SALVATION

shopping-trolley-salvation

Can’t inherit it:

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set.  Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep.  He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.  I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.  Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south.  All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.  I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.  I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”  –   Genesis 28:10-15

God’s covenant promise to Abraham and Isaac was offered to Jacob as well. But it was not enough to be Abraham’s grandson; Jacob had to establish his own personal relationship with God.  God has no grandchildren; each of us must have a personal relationship with him.  It is not enough to hear wonderful stories about Christians in your family.  You need to become part of the story yourself (see Galatians 3:6, 7).

Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’  For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. – Luke 3:8

Many of John’s hearers were shocked when he said that being Abraham’s descendants was not enough for God. The religious leaders relied more on their family lines than on their faith for their standing with God.  For them, religion was inherited.  But a personal relationship with God is not handed down from parents to children.  Everyone has to make his or her own commitment.  Don’t rely on someone else’s faith for your salvation.  Put your own faith in Jesus, and then exercise it every day.

Confession of sins and a changed life are inseparable. Faith without deeds is dead (James 2:14-26).  Jesus’ harshest words were to the respectable religious leaders who lacked the desire for real change.  They wanted to be known as religious authorities, but they didn’t want to change their hearts and minds.  Thus their lives were unproductive.  Repentance must be tied to action or it isn’t real.  Following Jesus means more than saying the right words; it means acting on what he says.

As demonstrated by the exodus:

“Therefore, say to the Israelites; ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.  I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.  Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.  And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob.  I will give it to you as a possession.  I am the LORD.’ “  –  Exodus 6:6-8

God’s promise in these verses were fulfilled to the letter when the Hebrews left Egypt. He freed them from slavery, became their God, and accepted them as his people.  Then he led them towards the land he had promised.  When the Hebrews were rescued from slavery, they portrayed the drama of salvation for all of us.

Small problems need only small answers. But when we face great problems, God has an opportunity to exercise his great power.  As the Hebrews’ troubles grew steadily worse, God planned to intervene with his mighty power and perform great miracles to deliver them.  How big are your problems?  Big problems put you in a perfect position to watch God give big answers.

For all people:

On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – – the best of meats and the finest of wines. – Isaiah 25:6

Here is a marvellous prophecy of “all prophets” – Gentiles and Jews together – at God’s Messianic feast, celebrating the overthrow of evil and of the joy of eternity with God. It shows that God intended his saving message to go out to the whole world, not just to the Jews.  During the feast, God will end death for ever (25:7, 8).  The people who participate in this great feast will be those who have been living by faith.  That is why they say, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us” (25:9).  See also chapter 55 for another presentation of this great banquet.

…and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. – Luke 24:47

Luke wrote to the Greek-speaking world. He wanted them to know that Christ’s message of God’s love and forgiveness should go to all the world.  We must never ignore the worldwide scope of Christ’s gospel.  God wants all the world to hear the Good News of salvation.

Jesus’ humanity important to:

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name of Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.” –  Matthew 1:20-23

The angel declared to Joseph that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and would be a son. This reveals an important truth about Jesus – he is both God and human.  The infinite, unlimited God took on the limitations of humanity so he could live and die for the salvation of all who would believe in him.

The conception and birth of Jesus Christ are supernatural events beyond human logic or reasoning. Because of this, God sent angels to help certain people understand the significance of what was happening (see 2:13, 19; Luke 1:11, 26; 2:9).

Angels were spiritual beings created by God who help carry out his work on earth. They bring God’s messages to people (Luke 1:26), protect God’s people (Daniel 6:22), offer encouragement (Genesis 16:7ff), give guidance (Exodus 14:19), carry out punishment (2 Samuel 24:16), patrol the earth (Zechariah 1:9-14), and fight the forces of evil (2 Kings 6:16-18; Revelation 20:1, 2).  There are both good and bad angels (Revelation 12:7), but because bad angels were allied with the devil, or Satan, they have considerably less power and authority than good angels.  Eventually the main role of angels will be to offer continuous praise to God (Revelation 7:11, 12).

Jesus was to be called Immanuel (“God with us”), as predicted by Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 7:14).  Jesus was God in the flesh; thus God was literally among us, “with us”.  Through the Holy Spirit, Christ is present today in the life of every believer.  Perhaps not even Isaiah understood how far-reaching the meaning of “Immanuel” would be.

Joseph was faced with a difficult choice after discovering that Mary was pregnant. Although he knew that taking Mary as his wife could be humiliating, Joseph chose to obey the angel’s command to marry her.  His action revealed four admirable qualities: (1) righteousness (1:19), (2) discretion and sensitivity (1:19), (3) responsiveness to God (1:24), and (4) self-discipline (1:25).

Why Jesus came to save us:

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name of Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” – Matthew 1:21

Jesus means “the LORD saves”.  Jesus came to earth to save us because we can’t save ourselves from sin and its consequences.  No matter how good we are, we can’t eliminate the sinful nature present in all of us.  Only Jesus can do that.  Jesus didn’t come to help people save themselves; he came to be their Saviour from the power and penalty of sin.  Thank Christ for his death on the cross for your sin, and then ask him to take control of your life.  Your new life begins at that moment.

Jesus the only way to:

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  – Matthew 7:13-14

The gate that leads to eternal life (John 107-9) is called “narrow”. This does not mean that it is difficult to become a Christian, but that there is only one way to live eternally with God and only a few that decide (i.e. get the colour) to walk that road.  Believing in Jesus is the only way to heaven, because he alone died for our sins and made us right before God.  Living his way may not be popular, but it is true and right.  Thank God there is one way!

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life. –  John 6:67-68

After many of Jesus’ followers had deserted him, he asked the 12 disciples if they were also going to leave. Peter replied, “To whom shall we go?”  In his straightforward way, Peter answered for all of us – – there is no other way.  Though there are many philosophies and self-styled authorities, Jesus alone has the words of eternal life.  People look everywhere for eternal life and miss Christ, the only source.  Stay with him, especially when you are confused or feel alone.

There is no middle ground with Jesus. When he asked the disciples if they would also leave, he was showing that they could either accept or reject him.  Jesus was not trying to repel people with his teachings.  He was simply telling the truth.  The more the people heard Jesus’ real message, the more they divided into two camps – the honest seekers who wanted to understand more, and those who rejected Jesus because they didn’t like what they had heard.

Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” – Acts 4:12

Many people react negatively to the fact that there is no other name than that of Jesus to call on for salvation. Yet this is not something the church decided; it is the specific teaching of Jesus himself (John 14:6).  If God designated Jesus to be the Saviour of the world, no-one else can be his equal.  Christians are to be open-minded on many issues, but not on how we are saved from sin.  No other religious teacher could die for our sins; no other religious teacher came to earth as God’s only Son; no other religious teacher rose from the dead.  Our focus should be on Jesus, whom God offered as the way to have an eternal relationship with himself.  There is no other name or way!

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. – Romans 2:1

When Paul’s letter was read in the Roman church, no doubt many heads nodded as he condemned idol worshippers, homosexual practices, and violent people. But what surprise his listeners must have felt when he turned on them and said in effect, “You have no excuse.  You are just as bad!” Paul was emphatically stressing that nobody is good enough to save himself or herself.  If we want to avoid punishment and live eternally with Christ, all of us, whether we have been murderers or molesters or whether we have been honest, hardworking, solid citizens, must depend totally on God’s grace.  Paul is not discussing whether some sins are worse than others.  Any sin is enough to lead us to depend on Jesus Christ for salvation and eternal life.  We have all sinned repeatedly, and there is no way apart from Christ to be saved from sin’s consequences.

Whenever we find ourselves feeling justifiably angry about someone’s sin, we should be careful. We need to speak out against sin, but we must do so in a spirit of humility.  Often the sins we notice most clearly in others are the ones that have taken root in us.  If we look closely at ourselves, we may find that we are committing the same sins in more socially acceptable forms.  For example, a person who gossips may be very critical of others who gossip about him or her.

Knowing about Jesus is not enough for:

Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, “You are the Son of God.” – Mark 3:11

The evil spirits knew that Jesus was the Son of God, but they refused to turn from their evil purposes. Knowing about Jesus, or even believing that he is God’s Son, does not guarantee salvation.  You must also want to follow and obey him (see also James 2:17).

Submission leads to:

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. –  Luke 1:30-31

God’s favour does not automatically bring instant success or fame. His blessing on Mary, the honour of being the mother of the Messiah, would lead to much pain: her peers would ridicule her; her fiancé would come close to leaving her; her son would be rejected and murdered.  But through her would come the world’s only hope, and this is why Mary has been praised by countless generations as the young girl who “found favour with God”.  Her submission was part of God’s plan to bring about our salvation.  If sorrow weighs you down and dims your hope, think of Mary and wait patiently for God to finish working out his plan.

Jesus, a Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, was a common name meaning “the LORD saves”.  Just as Joshua had led Israel into the promised land (see Joshua 1:1, 2), so Jesus would lead his people into eternal life.  The symbolism of his name was not lost on the people of his day, who took names seriously and saw them as a source of power.  In Jesus’ name people were healed, demons were banished, and sins were forgiven.

Illustrated by Jesus’ raising a dead boy:

Soon afterwards, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out – – the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.  And a large crowd from the town was with her.  When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”  Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still.  He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”  The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.  They were all filled with awe and praised God.  “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said.  “God has come to help his people.”  This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.  – Luke 7:11-17

This story illustrates salvation. The whole world was dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1), just as the widow’s son was dead.  Being dead, we could do nothing to help ourselves – – we couldn’t even ask for help.  But God had compassion on us, and he sent Jesus to raise us to life with him (Ephesians 2:4-7).  The dead man did not earn his second chance at life, and we cannot earn our new life in Christ.  But we can accept God’s gift of life, praise God for it, and use our lives to do his will.

The widow’s situation was serious. She had lost her husband, and here her only son was dead – – her last means of support.  The crowd of mourners would go home, and she would be left penniless and alone.  The widow was probably past the age of childbearing and would not marry again.  Unless a relative came to her aid, her future was bleak.  She would be an easy prey for swindlers, and she would likely be reduced to begging for food.  In fact, as Luke repeatedly emphasises, this woman was just the kind of person Jesus had come to help – – and help her he did.  Jesus has the power to bring hope out of any tragedy.

Honouring the dead was important in Jewish tradition. A funeral procession – – the relatives of the dead person following the body was wrapped and carried on a kind of stretcher  – would make its way through town, and bystanders would be expected to join the procession.  In addition, hired mourners would cry aloud and draw attention to the procession.  The family’s mourning would continue for 30 days.

The people thought of Jesus as a prophet because, like the Old Testament prophets, he boldly proclaimed God’s message and sometimes raised the dead. Both Elijah and Elisha raised children from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:18-37).  The people were correct in thinking that Jesus was a prophet, but he was much more – – he is God himself.

As both spiritual & physical:

…and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. – Luke 9:2

Jesus announced his kingdom by both preaching and healing. If he had limited himself to preaching, people might have seen his kingdom as spiritual only.  On the other hand, if he had healed without preaching, people might not have realised the spiritual importance of his mission.  Most of his listeners expected a Messiah who would bring wealth and power to their nation; they preferred material benefits to spiritual discernment.  The truth about Jesus is that he is both God and man, both spiritual and physical; and the salvation that he offers is both for the soul and the body.  Any group or teaching that emphasises soul at the expense of body, or body at the expense of soul, is in danger of distorting Jesus’ Good News.

Note Jesus’ methods of leadership. He empowered his disciples (9:1), gave them specific instructions so they knew what to do (9:3, 4), told them how to deal with tough times (9:5), and held them accountable (9:10).  As you lead others, study the Master Leader’s pattern.  Which of these elements do you need to incorporate into your leadership?

Jesus’ doing, not ours:

He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – – and the things that are not – – to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  –  1 Corinthians 1:28-31

Paul continues to emphasise that the way to receive salvation is so simple that any person who wants to can understand it.  Skill and wisdom do not get a person into God’s kingdom – – simple faith does – – so no-one can boast that his or her achievements helped him or her secure eternal life.  Salvation is totally from God through Jesus’ death.  There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation; we need only accept what Jesus has already done for us.

God is the source of and the reason for our personal and living relationship with Christ. Our union and identification with Christ results in our having God’s wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3), possessing right standing with God (righteousness, 2 Corinthians 5:21), being holy (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7), and having the penalty for our sins paid by Jesus (redemption, Mark 10:45).

How to receive it:

Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’  “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’  –  Luke 13:24-25 *

Finding salvation requires more concentrated effort than most people are willing to put forth. Obviously we cannot save ourselves – – there is no way we can work ourselves into God’s favour.  The effort we must put out “to enter through the narrow door” is earnestly desiring to know Jesus and diligently striving to follow him whatever the cost.  We dare not put off making this decision because the door will not stay open for ever.

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. – John 17:3

How do we get eternal life? Jesus tells us clearly here – – by knowing God the Father himself through his Son, Jesus Christ.  Eternal life requires entering into a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ.  When we admit our sin and turn away from it, Christ’s love lives in us by the Holy Spirit.

But I ask: Did they not hear? Of course they did: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” – – Romans 10:8-12

Have you ever been asked, “How do I become a Christian?” These verses give you the beautiful answer –  salvation is as close as your own mouth and heart.  People think it must be a complicated process, but it is not.  If we believe in our hearts and say with our mouths that Christ is the risen Lord, we will be saved.

This verse must be read in context, Paul is not saying Christians will never be put to shame or be disappointed. There will be times when people will let us down and when circumstances will take a turn for the worse.  Paul is saying that God will keep his side of the bargain  – those who call on him will be saved.  God will never fail to provide righteousness to those who believe.

Paul adapts Moses’ farewell challenge from Deuteronomy 30:11-14 to apply to Christ. Christ has provided our salvation through his incarnation (coming to earth) and resurrection (coming back from the dead).  God’s salvation is right in front of us.  He will come to us wherever we are.  All we need to do is respond and accept his gift of salvation.  The deep as used here refers to the graves or Hades, the place of the dead.

Responding to God’s invitation of:

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it.  Please excuse me.’ 

“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 

“Still another said, ‘I have just got married, so I can’t come.’

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ 

“Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ “ –    Luke 14:15-24

The man sitting at the table with Jesus saw the glory of God’s kingdom, but he did not yet understand how to get in. In Jesus’ story, many people turned down the invitation to the banquet because the timing was inconvenient.  We too can resist or delay responding to God’s invitation, and our excuses may sound reasonable –  work duties, family responsibilities, financial needs, or whatever they may be.  Nevertheless, God’s invitation is the most important event in our lives, no matter how conveniently it may be timed.  Are you making excuses to avoid responding to God’s call?  Jesus reminds us that the time will come when God will cancel his invitation and offer it to others – – then it will be too late to get into the banquet.

It was customary to send two invitations to a party – the first to announce the event, the second to tell the guests that everything was ready. The guests in Jesus’ story insulted the host by making excuses when he issued the second invitation.  In Israel’s history, God’s first invitation came from Moses and the prophets; the second came from his Son.  The religious leaders accepted the first invitation.  They believed that God had called them to be his people, but they insulted God by refusing to accept his Son.  Thus, as the master in the story sent his servant into the streets to invite the needy to his banquet, so God sent his Son to the whole world of needy people to tell them that God’s kingdom had arrived and was ready for them.

In this chapter we read Jesus’ words against seeking status, and in favour of hard work and even suffering. Let us not lose sight of the end result of all our humility and self-sacrifice – – a joyous banquet with our Lord!  God never asks us to suffer for the sake of suffering.  He never asks us to give up something good unless he plans to replace it with something even better.  Jesus is not calling us to join him in a labour camp but in a feast –  the wedding supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9), when God and his beloved church will be joined for ever.

As an act of total forgiveness:

Jesus said, “father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. – Luke 23:34

Jesus asked God to forgive the people who were putting him to death – Jewish leaders, Roman politicians and soldiers, bystanders – – and God answered that prayer by opening up the way of salvation even to Jesus’ murderers. The Roman centurion and soldiers who witnessed the crucifixion said, “Surely he was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).  Soon many priests were converted to the Christian faith (Acts 6:7).  Because we are all sinners, we all played a part in putting Jesus to death.  The gospel  – the Good News  – is that God is gracious.  He will forgive us and give us new life through his Son.

Roman soldiers customarily divided up the clothing of executed criminals among themselves. When they cast lots for Jesus’ clothes, they fulfilled the prophecy in Psalm 22:18.

Jesus’ work of salvation complete:

While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. – Luke 24:51

Jesus’ physical presence left the disciples when he returned to heaven (Acts 1:9), but the Holy Spirit soon came to comfort them and empower them to spread the gospel of salvation (Acts 2:1-4). Today Jesus’ work of salvation is completed, and he is sitting at God’s right hand, where he has authority over heaven and earth.

As the disciples stood and watched, Jesus began rising into the air, and soon he disappeared into heaven. Seeing Jesus leave must have been frightening, but the disciples knew that Jesus would keep his promise to be with them through the Holy Spirit.  This same Jesus, who lived with the disciples, who died and was buried, and who rose from the dead, loves us and promises to be with us always.  We can get to know him better through studying the Scriptures, praying, and allowing the Holy Spirit to make us more like Jesus.

When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  –  John 19:30

Until this time, a complicated system of sacrifices had atoned for sins. Sin separates people from God, and only through the sacrifice of an animal, a substitute, could people be forgiven and become clean before God.  But people sin continually, so frequent sacrifices were required.  Jesus, however, became the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin.  The word finished is the same as “paid in full”.  Jesus came to finish God’s work of salvation (4:34; 17:4), to pay the full penalty for our sins.  With his death, the complex sacrificial system ended because Jesus took all sin upon himself.  Now we can freely approach God because of what Jesus did for us.  Those who believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection can live eternally with God and escape the penalty that comes from sin.

A gift from God:

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

Jesus explained that we cannot control the work of the Holy Spirit. He works in ways we cannot predict or understand.  Just as you did not control your physical birth, so you cannot control your spiritual birth.  It is a gift from God through the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16; 1 Corinthians 2:10-12; 1 Thessalonians 1:5, 6).

Knowing the Bible is not enough for:

You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.  – John 3:10-11

This Jewish teacher of the Bible knew the Old Testament thoroughly, but he didn’t understand what it said about the Messiah. Knowledge is not salvation.  You should know the Bible, but even more important, you should understand the God whom the Bible reveals and the salvation that God offers.

As thirsting after “living” water:

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” – John 4:10

What did Jesus mean by “living water”? In the Old Testament, many verses speak of thirsting after God as one thirsts for water (Psalm 42:1; Isaiah 55:1; Jeremiah 2:13; Zechariah 13:1).  God is called the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9) and the spring of living water (Jeremiah 17:13).  In saying he would bring living water that could for ever quench a person’s thirst for God, Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah.  Only the Messiah could give this gift that satisfies the soul’s desire.

Security of:

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. – John 6:39

Jesus said he would not lose even one person whom the Father had given him. Thus anyone who makes a sincere commitment to believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour is secure in God’s promise of eternal life.  Christ will not let his people be overcome by Satan and lose their salvation (see also 17:122; Philippians 1:6).

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.  This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.  –   1 John 2:3-6

How can you be sure that you belong to Christ? This passage gives two ways to know: if you do what Christ says and live as Christ wants.  What does Christ tell us to do?  John answers in 3:23: “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another”.  True Christian faith results in loving behaviour; that is why John says that the way we act can give us assurance that we belong to Christ.

To “walk as Jesus died” or living as Christ did doesn’t mean choosing 12 disciples, performing great miracles, and being crucified. We cannot merely copy Christ’s life –  much of what Jesus did had to do with his identity as God’s Son, the fulfilment of his specific role in dying for sin, and the cultural context of the first-century Roman world.  To walk today as Christ did we must obey his teachings and follow his example of compete obedience to God and loving service to people.

Holy Spirit urges us towards:

“No-one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. – John 6:44

God, not man, plays the most active role in salvation. When someone chooses to believe in Jesus Christ as Saviour, he or she does so only in response to the urging of God’s Holy Spirit.  God does the urging; then we decide whether or not to believe.  Thus no-one can believe in Jesus without God’s help.

Obeying the law does not bring it:

…so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow.  Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved.  Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law.  –  Acts 21:23-24

There are two ways to think of the Jewish laws. Paul rejected one way and accepted the other.  (1) Paul rejected the idea that the Old Testament laws bring salvation to those who keep them.  Our salvation is freely given by God’s gracious act.  We receive salvation through faith.  The laws are of no value for salvation except to show us our sin.  (2) Paul accepted the view that the Old Testament laws prepare us for and teach us about the coming of Jesus Christ.  Christ fulfilled the law and released us from its burden of guilt.  But the law still teaches us many valuable principles and gives us guidelines for grateful living.  Paul was not observing the laws in order to be saved.  He was simply keeping the laws as custom to avoid offending those he wised to reach with the gospel (see Romans 3:21-31; 7:4-6; 13:9, 10).  For more on the law, see Galatians 3:23-29; 4:21-31, and the chart in Galatians 4.

Evidently these four men had made a religious vow. Because Paul was going to participate with them in the vow (apparently he was asked to pay for some of the required expenses),  he would need to take part in the purification ceremony for entering the temple (Numbers 6:9-20).  Paul submitted himself to this Jewish custom to keep the peace in the Jerusalem church.  Although Paul was a man of strong convictions, he was willing to compromise on non-essential points, becoming all things to all people so that he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).  Often a church is split over disagreements about minor issues or traditions.  Like Paul, we should remain firm on Christian essentials but flexible on non-essentials.  Of course, no-one should violate his or her true convictions, but sometimes we need to exercise the gift of mutual submission for the sake of the gospel.

“If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!  If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a law-breaker.  For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.  –  Galatians 2:17-19

Through studying the Old Testament Scriptures, Paul realised that he could not be saved by obeying God’s laws. The prophets knew that God’s plan of salvation did not rest on keeping the law (see the chart in chapter 4 for references).  Because we have all been infected by sin, we cannot keep God’s laws perfectly.  Fortunately, God has provided a way of salvation that depends on Jesus Christ, not on our own efforts.  Even though we know this truth, we must guard against the temptation of using service, good deeds, charitable giving, or any other effort as a substitute for faith.

No-one good enough for:

As it is written: “There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no-one who does good, not even one.”  “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practise deceit.”  “The poison of vipers is on their lips.”  “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”  “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.”  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  –  Romans 3:10-18

Paul uses these Old Testament references to show that humanity in general, in its present sinful condition, is unacceptable before God. Have you ever thought to yourself, “Well, I’m not too bad.  I’m a pretty good person”?  Look at these verses and see if any of them apply to you.  Have you ever lied?  Have you ever hurt someone’s feelings by your words or tone of voice?  Are you bitter towards anyone?  Do you become angry with those who strongly disagree with you?  In thought, word, and deed you, like everyone else in the world, stand guilty before God.  We must remember who we are in his sight – – alienated sinners.  Don’t deny that you are a sinner.  Instead, allow your desperate need to point you towards Christ.

Paul is referring to Psalm 14:1-3. “There is no-one righteous” means “no-one is innocent”.  Every person is valuable in God’s eyes because God created us in his image and he loves us.  But no-one is righteous (that is, no-one can earn right standing with God).  Though valuable, we have fallen into sin.  But God, through Jesus his Son, has redeemed us and offers to forgive us if we return to him in faith.

God saves us by faith alone:

… – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:28

Why does God save us by faith alone? (1) Faith eliminates the pride of human effort, because faith is not a deed that we do.  (2) Faith exalts what God has done, not what people do.  (3) Faith admits that we can’t keep the law or measure up to God’s standards –  we need help.  (4) Faith is based on our relationship with God, not our performance for God.

…which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.  –  Galatians 1:7

There is only one way given to us by God to be forgiven of sin – – through believing in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. No other person, method, or ritual can give eternal life.  Attempting to be open-minded and tolerant, some people assert that all religions are equally valid paths to God.  In a free society, people have the right to their religious opinions, but this doesn’t guarantee that their ideas are right.  God does not accept man-made religion as a substitute for faith in Jesus Christ.  He has provided just one way – – Jesus Christ (John 14:6).

Those who had confused the Galatian believers and perverted the gospel were zealous Jewish Christians who believed that the Old Testament practices such as circumcision and dietary restrictions were required of all believers. Because these teachers wanted to turn the Gentile Christians to Jews, they were called Judaisers.  Some time after the letter to the Galatians was sent, Paul met with the apostles in Jerusalem to discuss this matter further (see Acts 15).

Most of the Galatian Christians were Greeks who were unfamiliar with Jewish laws and customs. The Judaisers were an extreme faction of Jewish Christians.  Both groups believed in Christ, but their life-styles differed considerably.  We do not know why the Judaisers may have travelled no small distance to teach their mistaken notions to the new Gentile converts.  They may have been motivated by (1) a sincere wish to integrate Judaism with the new Christian faith, (2) a sincere love for their Jewish heritage, or (3) a jealous desire to destroy Paul’s authority.  Whether or not these Judaisers were sincere, their teaching threatened these new churches and had to be countered.  When Paul called their teaching a perversion of the gospel, he was not rejecting everything Jewish.  He himself was a Jew who worshipped in the temple and attended the religious festivals.  But he was concerned that nothing get in the way of the simple truth of his message –  that salvation, for Jews and Gentiles alike, is through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

A twisting of the truth is more difficult to spot than an outright lie. The Judaisers were twisting the truth about Christ.  They claimed to follow him, but they denied that Jesus’ work on the cross was sufficient for salvation.  There will always be people who pervert the Good News.  Either they do not understand what the Bible teaches, or they are uncomfortable with the truth as it stands.  How can we tell when people are twisting the truth?  Before accepting the teachings of any group, find out what the group teaches about Jesus Christ.  If their teaching does not match the truth in God’s words, then it is perverted.

How much faith does it require?

However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. –  Romans 4:5

When some people learn that they are saved by God through faith, they start to worry. “Do I have enough faith?” they wonder.  “Is my faith strong enough to save me?”  These people miss the point.  It is Jesus Christ who saves us, not our feelings or actions, and he is strong enough to save us no matter how weak our faith is.  Jesus offers us salvation as a gift because he loves us, not because we have earned it through out powerful faith.  What, then, is the role of faith?  Faith is believing and trusting in Jesus Christ, and reaching out to accept his wonderful gift of salvation.

What can we do to get rid of guilt? King David was guilty of terrible sins – – adultery, murder, lying  – and yet he experienced the joy of forgiveness.  We too can have this joy when we (1) stop denying our guilt and recognise that we have sinned, (2) admit our guilt to God and ask for his forgiveness, and (3) let go of our guilt and believe that God has forgiven us.  This can be difficult when a sinner has taken root and grown over many years, when it is very serious, or when it involves others.  We must remember that Jesus is willing and able to forgive every sin.  In view of the tremendous price he paid on the cross, it is arrogant to think that any of our sins are too great for him to cover.  Even though our faith is weak our conscience is sensitive, and our memory haunts us, God’s word declares that sins confessed are sins forgiven (1 John 1:9).

So simple to receive it:

He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – – and the things that are not – – to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.  Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”  – 1 Corinthians 1:28-31

Paul continues to emphasise that the way to receive salvation is so simple that any person who wants to can understand it. Skill and wisdom do not get a person into God’s kingdom – – simple faith does – – so no-one can boast that his or her achievements helped him or her secure eternal life.  Salvation is totally from God through Jesus’ death.  There is nothing we can do to earn our salvation; we need only accept what Jesus has already done for us.

God is the source of and the reason for our personal and living relationship with Christ. Our union and identification with Christ results in our having God’s wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3), possessing right standing with God (righteousness, 2 Corinthians 5:21), being holy (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7), and having the penalty for our sins paid by Jesus (redemption, Mark 10:45).

Vs. the law:

“If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not!  If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a law-breaker.  For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.  –  Galatians 2:17-19

Through studying the Old Testament Scriptures, Paul realised that he could not be saved by obeying God’s laws. The prophets knew that God’s plan of salvation did not rest on keeping the law.  Because we have all been infected by sin, we cannot keep God’s laws perfectly.  Fortunately, God has provided a way of salvation that depends on Jesus Christ, not on our own efforts.  Even though we know this truth, we must guard against the temptation of using service, good deeds, charitable giving, or any other effort as a substitute for faith.

We can’t take credit for:

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will –  Ephesians 1:4

Paul says that God “chose us in him” to emphasise that salvation depends totally on God. We are not saved because we deserve it, but because God is gracious and freely gives salvation.  We did not influence God’s decision [“get the colour”] to save us; he saved us according to his plan.  Thus there is no way we can take credit for our salvation or allow room for pride.  The mystery of salvation originated in the timeless mind of God long before we existed.  It is hard to understand how God could accept us.  But because of Christ, we are holy and blameless in his sight.  God chose us, and when we belong to him through Jesus Christ, God looks at us as if we had never sinned.  All we can do is express our thanks for his wonderful love.

Benefits both us and God:

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

We become Christians through God’s unmerited grace, not as the result of any effort, ability, intelligent choice, or act of service on our part. However, out of gratitude for this free gift, we will seek to help and serve others with kindness, love, and gentleness, and not merely to please ourselves.  While no action or work we do can help us obtain salvation, God’s intention is that our salvation will result in acts of service.  We are not saved merely for our own benefit but to serve Christ and build up the church (4:12).

When someone gives you a gift, do you say, “That’s very nice – now how much do I owe you?”?   No, the appropriate response to a gift is “Thank you”.  Yet how often Christians, even after they have been given the gift of salvation, feel obligated to try to work their way to God.  Because our salvation and even our faith are gifts, we should respond with gratitude, praise, and joy.

We are God’s workmanship (work of art, masterpiece). Our salvation is something only God can do.  It is his powerful, creative work in us.  If God considers us his works of art, we dare not treat ourselves or others with disrespect or as inferior work.

God wants all to be saved:

…who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of truth. – 1 Timothy 2:4

Both Peter and Paul said that God wants all to be saved (see 2 Peter 3:9). This does not mean that all will be saved, because the Bible makes it clear that many reject Christ (Matthew 25:31-46;; John 12:44-50; Hebrews 10:26-29).  The gospel message has a universal scope; it is not directed only to people of one race, one sex, or one national background.  God loves the whole world and sent his Son to save sinners.  Never assume that anyone is outside God’s mercy or beyond the reach of his offer of salvation.

Although God is all-powerful and all-knowing, he has chosen to let us help him change the world through our prayers. How this works is a mystery to us because of our limited understanding, but it is a reality.  Paul urges us to pray for each other and for our leaders in government.  Our earnest prayers will have powerful results (James 5:16).

When is there no hope for?

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, – Hebrews 10:26

When people deliberately reject Christ’s offer of salvation, they reject God’s most precious gift. They ignore the leading of the Holy Spirit, the one who communicates to us God’s saving love.  This warning was given to Jewish Christians who were tempted to reject Christ for Judaism, but it applies to anyone who rejects Christ for another religion or, having understood Christ’s atoning work, deliberately turns away from it (see also Numbers 15:30, 31 and mark 3:28-30).  The point is that there is no other acceptable sacrifice for sin than the death of Christ on the cross.  If someone deliberately rejects the sacrifice of Christ after clearly understanding the gospel teaching about it, then there is no way for that person to be saved, because God has not provided any other name under heaven by which we can be saved (see Acts 4:12).

Will those who never hear the gospel be saved?

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. – Hebrews 11:6

Sometimes we wonder about the fate of those who haven’t heard of Christ and have not even had a Bible to read. God assures us that all who honestly seek him –  who act in faith on the knowledge of God that they possess – – will be rewarded.  When you tell others the gospel, encourage them to be honest and diligent in their search for truth.  Those who hear the gospel are responsible for what they have heard (see 2 Corinthians 6:1, 2).

Believing that God exists is only the beginning; even the demons believe that much (James 2:19, 20). God will not settle for mere acknowledgement of his existence.  He wants a personal, dynamic relationship with you that will transform your life.  Those who seek God will find that they are rewarded with his intimate presence.

God’s plan from the beginning:

He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. –  1 Peter 1:20

Christ’s sacrifice for our sins was not an afterthought, not something God decided to do when the world spun out of control. This plan was set in motion by the all-knowing, eternal God long before the world was created.  What a comfort it must have been to Jewish believers to know that Christ’s coming and his work of salvation were planned by God long before the world began.  This assured them that the law was not being scrapped because it didn’t work, but that both the law and the coming of Christ were part of God’s eternal plan.

 

©Kingsway “International” Church 1973.

 

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