Salvation is received…not achieved.
Only when we are freed from trying to be good, and find that Christ alone is good, will we become good.
(This is part nine of a multi-entry blog series exploring the Apostles’ Creed.)
This post will examine the most important event in human history. After Jesus died and was buried He stayed in the grave during the Sabbath (interesting) but
“The third day He rose again from the dead”
A couple entries ago I mentioned that Christ’s death on the cross was the second most important event in human history. His resurrection is the single most important event in human history. I was once told that, as an aspiring preacher, the only thing I should preach is the cross. That’s foolishness because there is far more to Jesus than his death on the cross! For example, His death on the cross would not have achieved the forgiveness of sins if He had not been divine, nor if He had sinned, etc. So while His death on the cross is very, very important, it’s not the only thing that is worth mentioning.
It would be impossible for me to overstate the importance of Jesus’ resurrection. But one secondary detail I think is worth addressing first. Some people will argue that Jesus was only in the grave for one day. They’ll say something like, “He died and was buried on Friday, He was in the tomb on Saturday, and then Sunday He rose from the dead. He was only dead one day!” That’s a very Western way of counting the days. The Eastern Jews of Jesus’ day would have counted Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Sunday morning as three days, which is why they said He was in the grave for three days.
But back to my main point: the significance of the resurrection. Why do I say this is the greatest event in human history? Well, I’ll give you three reasons.
First, the resurrection is proof that God found Jesus to be a worthy sacrifice for our sins and that we have been forgiven. Romans 4:25 says plainly that Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The NIV translates Romans 4:25 as, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” So we see that Christ died for our sins, but was resurrected for our justification. This may seem like a fine distinction, or even hair-splitting, but Romans 4:25 emphasizes the importance of Christ’s resurrection. Wayne Grudem puts it this way in Systematic Theology: “When Christ was raised from the dead, it was God’s declaration of approval of Christ’s work of redemption.”
Second, the resurrection gives us power to live a new life. We find that Jesus’ closest followers deserted Him once He was arrested (Matthew 26:56, Mark 14:50, John 16:32). In fact, one of His followers is so scared he runs off naked (Mark 14:51-52)! Peter, His most outspoken and devoted disciple follows Him “from a distance” after He’s been arrested (Matthew 26:58, Mark 14:54, Luke 22:54). Next Peter denies Jesus three times; once to a servant girl (Matthew 26:69-70, Mark 14:66-71, Luke 22:56-57, John 18:17). But at the beginning of Acts, we find this same Peter bold and outspoken (Acts 2:14). Peter is even arrested for preaching about Jesus and appears before the high priest and his council and refuses to stop sharing the Gospel (Acts 5:27-29). What caused this change in Peter? The resurrection! Peter encountered the Risen Christ and was never the same. Peter testifies to this in his own letter when he writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3). We are born again through the resurrection of Jesus. Romans 6:4 tells us that “we too might walk in newness of life.” That is the power of the resurrection.
Finally, Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope for our resurrection in the future. Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope that we will be united with Him through our death to sin, and resurrected like Him after we die (Romans 6:5). In fact, the resurrection is the only reason it makes sense to be a Christian (1 Corinthians 15:17). Paul goes so far as to say that Christians should be pitied if Jesus did not resurrect (1 Corinthians 15:19). Some people would say that, even if Jesus never really existed or was not really God, the way of Jesus is still the best way to life. Paul disagrees! Paul says we are to be pitied more than all men! That hardly sounds like Paul would agree with that teaching. Fortunately, Jesus did resurrect and we can have the hope that we will be raised in glory, just as Christ rose from the dead in glory (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). This is the kind of hope that gives us “glorious and inexpressible joy” (1 Peter 1:8). This is the kind of hope that gives a married couple the strength to face terminal brain cancer; the kind of hope that keeps a single mom going when it feels like the weight of the world is about to crush her; the kind of hope that saves marriages; the kind of hope that heals soldiers with PTSD; the kind of hope that keeps Christians faithful in the face of temptations, suffering, and persecution; the kind of hope that can change the world. Praise God for the hope that He gives us through His Son!
I love hearing people’s testimonies. A lot of people really surprise me. For example, the below testimony of Brian “Head” Welch:
During his musical career, it would’ve been easy for Christians to dismiss Brian. It would’ve been easy to say something like, “Look at that sinner, he’s too far gone to ever become a Christian.” It would’ve been easy, but it would’ve been sinful. It would’ve been judgemental. Those Christians need to learn something about love and have obviously never taken Eph 2:1-5 to heart. In that passage, Paul is talking to Christians about who they used to be before they were saved. More than anything, those Christians would’ve been dead wrong. Like I said yesterday, God will surprise you! Now, Brian is a Jesus-loving Christian with a powerful testimony!
There’s a multi-century debate among Christians about free will vs. predestination (also called election).
Does God choose who gets saved or does man? This is one of the great dividing lines in Christianity: Calvinism and Arminianism. First and foremost, I’ll say that you can fall on either side of this debate and still love Jesus. Romans 14:1, while talking specifically about food, makes it clear that there are disputable matters; that is, there are certain things that Christians can disagree about. Free-will vs. predestination is a disputable matter.
That being said, I used to be a big advocate of free-will. I believed in choice. I did not want to believe in predestination so I ignored certain Bible verses (like, oh, I don’t know… Rom 8:29-30, Eph 1:3-12, 1 Thess 1:4, 2 Thess 2:13, Matt 22:14, John 13:18, John 15:16, John 15:19, etc.) and logically explained how I would do it if I were God. After reading the predestination chapter in Religion Saves and praying for God to reveal the truth to me, I have completely changed my stance.
(One big thing for me is this: I’m not concerned with winning theological debates; I want to know and share truth. That only happens if you’re willing to swallow your pride, put aside your personal opinions, and look at what Scripture teaches. Once you know for sure what the truth is though, you should certainly defend it!)
After realizing that God chooses who gets saved and who doesn’t, and knowing that God is a loving God, I’ve realized that you never know who will get saved. Brian was a very, very unlikely candidate. I’ve met plenty of people who changed dramatically after getting saved. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? I’ve seen it first-hand during my deployment.
I now know that God can save anyone, regadless of who they are and regardless of what type of past they have. You just never know who God will choose to save, therefore we must love our neighbors and share the Gospel with all!
(For anyone interested in learning more about free-will vs. predestination, check out the Religion Saves book by Mark Driscoll or watch the sermon below.)
In short, people are only held accountable for what they know. The Bible says in Romans 1:19-20 that creation alone proclaims that it has a Maker. This is called God’s “general revelation.” Indeed, it is hard to look at the stars or a mountain landscape and not feel a sense of grandeur and realize that you are a very, very small speck. Psalm 19:1-6 says that the stars declare and proclaim God’s work; there is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. In other words, to some degree all creation reveals that there is a God and it has done so in all places, languages, and times in history.
Paul goes on in Romans 2:14-15 to say that when people who do not have God’s Law meet the requirements of that Law, they are showing that in their heart they know that things are supposed to be a certain way and they are trying to meet those requirements. C.S. Lewis calls this “oughtness” in Mere Christianity. This act alone demonstrates a conviction to do “the right thing” even though people fall short.
Although these African tribes may not know the specific requirements of God through head knowledge and even though they may have never heard the name Jesus, the “Law,” or a feeling of how they ought to behave, is written on their hearts. They know the difference between right and wrong. Thus when these hypothetical tribesmen violate their own understanding of what is right, they condemn themselves. Conversely, when they do what they know to be right, their own conscienes defend them. Their clean conscienses save them or their guilty consciences condemn them.
Some people ask this question out of genuine concern, and some ask this question as an excuse to reject God. Again, from Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, “if you are worried about the people outside, the most unreasonable thig you can do is to remain outside yourself.” His statement makes a lot of sense to me. If I were worried about people getting exposed to acid rain, would it make any sense for me to stay outside in the acid rain because others were unable to go inside? Of course not!
To the non-Christian I would just ask one thing. If, as we stated to start this discussion, you’re only held accountable for what you know, then the only question that remains is this: What will you do with the knowledge you have; will you accept or squander the gift that’s been freely offered to you?
To the Christian I say: What’s keeping you from making sure that everyone knows about the freedom that’s been offered to them?
It was March 23rd and we were having our fourth meeting of the Forgotten God study series. A friend of mine named Kat was sharing that she had never, ever seen a miraculous work of God in her life. She seemed pretty bummed and discouraged about it. Kat’s very hard on herself…perhaps too hard. Three weeks later, we had our final study session. There was a new guy there named Andrew. It was a little weird for us to have a new guy at the last session, but the Spirit was telling me to just let him be part of the group. To be honest, I wanted to kindly ask Andrew to leave, because I was afraid that a new person would throw off the group dynamics the group has spent the last two months developing. It did. A few people didn’t even talk during the discussion time and I knew it was because of the “new guy.”
Afterwards, I talked to Andrew for a little bit. We had another study, Rob Bell’s Nooma Study Series, that a buddy of mine named Kalob was leading. Andrew showed up at Nooma a time or two. I didn’t really notice when he stopped going and he quietly slipped off the radar.
Fast forward about a month and a half. During that time, the chapel ordered several copies of The Naked Gospel and I am excited to be starting that small group in a few days. I think The Naked Gospel is a book that ALL Christians should read. It has helped me immensely and deepened my walk with Christ. I’m not sure what happened, but Andrew had a conversation with the local wing chaplain last Tuesday. The chaplain gave Andrew a copy of the book and said he should read it. Andrew didn’t get a chance to read it Wednesday, but he read almost 100 pages of the book that Thursday. That night, he went to the chaplain and accepted Christ as his savior!
I find it amazing that, through a simple conversation, Kat invited Andrew to the Bible study and opened the door for him to get involved at the chapel. A few weeks later, my books came in and the Chaplain gave him a copy. The Holy Spirit used the book to put a need on Andrew’s heart to get saved. Andrew accepted Christ.
The part that was truly amazing is that Kat was supposed to leave Wednesday, but her flight got delayed and delayed so that she wound up leaving on Friday night/Saturday morning. I literally found out about Andrew minutes before praying with her and then she left. God kept her here just long enough for her to find out that she had helped lead someone to Christ, and then within the same our, she was on her way home!
God chose to bring Kat to this place just so she could invite Andrew to the chapel so that he could get saved. God chooses who goes where and when so that His master plan of salvation can be worked out.
God put me in Alaska in 2005 so that I would meet the right people and get saved. God sent me to Afghanistan in 2008 to teach me how to rely on Him and to re-affirm my calling to ministry. God brought me here to meet some great people and to help lead a dear friend to Christ. God has put you where you are at right now for a reason. Seek to honor and glorify Him, and He will use you for his purposes and for His glory.
Kat left that night with tears in her eyes, because her prayers to see God work a miracle through her had been answered. All to God’s glory.
But is that all? Are we simply saved to go to heaven while the formerly good creation continues to be infested with sin? Do we separate ourselves from everything around us and try to stay in spiritual quarantine?
Hardly! Salvation is just the beginning. Jesus came not only to save us, but to restore all creation to the peaceful way it was in the Garden of Eden! Romans 8:19-21 tells us:
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the son of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
I’m not trying to say that salvation is that bad of a gig, but if that’s all you’re interested in, you’ve missed half the point! Immediately after Jesus comes back to life we find the Garden of Eden being hinted at. In John 20:10-18, three days after Jesus had died, we find his mother, Mary, standing outside his tomb all by herself, weeping. Next two angels appear and talk to her. Mary turns around and bumps into Jesus. Thinking he’s the gardener, she makes conversation with him for a moment, then Jesus reveals who he is and tells her to go tell the others.
Isn’t it strange that Jesus’ own mother mistakes Him for a stranger? Or was it simply Jesus disguising himself somehow? I opt for the latter, I think Jesus wanted her to think he was the gardener. Why?
Because all the Jews of Jesus’ day had memorized the first five books of the Bible (the Septuagint) as thoroughly as most Americans have the Pledge of Allegiance memorized or as well as a lot of Christians have the Lord’s Prayer memorized. So if I mentioned a nation that was indivisible, it might make you think of the Pledge or if I said forgive us our trespasses you might think of the Lord’s Prayer, especially if it were something that we talked about on a daily basis!
So the point is, when the readers of the Gospel of John heard the word garden, it may have made them think of The Garden of Eden. The place where creation was in harmony and everything was the way it should have been. Sadly, man has been banned from the Garden of Eden. But is it possible for us to return all of creation to a place where we’re in Harmony with our Maker?
If you look at Genesis 3:21-24, you’ll find the story of us being banned from the Garden:
The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the LORD God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
I think something goes unnoticed in the story of the Garden of Eden. Did you know there were two trees? Yes, two! In Genesis 2:9 it says that there was the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but there was also the tree of life! If you look carefully you’ll notice it says in Genesis 2:16, God tells Adam he can eat from ANY tree he wants. So originally we were allowed to eat from the tree of life. I’m not exactly sure what the fruit from the tree of life was, but have you ever had fresh pineapple? Dang!
Next thing we know, in Genesis 3, Satan convinces us that we can’t trust God. Satan tells us we should eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We foolishly believe him and next thing you know we’re being banished from the Garden of Eden.
Something interesting to note is that God says we must not be allowed to reach out and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever. There are other parts where God tells us if we eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil we will “surely die.” Many believe, and I agree, that man was originally supposed to live in the Garden forever and never die. We were made immortal. The way for us to attain this eternal life was to eat from the tree of life like it says in Genesis 3:22.
So back to my original question, could there be a way to restore harmony? Perhaps. If you read Genesis 3:24 very carefully, you’ll notice something interesting about the way it’s phrased. It says that the “way” to the tree of life is banned.
Where else does the Bible refer to the way? Look at John 14:6:
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”
Jesus is the way.
Jesus is the way to forgiveness of sins.
Jesus is the way to the tree of life.
Jesus is the way to eternal life.
It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
Within a few months of being stationed here, I stumbled into a Bible Study group with young adults just like me who were full of questions and had an earnest desire to grow closer to God.
My main issue was that I didn’t trust God. I had heard people talk about surrendering your life to the Lord. I had heard people tell me that I had to trust my life to Christ. I had heard these things all my life, but they had never really seemed to click. One day, I realized how unhappy I was. I missed being in a relationship and desperately wanted to find my soul mate. I wanted my career to be successful. I was obsessed with my health. I worried about a lot of trivial things that don’t truly matter. Finally, I decided to place my primary focus on something greater. (Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be given to you as well. Matt. 6:33)
Things began to get easier. I learned how to smile again. I learned how to trust the Lord. I learned how to surrender my everything to the one true God, and to allow Him to work His divine plan in my life. He does, after all, have much better plans for me than I could ever come up with on my own.
I began to realize that my temper had melted. I wasn’t as uptight as I was before I arrived in Alaska (heck, my inner-child was making a comeback!). My language wasn’t as harsh as it used to be. God was making powerful transformations in me from the inside out! It felt good!
At about the same time, I began a very personal bible study that lasted a few months. One of the bible verses we discussed really struck close to home: Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38.
Wait a second, did this mean what I thought it did?
That true salvation wasn’t an option until after you’ve repented?
Well hey, I never truly repented until I arrived in Alaska!
And according to the verse, the next logical step would be baptism.
That’s the course of events that lead me to my death..and my rebirth.
On February 5th at approximately 11:40 a.m. Daniel Delgado died.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Romans 6:3
On February 5th at approximately 11:41 a.m. Daniel Delgado was brought back to life.
And you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. Colossians 2:12
Today I was baptized.
Therefore, is anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17
I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The life I live in the flesh I live through faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave His life for me. Galatians 2:20
Since arriving in Alaska, its safe to say that I have done a lot of growing. I may be thousands of miles away from home, but God has given me a new family.