In March 2007, I preached a sermon at my local church, Bryanston Bible Church, in Johannesburg, South Africa. This is one of my favourite sermons of all time, and deals with something that I actually think is at the heart of what’s wrong with the evangelical church today.
Last Sunday, while attending my current local church, Dundonald, I was reminded of this sermon and the concept behind it. We were having a special outreach service, and as part of it there was an interview of some of our church members. One of the questions that they were asked was: “What’s the best thing about being a Christian?”. The answer was interesting. They said that it was “the hope of spending eternity in heaven and living today without guilt or condemnation.” No doubt, these are great benefits and worth enjoying.
But is it enough? And is this really the BEST thing about being a Christian?
I grew up in a tradition that largely held out the threat of hell as the main reason for accepting Jesus as “my personal Lord and Saviour”. Evangelical churches rightly focus on evangelism. But they often use this approach of fear of retribution. Therefore, the message is primarily about what we are saved FROM.
But, salvation is just as much about what we are saved FOR. Eternal life begins now, and our salvation demands a response – on this earth, in this life. We need to be careful – we are in danger of preaching a watered down, half-truth Gospel. We are saved FOR something, as well as saved FROM something.
Listen to the sermon by downloading it here (13 Mb, MP3 file). You can see the notes I preached from below.
What We Believe: Salvation
Saved FROM, and saved FOR
Puzzles. Mother, holidays. What if swap lids?
What if looking at wrong picture? Then the pieces won’t make sense.
The picture of salvation and of being a Christian that I was given growing up in a conservative Christian home just doesn’t seem to make sense of the pieces I now see in the Bible.
I was told that the point of salvation was that I would go to heaven after I died.
There was a footnote about increasing personal happiness and success through God.
This footnote has been getting louder and louder, and now Christian bookshops and TV channels are flooded with advice about living your best now, claiming your inheritance and being all you can be – in Christ, of course.
There was a smaller footnote about character development.
There was a brief appendix on spiritual experience.
And there was some tiny smallprint about social and global transformation.
But mainly it was about going to heaven when you die.
I was told that because everyone had sinned, God was angry with the world and with all people. I was told that the only way to remove God’s wrath was through the sacrificial shedding of innocent blood. I was told that Jesus had done this, that he was the propitiation for my sin – in fact, for all sins of all people who accept his sacrifice. I was told that his death was a substitutionary atonement for all sins of all people of all time. And I was scared by the stories of hell – a dreadful place reserved for those who do not accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour.
The good news is that pretty much everything I was told is correct.
So, let me be clear about how it works and what it means. EXPLAIN.
Rom 3:23 – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Rom 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Rom 8:31-32 – What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
SO, The good news is that pretty much everything I was told is correct.
But what I wasn’t told is that it is only half the picture.
It only explains why Jesus came to die. But not why he came to live.
It explains what I am saved FROM. But not what I am saved FOR.
It sort of explains what will happen when I die. But it doesn’t explain how I am to live.
It ‘s the truth. But not the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Is the purpose of being a Christian really just to try and live an undefiled life on the warehouse shelf of the world, being protected from disease, rust and defilement until my owner comes to collect me and take me to my new home?
Am I really just in a waiting room watching the clock tick the hours by, until its my turn?
I was at a conference recently where somewhere explained that this could be called the Gospel of evacuation.
STORY OF REFUGEES / EVACUATION
If this is our picture, then we will find the pieces in the Bible that match it, and we can build a part-finished puzzle. But, it will only be half a picture. And there’ll be a lot of pieces that don’t fit, and don’t make sense.
We need to change our picture.
Why do we have this picture of salvation being about our destination after we die?
The Bible speaks often of heaven and eternal life.
The Gospel of Matthew uses the phrase: The Kingdom of heaven often.
Yet, in all other Gospels and Acts, the preferred phrase is the “
Because Kingdoms are not an immediate reality to us, and because death’s final defeat is not a reality for us, and we see the end of our mortal lives as the end of life itself, we tend to think that heaven and eternal life and God’s Kingdom are all for after we die.
But this is NOT what the Bible intends.
It is NOW. Not sometime in the future, after we die.
When we receive the Spirit, we receive eternal life. It starts NOW.
John 3:36 – Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life…
John 5:24 – “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
I Jn 5:13 — I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
And then John defines eternal life:
John 17:3 – Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
In terms of the concept of the Kingdom, the Gospels all start and end with a message of the Kingdom, and so does the book of Acts, as the Apostles and Paul preach the message of the Kingdom throughout the world.
Jesus, himself, started his ministry by announcing the arrival of the Kingdom.
Mark 1:15 – “The time has come,” he said. “The
The Kingdom is NOW. My box = heaven/later.
Today, we miss the full impact of that statement. It was a Political statement, not a religious one. For us, kingdoms are tourist attractions. In Jesus day, it was the reigning world order. He had come to change the world – every part of it was controlled by the
You could get yourself killed for doing that. In fact, Jesus was killed for that in the end.
This is a theme throughout Jesus’ teaching. The Kingdom is NOW.
– may your Kingdom come…
– my box lid = may we die & go to your K in H where, unlike on earth, yr will is done.
– my box lid seemed to indicate that God had given up on His creation, and would ultimately just destroy it and start again in heaven. Preaching on this in August.
So, what then is the big picture of salvation?
My box lid says that salvation is all about me. Its about my future, my destination, my sin and my soul. But this is not the whole picture.
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Want u to be Christian so you can transform world.
NOT so u can be kept clean & unsoiled so we can evacuate you sometime.
But so you can change the world.
Not just the people, but the world itself.
Salvation impacts on creation:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons 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. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Salvation impacts on the political sphere of life:
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdoms of the world have become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
Salvation touches everyone and everything:
2 Cor 5:18-19
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us this message of reconciliation.
Our view of salvation should be a holistic vision of transformation. Not a limited hope of evacuation.
Maybe the one verse that sums this up best is found in the Old Testament.
He has showed you, people, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Jim Wallis – get person drowning out of water, CPR = kindness/mercy/grace (NT), and another and another = kindness.
Sometime you need to go upstream to see who’s throwing ppl into the river = justice.
As those who are saved, we have a responsibility and calling to extend the impact of our salvation to the world. We are to ensure that there is justice in the world – at every level.
Mercy and grace have been extended to us. This is what we have been saved FROM.
We have to ensure justice for others, and extend God’s Kingdom on earth. This is what we were saved FOR.
The last part of the verse in Micah refers to walking humbly with our God.
This points to holiness. It is about our spiritual development and usability. We have to be holy, so that God can use us to transform His world.
Unfortunately, my box lid also seems to have holiness horribly wrong.
I was brought up to believe that holiness was about not drinking, not dancing, women not wearing makeup or attractive clothing, demure and pious activities.
I was taught that being holy was about refraining from these outward activities.
But this is NOT what Biblical holiness is. To be holy means to be set aside for God’s use. It is about service for God.
These things are important, but only as a means to an end. Not an end in themselves. Our focus is on being used by God, and being pure enough to be of service.
But my box lid built into me a fear of “works”. When chatting about this topic to someone who was influential in shaping my theology of salvation, she asked me, “But aren’t you preaching the ‘social gospel’?”. What does that mean? She couldn’t tell me.
But the mere phrase was one that alerted her to danger. Our box lid so over emphasized the personal and inward aspects of salvation, that it actually turned us against the other half of the story. This is a trap of the devil, to stop us fully experiencing what salvation means.
Let me give you just a few examples from Scripture:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed– not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence– continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.
In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast.
What’s the next verse?
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
But why stop reading there? Verse 8 says:
This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
Leslie Newbiggin – greatest heresy = doctrine of election where we are elected to exclusion rather than elected to service.
Theme of the Bible: blessed to be a blessing.
What then is SALVATION?
Transformation, not evacuation
On a recent conference of Christian ministries in central and
– 3 yr old black girl from the slums of
When I grow up, I want to be a Christian…
What r u living for?
Ceased by a higher purpose
Chosen not to live for yourself
Sure, you know what you’re saved FROM. But were you saved FOR?
What are you going to do to show Jesus that you are one of His children?
What are you going to DO with the salvation he has given you?