GREENVILLE PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE SAVED BY CHRIST?
AT 41 Christian Education
November 24, 2015
Hello, I’m Thomas Booher. I’m guessing if you are reading this that you already understand that I want to tell you about my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and how you can be saved by Him, too. You may or may not have heard of Jesus before, but if you live in the United States, especially within the Bible belt, my guess is that you likely have. I believe that Jesus is God, but also became man some 2,000 years ago. In fact, He’s fully God and fully man, and He had to be both in order to die on a cross in such a manner that man’s sins could be paid for and Christ’s Father, who is the God of all things, would no longer be angry with sinners, like you and me, for their sins.
I wanted to succinctly express the point of this tract up front so that you can understand the gravity of what I am saying, and also so you can decide right away if this is something you are interested in reading. Are you concerned about the guilt you experience for the wrong that you do? Do you have any desire to find out about the God who made all things? Do you want to know the meaning and purpose of your existence? I plan to address each of these questions for you, and I hope by the end you will understand the meaning of life, and the greatest need of each man – to find new life in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
So let’s begin by addressing the title of this tract – what does it mean to be saved by Christ? In order to need salvation, one must be in some sort of danger, and must have no ability by which to save himself. The bad news is that this is your very situation. Your eternal destiny is out of your control. You have no power in yourself to save yourself from your sins. Sin is a failure to obey God’s law, either by doing something that breaks His rule (do not lie, kill, steal, take God’s name in vain, etc.), or by failing to do something that His law commands (love God, love others, value life, etc.). Sin began in the human race with the very first human beings, Adam and Eve; God placed them in a garden in order to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). God made mankind in His image, after His likeness, to rule and reign on His behalf over His creation (Gen. 1:26). The very first verse in the Bible tells us that God made all things, and if God has made all things, He owns all things. Not only did God make all things, but He made them from nothing. This just means that God did not need any help making everything – He has the power to make all things by His own power. Something, or rather Someone, had to be eternal, self-existent, and powerful, otherwise nothing would have ever existed. If at some point in time there was nothing (not even time), then there never would have been anything, because you can never get something from nothing. But God is a very great something. He is eternal being, and His being is dependent upon no one, and no thing. All other being is dependent on His being, because He is the maker and sustainer of all life (Acts 17:28). There is a fundamental distinction, then, between the Creator, God, and the creation which is man and the whole universe that He made. There are really two levels of being, with God on a level all by Himself, as the eternal, self-existent being, and man and all else on an infinitely lower shelf as finite, dependent being. This should help you understand that God is powerful, worthy of praise, and owns mankind so that He has the right to do whatever He wishes with His own creation. Whatever we make, we make from material that God has already made, and yet we claim what we make as our own masterpieces, fit to be used however we wish. If we apply that logic to our own creations, how much more must we apply that logic to ourselves, because we are God’s creation!
When God created Adam and Eve, He created them without sin, without defect. They were given freedom to eat the fruit of any tree, except the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If they ate that fruit, God said they would die (Gen. 2:17). Yet the devil, appearing in the form of a serpent, tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God’s clear command and eat the forbidden fruit. He told them that they would not die, but rather that they would become as wise as God, discerning good and evil. In essence, the serpent convinced Adam and Eve that God was withholding not only good fruit from them, but wisdom itself, and that if they laid hold of this fruit, they could somehow become as wise as God Himself, giving them the right to make their own decisions apart from God. You should recognize that this is foolishness, and that if God is eternal and made man, man could not possibly be as wise or powerful as that which created him. Nevertheless, Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God, rather than submit to His good, loving, and righteous authority, and ate the forbidden fruit. Their eyes were opened alright, but it didn’t disclose some higher, hidden wisdom – their eyes were opened to their nakedness, and they were ashamed (Gen. 3:7). Their nakedness indicated to them that they could not protect and provide for themselves. It was God who made them, and it was God who fed them in the garden. It was also God who had protected them by warning them of the forbidden fruit, and it was God who gave them a clear directive on how to stay alive and not give in to the evil words of the serpent. This must have been a horrific moment when Adam and Eve understood fully what evil they had done. No wonder that they fled from God’s presence! Because of your sin, you too flee from God’s presence and suppress His truth in unrighteousness, and on account of this rebellion God is as angry with you as He was when Adam and Eve sinned against Him and fled from His presence (Rom. 1:18-19).
You may be wondering why Adam and Eve didn’t fall over dead the moment they sinned. Didn’t God promise they would die if they sinned? You are right, He did. They did begin to die physically. Their body was now subject to decay, and God cursed women with pain in childbearing, men with pain in tilling the earth by the sweat of their brow amidst thorns and thistles, and marital strife entered the picture (Gen. 3:16). They began to suffer and were moving in the trajectory toward physical death, but don’t miss the fact that they also died instantly spiritually. What I mean is, their life with God, their love for Him, their spiritual innocency by which they could bask in God’s immediate presence and freely serve Him, was gone. We call this the Fall of man. Adam and Eve had plummeted into spiritual death, and had aligned themselves with Satan by obeying his word rather than God’s, their maker. Their hearts had been darkened, and now their sinfulness would be transmitted on down to each of their children. Since Adam and Eve are the first parents of the human race, that means that all of us have inherited a sin nature from them (Rom. 5). Your sinful deeds show that you are a child of the devil, and not of God (1 Jn. 3:8-10), just as Adam and Eve’s deeds showed where their true allegiances lie.
Yet a way of escape from sin was also provided. God did not abandon Adam and Eve. He loved them, for He made them and their posterity for a purpose. He had covenanted with them, agreeing to be their God and provide for them, requiring only that they not eat the forbidden fruit. Yet, He had a plan all along to allow them to plummet into sin so that He could glorify His Son, Jesus Christ, by having Him become the hero of history who swoops into time, as a man on earth, to live a perfectly righteous life (succeeding where Adam and Eve had failed) and die a perfectly atoning death for His chosen people’s sins (something He, as the God-Man, alone could do). Christ’s sacrificial death would satisfy God’s wrath for Adam and Eve’s sin and the sins of all who trust in Christ as the one way back to God and His presence once again, and because Christ would defeat the wages of sin, death, Christ would rise again, triumphant over the grave, sin, and the devil. This future provision was immediately foreshadowed after Adam and Eve sinned in Genesis 3:15, where it is revealed, though cryptically, that one will come from the seed of man that will topple all the evil that the devil had accomplished with his lie, meaning the curse of sin and death would be undone by this one man. This man would be Jesus Christ. God also showed that Adam and Eve’s nakedness, their sin, would be covered by Him, as He made for them garments of skins for clothing (Gen. 3:21).
Because God is perfect holiness, He cannot be in the presence of unholiness, of sinners. Or rather, sinners cannot stand to be in the presence of a holy God, lest they be consumed because of their wickedness in light of perfect goodness. So God drove them away from His presence to work the land outside the Garden of Eden. Man was now separated from God, but this is the consequence of sin. He must continue his purpose of filling the Earth and subduing it, but now do so under the curse of sin on himself and the land. All this happens in just the first 3 chapters of the first book of the Bible. God’s plan to redeem His people is seen in these very first 3 chapters, and this pattern of God’s gracious loving of His people, His people rebelling against Him, and His driving them out in judgment in order to make payment for their sins and lead them to repentance and recommitment to Him, is a repeated pattern in Scripture, culminating in the incarnation of Christ Himself. Everything after Genesis 3 is really about getting back into God’s good graces, back in His presence, freed from sin, back to a state of innocency and perfection and joyful obedience to God. But now man is scarred with sin, and the earth groans with man under the curse of sin as we await what we hope to be redemption (Rom. 8:22-23).
I imagine you feel something of this groaning, of this travail within your soul. You recognize that not all is right in the world, or in yourself. People physically and emotionally harm one another; people die because of lack of food and water. Some people have lots of money, not by hard work but by what you might call luck; others have little despite their hard work on account of what you might call a bad break. In reality though, all these decisions, all that occurs, whether good or bad, is part of God’s sovereign plan (1 Chr. 29:11-12; Ps. 115:3; Rom. 9:21). Remember, if He is the Creator, and if He is really in control, He has the right to do as He pleases, and He must plan all things from the beginning if He is really to be in control of history. Otherwise, we would be in control, and we see what a mess we have made of things! So believe me, you want a God who is both good and sovereign. In fact, God cannot be good if He is not sovereign, because then He would be deficient, lacking some strength, and if He did not have a good purpose for man’s sin, then we would have to question why He allowed us to sin in the first place. No, as I mentioned before, God predestined that man would sin so His Son could come as the second Adam, fulfilling all that the first Adam failed to fulfill, in order to glorify Himself, Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in those who believe in Christ as their Lord and Savior to convict them and the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 15). And at the same time, it is man alone who sins of their own will; God does not force them to sin against their wills. This is mysterious, but it is what the Bible teaches, and it is no more mysterious than God’s making everything from nothing. As God alone is Creator, Go alone is also Sustainer, and Director, of all that happens in His creation.
God even predestined His Son’s own death by the hands of the very people who had Him crucified (Acts 4:27-28). Surely God would not do this unless this was His plan all along. Surely God loves His own obedient Son more than His rebellious creatures! No, if this was not God’s plan from the beginning, then God is a terrible Father to His Son, and is not worthy of worship. But if sin was planned by God in order to make the world the platform for the drama of redemption accomplished through His Son, then God the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit are worthy of all the praise and adoration we puny beings can muster. John 17 tells us that Christ came to glorify His Father, and that Christ, in both His sinless life and sacrificial death, would be glorified by His Father as well. In the end, all creation is a glory story, all that happens has been orchestrated by God to magnify His Trinitarian glory, by which I mean that God is three persons, yet one being, expressed as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of the three persons glorify one another, and God made a people whom Christ would redeem from sin so that they too could glorify Him for who He is and all that He has done in mercifully saving some people. Glorifying God for His saving you through Christ is the salvation that is offered. Salvation is not a means to life enhancement, bigger cars and better food; no, God does not work for you. Rather, you must work for God -- that is simply your duty and reasonable service (Luke 17:10; Rom. 12:1), and the sacrificial lifestyle of Christ, and later Paul the apostle, are the human examples that you must follow.
You may be thinking this is all very interesting, but that I have skipped over an awful lot. Isn’t there something in the Bible about the people of Israel, animal sacrifices, wilderness wanderings, temple worship and the like? There is, but these can be explained very briefly for the purpose of this tract once you understand who Christ is and what His purpose on earth was. In fact, as you will see, the Old Testament points forward to, and helps clarify, the work of Christ on earth. Israel was a nation chosen by God, not because of any goodness in them, for they too were children of Adam and therefore spiritually dead in their sins. But God, in order to make His name great and keep His promises, freed them from slavery in Egypt by destroying Pharaoh and his pursuing armies in a sea that he parted so that Israel could escape (Ex. 14; Deut. 7:6-10; Rom. 9:17). God’s choosing Israel was a defining step in the process that would lead to Christ dying to purchase His spotless, sinless bride. The bride of Christ would be called the true Israel, comprised not just of Jews, but all Gentiles who call upon the name of the Lord for salvation (Gal. 3:26-29). Now, the Israelites were sinners like the rest of us, and so they needed to understand that their sins for violating the ten commandments that God had given them through Moses (Ex. 20; Deut. 5) had to be paid for by someone else if they were really going to be God’s people and have that kind of intimate relationship with Him. Christ had not yet come to pay for sin, so God required that animals be sacrificed, spotless ones, indicating the sacrifice had to be sinless, teaching Israel their need for a sinless Savior. However, through faith in God’s provision, when Israel sacrificed an animal, they were really trusting in Christ as their Lord and Savior, even though He had not yet come to the earth. They did not fully understand how God would provide salvation for their sins, but they did understand that the animal sacrifices pointed to a time when God would provide the ultimate sacrifice that would be slain once to permanently purge the sin of many (Heb. 10:1-14). Sadly, Israel often showed their sinfulness and lack of faith by not only continuing to sin, but also by failing to faithfully offer up sacrifices for their sins. They lacked repentance, and began worshiping false gods – idols they carved out of wood and fashioned from gold – rather than the living God of heaven who made them. They even said that these false gods were the ones that delivered them from Egypt (Ex. 32:4)! They grumbled and complained about the bread God provided them while they wandered about between Egypt and the Promised Land, which God said they would inherit and flourish in if they obeyed Him. Of course, this Promised Land inherited upon condition of obedience recalls the Garden of Eden, doesn’t it? If they obeyed God, things would go well for them, but if they disobeyed, well, things wouldn’t go so well. Israel, like Adam, disobeyed, showing they are truly children of Adam and the devil and in need of a Savior, and like Adam, they were exiled from the Promised Land and brought under captivity (1 Chr. 9:1). The difference is that they entered the Promised Land as sinners already in need of a Savior (hence the animal sacrifices), whereas Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden without sin or need for a Savior. If Adam and Eve failed while sinless, it is no wonder that their fallen children would fail to keep covenant with God, even with the sacrificial system in place.
Prior to their captivity, God commanded the Israelites to construct a tabernacle, and later a temple, where in the innermost sanctum His presence would dwell again with His people. Of course, only the high priest could go in to this most holy place to offer up a sacrifice for the sins of the people once a year, and even he had to make atonement by sacrifice for his own sins (Heb. 9:6-14) before he could go into the shrouded presence of God behind the veil of the holy of holies. Remember, God’s perfection demands perfection in His presence. Christ became the great high priest par excellence, because He went into the presence of God weighed down with our sin, without a sacrifice to offer in His place. No, the sacrifice He offered on behalf of His people was Himself, and that made all the difference in the world in the eyes of God His Father (Heb. 9:14). Bull’s blood did not ultimately satisfy, but Christ’s blood did.
Christ also came as King of His people because He led them as a man, gathering disciples and calling all people to follow Him and His rule. Israel demanded a king before Christ came, so God gave them a fallen King of the line of Adam, and, as you might have guessed, the king’s sinned and did not lead the people well. Israel needed a sinless King, King Jesus, and if you are to become a Christian and wish to be forgiven of your sins, you too must submit to the Lordship, the Kingship, of Christ. You must not be rebellious like Adam and Eve, but repent of your sin and pledge allegiance to Christ and His Word as it is revealed in Scripture. Allegiance to Christ runs deeper than blood, than patriotism, than your own personal wishes and desires. In fact, Christ’s rule should shape and transform your desires into His desires, for He is the Sovereign King of all.
Christ was also the ultimate prophet, of which Israel had plenty of to remind them of God’s will and word. They needed this reminder constantly because they were continually sinning and forgetting what God wanted them to do! Christ was the perfect prophet because He perfectly revealed the will and very character of the Father. In fact, He was the incarnate Word of God (Jn. 1). Christ was God, and so all that He did in the flesh represented God’s will, and all that He said was what His Father had sent Him to say (Jn. 12:49). If we were made in the image of God, how much more was Christ, the God-Man, the perfect representation of His Father in human form (Heb. 1:3)? Christ is the King who rules His people, the prophet who revealed the Father to His people, and the priest who died for His people. Where the likes of David and Samuel and Aaron fell short as king, prophet, and priest, Christ took these offices and fulfilled them perfectly for His people.
I hope this is beginning to crystallize in your mind. All the Old Testament Scriptures really anticipates the coming of Christ, and all the New Testament, after the gospels which relates the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, looks back on the significance of Christ’s life and shows the work of His Spirit in the early church. The cross of Christ, His death and subsequent resurrection, is the most important event in all of human history. It is what God had predestined all of human history to build toward, and it is what the Father predestined all of human history to remember and honor above all else, for all time, after it was accomplished. Because of your sin, and mine, Christ had to die. Sin is serious, and we want a God who takes evil seriously. We don’t want to live forever with a God who thinks lightly of sin and rebellion and permits it in His presence. We want eternal life to be a place purged of sin, free from even the possibility of it, and that is exactly what is offered to you through Christ. Christ lived the perfect, sinless life you could never live, and died the perfectly satisfying death, suffering the Father’s wrath for sin and quenching it, thereby dying the death you could never die. You will either live and die in your own sins and suffer in hell, where God’s wrath is poured out forever, or you will live and die wrapped in the righteousness of Christ and dwell with Him forever (Mt. 25:46).
Today, God calls all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness, according to what they have done (Acts 17:30-31). Your only hope, friend, is that you cling to the cross of Christ as your refuge, as your atonement. Christ was dead in the grave for three days, but He rose from the dead because He swallowed up all His Father’s wrath for sin. Justice was served through Christ’s death for sin, and in that justice you can have new, resurrection life by mercy and grace. Christ died to purify a people for Himself who are zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14). The question is, are you zealous for God? Do you want Him, His righteousness, His will, for your life? Do you desire to live sacrificially like Christ did for sinners because you have sensed that living for God is what you were created to do, and what you ought to have been doing all along? If so, I have good news. The Spirit is stirring in your heart. He is leading you to the cross. Trust in Christ, His sinless life for your righteousness, and His sacrificial death as payment for your sins, and then follow Him. Study the Word of God, begin perhaps in the gospel of John. Let me show you a good, Bible believing, Calvinistic church, and become a member of it so that you can identify as part of the body of Christ, as part of one of His redeemed people. Then go, love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself, for this summarizes all of God’s commands, His holy will for you as a creature made in His image, after His likeness (Matt. 22:37-40). And though you will sin in this life as a Christian, if you confess your sins to God, He is faithful and just to forgive you of them (1 John 1:9) and will continually cleanse you of all unrighteousness, because Christ stands forever as your great high priest and advocate before the Father. And when He returns for His people who have become a holy nation and royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9) or calls you home to be with Him, there will be a great wedding feast, where you will be presented as the spotless bride of Christ (Rev. 19:6-9), and you will rule and reign with Christ and all His people forever (2 Tim. 2:12) in His immediate presence, just as it was in the Garden of Eden. Yet now you will stand, not by your own obedience before Him, but by the blood of Christ, to the praise of His glory, which you will sing of forever.
So this is my answer to the questions that I posed to you at the beginning. Through Christ, your sin and guilt is washed away, being swallowed up by Christ’s glory. You can once again be with God who made all things and has the whole world in the palm of His hands, and you can now live for what you created to live for without soul-damning, enslaving sin hanging around your neck (Rom. 6). You were created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That is your purpose, if you indeed have been chosen by His grace to be called one of His saints. But make no mistake -- whether you turn to Christ and live, or reject Him and die, God will be glorified through you. So turn and live rather than die! Find precious life, eternal life, true joy and fellowship with the Triune God! Do not delay, for today could be the day that He calls you before Him to give an account of the deeds that you have done in your body. On that day, you will know your condemnation is just, and your only plea will be Christ, so turn to Him now, walk with Him, and live among His redeemed people, experience what it means to be saved by the blood of Christ, and find untold treasures in fellowship with Him forever!