On Sunday, July 1st, 2009, I had in mind to preach a sermon on prayer. Specifically, I planned to preach on the so-called “Lord’s Prayer.” But as I began to ease into my studying and preparing for that sermon, the Lord made it clear that He wanted me to preach something else. He wanted a sermon on salvation.
The text He told me to use was Matthew 7:21-23, where Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Since preachers are always being told how important it is to grab the listener’s attention with the sermon’s introduction, I opened up with these words: “You can die and go to hell from a seat in church just as much as you can from living in a box in some rat-infested alley, taking your meals out of a garbage can.” Pretty attention-grabbing, huh?
From there, I proceeded to explain that the person who has experienced genuine salvation will evidence that salvation in his or her conduct. In other words, the person’s salvation will show up in the way the person lives. As James 2:20 so succinctly puts it: “faith without works is dead.” While good works can never produce salvation, salvation will inevitably produce good works. While good works can never flow into salvation, they must flow out of it.
This doesn’t mean the person who gets saved will never sin again. Romans chapter 7 is the Bible’s best passage on why saved people (Christians) still sin. In that chapter, Paul explains that the Christian has two inner natures that are constantly at war. On the one hand, at the moment of salvation, God the Holy Spirit comes to live inside the Christian’s body, and the Spirit brings the nature of God to the person. Consequently, that new nature seeks control over the person, a control that will lead to deeds of righteousness. But on the other hand, even when the Spirit comes to indwell the individual, the Spirit’s presence doesn’t eliminate the individual’s old nature (the nature with which everyone is born, the nature of Adam). That nature also seeks control over the Christian, a control that will lead to deeds of sin.
Still, though, despite continuing to have to contend with the old nature, the truly saved person will evidence salvation (to some degree) in his or her life. Some Christians evidence it more than others because they handle the Romans chapter 7 set-up better, but every Christian will evidence it somewhat. That was the core message of my sermon.
As part of the sermon, I walked the listeners through the plan of salvation. I told them that salvation requires a head knowledge of certain facts:
Fact #1: There is a God. (Psalm 14:1: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”)
Fact #2: God is thoroughly holy. (Psalm 47:8: “God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne.”)
Fact #3: You are a sinner. (Romans 3:10,23: “There is none that is righteous, no, not one…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”)
Fact #4: Your sin separates you from God. (Psalm 5:4: “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with You.”)
Fact #5: Jesus (God the Son) left heaven, came to the earth, took human form upon Himself, and ultimately died on a Roman cross for all the sins of the world (and that included all your sins). 1st Timothy 2:5-6: (“For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all…”)
Fact #6: On the third day after His burial, Jesus arose from the dead and eventually ascended back up to heaven. (Matthew 28:5: “…the angel answered and said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen…’”)
Once you have these six facts settled in your mind — i.e., you believe them — then it’s time to get your heart involved. It is with your heart that you must voluntarily, willfully, purposefully place your belief in Jesus as your personal Savior. As scriptural evidence of this, in Acts 16:30-31 a jailor in the city of Philippi asks Paul and Silas a straight question: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And the answer they give him is: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Likewise, Romans 10:10 proves that this belief must be from the heart. That verse says: “…for with the heart one believes unto righteousness.”
Interestingly, the Bible uses different terminology to describe this saving belief. It speaks of coming to Jesus, opening the door to Jesus, putting your faith in Jesus, trusting in Jesus, and calling upon Jesus. But these aren’t separate experiences. They are just different ways of describing what it is to believe in Jesus in a saving way. Salvation is not a process; it is a moment-in-time experience.
So now let me get back to my story. What were the results of my sermon on salvation that day? Well, at the close of that Sunday-morning service, I got no response. Naturally, that was a little disappointing, but I thought, “Lord, I obeyed and preached what You told me to preach. That’s all I can do. I’m sure You had Your reasons for having me preach that today.” Then I put the sermon out of my mind and went on about my business.
The next day, Monday, was an especially busy day as I hardly stopped all day. Even at 7:00 that night, I had to have my oldest son, Ryan, at a baseball practice for his all-star team. That practice lasted for over two hours, and by the time that Ryan and I got back home around 9:30, I was whipped.
No sooner had I gotten in the door than Tonya said to me, “We need to talk.” As she spoke, Royce, our eight-year old, was sitting in her lap. I replied, “Oh no, what do we need to talk about?” She said, “It’s nothing bad.” Then we took Royce into his bedroom, where Tonya explained to me that he wanted to get saved. He had listened to my sermon the previous day, understood that going to heaven was far better than going to hell, and wanted Jesus to forgive him of all his sins and be his personal Savior.
And what did I do? Right then and there in his bedroom, I took him by his hand and said, “I’m going to pray and I want you to repeat what I say.” Then I led him through a version of what you might call “a sinner’s prayer” by keeping the focus on the basics: sin, Christ’s death, belief, and forgiveness. (By the way, don’t ever force a child to become a Bible scholar to get saved. Since that child has the rest of his or life to learn all the finer points of Christian doctrine, just keep things simple and anchored to the basics. That will do just fine.)
In the days that followed, I didn’t rush Royce into the waters of baptism. Instead, I talked with him some more and made sure that he really did know Jesus as his Savior before I baptized him. Truth be told, though, I had full confidence all along that the little fellow had experienced authentic salvation that Monday night. What a glorious thing it is for a father to know that both his sons are born-again Christians!
And now, as I finish up this post, let me leave you with a word of application. That word is simply: obey God. Just as I obeyed Him by changing my plans and preaching that sermon on salvation, you must obey Him and do whatever it is He is telling you to do. Even if you don’t fully understand it or agree with it, you must obey. Just know that if God is giving you a specific command, He has His reasons for doing so and they are good ones. I’m not saying that your obedience will lead to someone getting saved, but I am saying that it will surely lead to some type of good harvest somewhere down the line for not only you but for others as well.