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Monday, September 5, 2011

Salvation 101 - Part I - Why is grace needed?

16-18"This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn't go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person's failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him."
(John 3:16-18)

This past week someone asked me the question that seems to come up at one time or another whenever groups get together in an attempt to understand their faith just a little bit better.  That question was:  Is the "once saved, always saved" term biblical?  Tough question and I know parties that will weigh-in on both sides of this equation, but over the next couple of days, I hope to take you through some scriptures that might help to answer that question - or at least, provide the biblical perspective "in context" rather than taking a few verses out of context.

First, let me lay a little foundation.  Salvation is a term used in Christian churches to describe the condition of having surrendered your body, soul, and spirit to the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is more than asking Jesus "into your heart", as some put it.  It is a condition of "exchange" - we exchange our filthy, unholy condition for the holy and whole condition of God's Son Jesus.  This exchange is something that is a result of believing in the work of Christ on Calvary in dying for the sins of mankind.  It comes by faith - there is absolutely no amount of "doing" that makes us "saved".  

What really happens at the point of "salvation" is that we are delivered from the potential of eternal death.  There is a lengthy passage in Matthew 25:30-46 that speaks of weeping, gnashing of teeth, being cursed, everlasting punishment, and eternal life.  One is the condition of eternal death - the other is eternal life.  There is a very real separation from God that is eternal and there is only ONE way to ensure that we escape that eternal separation - Christ.

Sin is really a condition of heart that means that we have gone beyond the boundaries God has set for our lives.  Sin is more than a "passing thing" in our lives.  It is a series of behavior problems that stem from wrong attitudes, impure motives, selfish actions, and just plain wrong patterns of conduct.  By nature, we are pretty self-centered individuals - always on the lookout for how a circumstance will affect US.  We are born with this nature.  If you don't believe me, look at a newborn.  They pop out hungry, expecting to be fed.  They soil their diapers, expecting to be removed from what makes them uncomfortable.  They miss the warmth of the womb, so they cry until they are rocked into slumber.  

Behavior may be a learned thing, but our sin nature is something that we are indeed born with.  Our tendency to sin is therefore not a LEARNED thing, but a product of the nature we were born with.  If you don't believe me, try changing a particular behavior.  You may change that behavior, but underneath the very sin nature that encouraged that behavior is still there - that is why we struggle with change so much.

Many people feel they can just deal with their own sin - like willpower is enough!  Willpower is the desire and ability to resist something, but it is a self-motivated action.  It is important as we begin this discussion to realize that we cannot transform our spirit without also having our "nature" touched by the hand of God, too.  We need that nature to be altered by the altar!

"Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn't been so weak, we wouldn't have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him."
(Romans 5:6-7)

We probably have a little problem associating with this passage because we don't really understand this kind of sacrificial love and commitment.  We had absolutely no ability on our own to "procure" our salvation.  There was nothing in man that could make right what sin had made so wrong.  So, God being the loving God he is, made the provision for our sin - he provided the exchange of nature we so desperately need, but could never produce by any effort of self-determination or willpower.  

The passage in Romans goes on to say that God has a holy nature and his holy nature cannot coexist with the sin nature of man - in order to come together, the nature had to be "fixed".  Reconciliation with God requires a change of nature.  Man must act on what has been provided in order to enjoy the provision.  In other words, we must desire the exchange of our nature, calling upon the sacrificial work of Christ to make us holy.  

As we conclude today, remember this:  God made provision for the exchange of our nature - that provision is Christ.  All we "do" is accept the work of the cross, believing that Jesus is the only provision for our sin problem.  It is through Christ that we exchange natures - no other way works!