A young man came to Jesus one day asking about how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus spoke to him about keeping the commandments which the man said that he had always tried to do. Jesus responded, “If you would be complete sell your possessions, give to the poor, and come follow me”.(Matthew 19:21) The young man went away sad because he was very wealthy. There is much we could say about this encounter, but what stood out to me about this passage were Jesus’ words, “if you would be complete” or be perfect in other translations. Our salvation is complete. It is a totally finished act of God’s grace in Jesus on Calvary. We do nothing to make it any more complete, yet do we want it? Or are we more content with our own will, our own ways, our own desires? God holds out a Kingdom to us, as we wrote about yesterday, but we can refuse to yield to his gift. It is like someone given a beautifully wrapped present. It is totally theirs, but if they refuse to unwrap it the treasure inside is of little use. Keep your heart set on that treasure, the righteousness of Christ won for you at the cross. You will grow more into it day by day as the Lord makes you complete.
We have probably all read or heard some of those after death experiences people report. People are clinically dead for a period of time, brought back to life, and report what they saw. I don’t put too much stock in many of these, but there is one after death experience that is important for all of us who confess faith in Jesus Christ. Paul wrote to the Ephesian church, “You were dead in your transgressions and sin in which you used to live…(2:1) But then he goes on to explain, “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…”(4&5) By faith in Jesus Christ we have all died to sin and been raised to a new life in Christ. It is in that life we live each day. A common characteristic of the reported after death experiences is that people are no longer afraid of death. Our certainty in Christ is more sure. We have died and been raised again. We are already living in resurrected life. We need not fear the transition at physical for “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.(Romans 8:39)
Someone asked Jesus “What must we do to do the works God requires?”(John 6:28) After all God is Almighty. He is the creator of everything. There must be certain things we have to do to please Him. I guess they expected Jesus to give a list of duties that would please God, but He didn’t. He simply answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” But it can’t be that simple! I must have to do something to earn God’s favor. Didn’t He give us the Ten Commandments and all that? Yes He did, and they are important, but they are not the central thing God is looking for. The message from both Old and New Testaments is that God is looking for a people who are willing to trust Him, to put Him first in their lives. Yes, God is pleased with out good works, but they are not the basis for our life with Him. We come before God in righteousness given to us through faith in Jesus Christ.(Romans 3:22) Our life in God is a pure gift of grace to all who believe. So it really is that simple, but it is also completely life changing.
We understand from Scripture that we can do nothing to earn our salvation. Our salvation is a free and unearned gift of God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is important to understand two things that this does not mean. First, that, because we have our salvation as a gift, we are now free to do anything we want because God has accepted us. That would be an affront to the holiness of God, and a very dangerous path to walk. Second, because we can do nothing to earn our salvation, we therefore do not have to do anything. That would be a serious neglect of the gracious gift God has given. In Paul’s great statement about the free gift of our salvation in Ephesians 2:8 & 9, it is immediately followed by verse 10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We do not work to earn our salvation. But the more we understand and appreciate the magnitude of the gift of life we have been given, the more we want to share that gift in service to others. Paul wrote to the Romans, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” We can’t contain that love. By God’s grace it pours out in words and actions to the glory of our good Lord.
Many have trouble with the exclusive claims of Christianity. That access to God is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Jesus said, “I am the way the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(John 14:6) And Peter will later declare “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”(Acts 4:12) I’m not sure why this is difficult to understand. There is no earthly monarch or national leader that can be approach any way we please. There is always protocol and strict security. And now we are seeking to approach Almighty God. Don’t all faiths lead to the same god? No they don’t. But, we hear, God is love. He wouldn’t reject anyone. Yes, He is love, a deeper love than we can ever possible imagine. This is why He specifies the way we are to come to Him, a way that is for our best good, a way of cleansing, renewal of life, and wholeness. At the same time that Scripture declares salvation to be by faith in Christ alone, it also declares this path to the open to all people. St. Paul wrote that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”(I Timothy 2:4-6) God would not have gone to the extreme length of sacrificing His only begotten Son if there had been another way for the salvation of mankind.
I have written often about our salvation in Christ being completely free. It is purely an act of God’s grace that we receive through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no ladder system to climb, no amount of good works to make ourselves worthy of God. However, there is a cost to our relationship with Christ. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35) The cost is yielding the whole of our will in complete trust of our Lord. This is why marriage is used as a symbol of Christ and His church, the bridegroom and the bride. Marriage is not a 50/50 relationship, but a 100/100 relationship, each one giving themselves 100% to make this marriage work, to make one new person out of the two. Jesus has given Himself 100% to us. That is the depth of His love. He is not asking us to do a few good works. He is asking that we commit our life completely to Him in love. As in marriage, that is pretty costly, but it leads to the greatest joy.
God came to man! Do you realize how astounding that is? And the way He came, how contrary to anything we would expect? All faiths, except Christianity, have their ways of man going to God. And the pagan concepts of god or gods were always of great power, doing mighty deeds. We declare that our God of mercy and love, came to us because we are incapable of ever coming near to Him. And He came, not in power, but born of a woman, exactly as we all have been. Astounding! God is Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. By His command the stars were put in place, and all motion is governed by His will. He hold our very breath in His hands, and knows the number of our days. Yet, He is a God of pure love, who meets us where we are, in all of our sin, pain, and failure. He didn’t come to Lord it over us, but, born as an infant in a stable. He walked the path of life that we walk. He came intending to give His life as a sacrifice so that we could be redeemed. Almighty God became a man out of love for us. Astounding, and worthy of all our worship.
“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.”(Ephesians 2:8-9) We know this is the wonderful truth of our God. We are reconciled to God, we have our salvation, through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. “Gee! Now I’m saved. My future is secure. I can live the rest of my life and do whatever I want.” Oh? Is that really true? Some may think so, but that would be like a young couple getting married. “Now we are married. We have the certificate to prove it. We don’t have to do anything else.” Each spouse can do whatever they want. We know that is not true. The honeymoon is when the work begins, the work of seeing that the marriage grows, and lasts “till death us do part”. But the work of marriage is out of love, not a legal requirement. It is a desire to grow and bond together as “one flesh” as God intended. The same is true with our “marriage” to our Lord. He has saved us by His free gift of grace. Now, in love, we want to grow, and become one with Him who has given Himself to us. Salvation is when the blessed work of love begins.
My wife and I read the New Testament after breakfast. We just started again in Matthew. After the genealogy in chapter one comes the birth account of our Lord. Something struck me yesterday morning with the Wise Men coming to Herod looking for Jesus, The King of the Jews. A simple remark, “Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” Herod I can understand. But what has always caught my attention is “all Jerusalem with him”. Why was Jerusalem troubled? We can certainly see the people’s curiosity with this entourage of important men coming to town. Then thinking in a broader context, we see that wherever God enters life it is disturbing. Every place that Jesus went things changed. And we are not so sure we want to change. I’ve always thought there is more to suppressing name of Jesus than separation of church and state, or being fair to all faiths. Whether everyone believes that Jesus is the divine Son of God or not, there is something troubling about His name. He cannot be separated from His claim to divinity, to His Kingship. That is disturbing. If we only understood that the change God desires is always for our good. It is why He came among us. We should be able to say with St. Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”(Romans 1:16)
I went to a worship service last evening as part of the conference I am presently attending. When it came time for the sermon the pastor began to speak. He called me a low-life. He used images of derelicts on the street saying that’s who I am. Harsh words, but I had to agree with him. That really is who I am. In my own nature I am a foul sinful being before a Holy God. In my own nature, I can take credit for nothing. I have nothing to hold up that can be called worthy. That is all true, but it was not the end of the pastor’s message. He also said that God saw me in my pitiful, broken state, reaching out to me with His saving, healing grace. Unworthy as I am, God did for me what could never do for myself. He covered all my filth with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. What a joy for this bagger to receive the greatest treasure of all, life in the presence of our Holy God. But whatever happened to good self esteem? Whatever happened to the power of positive thinking? It is a poor substitute for the treasure I have in my Lord Jesus Christ. It is only as I see myself as I truly am, a dirty bagger in need, that I also have the overwhelming joy of the gift of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.