Sunday, June 2, 2016
Sunday evening. A mother tucks her 9-year-old son into bed. Some nights he talks to her about Star Wars or soccer. But not tonight. Some nights he tries a dozen different tactics to convince her to let him stay up just 15 minutes more. But not tonight. Tonight, he says, “My Sunday school teacher said something in church this morning, something about Jesus and the cross and me.” His shocked mother had not known he had even been listening in Sunday school. He never mentions it. So, she encourages him to say more. She forgets all about her favorite TV show, which starts in 10 minutes. She and her son talk and before she realizes what is happening, they are kneeling beside his bed as he prays to receive Jesus.
Sunday morning, two AM. Two college freshmen sit and drink and cry. One discovered her boyfriend with another young woman. The other consoles her heartbroken friend. The young woman who has been cheated upon really does not know much about Christianity. She’s been to church maybe five times in her life. Here suitemate tries to comfort her with hugs and sips from the bottle. She appreciates the care, but it feels so empty. There has to be something more. There other roommate, the goody-two shoes girl, never gets drunk and when she has boy-troubles she has a perspective the two party girls seem to lack.
In frustration, she shouts, “Why don’t you ever fall to pieces like this?”
She doesn’t expect an answer, so is surprised to hear her friend say, “Jesus.”
“What?” She snaps back.
Her friend proceeds to explain how faith in Jesus helps her through disappointments. At first she’s disgusted. Of course goody-two shoes girl says, ‘Jesus.’ But she doesn’t say that. For a few minutes, she doesn’t say much. Then, even in her drunken haze, she finds herself feeling curious. She asks one question, then another, and another. They talk for another few hours. She doesn’t go to church later that morning. But the next week she does. And before the semester ends, she has turned her life in another direction and become a Jesus-follower.
Cancer has wrecked the 75-year-old’s body, and whatever survived the disease has been damaged by the treatments. Radiation and chemo. His doctors think he might die within the month. He wishes it would be within the hour. He’s not afraid. He trusted in Jesus as a child and has done a lot of praying over the last year. He’s pretty sure the stuff his church teaches about going to Heaven is true. So, it’s not the afterward that scares him. He’s just suffering in this dying process and desperately wants it to end. It doesn’t. Defying the odds, he improves and within a month is actually back on his feet. As he walks out of the hospital, he reflects on all those prayers. What exactly did he ask God to do? He can’t put a finger on it, but he knows that in prayer, he felt God’s reassuring touch. He kind of assumed it meant God was walking him to the finish line. Now, he feels God walking him out of the hospital. What’s next?
In his letter to Titus, Paul writes, “We ourselves were … slaves to various passions … passing our days in malice; but when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us” (Titus 3:3-4). It happened, from Paul’s perspective, in the past. His salvation is something that occurred at two distinct points. First, there was Jesus’ death on the cross, where he took on himself the weight, the guilt, and the consequences of Paul’s sins. Second, there was the day the risen Christ confronted Paul as Paul traveled to Damascus to arrest Christians for the crime of being Christians. In the crucifixion and in the moment of meeting Jesus, Paul sees himself as one who was saved. By the time he or one of his followers in his name writes this letter to Titus, both events had happened a couple of decades ago. Salvation came in the past.
Then in Titus 3:7 Paul writes, “Having been justified by grace, we become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” This is theme developed more in Romans 8 where Paul calls those are saved sons and daughters of God. We are adopted and our inheritance is eternal in God’s presence with the status of royalty. We are sons and daughters of the king. He makes the same point about adoption in Galatians 4.
First in the cross and then in the moment or in the process in which we make the conscious decision to confess our sins, turn our lives over to Jesus, and follow him, we see salvation as something that has happened. Unless you are making this decision to be a Christ-follower right now, as I speak, then your salvation is a past event. You have been saved.
If you have not made that decision, I encourage you to consider it. I believe that in knowing you have been forgiven and knowing you stand before God as one who is completely clean and covered in the righteousness of Christ you will experience freedom and joy you have never known. If you have never given the Lord your heart, please prayerfully consider doing so today. If you have been saved, it has already happened even if it was just last night.
Whenever it happened, it holds for us promise. We were saved. And we will spend eternity in relationships of love and peace. We will be resurrected into bodies that cannot be injured and cannot be killed. Once saved, we have complete assurance and unflinching hope.
This is so in each case I mentioned at the beginning. That 9-year-old boy who listened to his Sunday school teacher and prayed with his mom and was then baptized in church was saved and has the hope of eternal life with God. That college student whose life turned around radically went from wild party girl to Christ follower. The 75-year-old cancer survivor walked out of the hospital as a saved man with an eternity of life in the New Heavens and New Earth ahead of him.
However, in each case, an extremely important question cannot be avoided. The 9-year-old boy may have as many as 81 years to live between the moment of salvation, the past, and like in the eternal kingdom, the future. If the college student lives to be 100, she could have a similar situation, 80 between being saved and entering eternity. Even the 75-year-old who has baffled his doctors by surviving is himself now wondering. I am saved and heaven is coming, but what about right now?
Indeed. What is salvation today? And what do the past and the future have to say about how I live today? We’ve looked at hypothetical examples of a child, a college students, and a senior citizen. What about your life? Mine? Maybe I live just one more week. How does my past – saved at age 11 in 1981 and my future – eternity with Christ in the resurrection frame my life and form my identity for the next week that l live? Or the next 40 years? How do past and future shape you? How do they shape the church?
Gordon fee of Regent College in Vancouver in his commentary on Titus points to verses 5 and 7 where Paul writes that believers undergo rebirth, are renewed by the Holy Spirit, and are justified by God’s grace.[i] In being born again, the death that sin brings is removed. Salvation is far more than just a transaction. Our relationship with God is restored.[ii]
The Holy Spirit brings renewal. I believe even our initial step toward God where we make a conscious choice to confess our sin, receive forgiveness and acknowledge Jesus as Lord is aided by the Spirit. Before we turn to God, the Holy Spirit draws us and works in us. Then at the moment of salvation, “the Spirit,” Paul says, “is poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Fee says this renewal means a change in our inner being. God does something that defies precise description. We are not who we were prior to turning to Jesus.
Third, Paul mentions in Titus 3:7 that in salvation, we are justified. Our status before God is now the status Jesus has before God. His righteousness is given to us. So, if in rebirth, our relationship with God is restored and if in renewal, our inner being experiences transformation, in justification, Jesus gives us his perfection. We are made right.
Because we have been saved, in the past, today, we are born again, renewed, and justified. What does the future aspect of our salvation contribute to our lives today? Knowing that our future home is the new Heaven and new Earth, we completely reject the current condition of the world as it is mired in sin and death. Resurrection hope breeds in us a holy discontent. In Titus, Paul says we are to renounce worldly passions, avoid stupid controversies, and devote ourselves to good works (from 2:12; 3:8, 9). Dr. Fiddes writes, “Christians will engage in movements of liberation refusing to tolerate any dehumanizing methods of authority in the present world, contrasting them with the Holy Spirit” who restores humanity to the original good condition in which we were formed.[iii]
Spurred on by the Spirit who fills us and is poured out on us, we become voices advocating for God’s kingdom. My friend Luke is an example of what I mean.[iv] Remember, to be saved in the present is to devote ourselves to good works, to love our neighbor, and to renounce dehumanizing powers and authorities. Luke and his wife and four children came to the United States with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Though their situation appeared desperate, they were grateful to be out of their home country, Sudan, where in the 1990’s, the Muslim government carried out atrocities against Christian and against other Muslims.
Our church visited Luke and his family at their apartment and learned that they had a few mattresses, the rent paid for three months, and an insufficient food allowance. The present Holy Spirit told us this was atrocious, that we needed to act, and that we had much to learn about God from Luke and his wife Nya. So we went to work acquiring furniture, stocking their shelves with groceries, welcoming the kids into our children’s and youth ministries, and helping Luke with the paper work he needed for employment. We shared hospitality, which they gratefully needed.
Luke and Nya shared their stories – stories our church desperately needed to hear. Our limited faith perspective expanded as they gave first-hand accounts of fleeing persecution in Sudan, meeting Filipino missionaries who led them to Jesus while they were in a refugee camp in Cairo, Egypt, and then made the journey to the U.S.A. Their stories which broadened our faith, the Filipino missionaries who carried the gospel around the world, and the connection with us were all part of the Holy Spirit’s influence not just over us as a church or over Luke’s family, but over the world that was lost in sin. The Spirit looked at this family and looked at the refugee crisis and said, “This will not do.” As a church, we heard the Spirit’s call, did our best to answer, and ended up richer for it as we welcomed Luke and Nya into our family.
Maybe this idea of a church helping a family and that family blessing the church seems a few steps past the simple notion of salvation. This and 100 other examples should perhaps be discussed on other Sundays, not this morning. But salvation in the present, lived salvation, is no simple notion. It is the individual believer and the church born again (born into restored relationship), renewed (having experienced inner transformation) and justified (in right standing before God). It is the believer and the entire church responsive to the Holy Spirit. The story of Luke and Nya and the church drawn together, transformed, and drawn deeper into the heart of God is a picture of lived salvation. The past event and the future hope lead to a present that is Godly and different from anything the world would predict.
Think of the 9-year-old or the college student or the cancer survivor living between that salvation and the final resurrection. Think of yourself in that in-between space, from right now until judgment day. How will we live? In Christ, we will live as if the Kingdom has already arrived. It has come in him and will come to completion at his return. Every day we live toward that end. Every day, the reality of salvation takes shape in our lives.
[i] G.Fee (1988), New International Bible Commentary: 1&2 Timorthy, Titus, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, MA), p.204.
[ii] P.Fiddes, Past Event and Present Salvation, p.15.
[iii] Fiddes, p. 31. See also Guthrie
[iv] A reference to Luciano Karlo and his wife Ny Fasher, who are from Sudan and whom we helped at Greenbrier in 1997.