February 15, 2007

It's a good thing He's the Savior, not me!

Long ago, a preacher evaluated his sermons by three criteria: Does it humble sinners? Does it exalt Jesus Christ? Does it promote godliness?

Since reading about him, I’ve adopted his criteria for not only my Bible classes but my theology. However, this was challenged a few weeks ago. Someone told me that salvation is not secure but can be lost, and to keep it, believers must be without sin in their lives when they die or they will not go to heaven.

Of course every Christian is responsible to obey God, and we cannot assume that being saved means we can do what we feel like, yet that person’s view of salvation has flaws. It cannot explain some plain teaching in Scripture, nor does it pass the above 3-fold test.

Humility is realizing that I can do nothing to merit the favor of God or to earn my own salvation. Ephesians 2 makes that plain: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

In my theology, salvation has a past, present and future aspect. That means I have been saved, I am being saved, I will be saved. God, in Christ, gave me eternal life and saved me from the penalty of sin. I am forgiven and have eternal life; this is past tense (and if life is eternal, by definition, it cannot end). My penalty was paid at the Cross. It is finished!

When God gave me the faith to believe that, and when Jesus entered my heart, His life became my life. “He who has the Son has life.” Right now, that life continually saves from the power of sin. This is an ongoing work of Christ who lives in me.

Yes, I need to obey Him, and sometimes do not, but that eternal life in the person of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit never leaves me or forsakes me. He is my life, and even though I may not always yield to Him, He is saving me.

He also will save me. A day will come when I step into eternity and will be free from the presence of sin. That is the promise of God to all who belong to Him, to those who have been saved from sin’s penalty and are being saved from its power.

The salvation of God humbles me. I don’t deserve it, can’t earn it, and definitely cannot keep it apart from His great power at work in me. Even saying just that about the work of Jesus Christ exalts Him—yet I know that, apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, I’d never exalt Jesus. I’d take the credit for everything He does. I might even say that it is me that is responsible to worship, serve and obey Him, but I know that without Him, none of that would happen. My obedience totally depends on Him.

Some might say my view of this eternal security in salvation would promote carelessness not godliness. They say such thinking means I will do anything I want, but perhaps they don’t recognize the power of the indwelling Christ. While my pride hates to admit it, I’ve tried to walk away, to do my own thing, to ignore the One who gave Himself for me. It doesn’t work. He won’t let me.

When Jesus Christ became my Savior, He began a work in me that He promised to finish. At times I might be kicking and screaming in resistance, but He never gives up in His saving work. He’s already dealt with the penalty of sin, but isn’t finished saving me from the power of sin and knows how to make me both willing and able to cooperate (Philippians 2:13).

Yes, it is possible to resist Him and do our own thing, refusing His efforts to restore us. I’ve known a few who did. They were taken quickly from this world, and I believe this was not as punishment (their penalty for sin is already paid) but to rescue them permanently from the power of sin, a power that they refused to overcome using the weapons God gave them.

1 Peter 1 says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation. . . .”

Peter goes on to say that God’s people rejoice in this salvation even though we are, if need be, grieved by various trials. These trials are testing and proving the genuineness of our faith so that we will praise, honor, and glorify Jesus Christ whom we love. He says this is an inexpressible joy because God’s people know we are “receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.”

Today I am joyfully remembering that even faith is a gift from God and rejoicing that He is the Savior. I am the sinner who for now is struggling with trials, but I am saved by grace—by His loving power that is using those trials to change my life. His Word and His Spirit totally assure me that He, combined with the faith He gave me, will overpower my sinful ways and bring me to that perfect inheritance that He has reserved in heaven for me.

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