Friends: This is the first chapter of a short book I wrote a couple of years ago. Comments welcome! Subsequent chapters to follow!
“Jesus came to seek the least, the last, and the lost.” (anonymous)
“When you try to add to God’s salvation, you subtract. If you try to merit God’s salvation, you haven’t believed in God at all; you are trusting yourself, even if you try to do only a little bit.” (Timothy Keller)
Pastor Billy Bob Yokel had been “preachin’ the gospel” for thirty years. This morning’s revival service at 1st Holiness Church was no exception. “Ya’ll need to REPENT — and believe in Jesus as your SAVIOR!”, he shouted, pounding the old wooden pulpit with each syllable of Sav-i-or.
Pastor Billy Bob wasn’t much to look it, some might say. On the other hand, he was hard to miss, all 312 pounds of him. A preacher’s history of after-service fried chicken dinners had ballooned the former left tackle for Park High School into what some people called a holy heart attack waiting to happen.
When he stepped out from behind the pulpit, his shirt tail had escaped from his pants and his stretch slacks were rolled over at the waist. His ever- present handkerchief, discolored by tobacco stains, wiped the sweat off his brow as he continued his sermon: “If you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior — and confess your sins — you will be SA-V-ED!” The last word he drew out, raising both arms in the air in a pleading gesture.
When his sermon was over, he waddled over to the large chair on the podium and collapsed into it, exhausted from another round of fighting for the souls of men and women, boys and girls.
We might recoil at the sight of Pastor Billy Bob, thinking that his appearance obviously invalidated his message. Would we be right? What about his message, Beloved?
There is much confusion these days about salvation, and some of the questions which need to be addressed include: What does it mean to be “saved”? Why do we need to be saved? Saved from what? Does Jesus save us from God? Is salvation individual or corporate? Are just our souls saved? Is salvation permanent? Who can’t be saved? What is the alternative to being saved? What role does the Holy Spirit play in our being saved?
We’ve subtitled this book “Rescued from God, by God, and for God.” As we will see in our study of salvation, our sin puts us in a lost condition from which we need to be rescued. The only One qualified to save us is God. But God needed to become man in order to die for our wrong-doings. We come into this world not as friends of God, but as enemies, and only God’s wrath awaits us if we are not rescued. We need to be saved from a holy, righteous God. And the One who provides that salvation is none other than the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We are rescued from God . . . by God.
But salvation — as we will see — is not just an escape from God’s wrath. We will learn that God saves us to make us like His Son and to deploy us into the world to seek others who recognize their need to be rescued. We are saved for God.
Chapter One: LOST!
The explorer Daniel Boone was once asked, “Have you ever gotten lost?” He replied, “No. But I was bewildered for three days once.” Ours is much more than a bewildered society. It is a LOST society, plain and simple.
But lost how? We learn in the Scriptures that we have not only departed from biblical mores and ethics, but we have abandoned God Himself. We have wandered — some have run — away from the true God and constructed our own substitutes. “Idols” is the term the Bible uses, illustrating in no uncertain terms what Paul in the New Testament book of Romans says when he describes sinful man as “worshiping the creation rather than the Creator.”
Someone has said that man’s first duty is to find someone to worship. And we have often simply discovered ourselves. In a sense, God took a great risk in creating this world at all. The moment He created Adam, He created the possibility of idolatry, didn’t He? Adam could now worship himself instead of God.
But how much do we need to be “saved”? And what does being “saved” mean?
Jesus made it quite clear that He had come to earth “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk. 19:10). This book assumes the biblical facts that Jesus was and is the Second Person of the Divine Trinity who chose to come to earth as a perfect human being for the explicit purpose of dying for sinners. He knew His mission and explained it several times. Not only did He say that He came to seek and to save that which was lost, but also that He did not come “to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:45).
In the 1996 movie “Ransom,” Mel Gibson plays the role of an airline executive whose son is kidnapped. One of the more dramatic moments of the movie is when Gibson is on the phone with the kidnapper and shouts, “GIVE ME BACK MY SON!” God gave us His Son that we might get ransomed back to God.
Somehow our lost condition put us in a kidnapped condition. The only rescue was for the Son of God to give Himself as the ransom!
All Are Lost!
But do all human beings need this salvation? Are all lost, or only a few? Estrangement from God is humanity’s universal condition. We come into this world as God’s enemies! Romans 5:9-10 reads:
9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Lest any of us think we had anything to do with our salvation, Paul makes it clear that we were in a state described as God’s enemies when the Son was given to bring us back to God. What must it feel like to be an enemy of God? If you have trusted Jesus as your Savior, has it dawned on you that you were an enemy of God prior to your being saved? C.S. Lewis reminds us that “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.”1 We don’t want to think of ourselves as God’s enemies, as rebels who without cause turned away
1 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 1952/2001), 56. 4
from their Creator. But that’s the testimony of Scripture.
We would prefer to think of ourselves as slightly off spiritually, as those who have wandered away a bit, semi-sinners who probably need some assistance in getting back to God. But like a stage 4 cancer patient who asks merely for an aspirin, we have greatly underestimated our perilous condition before the God who is holy, and expect Him to work with our foolish self-diagnosis.
How lost are we? In 1981 a Minnesota radio station made an odd announcement about a car which had been stolen in California. The police were staging an intense search for the vehicle and the driver, even placing radio ads to contact the thief. On the front seat of the stolen car sat a box of crackers that had been laced with poison to be used as rat bait. Now the police and the car owner were more interested in apprehending the thief to prevent him from eating the poison than to recover the car. So often, when we run from God, we feel it is to escape His punishment. But what we may actually be doing is eluding His rescue.2
On this issue of being rescued, allow me a brief story. When I was in college, I took a life-saving course with about 25 other students. The Bible college I attended had a swimming pool in the basement and the young man who taught the course was not a student at the Bible college, was mean as a snake, and apparently didn’t want to teach us how to rescue drowning swimmers.
I remember his telling us one night to come wearing a pair of pants over our swim suit because he was going to teach us how to use our pants as a flotation device.
2 Leadership Journal. Further information unavailable. 5
He had us jump into the deep end of the pool, pull our pants off, blow them up, and then use them as a kind of buoy. My only problem was that that night I wore a pair of tight, bell-bottom jeans, and I couldn’t get mine past my ankles. I began to drown — in lifesaving class! No one noticed my predicament. I saved my own life by doggie-paddling to the side of the pool.
The instructor taught us how to rescue someone drowning when we had nothing to reach out to him with, or no rescue buoy to throw to him, but had to swim out to the drowning person and physically rescue them. He explained that a drowning person will climb on our heads and drown both of us. So he taught us to dive down when we got within 8 feet of the victim, grab them by their hips, spin them around, and come up holding them in a head lock. If they struggled or panicked and tried to climb on top of us, we should take them to the very place they did not want to go — under water — so they would give up and let us rescue them.
After the month’s worth of grouchy classes, our instructor said, “Your final exam will be next week and it will be simple. I will jump in the deep end, pretend to be a drowning victim, and your job will be to rescue me. I WILL TRY TO KILL YOU!”
Each of us, one after another, rescued the instructor. Each of us took the instructor to the bottom of the pool — whether he struggled or not. It was a glorious ending to a gruelling course.
Watchman Nee relates a similar story from one of his experiences as a Christian leader in Communist China. A group of young Christian brothers were gathered together to take a swim in one of the many creeks that run throughout the countryside there. Since most were
not good swimmers, they were careful to remain close to the banks so as not to get in water over their head.
One of the brothers got out a little too far and begin to struggle in the deep water. Realizing his predicament he began to cry out to his neighbors, who by now were out of the water and drying off. “Help! Save me!” he yelled, all the while thrashing his arms and legs in a futile attempt to keep his head above water.
Brother Nee knew that only one man was experienced enough at swimming to provide some assistance, and he turned to him for help. But strangely enough, the would-be rescuer calmly watched the man’s plight but made no move to save him, to the great consternation of Brother Nee and the rest of the group. “Why don’t you do something?” they all screamed in unison. But the man just stood there apparently unconcerned.
After a few moments the drowning man could stay afloat no more. His arms and legs grew tired and limp and he began to sink underwater. Now the slow-moving lifeguard dove into the creek, and with a few quick strokes reached the victim and pulled him to safety.
Once all was well, Brother Nee was beside himself. “I have never seen a Christian who loved his own life quite as much as you,” he scolded the rescuer. “How could you stand by and watch your brother drown, ignoring his cries for help and prolonging his suffering?”
But the man calmly explained. “If I were to jump in immediately and try to save a drowning man, he would clutch me in panic and pull me under with him. In order to be saved, he must come to the end of himself, and cease struggling, cease trying to save himself. Only then can he be helped.”
Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings
But what if one doesn’t feel lost? Our feelings can be of great help in many situations in life, but when it comes to our spiritual condition before God, they can become outright deceptive. If we ask the question, where should we go for a definitive diagnosis of our relationship to God?, the Bible and the Bible alone is our best source.
The Bible claims to be direct revelation from God and is characterised by an expectation that it will be taken seriously. Although we should not simply affirm the authority of the Bible without good reason, providing those reasons isn’t our task here. Others — one thinks of Lee Strobel’s A Case for Faith — have done a commendable job of providing good and sufficient reasons to accept the Bible and the Bible alone as the Word of God to man.
Here we wish to ask, what is the Bible’s analysis of our spiritual condition before God? As many preachers have said, the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. We would prefer to think that our hearts are right before God, but the witness of the Bible challenges our preferences.
When I was born, I came into this world as a premie. I was stuck in an incubator (I’m sure they didn’t call it that) for a while before I could go home with my mother. Being born premature led to hernia surgery at the age of one month, predisposed me to be early for every appointment in life, and also meant I was born with a leaky heart valve (called mitral valve prolapse). That condition never really created any problems for me in my first fifty-some years of life, except for my having to take massive amounts of an
antibiotic whenever I got dental work done (a mouth infection can apparently go directly to that heart valve in cases like mine, without passing “Go” or collecting $200).
When I turned 59, my cardiologist said, “Your heart has gradually enlarged because of your leaky valve. We need to fix that.”
I said, “Okay. Does that mean I’ll get a zipper from my chin to my belly button?”
“No,” said my cardiologist. “We can now do robotic surgery to repair your heart valve and only have to poke a couple of holes in your chest.”
“Cool,” I said. (probably not — but who’s telling the story?). “Let’s do it.”
I went to Atlanta for the surgery with some fear and trepidation. You see, the robotic surgery was going to be done by the Da Vinci machine, and I had been a bit quite critical of Dan Brown’s book The DaVinci Code. Fortunately, Dan was not in the operating room, and the surgery came off without a hitch.
My point is that my heart needed repair. Only an expert could tell me that it was not what it needed to be — and required a radical intervention, plus several holes, plus a very large bill.
Our spiritual hearts are not right either. They suffer from far more than a leaky valve. We need a new heart — and that’s what the gospel provides to all who believe.
Before one can get saved, he or she must get lost. What we mean by that is that he or she must recognise
their lostness and respond to God’s gracious offer of forgiveness through Christ.
Apart from terms like “lost” and “perishing,” the Bible uses several metaphors to describe (in painful detail) how absolutely needy we are in our fallen condition.
I never got into the TV series “Lost.” I must admit, that after following a few episodes, I became, well, to put it mildly, lost! The story took so many twists and turns and used so many flashbacks that I found myself wanting to be stranded on a tropical island without electricity just so I wouldn’t have to watch the next installment. Lynnette Porter and David Lavery even wrote a 270-page book entitled Unlocking the Mystery of Lost: An Unauthorized Guide. I hate to admit it, but I was beyond finding, beyond caring, how to sort out the plots and counter-plots. I was happy to be lost with Lost.
But God is not happy with our being lost. He is no confused or reluctant Savior. In fact, we understand that there is a pep rally — the Bible doesn’t say “pep rally,” but it could — in heaven every time a sinner repents! There is more rejoicing over a repentant individual than over 99 righteous people who don’t think they need to repent.
We read in verse 10 of Luke 15, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” We are told back in verse 7 that there is more rejoicing over one sinner who repents than over 99 who don’t need to repent. Finding that one lost sheep is somehow valued more by the shepherd than the 99 who didn’t get lost or didn’t
see themselves as needing to be found. Quantitatively, the Shepherd rejoices greater over that lost one who is found than over the 99 who don’t need to be looked for, or don’t think they are lost. And when it comes to that lost coin, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents!
I’ve always assumed angels were happy 24/7, but here their happiness breaks out into full-fledged rejoicing! I wonder how angels rejoice? Do they slap their wings together like high school kids at a football game when their team has scored a rare touchdown against their cross-town rivals? Do they shout “Yippee!” in Hebrew? Or Greek? Or Southern English, “Out of sight, ya’ll!” When an introverted, pimply-faced teenager believed the gospel fifty years ago, was there a senior angel who turned to a group of energetic angels and shouted, “Give me an ‘L’! Give me an ‘A’! Give me a ‘R’!” and so forth?
I was actually the very first male cheerleader at the Bible college I attended after high school. I learned some valuable lessons there, such as never stand next to the girl with the megaphone. I also became fluent in defensive cheers (our team seldom seemed to have the basketball). My next year in Bible college I joined the second string of the team as a player. My claim to fame was being put in a game we were losing by 70 points (seriously). I no sooner stepped onto the court than a player from the opposing team rocketed a pass to a teammate and my left pinky got in the way. I spend a couple of hours at an emergency room getting my dislocated finger popped back into place. It was better — and safer — as a cheerleader.