The following are the notes from this week’s CROSSROADS lesson. Words in bold identify key phrases from notes pages handed out each week. If you would like copies of our slides, please feel free to reach and request them. As these are from the notes pages for each week, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors.
There is no shortage of opinions on how someone gets to heaven. Some think it’s through living a good life while others think it’s through going to a church. Some people think that if God is really a loving god, then all people will get to heaven. Those people are just avoiding the question altogether!
Many Christians have different opinions on what it takes to go to heaven as well… which is concerning. For the Christian, there really isn’t a lot of room to wonder about salvation because the Bible is pretty clear. Jesus says that none will get to heaven “except through me” (John 14:6). What it takes and means to follow Christ is also pretty clearly spelled out in the Bible.
What’s funny about the subject of salvation, or being “saved”, is that it is so explicitly discussed by Jesus and by the disciples. Think of all the subjects in the Bible that aren’t explicitly discussed: abortion, gay marriage, politics, and a thousand other subjects. Those are things that we have to piece together using little bits of scriptures. Salvation, on the other hand, is plainly and bluntly described as being able to spend eternity with God through our faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, so many Christians are either unaware, or just flat-out ignore, what is clearly stated in the Bible.
Let’s take a deeper look at what it means to be “saved” and, more importantly, what it does NOT mean.
WHAT SALVATION “IS”
Salvation, by definition of the word, means that we have been “saved” from something: saved from sin. Being saved from sin doesn’t mean we suddenly don’t sin anymore, but it means we aren’t doomed to a sinner’s fate which is spiritual death and eternal separation from God… read that as “Hell”. This is why Christ makes it clear that salvation comes from acknowledging the sin in our lives.
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as well.” (Luke 13:5)
Here, Christ is telling the people that to achieve salvation we must REPENT of our sins. Keep in mind that repentance isn’t just saying that you “ask for forgiveness”. There’s more to it than that. Repentance is (1) acknowledging our sin, (2) asking for forgiveness for that sin, and (3) turning away from or “rejecting” that sin.
It makes sense that Christ would ask us to repent before offering us salvation. Sin is a disease wreaking havoc on this earth. The first step of curing a disease is to identify what the disease actually is. Christ wants us to identify that the disease we suffer from is sin. Why? So that we will understand why the person of Christ is so necessary.
So many people try to find repentance in different places. Some try to find it in works and some try to find it in other gods or idols that they have created (some idols are literal and some metaphorical). Christ makes it painfully clear that there is EXCLUSIVELY one, and one only, way to an eternity with God.
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6)
There is something that sounds restrictive in here, but is actually pretty amazing. At first blush, it seems restrictive to say that there is no other way you can possibly hope to reach heaven except through following this one person of Jesus Christ. That’s how many people outside of Christianity see the Christian faith: restrictive. However, that’s not really what’s happening. Christ says that “you do know [God] and have seen him” because when we come to Christ, we’re already there. See, Christ isn’t a funnel or a filter keeping people FROM God… Christ is the final destination because he IS God.
In other words, what Christ is really saying here is that the only way to God… is to actually go directly to God. You can’t go through religion and you can’t go through ritual. You can’t go through your good works or accomplishments. In fact, you don’t need to go through any of that. Just go straight to God.
Here is where we get to the entire point of salvation: that we do not receive salvation from anything here on earth, but from God in heaven. In other words, you are saved not by what you can physically see, but BY FAITH.
This is why the promise is by faith, so that it may be according to grace, to guarantee it to all the descendants—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of Abraham’s faith. He is the father of us all. (Romans 4:16)
Paul mentions this little line about “Abraham’s faith”. Why is that? Remember that God had established a covenant with Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation which would bless the entire world. Abraham had faith in this covenant even though the results of this nation wouldn’t occur until way, way after he was dead and gone. Abraham’s faith becomes the role model for all of us who follow the Judaic-Christian faith. At the time Paul wrote his letter, many asserted that the only way to come through God was to be a part of the nation of Israel or at least be a Jewish follower who then decided to follow Jesus. Paul was saying that your heritage doesn’t matter; all that matters is your faith. Furthermore, through faith, salvation is offered to ALL people of all nationalities and backgrounds.
WHAT SALVATION “ISN’T”
Once we get a good picture of what Christ tells us salvation actually is, it becomes easier to understand what salvation isn’t.
First, no one is BORN INTO IT. There is no such thing as being saved as a baby or, as I’ve heard some people joke, “before I was born”. This is actually something that many of the Jews struggled with because they believed they had something like a “birthright” to God. Look at how harshly John the Baptist speaks about these sorts of believers.
He then said to the crowds who came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore, produce fruit consistent with repentance. And don’t start saying to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones. The ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9)
It sounds harsh, but that’s because there is really a kind of arrogance in this mentality. Imagine the arrogance of someone who thinks that simply because they are born into a family or are of a certain background that they are somehow closer to God than anyone else. While a lot of people here may not necessarily think their upbringing makes them “better” than anyone else, I’ve heard from many people over the years different versions of this type of thinking and it is dangerous. It can fake and deceive people into thinking they are somehow finding favor with God simply by existing rather than through enjoying salvation the way we just described.
Second, salvation is not achieved through ACTIONS of “CHRISTIAN ACCOMPLISHMENTS”. Some people are convinced that because they come to church and sacrifice their time to do “Christian things” that they are saved. There is almost another form of arrogance here in thinking that somehow we could log in sufficient hours or sacrifice enough weekend mornings to “earn favor with God”. In reality, there is nothing we could possibly boast about that could earn our way to heaven.
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By one of works? No, on the contrary, by a law of faith. For we conclude that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Romans 3:27-28)
There is no amount of labor we can produce that makes up for the distance between God and man produced by sin. There is no mission trip, no team, and no amount of money that justifies us; faith is what bridges the gap between God and man.
And finally, similar to actions, there is no amount of “GOOD ENOUGH” that someone can be to go to heaven. The standard for earning salvation is absolute and complete perfection without sin in thought, word, or action.
…he saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out his Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior so that, having been justified by his grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7)
As nice as it would be to know that worst-case-scenario we can just be “good enough” and some judge in the sky would determine if we were mostly good people, that’s not how any of this works and if it did work that way, God would not be who the Bible says he is. Sin leads to death because God is infinitely pure. If he is infinitely pure and infinitely just, it means that only people who are infinitely perfect are worthy of entering into his presence. We can’t do that on our own; we need Jesus.
This is where we get to the entire purpose of this lesson. Why focus on what salvation is and what salvation isn’t? Why does it matter?
Just the other day, a group of youth were traveling to Disney World in Florida. They were a small group, much like our group that recently went to WinterFest. On the way there, they were driving beside a semi-truck and someone crossed over the lane. Both the truck and the church van were bumped off the road. Unfortunately, the church van was in the left lane and was bumped hard enough that it went into oncoming traffic where it collided head-on with another truck. Both truck drivers and everyone in the church van died.
I don’t want to turn this into a lesson designed to scare of guilt anyone into making a decision. What I do want is for all of us to understand that your life is very delicate and you won’t be invincible forever. In the blink of an eye, God may call us home and when we all stand before our creator, he will ask, “Did you serve me and my son?” Trying to explain to God that we weren’t ready to make a decision or that we showed up to church a bunch of times will not suffice. God wants us to have a personal relationship with him through following Jesus Christ. That’s it. You’re either saved by faith, or your lost.