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Gospel Greatness–part 1: an overview of the doctrine of salvation
I love to snorkel. On a flat day, I could spend all day in the water. And if clear and flat, my day usually ends up one of two ways–I’ll find a fish or unique area, and float over one spot for hours. Like the time I found a cleaner wrasse and watched it clean fish for two hours–honestly, it was like a car wash. The other fish could come into the slot all facing the same way, the wrasse would pick off all the particles and debris, one fish would move on, and the next fish would take its place–it was awesome fun. I kept singing in my snorkel, “Going to the car wash, yea!”
Sometimes I don’t find a spot to focus on, but actually make my way systematically through the entire cove to get the lay of the land, to see what there is to see, or pick out what I am going to be looking at in days to come. Most Sundays at FBC, we float over one particular area and focus on one text, and draw out the details of what God has said.
But occasionally we need to look at the entire cove in order to survey what we’re going to look at in coming weeks in depth. Today is that day–as we introduce our summer series, we’ll focus on the awesome things Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. I am calling it “Gospel Greatness.” But today as we introduce the series, we’ll survey the entire cove–all of the doctrine of salvation.
Like a fish chart that helps you identify all the various fish you will see in a particular environment, today my hope is for you to be overwhelmed by and love the multiple sacrifices of Christ, and what He did for you on the cross. In weeks to come, each message will focus on one area of the Gospel—today we survey, and in the coming weeks each key area like justification, propitiation, redemption, adoption will be taught by great preachers and me. But beware, believer–this is not meant as an intellectual exercise, but God intends it to change your life.
Though I’ve labored to make complex truth simple to understand, simple does not mean shallow. (It was very difficult, but I hope you love it.) Today’s overview should overwhelm you and cause thanksgiving, passion, zeal and commitment on your part. Today must bury you in joy, crush you with love. Today will convict of sin, and motivate you to share the Gospel. Let today motivate you to return to your first love. Return to the childlike, dependent faith you once had in Christ. And talk about, think about, and own what Christ has done for you.
You must leave here today, blessed by the awesomeness of your Lord, Friend, Creator and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Feel free to “ooooh” and “aaaah” as we swim in these waters, always remembering God is limitless and we are limited. So please take notes in your outline, read them over this week, and remember each day what Jesus Christ did for you. To begin, let’s stand on the beach and look at where we’re going.
#1 The PANORAMA of Salvation
Take a look at the underwater salvation chart in your notes. We’ve been ransomed for a reason, and there are some deep truths involved in saving us. In fact Psalm 8:3 says to create the world, creation took the finger work of God. But to save us, Isaiah 63 says it took the right arm of God. That means creation was God’s finger painting, but salvation was God’s power lifting. It took more work on God’s part to accomplish your salvation than it did to create the entire universe–this is a big deal.
The chart before you is a general map for understanding, not an order of salvation. Many of the truths overlap, nor can they be viewed in chronological order. So what are they? Look at the main headings–briefly look at the R’s on the top of your chart.
The ROUTE of salvation begins with God electing His children before the foundation of the world, choosing to love us before we were born, and selecting our destiny in advance–sovereignly calling us to be in His forever family.
The REPROACH of all of humanity is the sinful nature we were all born with, along with our choices to sin, which results in the wrath of God being expressed against every one of us. Every human being, male and female, from Martin Luther to Mother Teresa, is in big trouble with God.
And the only way to avert God’s wrath bent against us for sin is for God Himself to provide a RANSOM. The cross of Jesus Christ was required to avert the wrath of God against sinful humankind. Propitiation means to avert God’s wrath–to satisfy God’s holiness and justice. It involves Jesus’ substitution on our behalf. The result is that we are now RECONCILED to God, no longer God’s enemy but His friend.
Plus the cross secures our REDEMPTION, the price of death for sins has been paid by Jesus with His death for us. But in order to rescue people who are dead in sins, and blind to our own need, God’s REACTION to His children is to regenerate us–He awakens us. God causes us to be born again so we can respond to Him.
The REQUIREMENT of His action in our hearts is the gift of faith and repentance. We respond to His regenerating, born again work by fulfilling our requirement, and that is to turn in repentance from the self-will of sin to faith in Jesus, a dependent commitment of trust.
The RESULTS of our conversion is we are declared not guilty, adopted into God’s family, set apart for God’s use, promised future perfection in glory and made secure in that promise forever. So why would God do all of this? What is the REASON? To bring Him glory–to display His character to all people while we live here, and to reflect Him in perfection for all eternity, which will also be our greatest joy and massive satisfaction.
So now let’s put our masks and snorkels on–got ‘em adjusted? Let’s take a deeper look at this entire cove of truth. In the coming weeks some great preachers and myself will be looking in depth at individual truths I’ll be highlighting today. But let’s get a taste of what Jesus did by means of His suffering and cruel death on the cross, so that you could be His child. Let’s look at the doctrine of salvation in one message.
#2 The PICTURES of Salvation
Sometimes snorkelers are unaware of the difficulty of riptides, swimming, currents, coral, waves–so they begin to panic. Don’t panic–I am a certified instructor. Don’t fight the process. To understand the Bible and truths about Christ and salvation, there is a specific language you must master. There are certain biblical words every Christian must know if he or she is to become truly intimate with Christ. Just like a big door swings on small hinges, big truths about our Lord swing on single words. Let’s look at a few of these words one at a time.
First The ROUTE of salvation involves Election to salvation
Election: God chooses His children
So many people think these election waters are cloudy, but they are nevertheless clearly in focus in the Scripture. Election is the action of God where He graciously chooses out from among sinful people the ones who will be saved. God elects or chooses His children. God doesn’t look ahead and see who will respond in faith. God doesn’t look ahead to see who will live good or work hard, but for His own glory, God chooses some to be His children.
Jesus clearly says in John 15:16, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” Read with me Ephesians 1:4 and 11, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world . . . 11 . . . we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” Then Second Thessalonians 2:13 says, “Because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation.” The Word of God clearly teaches the only reason you chose to follow Jesus Christ is that Jesus Christ first chose you.
Election: God chooses His children
In order to save you, God had to select you to be His own. You’d be dead in your sins. You’re unresponsive, so God had to act. That also means God has predestined us. In your notes . . .
Predestined: God decides our eternity
Our final destination, Heaven or Hell, is decided by God–not only before we get there, but before we were even born. Our ultimate destiny is in the hands of God. Let me put it more directly, and hopefully clearly. From all eternity, before we even existed, God decided to save some members of the human race and to pass by the rest of the human race, allowing them to remain in their sin and rebellion and ultimately perish. God did not choose Hell for them–they were already headed there.
Listen to what God says in Proverbs 16:4,”The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.” Listen to the warning of Jude 4, “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
Some believe God does this by FOREKNOWLEDGE. But foreknowledge is another way of describing God’s choice, not merely knowing beforehand. Some wrongly interpret foreknowledge to mean God knew in advance who’d respond to Him, and therefore He chooses those people. The only problem is our faith is a gift from God, right? Ephesians 2:8 says we’re “saved by grace through faith, it is the gift of God.” Therefore, if foreknowledge is merely to know before, then it means God looked ahead to see who He would give faith to, then He chose them. That still makes God the one who chooses, not merely looking to see who would respond, then chose them.
Foreknowledge actually means God chose in advance to have an intimate love relationship with some before they were even born. The word FOREKNEW literally means fore-loved. It wasn’t that Jesus knew facts about you, but chose to intimately love you beforehand. In your notes . . .
Foreknowledge: God’s predetermined love RELATIONSHIP with His children
First Peter 1:2 says to scattered Christians who are “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit that you may obey Jesus Christ.” God loved you as His own before you were even born. If you’re a Christian, God has been intimately loving you since before time began. God had to choose to love you in order to allow His Son to suffer and die for your sin. And in order for us to experience election, God calls you and I. In your notes . . .
Calling: God AWAKENS His own
The Bible talks about two kinds of calls from God. One is a general call made to all through creation, conscience and the proclaimed Word. But this call of God can be rejected, like many in Israel did. The other call of God, sometimes called the internal efficacious call, is never rejected. When God gives His special call, it results in someone becoming a Christian, just as Romans 8:30 says, “And whom He predestined, these he also called and whom He called these He also justified [if He calls you, you’ll be saved], and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”
This is called by many theologians “the golden chain.” God makes it very clear here—those God predestined will ultimately be glorified. “But Chris–if I believe this, then I have to believe God elects some to eternal life but not everyone. Why doesn’t God choose everyone?”
Well, the issue is not why didn’t God choose everyone, but why did God choose anyone? Men and women, God reserves the right to have mercy upon whom He will have mercy. Some of fallen humanity receive the grace and mercy of election. The rest God passes over, leaving them in their rebellion and sin. The non-elect receive justice, the elect receive mercy, but no one receives injustice.
God isn’t obligated to be merciful to any, or to all alike. It’s His decision how merciful He chooses to be. Yet He is never guilty of being unrighteous or unjust toward anyone. God’s answer to this question of why didn’t He choose everyone is found in Romans 9:20. He says, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?” Be quiet and know that I am God–I am the potter, you are the clay. I’m the all knowing Creator and you are the limited knowing creature.
God had to draw you and call you in order for you to be saved. But that is how much He loves you, Christian. Even though you rebelled against Him, and fought His will for you, He overcame your resistance, opened your eyes to see, to save you. But if this is true, then why evangelize? If God elects, predetermines and calls, then why share the Gospel with anyone–why? Because God has also sovereignly chosen you and I to be the vehicle to communicate His good news, the Gospel.
Do you remember in Acts 10–an angel tells Cornelius that a man will come to share crucial news with Him? That used to bother me. Why not have the angel tell Cornelius? He’s there–why send Peter? One of the reasons is, God has chosen His children to experience the joy and be the vehicle to communicate the news of salvation.
That’s why God told Paul to stay in Corinth in Acts 18:10. God said to Paul, “I have many people in this city.” God says, “Paul, I have elected many people in this city, but you need to stay in order to proclaim the good news, so they’ll hear and respond.” That’s why Acts 13:48 says, “As many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” That’s why Romans 10:13 says, “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed. And how shall they believe in Him who they have not heard. And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent.”
God has chosen us to share, but God is the one who saves. That is good news since I’m not responsible for anyone responding to or rejecting the Gospel–it’s not my eloquence or winsome arguments or pleadings or convincing that causes anyone to accept Christ, and especially important, nor reject Christ. Can you imagine if it was your fault someone rejected Christ? Can you imagine bearing the guilt of anyone in Hell because of you? But I am responsible to communicate the good news. But there’s a problem with God electing, because all of us have a . . .
Second REPROACH from salvation
We all have a serious sin problem. Every single one of us chose to rebel against God’s authority and chose to do our own thing instead of God’s perfect plan. We fall short of God’s perfect standard. We not only don’t give God the glory He deserves, our thoughts and actions are an offence to His character. Romans 3:10 says, “There is none righteous, not even one.” No one bats a thousand. Sin is the root cause of all your problems, but ultimately sin results in us being totally depraved.
That doesn’t mean we’re all as bad as we can possibly be. Rather it means sin has so pervaded every aspect of our natures, we’re totally incapable of achieving our own salvation. Sin is so bad it even keeps us from calling out for help. God must act on our behalf. Romans 3:11, “There is none who seeks for God.” Therefore God must start the process. God must work in us first so that we can respond to Him in faith.
“Whoa, Chris! Wait a minute here–what about free will?” Oh you have one, but your will is fallen–your will is in bondage to sin, making it impossible for you to choose the right thing. Just like a shark will choose bloody meat over a rubber buoy every time, you have a will to choose, but your will will choose sin over God. And because God is holy and just, He must judge sin. His wrath must be expressed against our sin, which means we’re in great danger but don’t even know it. So what can we do? Nothing–God must save us. We can’t.
Third God provided a RANSOM
By sending Jesus to die for us on the cross, He provided a propitiation, a satisfaction for God’s justice and holiness. In your notes . . .
Propitiation: from wrath to MERCY
A common religious word used in heathen religions meaning to win the favor of or to avert the wrath of the gods. The biblical writers adopted this word to picture how Christ’s work on the cross satisfied the righteous wrath of God toward sinful and rebellious people. Propitiation describes that facet of our salvation which takes us out from under God’s righteous judgment and places us under the safety of the cross of Christ.
Christian, because of what Jesus did for you, you’re no longer an object of God’s wrath, but a recipient of His mercy. Do you remember when you were a kid and there was danger outside? What did you do? You ran inside. In the same way, you are protected from God’s wrath because God’s just anger and judgment already fell upon Jesus for you. “The wages of sin is [what?] death.” (Romans 6:23) Jesus Christ went to the electric chair in your place. The Lord Jesus Christ took the lethal injection you deserved. When you were to be hung for your sins, Jesus wore your noose. Jesus took God’s wrath for us, and in taking the punishment we deserved on the cross, God did two dynamic things.
ONE Jesus reconciled us to Himself
In your notes . . .
Reconciliation: from Enemy to FRIEND
Reconciled is a word used to describe a relationship of animosity that’s been changed into a relationship of friendship and harmony. Your reconciliation to God is made possible by the cross of Christ. All of God’s just claims against us were settled by Christ’s death. As Colossians 2:13 and 14 says, “You were dead in your transgressions . . . He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt . . . against us . . . having nailed it to the cross.” All of the obstacles preventing our fellowship have been removed.
That’s why Paul calls us AMBASSADORS of reconciliation (in 2 Corinthians 5:19 to 21) when we share the good news of salvation with others. We’re inviting people to step from the dangerous ground of animosity with God onto the safe ground of a restored friendship. The Gospel is the offer to restore a friendship with God.
TWO Jesus Redeemed us for Himself
In your notes . . .
Redemption: from Slavery to FREEDOM
Would you all agree that sin is enslaving? The Bible teaches that each of you is a captive of sin, death, the law and Satan. Each of them holds you in an eternal death grip. But just as a person could be released from jail by payment of money, canceling out the certificate of debt against him, with the result that he or she could be set free from the darkness of prison into the light and freedom of the day–and just as a slave in ancient times might be legally purchased by a generous man and set free, so God has paid the purchase price of your freedom by the blood of Christ, to release His children held captive by spiritual oppressors.
Ephesians 1:7 says, “In Him we have redemption through His blood.” And 1 Peter 1:18 says, “You were not redeemed with perishable things . . . but with precious blood.” God was born as a man, suffered and died for you in order for you to be freed from sin’s punishment, power, and ultimately from the very presence of sin. But how did all this process get started in us?
Fourth What is God’s REACTION to bring about salvation
What did God do in order to awaken us from our sin sleep? How did God raise us from our spiritual deadness and lost-ness? Answer: He caused us to be born again. He regenerated us. In your notes . . .
Regeneration: from Death to LIFE
In His interview with Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus told him, “Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Now Jesus was speaking to one of the most moral, religious men of His day, but a man who was spiritually lost and bound for Hell. All people are in need of a transformation that will penetrate to the core of the human heart and break the dominion of sin. This is why 1 Peter 1:3 declares that Jesus Christ has caused us to be born again—God caused us to be born again.
Each of us needs an internal transformation that will replace our sin corrupted heart with a new spiritual heart, focused on God. But because we’re helpless to make these changes for ourselves, God must do this for us–God must save us. Because of sin, by nature we are spiritually dead, blind, and helpless. We are all in need of the gift of eternal life.
Ever heard someone lament, “God make me a better person?” The truth is, it’s easier for God to make you a new person–that’s regeneration, that divine act of making the believer a “new” man or woman in Christ by imparting of new divine life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. God calls it being born again, born of God, becoming a new creature in Christ. You may look the same on the outside when you become a Christian, but you are not the same on the inside. You are born again.
God must do this in us in order for us to respond to Him in faith and repentance, just like Acts 16:14 describes Lydia. “And the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” God opens hearts, then we can respond. But how were we involved? Don’t we do something? How do we become converted?
Fifth The REQUIREMENT of salvation is faith and repentance
Explaining his ministry, Paul said we need two things in Acts 20:21, “Solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Faith is a dependent reliance upon Jesus alone for salvation, and repentance is a change of mind that always results in a turning away from sin to follow Christ. Both of these occur in the heart of a true believer at salvation, and continue as a way of life in every genuine Christian.
Do not call yourself a Christian unless you depend on Christ and turn directionally from sin toward Christ–is that you? So what happens when we’re converted? What does this great salvation involve? What does God give us?
Sixth What are the RESULTS of salvation?
ONE God JUSTIFIES us
He makes us right with Him by His grace. Romans 3:24, “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” In your notes . . .
Justification: from guilt to INNOCENT
As Paul compares the universal effect of the sin of Adam to the universal effect of the work of Jesus on the cross, Romans 5:18 says, “So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.” In justification, God transfers to us, by faith alone, the righteousness of Christ; not just legally but actually.
The only way we can stand in God’s presence in Heaven is to be clothed in Christ’s perfect righteousness. But that’s what Jesus Christ has done for you through His death on the cross. We’re made right with God now because you and I are in Christ.
TWO We are ADOPTED into God’s Family
In your notes . . .
Adoption: a change in FAMILIES
Adoption means in Christ we’ve become sons and daughters of the living God. We are in His forever family. We’ve changed families. You were in the worst family possible, but because of what Christ did for you on the cross, you’re now in the best family. The Bible says before Christ, we were children of the devil (1 John 3:10), and children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). But when Jesus gives us salvation, we now enjoy a new set of family relationships and a new set of affections which reflect the character of our Heavenly Father.
Obviously Paul was familiar with adoption in Roman culture. In extreme cases, a man who had no son but needed an heir would actively seek out a young man who could function as a son. The legal requirements would be worked out, and the adopted son would be brought into the family with all the rights, privileges and obligations of any true child by birth.
As Christians, we have a new relationship of intimacy, trust and dependence. We can cry out, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6), which is an Aramaic term for “daddy,” a term of the utmost intimacy and personal endearment. My precious friends, Jesus Christ suffered and died so you could experience the joy of intimacy with Him–call Him “Abba.”
THREE God gives us SANCTIFICATION
In your notes . . .
Sanctification: a change in OWNERSHIP
The Bible uses “sanctify” in two ways . . .
First As a result of salvation, it describes God’s choice to rescue lost people from the kingdom of darkness and claim them for His exclusive possession and special use. You are now owned by Christ. You’re His unique gift, tool, person with a specific purpose.
Second As the process of growth, sanctification refers to the process of overcoming sin and becoming like Jesus. Your special position as a set apart saint is found in Acts 20:32, “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” And in Acts 26:18 Jesus told Paul he was called to preach to the Gentiles, “To open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.”
Do you know what it means when a sign says “under new management”? Because God became a man, then suffered and died for your sin, every real believer here wears an “under new management” sign. Another result of salvation . . .
FOUR God gives us SECURITY
In your notes . . .
Security: from Danger to SAFETY
The Bible teaches if you have saving faith, you’ll never lose it–and if you do lose it, it means you never had it. John tells you this clearly in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.”
This eternal security is not based upon our performance, but on God’s promises. As Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Or God’s guarantee in Romans 8:30, “Whom He predestined . . . He also justified and these He also glorified.” Or as Paul reminds us in Romans 8:39, that nothing “. . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
But how do we know we are positionally secure? How do we experience our eternal security practically? The Bible calls the practical awareness of our secure relationship with Christ “assurance.” And assurance is only evidenced by Christ displaying Himself through our lives–which is called fruit. Is Jesus Christ in you? If He is, He will show through you. How will you see Him most clearly? Obedience to the Scripture–1 John 2:4 says, “The one who says, I have come to know Him and does not keep His commandments is a liar and the truth is not in Him.”
Do you have genuine assurance? Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins, then rose from the dead in order to keep you secure. To know you are secure, you should see your lifestyle grow increasingly like Christ, according to God’s Word.
FIVE Finally, God gives us GLORIFICATION
In your notes . . .
Glorification: from eternal punishment to eternal PERFECTION
First Corinthians 15:53 says, “For this perishable must put on the imperishable and this mortal must put on immortality.” Our God is going to make everything right and keep it that way for all eternity. No more death, sin, suffering, struggling, emotional hurts, physical pains, or rejections–only perfection forever in joy and love. Are you looking forward to it? Amen?
Jesus Christ went to the cross so you could come home to heaven. Wow, that’s great! But why has God left me here? If God has saved me to glorify Him, and I can better glorify Him in Heaven in a perfect body without sin, then why doesn’t He just take me home now? Finally . . .
Seventh What is the REASON God saved me now?
To know Jesus, enjoy Him, serve Him so that you might share Him–to bring Him glory, show Him off. What do you get to do on Earth that you can’t do in heaven? Sin and share Christ–which one do you think He left you here to do? Then let’s get after it. With your life and lips, let’s display Jesus with acts of compassion, sacrificial deeds, and a clear Gospel message. Let’s show the world how attractive Jesus Christ really is. He is so beautiful, let’s not hide Him. Amen?
Okay, we just surveyed the cove of salvation. Ready to return to the beach? Congratulate the person next to you–good swim! And now that you’ve been in the water and seen the theology, are you more thankful for what Jesus did for you? Are you more motivated to serve Him, give to Him, focus on Him? Are you more passionate to share who He is and what He’s done? You have the answer for people’s greatest need.
People have died spiritually–but God offers them regeneration and new life in Christ.
People are God’s enemy–but God offers them reconciliation through the cross of Christ.
People are slaves to the law, sin, death and Satan–but God intervenes to purchase them out of their prison and bring them to a place of freedom.
People are in Satan’s family–but God reaches down and adopts them as a son or daughter.
People are the objects of wrath–but God sends His Son to be the propitiation for their sins.
People will find themselves standing guilty before the righteous Judge–but God mercifully declares His children not guilty because of Jesus’ work on the cross and resurrection.
The moment a non-believer embraces the Gospel, God does all this and more for them. Get ready this summer to be blown away by what Christ has done for you, so that you might be changed by Gospel greatness—and today embrace the message yourself. Give thanks for what God has done. Live more like you really believe what He’s done for you. And share the message–it is good news. Let’s pray.