Monday, August 5, 2013

Back to Basics

After a month digging deep into God's heart and relearning the meaning of the word "grace," I am reminded that the most basic words in our vocabulary  are the hardest to define.  

I know that as an English teacher.  I am constantly reminding my students to take a second look and make sure that familiar words aren't appearing in unfamiliar ways.  For example, "The fresh troops delivered the besieged city."  If you're a native English speaker you may have no idea how puzzling that sentence is.  "Deliver," a word used every day to mean "to bring something" appears here as a verb that means "to save."  

"Save," as used in the Bible, is a word which is as often taken for granted as it is misunderstood. Perhaps the reason is we divorce it from its usual meaning. "Save me!  Save me!" is unambiguous language. "Save me" means that somebody is in more trouble than they can get out of without help.  Depending on the tone, it might even imply that they will die if someone doesn't come to the rescue.  

That's the first thing we have to understand about "being saved."  We were in awful trouble, trouble we couldn't escape on our own.  Pick a metaphor: We were drowning and God reached down a hand to lift us up.  We were dying and the great Physician came to our bedside to heal us.  We were abandoned infants left in our own blood by the side of the road and we were adopted by a king (Ezekiel 16). When I say, "I am saved," I am acknowledging that I needed saving, that Someone heard my pitiful cry and rescued me. 

The very first obstacle to all kinds of evangelism is the fact that people do not know they are lost.  Security is found in money, connections, health, and self.  People can't see they are in the gravest danger.  Like children chasing a ball into the road, oblivious to an oncoming car, they rush on. It's only when their confidence is burst by grief, sickness, sin or sorrow that people cry, "Save me!"

Jesus found it that way.  The sick pushed their way to him; the family of the dead and dying came in droves. People who reeked of sin washed his feet with their tears. Those who were rich, powerful, and self-assured came out of curiosity then turned on him like a pack of rabid dogs.  Who was he to say they needed to be saved?

In his footsteps we cry out to the sick, mourning and the remorseful that there is a God in heaven prepared to swoop down and save them.  To the hearing and those without ears to hear we cry the horror of sin and the need for God. We are his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

So if we are convinced of our terrible danger, what's to be done?  Nothing.  We can't do anything.  That's why we need to be saved.

Finish this sentence.  "I was saved..."  That's the kind of sentence that starts wars.  Luther vs. the Pope. Calvin vs. Luther.  Zwingli vs the world!  Wars have been fought for oversimplification.

I can finish that sentence in many ways, all of them true. 

  • I was saved by Jesus.  John reminds us that God did not send him to judge but to save the world. (John 3:17)
  • I was saved by grace.  I dare you to explain the fact that God sent his own son to live on earth and die a criminal's death in order to save humanity as anything other than unmerited favor! (Ephesians 1:7-10, John 3:16-17, Romans 5:10)
  • I was saved by mercy.  Titus 2:5 puts it this way: "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit."   
  • I was saved by the work of the Christians around me.  Without my parents and grandparents, my Sunday school teachers, and the minister at our church, I would not have learned about God, his word, and his grace.  Paul mentions to Timothy that he suffers whatever he needs to in the hope that others may obtain salvation. (2 Timothy 2:10) He taught that when we stand in the gap between God and the world, we help to bring about the salvation of the lost.(Romans 10:15) 
  • I am saved by the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38, 1 John 5:1-7, Ephesians 1:13-14). 
  • I was saved by my own desire. God cannot and will not save those who don't wish it. He has done all the work. We can only accept the gift. Still if we refuse, he will accede.  Paul says emphatically that we must call, (Romans 10:13) we must confess (Romans 10:9-10) and we must have faith (Ephesians 2:8). We must be united with Jesus, participating in his death, burial and resurrection through baptism (Romans 6:1-10). If you suppose any of these are "works" we do, I refer you back to Titus 2:5 which reminds us that we are awash in the mercy of God.

We are not saved by any work we can do.  No drowning man can swim to shore.  If he could, he wouldn't be drowning.  He can, however, hold on to the one who rescues him.  No dying man can heal himself.  If he could, he would not be dying.  All he can do is take his medicine as the doctor prescribed.  No abandoned baby can institute her own adoption; however, she can cling to her Father with all her heart.  

When we try to reduce God's work to a motto, when we try to condense truth into a single sentence, we oversimplify. For the rest of the month, I'll be going back to basics on Mondays, looking to reclaim some old words according to their Biblical truths.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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