How can I be sure that I am saved?

Revd Ron Rutter's sermon on Sunday 5th March

Sermon.

Points to ponder.

Questions for discussion or personal study.

Covenants on Old Testament and whether or not they are conditional.

Accompanying slides.

Printout version of sermon.


Readings:

Romans chapter 3, verses 21–26.

John chapter 3, verses 1–15.


Introduction

Story of Dave Marriott + earnest young man 22nd or 29th October 1966 Chester-le-Street Front Street – are you saved?
Quickly moved onto how can a God of love allow Aberfan?

Arrogant, complacent, lack of respect, smugness and so on.

This raises several questions:

  • How can we be saved? That is, who can save us?
  • What are we saved from?
  • How can we be sure?
  • What are the consequences?

Who

Links back to Colin last week, if we believe Christianity is the religion, then we have to decide on Jesus.

Who was he? The Jews accept that Jesus lived, but not that he was the Messiah because, for example, they believe that the Suffering Servant in Isaiah passages refer to Israel, not an individual, and so on. Similarly, Islam accepts that Jesus lived, but deny that he died on the cross as God incarnate – a human substitute died instead.

So, what do we believe and why?

Quite simply, we believe that

  • he was the son of God – somehow he was fully man and fully God
  • he died on the cross to redeem us from our lives of sin and to bring us to eternal life.

However that is easy to say – where is the proof? To coin a phrase used by Bill Shankly – salvation is not a matter of life or death it is more important than that! Well we can consider the various ‘I am’ sayings of Jesus – look in John 6, John 8–11 and John 14 and 15. By using the introductory phrase, Jesus was deliberately identifying himself with the exodus from Egypt. Another good example is the story of his encounter with the Samaritan women in John 4, with particular reference to verse 42 where she refers to Jesus as the saviour of the world. C S Lewis made the comment that Jesus was mad, bad or God. He was not just a good man or a prophet, he was far more because of what he said and did. Of the options, only God suffices the evidence of his life – words, actions.


In addition, there are the circumstantial points which serve to counter some of the claims of other beliefs:

  • Where is the evidence that someone moved the stone and stole the body – the Sanhedrin posted guards to prevent this from happening so why have they not given the proof?
     
  • Where is the evidence that those who said they had seen him after death were lying?
     
  • Why would so many of his disciples die for their beliefs if it was a fraud?
     
  • Peter and John before the Sanhedrin when Gamaliel makes the comment about ‘if this movement is from God, you won’t stop it’ in Acts 5 verses 38–39.

So, accepting him as master and lord we also surely accept that his life as described in the gospel accounts is accurate – allowing for the variations from people viewing the actions with differing attitudes and backgrounds. Matthew was writing his account for the Jews, Mark’s account is accepted as Peter’s preaching notes and Luke was writing for the gentiles. John’s wonderful gospel opens up the whole concept of spirit, of spiritual warfare and the Holy Spirit and leads us into the next question


What are we saved from and how?

Looking at Jesus’ life accounts, his regular battle was against evil in the persona of satan. In John 10 verse 11, Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd. So, presumably, that implies the bad shepherd, that is, satan?

Well let us look at each position and see where we get to.

Good Shepherd.

The clear implication is that God is good, is a loving God, ready to forgive and so on i.e. the characteristics of goodness.

In Exodus 20, Moses is given the commandments – the first 4 are love God and have no other Gods, don’t worship idols, don’t misuse my name and respect the Sabbath. All of which seek to develop a personal relationship with us.

Those commandments worded slightly differently give perhaps a clearer meaning

  • I love you so much that I will give you myself. I am true reality, the only God you will ever need. In me alone you will find wholeness.
     
  • I desire a wonderful thing: a direct, personal relationship between Myself and each of you. You don’t need inferior representations of Me, such as dead wooden idols. You can have me. Value that.
     
  • I love you so much that I have given you My name. You will be known as ‘God’s people’ on earth. Value the privilege; don’t misuse it by profaning your new name or by not living up to it.
     
  • I have given you a beautiful world to work in, to play in and enjoy. In your involvement, though, set aside a day to remember where the world came from. Your bodies need the rest; your spirits need the reminder.

Doesn’t that put a different slant on the first few commandments?


When God created humans, He could have made us robots or responsive to instincts like the animal kingdom, but in Genesis it is clear that Adam and Eve have freewill – they could and did decide whether or not to eat the forbidden fruit. That is the act of a loving God who wants his created beings to love Him. Similarly, if we follow the various covenants, we can see that God is consistently and persistently reaching out to His people to restore the relationship. The vineyard parable in Matthew 21 verses 33–46, Mark 12 verses 1–12 and Luke 20 verses 1–12 (which is one of only seven parables in all three synoptic gospels) is a clear reference what fate awaits the Son, that is, Jesus. Yet still He came, gave up everything to die on a cross, rejected, humiliated and so on.

Another example of God’s unconditional love is in a well known parable which seems be about a Samaritan. However think about what the Samaritan risked. He knew the dangers of being attacked, robbed, killed as he travelled towards Jericho, he knew he was a prime target because he was riding, he knew a favourite trick was to have someone posing as dead whilst his assistants hid behind a rock, he assumed the injured man would be a Jew, by taking him to a nearby village / town which would be Jewish he was likely to be attacked before he could explain what had happened, by paying for the injured man he was saving him from being sold into slavery or worse. In other words he was risking everything and yet he still went to the man’s aid. A bit like Jesus coming to the aid of human beings.


Further considerations of God’s wish to save us:

John 3 and the story about the snake on a pole, which also links to the exodus journey

John 5 verses 22–29 and especially verse 24 where Jesus makes it clear that belief in Him means we are saved – 'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned'.

  • The thief on the cross who is promised paradise that day by Jesus in Luke 23 verse 43
  • The woman caught in adultery, when the one person qualified to throw the first stone (Jesus) does not; John 8 verses 3–11.

So, having reminded ourselves of God’s actions, what about satan?

Nelson Mandela explained, after his release from Robben Island, that he had learned the language of his jailers and had been determined to understand them so that he knew how to deal with them in the future. So, if you were satan, and intent on disrupting God’s plans, what would you do? Perhaps by

  • reminding people that there is no rush
     
  • by distracting them in prayer time with ‘holy’ jobs that they could or should be doing now
     
  • reminding them of all of the things that the person they are going to see has done to irritate and upset
     
  • scoffing at the thought that one man could save the world (which of course is true unless that man is also God incarnate – note that this is probably the key factor if Jesus is fully man and fully God, then Christianity must be the religion etc)
     
  • giving us a feeling of smugness.

I am sure that we all have experienced these tactics of satan. They are all designed to disrupt our relationship with God – hence the label evil.

Shortly after my ordination, I experienced the smugness test. The thought came to me that as I was now ordained I was OK, I could do what I wished simply because I had been ordained. The thought got very short shrift.


The next challenge we all face is doubt.

Thomas doubted the resurrection and a closer look at that incident is encouraging. John 21 verses 24–end. Jesus had appeared to the other disciples a week earlier. They told Thomas about the resurrection and he refused to believe until he had seen the evidence himself. In many ways, that is a fair stance. After all the disciples did not believe Mary when she said she had seen Jesus. Admittedly that was, in part at least, because the person telling them was a woman.

However, notice how Jesus responded. He met Thomas at his need and dealt with that need. In other words, he met him where he was, just as he meets us where we are, and ministers to us. He did not tell Thomas off, he offered him the evidence he required – his hands, feet and side. He did not then try to belittle Thomas, but merely pointed out that millions would believe without seeing the evidence at first hand as it were! But notice also the reaction from Thomas – 'My Lord and my God'.

In other words, it is ok to have doubts; it is ok to think about things – that is why we were given brains in the first place. What is key is how we deal with our doubts. Do we take them to our Lord and Master? Are we open to His response? Do we then respond ourselves and, thereby, draw ever closer to God and more certain of our own salvation.


The first implication follows on from this point, that is, that we hear his voice more clearly. Jesus liked to refer to himself as the shepherd and to us as his sheep, which reminds me of a true story involving Anna shortly after we moved into Heversham. She was an avid reader and, at that time, loved the Mister Men books. One sunny day, she came running into the house with a broad grin on her face and said, ‘There’s a goose asleep in the rain'. Recognising the relevant line from the Mr Muddle book (we had only read it about fifty times that week after all!) we went out into the lane and there, sure enough, was a sheep loose in the lane! Our efforts to get the sheep back into the field were, at best, pathetic. However, help appeared in the form of George. Within minutes, the sheep was back in the field and he had gone back to whatever he was doing with his trademark smile. The sheep knew his voice.

Similarly, we learn to know Jesus’ voice. Often it is trial and error, especially in the early stages as we all know. However, by sticking at it, we become more and more proficient at recognising his voice. The challenge then is to be obedient to the prompt.

Another implication is the need for perseverance. Our prayer lives can range from very intimate experiences to desert periods. The response in each case is to persevere as there will be significant blessings in each case sooner or later.


Finally

The purpose of salvation is to enable us to be the people God created us to be – totally unique in eternity, with a similarly unique role to fulfil.


Point to ponder (or for more discussion)

I’ll leave you with a question. In the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus ends the incident by telling her to sin no more. Does that imply salvation by works? If not, why not – how can she prove that she has changed, if not by works?

There are a few more questions below, including a couple of trivia questions – perhaps for fun!


Questions for discussion or personal study

  1. What does the story of the thief on the cross tell us about God’s grace?
     
  2. Can you find any more examples of God’s grace as shown by Jesus’ ministry?
     
  3. How do the ‘I am’ sayings imply that Jesus is claiming divine status? What is the particular link / reference with this title Jesus is using in these sayings?
     
  4. What are the relevant ‘I am...’ sayings for our salvation?
     
  5. If we cannot gain salvation by works, what is the reason for Jesus expecting the Samaritan woman (for example) to change? That is, what is the difference between the law and grace?

Trivia questions

  1. In the NIV Bible, which is the shortest verse in John’s gospel? Note, it is not in chapter 11; it is much earlier in the gospel.
     
  2. Jesus liked to use the phrase, ‘like a son of man’ to describe himself. It links back to the Old Testament – Daniel. How often is He said to have used it in each gospel? Why does Jesus use this phase for himself?

Old Testament covenants and whether or not they are conditional

Noahic, Genesis 9 verses 8–17, unconditional.

Abrahamic, Genesis 15 verses 9–21, unconditional.

Abrahamic 2nd, Genesis 17, conditional.

Sianatic, Exodus 19 – 24, conditional.

Phineas, Numbers 25 verses 10 – 31, unconditional.

Davidic, 2 Samuel 7 verses 5 – 16, unconditional.

New, Jeremiah 31 verses 31 – 34, unconditional.

Back to covenant mention in sermon text


Accompanying slides.

Printout version of sermon.