My wife and I use the GPS on our phones often. What an amazing gift this technology is. I remember going on a road trip with Kati’s family some time ago to the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. Kati’s dad sat in the passenger seat so he could look at the map while her mom drove. I remember fearing for my safety as the map was stretched all the way across the car because Kati’s dad was trying to find a certain point. Her mom was blinded for a moment. What a wonderful gift the GPS is. It is not without its shortcomings, like dying batteries and program malfunctions. There was one time we were travelling and we needed to use the GPS. We put in our destination and the GPS started giving us directions that didn’t make sense. It had remembered a previous location and mistakenly had us located at that previous location instead of where we actually were. In order to arrive at our destination, we needed instructions that started in the correct place.
Such is our understanding of all things. If we don’t start with the correct basics, it is unlikely that we will understand deeper things rightly. In this case, faith and righteousness are the basics. We have seen that most traditions in this world have an understanding that is based almost entirely on human merit while the Bible shares that faith is a gift by grace and that righteousness is imputed because we are unable to become righteous or be found righteous. This means that most traditions in this world will misunderstand most theological truths because they have not understood the basics of faith and righteousness. Salvation is no different. Considering both faith and righteousness as they are presented in the Bible, what is salvation, really?
What then can we say that Abraham, our physical ancestor, has found? If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to brag about — but not before God. For what does the Scripture say?
Abraham believed God,
and it was credited to him for righteousness.
Now to the one who works, pay is not considered as a gift, but as something owed. But to the one who does not work, but believes on Him who declares the ungodly to be righteous, his faith is credited for righteousness.
Likewise, David also speaks of the blessing of the man God credits righteousness to apart from works:
How joyful are those whose lawless acts are forgiven
and whose sins are covered!
How joyful is the man
the Lord will never charge with sin!
What we are saved from
Paul continues to write regarding faith and righteousness. Whatever salvation is, it includes the giving of faith and the crediting of righteousness to the person. That’s why we needed to spend so much time on faith and righteousness. We want our GPS to begin at the correct point. We need roots that dig deep. If you haven’t seen the previous two messages or weren’t able to be here at Grace, please go back and watch or read those two messages. They are foundational. We can’t understand salvation without understanding at least the basics regarding faith and righteousness. That’s okay. We don’t actually have to understand salvation in order to be saved, right? That is because this work is by grace, through faith. We did, though, see that there are many human traditions, even within popular Christianity, that are opposed to what the Bible claims regarding those two points.
Salvation isn’t a work in which God pays wages to a worker. It is a work in which God is choosing and saving a people for Himself. What in the world are we being saved from? Why do we need to be saved? Are we saved from Hell? Is that what salvation is, some sort of “Get out of jail free card?” Are we saved from sin? Are we saved from social injustice? Are we saved from making mistakes? Are we saved from our insufficiencies? Why do we even need this thing called salvation?
Salvation certainly speaks on all of these personal and societal issues and certainly works in all of these areas. Fundamentally, what are the people of God saved from? Since the book of Romans is given to us as a whole, we might move forward to chapter five so that we might read a portion of the next chapter and arrive at a deeper understanding of salvation.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because all sinned. In fact, sin was in the world before the law, but sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression. He is a prototype of the Coming One” (Romans 5:12-14).
Death entered the world through one man, Adam. Adam was a prototype of Christ. What does this mean? It means that part of God’s plan was that Christ’s righteousness would be known because of Adam’s failure. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was part of God’s plan from the foundation of the world. Original sin doesn’t mean that Adam earned death for all humanity. Original sin means that death was given as a consequence of the first sin so that people might see Adam’s failure, realize the consequence of death, and turn to Christ. Christ rescues us from death. It’s deeper than this! If Adam was a prototype, then in his sin it was revealed that human righteousness was not the righteousness of God. It was also revealed that people needed God’s righteousness even before Adam’s sin. We are saved from the effects of our self-righteousness because God actually imputes the righteousness of Christ to us and we are credited with Christ’s righteousness. This is what we needed even without sin.
In fact, this text even reveals that sin is not charged to a person’s account when there is no Law to point out that sin. Yet, even without the Law people died, even though they did not sin like Adam did. That means there is a deeper, more fundamental need than the forgiveness of our sinful action. We need to be saved from our self-righteousness. This is the most basic thing that we are saved from. That’s why even if we think we are good people, we still need God’s saving grace. It is why my works are never enough.
We are saved from our self-righteousness.
What we are saved to
Salvation isn’t just getting to a place called heaven. According to Paul in Romans 4 and David in Psalm 32:2, salvation actually brings great joy because we are forgiven. Our sins are covered. We will never be charged with sin!
What great news! When I stand before the Lord of glory, because Christ has given me faith and because He has imputed His righteousness to me, I will not be measured by my self-righteousness, but by the true righteousness of Christ, which is not His by merit but by His very nature! God has promised in His Scriptures that none of my sins, which earn death, will be charged to my account. None of them, past, present, or future. Why? Because I have been imputed with the very righteousness of Christ and given faith as a gift. What a beautiful thing!
We seem to get this picture in our minds that God will one day have us before His judgment seat and He will call off all of the terrible things that we have done after our conversion. I’m not exactly sure when that thought came about, but it is not biblical. Consider Revelation 20:11-15:
“Then I saw a great white throne and One seated on it. Earth and heaven fled from His presence, and no place was found for them. I also saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged according to their works by what was written in the books.
Then the sea gave up its dead, and Death and Hades gave up their dead; all were judged according to their works. Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Those who are judged by their works are those who do not have the imputed righteousness of Christ. It is the dead standing before the throne and the dead are judged according to their works. For those who choose to live by their self-righteousness rather than by faith, those works are recorded in these books. The wage paid to them will be according to their own righteousness. This is precisely what we need to be saved from because our righteousness has earned death for us. It is not the true righteousness of God.
These dead come from Hades, where they are being kept until the judgment. Death and Hades are thrown into the Lake of Fire, or Gehenna, or what we might refer to as Hell. This is the second death. For those whose names, not their works, are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, they will be granted freedom with Christ because of Christ’s righteousness, not their works. We learn in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that everything the saved person does for Christ, whether it brings much profit or is worthless, will be rewarded by grace. There is no condemnation, whatsoever, for the one who is in Christ! We are saved by Christ, to Christ, and for Christ!
This has implications far beyond merely getting to a place called heaven. I am free, now! I get to experience joy, now! My sin has no bearing on me, now! I wonder, do you experience this? Are you being saved?
We are saved to Christ.
What salvation does
God’s salvation continues to work out some things in our hearts that benefit us on this earth and forever.
“Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope” (Romans 5:1-4).
Salvation is the giving of faith and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the person who believes in Christ. Salvation produces hope, joy, endurance, and proven character.
Because God does not credit my sin to my account, neither do I have to credit anyone’s sin his or her account. I can be committed unconditionally to people. I never have to bring up anyone’s sin as a point of condemnation or contention. When I must point out sin, I can do so with genuine sincerity and hope for the purpose of repentance and growth in Christ and encouragement in the faith.
That’s why we are here in church, right? Hebrews 10:25 says this:
“…not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
We come together to present ourselves to our Lord in praise for His amazing work of salvation and so that we might encourage one another. That is precisely the attitude salvation produces!
If this is what salvation is, I have to wonder whether or not we actually live like a people who are saved and being saved. If salvation brings unmatched joy, why do we allow so many trivial things to get to us and steal that joy? If the word of God is sweet and brings life and sanctification, why are we so afraid to rest in its goodness? If salvation is by grace and through faith, then why are we so prone to judge others by their performance based on our preferences? Why don’t we honor the God of this wonderful thing called salvation?
Thus, something very serious is revealed for us. It is why Paul takes the time to explain faith and righteousness. For many, and especially so in our context, there is a false sense of salvation. There are also many who have forgotten the joy of salvation because they become too inwardly focused. This is true for people and for local churches in the context of a sinful world. If we want to experience true revival, we have to be honest with ourselves. I am begging you to consider this honestly without making those excuses that we can all be so good at making. Jesus even gave some signs to look for when we consider how genuine our own faith is- faith that is a gift from God. He does this in the parable of the soils (or the sower). The parable has two parts. First, there is the part of the sower. Then, there is the part about the soil. Matthew records this parable in the context of five other parables and He takes the time not to merely tell these six stories one after another to the same audience, but also to explain these parables because He really cared about people and loved people and wanted people to understand and receive life. How can we, the recipients of salvation, do anything else? This is all we have. All six of these parables make the same point: God’s kingdom must be proclaimed. Some will accept it and some will not. In the four soils, we see the different types of people who will hear of God’s kingdom.
First, there are those who do not understand the word when it is preached. The evil one comes in and snatches what is in their heart (Matthew 13:19).
Second, there are those who immediately receive the word with joy, but there is no firm root (Matthew 13:20-21). Because this type of person has no firm foundation, no root, no deep understanding of what the Gospel or faith or righteousness really is, he or she is quick to fall away because of affliction or persecution. This affliction can be as simple as his or her preferences not being met. This is the very definition of shallow Christianity in the world today. People need more than mere shallow belief. We need deep roots. Without deep roots, we may convince ourselves that we are saved when Christ does not know us relationally.
Third, there are those who hear the word, but never truly accept it because the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth make the word unfruitful for this person (Matthew 13:22). Those who do not operate by faith, but instead worry in any way or have as their treasure any material thing on this earth, haven’t accepted the word because the things of the world have been too distracting for them.
I beg you again to be honest with yourself. I can’t see into your heart. Scripture tells us that the Lord weighs the heart (Proverbs 21:2).
For those who have actually received faith and righteousness in Salvation, they have heard the word and understood it because the soil is good. Evidence of salvation is the bearing of fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty (Matthew 13:23). Those who truly receive faith and righteousness did not place themselves in the good soil. It is God who demolishes roads, removes thorns, and casts rocks into the sea. People could never do enough to produce more fruit than God produces in His work of salvation. By grace, everyone will produce fruit based on the measure of faith God distributes (Romans 12:3), some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. This is all by God’s grace according to the faith and the gifts that He gives to each person.
Those who have received salvation, then, preach the word according to the measure of faith that God has distributed. God takes that word and, working the soil, produces the exact results that He sets forth to produce. Salvation is a work that gives the gifts of faith and righteousness and changes us from being self-focused to being outwardly focused (as churches and as individuals).
God’s work of salvation does this in the context of our living in this world: It takes our focus, takes it off of my worries, my preferences, my works, my dealings, my identity in the things of the world, my rules, my self, and turns my focus outward first to God and then to others. All the sudden, I’m not here to be served, but to serve, first God and then the people around me according to the gifts that God has given. Why? Because God’s work of salvation has changed me! It has conquered my unrighteousness or self-righteousness because I have received the righteousness of Christ. I no longer have to work to try and gain some type of redemption because God has given faith! People no longer have to work for my acceptance because I get to live by faith. How freeing is this? How freeing is it when we actually live according to the unconditional love and grace of God? I don’t have to stress about the trivial things! That’s amazing! It is how the love of Christ moves us in salvation! It’s more than just going to a place we might refer to as heaven or the New Earth! It is freedom, and I hope desperately you experience this freedom!
I looked into some research where churches were described that experienced true revival and new growth both spiritually and numerically. Here is what people said was the primary focus that helped the people really experience revival. I want to experience revival daily, don’t you? Here is the evidence and where that evidence leads us in this wretched world. Pastors who saw revival happen in their churches made these comments:
- “We had a renewed vision of who Jesus Christ really is.”
- “We had a new outlook on the harvest; the Lord is willing to increase the fold where shepherds are looking for the sheep. We started looking outward.”
- “Renewed belief- realizing the daily relevance of Christ and how the mission lines up with that.”
- “Renewed belief in Jesus- specifically, their everyday lives.
- “Renewed belief in Christ and an attitude of servanthood- focus was on the lordship of Christ and a model of the incarnational Christ.”
- “Renewed belief- built valued around the people’s involvement in the mission of the church.”
- “Renewed belief- greater desire to fulfill a kingdom purpose; new vision.
- “Renewed belief- refocussed from the foundation of Scripture upon the mission of the church.”
- “Renewed belief- created a culture that endorses mission.”
- “Renewed belief- the people realized that the mission was theirs to carry out at any cost.”
- “Renewed belief in mission- accepted personal responsibility for encouraging lost to come to church.”
- “Renewed belief- instilling in people the idea that everyone is a ministry.”
- “Renewed belief/mission- taking time to refocus on Christ and His mission.”
- “Renewed belief/mission- taking time to refocus on Christ and His mission.”
- “Renewed belief/mission- people needed to know that Jesus was real; they began to carry out the mission and growth happened.”
- “Renewed belief/mission- the church regained a sense of direction based on Christ’s mission.”
- “Renewed belief- keeping the mission and vision in front of the people was the key to growth.”
- “Renewed belief- people saw how Christ commanded them to live and began doing so; they saw the pastor lead by example.”
- “Renewed belief- finding that their mission was to evangelize their community.”
- “Renewed belief- people fell in love with Jesus again.”
- “Renewed belief/mission- becoming more outward focused.”
- “Renewed belief- daily renewal in hearts of people.”
- “Renewed belief- emphasis placed on our reason for existing.”
- “Mission/belief- emphasis on the people’s role in God’s plan.”
- “Renewed belief- refocusing on purpose of the Christian life.”
These comments come from twenty-five different pastors speaking on behalf of twenty-five different churches that were once dying and are now thriving and they all say the same thing about revival. Not one said that they started following a certain formula or that they had a certain type of music or that they had the right people or that they had the right environment. No, the Gospel frees us from that sort of works-based, self-righteous thinking. Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light! The evidence shows that if we want to experience revival, which is part of God’s saving work, our belief must be renewed. I must get over myself. I need to fall in love with Jesus again. My interest in the things of Christ must be renewed. I need to have an outward focus. That is where we will experience revival. That is where the freedom of Christ is. For some, that is where salvation will be willfully experienced for the very first time.
We are changed.
We are saved from our self-righteousness.
We are saved to Christ.
We are changed.