Following on from a conversation I had during our series of Lent talks I want to try and dig a little deeper into the issues of salvation and sanctification which both Paul Gildersleve and Mike Booker touched on when we talked about the Creed over a number of weeks. I think there is some confusion about what these terms mean and just what it means to be saved...
In some traditions of the Church being saved is ‘it’ – that’s the purpose of what we do, that’s the purpose of being Christian. The focus of the work of the Church is to draw people in that they may be saved!
Of course, that is what we all want to see, that people are drawn in to the new life of Christ, that the know freedom from sin and that the death and new life of Christ are theirs as they are opened up to the Spirit of God in the new life which faith in Christ offers. I am not trying to distract from that. We are called to spread the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, and to invite others into the fullness of life which he offers.
But it doesn’t stop there.
In answer to the question ‘what must I do to be saved?’ we can say ‘nothing, actually, it’s been done for us!’ and we don’t seek to live in a certain way or to do good works in order that we may earn our salvation.
The work of salvation is a one time event, on the cross Jesus wrought for us salvation, by taking on the sin of the world he defeated the power of sin and death and by rising to new life proclaimed that the love of God and the power of God cannot be defeated. As Paul wonderfully put it in his talk a few weeks back ‘job done’. Through that wonderful sacrifice we are assured of life that goes beyond death, of life eternal in God’s presence.
So our primary aim as God’s people in the body of Christ is to declare that and to share that, and to offer that to all those who do not know Christ.
But if that were it, then all we would be is a group of people occupying ourselves until either we die or Jesus comes again, singing a few songs and listening to a few sermons and generally passing time by telling others about Jesus.
And if it stopped there then we would be perfect, we would be holy and that would be it. Which is so obviously manifestly not the case! No matter how much I may admire my brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter how high an opinion I may have of my fellow Christians, there is not one I could honestly say is perfect!
And the early Church struggled with this too. Their primary aim was to share the salvation Christ brought, and they expected Jesus to come again any moment, and it was only when they realised that Jesus might take a bit longer to come back than they thought that they got down to thinking about what it really meant to follow Jesus.
We see St Paul struggling with this in his letters, and throughout the New Testament we have encouragement, admonishment and challenge to live lives which reflect God’s values and way of doing things.
1 Thessalonians 2:11-12St Paul recognized the need to grow in faith, not just to consider ourselves saved and leave it there. He sought to balance the great promise of grace which is on offer, and the fact that when we confess our sins they are covered by Christ, with the need to actually live in such a way that reflects the way of Christ. It wasn’t always easy, in the letter to the Roman’s chapter 6 Paul has to censure those who thought that the forgiveness on offer from Christ meant that a Christian could pretty much behave as they liked:
11For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.
1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?He goes on to explain that the salvation Jesus procured is through death to all that we were and a new life that mirrors the resurrection of Christ. He reflects that those who have died are free from the power of sin, and we are those who have died with Christ and been raised to new life in him.
11In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.These are such familiar passages but do we allow them to sink in, to really make us think about what it means in our journey with Jesus?
Our status as the saved does not make us superior to others. It does not give us an easier life – anyone who has been a Christian longer than five minutes knows that. There’s a song we used to sing when I went to a church in London called ‘Jesus, we celebrate your victory’. Good tune, fun song – but one Sunday the Vicar stood up and said ‘we’re not going to sing this song any more because it’s complete rubbish’! One of the lines in the song says ‘and in your presence our troubles disappear’ and a moment’s thought makes us realise that this is not true! Our problems do not disappear when we are with Christ, we may gain perspective on them, we may be comforted, we may find strength to deal with them, but it is a nonsense to think that our faith shields us from the pain and difficulty of the world, and that Christians are immune to the struggles of this life, even in the bliss that worship can bring.
We as followers of Jesus are always in a state of tension between two things. We are in a time of ‘the now and the not yet.’ We are saved, but we have not yet been made perfect. Our sins are covered by Christ, but sin still influences us and draws us away from perfection. We are freed from eternal death, but we are not free from the aging and death that are part of this world. We are being made whole, but are still beset by sickness and injury.
In the same way Jesus brought in the kingdom of God, through his proclamation in Matthew 12
28But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
Yet at the same time Jesus pointed out that there was more to come, the kingdom wasn’t fully here. Indeed we are taught to pray ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done’ in the prayer that Jesus gave us.
So it is with us, we are called as it says in Leviticus, frequently I discovered whilst doing a kind of ‘Bible Google’ through the ‘bible gateway’ ‘be holy as God is holy’
(for the reference fiends among you three of the verses which repeat this phrase are:
Leviticus 11:44 I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.
Leviticus 11:45 I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.
Leviticus 19:2 "Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: 'Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.)
But our holiness is not a given, our calling is to follow Jesus, to take up our cross with the struggles and sacrifice that vivid image implies, and to walk with Christ where he leads us. This is our sanctification, our growth in holiness. On the deepest level it comes through the work and the power of God’s Holy Spirit within us, teaching us, guiding us, leading us – but also it comes as we are open to allowing God to change us. I often reel off this list of the things we need to do, but I think it bears repeating. In order to grow in faith and to work with God in being made holy, in being sanctified, we must:
read our bibles
worship – not just on our own but in the body of Christ, by committing ourselves to one another in our Church fellowships
we must consider our giving and lifestyles, what we do with all that God gives us, money, time, talents, the lot!
Being a Christian should make a difference to our lives, not just in the assurance of sins forgiven and life forever in God’s presence but in the everyday way in which we live. this lifestyle of faithfulness and the journey towards wholeness and holiness in Christ will draw others into wanting to know Jesus and commit themselves to him, but it will also mean we are becoming the people God has called us to be, those who are more like Christ, changed from the glory to glory.