Monday, July 22, 2002

Salvation: Saved from What?, Part One, New Beginnings, What It Means to Follow Jesus

Salvation: Saved From What?
Part One, New Beginnings, What It Means to Follow Jesus
June 30, 2002

I have a friend named Bill. He was my best man when Ann and I were married. He and his family live in the mountains of northern Arizona. Last Sunday, I learned that the fires raging in that part of the country had forced the evacuation of 3500 people from their small town of Lakeside. Needless to say, I was very concerned and spent several days trying to learn whether Bill, his wife Sue, and their children had been saved from the fire. Just last night, his sister told me that they are okay and should be returning to their home soon.

It’s easy for us to understand the idea of being saved when it comes to a raging fire. But it may not be so easy to understand what the Bible or followers of Jesus Christ mean when they speak of people being saved or of salvation. Years ago, shortly after I became a Jesus-follower, I told a friend that Jesus had come into the world to save us. And he asked me, “Saved from what?” It’s a fair question. What do followers of Jesus mean when we speak of Jesus saving us?

We really mean freedom. Jesus frees those with faith in Him to accept themselves and to become the people God designed us to be. There are three main things Jesus frees us from and three main things He frees us for.

First: Jesus frees us from the power of sin. Both the Bible and personal experience ought to tell every person here this morning that we are powerless to consistently behave as we know we ought to behave. Just last night, I had to apologize to a young man from at the Billy Graham Mission, another volunteer there. He had upset me when I felt that he was not being helpful to one of the counselors working with some people who had come forward to recommit their lives to Christ. I got angry with him. Later, I went back to apologize to him for having scolded him. We don’t always behave as we ought to. The first century preacher and teacher Paul talks about this in a letter he wrote to Roman Christians in the first century and which is in the Bible:
I do not understand my own actions...For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do...
There probably isn’t a person here today who hasn’t felt that way.

So, there is a power working within us, a flaw in our characters, that keeps us from consistently being the good and loving people we sense that we were made to be. That power is called sin. We all were born in sin, according to the Bible. It also tells us that every person has sinned and falls short of the lives God intends for human beings.

But there is a power that is bigger than the power that sin exerts over us. It comes to us in the Person of Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, and it’s a free gift to all who follow Jesus. Through Jesus, God frees us from sin and frees us to be righteous. To be righteous isn’t to walk around with angel wings. Until we have a relationship with Jesus Christ, our whole lives can be compared to trying to hear a distant radio station without a reliable tuner and having the antenna pulled down. When we surrender our lives to Christ, we have a clear connection with God. To be righteous is to have a right relationship with God. It isn’t something we can make happen. It’s a gift we receive from Jesus Christ. Paul talks about it in this way:
[This is good news] I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts Him...God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what the Scripture has said all along, “The person in right standing before God by trusting Him really lives!”
Through Jesus, God frees us from sin and frees us for righteousness, for right living with God.

Second: Jesus frees us from the power of death. The Bible contains these chilling words: The wages of sin is death...If I’m a teacher who teaches, or a plumber who plumbs, or a clerk who clerks and I get my paycheck, you could tell me, “You’re getting exactly what you earned.” According to the Bible, all of us sinners have also earned our proper wages. As sinners who have sinned, we all deserve death.
But God loves us too much to let that be the last word over our lives. While respecting our right to say, “No” to Him, God did something stunning. God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus, into our world and took the rap for us. The most famous passage of the Bible, John, chapter 3, verse 16 puts it quite simply, quoting words spoken by Jesus Himself:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
God frees us from death in order to free us for everlasting life!

Third: Jesus frees us to live our lives with purpose. An elderly woman once asked me, “Why are we alive? I can’t see the point of it.” Many people—young, old, and middle-aged—can be heard asking the same question.

When we follow Jesus Christ, He gives us a reason to wake up in the morning beyond making money that we’ll only spend, owning cars or houses that only need to be maintained and that wear out, or achieving success that can’t make us better or happier people. In the New Testament book of First Peter, we’re told that all who follow Christ:
...were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ...
Jesus shed His blood on a cross to free us from sin and death and futile ways of living.

Also in that book of First Peter, we’re reminded of who the followers of Jesus are: are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
When we follow Jesus Christ, He frees us to live our lives with purpose. He calls us to share Him, His love, His goodness, and His power to free people with others. That doesn’t mean that you’ll become a preacher. (There may be more than enough of those to go around in the world!) It means that in your own, unique, God-designed way, Christ will free you to become your truest, most authentic self and that as your truest self, you will point others to the life that Jesus gives to all who follow Him.

A high school classmate of Ann’s and mine is a grandmother. Her son and a woman he was seeing at one time became parents of twin girls. Today, our friend provides child care for those two little girls four days a week. Sometimes her son and his ex-girlfriend hurt her feelings because they are so ungrateful for the sacrifice she makes for them. They take advantage of her. When people ask her why, in light of the ingratitude, she keeps looking after the little ones, she says that it’s her ministry, her service to Christ. “I pray every day,” she recently told Ann and me, “that God will help me give an example and say words that will point the girls to Jesus.” Sometimes the daily grind with those two children is a daily grind. But Jesus has freed our friend from thinking only about what’s in it for her. She can see a deeper meaning, a greater purpose, in her living and serving. She is living the reality that Jesus frees us from futility and frees us for lives with purpose.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ went to a cross. Although He was perfectly sinless, He bore the weight of our sin on His broad shoulders. Jesus saves all who follow Him by freeing them from sin and freeing them for righteousness; by freeing them from death and freeing them for life; by freeing them from futility and freeing them for lives of purpose. After He died and rose again, Jesus was able to offer everlasting salvation to every member of the human race. He has been changing the lives of those who follow Him ever since. And, living in heaven today, He offers salvation to us even now. In the silence of your hearts, I ask you to pray with me now as we either embrace Jesus’ salvation or reaffirm our desire for this gift in our lives. “Lord Jesus, I turn from sin, death, and futility now. I renounce their power over my life. I ask You to be the Ultimate Authority over me. Help me to live in Your freedom. Save me, to be in a right relationship with You; to live with You forever; and to live each moment with the purpose and meaning only You can give a life. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen”