Sending the Pastor Your Life Savings
I suppose all of us have a list of “favorite things” . . . with all due respect to that song by Julie Andrews. If you want to know my favorite brand of ice cream, my favorite color and TV program, and my favorite sports team, I could tell you. I go home each evening with my favorite person, of course.
But if you ask me what my favorite word is, I imagine I would say GRACE. To me, grace has been an “amazing” thing for a long, long time. There is nothing more sweet and more valued than the gift of grace which flows from Calvary.
Grace is one of our theme words here at this church. It’s in our songs and in our sermons; it infuses our Sabbath School lessons and our children’s departments. It’s part of our school system and our summer camps and our seminars. Without the gift of grace, this church wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be here, and neither would you.
But there's another word that goes with grace, especially in the Bible’s deep study of this salvation topic. And that word, equally important, is faith.
In fact, those two words are forever linked together in our Ephesians chapter two passage that's become the hallmark Scripture text for this church’s existence and mission. Verses eight and nine go like this: “For by grace you have been saved THROUGH FAITH, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest anyone should boast” (NKJV).
Did you notice those two important words: "saved by grace through faith"? We're certainly saved by grace, but also by having faith—whatever that means—having faith in the Giver of that grace.
If we were simply saved by grace period, with grace meaning “undeserved favor,” then the whole human race would be swept into heaven. Every single sinner would be saved—some of them kicking and screaming in protest. Adolf Hitler. David Koresh. Son of Sam killers. The Oklahoma City bombers. Osama bin Laden. If heaven's grace was all that was required, you could pick up this entire planet's population and transport them all to Paradise in one fell swoop.
Is that going to happen? It would be wonderful if it could, and I know that God would wish for that to happen. We’re told in His Word that He’s not willing for anyone to perish (II Peter 3:9). However, there will always be some who absolutely refuse to be saved, and so the idea of “universal salvation” is simply not possible. The Bible gives us an emphatic NO! to the idea that all roads lead to paradise. Jesus Himself said in Matthew 7:13 and 14: "Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."
There are many, many verses in the Bible that describe in stark, painful terms the fate of those who will be lost. Brothers and sisters, grace does save, but it only saves those who have faith.
Okay, then, what IS faith? I think many of us who are regular Bible students think right away of Hebrews 11:1, the renowned “faith chapter,” which basically says: Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Believing in something you haven't seen . . . that's faith.
But this morning I’d like to give all of us a very short, workable, one-word answer. This is kind of a “thesaurus” definition, and here it is: trust. If you have faith in someone, you trust that person. Faith . . . equals trust. Trust equals faith. There are probably ways where, if we dissect the nuances of those two words in their original Bible languages, we could find some slender bit of daylight between the two definitions, but in terms of our day-to-day lives, trust and faith are solid twins. Faith equals trust.
Some of you who have spent your Sundays by the radio hearing the assuring voice of Pastor H. M. S. Richards can remember that for something like 65 years he concluded his Voice of Prophecy programs with a poem that ended by saying, "Have faith, dear friend, in God.” That's suggesting very simply, "Trust in God. You can place your trust in God." After a half-hour of solid Bible study that gave listeners courage to believe the truthfulness of the Bible and the reliable love of God, it was then safe to say: “God is trustworthy. He does what He says He will do; He is faithful to save.
Let me ask you a question right now: Do you trust me? Do you have absolute faith in your pastor?
Let me put it this way. If I asked you to, would you write out a check for a thousand bucks and hand it to me? Or ten thousand dollars? Or your life savings?
Well, especially if you’ve only attended this church a few weeks now, I know what your answer ought to be. "Are you nuts, Pastor NAME? I don't even KNOW you! I'm not sending you fifty cents!"
And do you know something? I respect that. Because trust comes when you know someone. That's a crucial point we're going to keep our eye on.
I would like to think that in my years of ministry, I have earned a certain level of trust among some of you who worship here. Now, I’m not here to ask you today for a thousand dollars. But I would hope that if I was going on a mission trip to a faraway land, and was planning to buy desks or Bibles or blankets for an Adventist-run orphanage over there, you could trust me to deliver your financial gift to that project. I hope you would believe that I wouldn’t run off with your cash and settle myself on a Caribbean island with a hammock and a coconut filled with 7-Up.
And why would you have that level of “faith” in me? Well, hopefully because you have gotten to know me . . . and seen that I am not the sort of person to steal from my parishioners. I think if you look at the car I’m driving, and the holes in my sneakers, you would be reassured that embezzling isn’t one of my besetting sins!
So let's look at Ephesians again. “For by grace you have been saved THROUGH FAITH.”
We're saved by God's grace, which we receive by having faith in God. By placing our trust in God. By believing that what God says, He does. By being willing to surrender our selves to Him as we discussed last Sabbath.
I heard this illustration once, which I thought was helpful. You’re stranded on the fifth story of a burning building. The flames are all around you; the staircases are impassable. The elevators are out of order. There’s no way down and you are facing certain death.
But then some wonderful, strong firemen call out to you. “We’ve got a net! Jump! We’ll catch you!” And you do! You jump right into that net and your life is spared.
Now, what is it that saved you? It was the net. Without the net, your jump would have been a fatal step . . . as we tragically saw on September 11, 2001. People leaped to their deaths because there was no net.
But even if there is a net, and you choose not to jump, you will not be saved. The jump is faith. If you’re not convinced that your life is in danger, or if you don’t trust the firemen or the fabric of the net, or know for a reality that the flames are heading in your direction, then you’re going to perish even if there are a hundred nets down below with a picture of the Cross on every single one of them.
So the net is grace, and the jump is faith . . . and we are saved by grace “through faith.”
Listen. If you don't trust someone, you won't bother to jump into their net. If they ask for a thousand dollars, you won’t be willing to surrender fifty cents of your bank account to that person, let alone surrendering your self to them. Grace is a useless gift unless we believe totally and unconditionally in the Giver of that gift.
Where does this take us, then? The other Sabbath I shared with you that there was one thing we could do to participate in this process of salvation. Do you remember what it was? We can place ourselves in places where we can HEAR that gospel message.
Now we come to the real point of our greatest participation. Here it is: We can participate by getting to KNOW God, the giver of grace, the Provider of salvation.
We won't trust God unless we know Him. It's as simple as that. It works that way in our friendships, in our marriages, in all our relationships. It works that way at the office. It works that way here at the church and in our small groups. And this is one area where our participation is vital. We have a part to play in getting to know God and His Son Jesus Christ.
How important is this? According to the word of Jesus, it's a matter of life and death. Mark down these words from the book of John chapter 17: "And this is eternal life, that they may KNOW You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."
Now here is one of the most wonderful truths in the whole Bible. Christians who know God can know that they have eternal life. They can be assured of it. Let's read those first ten words again: "And this IS eternal life, that they may know You."
This always leads to another of my favorite verses found in the book of First John, chapter five and verse thirteen. I think this one is underlined in every Bible I've ever owned. Listen: "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may KNOW that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God."
Did you notice? You and I, if we believe in—have faith in—the name of the Son of God . . . we can know that we have eternal life. No doubts. No fears. No bewilderment or crossing our fingers. I want to say to you right now, right here, on this Sabbath morning, that if you choose to, you can settle this matter before you go out to your car in the parking lot and turn on the engine. Because of what the Bible promises, you can know that because of grace and because you have faith (or trust) in the God who gives us that grace . . . you are saved.
Now, how? Let’s review the steps we’ve been covering together. First, you simply acknowledge that you need Jesus. You're a sinner who knows there's something better . . . and you want it. You admit that you're helpless. You tell God that you're willing to surrender—not things, but your self. You're willing to give Him you. And then you accept the fact, the guaranteed reality, the promise, the plain, heaven-locked-in assertion that you are saved. You're saved right now because God promises it.
And then what? You are now a Christian. You are saved. Guaranteed. But here's a big question: what about tomorrow? Are you still saved tomorrow? What do you do tomorrow?
Please listen to me carefully right here, because this is most important. Tomorrow you can know that you're still saved . . . as long as you continue to stay in that faith relationship with Jesus. As long as you continue to trust
—remember, FAITH and TRUST are synonyms here at this church—you can be assured today of salvation, tomorrow of salvation, every day of salvation.
I'm going to say just a brief closing word about a topic even many Christians end up debating with real passion. Is it true that once you enter into that faith relationship and are saved . . . that you'll always be saved? Once you trust in Jesus, could you ever stop trusting in Him?
I'm going to carefully share my humble opinion on that topic. And it's one borne out of my personal pastoral experiences. I've seen people who trusted in Jesus Christ with all their hearts. They'd given their lives to the Lord lock, stock, and barrel. They'd surrendered all.
And then I'd meet them five years later, and discover with a stab of sorrow that now they did not have a faith relationship. What they'd given to God, they had now taken back. They didn’t trust in Jesus Christ any longer for salvation.
Now, are they still saved? According to the clear Word of God—"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved"—they are NOT saved any longer. And that's why I would feel that stab of heartache. I mentioned I John 5:13, which says that we can know we have the gift of salvation. But verse twelve, just before it, says this: He who has the Son has life; he who does NOT have the Son of God does not have life. It is possible to have Jesus as your Savior and then later to disavow Him. Today I “have” a spouse; but I could foolishly discard that spouse and no longer “have” that companion.
Have we known couples who loved and trusted each other . . . and then a few years later made a decision NOT to love and trust each other? We all have, haven't we? And we've wept over it.
You can read some very plain stories in the Word of God where Bible champions like King David departed from their precious trust relationship with God. David walked away from his friendship, his communion, with God in order to indulge in the scandal of adultery and murder.
And how did he pray later? "Restore to me," he prayed, "the joy of Your salvation.” He begged God to give him once again the assurance of salvation. You can read it for yourself in Psalm chapter 51.
So my conviction is that the Bible teaching sometimes loosely called OSAS—“once saved, always saved”—does need to allow for this plain reality. We can rest assured of our salvation as long as we choose to continue to trust in God. It’s as plain as that. Martin Luther, the great reformer, stoutly resisted the “works” mentality of the Church of Rome and wrote against the anxiety and doubt and fragile salvation fostered by the sale of indulgences and the requirements of penance and purgatory. The heart of the Protestant gospel is that we can accept salvation, full and free, and rejoice that we have a home in heaven. But even Luther reluctantly allowed for the possibility that a man or woman, who had once accepted salvation as a gift of grace through faith, could later make the decision to apostasize. There are no bars on the doors of heaven, no padlocks or chains. We are free to be saved or free to not be saved. God never forces us to stay where WE don't want to stay.
However, I like how Pastor Morris Venden claims that he believes in “once saved, almost always saved!” Next Sabbath we'll find out what good news that can really be.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2009. Click here for usage guidelines.
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