“1 So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it. 2 For the message God delivered through angels has always stood firm, and every violation of the law and every act of disobedience was punished. 3 So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak? 4 And God confirmed the message by giving signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit whenever he chose.” (Hebrews 2:1-4, NLT)
Salvation is truly an amazing aspect of the Christian’s life.
For it is what makes us new creatures and children of God.
It is what guarantees us that we will go to heaven.
It is so unusual that Jesus spoke about it as being “born again.”
To understand what salvation is, we first have to understand what the human problem is, or what we have to be saved from.
The Bible says that all human beings are sinners living apart from God and in rebellion against him.
We sin because we cannot avoid doing so.
We are sinners in our very makeup.
Salvation from that tragic condition is something God does for us.
But in order to receive it, we have to make a complete 180 degrees turn around.
This is because sin means that we are going in diametrically the wrong direction.
We have missed the mark!
This change of direction is called conversion.
The Greek word that is translated “conversion” means, literally, “a turning.”
In Acts 9:35, for example, Luke tells of a mass conversion when,
“… all the residents of Lydda and Sharon … turned to the Lord.”
Conversion has two aspects.
It is both a turning from sin and a turning to Jesus Christ.
The turning from sin is called repentance.
‘True repentance is a godly sorrow for sin.’
Simply because sin is wrong and an offense to God.
It offends God in the sense that it goes against the purposes of our make-up.
And also because it leads to unfortunate consequences for us.
The need to repent was preached by John the Baptist:
“Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2)
“From then on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.’” (Matthew 4:17)
“Peter replied, ‘Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'” (Acts 2:38)
“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.” (Acts 17:30)
Repentance is not easy, it is painful.
It has been said that the most difficult words in the English language to pronounce are, “I was wrong,” and the next most difficult words are, “I am sorry.”
They are painful.
And repentance is especially painful because it involves admitting that we have done wrong morally and spiritually and are truly sorry for it.
Yet unless we repent and are willing to give up sin, we are not really converted.
The other side of conversion is faith.
Faith involves believing certain facts to be true.
“And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
“16 Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’),and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hellwill not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbidden earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permiton earth will be permitted in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-19)
“9 If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)
“2 This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God.” (1 John 4:2)
“5 And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:5)
But mere acceptance of doctrines alone is not enough for salvation.
James tells us that even the demons believe that God is one—and shudder (2:19).
Faith also involves personal trust.
It is a matter of acting upon what we believe, and asking Christ to save us, while also declaring that we want to make him the Lord of our lives.
This combination of repentance and faith makes up conversion.
The turning from the old ways of sin and toward Christ.
Although it is essential that there be such a conversion, the specific circumstances may vary greatly from one person to another.
For some persons conversion takes place at a single, easily identified point in time.
For others conversion may involve a prolonged process of gradually coming to repentance and faith.
Whether our conversion is gradual or rapid, the most important thing is that we are now able to affirm that we are heading in the right direction.
There is one other aspect in which conversions vary.
For some people, especially those who have sudden conversions, there is a very vivid emotional experience which includes tears of sorrow and then of joy.
For others, especially those whose conversion is gradual, there is little or almost no emotion.
We sometimes tend to elevate emotional conversions as a model, and consequently persons who have had quieter conversions may wonder about the genuineness of their salvation.
Here it is important to remember that one’s basic personality type, circumstances in life, and many other factors affect the nature of the experience.
In Luke 16 we have the recounting of both experiences:
We have the dramatic conversion of the Philippian jailor.
But also the quiet story of Lydia, of whom we read that “the Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul” (v. 14).
It is not how we felt when we changed directions, but, rather, the direction in which we are now heading, that makes the difference.
2. Union with Christ
We have spoken of the richness of salvation, which like a jewel has many different facets which should be examined.
Is there one underlying conception which gathers up all of the facets, one key to the whole of salvation?
I believe the one concept that covers and explains all of what God does in response to our repentance and faith is union with Christ.
We are united with him in a bond like a marriage or a legal corporation.
The Bible speaks much of our union with Christ.
Paul speaks of the believer as being in Christ:
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Equally, he wrote,
“For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.” (Colossians 1:27)
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
“You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as…” (Colossians 2:20)
“For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” (Romans 6:4)
“that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:5)
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand.” (Colossians 3:1)
“And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” (Romans 8:17)
Union with Christ certainly appears to be the key factor in understanding our relationship to him and to salvation.
What precisely does union with Christ mean?
It means, first, that we are merged with him, judicially and legally.
When a man and a woman marry, their financial assets are merged.
The debts of each one become the debts of both, and the assets of each one become the assets of both.
If one partner has a debt of $10,000 and the other has a bank balance of $15,000 and owes nothing, together they are solvent, with a net worth of $5,000.
A similar situation holds with respect to our spiritual condition.
We observed earlier that sin puts us in debt to God; we are liable to punishment and have nothing with which to pay.
The only thing we can do, therefore, is to die eternally.
Interestingly, there is a popular theory that the way to be saved is to live a good life; if we heap up enough good deeds, we will become acceptable to God.
The problem is that we never can acquire a positive balance.
The only way in which the problem can be solved is by a merger with Christ.
Not only did He fulfill the requirements of God’s law completely, but He, the one person of whom death was not required, since he never sinned, died in my place.
Therefore, if I have accepted Christ, when God looks at me, he does not see me alone, but he sees me with Christ.
All of my sin and all of Christ’s righteousness are merged; united with him; I am now just or acceptable to God.
Justification is not quite what we sometimes think it to be.
God does not merely pretend that I have the righteousness of Jesus.
He does not look at me and say, “We will not count his sin, but rather Christ’s goodness.”
No, what happened is that through my union with Christ His righteousness has actually become mine!
Nor is justification quite what the little slogan says, “Just as if I had never sinned.”
Justification is much richer than mere forgiveness in the sense of cancelation of a debt or penalty.
When criminals have served their sentence, they are released from prison.
Their debt to society has been paid.
That does not mean that society welcomes them back with open arms, however.
Unfortunately, there may be discrimination, distrust, or, at the very least, a polite coolness.
By contrast, justification involves adoption: God the Father welcomes us into his family and shows the love that a devoted father gives to his child.
We are not just pardoned criminals, but sons and daughters of God, and very wealthy heirs of His promises in Christ Jesus our Lord!
“But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)
“But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5 God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.(Ephesians 1:5)
Becoming one with Christ entails more than just having His righteousness, however.
Righteousness is merely the formal state of being free from the penalty of sin.
Union with Christ also entails holiness, the positive condition of being good.
We come to be like Christ himself, to show his love, mercy, faithfulness, and all his other positive qualities.
Attaining Christlikeness is a process that has a beginning (regeneration), a continuation (sanctification), and a completion (glorification).
Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of being “born again.”
New birth occurs when we become united with Christ.
Like an artificial heart connected to our circulatory system.
Christ supplies the spiritual vitality that we do not have and could not acquire by ourselves.
A new impetus, a new strength, is given.
We come alive to spiritual things.
Jesus said that he had come to give life (John 10:10), and likened the relationship between believers and himself to that between branches and a vine (John 15:1-7).
Just as the branches derive their vitality from the vine, so our spiritual life comes to us from Christ.
It is not something that we can achieve ourselves by reform or resolve or education.
It is something done supernaturally in and to us, a transformation of life.
The new birth is just the beginning.
Sometimes Christians become disappointed or discouraged because they still fall so far short of what they think they should be and what they think God expects them to be.
It is important to remember, however, that the new birth is just that, a birth, and birth is merely the beginning of life.
Much more growth and development must take place.
Sanctification, being made actually holy or good, is the continuation of what was begun in new birth.
It also is a result of our being united with Christ.
Sanctification is what Paul was referring to when he wrote to the Philippians:
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NASV)
As with conversion, sanctification in a sense has both a negative and a positive aspect.
The negative aspect is the progressive removal of the old nature—the sinful tendencies, attitudes, and ways of thinking that carry over from before the new birth.
Paul speaks of putting the old nature and its lusts to death.
This process may sometimes involve suffering; like the surgeon, God occasionally finds it necessary to inflict pain.
Not that God is cruel, but that he wants strength and wholeness to emerge.
Peter wrote of this (1 Pet. 1:6-7) as did James (1:2-4).
Sanctification is not just the removal of the old sinful life without replacing it, however. That would be like trying to remove the air from a bottle by pumping it out.
It is much simpler to remove the air by displacing it with something else, such as water.
Some Christians try to achieve the Christian life simply by avoiding certain practices, but that is both painful and grotesque.
It also is impossible.
Here is where the positive aspect of sanctification comes into play.
Living through us, Christ produces the fruit of the Spirit in place of the works of the flesh.
The fruit of the Spirit is not something we gain through our own effort.
It is God’s work in our lives.
This is not, however, a process in which we can allow ourselves to be passive, waiting for him to produce the fruit in our lives.
Paul, speaking of this work of sanctification, wrote,
“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13, NIV)
Finally, there is the great doctrine of glorification, which we sometimes overlook.
The Bible teaches that the process of sanctification will be completed in connection with the second coming of Christ.
Our growth in godliness will then be complete (Phil. 1:6; Col. 1:22).
There will also be the final vindication of the believer, as the deeds of all are made public (Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 13:22-30).
We will have complete knowledge and a perfect vision of Christ (1 Cor. 13:9-12; 1 John 3:2).
Our struggle with temptation and sin will be over.
That salvation which Peter said is reserved in heaven for us will be fully ours (1 Pet. 1:4-5).
This is a, glorious set of truths.
And it is a glorious experience to have God at work developing in us that likeness to him for which we were created, and to know that one day his work will be complete.
So then, the Christian can sing with joy:
What a great salvation have we received!
Praise God for His Great Salvation!
This sermon was preached by Pastor Elio Marrocco on September 7, 2014 at New Life Christian Church.