Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Saved! A Look at Our Salvation

This week, we begin a series which will take a good look at what it means to be saved. Along the way, we'll examine the various parts of salvation and the Ordo Salutis (the logical order of salvation). Today, we’re going to ask some important questions about salvation: What are we saved from? Who does the saving? How does salvation actually take place? For what purpose are we saved?

One scripture passage that gives some insight on our topic is Titus 3:

He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:5-7

Saved from What?

The Greek word for saved means to deliver or to protect. So what are we being delivered from? Often, we say that we are saved from our sin. That is certainly true- Matthew's  Gospel tells us that the Savior would be named “Jesus” because he would save His people from their sins. Of course, that is true, but there is also a deeper implication:

We have to be saved from sin because we serve a holy, pure, perfect God. If He were not totally set apart from sin, our sin would be no problem- and we would not need salvation. But the scripture tells us that we face a coming judgment because our sin has offended Him.

Some people struggle with the idea that a "small infraction" could result in an eternal punishment.
But there is a huge error in that way of thinking. It's not that the sin is so big on its own- its that the holiness of God is so great. That's because the measurement of an offense is not only determined by the infraction, but by the greatness of the offended party. So, the “little problems” that we count as insignificant reveal the error of our thinking: We underestimate God's holiness, and subsequently, the size of our problem.

Saved by Whom? 

Titus 3:5 tells us, “He saved us.” Which "He?" Verse 4 names Him, “God our savior.” Verse 5 then goes on to say: God saved us, and he did so according to his mercy. “...not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy” So our salvation is not just something that He does, but is totally bound up in His character.

The judgment is coming because of His character.
Redemption is necessary because of His character.
Salvation is possible because of His character.

Saved, How?

Are there... mechanics of salvation? How exactly does salvation work and apply to individuals? These are good questions with complex answers!

There are indeed different "elements" of salvation. Paul mentions several of them here, in Titus 3: Regeneration in verse 5, and justification and adoption (since he names us heirs) in verse 7. The Bible also points to more elements of salvation:

Election – God’s sovereignty in salvation
Calling – The summoning offer of the gospel
Regeneration – New life given by God
Conversion – The willing response to the offer of the gospel
Justification – God's declaration of righteousness
Adoption – Made sons (and heirs!) of God
Sanctification – The Ongoing process of growing holiness
Perseverance – Preserved by God for eternity
Glorification – Receiving a new body

All of these so-called elements are different- but interrelated. Some are instantaneous. Some are progressive. Some are God’s work alone while others include our effort, as well. Personally, I like to envision these elements as a rainbow. One bow -one thing of breathtaking beauty- made up of individual bands of color… and if you look closely enough… billions of individual droplets of water. I think salvation is somewhat like that. When God saves us, he does countless thousands of distinct works in our lives that make up a beautiful whole.

Saved, for What Purpose?

In verse 7, Paul writes that all of this happens so that “we might become heirs.” Heirs means "to inherit" or "possess by lot." Why would God want to make us heirs? Why would He want to show us "the immeasurable riches of his grace (Eph 2:7)?" Why demonstrate His philanthropy to sinners like us?

He has done so for the only reason I can ever give for anything He does: For His glory; That His Name would be made great. That we would spend eternity celebrating Him. He doesn’t save us to make us look great. He saves us because He is so great. So we are the happy children of a God who is holy and just, while at the same time gracious and merciful. In the coming weeks, we'll look at how that grace and mercy is applied in each element of salvation.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Every. Single. Sermon. Part 4.

Most would agree that churches should have skilled preachers who prepare and deliver sermons with excellence. But far too few of us give much thought to training skilled listeners. Last week, I appealed that two main things help us become excellent sermon listeners.  We need to change our expectations for the sermon time, and we need to engage our minds to understand, discern, and apply what we hear.

What are your expectations for the sermons you hear? How do you judge a sermon to be good or bad? What things do you value? Someone once told me that a good sermon is a short sermon. That person obviously valued sermons that didn't take up a lot of their time. Others value any sermon that doesn't bore them. As long as it is sufficiently entertaining or interesting, it's a good sermon. Some people value their own preference of preaching style: the preacher's voice, cadence, movements - even the visuals or media used (or lack thereof) are all indicators of whether the sermon was good or bad.

These expectations or values aren't without merit. It is good for sermons to be concise. And, good preachers develop skills for sermon preparation and delivery that help to make the sermon interesting. Stylistic elements like volume, cadence, and physical movement are important considerations. But they aren't the main consideration. Believers should have higher expectations than whether their stylistic preferences are met - or whether the sermon ends early enough for them to be first in line at their favorite lunch spot.

Think again of the instruction that Timothy received from Paul about preaching: "Preach the Word." Don't expect to be entertained or amused. Expect to hear God speak through the timeless truth of His Word. "Reprove, rebuke, exhort..." Don't expect only positive messages or things that are easy to hear. Expect to be corrected when your understanding is lacking, rebuked when your thinking or actions are contrary to the Word, and encouraged when you have been faithful. "For... they will not endure sound doctrine." Expect to have the rock-solid, objective doctrines of God held out for you. You have all these ideas about who God is and what He is like and what He does... but how do you know any of it is right? And how high is the price for error? Expect to have your subjective ideas reined in by the objective truth of the Bible. In short, expect to hear from God Himself!  

In addition to setting your expectations, you need to put your mind into overdrive... there's a lot of work to be done while you listen!

For too many believers, the sermon is the time they spend least engaged in the worship service. That shouldn't be so! Imagine what our worship services would be like if we sat passively through the greeting, singing, praying, and giving segments! What would you think if you visited a church where the worship service looked like that? Very likely, you would think something was wrong with the way people were responding (or not responding) to what was going on around them. Why should we treat the sermon any differently than those other parts of the worship service?  Many Christians wrongly assume that because the preacher has to do the actual talking, our role as listeners is passive. It isn't! When we listen to a sermon, our hearts and minds should be all abuzz with the activity of comprehending, discerning, and applying what is being said.

Taking steps to ensure you understand could include several things:  If the reference has been made available, you could read and study the scripture that is going to be exposited beforehand. Take good notes or obtain a copy of the sermon audio so you can study the material afterward. Consult trusted resources, and use bible study tools if needed. If you heard the sermon in your own church, discuss it with mature believers who will also benefit from thinking over the sermon. If you still have questions, you may even be able to consult with your pastor about the message.

Discernment means being able to perceive or recognize distinctions. A skilled sermon listener is able to recognize the difference between the accurate use of God's Word and (intentional or unintentional) misuse. One of the greatest ways to grow in discernment is to grow in experience with the Scripture! Believers should be hearing, reading, studying, and memorizing the Bible on a regular basis. There's no better way to recognize falsehood than to be intimately familiar with the truth. Another way to practice discernment is to ask good questions. Desiring God has an excellent post on three questions to ask before hearing any sermon, here.

Finally, remember that no one is more able to apply the truth to your life than you! Resist the temptation to hear and apply sermons on behalf of others. It's good that we want everyone to hear good teaching and instruction, but if our first thought during the sermon is wishing someone else were there to hear it... then we've missed what God is trying to say to us in this moment. Think of how the sermon applies to your own life first, and respond in faith.

I hope you've been encouraged to take a fresh look at both the preaching and listening perspectives of preaching. Both preacher and listener have important work to do. May we do that work faithfully, for God's glory and our good.