Such a Great Salvation (intro)
Topic: Topical Sermons Passage: Hebrews 2:3–2:3
Speaking through Isaiah the prophet, the Lord has said,
“Give attention to me, my people,
and give ear to me, my nation;
for a law will go out from me,
and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.
My righteousness draws near,
my salvation has gone out,
and my arms will judge the peoples;
the coastlands hope for me,
and for my arm they wait.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and they who dwell in it will die in like manner;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my righteousness will never be dismayed.
“Listen to me, you who know righteousness,
the people in whose heart is my law;
fear not the reproach of man,
nor be dismayed at their revilings.
For the moth will eat them like a garment,
and the worm will eat them like wool;
but my righteousness will be forever.
and my salvation to all generations.” (Isaiah 51:4-8).
And from the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews we read:
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (Hebrews 2:1-4).
This morning we begin a new series of messages on the great doctrines related to “salvation.” Even as we engage this topic I recognize two potential dangers. For those of you who are already Christians, you may feel as if you know everything there is to know or need to know about your salvation. Perhaps you have known the Lord for many years and believe you have reached the summit of understanding with regard to your relationship with Him. I hope that will not be the case, because if it is it probably means that you are not as excited about knowing the Lord and walking with Him as you were once were. It is my hope that, as a result of our exploring together what the Scriptures teach about this subject, you will rediscover why the Bible calls it “such a great salvation.”
At the same time, I recognize that you may be here never having experienced the saving grace of the Lord and, therefore, this subject holds little-to-no interest for you. Again, I hope that will not be the case. Instead, my prayer is that the Word of the Lord may impact you in ways you could never have expected when you walked in these doors this morning. I hope that you will be led to consider this “great salvation” that the Lord offers to those who are willing to turn from their sin and respond to Him in trusting faith.
Salvation is like a multi-faceted diamond. What Jesus accomplished on the cross is so immense and the window into the heart of God so expansive that no one explanation or description can tell the whole story. As we proceed we will be encountering a variety of terms that are all related to the doctrine of salvation. Terms like “justification,” “regeneration,” and “reconciliation,” which we tend to toss around in our Christian conversations without being able to distinguish them or knowing what they really mean. While all of these facets are linked and interconnected, they are not synonymous. Instead, as we shall discover, they are what might be called “variations of a common theme.”
As we together explore these aspects of salvation over the next several weeks, we will be looking at them in their logical order, or what theologians refer to as the Ordo Salutis. I stress “logical” rather than “chronological” because in the decree of God, salvation is presented as a complete and total package. To us it may appear to play itself out in stages over time, but to God the entire scope of salvation—from election to glorification—occurs in an instant. It is essential for us to keep that in mind as we proceed.
In our introduction to the topic this morning, I want to lay some foundation stones upon which we will be building in succeeding messages. Christians in former generations would frequently employ catechetical instruction to pass along the basic principles of the faith. If you are not familiar with that term, a “catechism” is a series of questions and answers designed to instruct in an orderly and systematic way. To this day, some Christian denominations continue to instruct new converts through the use of catechisms.
With that in mind, I want to pose six questions that are intended to get us thinking deeply about God’s “great salvation.” We’ll begin with the most basic question, which is...
What is the meaning of “salvation?”
In the most general sense, salvation refers to “the act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, or loss.” Both the Hebrew (“yasha”) and the Greek (“”) terms convey the notion of “welfare, deliverance, prosperity, and victory,” as well as being “rescued from a threatening or difficult situation.” In brief, it speaks of being brought into a state of “well-being.”
Drawing from this most basic understanding of the term we can see why it is used to describe “the application of the work of Christ in setting free the individual from the condemnation of God which was incurred by sin.” R.C. Sproul has well summarized this theological application of salvation in the following five statements (and I quote):
- The broad meaning of salvation is “to be rescued from a threatening situation.”
- Ultimate salvation means to be delivered from the ultimate calamity of God’s wrath.
- The Bible uses salvation in several tenses, referring to God’s past, present, and future work of redemption.
- Justification is sometimes used as a synonym for salvation; at other times it is seen as one aspect in the whole scheme of redemption.
- Salvation is of the Lord and from the Lord.
That is all well and good, but at this point you may be wondering what any of that has to do with you. Perhaps you do not see yourself as being in any danger or threat from which you feel the need to be delivered. That is why we cannot stop at merely defining “salvation.” We must move on to the second question in our catechism, which is...
What is the mandate for “salvation?”
This is where any practical discussion of “salvation” must begin. In Acts 17:30, we read that God “commands all people everywhere to repent.” When Jesus Christ burst upon the scene to begin His public ministry, His first recorded words contained the command to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
The need for salvation is universal. Were we to look at chapter 3 in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, we would observe that we are all included in the charges listed in verses 10 through 12. There we read:
“None is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
So what are we left to conclude as a result of these condemnatory charges? Verse 23 answers, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And three chapters later—in Romans 6:23—we are told that “the wages of sin is death” or separation from the life of God. That Paul is not referring to solely a future outcome is made clear in Ephesians 2:1, where he describes our present condition of being already “dead in trespasses and sins.”
There are many other places throughout Scripture where the universal reality of man’s personal sin, accountability, and lost condition are taught. In fact, its infection began in the Garden of Eden with our first parents and it has permeated every class and culture of people since, so that none of us is immune. David, that great singer of Israel, recognized this when he admitted, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5, NIV). That it is a condition that permeates the entirety of our being and not just our specific acts was later stressed by the prophet Jeremiah, who realized that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).
The Reformers referred to such a condition as “total depravity.” What that means is that all of us are born into this world spiritually dead, blind and deaf to the things of God. Our hearts are desperately corrupt and incapable to choosing good over evil in the spiritual realm. In short, we have no ability to contribute anything toward obtaining salvation. The Canons of Dort, which date back to the early-17th century, succinctly expressed it this way:
All men are conceived in sin, and are by nature, children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto; and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, or to dispose themselves to reformation.
Therefore, the need for salvation is universal. We must understand that, and we must not depersonalize it. When the Bible says “all,” that includes you and me. In fact, it is those who think they need it least who are the ones most in need.
Given man’s lost state, a condition he is both helpless and hopeless to alleviate, what is the cure...if pray tell there be one? Thankfully there is, and that takes us to our third question, which is...
What is the means of “salvation?”
Once again it is in Paul’s letter to the Romans that we find the answer. Can there be any more encouraging words than those found in chapter 5 and verse 8? “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Stated another way, the Lord did for us what we could never in a million years do for ourselves. He provided a way—the way—that we might be forgiven and receive all the benefits of salvation. In our place He gave us His Son so that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In Romans 5:6 we are told that “while we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.”
But let’s be clear about something...and it is critically important that you understand this. The work of Jesus Christ on the cross in providing salvation does not automatically and passively accrue to every one us. It must be received on the basis of faith. In Ephesians 2:8 and 9 we are told that it is “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” In other words, even though sin is universal—meaning that we all stand condemned before a holy and just God—salvation is not. Deliverance from the “wages” or penalty of sin is only for those who repent of their sin and turn to Jesus Christ. It is His work alone that provides sufficient payment for the debt of sin that each of us owes.
On the night before He would lay down His life for men’s sins, Jesus reminded His confused disciples with these words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
The need for salvation is for all men, and God has provided the means of salvation through the sinless life, sacrificial death, and shed blood of His Son. What in heaven’s name would compel God to act on behalf of guilty sinners in that way? That brings us to our fourth question, which is...
What is the motive of “salvation?”
There is at times great confusion regarding this aspect of salvation. Because God is sovereign in all His ways, the Scriptures repeatedly tell us that He consistently acts in a way that is consistent with “his own good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13) and “according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:5). Theologically speaking, therefore, God owes us no explanation for any of His actions. It is by sheer grace that He at times parts the curtains and allows us to peer into His eternal counsel. And it is there—if we are watching and listening—that we glean a hint of why He does what He does.
Just such a clue is found when we look again at Romans 5:8. There we learn that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” What was it that moved God to savingly act on behalf of those who deserved only His wrath? Why, it was His love. There was nothing about us that prompted His love. Love is an aspect of His character. It is only “because God is love...(that) he first loved us” (John 4:8 and 19).
From childhood many of us have memorized what may be the most familiar of all Bible words, found in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave us his only Son.” Many of us cling to that great truth—and rightfully so—but as we do we need to guard against focusing exclusively on what salvation means to us while overlooking what it means to God. It is the psalmist who reminds us that “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (Psalm 3:8), and in that great eschatological scene played out in Revelation 19:1, the “great multitude in heaven” cry out, “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God.” According to the author of Hebrews (5:8), the Lord is “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.”
What these verses reveal is that the motive of salvation is not ultimately—or even primarily—our deliverance. Again to quote from Hebrews (2:11), “It was fitting...in bringing many sons to glory.” Whose glory? His! Three times in the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, “the praise of his glory” is said to be the climactic purpose in God’s choosing the beneficiaries of His saving grace (Ephesians 1:6, 12, and 14).
While the blessings of salvation are amazingly incalculable to sinners who receive them by faith, our benefit is not the ultimate motive by which God provides them. We need to hear this and understand it, lest we tend to make salvation all about ourselves. The context of the Gospel message is not primarily our benefit and our salvation, but rather the supremacy of Jesus Christ and the glory of God. This motive is summed up in Ephesians 2:7. Why did God so lavishly display such kindness upon those who are His? “So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace toward us in Christ Jesus.” In other words, He saves us so that His glory might be manifestly declared—put on display—throughout all of eternity. The Scriptures declare that one day “at the name of Jesus every knee (will) bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue (will) confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
I would like to linger at this point a while longer, but we must move forward because there is a fifth question in our catechism, which is...
When is the moment of “salvation?”
When I say “moment,” I am referring to when salvation is appropriated. We have already shown that from a human vantage point a person is saved when he or she repents of sin and believes the Gospel. From the Divine perspective, however, believers are said to have been chosen for salvation from “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). The Bible uses terms like “election” and “predestination” in describing what we sometimes have difficulty wrapping our minds around. I am helped by reflecting on how Sinclair Ferguson describes this inexplicable phenomenon. He writes,
Before all time; prior to all worlds; when there was nothing “outside of” God Himself; when the Father, Son and Holy Spirit found eternal, absolute, and unimaginable blessing, pleasure, and joy in Their holy triunity—it was Their agreed purpose to create a world. That world would fall. But in unison—and at infinitely great cost—this glorious triune God planned to bring you (if you are a believer) grace and salvation.
You see, God is not bound by time, but you and I are. Therefore, it is perhaps reasonable for us, in thinking of the “when” of salvation, to view it as occurring in three “tenses”...the past, the present, and the future. Theologians will frequently refer to these as “justification,” “sanctification,” and “glorification,” respectively. In simple terms, we might explain the three “tenses” of salvation in this way:
|Past||Justification||saved from the penalty of sin||a gift|
|Present||Sanctification||saved from the power of sin||a process|
|Future||Glorification||saved from the presence of sin||a reward|
Because the salvation of every Christian is rooted in eternity past on the basis of God’s sovereign decree, it is imperative to realize Christ’s blood was sufficient to pay for every sin that has been committed or ever will be committed. Because that is true, even though believers will at times waver and even occasionally stumble, he or she will persevere in the faith. How comforting and reassuring for us to realize that even in our weakest moment, Jesus—the same Jesus who laid down His life as payment for our sins—is interceding for us and holding onto us. His providential protection is promised in John 6:37, where we read, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” And again in John 10:28, where He adds, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
If you find no comfort in those words, it could be an indication that you have not yet entrusted yourself to the Savior. If that is the case, then hear what the Lord may be saying to you this morning from 2 Corinthians 6:2: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” That “now” can be the pivotal moment in your life, if you will “repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Our gracious God offers this “great salvation” to whomever will respond. Romans 10(:9-10 and 13) says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved...For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
To answer the rhetorical question posed by the writer of Hebrews, there is no escape “if we neglect such a great salvation” (Hebrews 2:3).
I am often amazed at the Lord’s timing as I am preparing a message. Yesterday as I was attempting to put the “finishing touches” on this one, a brief devotional found its way into the inbox of my email. It was based on Hebrews 2:3, “How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?” To that verse, the writer added these challenging words:
Is there a sense of greatness in your mind about your salvation? Or do you neglect it?
Do you respond to the greatness of your salvation? Or do you treat it the way you treat your will or the title to your car or the deed to your house? You signed it once and it is in a file drawer somewhere, but it is not really a great thing. It has no daily effect on you. Basically, you neglect it.
...This is a great salvation. Neglecting it is very evil. Don’t neglect so great a salvation. Because if you do, you will perish without escape.
As those words hang in the air, let’s take a moment to review. So far we have seen that the meaning of salvation refers to the deliverance from God’s wrath as the just penalty for our sins. We have also seen the mandate of salvation as God’s call on all men everywhere to turn from their sin and trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We noted that the means of salvation was the sinless life and sacrificial death of Christ given in our place. The motive that lay behind the Lord’s acting on our behalf was the demonstration of His love in order that His glory might be declared throughout the ages for all to see. As for the moment of salvation, we have seen there are two perspectives, both taught in the Scriptures. Bound by time as we are, we can say that salvation occurs when a person turns from sin and trusts the saving work of Christ as full and sufficient payment for his or her sins. That may come in a moment of time or through more progressive manner...our experiences will differ. The time of saving faith isn’t what is important...but the fact of saving faith is. Have you personally embraced this “great salvation”? Have you truly repented and believed in the Gospel?
There is but one more question that must be asked in our catechism related to salvation this morning:
What is the measure of “salvation”?
In other words, how can I know that I am saved...that I am a Christian? Let me answer that question by providing a preview of “coming attractions”...a glimpse of where we will be traveling together over these next several weeks. As I have already mentioned, the various aspects of salvation cannot really be separated. They are part and parcel of a single act of a God who is limited neither by time nor space. And although God sees them in toto, we experience them incrementally. I pointed out earlier that this is sometimes referred to as the Ordo Salutis, the so-called order of salvation. I remind again you that this order is more logical than it is chronological. Some of these steps occur sequentially while others occur instantaneously. Taken together, they not only help us to understand what is involved in God’s act of saving His people, but they also serve as a gauge by which we may assess whether or not we are included in that number,
First of all, there is election. Before creation, because of His sovereign good pleasure, God chose some people to be saved. Other terms associated with the doctrine of election are “predestination” and “preterition,” which we will be discussing in next week’s message.
Second, there is calling, which refers to God summoning people to himself through the proclamation of the Gospel so that they respond to Him in saving faith.
Then, there is regeneration, or what is at times called “the new birth.” This refers to God’s sovereign impartation of spiritual life to those whom He has called to Himself.
Next, there is conversion, which occurs when a person willingly responds to the Gospel by repenting of sin and placing his or her faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. We will also be considering terms like “redemption” and “reconciliation” when we discuss this doctrine together.
Fifth, there is justification, which at times is used as a synonym for salvation. It refers to an instantaneous legal act of God in which He declares the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believing sinner.
Next, there is adoption, one of the most precious and yet neglected aspects of salvation. It speaks of God’s act of bringing the believer into His family and blessing Him with all the privileges of a natural-born son.
Then, there is sanctification, a progressive, lifelong work of God and man that frees us from sin’s hold and makes us more and more like Jesus Christ.
Eighth, there is perseverance, which means that all those who are truly justified will be kept by God’s power and endure as followers of Christ to the very end of their lives.
And finally, there is glorification, in which God will at last remove every vestige of sin from the believer and give to him a resurrection body. This is the ultimate goal of salvation.
These are the measures of salvation and the topics we will be looking at together over the next several weeks. As we work through each one, I trust that we will be able to examine where we are in our relationship with the Lord. Am I among the elect? Have I been called by Him to salvation? Have I truly been regenerated—given new life in Christ—and does my life demonstrate evidence of my conversion? Do I recognize that I have been adopted into God’s family and am even now being sanctified—set apart—for His glory. Am I persevering in the faith? Do I eagerly anticipate Jesus’ return and await the fulfillment of His promise that I will one day be glorified and live with Him forever?
These are important questions that every one of us must answer. That is why I encourage you to be with us each Sunday as we think about why Scripture refers to it as “such a great salvation.” I am persuaded that it is “greater” than any of us has yet been able to imagine.
You may be wondering why we have chosen to invest such a significant portion of our preaching calendar to this topic. If, in the words of John Newton, “How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed,” how much more precious it should be to us with every passing day. And yet it is true that human nature causes us to become dull in our apprehension and in our understanding. My prayer is that these messages will be used by the Lord to help revive our hearts and restore to us an appreciation of this “great salvation” granted by God to those who are His.
This week I encourage you to meditate on a passage of Scripture tucked away in the 8th chapter of Romans. It has at times been called “the Golden Chain of Redemption” or “God’s Unbroken Road of Salvation.” The context is the sovereignty of God in both the temporal and eternal realms as regards the fulfillment of His glorious plan. I close this message by reading it, and then will ask us to bow our heads as we silently reflect upon these things:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for Good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those who he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30).