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29th April 2001
"HOW DO I KNOW I AM SAVED?"
Romans : 3:21-26
When the founder of the Salvation Army, General William Booth was preaching the Gospel in the open air one time, he suddenly stopped preaching and stabbed a finger at a young man busily writing, and called out, "Young man, are you saved?" To which the astonished individual replied, "Me, sir? I'm a reporter."
Many of us would have replied the same. If we were suddenly challenged, we would say: "Me? I"m an Australian." or "Me? I come from Sydney." or "Me I'm Church of England." The fact is, that when we hear of someone who needs the Gospel of Salvation, we think it applies to someone else. Too many of us when we are faced with the issue of eternal life and freedom from our sin, protest, like the rich young Ruler who knew the commandments: Matt 19:18-20 "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbour as yourself.' " "All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?". It was as if he replied: "Me sir? I've haven't done anything of which I am ashamed" Once, a man told me he was a Christian because he had an aunt in Bendigo who was a Baptist! Salvation is seen to be needed by others, not us. Yet as Norman Goodacre wrote: "Mankind needs, above all else, salvation. He needs to turn round and see that God is standing there with a rope ready to throw to him if only he will catch it and attach it to himself." The men who wrote the Nicean Creed were in no doubt: "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,... For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven." Jesus came to save us from our sins. How do we know we are saved? We could ask:
1. WILL PEOPLE BE SAVED IF THEY ARE LIBERATED?
There are tragic examples of people being held in bondage. The alcoholic and the drug addict are bound to bottle and needle. If they could be set free from that bondage would that not save them? Some people think the way to salvation in this world is by liberating people. Some want freedom from all law and restraint. They argue that humanity is bound by oppressive regulation and freedom will allow people to live as they desire. I visited a commune where the people wanted a life of peace and happiness with free drugs and free sex. But those who were most free became enslaved to drug addiction, sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS. Some people want to be liberated from any form of commitment - to society, the government, the church, the future, believing that if they were free they would be able to live the life abundant. Liberation Theology seeks to free people from all bondage to enable salvation.
If a man has his arms bound to his side, then he cannot play the violin. So the argument goes - release him, set him free and you will hear music. But if you released him it does not necessarily mean he can play the violin. No man can play the violin with arms tied. But just because he is released does not mean he can play. He needs not only freedom from bondage, but skill and learning to play. So with spiritual bondage. Freedom from sin is essential, but you also need to know how to live life to the full. Jesus Christ saves us from the bondage of sin, but then empowers us to live life to the full. Liberation by itself, does not guarantee the capacity to enjoy life to the full. We need to be saved from sin, and then skilled in how we best can help others.
2. DOES THIS MEAN EVERYONE WILL BE SAVED?
There is no doubt that the scriptures teach that everyone can be saved, but they do not teach that everyone will be saved. There runs through the entire New Testament a strong strain of predestination. That means God chooses those who will be saved. Others who do not respond to Him, will not be saved. This strain of thought has influenced the theological development of the West tremendously. Whether we turn to Augustine or Aquinas or Calvin, we see in their view only some are predestined to eternal life, and that the rest of predestined to eternal death. However, as John Wesley said, the choice of whether we will believe in Jesus or not, is still ours. God does not make salvation automatic.
It requires the response of the believing heart. God gives even those who never heard the name of Jesus the opportunity to respond to Him through the promptings of their conscience. As Paul put it: Rom 1:19-20 "Since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." Rom 2:6-10 The Bible does not say that ultimately all will be saved but that all are without excuse. Some passages give the idea of a universal salvation, but mostly the Church teaches salvation is only of those who have faith in Christ Jesus.
God has promised not only to save the person from sin, but to keep him saved. Heb 7:25 "Therefore Jesus is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them." We can rest secure in Christ because Jesus is both "the author and finisher of our faith". Heb 12:2
The work of salvation is finished. We only need to trust Him for it. He has given His word that He will be with us always. We need someone to be by our side for support. The Bible tells us that we are not alone. God has promised never to leave us. Heb 13:5 "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Believers know they are saved because God has the power to keep the believer from falling. God promises that He will do so.
3. HOW CAN WE KNOW WE ARE SAVED?
A Roman jailer at Philippi thought his prisoners had escaped during an earthquake. Paul convinced him that they were all there. Ironically, they had been free even when the prison gates had been shut. The jailer who had held the keys had been in bondage to fear and despair. He recognised Paul spoke the truth and cried out: Acts 16:31 "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household." It was belief in the good news about Jesus that saved Him.
He believed and was baptised, and then demonstrated the indwelling presence of God. Counselling, mood-altering drugs, psychosurgery, and other forms of therapy are often needed to help cure people with behavioral problems, emotional disorders and the knowledge that they are far from God. But these treatments cannot make them good. Charles Colson, the prison reformer, tells of a frustrated prison psychiatrist who exclaimed, "I can cure a person's madness, but not his badness." To do that calls for getting to the heart of the problem - sin. The only way to make bad people good is to expose them to the gospel.
At dinner I was sitting next to a Professor of Surgery from Sydney University. He had just returned from the island of Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America where he had been continuing his studies into the life of the famous biologist, Charles Darwin. I reminded him that even Charles Darwin, the man who propounded the theory of evolution, admitted the presence of sin within the hearts of people, particularly the natives of Tierra del Feugo whom he described as the most savage people he had ever seen. Darwin wrote that he found among the people the most horrifying savagery and bestiality beyond description. But when he returned there after a missionary arrived to work among the people, he was amazed at the change in them. He acknowledged that the gospel does transform lives. He was so moved by what he saw that he contributed money to the mission until his death. He also wrote to a new minister in his home village: "Your services have done more for our village in a few months than all our efforts for many years. We have never been able to reclaim a single drunkard, but through your services I do not know that there is a drunkard left in the village!"
How can a person be saved like that? The purpose of the coming of Jesus among us, was to: "save his people from their sins." Matt 1:21 No explanation about Jesus is adequate or truthful that does not conform to the Biblical truth about why Jesus came - He came "to save his people from their sins." This was the meaning of His name 'Jesus'. Salvation was to be through Him alone. Salvation is deliverance from sin and from the wrath of God as the ultimate fate which awaits the sinner and to life in Jesus which is life indeed. Rom. 5:9-10
Christians are those people who are sure they are saved. Christianity is not good advice about morals. It is good news about God and what He has done for us. That has the most profound implications for each one of us personally, for it removes our burden of guilt and affects our eternal destiny. But it also has profound outworkings that effect society at large. For we who are saved from sin, are saved for God's service. Jesus saves us from our sins, and He saves us for His service. Whenever we speak of being saved, we are describing an experience that has two sides - a divine side and a human side. From the divine side, salvation is by God's grace alone. As Wesley put it, "There is nothing we are, or have, or do, which can deserve the least thing at God's hand." St. Paul expressed it: "For it is by grace you have been saved" Eph.2:8 It is only by divine action that anyone is saved. From the human side, salvation is by personal faith. Paul goes on to say, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith." Personal faith is the human response to divine grace. It is our reaction to God's prior action. That personal faith is evidenced by the way we serve others, especially the poor, the needy and the powerless - those who can never pay us back. Acts 2:21; Rom. 13:11; 1 Cor. 5:5; Heb. 9:28. However, Christians are also described as 'those who are being saved' Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15 and also as 'those who have been saved' Eph. 2:5,8
Today, Salvation is misunderstood as freeing people from hunger, poverty and the threat of war so that they may live a whole life in this world without talking about freedom from sin. The spiritual salvation is pushed into the background. People fail to realise the major need of humanity is for reconciliation with God.
When there is peace between God and humanity then lasting peace between the peoples of the world is possible. We care for the physical needs of people, but salvation starts with their spiritual needs.
We are saved by God; we cannot save ourselves by our own efforts: Titus 3:5 "He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit." Salvation is always dependent on the grace of God, through Jesus Christ whose incarnation and atoning death took place in order that He might save sinners. 1 Tim. 1:15 "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." You can know for sure you are saved because Jesus promises: John 5:24 "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." See the logic? If you hear His word and believe in God, you have (it is already assured. Certain. Sure!) eternal life. You have already crossed over from death to life. Assured! Certain! Sure!
How you are saved is revealed in the Scriptures. You are saved through the preaching of the gospel provided you respond to the gospel with faith and repentance; those who "call upon the Lord are saved." Rom 10:10 Salvation describes God's action in rescuing you from your sin and its consequences and bringing you into a right relationship with God and His blessings. If General Booth were here tonight, he would ask you as I now do: "Are you saved?" And how do you reply? Are you sure you are saved?
Colin R. Coote "Memoirs of General Wm Booth"
Alan Richardson. "A Dictionary Of Christian Theology" SCM Press Ltd. 1969.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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