God who indwells us gives us assurance. If you do not have the witness of the Spirit of God within you giving you that assurance, I would encourage you to first of all review that you have repented and believed and then I would encourage you to pray that God’s Spirit will confirm to you that you are forgiven and accepted.
The Scripture confirms what the Spirit affirms. I John 5:13 reminds us that the Bible is written so that we can know. There we read, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
The questioning of assurance comes from the understanding which we have as Mennonites that if you are a Christian, it ought to show in your life. Of course, that thinking has sometimes been taken to an extreme. The thinking has sometimes been that if you don’t live in a certain way, then you are not a Christian. It has resulted in practices of discipline which made it seem like the entire job of keeping people on the straight and narrow was in the hands of the church. It wasn’t long before the church did not look like the Christian faith any more, but began to look like a legalistic religion. The residue of that kind of thinking is hard to shake off and there are still some elements of that kind of thinking among us.
What has happened in North American Christianity is an opposite kind of thing. People speak about being born again, about being a Christian, but what they seem to mean is that they have had a conversion experience in which they went forward in a crusade and they believe that their salvation is secure and they can live as they please knowing that they have gone forward.
Our confession of faith speaks to these things when it says, “Faith and obedience are essential in maintaining this assurance and growth in grace.” What does that mean?
Ephesians 2:10 brings these things together. It reminds us that we were dead in our transgressions and sins. It gives the good news that we are objects of God’s mercy and have been forgiven and given eternal life. It assures us that we have been raised with Christ and seated in the heavenly realms with Christ by the grace of God and not by our works, but it also reminds us that all of this has happened so that we will do good works.
The whole thing has to do with the understanding that the work of salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit. If we have embraced an intellectual truth that Jesus is the Son of God, but have not given our heart to Him, we have missed the point. Being born again means that God has come into our life and changed our heart from the inside. When our heart is changed, our life will also change. The new life is not a life in which we go forward at a crusade and then become obsessed with doing everything right so that we do not lose what we have been given. It is a matter of recognizing that we have been changed by the power of the Spirit of God and our obedience to God is a response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. It means that the power to do God’s will is now within us.
Obedience is still important and becomes a life of discovering the great ways in which God is leading us and letting us truly live, but the power for obedience comes from within, from the Holy Spirit. So when we are tempted to sin, we have the power to resist. When we doubt our salvation, we can call Satan a liar and refuse to listen to those voices. When we sin, we can repent and receive forgiveness and go on in righteousness with a clean slate.
Simply put, when we are Christians, we live a life of love and obedience to God by the power of the Spirit, with a clean slate every day and the assurance of acceptance with God. What a difference that makes!
This is the good news of salvation. This is what we believe in this church about what God has done for us. It is clear that such a message requires a response.
Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God who has come to earth to die for your sins and rise again to assure your salvation? If you do not, I invite you to receive Christ today.
Do you know that you have been saved? If you doubt it, I invite you to accept the witness of the Spirit and the witness of the Word that you can know.
Do you live in the life God’s salvation promises? If not, I invite you to accept the renewal God wants to bring into your life.