By Pastor Glenn Pease
My father used to say that he had a piece of meat that was so tough it was like trying to eat shoe leather. I doubt that he ever knew that there was a time when Americans actually ate shoe leather. It was back in the year 1610 in the first English settlement called the Virginia Colony. The experiment had gone from bad to worse and the people had consumed all of their hogs, sheep, goats, and the few horses they had. Next went the dogs, cats, and even the rats and field mice. It is surprising how starvation cures the fussy eater. They dug up roots and everything eatable, and finally they came to the end of the line. There was nothing left but their shoes, belts, straps and leather covers of their books. These were boiled and eaten.
Obviously such a diet left them weak and some of them just froze to death as they lay in their beds. In nine months they went from a population of 480 down to just 60. You can imagine the thrill that came to those 60 starving people when they saw a ship on the horizon. The ship was aptly named Deliverance, for had it not arrived when it did all would have been dead in just a few more days. This deliverance of the people of Jamestown was a turning point for the colony, and it went on to play role in our nation's history. These people were saved, not for eternity, but for time, and this becomes an example of secular salvation. Secular means pertaining to time and flesh in this world. It is in contrast to that which is eternal and spiritual.
We may not think that secular salvation is of any great importance because it is only temporal and does not settle our eternal destiny. But the Bible makes a great deal of secular salvation. Paul was one of the major benefactors of God's providential secular deliverance. Paul was saved by Jesus forever, but he was saved by Roman soldiers for time, and this secular salvation was vital to God's total plan of eternal salvation. By means of these soldiers Paul's life was spared so that he could witness to leaders all the way up to Caesar in Rome. Because he lived he was able to write letters, which have carried the Gospel of eternal salvation into all the world. Because Paul experienced secular salvation,
millions have experienced sacred salvation of their eternal souls by means of his letters.
Secular salvation is not small part of God's purpose in history. It runs all through the Bible, and yet we seldom think of it. The result is that we fail to see the hand of God in the secular world, and we miss much for which we should be grateful. In this message we want to focus on two aspects of this theme. First let's look at-
I. INSTRUMENT OF SECULAR SALVATION.
The instrument of sacred and eternal salvation is Jesus Christ. There is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved. No man comes to the Father but by Him. Jesus is the sole instrument by which any person can be saved eternally. But when it comes to the level of secular salvation God uses some surprising instruments.
In Paul's case he was a Christian being saved from death by a non-Christian. It was the Romans to the rescue, and this word rescue is a key Bible word for secular salvation. The Greek word is exaireo, and it was used by the Roman Commander who saved Paul from being beaten to death. In Acts 23:27 this commander used the word in a letter he wrote to Governor Felix explaining what happened. He wrote, "This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him.."
Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, who carried the message of salvation in Christ to them is now being saved on the secular level by a Gentile. From this point on in his life Paul is dependant upon Gentiles for his survival. Felix, Festus, or Agrippa could have turned him over to the Jews and he would have been immediately executed, but they spared him. On his way to Rome another Roman soldier spared Paul's life. Paul was only saved for eternity once, but he was saved for time over and over again. In Acts 28 a poisonous viper bite Paul and everyone expected him to die, but he experienced another example of secular salvation. Paul was being saved over and over by government officials and the providence of God.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery in Prisoners Of The Land tells of his ill-fated flight from Paris to Saigon in 1935. They crashed in the Libyon Desert of North Africa. He and his mechanics survived, but they had only a little food and water. On the 5th day of walking their hope was almost gone, and death was near. Then suddenly they found footprints and their hope was rekindled. They followed them and saw a Bedouin way ahead on a dune. They shouted, but they were so hoarse and dry it was but a whisper. All they could do was stare and hope he would turn and look back. If he did not do so, they would die. Life or death was to be determined by a mere turn of the head. Slowly the Arab made a right angle turn so that all he had to do was look to the side and see them. He did so and their lives were spared. They said he came like a god across the waves to create new life.
This is a case of secular salvation by one who had compassion to come to the rescue of dying men. God has used many instruments for saving men on this level, and quite often they are not necessarily godly people. A saint may be saved by a sinner on this level of salvation. In Acts 7:10 this same Greek word for rescue is used of Joseph. His brothers threw him into a cistern where he would have died in a few days, but some Midianite merchants came by and this motivated the brothers to pull him out and sell him to them as a slave. God used these secular merchants to save the life of Joseph, which led him to a place where he saved his entire family, and ultimately the Jewish race. It was all a matter of secular salvation, but it was a vital part of his plan for eternal salvation.
In Acts 7:34 this same Greek word is used of saving Israel out of Egypt. That was one of the greatest works of God in the Old Testament, but it was never the less a secular salvation. Their deliverance only saved them from Egyptian oppression. There sin in the wilderness led most of them to perish. They were not even saved in time from judgment. It was just a temporal rescue that led to a whole new history. It was like the saving of Noah and his family on the Ark. It was crucial for God's plan, but it was only a secular salvation.
God choose Cyrus the king of Persia to rescue his people of captivity in Babylon, and then send them back to Israel to rebuild the temple. In Isa. 44 and 45 Cyrus is called by God, "My shepherd and the anointed." God used this secular pagan ruler to deliver His people. God can and does use secular instruments to accomplish His purpose. This is not His only tool for secular salvation, but it is common. Jesus is our only Savior of the soul was also a secular Savior. The word for saved is used to refer to the healing ministry of Jesus. He saved many people from sickness and death. This did not save them for eternity. Nine of the ten lepers He healed didn't even return to say thanks. They were saved from leprosy, but not from sin, and so they merely experienced Jesus as a secular Savior. That is a wonderful deliverance, but it is no substitute for eternal life.
People can get so caught up in healing and miracles, and in being saved from poverty and other problems that they neglect the greater salvation of their souls. Secular salvation is precious, but it is not the Gospel. It will not save from sin and give eternal life, and so it must always be kept in balance lest we reduce our Sovereign and Sacred Savior to the level of a mere secular Savior. God can use anybody to save on this level, just as He used a Roman soldier to save Paul. We do not want to minimize secular salvation, for the whole point of this message is to bring its significance to our attention. On the other hand, it can be promoted to the point where that is the only salvation that matters. And people can be blest with a better life, but left to die in sin with no Savior of their eternal soul.
Secular salvation is the foundation for the very popular health and wealth gospel that is being preached in our day. To reject it is to reject the reality of secular salvation, which we have seen is clearly biblical. But to focus on it exclusively is to preach another gospel, for secular salvation is not the Gospel of Christ. The Gospel is that we, even though fallen sinners, can be rescued and reconciled to God and have eternal life because Jesus died for our sins and rose again from the dead and conquered death. By trusting him as our Savior we can have eternal life freely given to us by the grace of God. This is the only eternal Gospel.
Secular salvation is a delight, but there is nothing exclusive about it. Secular salvation happens to non-believers as well as believers. Barabbas was saved when the people cried out for Jesus to be crucified rather than him. Non-Christians experience secular salvation all the time. They are rescued from danger, disease, and every bad thing you can imagine. It was not only Paul that was saved from violence, for many in the empire were saved from injustice because of Roman law. Secular salvation does not depend on the beliefs of the people being rescued. Secular salvation is what we get when we go to the doctor and get medicine or surgery that saves our lives, and this is available to all people, even the atheist. Anyone can be saved in this sense.
In the city of Lystra Paul spoke to the pagans there and refers to God's secular salvation as a basis to get them to listen to the Gospel. In Acts 14:17 we read, "Yet he has not left himself without a witness. He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." Here are pagans who have experienced secular salvation by the providence of God in nature and history. The grace of God is universal in this realm of secular salvation. Everyone is saved in some way on this level. Sometimes Christians think that the non-Christian cannot experience true joy, but this is not so, for God makes joy a part of secular salvation that anyone can experience.
Secular salvation is one of the wonders of the world and the more we see it the more we will glorify God for his grace, mercy and love for all people. All salvation is to make us exalt the God of all salvation. He is the ultimate instrument of all secular salvation. He can and does use all kinds of worldly instruments to achieve his goals. He uses pagan kings, Roman soldiers, and every secular instrument you can think of. Jesus used his body to be a Secular Savior. When Peter began to sink in the water and cried out for help, Jesus grabbed him and saved him from drowning in the stormy sea. He was already saved for eternity, but his eternal salvation would not have saved him from drowning had Jesus not put out his hand to rescue him. He needed salvation of his body for time as well as salvation of his body and soul for eternity.
We need to realize that each of us can be instruments of secular salvation. In James 5:15 we read, "The prayer of faith shall save the sick.." The word here for save is the same as that used for the salvation from sin, and the one used to describe those lost that Jesus came to save. Secular salvation is real salvation, and it is precious, and we can be a part of it. By our prayers we may be a key factor in the salvation of people for time and eternity. We are all partners with the Savior in the saving business. He alone can save for eternity, but we can be partners in saving people for time, and in getting them to trust him so they can be save for eternity. God used a whale to save Jonah, and he can use any of us to save others on the secular level. Next we want to look at-
II. THE IMPORTANCE OF SECULAR SALVATION
We have already made it clear that Paul needed to be saved on the secular level so that he could be alive to communicate the good news of salvation on the sacred and eternal level. God keeps his servants alive by means of secular salvation so they can be instruments of eternal salvation. In 1906 a young man woke up to discover that his house was sinking. He quickly gathered some of his possessions and stepped out of his second story window on to the sidewalk. It had already sunk that far. He made his way through falling and burning buildings for 7 miles. Many died in this earthquake and there was 400 million in damage to property, but R. G. LeTourneau was spared, and he went on to become a millionaire for Christ. He has used his fortune to spread the Gospel all over the world. His secular salvation has led to eternal salvation for many people. He was spared several other times from certain death, but he survived to spread the grace of God to millions.
Nobody experiences secular salvation perpetually. Even God's best servants die, and even Paul was not spared from a martyrs death in the end, but each experience of secular salvation should make us see the importance of making life count for Christ and eternity. The more dangerous the calling of God is, the more we need to experience secular salvation. Those in high risk ministry need it more often. David Livingston needed to be saved almost daily in his exploration of the wilds of Africa. On one occasion he looked off to his side just as a lion was leaping at him.
Let him describe this frightening experience: "He caught my shoulder as he sprang, and we both cam to the ground together. Growling horribly close to my ear, he shook me as a terrier dog does a rat. The shock produced a stupor similar to that which seems to be felt by a mouse after the first shake of a cat. Turning around to relieve myself of the weight, as he had one paw on the back of my head, I saw his eyes directed to Mebalwe, who was trying to shoot him at a distance of ten or fifteen yards. His gun, a flint one, missed fire in both barrels; the lion immediately left me, and, attacking Mebalwe, bit his thigh. Another man, whose life I had saved before, after he had been tossed by a buffalo, attempted to spear the lion while he was biting Mebalwe. He left Mebalwe and caught this man by the shoulder, but at that moment the bullets he had received took effect, and he fell down dead."
This could have been the end of the line for Livington, but he was spared. Later he was urged to go back to England to share his mission work, but he declined. The ship he would have been on went down with great loss of life. He was again spared to go on and open up Africa for the Gospel, and many came to experience eternal life in Christ. Secular salvation has often been basic to eternal salvation. You have to stay alive to be used of God to bring the message of eternal life. Without secular salvation the many great stories of those who risked all to get the Gospel to others would not exist. Many millions have been saved for eternity because of others who were blest with secular salvation that spared them so they could carry the Gospel to foreign lands.
The greatest example of secular salvation and its importance is Jesus Christ himself. He had to be spared from death long enough to get to the point where he could die on the cross as our sacrifice for sin. If Herod would have killed him as a baby like he tried to do there would have been no Savior to die for us. Jesus had to use his supernatural power in his ministry to walk away from those who would throw him off a cliff and end his life. Jesus needed secular salvation to get to the point where he could be the Savior of the eternal souls of men. He finally had to give up being saved like this, however, and face the cross. He prayed to be saved from this hour in Gethsemane, but then surrendered to the Father's will. He had to stop being saved on the secular level and surrender to the cross for our eternal salvation. But he never would have gotten there without experiencing secular salvation.
Secular salvation gets nobody into heaven, but it is often the stepping-stone on the way to eternal salvation. Every time we experience secular salvation we are given the opportunity to do for Christ what we could not do if we were not so spared. In Acts 27 we read of one of the most spectacular secular salvation stories in the Bible. Paul and 275 other men are caught in a typhoon that looks hopeless to escape. The soldiers were going to kill Paul and the other prisoners. But the Centurion liked Paul and would not let them carry out their plan. All of these prisoners were saved because of this pagan man's love for Paul. They were criminals and some of the worse men on the planet, and yet they were experiencing secular salvation, and it gave them a second chance to hear the Gospel and accept Christ as Savior of their soul. All 276 people were saved in a hopeless situation.
Why would so much space in the Bible history be given to this great secular salvation story? It is because it is important to save people on this level. Time is all people have until they come to Christ and gain eternal life. That is why Christians must feed the starving, give shelter to the homeless, give medicine to the sick, and in all ways save the bodies of the lost. This is the only hope people have to be saved forever. Some of those men on that ship, even the pagan soldiers and the pagan criminals, will, no doubt, be in heaven because their lives were spared to hear Paul share the Gospel.
The record of history is filled with examples of how secular salvation is the first stage in a two stage plan of salvation. Robert Wise was caught in a whirlpool that sucked him down into a cave under water. He felt his life was over like a popped bubble or burned out light bulb. But an inner voice told him to reach back over his head, and when he did he caught a part of the wall and was able to pull himself up to air. He survived and became a Christian and a preacher of the Gospel. This story can be repeated in many lives. The happy ending could not be told if they did not get past act one into act two. So secular salvation is the key to sacred or eternal salvation. It does not last to be spared from the death of the body, for one day all bodies have to die. But almost all who are saved for eternity are first of all saved for time. Every child that is born alive rather than dead had experienced secular salvation, and that means all of us are only going to heaven by faith in Christ because we have first of all experienced secular salvation.