We Believe: In God's Saving Action
This is a sermon preview for the fourth sermon in the “We Believe: Back to Basics” series. To watch the recording of any of the sermons in this sermon series, visit our website.
“Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” –Matthew 9:1-8
“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,” –Titus 3:3-7
If you pay attention long enough, you’ll see the words “Jesus Saves” plastered any and everywhere. Sometimes in the weirdest of places. In my own life, I’ve seen “Jesus Saves” on posters at football games; written in sharpie on Converse toe pieces; car bumper stickers with groovy font; tattoos on arms, backs, and ankles; billboard signs, complete with cheesy-looking images of clouds or ideas of heaven; the oddly trendy “Jesus saves, bro” t-shirts sold on Etsy and other online markets; jewelry, especially those elastic “Live Strong” style bracelets that were made popular when I was in middle school; carved into sand at the beach…you get the point.
Jesus saves. The message is certainly out there! (And I bet you could add a few more places to the list!)
But how often do we go any deeper than that? What are we saved from? How are we saved? What does it mean to be saved? Who gets to decide if we’re saved? What happens if we’re not saved?
These are the questions that soteriology–the theology of salvation–tries to address.
These are the questions that point to the work of Jesus Christ in the world and are the foundation of the Christian faith. These are the same questions that the crowds were demanding of Jesus when he was still walking in flesh and blood on this earth.
In Matthew 9 (retold also in Mark 2 and Luke 5), Jesus is approached by men who are bringing their paralytic friend to him. Jesus saw their faith in coming to Him for all their needs, so Jesus declares, “Take heart, son, your sins are forgiven.”
Unfortunately, this is not exactly the celebratory moment that one might expect. Instead of firing off confetti poppers that Jesus has saved the man from the power of sin in his life, the scribes and the crowd are ready to fire shots. Salvation belongs to God alone! How dare Jesus claim to have this power of God!
In a moment of divine sass, Jesus sets the record straight. It might be harder for the crowds to understand how Jesus saves us from sins because it’s a gift of radical grace that we cannot see. But to Jesus–who is fully human and fully God–it is just as easy to work in the unseen parts of our lives as the seen. And to prove his point, Jesus miraculously heals the man as a physical sign of the wholeness that he is also now experiencing spiritually.
Later, as Paul reflects to his co-laborer in ministry, God saves us through and through. The Father was willing to give his son. Jesus obeyed the Father’s perfect will to come to earth as a baby, to live a righteous life, to pay the price for sin (which is death, even death on a cross), and to be resurrected to life as the Good Judge and King of this new Kingdom of God. By grace and faith alone, Jesus gives us some of his righteousness so that we may be renewed by the Holy Spirit for the good life that God always created us for.
The exact how of this salvation is impossible for us to fully get our minds around, just like the crowds who struggled because they couldn’t see the paralyzed man’s sins being forgiven the same way that they could see his healing. The Scriptures give us many metaphors to help us navigate this complex gift of salvation that has been given, and different Christian traditions are prone to emphasizing some of these metaphors more than others in attempts to explain this great and wonderful mystery of salvation.
But more important than knowing the exact how is knowing the who. Jesus Christ’s work freeing us–individually and collectively–from the power of sin and death is intrinsically connected to who he is. This was the point of the story in Matthew 9: to reveal to the crowds and us that Jesus is the beginning, middle, and end of our salvation.
We are saved because the Father loves us too much to allow the cancer of sin to continue to unjustly plague the world He loves. We are saved because Jesus has come to us, and where there is light, the darkness must flee (Isaiah 9:2). We are saved because the Holy Spirit transforms us to desire more and more to love and seek this God out over our selfish ambitions.
We are saved by knowing the who: the One, risen, Lord.
“Salvation is not what is frequently understood by the world, the going to heaven, eternal happiness…It is not a blessing which lies on the other side of death, or (as we usually speak) in the other world…It is not something at a distance: it is a present thing, a blessing which, through the free mercy of God, ye are now in possession of…The salvation which is here spoken of might be extended to the entire work of God, from the first dawning of grace in the soul till it is consummated in glory.” –John Wesley
Are you more like the paralytic man who had faith in Jesus or the scribes who had a hard time believing in a salvation that is unseen? Why do you think that is?
How does knowing salvation from sin is closely related to the person and character of Jesus Christ help you accept this gift?
What metaphors for Jesus’ salvation can you find in scripture? How do these metaphors help you get a better idea of what Jesus has done for you? What questions do these metaphors still leave you with?