Category: Salvation (page 1 of 24)

Salvation Through the Promise

All the add-ons and extras are being ripped down on the west side of our church building at Central, preparing for the construction of the new façade and entrance. The stairs and foyer and overhang in front of the offices are gone and the porch and foyer in front of the Gathering Place exist no more. It’s loud and there’s a lot of dirt. The whole building shakes with every blow of the heavy equipment against the concrete foundation. The daily changes are noticeable around here now — on the outside and the inside. Things are falling off the walls in Vickie’s and Gail’s offices.

 

 

 

 

 

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“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed.” ~Galatians 3:16

“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing… and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” ~Genesis 12:2-3

This promise reveals and establishes God’s universal intent and plan for salvation: all peoples on earth will be blessed through Abraham. It’s universal. It’s for the whole world. God calls Abraham out of the blue and says, “I will bless you and you will be a blessing. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Paul says Abraham believed that promise and it was credited to him as righteousness. Abraham was saved by believing in God’s promise, by trusting in God’s Word. That’s how the covenant was established.

Abraham didn’t make a covenant with God; God made a covenant with Abraham. God did not lay down any conditions for Abraham to meet. In fact — you can look it up! — when God ratifies the covenant in Genesis 15, Abraham is sound asleep. It’s a covenant of pure grace.

God’s people are chosen by grace. God establishes the relationship by his own initiative apart from any law. They’re his people before there is such a thing as the law. The promise came first. The relationship came first. God’s people never obeyed the law in order to be saved. God had already saved them by his promise. There’s a big difference between “Do this and I’ll save you” and “I’ll save you so you can do this.”

Salvation is founded on God’s promise. And that promise is unchangeable.

What God promised Abraham is eternal. It’s irrevocable. God’s promise can’t be nullified, modified, or altered in any way — not by anybody’s personal preferences, not by any group’s cultural or national agendas, not even the Law of Moses can change God’s promise.

“The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.” ~Galatians 3:17-18

The law is really a latecomer to the salvation scene. The law doesn’t change the eternal arrangement God made with Abraham and his descendants. The promise is unchangeable. So the way we relate to God today is the same was it’s always been and always will be: through faith, not through works of the law. God saves people when they trust his Word, when they believe his promise, not when they keep all the details of the law.

The law is not God’s most important revelation. It’s the promise. God’s eternal promise and our faith in that promise to save is the basis of everything God has planned for us and his creation. Faith, not works, is the foundation of our righteous relationship with God and with each other.

In Romans 7, Paul says the law is holy, righteous, and good. But we are unholy, unrighteous, and not good. The law doesn’t make us sinners; it reveals to us that we are sinners. The law is a holy mirror that shows us we have dirty faces. But you don’t wash your face with a mirror. We are cleansed, we are made holy and righteous, and good, by the faith of Christ and our faith in Christ — the fulfillment of God’s great promise.

Peace,

Allan

People of Promise

What we believe about how we are saved matters. What we think saves us matters a great deal. The apostle Paul spends all of Galatians 3 reminding us that we are saved by God’s promise, not by God’s law. And he thinks it matters a lot.

“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed…” 3:16

“If the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise…” 3:18

“The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through the faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe…” 3:22

“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” 3:29

God in Christ has fulfilled the entirety of the law’s purposes for us. We are no longer condemned by the law, we’re not threatened by the law; the era of the law is over! The promise is fulfilled and the new age of righteousness and grace and freedom in Christ has begun! We are the people of promise.

God’s promises are not like the promises you and I make and receive every day. This is God. It’s his promise. No fine print, no out clauses, no surprises. God doesn’t make promises with his fingers crossed. He promises to save us, knowing he would have to die to make it happen. And — praise the Lord! — he did!

We are not people of the law. We are a people of promise. And that matters. It matters big time. If we think we’re saved by law or by rules or works or behaving correctly, then we’re going to treat people harshly. We’ll be arrogant and judgmental. We’ll be unbending and unforgiving. We’ll be nervous and unsure and we’ll fight and divide over the weirdest little things. And we’ll turn off a lot of people.

When we know we’re saved by the gracious promises of God, we’ll be a people of mercy and love. We’ll give others the benefit of the doubt. We’ll be flexible and forgiving. We’ll seek to bless other people. We’ll be kind and hospitable. Our words will be encouraging, our actions will be inviting. We’ll be unified by a focus on the really big important things and we’ll inspire a lot of people.

We are not people of the law. We are not people of the rules or people of the regulations or people of the guilt trip or people of the coercion. We are not people of correct interpretations or proper practices. None of those things save us! Those are the things we use in order to gain control. Or to be more prominent. Or better. Or right. Those are the things that divide us and separate us. Those are the things that lead to jealousy and anger and strife and condemnation.

We are free. Free from guilt. Free from condemnation. Free from punishment. We are rescued from the present evil age according to the will of God our Father to whom be glory for ever and ever! Amen!

The Good News today is that your forgiveness, your salvation, your eternal life does not depend on rules or regulations or interpretations or practices. Your righteousness rests solely in the unchanging promise of our loving God.

The Bible says no matter how many promises God has made, they are all “yes” in Christ. Every one of God’s promises — all of his blessings, all of his hope and peace and joy, everything God wants for you, everything he created you to be and to have — are available to you if you’ll put your faith in Christ.

Peace,

Allan

More Than Enough Power

98.6 is your normal sitting body temperature. It is also our youngest daughter Carley’s four-year cumulative GPA at Canyon High School. Carley was recognized last week for the fourth straight year as a Superintendent’s Scholar, awarded to all students who finish a school year with at least a 95 grade point average. They gave her another cord to wear at this Friday’s graduation. That makes almost a dozen. Her posture will be out of whack and her neck will be super sore after Friday night.

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We’re in the beginning stages of a sermon series from Galatians in which we are stressing that the Good News of salvation from God is “Christ Alone” — nothing more, nothing less. And we made the argument last week that Christ Alone is about his power.

Our salvation from God in Christ is about the power and the authority to create and restore, his power to save, his power to move us from one state of being to another, to move us from this present evil age to the eternal age of salvation and life, from the control of the world and its structures to the merciful control of our good and faithful God.

Galatians shows us that we are moved by Christ out from under the control of the enemy into the loving control of God’s Spirit. We are rescued from slavery and moved by Christ into a state of freedom. It’s not about when one age ends and the other begins — they both exist at the same time. It’s about control. It’s about the power. Who’s running things for you and your world?

“Through the Law I died to the Law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (2:19-20)

“Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed… Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the Law.” (3:23-25)

“We were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under Law, to redeem those under Law, that we might receive the full rights of sons… So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir… Now that you know God — or, rather, are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? (4:3-5, 7, 9)

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free! Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (5:1)

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation!” (6:14-15)

Maybe you feel trapped. Maybe you feel like a powerless pawn in a cosmic game of chess or chance that you don’t have any control over. It feels like something’s got you. Maybe it’s an external force, maybe it’s an internal compulsion — something’s got you. And you’re in a cycle. A bad cycle that just keeps repeating over and over, around and around. These patterns can only be broken when the ultimate authority and power steps in to pull you off that awful treadmill. Christ alone has that power. His death and resurrection pulls off the ultimate rescue and sets us free. So not only does Jesus deal with your past, but we’re all under a gracious control that empowers us for the present and the future.

“Christ Jesus gave himself for our sins” (1:4). Can you begin to comprehend the extraordinary radical thing that is?

Jesus has stepped in and taken our place. He has assumed our responsibility. He’s taken on our failures. We don’t have to languish in our guilt, we don’t have to suffer with remorse. Christ died for your sins and you don’t need to hang onto them anymore. Christ alone gives us the grace and the power to live in freedom and eternal life today!

Christ Alone — nothing more, nothing less. Nothing subtracted from that and nothing added to it. Christ Alone — to the glory of God the Father for ever and ever. Amen.

Peace,

Allan

Baptism: Unity With Christ

When you pass your drivers license test at 16-years-old, you become a person who drives. You belong now to the community of people who operate motor vehicles and you share the privileges and responsibilities of that group. You have a freedom you’ve never had before and you also have to pick your little brother up from practice. And go to the store for laundry detergent and milk. It’s really the only reason we have kids — we hope one day they’ll go to the store for us.

Your seventh grade Texas History class qualifies you as a true Texan. When you come out of that required course you know the difference between the Alamo and San Jacinto, you can talk knowledgably about cattle drives and cotton farming, and you’re better able to look down on and feel sorry for the millions of people who live in the other 49 states. Rightly so.

Graduating from high school makes you a lifelong alumnus of that institution  and confers on you a unity with all that school’s alumni for all time. Once a Sandie, always a Sandie, they say.

There are certain rituals that shape your identity in the Stanglin family. We have first day of school rituals that include an obnoxious song, awkward group photos, and invasive questions at dinner. We have Christmas rituals in our family that include certain holiday movies and certain holiday foods on certain nights. We have summer vacation rituals in which we stack everything we’ve packed by a certain door the night before, we stockpile our favorite snacks, we play rock, paper, scissors for the preferred seats in the van, we get up early and say a prayer in the living room, and something on the car breaks down as we’re pulling out of the driveway.

These are rites of passage. These rituals form us and give us our identity.

Baptism is a ritual and a rite of passage that places one into a brand new community and give one a brand new identity. Christian baptism radically changes where you are and who you are.

And we need this gift from God. We need this ritual. As our Western society becomes more and more a world of disconnected and lonely individuals, we need this ritual. We need this gift of baptism as an anchor driven deep into the solid foundation of a saving faith in God.

For the rest of this week, I’d like to post some simple baptism theology here. We’re wrapping up a twelve-weeks Bible class and sermon series here at Central on the sacraments of the Church. And I’d like to share some quick thoughts on baptism in this space.

If the Gospel is that the Son of God lived a perfect life, he was crucified, and then because of his perfect life God vindicated him by raising him from the dead and exalting him to his right hand, and because he did this for us we, too, can be saved and raised and exalted exactly like Jesus if we are connected to him, how do we get connected to him? If that’s the Good News, how do I participate in that? How do I get in on it?

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.” ~Romans 6:3-5

Baptism is unity with Christ. Baptism is a participation in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus WITH Jesus. It connects us to Jesus, it makes us one with Christ. We die with Jesus, we are resurrected with Jesus in baptism.

Now, that’s a strong statement, it’s a very positive statement about what God does for sinners in baptism. Jesus was recognized as the Savior and declared the Lord because of his death, burial, and resurrection. And the Bible says we get in on all that — all three of those things — with Jesus in baptism.

“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” ~Colossians 2:9-12

Again, baptism connects us to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, it unifies us with the saving work of the Son of God. The very same power that God used to raise Jesus from the grave belongs to us in baptism. So does his righteousness and holiness and peace. His sinlessness belongs to the baptized. His perfect status belongs to the baptized. Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is applied to all of us at baptism.

Theology doesn’t have to be complicated. More tomorrow.

Peace,

Allan

Baptism and Faith

Peter and the apostles are announcing, they’re proclaiming in Acts 2, that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus has inaugurated the eternal Kingdom of God. Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah! This holy one you killed but God has now raised to eternal life, this Jesus, is the bringer of God’s salvation for all people and he is now both Lord and Christ!

“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, into the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit!” ~Acts 2:37-38

Forgiveness happens at baptism. So does God’s Holy Spirit taking up residence in your soul. Peter says “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins” just like John the Baptist said “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” In both cases, people are being cleansed on the inside and being made holy. People are being prepared for the coming presence of God.

That’s how people are saved: baptism. It’s a critical part of the Christian conversion process. The conversion stories in the New Testament are soaked with baptism. Men and women, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor — they hear the Good News, they believe it, and they’re baptized.

That’s what we believe and practice regarding baptism. We believe that is the biblical view: baptism is the time and place one is united with the crucified and risen Lord and receives eternal forgiveness of all sin and the gift of God’s indwelling Spirit.

But there’s something else we believe about baptism that we don’t talk about as much or as well. We believe it, we just don’t make it clear. So, let me be very, very clear: Baptism only works by faith in what God through Jesus has done and is doing for the sake of the world.

“You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” ~Colossians 2:10-13

God made us alive with Christ and forgave our sins when we were buried with him in baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God. Baptism is faith — faith is baptism. Baptism is not effectual for salvation because we believe in baptism or because of what we believe about baptism or because of how we believe baptism ought to be practiced. It’s got nothing to do with that. Baptism works through our faith in the work of God in Christ. It’s effectual only by faith. Otherwise, it’s just a quick bath; you’re just getting wet.

Baptism is God’s work, not ours, not yours. God is the One doing everything. It’s got nothing to do with my goodness or correctness or the right words being said or the right amount of water being used or how much or how little I know about what’s going on. Baptism is a divine act of pure grace. And anything that undermines that or adds to it is legalism and denies the Gospel of Christ.

Wait. But isn’t baptism itself legalistic? If we’re saved by grace alone through faith in Christ alone, why is baptism necessary? That’s a human work, right? Surely we’re not saved by human works.

Boy, those are all great questions. Thank you for asking them in that way.

Martin Luther, during the Reformation in the 1500s, gave us the language of saved by grace only through faith in Christ only. He taught and preached that human works have nothing to do with our salvation — it’s 100% faith and 0% works. He was so hard-core about that, he wanted to have the book of James struck from the New Testament. But Luther put baptism in the category of faith, not works. He called faith “the beggar’s hand.” It’s how we receive God’s gifts. And baptism is where we do the receiving. Luther put it in his church catechism in 1529:

“As our would-be wise new spirits assert that faith alone saves, and that works and external things avail nothing, we answer: It is true, indeed, that nothing in any of us is of any avail but faith. But faith must have something it believes, that is, of which it takes hold and upon which it stands and rests. Thus, faith clings to the water and believes that it is baptism in where there is pure salvation and life.”

Baptism is an expression of faith. It’s only effective through faith. In baptism we die and are raised with Christ, through faith. In baptism, we can’t do anything, we don’t accomplish anything or effect anything. In baptism, we receive everything.

Peace,

Allan

The Snare Has Been Broken

“Praise be to the Lord,
who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare;
the snare has been broken and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth!”
Psalm 124:6-8

The child of God who wrote this psalm is not singing about some great life, how the Lord has protected them from all trouble. These people go through a ton of trouble: angry mobs, flash floods, traps and snares. They’ve gone through the worst but they still find themselves alive and in one piece. They’re intact. The Lord is on our side. God is our help.

The psalm begins, “Let Israel say!” Everybody is singing. This is a passionate corporate expression of faith. Everybody joins in. This is the corporate reality for God’s people. The psalm is very enthusiastic about this.

And we’re very suspicious about enthusiasm. We’re cynical when somebody’s just a little too excited. Or sure. Advertisers have trained us to be suspicious.

LeBron James is being paid $252-million over six years to be enthusiastic about Sprite. Beyoncé gets $50-million to be excited about Pepsi. When we know these things, we inwardly discount the witness. I think it was Mark Twain — somebody — who said “Sincerity is the key to success; if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Maybe it was Woody Allen; I can’t remember. But this is the world we live in. We know that when LeBron and Beyoncé are talking about soda or Matthew McConaughey is pontificating on the merits of driving a Lincoln, their words are written by professional copywriters and their testimony is given in exchange for money.

So when we read the words of Psalm 124, our first reaction might be, “Great poetry! Love the sincerity! Who’s your copywriter? How much did you get paid?”

Psalm 124 is not a commercial that pops up to remind us, “Things go better with God,” or “You’re in good hands with God.” This is not a media campaign to convince us that the Lord is better than all the other gods. It’s not a press release. This is a sincere prayer from honest experience. And it’s credible. Disciples of Christ, people who walk in the way of the Lord and sing this song in all kinds of weather — this psalm fits with their experience.

We’re in the snares all the time. We live on the edge of disaster and doom. Christians are in trouble a lot. And we’ve all been in places where it felt like there was no way out. It’s over. And then, all of a sudden, there is a way out. Suddenly, the snare breaks and you’re out! You’ve escaped! You’re alive and in one piece and you’re still going! It’s unexplainable, but you’re free!

Remember the old Batman television series? At the end of every episode the caped crusaders were trapped and it looked like there was no way out. Robin was hanging upside down over a vat of acid, Batman was tied to a conveyor belt that was pulling him toward a bone saw — it was over. Will they escape? Will they get out? It doesn’t look like it or feel like it. And the narrator wants you to believe it’s hopeless. It’s over. But then next week at the same bat time on the same bat channel, they escape. They’re rescued. They’re delivered. And it always happened so fast you were never quite sure how it happened. But it was always so matter-of-fact.

God’s deliverance is always a surprise, but it’s always certain. God’s rescue is always a miracle, but we always know it’s coming.

“Praise be to the Lord who has not let us be torn by their teeth!” I think God wants us to sing like that as we walk the way of discipleship every day. “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth!”

Peace,

Allan

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