you can be saved

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YOU CAN BE SAVED When I was a high school student, through the influence of a summer youth director, I came to have a personal relationship with Jesus. I had grown up in the church, was a good kid, went to youth group, and read the Bible every night. I did have spiritual questions. I wondered how I could know that I was going to heaven when I died. I’ve shared some of this with you before so I won’t go into detail here. But I knew some people were going to heaven – I had read that in the Bible. But what percentage would make the cut, I didn’t know; the Bible didn’t say. I figured the top 10% for sure. Probably if you were in the top 20%, you’d be ok. So I looked at the other kids I knew – the competition. Many of them were drinking and drugging. Most cursed and used bad language. Some of them were having sex or getting as close to it as they could. And those were just the other kids in our church youth group.


I didn’t do any of those things. I figured, I’m definitely in the top 20%, probably in the to 10%. I think I’ll be fine. If good people get into heaven, I’m going to be ok. Not realizing that spiritual pride, which I was guilty of, is the sin that God despises most. So, I got pretty comfortable with the idea that when it came to heaven, I was good to go. Before I finish the story, let me stop and say, that some of you are where I was. You’re good men. You’re good husbands and fathers. You have some faults, but compared to others when it comes to morality and integrity, you fare pretty well. And that’s your confidence. That’s what your trusting for being accepted by God and spending eternity with him. And you have no idea that you are guilty of the worst kind of pride and that you are in the gravest kind of peril, and if you do not come to understand spiritual reality better than you do now, you will be lost when the day of judgment comes.


To believe that you can stand before a holy God and be accepted because you are clothed in a righteousness of your own making means that you do not understand the holiness of God or the sinfulness of your heart or both. What helped me? I saw in my youth director, Eddie Wills, someone who had a relationship with Jesus. And it was so beautiful that I wanted it for myself. I saw that I had a religion about God; he had a relationship with God. I had a heart that was proud; he had a spirit that was humble. I had an illusion I had created; he had something real. I had a formula for being saved, he had a Savior. And the only thing I can say to my credit is that when I saw what was real and true and beautiful, by God’s grace I saw it for what it was and I wanted it for myself. Within the next year I felt a desire to go into the ministry. I wasn’t certain that God was calling me, but I was certain there are many decent people in the Methodist Church who are trusting in their own goodness for their salvation and in many of our churches they don’t hear the full truth of the Gospel and how they can be saved. And I remember telling God, I don’t know exactly what preachers do. And once I find out, I may not be able to do it.


But I can tell people about Jesus and about how to accept him so they can have a relationship with you. And unless you stop me, that’s what I’m going to do. And that’s what I’m going to do this morning. I’m going to share with you God’s great promise that you can be saved. You can be forgiven, you can know God, you can experience an abundant life in this world, and you can experience eternal life with God in the world to come. This promise is given to us in many places and in many ways throughout Scripture. But the most familiar is John 3.16-17: For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

I once had someone, a good Methodist, very sincere say to me, “We don’t believe in all that salvation stuff, do we? That’s what the Baptists believe.” Well, that salvation stuff is all throughout the Bible, including the verse that more people love and have memorized more than any other. What did Jesus say about himself? How did he define his mission?


He said about himself Luke 19.10: The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.

All that salvation stuff is the very thing that Jesus said he came to do. I hope we believe in it. In fact, his very name is about all that salvation stuff. When the angel appears to Joseph to tell him that his fiancée Mary has conceived a child by the Holy Spirit, he says, Matthew 1.21: She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

Jesus (“Yeshua” in Hebrew) means “the Lord saves.” And in particular the mission of Jesus was to save us from our sins. Where do we start with this? Let’s start with something I’ve mentioned a couple of times already in this series. 1. YOU MATTER TO GOD. Sounds familiar, I’m sure. We have spoken about this at some length. Josh Price/Mark Swayze even came and sang about it. But it’s still the place to begin. You matter deeply to God.


John 3.16 begins John 3.16: For God so loved the world. I had what I would describe as a God moment when my boys were very young. It is the most amazing thing when they place your new-born child in your arms for the first time. I remember feeling love like I had never felt before. I loved my parents. I loved my brother and sister. I loved my friends. I loved my wife. But my son – the love I felt for him was different. It was instantaneous and it had nothing to do with what he had done for me. It was just there, deep and strong. And without any expectations. All the love was flowing from me to him for no other reason than the fact that he was mine. My child. My son. After a few years passed, and his brother had come along, I remember a time when we had had a great day together, and I was still amazed how much I loved my sons. How much they meant to me, how much joy they brought me, just by being with me.


And then I had a strange thought. I wondered: Is it possible that my parents love me this way? Is it possible that I mean as much to my father as my sons mean to me. That being with me brings him the same kind of joy that being with my sons brings me? Immediately I thought: “Of course not, that’s crazy. There’s no way they could feel about me the way I feel about my sons.” But then I thought, “It’s crazy to think that as a father, I’m special somehow, and what I feel is greater or different than what other parents feel for their children. Or what my parents feel for me.” My first thought then was, “If that’s true, if that’s even possibly true, I need to be better about calling my parents and going to see them.” And then, I heard myself ask the question: Is it possible that God feels that way about me? That my heavenly Father loves me that deeply? That he finds joy when I spend time with him and open my heart to him? Could I possibly matter to God the way my sons matter to me?”


Crazy, isn’t it? Just the thought that God loves you that much, cares about you that deeply, yearns to have you that close, finds that much joy in being with you. Crazy, isn’t it? Yep, it’s the crazy, unfathomable, vulnerable love of God that he has for you. That makes you matter to him. God could relate to you as his employee. He could have set up a relationship with you where you work for him and he appreciates your labor. That would be a privilege. He could relate to you as his friend. And if he left it at that – he cared about you the way you care about your buddies – that would be mind-blowing amazing. But, he wants to have a relationship with you that goes beyond that. He wants to love you the way a father loves his child. Matthew 7.9-11: Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Jesus says, as messed up as you are, you still love your children and want to provide them with every good thing.


God is your Father, and how much more does he want to provide for you, how much more does he love you, and how much more do you matter to him than the love and care you have for your children. This is the starting place of the promise we’re given in John 3.16. God loves you more than any earthly father has ever loved his child. But that’s not where the promise ends. 2. YOUR NEED IS DESPERATE. If our lives matter to God, then it matters to God what we do with our lives. If you matter, your choices matter. If you matter, then what you give your heart to matters. what you put into your mind, what you do with your body, the spirit inside you – whether you turn it into something that is bitter and brutal, whether you make it into something that is self-centered and proud, whether you allow it to become angry or greedy or uncaring or lustful, whether you turn your life away from God or towards God, so that it becomes kind and humble and pure – if your life matters, then it matters what you do with the life you’ve been given. And if God has given us the life we have, then when we fail to choose his ways, we don’t just sin against ourselves or others, we sin against him.


And the Bible could not be clearer. We have all sinned. Romans 3.23: For all have sinned and fallen short. Isaiah 53.6: We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way. I John 1.8: If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

We are sinners. All of us. You are. I am. Paul sums it up this way. Romans 3.10: There is none who are righteous, no, not one … Some of us go through life not experiencing much guilt. not feeling many regrets. We feel pretty good about ourselves. We wouldn’t usethe term, but we feel pretty righteous about our lives. But just because we don’t feel our guilt, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Here’s a brief scene from The Big Kahuna. The young man in the scene and the Danny DeVito character have earlier talked about character. And the young man has wondered if he has any. Clip: The Big Kahuna What I want you to take away from that scene is not so much about how we get character. We’ve talked a lot about that over the years.


But how easy it is to be unaware or our failures and our sins. And how often we feel good about ourselves, not because we’re righteous, but because we are insensitive to how often and how deeply we do wrong. Wisdom, in the person of the DeVito character. wisdom gained by life’s experiences tells us that we all have done wrong, we all have things to regret, and sometimes they are things that we on our own can never make right. Well, if we have all sinned, can’t God act like our sins don’t matter? Only if he’s willing to say we don’t matter – our choices, our life, our being whole, our being righteous – only if he’s willing to quit caring about us can he refuse to care about our sins. But we do matter to God. Richard John Neuhaus: We could not bear to live in a world where wrong is taken lightly and where right and wrong finally make no difference. Spare me a gospel of easy love that makes of my life a thing without consequence. … Atonement is not an accountant's trick. It is not a kindly overlooking; it is not a "not counting" of what must count if anything in heaven or on earth is to matter. God could not simply decide not to count without declaring that we do not count.

Well, how big a deal is it that we have sinned?


Do we get a slap on the wrist? Get sent to time-out? Have to go to our room and think about what we’ve done? Were it that small of a thing; were it that God was no more holy than we are, that he cared as little about sin as we do. But God is holy. And sin not only destroys the beauty of his creation, it offends his very nature. And he cannot act as if sin does not matter unless he is willing to deny his very nature. So the Bible tells us: Romans 6.23: The wages of sin is death. Back to the promise. John 3.16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son … That’s a nice, sweet sounding phrase – he gave his Son. But it wasn’t nice. It wasn’t sweet. It was awful. It was horrendous. It was Jesus being spat upon. It was Jesus having his back torn apart with 39 lashes. It was Jesus having nails driven through his wrists and his ankles.


It was Jesus being stripped naked and listening to men mock him and call him a fool. It was Jesus on a cross, the blood weeping out of his body, and his spirit crying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It was the Father watching his Son be tortured and crucified, hearing his Son cry out his name, and knowing that this is what it meant to give his Son for the sins of the world. How big a deal is that we have sinned? That’s how big a deal it is. That’s how much you matter to God and that’s how seriously he takes our sin. Do you understand how offensive it is to think, “I’ve lived a good life. I’m better than most folks. When I stand before God, I’ll tell him that he should accept me because I’ve tried to live a decent and moral life”? Do you get what arrogance it must take to think that you can justify yourself, excuse yourself, save yourself when the Father thought that the only thing that could pay for your sins and save you was the death of his Son –


the sinless making atonement for the sinful, the righteous dying in the place of the unrighteous, the One who owed no one anything paying the debt of those who owed a debt they could never pay? The wages of sin is death. And either the penalty will be paid in you and your death, eternally separated from God. Or it will be paid in the death of Jesus. But one way or the other, our sin will be judged. “Desperate times require desperate measures.” You tell me: if the measure for your salvation is the death of Jesus, how desperate is your condition without him? 3. YOU MUST ACCEPT WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR YOU. 2 Corinthians 5.21: For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

Let’s make certain we all understand this. Christianity is not a code of ethics that tells us how to be moral. Christianity is not a philosophy to explain our place in the universe. Christianity is not a religion that tells us objective facts about God. In some ways it’s all those things, but it’s more than that. Christianity is not a self-help methodology for prideful men who still haven’t come to grips with the reality that their condition is desperate – in fact, so desperate that they cannot solve their biggest problem or fulfill their biggest need.


Christianity is Good News about what God, out of his love, has done for us in Jesus Christ and an invitation to receive the gift of forgiveness and redemption bought for us by his death on the cross. But like every gift, it must be received. John 1.11-13: He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who accepted him, to those who believed in his Name, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn – not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

How do sinful men, how do we, enter into a right relationship with God and have more than a religion about God? How do we become his children and experience the love we talked about earlier? John says we must accept him. We must believe in his Name. Remember what we said the Name of Jesus means? The Lord Saves or Savior. In other words, we give up the idea that we can save ourselves and we trust not what we do for God, but what he has done for us.


Let me contrast two ways of becoming right with God. One way is our way. It’s the way of men. It’s the way of pride and ego. The other is the way of God. It’s the way of humility and grace. HOW WE BECOME RIGHT WITH GOD Human Nature

The Gospel

1. Our merit 2. Our goodness 3. Our virtuous works for God 4. Something we earn 5. Religion 6. Do

1. God’s mercy 2. God’s grace 3. The work of Christ on the cross for us 4. Something we’re given 5. Relationship 6. Done

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is different from our egos and from the other religions of the world, because when it comes to being made right with God, the Gospel does not say: Do. It says: Done. The Gospel does not say: Achieve it. The Gospel says: Receive it. You’ve got to pick one of these two ways of becoming right with God. One appeals to our pride and says we can do enough to meet God’s standards and save ourselves. The other is humbling. In fact, it’s utterly devastating to our egos and to our pride. And some men can’t accept it.


In the movie Get Low Robert Duvall plays Felix Bush, a 1930s Tennessee hermit, who intends to throw his own funeral party while he was still alive. Earlier in life, Felix had an affair with a married woman. And when the woman's husband learned of the affair, the husband became enraged and murdered her. Felix blamed himself and for the next 40 years, deprived himself of any form of happiness. He lived alone, deep in the woods. In a moving scene, he says that he had no wife, no children, no grandchildren. He says to a friend with great sadness, “I wouldn’t even know how to hold a baby.” All of this in an attempt to atone for his sins. If it sounds sad to you. It is. But there’s more to it than that. Let’s watch. Clip: Get Low. What’s the other thing that’s going on in this scene? It’s pride. It’s the pride that says, I’ll pay for my own sins, in fact, I have paid for my own sins. If I have to ask for forgiveness, then I’ll go without.


I’ve done enough that I’m not beholding to anyone. Not even to God. It may not be that dramatic with us. But it’s that same spirit that says, I’ve done enough, I’ve been good enough, I’ve paid with a life of self-denial and good deeds. It’s the world’s way of getting right. But it’s not God’s way. Salvation is not something we achieve, it’s something we receive. It’s not a reward we earn, it’s a gift we accept. God’s way of salvation says that we are sinful, lost, and incapable of ever doing enough to atone for our sins. I get it that when I tell you that you have blown it and that there is no way you can make it right – I get it that what the Gospel teaches is so different from how you operate in the rest of your life, that it’s offensive. Give you a challenge and you’ll meet it. Set a goal and you’ll reach it. Place a problem before you and you’ll solve it. But the Gospel comes along and says the problem you’re facing in the most important area of your life is something you can’t fix and your only option is to humble yourself and ask for grace. I get how that offends your ego and your pride.


It has always been that way. 1 Corinthians 1.21-23: God has used the “foolish” Gospel we preach to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. The Gospel is nonsense to the way we think things should be. It is foolish and offensive to our human pride. But you can either have your pride or you can have Jesus. You can either believe that somehow you will save yourself or you can humble yourself and accept Jesus as your Savior. You can’t have both. What must we do to receive this gift? John says to believe in Jesus. John 3.16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that whosoever believe in him … “Believe” in the New Testament does not mean that we intellectually accept something to be true. It’s more than mental assent to a propositional truth. It’s that we trust something or someone. It means that we believe someone to the point that we are willing to act on our belief and live our lives based on who he is or what he says. And that’s what it means to believe in Jesus as Savior. We trust him as the atoning sacrifice for our sins but also enough to commit our lives to him. Almost done.


The promise is 4. YOU WILL LIVE IN RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD FOREVER. John 3.16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The Greek word for eternal is difficult to translate. It does carry with it the sense of everlasting, unending. But it’s more than that. It refers to a different kind of life. It’s life in the realm of where God exists, and it can be experienced in the here and now, not just after death in the then and there. In some ways it’s similar to the abundant life that Jesus said he came to give us in John 10. It’s a new life in relationship with and in the presence of God. And that is what is promised for those who put faith in Jesus. A couple of weeks ago, I told you that you will never be able to live the Christian life until you have a new heart, a different heart. And this is how you get that new heart and step into the new life comes from having a relationship with God. You admit your sin and confess your desperate need for a Savior. You invite him to come into your life, and you experience what it’s like to be forgiven and set free.


And his Spirit comes into your being and creates a new spirit and a new heart within you. And you discover that you not only want to follow Jesus, but that you love him and you want to serve him. This clip from The Passion of the Christ is where Mary Magdalene is cleaning up the blood of Jesus after his scourging and her remembrance of his kindness to her and his forgiveness, shows how the grace of God changes our hearts and causes us to live a different kind of life. Clip: The Passion of the Christ Any chance I’ve been speaking to you this morning? You need to be forgiven? You need a Savior? You’ve seen the folly, really the arrogance, of trying to save yourself. And you’re ready to accept Jesus and the promise that God so loved you that he gave his only-begotten Son, that if you believe in him, you would have a new life in this world and life forever with God in the world to come?