Sunday, January 01, 2012

"Am I Saved?"

[This was prepared to be shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio this morning.]

Galatians 4:4-7
Let’s pretend that you’re an average, normal Lutheran walking through a crowded mall.

You’re minding your own business, not bothering anybody else--because, after all, you are an average, normal Lutheran--when a young man walks up to you and with urgency in his voice, asks, “Are you saved?”

Now, as an average, normal Lutheran, you’re thrown off by this sudden violation of your personal space. (After all, you’re still trying to get used to the pastor who hugs everybody during the Sharing of the Peace!) All you hear at first is the word, “saved” and naturally, as an average, normal Lutheran who likes to save a buck, you assume that this guy is bragging about a bargain that saved him a lot of money.

But the young man's message and manner don’t quite compute. So you respond to his question by saying, “Huh?” The young man repeats himself, “Are you saved?” “Oh,” you think to yourself, “one of those Christians!”

By now, you are practiced at fending off such unwanted discussions of God, salvation, sin, and being born anew. So, you say, softly, so that nobody else can hear, “Why, yes, I am saved.” The young man, pleased with your answer and concerned that he might soon be stopped by security, looks over his shoulder, then scans the mall for his next victim.

Let me say at the outset that by that little vignette, I mean no disrespect either for the interviewer or the interviewee. The young man is right to want to share his faith in Christ with others. Jesus has commanded—and not just suggested that—all Christians to make disciples.

On the other hand, the average, normal Lutheran is right to feel that making disciples ought to happen more in the course of conversations between two willing participants—sort of like Philip telling Nathanael in the Gospel of John to come and see Jesus for himself—than in a flash of religious verbiage among strangers.

Nonetheless, as our average, normal Lutheran finds a bench to wait for his wife while she hits the After-Christmas Sale at Bath and Body Works, he can’t help thinking of the young man’s question: “Are you saved?” “Am I saved?” he asks himself.

Actually, this is a question I get a lot from Lutherans. “I don’t know what to say when people ask me that question,” they’ll say. “Am I saved?”

Our second lesson for this Sunday in which we celebrate the power of Jesus’ Name may help you to feel a little more comfortable in addressing that question.

Before digging into the lesson though, we should note that both Jesus and the Bible teach that there are people who will not be saved and that there are things from which we all need to be saved.

According to Jesus, there are people—maybe people you and I know—who will go to hell. In one of Jesus’ parables, which we looked at this past week as part of reading the Bible together in a year, Jesus tells about a wedding banquet filled with people who gain entry into the party by wearing special wedding robes issued by a king. One man crashes the party without such a robe. The king has him thrown out, Jesus says, into the “outer darkness, where there [is] weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The point of Jesus’ story is clear: Those who seek to gain entrance into eternity with God while remaining naked in their sins, unclothed by the forgiveness of sin that belongs only to those who repent for sin and believe in Christ, will ticket themselves for separation from God, for hell.

Hell is real. But life with God is also real. And because both heaven and hell are real, this business of salvation has life-and-death importance for every single human being!

Now, pull out the Celebrate insert, please, and turn to our second lesson for today, Galatians 4:4-7.

The church in Galatia was started by the first-century evangelist Paul in about 49AD. Galatia was a prosperous region in what is today Turkey. The church’s members were Gentiles, that is, non-Jews. They had received the good news of new life for all who believe in Jesus Christ through Paul’s ministry. It had come as great, life-changing news to them.

But since Paul had left them, a group of people known as Judaizers had come along to confuse them about their faith. They told the Galatians that it wasn’t enough to believe in Jesus. If they really wanted salvation, the Judaizers said, they also had to submit to Old Testament ritual law. The men had to be circumcised. Everybody had to conform to Jewish dietary laws. They needed to make sacrifices for their sins. All of these things and more, they claimed, were the conditions for salvation.

Some of the folks in the church at Galatia bought into all this nonsense. They allowed themselves to turn what God had given as a free gift—new and everlasting life for all who believe in Jesus Christ—into a legal transaction.

Others, intimidated by the Judaizers in the way our avergage, normal Lutheran was in his encounter with the young man at the mall, were rocked back on their heels and wondered, “Am I saved?”

Paul responds to this question and to the decision of some to turn their backs on Christ to take up the notion that they could save themselves by doing the right things. “You foolish Galatians!” he says at one point. “Who has bewitched you?”

He goes on to say that all who simply trust in Jesus Christ become descendants of Abraham, the founder of God’s Jewish people. Abraham himself was saved, Paul points out, not because of any good works he had done, but simply because he believed in the promises of God, promises that pointed to the sending of God’s Son for the salvation of all people.

Paul talks about the coming of the Son in verses 4 and 5, the opening of our lesson. Take a look at those verses, please: “…when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem [that is, to buy them back from slavery to sin and death] those who were under the law, so that they might receive adoption as children.”

When God decided that the time was right, He sent His Son. But, as we remember at Christmas, Jesus didn’t come in the full majesty of His deity. Nor did He arrive with the paraphernalia of the world's tinhorn kings and dictators. He came as a man to share our lives, our deaths, and our condemnation for sin.

The Bible tells us that Jesus, after His death, even experienced life in hell, where “He made a proclamation to the spirits in prison.” Jesus shared the condemnation that belongs to human beings when they refuse His outstretched hand of mercy, who decide that they don’t need God and don’t need to worry about the question, “Am I saved?”

To be "saved" is to be adopted as God’s children. This is an important point! Jesus once told some of His fellow Jews who refused to believe in Him that, because of their failure to trust in Him, they were children of their father, the devil. Imperfect ourselves, we are nonetheless saved by the blood of Jesus, our Savior! We are adopted into the family of God as a gift of God to all with faith in Christ.

Verse 6 says: “And because you are children [of God], God has sent the Spirit of His Son [this is another way of talking about the Holy Spirit] into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”

People sometimes ask me, “How do I know that I have the Holy Spirit?”

One way to confirm that you have the Holy Spirit is to ask yourself, “Do I believe in Jesus Christ?” If your answer is, “Yes,” you know that the Holy Spirit is operating in your life because, as the New Testament tells us elsewhere, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit."

You can also know you have the Holy Spirit when you’re able to call God, “Abba!” “Abba” is the term Jesus used for “our Father in heaven” when He taught us the Lord’s Prayer. In Jesus’ everyday language of Aramaic, “Abba” was the term that little children used for their fathers, a term that connoted all the trust a child has in her or his daddy. When you trustingly and submissively pray to your Father in heaven, your own spirit is confirming that God’s Holy Spirit lives within you and that you are a child of God through faith in Christ.

Besides, we have the promise of the Bible, in the words of Peter at the first Pentecost, among other places, that all who are baptized in Jesus’ Name have forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t let anyone ever make you feel like a second-class Christian because you don’t have the same spiritual gifts that they claim as some achievement on their parts! If you humbly pray to God, your Father, you have the Holy Spirit. And He will bring You comfort, hope, guidance, and the assurance of God’s love for you, no matter what happens in your life.

Paul underscores this in verse 7 of our lesson: “So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” In the New Testament book of Romans, Paul writes in another passage: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

In neither of these passages are there any ifs, ands, or buts. If you believe in the Jesus revealed in life and on the pages of Scripture—who was born of a virgin, suffered death on the cross for our sins, raised from the dead by God the Father, who offers new life to all who turn from their sins and believe in Him—you can rest assured that you have been saved. You are a child of God!

Now folks, that’s such an incredible thing that, while we may not like the method of the young man in the mall of our little scenario, we should be able to understand why he wants to share the good news of salvation for all who believe in Jesus with others, don't you think?

Confident that we have been saved through Christ, may 2012 be a year in which we average, normal Lutherans join the apostles Peter and John, who, when facing persecution told those who threatened them with punishment if they ever again spoke in the Name of Jesus, “we cannot keep from speaking about” Jesus, the One Whose Name is above all names, the One Who has saved us.

If you believe in Jesus Christ, you are saved. That's good news. Amen!

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