In this second session, we will explore two really big words:
SALVATION and the GOSPEL.
These are two words that are largely misunderstood by those outside of church circles – and often not well understood inside the church either!
Who can remember someone asking you this big question:
“ARE YOU SAVED?”
I don’t know how you responded, but some would respond with an equally big question:
“SAVED FROM WHAT?”
Many people don’t feel any need to be “saved” – they aren’t drowning, no one is pointing a lethal weapon at them… they don’t feel particularly threatened in any way.
The other word – GOSPEL – is also “church-speak” that is more likely understood by those outside the church as an expression – like: “its the gospel truth”. Even if it has a Christian connotation, it may not be understood for what it means – GOOD NEWS.
To understand why the Good News is such good news, we need to understand the “Bad News” – that we are actually in very big trouble and need to be saved from it!
Let’s read some passages of Scripture and understand this “bad news”:
Genesis 2:15-17 NIV
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’
Romans 5:12 NLT
When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.
Romans 6:23 NIV
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Ephesians 2:1-5 NIV
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Revelation 20:12-15 NIV
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Colossians 1:13-14 NIV
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
There is some bad news in these texts – and some scary bad news!
It turns out that our earliest ancestor broke a very important rule – at that stage, the only rule God had given him! And the result was catastrophic! Not only did Adam bring a death sentence upon himself, this sentence was passed on from generation to generation – like a horrific genetic defect. This defect is called “sin”. And this sin defect lines all mankind up for a horrific eternal state that the Bible calls “the second death” or “the lake of fire” – most people speak of it as “hell”.
Legally speaking, we all sin against God (because of the inherited defect) and are, as a result, guilty and subject to punishment.
Relationally speaking we all disobey God and are as a result, set against God and subject to his anger or wrath.
This is bad news!!
This bad news offends many – they cry “foul!” and “that’s not fair!” But it is not unfair – it is universally just. This is actually justice.
I remember getting a speeding fine once – I was easing out of a small rural town when both a traffic officer and the speed limit sign came into view and I was issued a fine. I protested that I was “almost out of town”. I was offended because I am consistently obedient to speed limits. I hoped for special treatment because I was a national serviceman at the time. But I got the ticket and had to pay the fine. And, offended as I was, that was just.
The bad news is that we have broken God’s laws and are guilty. Justice says that there must be a penalty. Its a horrific one – we are lined up for the lake of fire!
We need to be saved from this!
Fortunately, God is not only just – he is also loving – so he has provided a way of escape so that people will not face his righteous judgment. This is the “good news” or Gospel.
If the Good News was only “fire insurance” – a way to escape hell – that would make it great news – but it is even better! There is more good news! Not only can we be spared the just penalty for our sin, we can also be set free from its power!
Part of the bad news was our “genetic defect” – we were infected with sin and it enslaved us. It enabled the devil to manipulate us into more and more sin… and sin and the devil are very cruel masters!
But Jesus did not only take on our death sentence, he set us free from our prison! We are set free from the oppression of sin and the devil as we move under the safe rule of Jesus.
Saved from what?
Saved from the grip of sin and of the devil! Saved from the wrath of God – and eternity in the lake of fire!
Aren’t you glad you’re saved?!! (or don’t you now wish you were?)
When we recognise the gravity of the situation, we surely want to be saved. Yet some people believe that God does not want them… They are too far gone… They have done too many bad things… They have been brought up in another religious system…
So our next important question is:
IS SALVATION FOR EVERYONE? or DOES GOD WANT ME?
Let’s see what the Bible says about this:
2 Peter 3:9 NIV
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Romans 10:9-13 NIV
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
John 1:10-13 NIV
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Mark 16:15-16 NIV
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Note the all-inclusive statements:
…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
…“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
…Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God
Scripture is clear that God wants everyone to be saved.
It is also clear that not everyone will be.
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
This reveals the tension between God’s will and ours. God gives us many choices is life – and to embrace his plan of salvation is one of them.
Again we see God seeking and man hiding. But the question is not “Is God willing?” but “Are WE willing?”
Salvation is available to everyone. God wants everyone to be saved. But we have to respond in faith to his offer; this is where the problem lies!
Now… if our response is essential, how we respond is surely vital!
So our next big question is:
WHAT must we DO to be saved?
Let’s turn to the Scriptures again:
Isaiah 64:6 NIV
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
Romans 3:20 NIV
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.
Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
Galatians 2:21 NIV
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
John 6:28-29 NIV
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
There are a great many religious practices that people hope will get them closer to God – like bringing sacrifices, paying penance, observing all manner of rituals, obeying laws… Some may result in a better lifestyle – but none of these can save.
According to Scripture, our most righteous act is still dirty in God’s eyes (“like filthy rags”).
Laws are helpful – and God gave Israel a most magnificent set of laws – but laws do not save! Instead, laws expose our wrongdoing! The better our laws, the more aware we become of our sinfulness.
God has declared us unable to rescue ourselves – so we need to be rescued. We need a saviour – and God has provided one – Jesus!
God’s rescue plan is truly humbling. We have to stop trying to save ourselves, admit defeat, and take hold of the life-line he has extended to us – by believing in Jesus.
Our pride is offended. We are “grace cases”… “helpless objects of mercy”! The only thing we DO is BELIEVE in Jesus as our rescuer.
Now… some of you have been told otherwise – you have been told that there are some other things you have to do to be saved. You may even have seen verses in the Bible that seem to tell you that.
You see, although we are saved by grace – through faith – there are some things that should follow our belief that Jesus is the saviour we need. Particularly, the Bible speaks of
REPENTANCE, DECLARATION OF FAITH AND BAPTISM
Let’s talk about those briefly.
Here are some of the Scriptures that speak of them:
Acts 2:36-39 NIV
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Mark 16:15-16 NIV
He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
Romans 10:9-10 NIV
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
Some have concluded that these actions must be done in addition to believing in order to be saved. But salvation is clearly “not by works”, so these “works” in themselves do not save.
That said, salvation is such a profound event that it must be expressed! It will surely show!
And these texts describe how we can expect it to show. Let me explain:
The Greek word translated “repent” is “metanoeō” – meaning “to change one’s mind”, “to think differently or afterwards”, “to reconsider”.
When we believe the message of the Gospel, we change our minds about a number of things: we acknowledge that our sin is real, wrong and that we need to be set free from it… we acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves… and we recognise that Jesus is the one who saves. This is CHANGED THINKING – in other words, repentance.
DECLARATION or PROFESSION OF FAITH
When we come to believe the message of the Gospel, we have come to some massive realisations: of horrendously bad news and incredibly good news. This news is bigger than the biggest news in the media! It therefore makes sense that we will inevitably speak of these things – we will tell our amazing story! This is declaration or profession of faith.
While changed thinking and telling our story are obvious expressions of salvation, baptism is not obvious in our 21st century western culture. But in the first century it clearly was.
Baptism was evidently an obvious expression of faith to the Ethiopian we read about in Acts 8; and similarly to the jailer and his family that we read about in Acts 16:31-33. In both instances, baptism was an immediate response as if this were a natural response to the people’s faith. Historians tell us that baptism was a common religious rite that represented entering a new phase of life – such as conversion, or ordination as a priest.
Is this act essential for salvation? If we consider the one thief crucified with Jesus, the answer must be no! He was dying on a cross when he came to faith and had no way of being baptised – and Jesus responded to his faith with the promise of being with him in paradise.
When we consider these things and the overwhelming view of Scripture that we are not saved by works, we cannot say that baptism is necessary for salvation. It is nevertheless a vital expression of salvation – and we will take a closer look at baptism in a later session.
I think it may be a good to give James the last word in this conversation:
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. – James 2:18 NIV
One last question on this:
ARE THERE OTHER WAYS TO BE SAVED?
Two passages of Scripture address this question very clearly:
John 14:6 NIV
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Acts 4:12 NIV
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.
This truth is deeply offensive to some, particularly to devout followers of other religions. We must not deny or try to minimise this offense. Rather, we must help people wrestle through the offense.
It is interesting that we would not be offended if someone sent us directions to a place we wanted to go – say a holiday resort. We wouldn’t get mad with them and say “How dare they tell us how to get there?! How dare they tell us to take the N2 south – I want to take the N3 west!” Or “How dare they say access is by 4×4 vehicles only?! I want to go in my car!” We understand that there is sometimes only one way to get to a place. Directions – especially where access is difficult and restricted – are very helpful.
Yet when Jesus gives us directions to heaven (a destination off this planet), this offends some people. We need to see this: Jesus is not being exclusive, he is being helpful!
Here’s a big thought: If anyone has the right to be offended by Jesus being declared the only way, surely it would be God himself? After all, he himself gave the Jews the “Law of Moses” – the Jewish religion was “his idea” – and this is not good enough to save! If this does not offend God himself, I think all other religious groups can put their offense aside!
LIVING OUT YOUR SALVATION
EVENT OR PROCESS?
In the Bible, you will find the expressions “saved” and “being saved” – which may confuse you. You may well ask:
Is salvation and event, a process… or both?
Ephesians 2:8 NIV
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God
1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Scripture tells us that salvation is both event and process.
There is most surely a “moment of truth” when we “get it” regarding the Gospel. “It happens” – we believe and we are saved. “Today you will be with me in paradise.” “You have been saved.”
But that is not the end of the matter – this “moment of truth” is also a “moment within a process”; we see in Scripture that there is an ongoing process as well. We are “being saved” – there is still a work going on in us! God is not finished with us!!
Romans 8:29-30 (NIV) would have won the prize for “most theological concepts in two sentences”! Look at the words; then we’ll unpack them:
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
There are a number of theological terms used to describe this “salvation process”:
God is eternal – he lives outside of time. So from his vantage point of eternity, he sees our lives from beginning to end. He sees our birth, our death, and everything in between. We can’t surprise him! He foreknows us.
In itself, this can be an academic thought. But it helps us enormously with the next big word:
Predestination means God’s plans for us go ahead of us. In other words, we have a “divine destiny”.
Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV1984)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
That’s a great thought, but we get into a tangle when we put that against our free will!
It poses one massive question: could it be that God sovereignly predestines some for salvation and some for damnation, thereby taking away our choice to believe or not?
There is a long-running debate between
- extreme “Calvinists” (after Calvin) – they maintain that God’s sovereign will always overrides man’s will – so our salvation is completely up to God.
- extreme “Arminians” (after Arminius) – they maintain that man’s free will can override God’s will so our salvation is completely up to us.
We won’t try to resolve the debate in this course – this is a foundations course! There are situations in the Bible where we see God appear to override the will of man – for example the Pharoah in Exodus and Judas the betrayer of Jesus.
But I will offer you a perspective:
According to Romans 8:29, God predestined those he foreknew. This gives room for eternal God to foreknow (from outside of time) what choices we will make and predestin accordingly!
Regardless of our limited understanding, we know that God is at work in our lives before we come to believe in him.
The next word is Calling
Calling is the term used to describe God reaching out to us before we reach out to him. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). This is God’s amazing grace, that he calls us while we are still in our state of rebellion. God is the instigator of salvation! Yet another reason why there is no room for pride in the family of God!
Justification is all about our new status. Justification is a legal term, similar to a “not guilty” sentence; an acquitted person would be told “I justify you” by the judge.
Negatively, God forgives our sin (Jesus takes our sin);
positively, God declares us righteousness (we are given Jesus’ righteousness).
When we believe in Christ’s offer of salvation and embrace it, we are justified – given right standing with God. In his eyes, we are now his holy saints.
Romans 5:1-2 (NIV) puts it like this:
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
When we are saved, God gives us a new status – one we can stand firm in!
Justification describes our new status; regeneration is a word used to describe our new nature.
When we believe in Christ’s offer of salvation and embrace it, we are regenerated – or “born again”. This is an immediate spiritual transformation:
1 Peter 1:23 NIV
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
Justification removes the penalty for sin; regeneration removes the power of sin. We are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6 describes this more fully). We are now able to say “no” to sin and “yes” to righteousness.
This new nature can take time to become visible. For some, their transformation is immediately and dramatically evident (particularly when the person was in a very obvious state of sinfulness). For others, the transformation is neither immediately evident, nor is it particularly dramatic (particularly if they were “nice sinners”!)
Which leads us on to the part of the process in which we are living:
Sanctification means “to be set apart” or “made holy”.
In terms of our justification, we have been made holy positionally:
Hebrews 10:10 NIV
And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
In terms of practical outworking on earth, our sanctification, we are being made holy:
Hebrews 10:14 NIV
For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Philippians 2:12 NIV
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling…
The process of sanctification is restricted to our earthly life as believers – how long we live between conversion and death (or Jesus’ return). The most extreme case in Scripture is the thief on the cross who only had a few painful hours for sanctification – but was with Jesus in glory that same day!
That said, sanctification is a living testimony to the reality of salvation, so is very important!
The final phase of our salvation process is the one we look forward to the most:
Listen to Philippians 3:20-21 (NIV)
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Saviour from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
And to 2 Corinthians 5:1-5 (NIV)
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Glorification is the last and most glorious “phase” of salvation. This is when we will receive our full inheritance: new eternal bodies and a new eternal home!
Phew! OK, that’s as theologically heavy as we’ll get on this course!
While it can be really helpful to understand these things, it can be even more helpful to know what this “new creation” is all about.
So we’ll end this session with a look at
OUR NEW IDENTITY
Our faith in Christ does not just save us from the wrath of God; it begins a brand new life!
We are not the same person trying to live with a new set of rules; we are transformed into a new person:
2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV
…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!
John 1:12-13 NIV
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Galatians 2:20 NIV
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
If you have put your faith in Jesus as your saviour, you have been adopted by God as his child. You can call God Father and know that you are his beloved child!
This new life is not the old you trying to learn new ways; it is a new you with Jesus Christ at work in you! What you were powerless to do, you are now empowered to do!
Our new identity is a magnificent, life-changing study and I urge you to prayerfully work through a “Who I am in Christ” study. As we recognise who God has declared us to be, we begin to live the glorious new life he has given us!
Your New Identity In Christ
(Adapted from Living Free in Christ and Victory Over the Darkness by Dr. Neil Anderson)
You Are a New Creation in Christ
God has given you a brand new life – “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
You were crucified with Christ. You no longer live, spiritually, but Christ lives in you. The life you are now living is Christ’s life (Galatians 2:20).
You died with Christ, spiritually, and died to the power of sin’s rule over your life (Romans 6:1-7).
You’ve been given the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Christ Himself is in you (Colossians 1:27).
You’ve been forgiven of all your sins. The debt of sin against you has been canceled (Colossians 1:13-14).
You’ve already been made complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10).
You’ve been given a spirit of power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7).
You Are Accepted in Christ
You are God’s child (John 1:12).
You are Christ’s friend (John 15:15).
You are united with Christ and one with Him in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17).
You’ve been bought with a price. You belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
You are a member of Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:27).
You are holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4). • You are adopted as God’s child (Ephesians 1:5).
You have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:18).
You may approach God with freedom and confidence (Ephesians 3:12).
You Are Secure in Christ
You are free forever from condemnation (Romans 8:1).
You can be assured that all things in your life will work together for good (Rom 8:28).
You can never be separated from the love of God (Romans 8:35-39). • You are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3).
The good work that God has begun in you will be completed (Philippians 1:6).
You are a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20).
You will find grace and mercy in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
You are born of God, and the Evil One cannot touch you (1 John 5:18).