Before I close this series out, I wanted to go back to the book of Judges. Last week, I veered away from those stories, but this week I wanted to bring it full circle. Throughout “history” or “His story”, that’s “God’s story”, there is a recurring theme of suffering and deliverance. There is also a recurring theme of people who do what is “evil in the eyes of the Lord”. (Judges 1:6 NIV) They turn away from God and do what is “right in their own eyes”. (Judges 21:25 NIV) Adam and Eve did it, the children of Israel did it, and everybody else does it in one way or another. But the good news of not only the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but the rest of the Bible is that there is deliverance. There is an opportunity for salvation. When we cry out to God and are willing to repent and believe God hears us and responds. His offer of salvation or invitation to get right with Him is always available when we’re ready. Even when we were “dead in our trespass and sins” (Ephesians 2:1 NIV), GOD sent His Son to die on a cross so that our sins could be forgiven, even “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”. (Romans 5:8 NIV)

For example, the Israelites had done what was evil in the eyes of the Lord, BUT GOD heard their cries of suffering, and sent Judges or leaders like Gideon and Samson to deliver them. Neither were perfect. Gideon was insecure, lacked confidence, and didn’t trust God completely, while Samson really struggled with his “earthly nature”. However, this is a great example of God using imperfect people to accomplish His purposes, which shouldn’t be surprising considering that there is “no one who does good, not even one” according to Paul in Romans 3:12 NIV). So, this should be encouraging to know that God can still use us despite our imperfections as long as our hearts are in the right place. Also, we learned from Gideon and Samson that God has a weird way of doing things. A way that doesn’t make sense to a world that has turned its back on Him. God’s will and way are countercultural. It goes against the status quo of our earthly nature or the worldly way.

Ok, that was a brief recap or summary of where we’ve come from. Just a little more prep or setup and then we’re on to the plan of salvation that I’ve been promising for the last two weeks. “Yeah, Yeah. Promises, Promises”. 

As I said last week, God’s plan of salvation is a three-step process and it’s not an easy one by any means. If anyone says that the “Christian” life is easy does not have a solid understanding of what it means to “follow” Christ. Remember Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 NIV) There is nothing easy about that. Also, in Philippians 2:12-13 Paul says, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”  It’s work. It’s a process that leaves us weary and tired. Working out our salvation isn’t always a picnic or a walk in the park. It includes blood, sweat, and tears. It’s spiritual warfare, an ongoing wrestling match with our earthly nature or our own desires. We deal with temptation, oppression, anxiety, broken relationships, sickness, death, etc. On top of all that walking in obedience to God is enough to cause some fear and trembling. However, it’s not all fear and trembling. There is good news. As Paul says above ”it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose”. So, we don’t do it or work out our salvation alone. God is always working in us and on us. He’s challenging us to a life of holiness, but He’s also encouraging, comforting, assuring, supporting, uplifting, and so much more.

The last ingredient or element I want to inject into this discussion before we talk about salvation is a healthy dosage of “GRACE”. It is what makes salvation possible. Just like a “flux capacitor makes time travel possible. (“Back to the Future” remember?) Without it we have no hope of salvation. And it’s not just any “grace”. It’s God’s grace. We might be able to be gracious, but God’s grace is on another level entirely.

The Greek word for grace is χάρις (charis). It is a “gift” or “favor” that is freely extended. I’ve also heard it explained as “unmerited favor” or we didn’t do anything to earn or deserve it. And according to Ephesians 2:8-10 which says, “For 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. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”, it IS what saves us. Just to be clear, God is the one doing the saving. He’s the one providing the grace. We don’t “save” ourselves. We are not god’s contrary to what many in our culture believe today because according to Romans 3:23 “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No matter how good we become or think we have become we will always fall short of God’s glory and that’s why we need grace, the “gift of God” of which we are eternally dependent. Like grace, God’s glory is on a level that we can’t reach without Him.

There is one more thing that we need to remember about grace before we jump into the plan of salvation. While it may be a free gift from God, we should never take it for granted or use it as a reason, excuse, or rationalization to continue living in sin. In Romans 6:1 Paul asks, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” In other words, if we sin more then we get more grace. After all more is better right? Paul wastes no time answering that question in Romans 6:2 when he says, “By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” So, for those who think that continuing to live in sin or in a worldly way will only bring them more grace, then they better think again.

Ok, we’re finally here. Salvation in three stages. Let’s do this.

Stage 1: Justification. This happens when we “believe” as it says in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This is only the beginning of the race. Being made or declared righteous by God through the blood of Christ. Jesus paid the price, wage, or payment for our sin so that we could be made right with God. We are “justified” as in “just as if I’d never sinned”. When God looks at us instead of seeing our sin, He sees Jesus. Our slate is wiped clean. Our sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus. Only God through Jesus can do that. Without Jesus redemption, reconciliation, and forgiveness is not “humanly” possible.

Stage 2: Sanctification. By definition sanctification is the “action of making or declaring something holy” and the process of being freed from sin, purified, cleansed, or sanctified from it. It is the act of becoming or being transformed into something that is acceptable and pleasing to God. Hebrews 12:1-3 expresses this beautifully by saying, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” This is the middle part of the race, and this race isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. It’s not easy. It requires faithfulness, discipline, perseverance, ongoing repentance, confession, and obedience to God’s instructions.

Stage 3: Glorification. This is graduation. The end of the race. We cross the finish line and collapse into the arms of our Savior Jesus Christ who will hopefully say, “well done my good and faithful servant”. (Matthew 25:21) Our work is done! All the “fear and trembling” is over! Let the eternal celebration begin! Hallelujah!

I realize that was a brief explanation, oversimplification, or whatever we want to call it, but it is the basics of salvation. The “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say can be found between Genesis and Revelation. The Bible is “the” book of salvation. In it, God reveals Himself and His plan to rescue us just as He did the Israelites in the book of Judges. So, the importance of Bible study can never be understated. 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (NIV) In the King James Version of the Bible it uses the word “study” rather than “do your best”. If we want to be “one approved” by God and unashamed then we need to handle or study the “word of truth” correctly. This isn’t just any truth. It is the divine truth or word of God revealed to us through the Bible, and there is a right way and wrong way to study it, but that’s a topic for another day.

The last thing I want to share is just a brief reminder of the dangers of the worldly way and our earthly or sinful nature from another Biblical source. In James 4:4 it says, “you adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Being a “friend of the world” is not necessarily referring to being friends with particular people, as much as it’s referring to a way of life or a pattern of behavior that is contrary to the will of God. The word “enmity” in this verse comes from the Greek word ἔχθρα (echthra) and means hostility, hatred, and alienation. This enmity doesn’t come from God. It is born out of our own friendship with the world. It is our “earthly nature” or worldly way that creates enmity, hostility, hatred, or a contempt for God that ultimately separates or alienates us from Him. If you’ll notice, God doesn’t become our enemy. We become His, as in us against Him. But, even if we become haters of God, He still loves us, which is the unconditional part. However, God will not and cannot tolerate sin. It is the antithesis of His nature. He still requires repentance of sin for salvation.

I think Paul explains it best in 2 Corinthians 6:14 when says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” There are several things to unpack here, but the main point is the two don’t go together. They can’t have fellowship with one another or be partnered together because they are so diametrically opposed. When Paul says “unequally yoked” he’s referring to a wooden centerpiece or “yoke” that is used to make two animals go in the same direction. Yoke’s for plowing or to pull wagons aren’t used much anymore, but it would be like putting a horse and a cow together or a dog and a cat. It would be an unequal yoking, and I’m not joking. Sorry, that was lame, but hopefully we get the point of what Paul is saying. However, I don’t think he is saying that believers and unbelievers can’t coexist, otherwise making disciples and loving our neighbor would be impossible and pointless. But when it comes to the “mindset” that we referred to earlier in this series which includes what we believe and how we choose to live, there is a difference, a big difference.

As I close out this series, it’s important to remember that God doesn’t wish for us to be separated or alienated from Him. He’s not our enemy. He doesn’t want to lose fellowship with us. He would prefer that we would choose His will rather than the worldly way, but in the end it’s our decision.

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15

Have a great weekend! Love y’all!

Robby Morris
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC