Our best efforts will never be good enough to earn salvation from our sinful nature. Sin separates us from God, and the ultimate penalty is death. God’s grace is his undeserved and unmerited favor, given as a gift, to save us from the penalty of sin and reunite us with him. By faith in Christ, we are saved through his work, not our own.
Hi, if we haven’t met yet, I’m Matt VanCleave, one of the pastors at Blue Oaks.
Today we look at the first belief that is catalytic to spiritual growth –
Salvation by grace
And to begin, I want to ask you to think about something:
If you had to come up with one word that best describes what’s meant by the term ‘salvation’ in the New Testament, what would you say it is? What’s the single word that most adequately describes what the New Testament writers mean by salvation?
I want you to see a couple verses that have the one word I think best describes what salvation is about.
John 1:4. This is said about Jesus.
In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
1 John 5:11-12
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
The salvation Jesus came to proclaim is about the availability of life.
The good news that Jesus came to proclaim is the good news of life – that it is possible to experience God’s life.
Now, something we need to understand about salvation is that it has been misunderstood by many people in our day.
A lot of people in a lot of different churches see salvation as being about what might be called the minimal entrance requirements for getting into heaven.
And this kind of salvation is not necessarily connected with this life that’s described by New Testament writers. It’s simply about how to get past the gate.
A woman dies. She goes to the gates of heaven and asks Saint Peter, “How do I get in?”
Peter says, “All you have to do is spell one word correctly.”
She asks, “What’s the word?”
He says, “Love.”
She gets it’s right and is able to go in.
A few years later, Saint Peter asks if she could watch the gate for him for a few hours, and she does.
Much to her surprise while she’s watching the gate, her husband shows up, and she asks him, “How have you been?”
He said, “Well, actually quite well. You remember that beautiful young nurse who took care of you while you were dying? I married her, and then I won the lottery and sold the little house where you and I lived and bought a great big beautiful house. My beautiful new wife and I were skiing in the Swiss Alps when I had the accident that brought me here. I’m glad I made it to heaven. How do I get in?”
She said, “You have to spell one word correctly.”
He said, “What’s the word?”
She said, “Czechoslovakia.”
A lot of people have this idea that salvation is about the minimum entrance requirements for getting past the gate.
There may be extra credit work we can do if we’re spiritual overachievers, but this kind of salvation is simply about the bare minimum. What is the minimum that I have to do or know or believe to get in?
Now, when you look at the life and teachings of Jesus, you have to ask yourself the question, where is it that Jesus lays out the minimal entrance requirements for getting into heaven?
Where does he say, “Here is the minimal that you have to do, or know, or say or believe?”
And if you’re familiar at all with Jesus’ teachings, you know he doesn’t. Jesus never presents salvation as, “Here are the minimal requirements for getting into heaven when you die.”
Let me show you what Jesus’ idea of salvation is.
Jesus came, proclaiming the Good News, that salvation is here, and this is what he says:
“The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!”
What good news is he talking about?
The good news that the kingdom of God is now here. The good news is that the life Jesus offers, life from above, is now available to ordinary human beings like you and me.
Understand that this includes the promise of an eternity with God. This includes the forgiveness of our sin, but it’s not just a way of dealing with the problem of guilt. It is that, but it’s not just that.
It’s about life! It’s about life right here and now.
And the reason this is so desperately important is that if we don’t get this right, then salvation becomes disconnected from life.
So Jesus constantly looked for ways, for parables and stories, to try to communicate to people that we can have life in all its fullness right here and right now.
If you want that kind of life, it is available to you. Your sins can be forgiven. Death itself cannot stop this life. It will continue on throughout eternity. But it starts now!
Jesus talks about this salvation in John 10. He begins in verse 7 by saying:
I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.
Jesus is saying, “I alone am the gate of salvation.” His life and teaching and death and resurrection are the only way to life.
He says, “whoever enters through me will be saved.” What does it mean to be saved?
Look at the next verse:
He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
That was a picture in Jesus’ day of a life that was safe and secure; to be able to come in and got out without being troubled.
The idea here is that nothing can separate us from the love of God – nothing. That’s part of salvation.
And Paul says they will “find pasture.”
Then in verse 10 he talks about what finding pasture or being saved amounts to.
The thief [that is, those who offer any other way to salvation] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they [that is, the sheep, you and me] may have life, and have it to the full.
So for those of us who lie in bed awake at night, filled with worry and anxiety and fear, Jesus is saying we can, over time, through the help of the spirit, learn to live in peace.
And those of us who are eaten up by pride or arrogance, throwing our lives away in a race to establish our greatness, we can find the freedom of humility.
And those of us who lead double lives, who live in deception, we can find the radical mercy of honesty and truth-telling.
This is salvation. This is the life Jesus offers here and now to all who will receive it.
And this is the kind of salvation Jesus worked so very hard to try to communicate.
There’s a story in the Gospel of John, chapter 11 where Mary and Martha come to Jesus with the news that their brother had died.
They’re upset at Jesus that he didn’t come and heal Lazarus before he died.
Jesus wants to assure Martha that Lazarus will live, that he will heal him. He said:
“Your brother will rise again.”
Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
Martha is saying, “I know he will be with us again in Heaven.”
And then Jesus makes this statement. This has got to be one of the most remarkable statements in all of Scripture.
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Think about what a compelling statement Jesus is making.
Imagine for a moment that someone you love gets sick and you ask me to come and pray. But I don’t make it until your loved one dies.
You’re upset and you say, “I wish you would have come and prayed. Maybe God would have healed my relative.”
Imagine, then, that I said, “Fear not. Don’t be afraid. I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will never die.”
You would think I was crazy right? Because no human being in his or her right mind would say that. No other religious leader would ever say that.
But Jesus said it, and He asked Martha what He asks people still: “Do you believe this? Do you believe that I am the Resurrection and the life?” Jesus says.
“Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
Now, I want to pause for a moment and ask you the same question Jesus asked Martha? “Do you believe this?”
That’s a crucial question. And maybe you’re not sure. Maybe you’re a little curious about who Jesus is. Maybe the next step for you is to say, “You know, I’m not sure what I believe, but I’m going to explore who Jesus is. I want to find out.”
That’s a great place to be. Keep searching. If you’re not sure, then I hope you’ll make a decision to keep searching.
Well, in the time that remains in this message, I want to paint as clear a picture as I can about what it means to receive salvation – this life Jesus offers. What does it mean to believe in Jesus? What are we committing to when we become a believer, when we become a Christian, a follower of Jesus?
Alright, now what does it mean to receive salvation? What does it mean to become a child of God and have the assurance that you will experience life with him today and tomorrow and forever throughout eternity?
This is the absolute core of Christianity.
And the good news is it really is quite simple.
I’ll explain it and then I’ll give you an opportunity to make a decision.
Maybe you haven’t done that before. So today my hope is that you come to a full understanding of what it takes to become a Christian – what’s at the heart of the Christian faith – what salvation by grace is.
Maybe for you, this is going to be the day that you decide to commit your life to God.
I’m going to walk through it and then give you a chance to respond.
Now, to make this as absolutely clear and evident as I can, I want to use three images that represent what’s at the heart of Christianity.
This first image is a stain.
And the question is – what will remove the stain?
When I was in college I was a food server at Chili’s.
One night I was serving an older couple. She ordered the BBQ ribs. Her husband told me about how it was her favorite meal, and how they don’t eat out very often so this was a special occasion.
Now I have to preface the next part by saying the rack of ribs was huge and barely fit on the plate. Half of the ribs were hanging off the plate and they were dripping with BBQ sauce.
As I went to serve the plate to this women, the ribs started to fall off the plate. It was like everything went into slow motion.
I saw the ribs falling but I couldn’t do anything to catch them.
My instinct was to pull the plate away which made the ribs land on the table right in front of the woman, which I was relieved about… until I realized the BBQ sauce splashed onto her white blouse.
Later we found out it splashed on her blouse, her skirt and even got on her shoes somehow.
Now here’s the deal: She was stained. She was stained all over. We couldn’t pretend not to notice it. We couldn’t hide it. We couldn’t rinse it off. We couldn’t cover it up. It was just there. None of us in the restaurant could remove the stain.
One of the primary ways the writers of Scripture talk about God’s offer of salvation, of forgiveness and new life, is the image of cleansing.
And it starts with this truth – I’m stained in my soul, in my heart… and so are you.
That’s the truth about us.
This is so important.
*Every time I gossip.
*Every time I deceive another person.
*Every time I cheat on an expense account or my taxes.
*Every time I’m involved in selfish behavior.
*Every time I use words to hurt someone.
That’s another stain and another stain and another one. And I cannot remove the guilt, the stain, by myself.
Here’s another real important point – everyone is stained. You are stained. I am stained.
And then, of course, the question is, “How do you get the stain out? What’s God’s opinion of that stain?”
Some people have this idea that God keeps a list of the good things I do and the bad things I do. As long as the good things outweigh the bad things then I’m probably okay.
People just get funny ideas about this sort of thing.
Everyone is aware of the fact that there are bad things that happen in this world and that I have done some bad things. But a lot of people kind of hope that God more or less grades on the curve.
The hope is that the passing grade is a little below whatever my grade happens to be.
Everyone is aware of the fact that there are bad people, but no one thinks they fit in that category. “I know there are people who score way higher than me, but I think my score is probably a reasonable score for human beings and, you know, the curve will be set somewhere beneath that. As long as I’ve got more good than bad.”
Well, the writers of Scripture are very clear on this. God’s standard for human beings is not 51 percent good and 49 percent bad. That’s not God’s plan.
God is a holy and just God and his plan is that human beings, you and me, and the world in which we live, should experience life as he made it to be – sheer goodness, sheer truth, sheer love, sheer mercy.
His plan is not for us just to barely tip the scales. It’s absolute goodness. And we’re stained, you and I. We have sinned and fall short, and we can’t cleanse that stain by ourselves.
There’s a statement about this in Jeremiah 2:22. God speaks to the prophet and he talks about the fact that we’re stained.
Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder, the stain of your guilt is still before me,” declares the Lord God.
So I’m stained, I’m guilty, I can’t remove it myself.
God’s standard is purity, perfection. So what am I going to do?
Well, God has made a way.
This now gets right to the heart of salvation by grace.
God sent his son, Jesus Christ, to live and to teach us on earth.
Jesus lived without sin, showed us what life could be, and then Jesus went to the cross and he died on the cross. The writers of scripture say when that happened, Jesus, in a sense, was paying a penalty that you can’t pay.
The apostle Paul said in
For the wages of sin is death.
My life was headed toward death apart from God’s help and so was yours.
But Jesus died the death that I should have died – and he did it for you too.
And in doing that he was paying the penalty to God that I could never pay, paying the moral indebtedness that I would never be able to pay off – you either – and offering us the opportunity to be cleansed.
This is the way the writers of scripture talk about that. In 1 John 1:7, in the New Testament, John says:
1 John 1:7
And the blood of Jesus, his son, cleanses us from all sin.
You can be clean – not on the basis of your good works, not because of what you do, not because you’ve earned it, not because of how much money you give.
You can be clean no matter how badly you’re stained, no matter what it is that you’ve done in the past… however awful that may seem to you.
The blood of Jesus is wholly adequate to cleanse you and me from sin.
This is the heart of Christianity.
How does God handle the stain factor?
Through the cross, through the shed blood of his son. It’s that simple.
Now, there’s another image I want you to consider – a computer. And hopefully this will make this absolutely clear.
One of the amazing things about computers is they have what we call memory – RAM – random access memory.
But, of course, what a computer can remember is nothing next to God… who has unlimited storage capacity in his memory.
That means God knows everything there is to know about you. Everything you’ve ever done, everything you’ve ever said, everything you’ve ever thought, it’s all there.
But what about the things that I wish I wouldn’t have said, wish I had not done? What about the wrong things, the stains that are on my record?
Well, computers have a little button that says “delete,” and they’re able to delete things.
I was listening to a financial webinar recently and taking notes in Evernote, which is kind of like my electronic brain. I store everything in Evernote.
Well, later that night I was looking at my notes and somehow deleted the note. I don’t know how I did it, but it’s gone. I can’t for the life of me figure out how to retrieve it.
I was thinking after that happened, wouldn’t it be great if life came with a delete button?
Have you ever said something and as soon as the words were out of your mouth you knew the damage that it was going to do, and you thought, “I’d give just about anything if I could just delete it, just take it back,” but you couldn’t?
I know that pain.
Well, the writers of scripture say God longs to remove from your record all of the guilt and the wrongdoing, the foolish and bad and hurtful things that you’ve said and done… and me too.
God longs to forgive them, not because you pile up some string of good works, but based on his grace.
It’s a gift fully expressed in his son, Jesus, in his death on the cross. God just wants to wipe it clean from your record… mine too.
There’s a statement about this in the Book of Jeremiah, where God talks about his longing to forgive us.
For I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more.
It’s like it’s gone from God’s memory. It’s like it never happened. It becomes irrelevant in your relationship with him.
I need to say a word here about how comprehensive this forgiveness is because in our world you may have to work pretty hard to get your record clean, but it’s not very comprehensive.
Several years ago I had to do online traffic school.
It’s an interesting thing about why people do traffic school. People don’t do traffic school just because they want to get a better rules of the road education and become better drivers.
Why do people go to traffic school?
The truth is hundreds of thousands of people go to traffic school every year… for one reason.
Because they have a violation on their record. And they want it removed. Because they know that the law enforcement people and the insurance people are able to get together and delete it from the record.
Everyone who does traffic school has a blot on their driving record.
I had to do traffic school because I had a very minor infraction. The officer didn’t even really want to write me up for it, but just as an integrity thing I kind of insisted.
I had to go through about two hours of traffic school to get one blot deleted from the record.
After I finished… someone, somewhere, hit the delete button on a computer and it was gone. It’s like it never happened.
But it’s not very comprehensive. If, at some point, I get another ticket, I can’t just say to the officer: “Hey, I’ve been to traffic school. Therefore, I’m clean and innocent before the state so you can’t give me a ticket.”
In fact, if I get another blot on my record, I’ll have to go back to traffic school again to get it erased, and if it’s within 18 months, I can’t get it erased.
Now, it’s very important that you understand the comprehensive nature of the forgiveness that’s offered through what Jesus did on the cross.
It covers everything in your whole life from the time you were born.
Whatever sin you’ve committed in your past, no matter how big or bad it looks and feels to you, whatever sin happened today and whatever sin is going to happen in the future, God’s offer of forgiveness through Jesus’ shed blood on the cross covers it all… the whole thing, your whole life.
Now, of course, that is not an invitation or a license to sin in the future. And it doesn’t mean you won’t struggle with sin in the future. We’re going to have to wrestle with sin as long as we live.
But you need to understand this: The blood of Jesus that was shed for you and that cleanses you from sin is the only price that needs to be paid for you.
There is nothing else that needs to be added to it, and it covers every sin of your past and of this day and of every day until the day you die. It is the comprehensive assurance of God’s forgiveness.
God is standing there saying, “I want to hit the delete button. I want to cleanse your record from now through the day that you die. Will you just say ‘yes’? Will you just take from me this gift of forgiveness that I’m offering?”
Amazingly, unbelievably, there are people who understand that but never give God the word, never say, “God, just hit the button. God, I want to be forgiven based on what Jesus did for me.”
It’s that simple. God offers you innocence, a clean record before him.
“I will remember your sin no more,” God says.
The offer of life and salvation at the core of Christianity is an offer to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus. It’s an offer to be forgiven of your sin by God.
Alright, now there’s a third image that I think will help you understand this – the image is adoption.
I want you to think of my daughter and my son who my wife and I adopted into our family.
The writers of scripture sometimes talk about God’s offer to save us in terms of being adopted into God’s family.
We adopted my daughter Amryn when she was 1 year old. We adopted my son Ezra when he was 5 years old. These are my children and I love them unconditionally. I would die for them.
The longing to be part of a family is one of the strongest longings in the human heart.
If you talk to children who are orphans, their one and only hope is to be adopted into a family.
Well, the writers of Scripture say, unbelievably, that right at the core of God’s heart is this longing for human beings even though we are fallen and sinful and sometimes stubborn and defiant before him. He has this longing for us to be adopted into his family.
So he uses the language of adoption.
Paul writes about this to the church of Rome.
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again;
Now, what he means by this is the Christian faith is not about being slaves to some rigid, legalistic, religious system where you have to live in anxiety.
“Am I okay with God or am I not okay with God?”
“Am I going to make it or am I not?”
“That’s not it,” he says. “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear.”
So if that’s the way you’ve been thinking about Christianity and religion, you’ve got it all wrong,” Paul says.
rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.
That is, you have been adopted into the family of God.
Now, when we adopted Amryn and Ezra, we didn’t do it on the basis of their merit or their good works.
It was just a gift. We adopted them because of our love for them as parents.
Well, Paul is saying, “God is a loving father, and he has adopted you into his family on the basis of what Jesus did for you on the cross. And you are now God’s child.”
And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
You can – not on the basis of your good works, but by God’s grace through what Jesus did on the cross – be adopted forever into God’s family.
You can know for sure that for the rest of your life and then throughout all of eternity, you are a child of God.
This is right at the core of Jesus’ message.
In the Gospel of John in the New Testament, John writes about this. He put it like this:
To all who did receive him,
That is, to all who received Jesus as the Savior and Lord of their life.
to those who believed in his name,
That is, to those who trust in him.
he gave the right to become children of God.
It’s that simple.
You can be cleansed, and you can be forgiven, your guilt erased… and you can be adopted. You can know for sure that you are a child of God.
That’s the core of Christianity.
It happens not as a result of your good works, but as God’s gracious gift through what his son, Jesus, did on the cross. It’s that simple. It’s that easy to understand.
But now, you must respond. You must decide. You have to choose. You have to declare yourself, and I want to give you a moment to do that.
If you’ve never before made this decision, but if you’ve become clear on it today. If you now understand what it means to become a Christian, to be cleansed and forgiven and adopted, not on the basis of your good works, the decision just works like this.
All it takes is you say this to God, you can say it right now from your heart:
“God, I acknowledge now I’m a sinner. I have stains, I’ve got guilt. That’s been a burden on me. Sometimes I try to forget it but I know it’s there, and I know you know it’s there, God.
“So I’m going to stop trying to earn my way into your favor by doing good things. I’m not going to depend on a list of good behaviors. I understand now, God, that when Jesus died on the cross he died in my place. He paid my penalty. His blood was shed to cleanse me and he would have done that if I was the only person in the world. I understand that, God.
“And so now, as an act of faith, God, I receive your forgiveness, your mercy. I want to be your child, adopted into your family. I put my life into your hands. I will spend the rest of my life as a follower, as a student of Jesus.”
Now, if you’re making this decision in your heart, I want to say this is the most important decision you will ever make.
And there may come times when you have doubts, when you question your salvation.
I want to give you a few verses to write down so you can have confidence in your salvation.
The first verse is what the apostle Paul says in
Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.
Paul says, “This is a trustworthy saying; this is a sure thing.”
Paul also says in
And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.
Think about that. You are an heir of God and a co-heir with Jesus Christ.
John writes in
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.
That’s a foundational belief within the doctrine of salvation – we are safe and secure, nothing can snatch us from the Father’s hand. You don’t have to worry about your salvation once you’ve made a decision to be adopted into God’s family.
Alright, let me pray for you.
Blue Oaks Church