What is Salvation?
WHAT IS SALVATION?
A professional football coach was asked how to coach players who are already at the pinnacle of success. Players working in the NFL are at the highest rung of the ladder. They know about how to play their position and the game.
The coach gave a surprising answer. As a linesman coach, he said he begins every season by teaching the three-point stance.
For those who do not know, the three-point stance is the most basic position for players at the start of a play. The coach said it is vitally essential to begin each season with the fundamentals. When the players lose sight of the basics, the mistakes magnify.
As we begin the series, Perfect Salvation, we will start at the very basics of salvation in Christ. We will answer the question, “What is Salvation?” We can never assume our knowledge is complete. If we don’t know the fundamentals, we will have faulty answers to the more challenging questions.
Around 1994, I took an informal poll at a Christian weekend family camp. I asked adults and teens the question, what does it mean to be saved. The answers differed from person to person. If I were an unbeliever, I might conclude that salvation is different things to different people.
The goal this morning is that we all will have the same basic answer to the question, “what is salvation.” We seek the unity of the faith.
MAIN IDEA: Know and believe that faith in Christ saves us from unrighteousness, spiritual deadness, and God’s just wrath.
Salvation is a rescue from a danger that can cause harm or death. A Christian is rescued from danger by a Savior.
We are saved from 1) unrighteousness, 2) God’s wrath, and 3) from being spiritually dead. These three points relate to one another.
We have a bonus point (a three-point sermon and a bonus point)! We will address what salvation is not.
WE NEED TO BE SAVED FROM UNRIGHTEOUSNESS
The first point about salvation is that we need to be saved from unrighteousness. Sinning is unrighteous. Unrighteousness is the opposite of being righteous. The best way to think of righteousness is “right-ness.” Those who are righteous do the right things. Righteousness encompasses being good (goodness), holy (holiness), and never being wrong in thought, speech, or conduct. Righteousness is being free from sin. If we are righteous, everything we think, say, or do is right.
God renders a verdict and says that all people are unrighteous. Brace yourself for the description of how we appear from God’s vantage point. God says,
“THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;
THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,
THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;
ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE,
TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;
THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,
THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Christians are aware of God’s verdict. But, outside of Christianity, the verdict of being unrighteous is considered slander. People do not believe themselves to be unrighteous. Approach someone and proclaim them to be unrighteous, and they will declare the verdict as unfounded and ridiculous. How dare we say such a thing!
Our culture believes that every person is good. The belief that people are righteous is at the core of thinking; people are loving, gentle, and compassionate. We see this belief celebrated on social media, in movies, and the news.
Because people believe themselves to be good, they see no reason to be saved from being unrighteous. If people truly believed themselves to be guilty of unrighteousness before the throne of God, wouldn’t they be attempting to make things right with God? When is the last time we heard someone say, “I have a problem with sin?”
Most people are not murderers. Many make donations to the needy. For the most part, everyone believes in justice, being loving, and serving others for the sake of a better world.
People in our culture believe that if there is an afterlife, they will enter heaven because they are good. They will stand before the judgment of God, who will weigh the scales of justice, and the balance will tip to good.
The problem with thinking everyone is righteous is that people are the standard for comparison. When we compare ourselves to other people, we will always see ourselves better than most.
Culture has a shortlist of bad people we carry in our pocket. The names on the list are Judas Iscariot, Nero, Ivan the Terrible, Joseph Stalin, Benito Mussolini, Idi Amin, Sadam Hussein, and everyone’s favorite evil person, Adolph Hitler. Compared to them, we are very righteous.
D.L. Moody once said, “The best way to show that a stick is crooked is not to argue about it or to spend time denouncing it, but to lay a straight stick alongside it.” Unfortunately, we do not have a straight stick to lay beside our crooked stick of life. We will never encounter a perfectly righteous person.
We cannot measure by human standards. We need to compare ourselves using God’s measurement. Jesus said, “There is only One who is good” (Matthew 19:17), and He was referring to God.
The prophet Isaiah is given a vision of God on His throne. Isaiah sees Cherubim next to God’s throne crying out, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” They are saying, perfectly good, perfectly good, perfectly good.
Isaiah sees God’s perfection and says, “Woe is me.” I thought I was good, but I realize I am far from good. Woe is me, for I am condemned. I am guilty of unrighteousness. We, and everyone we know, need an Isaiah vision to agree with God’s verdict that we are unrighteous.
Not one of us is righteous, not one. No one does good, not even one.
WE NEED TO BE SAVED FROM GOD’S WRATH
We need to be saved from unrighteousness for a very good reason, and that reason is that our unrighteousness brings God’s wrath. God is right to be angry because to be unrighteous is to be in rebellion to God as the Sovereign Lord and Master of Creation.
As we learned not too long ago in our sermon series on unity, God designs creation in perfect unity (https://redbarnchurch.com/Archives/the-unity-of-creation/). Everything is in perfect order and moral perfection. Unrighteousness breaks unity and is a stain on God’s perfect creation. As I heard it said recently, “sin is a tear in the fabric of God’s universe.”
The sad reality is that we, unrighteous people, get angry over unrighteousness. We cry out for justice when unrighteousness is exposed. We watch movies or read a book and have great satisfaction when evil is put to an end. We cheer when the good hero defeats the unrighteous villain.
Citizens rise against evil and unrighteous governments. Nations send armies to fight against unrighteousness in other lands. We put locks on our homes to keep the unrighteous away. Whenever we cry out for unrighteousness to end, we agree with God that unrighteousness must be judged and punished.
God must judge what is wrong; otherwise, He is not God. If evildoers, such as Adolph Hitler, do not face a final judgment, is God worthy of our worship and praise?
Unfortunately, God’s verdict of unrighteousness extends beyond Adolph Hitler to us. We are all guilty of being unrighteous.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18)
Therefore, we need to be saved. We need to be delivered or rescued from the wrath of God. God’s just judgment and wrath is inevitable. The Bible says no unrighteous person has any inheritance in the kingdom of God. The Bible warns us not to be deceived by those who might say there is no judgment. Indeed, the wrath of God will come upon all who are disobedient and unrighteous (Ephesians 5:5-6).
God’s wrath is nothing to take lightly. It is complete condemnation. God creates hell as the eternal dwelling for the unrighteous. No created being can endure God’s wrath. Listen to the Bible describe what it is like:
Wail, for the day of the LORD is near! It will come as destruction from the Almighty. Therefore all hands will fall limp, and every man’s heart will melt. They will be terrified, pains and anguish will take hold of them; they will writhe like a woman in labor, they will look at one another in astonishment, their faces aflame. Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, cruel, with fury and burning anger, to make the land a desolation; and He will exterminate its sinners from it. (Isaiah 13:6-9)
and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:16-17)
There is much more, but I think we get the point. We are unrighteous and face God’s wrath and condemnation. We need to be saved.
As we contemplate God’s wrath, I ask that you not be discouraged. I recognize listening to the truth that we are unrighteous, and hearing of God’s is not pleasant. But, if we do not see our need for salvation, and if we do not believe that we deserve God’s just wrath, then we will not fully appreciate salvation in Christ.
Think of it this way. When we view a diamond at a jeweler shop, the seller places the diamond upon a black cloth. In doing so, they create a stark contrast of dark and light.
In the same way, God’s grace shines brightly against the backdrop of our unrighteousness and God’s wrath. The bright diamond of God’s grace shines in all its glory because the truth of our deserved punishment frames it.
WE NEED TO BE SAVED FROM BEING SPIRITUALLY DEAD
Well, perhaps we can do something about our unrighteousness! Let’s get busy doing good.
There is more bad news. Our problem is spiritual, and we can do nothing because we are spiritually dead. Spiritually dead people cannot do good works to please God, a Spirit Who requires spiritual worshippers (John 4:24).
How is it that we are dead? In the Garden of Eden, God gave a command. He said to Adam,
“From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17)
But, when Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree, we see that they are still physically alive. They walk about the Garden. They talk. It appears that they do not die as God said that they would. However, they did die. They died spiritually.
A dead spirit in Adam cannot procreate. Therefore, every person born of Adam is physically alive but spiritually dead. We are all born of Adam, and we are all born spiritually dead.
This is why Jesus tells Nicodemus in John chapter three that we need to be born again. We need to be spiritually born because we are spiritually dead.
Listen to Scripture speak about our spiritual deadness:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
Spiritually dead people need to be saved from being dead. We need regeneration.
We need salvation from unrighteousness. We need rescue from the inevitable wrath of God. And, there is no hope for us unless we are made spiritually alive.
Because today is the last day of January, we will have a bonus point for our three-point sermon. The bonus point is to discuss what salvation is not.
WHAT SALVATION IS NOT
Salvation is not an escape from the troubles of this world. Some teach salvation will change a person’s worldly circumstances for the better. They say to follow Jesus and to get a better job, more money, and a better life in general. Follow Jesus and find victorious Christian living.
“Once you truly see that the very spirit and power of Jesus resides on the inside of you, nothing - no amount of debt, no disease, no problem of any kind – will be able to defeat you.” (Kenneth Copeland)
“God has already done everything He’s going to do. The ball is now in your court. If you want success, if you want wisdom, if you want to be prosperous and healthy, you’re going to have to do more than meditate and believe; you must boldly declare words of faith and victory over yourself and your family.” (Joel Osteen)
Salvation promises heavenly blessings, not worldly blessings. Salvation occurs in the spiritual realm, not in this world.
We might desire to be free of sickness, but death is inescapable. If salvation is an escape from physical death, we need to explain why every Saint of God from the early church is dead.
Jesus said to His disciples that in this world, we would have trouble (John 15:18-19; 16:33). We are not to expect that just because we put our faith in Jesus, life will suddenly get better. Our life may become more difficult. Christians do not escape sickness, sorrow, pain, or financial hardships.
Nowhere in Scripture do we find that salvation results in worldly prosperity. Instead, we find Christians forsake the riches of the world. The saints of God give rather than receive and share rather than accumulate. We must be careful to only promise what Scripture promises. We cannot promise people if they follow Jesus, everything will be wonderful.
This is not to say that God may not choose to bless a person financially, physically, or materially after they are saved. What it means is that we are in no position to guarantee anything except what will come at the end of the age. We serve people best when we let them know that there is a cost to following Jesus. We must deny ourselves and pick up our cross daily. Followers of Jesus joyfully choose to suffer the reproaches of Christ rather than seek the conveniences of the world (Hebrews 11).
Salvation is not fully realized in our finite age, instead, it takes place outside of time. Salvation is eternally realized. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). We are adopted children of God in heaven, but we are not recognized as God’s children in this world. The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that we are (present tense) justified, even though we still sin. We are glorified, even though we walk today in the flesh (Rom 8:28-30).
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians describes us as being made alive spiritually in Christ, and that we are raised with Jesus and sit with Him in the heavenly places – present tense (Ephesians 2:4-7). Yet, here we sit.
Our understanding of our salvation as being spiritual and eternal and not taking place in the here and now is essential. If we think of our salvation as being fully realized in this world, we will have, and we will give others, the wrong expectations when difficulties come about.
Bonus point conclusion: Salvation is not fully realized in this world or at this time.
ANSWER TO THE QUESTION, WHAT IS SALVATION
We can summarize the answer to the question, what is salvation, with this main idea: Know and believe that Christ saves us from unrighteousness, spiritual deadness, and God’s just wrath. We conclude on a very positive note! We end with hope because God provides a way for us to be saved from His wrath. God saves us from Himself!
For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:9)