Understanding Our Great Salvation

Article by Pastor Mark Scholten

The Bad News

What is salvation?  How does one “get saved”?  To put it quite simply, to be saved we must
truly know ourselves and we must truly know God.

I have bad news and I have good news.  The bad news deals with who we are in God’s sight and the good news is what God has decided to do about it.  I am going to give the troubling news first because that will make the good news all that sweeter when it comes.

Well then, here is the bad news.  You are not perfect.  Now, that was not so hard.  Everyone will readily admit that he is not perfect.  “Sure,” we say, “I have my faults and weaknesses; I am not perfect.”  But the problem is that we do not ask why we have faults and weaknesses.

The old 49er’s, the gold hunters would pan for gold in a mountain stream.  They would find a few specks of gold dust, a small nugget or two.  Then they would look for the mother lode, the place where all the gold dust and small nuggets had originated.  They were looking for the source, the fountain of that stream of gold.

We should do the same thing with our faults and weaknesses, our sins and imperfections.  Where do they all come from?  Is there a source, a fountainhead, or a mother lode for these sins?  Yes, there is.

“The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen. 6:5)

The thoughts of our hearts are only evil continually.  We are sinful to the very core of our beings.  Now that is bad news.

What would you think of a doctor who treated only the obvious symptoms and not the dreaded disease?  If he said, “You have a terrible infection; I will give you something for the searing pain and something for the burning fever, but nothing for the infection,” I think that you would be looking for another, more competent, doctor.

Friend, your sins are not merely mistakes, or bad judgments, or a temporary slip of your moral compass; but rather your sins are the evidence of a disease called sinfulness.  We are sinners by our very nature.  Just as a bird flies because he is a bird, we sin because we are sinners.

Now don’t misunderstand.  Every man is not as bad as he can possibly be.  But every part of man, his mind, his body, his emotion, has been devastated by sin, like a hand mirror that falls to the ground.  It is not shattered into as many pieces as possible, but every part of that mirror is broken and useless.  Every faculty of our human nature has fallen.

Because of our sins and sinfulness we cannot do anything good in the eyes of God.

“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless;  there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

Now don’t misunderstand again.  All men can do good things in the eyes of their fellow men.  They can built a sturdy bridge, they can bake a delicious French silk pie. But they cannot do spiritual good in the eyes of God.  They cannot save themselves.  In other words, they cannot do anything to earn the favor and smile of God anymore.  We cannot clean up the mess that we have made of ourselves.

Have you ever hiked along a mountain trail in the autumn?  It is beautiful to behold God’s hand in nature.  Have you ever noticed a fallen tree?  Somehow it seems fitting and appropriate in the middle of the woods.  But have you ever rolled that fallen tree over to notice the caterpillars, and roaches, and rolly-pollies as they scurry for darkness?  You are like that fallen tree.  On the outside you can look alive and attractive, but inside you are full of all uncleanness.

I have bad news for you today.  You are a sinner.  I am a sinner.  And we cannot save ourselves nor do anything good in the eyes of God.  We are rebels against the God who has given us life.

That truth, when acknowledged, will cause a man to cry out, “What must I do to be saved?”  Listen to the words of the Lord Jesus Christ as we close.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for you souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Here is hope for sinners in Jesus Christ.

God Decides to Save Some 

What has God decided to do about man’s sinfulness?

Earlier we heard the bad news.  All men are sinful from birth and they cannot cleanse themselves.  The thoughts of their hearts are only evil all the time. There is no one who does good, not even one.

Today we begin with the good news.  The Good news in a word is¼ God. God has decided to do something spectacular, something that thrilled and surprised even the unfallen angels.  God has looked down on the mass of sinful humanity and said, although they all deserve to die for their sins, I am going to save some.  I am going to make a way of salvation for fallen, helpless sinners.  God has decided to save some.

Romans 9 is called by some the most neglected chapter in the Bible.  It is a difficult chapter but the basic message is plain; we do not decide to save ourselves, God decides.  Salvation does not depend on our efforts, but on God’s mercy. “I will have mercy on whom  I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:15-16) It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.  God has decided to save a multitude that no man can number from every tribe and tongue and nation to the praise of his glorious grace.   Some are uncomfortable with this teaching.  They claim it is not God’s decision but theirs.  “It is my
choice,” they say, “not God’s.  I decide, not God.”

There were once three scuba divers that were exploring in an underwater cave. They all became lost in the cave and could not find the way out, and their air was running out.  They all willed to be saved, and they searched for a way out of the cave.  But they could not find the way.  They needed someone to show them the way, to dive down into the cave and save them. They could not save themselves and they could not simply decide to be saved.  They needed someone to decide to save them.  Remarkably, two of the three did come out alive, because someone decided to save them.

So, too, you are lost in your sins, and you cannot decide to save yourselves.  You need someone to decide to save you.

“For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

A second  objection claims that it isn’t fair to everyone unless they all can decide to be saved. It isn’t fair of God to save some and not all.  What is really fair?  If all men have sinned and are guilty before God, what is fair or just for them?  They must die for their sin and rebellion against God.  We do not want God to be fair with us; we want him to be gracious.  We do not want God to give us what we deserve; we want him to save us.

And that is the good news, God has in grace decided to save.  The marvelous truth that often seems to be missed, is the astonishing mercy that God has shown in saving any at all.  There is a way of salvation through the astonishing abundance of the mercy and grace of God.

That is why I began with the bad news that you are a guilty sinner and you cannot save yourself, because if you truly believe yourself to be a sinner, you will not object to God’s decision to save some.  Instead you will marvel in the great grace and kindness of God in saving anyone.   This is good news; this is the gospel. God has made a way of salvation for his chosen people.

What a great comfort this is to all those who believe.  God has decided to save me, to place me in the never-ending care of Jesus Christ.  I am in the hands of Jesus Christ and no one shall ever take me out of his hand.

How do I know that I am one of the some that God decided to save?  I will answer your question with a question.  Do you believe in Jesus the Christ and rest in him alone for salvation?  If so, you are saved.

God has decided to clean up the mess that we have made because of sin.  That is the good news.  Are you searching for God?  Do you want to be saved?  Jesus invites you to believe in him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for you souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus Saves 

We have heard the bad news, that we are helpless, guilty sinners.  And we have heard the beginning of the Good News, that God has decided to save some.  But now the question is how can God save? What will God do to clean up the mess that our sin has caused? Today’s Good news is that Jesus saves.

When Joseph found out that his fiancée, Mary was pregnant, and he knew that he was not the father, he decided to break the engagement quietly.  Then an angel appeared to Joseph to encourage him to marry Mary.  The angel instructed Joseph to name the special child Jesus.  Matthew 1:21: “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  This whole series of meditations is summarized in that verse. We are entangled in sins and we cannot free ourselves.  God has chosen to save His people from their sins, and now he has sent Jesus to save them from their sins.

Jesus saves.  He does all the work, he cleans up all the mess caused by sin.  He suffered on the cross to pay the price for sin.  Like the old gospel hymn says, “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow.”

Many are confused on this very point.  They think that faith saves.  They think that when they make a commitment to Christ, or when they publicly profess their faith, when they accept Jesus, that that faith saves them.  Your faith does not save you.  Jesus saves you through faith, or by the instrument of faith.

Remember the bowl of cereal in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”?  The shrunken children were wallowing around in a bowl of soggy Cheerios®.  When the father finally noticed them, he
scooped them out with a spoon.  Now, would the children thank the spoon, or the father?  So, too, with faith: it is the spoon that the father uses to save us.  Faith does not save;  Jesus saves through faith.

We call Jesus the Savior with good reason.  He saves his people from their sins.  Jesus has not died to make salvation possible, but to make it certain. “Father, the time has come.  Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.”   (John 17:1-2)

Jesus came to save his people from their sins, all of his people from all of their sins.   And Jesus has achieved that objective; he has truly saved his people.  When he uttered from the cross, “It is finished,” (John 19: 30) he meant what he said: the price for our salvation had been fully paid.

We cannot add anything to the perfect salvation of Christ, nor do we have to. Jesus has paid it all.  Salvation is a complete gift; nothing needs to be added.

We don’t add our goods works to Christ’s death for our salvation.  Christ’s death is our entire salvation.  When I ask my young children to clean the dishes, I check their work and
I often have to add a little work of my own in order to finish the job.  If you check into Jesus’ work, you will find nothing that you have to add.  His work was done well, and it is complete.  Jesus saves.

We don’t even add our faith to the work of Jesus on the cross.  Rather, faith rests in what Jesus has done; it doesn’t add a thing.  Faith, as Francis Schaeffer has said, is the open and empty hand by which we lay hold of salvation that is freely offered in the gospel.

You need a savior, a complete savior.  All those whom God has chosen to save from sin Jesus has come to die for. When Jesus died on the cross he had the names of all his people engraved on his hands.   “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Christian, rejoice that all your sins were paid for on the cross, that Jesus saves his people from their sins.

The Spirit’s Overpowering Work/Grace 

We have heard the bad news that we are sinners who cannot save ourselves.  And we have begun to hear the good news that God has made a plan to save his people from their sins and that Jesus has come to pay for sin and to save his people.  But now the question arises, how does that finished work of salvation which the Father planned and which Jesus completed come to me?  How is the saving work of Christ applied to my needy soul?

John 16:5-11 “Now I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’  Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief.  But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

Jesus was about to leave his disciples and return to his Father.  The disciples of Jesus were grieved and Jesus was comforting them.  He makes one of the most astonishing statements in Scripture in verse 7. “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  (John 16:7)

What is Jesus saying?  It is better for you to have the Holy Spirit, or counselor, than to have my physical presence.  Why? What is the Spirit going to do? He is going to bring to the world a full and free salvation.  Jesus goes on to explain that the Spirit will convict the world of guilt.

He will convince those in the world of three things:  sin, righteousness and judgment.

  • He will convince those in the world of the sin of unbelief.
  • He will convince those in the world of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
  • He will convince those in the world of the defeat of Satan and the forces of evil
    by the cross of Christ.

When a sinner is under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, three things will be true of him.

First, he will see the foolishness and the sinfulness of not believing in Jesus Christ.  One commentary put it this way, “When you think of it, it is an amazing thing that men would put their trust for all eternity in a crucified Jewish criminal. What convinces men that this crucified Jew is the Son of God?  That is the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Second, he will confess that he is not righteous in himself and he needs the righteousness of Jesus Christ in order to be right with God.  The Holy Spirit will convince those in the world that there is only one who is righteous, and that is Jesus.  Many think that they are righteous; or at least that they are better than most people and they are hoping that God will judge on a curve.  Many people try to build a ladder of good works up to heaven and then climb up that ladder themselves; but all such attempts to win the favor of God by our feeble good works are impossible.  Salvation depends not on our works but rather on Christ’s work.  This is what the Spirit will come to convince us of. There is righteousness acceptable to God to be found only in Jesus Christ. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,”  (Romans 3:23 ) and, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Third, when the Holy Spirit convicts a man, he will confess that he is under condemnation because he belongs to the unbelieving world and the defeated devil.

“He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”  (Matthew 12:30) and, “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.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)

In short, a man under conviction will confess that he is a sinner and stands condemned  for  his  sins before God, and that he needs Jesus to pay for his sins and to give him a righteousness that will stand before God.

Conversion, in other words, is the work of the Holy Spirit.  He pulls the blinders off from our eyes that we might see our sin and shame.  He strips us of all our self-righteousness and self-sufficiency and shows us our need of Jesus Christ.  He finds us spiritually dead and gives us new life in Christ. “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins.” (Colossians 2:13)

As the hymn writer puts it, “I know not how this saving faith to me he did impart, nor how believing in his Word wrought peace within my heart.  I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin, revealing Jesus through the Word, creating faith within.  But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”  (Trinity Hymnal #705, “I Know Whom I Have Believed”, by Daniel Whittle.)

Have you been convicted of the sin of unbelief?  Have you been convinced that Jesus alone is righteous?  Have you been convinced of the judgment to come?  Has the Holy Spirit begun his saving work on your sin-sick soul?

If you believe and rest in the work of Christ, you are a Christian.  The Holy Spirit has worked a miracle within you.  God the Holy Spirit has taken away your stony heart and given you a new heart.  And if you are a Christian today, give thanks to God for his precious gift of salvation.

Our Salvation is Safe in God’s Hands 

Can we lose our salvation?  If salvation is entirely in the hands of God and we can add nothing to it, if salvation is based on Christ and him crucified plus nothing, if salvation is offered to us whole and complete on the basis of the work of Christ on the cross, then our salvation is not in our hands.  We cannot lose it.

“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 can 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.” (John 10:27-29)

Who are the sheep that have eternal life, that shall never perish, and that cannot be snatched out of the Father’s hand?  They are the people of God, those whom God has chosen to save with an everlasting salvation.  Christ knows them and they follow him.  Those who by a true and saving faith trust in Jesus Christ as he is offered in the gospel will follow him  and  show their love by keeping his commandments.  That is the obedience of faith.

Many things that we trust in this life can disappoint us.  We place trust in the schools to educate our children, but they can fail to teach even the basics.   We trust in the stock market to multiply our retirement nest egg, but stocks can lose value.   We trust in our cars to bring us to work each day, but batteries can run out of juice.  But Jesus Christ and the salvation offered in his name is one thing we can trust and never be disappointed.  Our salvation is safe in the hands of the Father and the Son.  When we believe we receive eternal life.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.  Having believed, you were marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 13-14)

Jesus has prayed for you as a believer in Christ.  What has he prayed? “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”  (John 17:24)

What about those who appear to be believers but fall away from and reject the faith?  There are many that profess faith in Christ but do not follow Christ unto the end.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into  the  kingdom of  heaven,  but  only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

“They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.  For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (1 John 2:19)

Those who walk away from Christ never really belonged to or trusted in Christ.

What a great comfort it is to know that our salvation is eternally safe in the hands of the God of our salvation.  Here is a word o fadvice.  Don’t try to take your salvation out of God’s hands and into your own.  You remember the boldest of the disciples, Peter.  He had such a zeal for Jesus.  At times he was commended for his bold faith.  When Jesus asked His disciples the question, ‘Who am I?’ Peter boldly proclaimed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  (Matthew 16:16)  Jesus commended Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17)

On the night that Jesus was betrayed Jesus told his disciples that they would all fall away on account of him.  Peter replied in great pride and confidence, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33)  He was taking salvation into his own hands, he had faith in his faith and not in his Lord.  In fact he was contradicting the Lord Jesus by his very words.  And that night Peter did deny that he even knew Jesus three times.

As Peter matured in the faith, he put less and less trust in himself, and more and more in the power of God.  We read of this in 1 Peter 1:3-6:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-6)

Your great salvation is safe and secure in the hands of your God.