Salvation – Crossing Over – Part 6

And now, O Lord, shine within our hearts with the true light of Your divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our minds that we might comprehend the message of Your Word. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Throughout this Lenten season we’ve been talking about how we can know for certain whether we’re saved. And for the past couple of weeks we’ve been talking about the doctrine of election: the idea that God chooses some people over others before they’re ever even born. We’ve already seen that God chose a man named Abraham to be the father of a people whom God has chosen to be used “to be a blessing to all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:2).  And we see right here the purpose of God’s election—it’s never about loving this person over that person, it’s always about a particular person or people that God intends to use to bless others.

Now Abraham and Sarah are old and when they get tired of waiting for God to give them a child, they take matters into their own hands and Abraham has a son by Sarah’s servant, Hagar. A son that they name Ishmael and Abraham thinks that now he has his heir. But he has neglected to understand that God chose not only Abraham but also Sarah to be the parents of the one through whom God’s chosen people will be descended. We don’t know why God chooses Isaac, the only son of Sarah, over Ishmael—and over the six other sons that Abraham will father after Sarah dies. We only know that He does. And then when Isaac and his wife Rebekah have twin boys, God chooses Jacob over his brother Esau. Jacob has twelve sons, all of whom are a part of God’s people. But of them, God elects Judah, son number four, to be the one from whom Jesus will be descended.

Jacob has known about the God of his father and grandfather all his life. But it is only when he learns that his brother Esau, who had threatened to kill Jacob the last time they saw one another, is now coming with 400 men, that Jacob, afraid not only for his life, but also for that of his wives and his children, wrestles with God all night long and finally comes to know God personally. And God tells gives Jacob a new name—Israel.

Eventually God uses Israel’s son Joseph and a drought to move Israel and all of his sons their families to Egypt—because God wants to use His chosen people to show the world the glory of their great God. Joseph moves everyone in the family to Egypt—seventy people plus the wives of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 46:26-27). Israel dies in Egypt and that’s where the book of Genesis ends.

We turn the page in our Bibles to the book of Exodus and discover that 400 years have passed. Joseph is long dead and nobody in Egypt remembers him anymore or cares about how he saved the nation. But the Israelite people are still there; we’re told that “they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7). But now they’re in bondage. Bondage to Pharaoh, who’s made them his slaves, forcing them to work long hours under the hot Egyptian sun, making bricks with ever increasing quotas.  

Now there’s nothing really special about these descendants of Israel—they’re just another Middle Eastern people, common laborers. Except, of course, for the fact that they were chosen by God for a purpose. Chosen to “be a blessing to the nations.” Chosen for reasons that have nothing to do with the merits of the Israelites themselves.

God had a plan, as we talked about last week—a plan that He purposed before He created this world and the universe in which it exists. A plan, that from the very beginning, included sending His Son into the world to live among us and then to die on a cross and rise from the dead.

And God’s rescue of these ordinary Israelite people from slavery in Egypt was part of that plan. Moses, the plagues, the Passover—all were part of God’s great salvation plan.

2000 years before the infant Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, God sent a sign—a sign like a huge, bright, blazing billboard of a sign—foreshadowing and pointing to the mission of the Christ Child.

I want you to think about this for a minute. If we were somehow able to travel back in time 4000 years and talk to one of these Israelites, after they had been rescued from slavery, crossed the Red Sea and were on their wilderness journey to the Promised Land of Canaan, and we were able to ask them what had happened to them, they might have replied this way: “I was in bondage in a foreign land, under sentence of death, but I took shelter under the blood of the lamb and was set free from bondage and death. Then we crossed over, and now we’re on our way to the Promised Land. We’re not there yet, but God’s given us His law to make us a community. And He’s given us the Tabernacle because you have to live by grace and forgiveness. His presence is in our midst, and He’s promised to stay with us until we finally make it home.”

4000 years ago—Jesus has not yet been born, but already He’s at work in the world setting His people free. Because aren’t these pretty much the same words that we would use to describe what Jesus has done for us?

Salvation is all about getting us out of bondage. That’s what the word redemption means.

So 4000 years ago in ancient Egypt, after a series of plagues that pretty much destroyed the nation, there came that final awful Passover night when the angel of death traveled through the entire nation killing the eldest son in every single Egyptian household—and not a single Israelite son was killed. And finally, Pharaoh told the Israelites to go. To get out of Egypt—now. We’re told later in Numbers 1:46 that there were 604,550 Israelite men plus women and children, so there were likely at least a million people who quickly gathered up their belongings and marched out of Egypt. But instead of heading North, which might have seemed the more logical route, God tells them to go south and they end up in the wilderness.

This wasn’t because they’d somehow gotten God’s directions wrong, but because they’d gotten them exactly right.

Now we’re told by the author of Hebrews that Moses somehow was special even as an infant. Pharaoh had ordered all the Israelite baby boys to be killed at birth, but when his daughter found the baby Moses in a basket on the Nile, she took him home and adopted him. So Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s palace as a member of the royal family. Apparently, however, he didn’t forget His Jewish roots because one day, when he was 40 years old, Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Israelite and he intervened, killing the Egyptian. When Pharaoh heard about it, he wanted to kill Moses, so Moses fled to the land of Midian, where he spent the next 40 years. Living the life of a simple shepherd, “enduring as seeing him who is invisible,” according to Hebrews 11:27.

Moses endured—did he know that God had bigger things in mind for him? The author of Hebrews seems to think so. He could have used the Egyptian’s attack on the Hebrew as an opportunity to stir up a revolt among the Israelite people; with his leadership and their huge numbers, the Israelite slaves would have had a good chance of success. But unlike Abraham and Sarah, who got tired of waiting for God to act and took matters into their own hands to get the son that God had promised them, Moses simply waited; he went to Midian and waited—for forty years. When God finally called Him, Moses was 80 years old. Then he waited through nine plagues—waited and allowed God to work.

And finally, the final plague, the Passover. The Passover, where we see the angel of death pass by every house where he saw the blood of a lamb over the doorpost. Strange as it must have seemed to him, Moses believed God’s promise that this protection would work, and it did. Even Pharaoh’s firstborn son lay dead the next morning, along with thousands of others. But among the Israelites, not a single soul  perished, exactly as Moses had predicted. The Egyptians begged the Israelites to leave, even heaping treasure upon them to speed them on their way.

Pharaoh and the Egyptians had repeatedly refused to obey God’s commands, but that night every single Israelite obeyed God’s command to mark the entrance to their house with the blood of the Passover lamb. The instructions were strange, the demand was difficult (a lamb without blemish), and the ritual was unlike any they’d ever seen or heard—nevertheless, they did exactly as they were told.

It wasn’t that the Israelite people were somehow better than the Egyptians—it’s simply that they were obedient. At least in this instance. Pharaoh had repeatedly—ten times—refused to obey God’s command to let the people go.

So the Israelites headed out—but then the Egyptians changed their minds and decided that they’d made a huge mistake. So Pharaoh called out “600 chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt” (Exodus 14:7) and his entire army and they headed out to either bring back the Israelites or kill them.

Now we’re told in Exodus 13:18 that “the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle,” but when they saw the Egyptian army pursuing them they were terrified. They had reached the shores of the Red Sea and now they were trapped with the sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army closing in behind them.

What were they to do? What could they do? “The people of Israel cried out to the Lord” (Exodus 14:10)

Then they complained to Moses: “Didn’t we tell you that this was a big mistake? Didn’t we tell you to leave us alone and let us serve the Egyptians?” Now of course they hadn’t actually said any of those things—they were all for getting out of Egypt. Until things got difficult.

“And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord. … The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent’” (Exodus 14:13-14).

And God told Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to go forward. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water.” Now again, this must have seemed impossible, but by faith Moses obeyed, and we’re told that the waters were driven back all night by a powerful east wind. And Hebrews 11:29 says that “by faith the people crossed the Red Sea on dry land.”

By faith—what does that mean? A million people are crossing over—and they’re crossing the Red Sea. There are differing views on just how long this took, but pretty much everyone who’s studied this agrees that the crossing took a least several hours and probably longer. So men and women and children are walking between these rolled back walls of water for hours. And as they walked, surely some of them were thinking, “Wow! God is great! When God said He’d fight for us, we never imagined anything like this!” (Those are the people who today would spend their vacations bungee jumping and whitewater rafting and engaging in other extreme sports.) At the same time, there were other people walking between those two walls of water, thinking, “I’m going to die. We’re all going to die. We’re never going to make it.”

Those people crossed over the Red Sea on dry land with greatly varying qualities of faith. But all of them crossed over—they were all equally saved. Because we’re not saved based on the quality of our faith. We’re saved based on the object of our faith—our Redeemer, our God who is fighting for us.

And then when the Egyptians tried to follow them across, Moses stretched out his staff and the waters returned, drowning the entire Egyptian army. Exodus 14:30 says, “Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.”

Because the Egyptians tried to cross over with zero faith. Their faith was in Pharaoh—and God is making it known who it is that has a right to claim ownership to the Israelite people. Not the enslaving king who had long been their master—but the divine Lord who had come to Egypt for the purpose of claiming, redeeming and delivering them.

Standing on the shore of the Red Sea with the army fast approaching, the future of Israel was at stake—and the people were in no position to settle the matter one way or another. The Lord God had determined, however, that they were His chosen people and so He delivered them with His mighty arm.

Pretty soon, however, if you keep reading the book of Exodus, you’ll find the Israelite people complaining again. They complain about the food, about the lack of water … complain, complain, complain.

“We’re going to die in the wilderness—and it’s all your fault, Moses. You and that God of yours.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Israelite people are a picture of us. They were in bondage—but there was more than one layer to their bondage. They’ve been rescued from one of those layer of bondage, their slavery to the Egyptians. But in their hearts, they were still slaves. You can take the people out of slavery, but it’s harder to take the slavery out of people.

God had delivered the Israelite people through a series of miraculous events—the plagues, the Passover, the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of the Egyptian army. But still the people complained—complained that God wasn’t doing enough. And their complaining was sin. They had been set free from slavery to the Egyptians, but they were still in bondage to sinful habits.

Like us—because even when we accept Christ—even when Christ accepts us—we’re still in bondage to sinful habits.

Moses climbs Mt. Sinai to meet with God, to receive the Ten Commandments, and the people get tired of waiting for him to come back down. They make a golden calf to worship. You might not have a golden calf that you bow down to, but, like them, we’re still in bondage to idols, too. Because if we love anything more than God—even if that thing is our own sense of security or desire for comfort or significance, that thing is a false god—it’s an idol. It’s a power in our life, a power that, like Pharaoh, is continually saying, “Serve me or die.”

When the Israelites are on the banks of the Red Sea, Pharaoh is no longer their master. He said, “Go,” and they did. But now he says, “I want you back.” This happens to all of us. It can be our career, our children, our spouse, our finances—it can even be worry or anxiety that we’re in bondage to. When the Israelites were on the banks of the Red Sea, God said that He would fight for them—but then He told them to “go forward.” They couldn’t just stand there, paralyzed by fear.

If you believe that your value, your worth, is determined by how good you are at doing your job or being a parent or a spouse or managing your finances, those things have become an idol. And when problems occur, we’re paralyzed with fear because our old master is there saying, “Serve me or die. You need me. You can’t live without me.” And even though we’ve given our life to Christ, even though we’ve been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, we’re still terrified.

We know that we’ve been saved—and at the same time, we’re not sure. We know we should be free. We know in our head that there’s no condemnation in Christ Jesus, that by faith we have been saved. But in our heart we don’t fully believe it. And all too often we let what other people think of us, or our success or failure in marriage or our work or other relationships either build us up or destroy us. We do this because our hearts are still enslaved. God has freed us from the things we remain enslaved to, but we just haven’t yet fully grasped that reality.

Many of you have read the book Same Kind of Different as Me or seen the movie that tells the story of Denver Moore, the homeless black man who become a famous artist and speaker after being befriended by Debbie Hall and her husband Ron. Denver was born in 1937 on a southern plantation, and although the slaves in this country had been emancipated since 1863, Denver and his family worked the cotton fields with little or no pay, living in a way that was no different from generations of slaves before them. Denver was an adult before he realized that he was a free man and didn’t have to stay on the plantation.

And even after he knew that he had rights, when a white person yelled at him, he was still scared. He still acted like a slave.

We struggle with a similar kind of bondage. Even though we have been set free from sin by the shed blood of Jesus Christ, the blood of the perfect Lamb of God, we continue to struggle with sin and guilt. Just being told that “If you believe in Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven, there’s no condemnation for you, you are accepted—you have been adopted into the family of God,” isn’t enough. That’s why we go back to trying to earn our salvation, trying to be perfect.

Even though we know in our head that because we have believed in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we’re not in bondage to the law anymore, we’re still in bondage subjectively.

In Christ’s finished work we have already been freed from the penalty of sin. But we’re still in the process of getting free from the power of sin, even though we know that we will eventually be free from the very presence of sin. That’s justification, sanctification and glorification.

Jesus’ salvation is about getting out of bondage. And how do we get there? We get there by crossing over by grace.

In Exodus 14:13-14, Moses tells the Israelites who are crying out, “Fear not. Stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord.” He says, “The Lord will fight for you. The Lord will deliver you.”

This is what grace is: it’s understanding that you can’t do it. You can’t deliver yourself.  You can’t even contribute anything to it. But if you stand firm, God will do it for you—He has promised to do it for you.

Romans 4:5 “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness”—sounds a lot like “Stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord which he will work for you today.”

“Be still and know that I am God.” Receive salvation not by anything you do but by the work of Christ Jesus. This is how grace operates. It operates by crossing over.

On one side of the Red Sea, the Israelites are still within the reach of their old false ruler. Pharaoh is coming to kill them. They’re under a sentence of death. But as they crossed over, they crossed over from death to life.

God did all the work and they just had to “go forward”–they had to cross over. Cross over when God told them it was time. This is how Christianity is different from every other religion. Every other religion is trying to build a bridge to get across, trying to work hard enough to make it to the other side.

With Christianity, however, one minute you’re not saved—the next minute you are. One minute you’re not adopted—the next minute you are. Have you ever been adopted or known someone who was adopted? You either are or you aren’t. You’re not partially adopted. You’re either in the kingdom of darkness or you’ve been transferred into the kingdom of God, the kingdom of light.

There is no in between, no middle ground.

Did you understand this? A lot of people don’t. Some of you probably don’t. A lot of people, when asked whether they’re a Christian, will say something like, “Well, I’m trying.”

Nobody’s a Christian from trying. To be a Christian is to receive a change of status. Once you were not a member of the family of God, now you are a member of the family of God. Once you were not born again, now you are. Once you were not justified, now you are.

Not because you deserve it. Not because you’ve earned it. Not because of your goodness. Look at the apostle Paul. Paul was a Pharisee who killed people—until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.

The salvation that Jesus offers is the same kind of salvation that God’s people experienced when they came out of Egypt. In both the OT and the NT salvation is deliverance. In its most general sense salvation in Christ is a rescue. And in order for us to be rescued, it is necessary for Jesus to destroy our enemies, just as God destroyed the Egyptians in the waters of the Red Sea. Salvation is never complete until the enemy is destroyed, for while the enemy lives, it continues to pose a threat to the safety of those who have been saved.

As we read the entire story of the Exodus, we find that in one man, Moses, we have a man who so identifies with the Israelites that their guilt is upon him even as, as the same time, he is so identified with God that God’s power is coming through him. We have a foreshadowing of Jesus, Son of God. Moses, like Jesus, is the man in the middle.

In Jesus, however, we don’t have a man who is fully man and close to God. We have a mediator who is fully God and fully man. A mediator who is never, even once, rebuked for sin.

When Jonah was in the boat and the storm of God’s wrath was about to sink the boat, Jonah tells the sailors to thrown him in so they can be saved. They threw him in and they were saved.

Jesus said, “someone greater than Jonah is here,” speaking of Himself. It means that Jesus Christ, Son of God, was on the Cross thrown into the ocean of God’s wrath. All the plagues came down on Jesus; darkness came down on Him. Jesus was crossing over so that we too could cross over. So that we, too, could be saved.

When God said, “I brought you out of Egypt so you can be holy,” He’s saying that we’re saved by faith alone, but not by faith that remains alone. We’re called to be His people that we can be a blessing to the whole world. And so in His call to be holy, we’re called to do the works that will cause us to be a blessing. We see this foreshadowed in the Exodus story—this is the amazing gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We’re called to go forward until we really believe that the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ, cleanses us from all our sins.

Let us pray.

April 2019 Annoucements

MEMORIAL DAY DINNER is fast approaching. Volunteers are needed to help plan the event as well as to help on the day of the dinner. Please talk to Pastor Kathy if you’re able to help with advance planning.

NEXT SUNDAY, APRIL 28, IS OUR SPRING WORK DAY: Come prepared to help clean up the church, inside and out, in preparation for the summer season.

BETHANY LIFE ANNUAL MEETING will be held on Thursday, April 25. 5:30 pm Social Hour, 6:00 pm Meeting begins.

SUNDAY MORNING PRAYER MINISTRY in the Fellowship Room is  again available to all. We encourage everyone to bring their prayer needs to our prayer team.

THE MOVIE UNPLANNED continues to be playing in Ames. This movie is the true story of Abby Johnson, the youngest clinic director in the history of Planned Parenthood, who, through a life-changing experience, becomes a prolife activist. 

WINGS OF REFUGE IS LOOKING FOR VOLUNTEERS: They’re looking for In-Home Volunteers, In-Home Mentors, people to serve on their Development Team, and Board members. All volunteers are required to attend volunteer training. If you’re interested, please talk to Pastor Kathy for more information.

APRIL-SEPTEMBER 2019 SERVING OUR CHURCH booklets are available on the table in the narthex.

PORTALS OF PRAYER for April-June are available on the table in the narthex.

GUITAR LESSONS will be held on the second and fourth Sunday of each month in the conference room. Adults will meet at 10:45 and children at 11:45.

CONFERENCE ROOM SIGN-UP: Our Conference Room is in high demand on Sunday mornings, so we’re asking you to sign up in the church office if you plan to use that room for a meeting or class to avoid conflicts. Reservations will be on a first come, first serve basis.

ATTENTION MEMBERS: Offering income is not keeping up with expenses due largely to several weeks with little or no offering due to winter weather. Our General Fund is currently in the red. Please prayerfully consider your weekly contributions to help us bridge the gap in collections as compared to expenses.

Give because you trust God.

Ken Meimann and Board of Trustees

NEEDED: One or two volunteers are needed to oversee the church library. If God is calling you to do this, please talk to Pastor Kathy.

NEEDED: One or two volunteers to oversee the church kitchen: keep track of supplies, check refrigerators for food that should be discarded, organize periodic cleaning. If God is calling you to do this, please talk to Pastor Kath.

COLO NESCO HIGH SCHOOL BLOOD DRIVE: Wednesday, April 24, 12:00 PM – 4:00 PM at Colo-Nesco High School Bloodmobile, 919 West Street in Colo. To make an appointment, call the Colo campus at 641-377-2282.

THURSDAY MORNING WOMEN’S BIBLE STUDY is currently doing a DVD study based on John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping.  All women in the congregation are welcome and encouraged to join us at 10:00 AM on Thursday mornings. Come and grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ and with one another.

SUNDAY NIGHT MEN would also welcome additional men to join them at 7:00 PM.

SUNDAY MORNING PRAYER MINISTERS will gather in the Fellowship Room for a time of prayer following our worship service this morning. If you are presently involved in our prayer ministry, or if you would like to be, join us. Anyone in need of prayer is encouraged to come and receive.

“LOOSE CHANGE TO LOOSEN CHAINS: Our 8th grade confirmands are collecting loose change to benefit victims of human trafficking. All proceeds go toward the work of the International Justice Mission. They have set a goal of $3000.00. So far they have collected $2,266.08.

WINGS OF REFUGE CAPITAL CAMPAIGN continues; donations may be made payable to Bethany. Our goal is $4,000.00. To date, we have collected $3,080.00.

ALUMINUM CAN TABS continue to be collected. Tabs go to the Rochester, Minnesota, Ronald McDonald House, where they benefit the families of seriously ill children hospitalized at Mayo.

ORDER EASTER LILIES NOW:  Cost is $10.00 per plant.

LENTEN SERVICES will be held in the Fellowship Hall at 7:00 PM each Wednesday during Lent. Join us as we explore how to grow in our communication with God. We will be joined by Pastor Tom Poppe  and our brothers and sisters from the McCallsburg Presbyterian Church and Bethel United Methodist Church.

THE MOVIE UNPLANNED is now playing in Ames. This movie is the true story of Abby Johnson, the youngest clinic director in the history of Planned Parenthood, who, through a life-changing experience, becomes a prolife activist. 

WINGS OF REFUGE IS LOOKING FOR VOLUNTEERS: They’re looking for In-Home Volunteers, In-Home Mentors, people to serve on their Development Team, and Board members. All volunteers are required to attend volunteer training. If you’re interested, please talk to Pastor Kathy for more information.

PALM SUNDAY, April 14. Sunday School students are asked to meet in the chapel at 9:15 am to prepare for the Palm Sunday processional.

MAUNDY THURSDAY WORSHIP WITH HOLY COMMUNION: Thursday, April 18, 7:00 PM.

GOOD FRIDAY WORSHIP: Friday, April 19, 2019, 7:00 PM.

EASTER SUNDAY: The Luther League will serve breakfast from

8:00 – 9:00 am; a free will offering will be collected. Worship with Holy Communion at 9:30 am.

EASTER EGG HUNT: 10:00 on Saturday, April 13, at the McCallsburg City Park. In case of rain, the event will be held in the McCallsburg Elementary Gym.

APRIL-SEPTEMBER 2019 SERVING OUR CHURCH booklets are available on the table in the narthex.

PORTALS OF PRAYER  for April-June are available on the table in the narthex.

GUITAR LESSONS will be held on the second and fourth Sunday of each month in the conference room. Adults will meet at 10:45 and children at 11:45. CONFERENCE ROOM SIGN-UP: Our Conference Room is in high demand on Sunday mornings, so we’re asking you to sign up in the church office if you plan to use that room for a meeting or class to avoid conflicts. Reservations will be on a first come, first serve basis.

THURSDAY MORNING WOMEN’S BIBLE STUDY continues their DVD study this week based on the book “God Is Closer Than you Think” by John Ortberg. As we go through this six week study, we’ll learn how to better enjoy a vibrant, moment-by-moment relationship with our heavenly Father. All women in the congregation are welcome and encouraged to join us at 10:00 AM on Thursday mornings. Come and grow in your relationship with Jesus Christ and with one another.

SUNDAY NIGHT MEN are currently studying Kyle Idleman’s Easter Experience. All men are welcome to join them at 7:00 PM.

SUNDAY MORNING PRAYER MINISTERS will gather in the Fellowship Room for a time of prayer following our worship service this morning. If you are presently involved in our prayer ministry, or if you would like to be, join us. Anyone in need of prayer is encouraged to come and receive.

“LOOSE CHANGE TO LOOSEN CHAINS: Our 8th grade confirmands are collecting loose change to benefit victims of human trafficking. All proceeds go toward the work of the International Justice Mission. They have set a goal of $3000.00. So far, they have collected $2,181.76.

WINGS OF REFUGE CAPITAL CAMPAIGN continues; donations may be made payable to Bethany. Our goal is $4,000.00. To date, we have collected $3,080.00.ALUMINUM CAN TABS continue to be collected. Tabs go to the Rochester, Minnesota, Ronald McDonald House, where they benefit the families of seriously ill children hospitalized at Mayo.

Salvation: The Doctrine of Election – Part 4

Predestination, election, calling—three terms that we often hear used interchangeably; three terms that I think are among the least understood doctrines in the church. And when it comes to election and predestination, probably among the least talked about doctrines in the church.

These three terms are related, but they are not the same. This morning we’re going to focus on the doctrine of election, a doctrine that we find throughout all of Scripture, but that has always been considered both difficult and controversial, probably because it is so often misunderstood.

And while we are NOT talking about politics this morning, the biblical doctrine of election is, in some ways, like political elections. Because when we vote, we choose one candidate over others. And the doctrine of biblical election is essentially that God chooses—or elects—some people over others. 

We find this from the very beginning. God chose Noah over all the other people on the earth; He chose  Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Moses over Aaron and Miriam, David over his brothers. He chose the Israelite people over all others.

In the New Testament, Jesus chose—or elected–twelve men to be His apostles, to be the beginning of a new people—a people from whom you and I are descended. God’s people.

Nobody who knows anything about the Bible denies that God does this, that He chooses—or elects—particular people over others. The reason this doctrine is problematic to many is that they don’t understand it.

We heard in our passage from Romans, in v17, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’” Paul goes on to say in v18, “So then He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.”

Because the Lord told Moses in Exodus 10:1 that God had hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Judas, too, was apparently chosen—elected—to be the one who would betray Jesus. Presumably both Pharaoh and Judas will not be enjoying eternity in heaven.

We read verses like the ones you heard in John’s gospel: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:6) and “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me” (John 17:9).  And Romans 9:13, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13), and we think that God is being unfair. We wonder: “What about all those people that God didn’t give Jesus? What happens to them?”

If the doctrine of election seems unfair to you, however, the problem isn’t God—it’s us. Because while we can very easily see that election is occurring, we have to look at a bigger picture to understand how and why this is happening. And when we understand it, we can see that not only is the doctrine of election not unfair—it’s a very good thing for you and for me. My prayer is that this morning we’ll all gain a much greater understanding of God’s election process.

Thousands of years ago, God chose—or elected—a man named Abram to be the father of His chosen people, and then He chose Isaac to be the son through whom those chosen people would be descended. We don’t know why God chose Abraham instead of someone else; it’s easier to understand His reason for choosing Isaac over Ishmael. Isaac’s birth was the direct result of God’s intervention and was foreseen by a divine promise—a promise that God would give a son to Abraham by Sarah. Ishmael’s birth was the result of Sarah and Abraham trying to come up with their own plan to get a child. Certainly God has a right to choose His plan over theirs.

This is what Paul is saying when he says, in v6-7, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’”

Later when Isaac’s wife Rebekah, like Sarah, was childless, God again intervened. “Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren, and the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived” (Genesis 25:21-22). Conceived twins—was this part of God’s plan? Or was it somehow a mistake?

Well, we know that God doesn’t make mistakes, so clearly it was part of His plan to Rebekah to give birth to twin boys. But even though both sons, Jacob and Esau, are Isaac’s sons, direct descendants of Abraham and Sarah, God still chose between them—and He made His choice before they were even born. As Paul wrote in Romans 9:11-12: “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’”

And so Jacob, despite being the younger son, receives the promise—and the blessing from Isaac. Now Jacob and Rebekah tricked Isaac into giving the blessing to Jacob instead of the Esau—but surely God could have prevented that.

We know that none of these are mistakes because God tells us. In Genesis 25:23, after Rebekah wonders why the two children within her are already struggling with one another, “The Lord said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.’”

God chose Jacob’s line to be the one through whom His promise to Abraham would be fulfilled. And He did this despite the fact that Jacob wasn’t really a very nice person. There’s no evidence at all that he was any better than Esau.

The choice of one over another is made by God’s grace for reasons that we don’t know and don’t understand—but that clearly have nothing to do with the goodness of the one chosen. Both Jacob and Esau are equally sinners.

Then Jacob has twelve sons, and God chooses Judah to be the one through whom His promise of a Savior will be fulfilled. Why? Judah wasn’t the son of Rachel, the one Jacob loved. It’s clear from the story that had Jacob been able to decide which of his sons would be chosen—elected—to be the one through whom God’s promise would be fulfilled, he would surely have chosen either Joseph or Benjamin. And Judah is the only son who gets his own chapter devoted to showing us just what a sinner he is.

Moses is chosen by God to lead God’s chosen people out of Egypt, but then God doesn’t let him enter the Promised Land—because he’s a sinner. Even Noah who’s described as a “righteous man,” isn’t elected, or chosen, because of his goodness. Noah emerges from the ark and plants a vineyard and the only thing we hear about him after that is that he gets drunk—sin is still alive and well in the world.

1500 years after Genesis is written, God chooses—elects—a man named Saul to become the greatest missionary in the early church. A man who, up until God informed him of the purpose he had for him, was arresting and killing Christians, a man who was putting all of his effort into destroying the early church.

No wonder we’re confused by this doctrine of election.

Paul tells us that God elects some over others for a reason—and then He writes in v 12: “As it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’” And right here, I think, is why we have so much trouble with the doctrine of election. We read this verse and we interpret it to mean that God elects certain people—before any of us are ever even born—to love. And that—before any of us are even born—He chooses some of us to hate. We further interpret this to mean, then, that those God loves go to heaven and those God hates go to hell.

And we wonder why God would create a system like this. We think it’s unfair. We know enough about hell to know it’s a terrible place, a place that no one would ever want to be for even five minutes, let alone eternity. And God is condemning some people to go there before they’re ever even born?

No—He’s not. This is not what the doctrine of election means at all.  How do we know? Well… let’s begin at the beginning.

First of all, we know that God is good—all the time. And just before writing these words about election, Paul has reminded his reader at the end of chapter 8, that: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). And: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? …. I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Then we read: “‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Now stop for a moment and think back to Jesus’ words in Luke 4:26: ”If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” This is the same Jesus who commands us to love one another. So Jesus isn’t telling us that we are to literally hate our parents or our spouse or our children—He’s telling us that we must prefer Jesus over them.

So Paul, as he quotes the prophet Malachi, isn’t saying that God literally hates Esau. God is good—all the time. And God doesn’t hate anyone or anything. Jesus, in John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” He doesn’t say, “For God so loved some of the world,” or “For God so loved the people that He elected”—“For God so loved the world.” All of it. Every single one of us.

What Paul is saying is that God chose—or elected—Jacob over Esau to be the one through whom His promise to Abraham would be fulfilled. God made a deliberate choice in favor of Jacob—before Jacob was ever born.

This is important for us to understand—really important. Because what we see is that God’s choice of Isaac instead of Ishmael and Jacob instead of Esau doesn’t have anything to do with them or with any works they might have done or not done. God’s choice is entirely about His mind and His will, as He is the one who chooses or elects.

But then we come to another potential problem: does this mean that God is just arbitrary? That He just chooses one person over another for no reason? No—Paul’s not saying that God doesn’t have reasons. He is saying that the reasons aren’t in us. He’s saying that believers can have no sense of superiority over unbelievers.

But if God is choosing people for no reason that we can know, doesn’t that mean that He’s rejecting other people for no reason? When He chose Jacob over Esau, for example, wasn’t He rejecting Esau? Again, the answer is no. God does not reject anyone.

Ephesians 1:11 says that “We have received an inheritance from God, for He chose us in advance, and He makes everything work out according to His plan.” We don’t live in a world of random happenings. We constantly hear about all the problems of the world and about climate change and about how things are spinning out of control and we need to do something. But the Christian can rest in the knowledge that God has everything under control—we may still need to do something, but He’ll show us what that is if we let Him.

You and I and everyone else might not have expected a lot of things that have happened—but nothing ever takes God by surprise.  Proverbs 16:33 says, “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.”  Even the flip of a coin is part of His plan. This should be tremendously reassuring. Especially when bad things happen.

God is good—all the time. The evil of the world wasn’t part of God original design. Death, disease, sin and decay are a temporary result of sin. Psalm 56:8 says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” God is distressed by our distress and grieved by our pain. But because we know that God is good—all the time—we can be certain that even our troubles and sorrows and pain will be used by Him in a way that in the end will result in God’s glory and in “good” for His people. The good that’s promised in Romans 8:28: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Let’s look at some specific ways that God uses this doctrine of election in people’s lives:

Twelve men were chosen to be Jesus’ apostles—one of them, Judas, was chosen to betray Jesus, chosen beforehand.  In Acts 2:23, Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, put it this way: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Judas delivered Jesus into the hands of those “lawless men” and on that Friday as the Son of God was nailed to a wooden cross, it seemed to be the worst possible thing imaginable. Everyone involved, from the high priest to the Sanhedrin to Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers, engaged in actions that were wicked beyond belief—and yet God used their evil intentions to carry out the crucifixion exactly how and when He wanted it. So Peter says in Acts 1:16, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.” Was Judas nevertheless responsible for his decision to betray Jesus? Absolutely. Did he suffer the consequences of his bad choices? He did. But God was still in control.

Jacob deceived his father and robbed his brother. He was forced to flee his home as a result of his own wrongdoing. But in traveling to the home of his uncle Laban he met and married the love of his life, Rachel, and had the children through whom Jesus would be descended (Genesis 27-28). This wasn’t some accidental happening—it was all part of God’s perfect plan for him. God was in control even when Jacob wasn’t.

Moses was chosen by God to lead the Israelite people out of Egypt. It was no accident that he was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter as an infant. He was perfectly positioned as both a Hebrew and a member of the royal family to go before Pharaoh on behalf of his people.

Then we have to wonder: do we really have free will? Or, as some people think, are we really just puppets controlled by God? People who just think we’re making our own choices?

Theologian J. Gresham Machen answers these questions this way:

“What we learn here is that God somehow brings about the actions of people in a way that at the same time fully preserves their freedom and responsibility. If you struggle to understand that, consider this: all of us have at times tried to persuade someone to do something that we want them to do. When they choose to do what we ask them to do, they’re doing it of their own free will. Is it so hard to believe then that God is able to do with certainty what we with our little power do with uncertainty? Does God who made the soul know how to move it in accordance with its own nature so that its freedom shall not be destroyed?”

So … what about the really important question: our salvation? Does this doctrine of election say that God has determined in advance who will be saved and who will not? Absolutely not. People who choose God do so only because God has opened their hearts. People who fail to choose God do so only because they have closed their hearts to Him.

Romans 3:11 says “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”  

All of us have free will. Yet none of us will ever seek God on our own. Because of sin, all of us have lost the ability to see truth and the desire to serve God. We are completely incapable of choosing God unless He breaks in—and that’s what He does. We don’t initiate our salvation—we don’t even want it. God wakes us up, He unlocks us from a helpless state.

If any of us are saved, it is entirely because of the mercy and choice of God. At the same time, if any of us is lost, it is entirely our responsibility.

Jesus says, in Luke 7:30, “the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves.” In John 8:37, Jesus tells the Jews, “You seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you.” And in John 8:43, He says, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.”

God is good—all the time. The Bible tells us that He desires that all people be saved. But some people refuse to come to Him. Some people choose to reject Him.

When we understand this doctrine of election we can know that salvation truly is by grace alone and God alone—not on the basis of anything in us. The real question isn’t why God doesn’t take all of us, but rather why He takes any.

Imagine that five of your friends make a plan to rob a bank. You find out about it and you try to stop them. You beg them not to do it, but they refuse to listen. They push you out of the way and head off. You, however, tackle one of them and wrestle him to the ground. The other four rob the bank, killing a guard in the process. They’re caught and arrested, convicted and sentenced. The man you held down goes free. So whose fault is it that the four men died? And can the fifth man claim that he’s free because he made a good decision? The only reason he’s free is because you restrained him.

So those who go to hell have no one to blame but themselves. God didn’t choose for them to go. And those who go to heaven have no one to praise but Christ Jesus. So salvation is, from beginning to end, totally about the grace of God.

And, brothers and sisters in Christ, this is good news. Because electing love is ultimate love. If God loved us because He found something good in us, we’d always have to be afraid of losing His love. And we’d never find His love a total miracle. The good news is that God doesn’t say “I love you because you are useful to me” or “I love you because you are more humble than others.” He says, “I love you simply because I love you—love you with an everlasting love.”

This is perfect love. From our great God—who is good. All the time.

Let us pray.

Salvation: Doctrine of Inability – Part 3

How can we know if we’re really saved? Can we really know? The apostle John wrote in his first letter: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (I John 5:13). So, yes, it is definitely possible to know for sure.

Two weeks ago, we talked about the fact that before we can be saved, we need to know that we’re lost—hopelessly lost. Lost because of Adam and Eve’s original sin in the garden—a sin that has infected every single one of their descendants throughout all of human history.

Even you—even me.

We’re lost—and we need to be found. So often we think that we’re looking for God—not true. We think we’re searching for Him, we wonder where He is and why He doesn’t answer us. We think we’re doing all the right things to find Him: we’re praying, we’re reading our Bible, we’re going to church—and yet we hear nothing, we experience nothing. We wonder why He won’t reveal Himself, why He won’t answer our cries?

We’ve all been in this place—maybe you’re there right now.  Our problem is sin—not just original sin, but our own personal sin. This is what the Lord is telling the prophet Isaiah 2700 years ago. The nation of Israel was in a state of rapid moral and spiritual decline. Isaiah was prophesying the coming deportation to Babylon as punishment for the nation’s sin. The people knew they needed to be saved—but they thought that what they needed to be saved from were enemy nations who were stronger and more powerful than they. They wondered where God was. “We hope … for salvation, but it is far from us” we read in Isaiah 59:11. They know they need God—what they don’t know is why they need God. And when He doesn’t show up and do what they want Him to do, they’re trying to decide whether the Lord is incapable of saving them or if He just can’t hear them as they cry out.  

Because, like us, when they’re not sure where God is or why He’s not doing what we think He should be doing, they blamed Him. Isn’t that our default position? If there’s trouble and God’s not acting on our behalf, it must be all His fault.

Adam

Isaiah tells the Israelites that God’s not the problem—they are. Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).

Maybe you, like Isaiah, have heard God speak to you during one of those times of trouble in your life. Maybe you’ve heard Him say, “I’m not hiding from you. You’ve been hiding from me. And before you can come into My presence, before you can be in fellowship with Me, you must dig down deep into your heart and confess the sins of your past.”

It’s not really that hard to understand that we’re lost and need a savior. It’s not even that hard to understand that our sins require God’s judgment, as we talked about last week. After all, we’re not even responsible for original sin. That’s all Adam’s fault—right? And we know we’re not perfect. We know that we’ve done some things wrong. But if we’re being really honest with ourselves, we might admit that we still wonder:

Isn’t God making kind of a big deal out of this? I’m not really that bad—after all, there are lots of people out there who are a lot worse that I am—aren’t there?

This morning we’re going to talk about the doctrine of inability—which means that every single one of us really is that bad. That every single one of us is completely unable to save ourselves. And not only to save ourselves, but we’re completely unable to contribute even the smallest thing to our salvation.

Because we’re all dirty rotten sinners—every one. Like Adam and Eve, like the Israelite people of Isaiah’s day, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, we try to cover up our sin in the hopes that God won’t notice our bad habits and attitudes, our unkind words and thoughts, our failure to love Him more than our spouse or children or grandchildren.

“Our iniquities, our sins, have made a separation between us and God.”  We’ve become so good at hiding that most of the time we don’t even realize we’re doing it. We’ve buried all those wrong thoughts and actions so deep that we’ve managed either to forget them or to convince ourselves that they weren’t really that important. We’ve convinced ourselves that “God isn’t going to worry about my little sins when there are so many people committing really big ones all the time—is He?”

Maybe we think that because we pray and read our Bibles and go to church, that these spiritual activities will cancel out those bad things—or at least cause God to overlook them.

We live in a world where, even in the church, sin often seems to be no big deal. After all, we know we’re all sinners. And, sure, if someone commits murder, if some crazy person breaks in here this morning and starts killing people, they need to be punished. They need to be held accountable. If somebody robs a bank or sells a child into human slavery or pays half a million dollars to get their son or daughter into college … Well, those things are just wrong. We all know that.

But that little lie I told the other day—it didn’t really hurt anybody. It just made me look better than I really am. That mean thing I said about somebody? It wasn’t really a sin. That ream of paper or those stamps that I “borrowed” from my workplace, the time that I spent checking Facebook when I was getting paid to work—everybody does that. I’m pretty sure God’s too busy dealing with really big sins to worry about my little ones.

Well … He wasn’t too busy to strike Ananias and Sapphira dead on the spot because they told what many of us would consider to be just a little white lie. Apparently the fact that they were deceiving their fellows brothers and sisters in the body of Christ was a pretty big deal to Him—even if it might not seem like it to you and me.

But aren’t there some sins that God sees as worse than others? Several of you have asked me this question since last Sunday. Some of you have mentioned the Roman Catholic understanding that sins can be divided into categories of either venial or mortal. Nowhere in Scripture do we find the idea that there are small sins. And nowhere do we find the idea that God is willing to overlook any sin—even those that we consider to be so small as to not really matter.

Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden because of what many of us would see as a very small sin.

We’re all sinners. The apostle John writes in his first letter that “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Butif we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:8-9).

We’re all sinners—God knows this. But if we confess our sins, He’ll forgive us. Confess—admit that we’re sinners who need a savior. When we do that, we’re in agreement with God.

But if confession is agreement with God, then sin is disagreement with God. It’s choosing to live our lives by our values instead of God’s, by our wills instead of God’s, by our plans instead of God’s. Confession is admitting that our behavior wasn’t just the result of bad parenting, poor genes, jealous friends, somebody out to get us, or a chemical imbalance. Any of those factors may be involved—but confession is saying that somewhere in the mix was a choice—a choice made by us—and that it doesn’t need to be excused, explained, or even understood. The choice needs to be forgiven. And it’s forgiven when we admit to our dishonesty in trying to live on our terms instead of God’s.

Confession always begins with God and it’s always about God. And part of what we must confess is that we’re guilty of thinking that confession begins with people—that we’re like that Pharisee who stood in the temple thanking God that he wasn’t like everybody else. When we compare ourselves to others, we can always find someone who’s not as good as me. If other people are the standard by which I judge myself, I’m always going to think that I’m better than I really am.

When I compare myself to the absolute holiness of God, however, it is immediately clear just how much I fall miserably short every single day.

Paul wants us to view sin as God views it. God never measures our sin against someone else. When we sin, it is God’s law that is broken, God’s authority that is rejected, God’s government that is set wrong. It’s not the size of the sin but the majesty and holiness of God that makes our sin so grievous in His sight.

This is the issue that Paul is addressing in our passage from the third chapter of Romans. He wants us to understand that we’re all under sin. This doesn’t mean that every person is as sinful as every other person. It means that our legal condition is the same—we’ve all been judged and found guilty. We’re all lost, and there are no degrees of lostness.

Imagine that three people decided to swim from California to Hawaii. One of them can swim but not very well; she makes it maybe half a mile before she drowns. The next is an average swimmer—he swims a couple of miles before he starts to flounder and soon he drowns. The third is an Olympic gold medalist—the best swimmer on the planet. Still, after about thirty miles she’s struggling, after fifty mile she’s really struggling, and by around sixty miles she drowns.

Is one more drowned than another? Of course not. It doesn’t matter at all how far they got; none of them were anywhere near Hawaii, and in the end they’re all equally dead. In the same way, no matter how much we might trust in our spirituality, in our Bible reading and prayer and coming to church, we’re all still sinners.

The doctrine of inability: we’re all unable to save ourselves—or even contribute to our salvation. This is the reality of our sinfulness. “None is righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). Not a single one of us is legally righteous and nothing we can do can change that. We are guilty and condemned.

Furthermore, “no one understands” (3:11). As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:18, we are “darkened in [our] understanding, alienated from the life of God because of [our] ignorance that is in [us] due to the hardening of [our] hearts.” We’re ignorant, but that’s not what causes our hard heartedness—it’s not that we don’t love God because we don’t know about Him. Instead, it’s hard heartedness that causes lack of understanding. That’s because our self-centeredness leads us to filter out a lot of reality. We’re in denial about our own sinfulness, even to ourselves.

And “no one seeks for God” (3:11). This is because none of us really want to find Him. Instead, we’re running and hiding from Him in all that we do, even in our religion and morality.

“All have turned aside”—not many, not most, but all. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.” We want to be in charge of our own life, we’ve convinced ourselves that we have a right to decide for ourselves what we’ll do and where we’ll go and how we’ll do it. We have a right to do it our way.

“No one seeks for God”—to seek God is to desire to know the one true God, to find and enjoy Him, to worship and appreciate and rejoice in Him for who He is.

Some of you might be thinking: “Wait just a minute. I know God—I know lots of people who know Him. Maybe they’re not Christians and maybe they don’t go to church, but they pray, they’re seeking God.”

Paul’s not saying that no one seeks spiritual blessings; he’s not saying that no one seeks God to answer their prayers. He’s not saying that no one is seeking spiritual peace or power or experience. He knows that many, many people seek God for these things. What he is saying is that no one, prompted by their own decision and acting in their own ability, wants to find God.

Someone might really want to know about God or even be convinced that there must be a God. But that’s not a real passion to meet God. Or someone might have a problem in their lives and realize that they need forgiveness to deal with their guilt; or spiritual peace to deal with their anxiety; or power or wisdom to be able to know how to move forward in life; or a spiritual experience to deal with the emptiness they’re feeling. But none of these things are seeking God. None of these are seeking to know, and be known by, the holy, living, almighty, personal God. It’s seeking what God can give us, what He can do for us—it’s not seeking Him for Himself.

The gospels show us that Jesus struggled with this throughout all of His earthly ministry. Huge crowds followed Him for what He could do for them—they loved it when He healed their illnesses, when He fed them when they hungry, when He provided gallons of wine for their party. When He wanted them to love Him for who He was.

Paul wants us to understand that our spiritual searching is really about sinful self-centeredness—we’re want to receive blessings from God while at the same time we hang on tightly to control of our lives. We’re expecting God to serve us, to be and do whatever He needs to be and do to meet our needs.

Just like those ancient Israelites of Isaiah’s day and those first century Jews of Jesus’ day, we refuse to bow down before the living God, we refuse to give Him control of our lives and futures—we want the benefits of a relationship with Him but we don’t want to serve Him.

Some of you may now be feeling completely discouraged by the truth of this doctrine of inability—but there is some good news. Actually, there’s great and wonderful news. Because what this means is that if we are seeking God, then what’s really happening is that God is seeking us. If our sinful human nature is only wanting to hide from God, then something in us must have changed. Something outside of us must have caused us to want to seek God—that something, of course, is God’s Holy Spirit.

Jesus said, in our gospel passage, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). This is why, when Peter declared Jesus to be the Christ, Jesus told him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).  Peter is blessed not because he’s so smart and has managed to figure this out on his own, but because God has chosen to reveal the truth about Jesus to him.

Turning to God and understanding the truth about who He is and who we are—that He is Lord and we are not—isn’t something that we do. It’s something that God works in us so that we can find Him. So when we think about how it is that we came to find God, we need to realize that it wasn’t about what we were doing—we didn’t seek Him out, He drew us to Him. We decided to put our faith in Him only because He had decided to give us faith.

So what difference does this make? When we understand that it is God who was looking for us, who was seeking us, we rejoice in the knowledge that He’s not trying to hide from us, that all the things we know about Him are things that He has chosen to reveal to us. We’re humbled by the truth that there’s nothing in us that’s better or smarter than what’s it anyone else, that we’re not somehow more perceptive or spiritual than unbelievers; that there’s nothing at all in us that we weren’t given by God. (I Corinthians 4:7).

When we know and love God for Himself, we can be certain that we’re saved. And as we struggle to truly believe that we’re saved, we can be comforted and confident that, according to Paul in Philippians 1:6, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

God is not going to start His good work in you and then just go off an abandon you. It is the will of the Father, according to Jesus Himself, that He “should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39).

And this is true for every one of us. Paul said that it’s true for “both Jews and Greeks” (Romans 3:9)—today we might say “churchgoers and non-churchgoers.” Or even, “good church-going people and mass murders, child molesters, abortion doctors, worshipers of Satan. To those who rob the weak and the aged. To the cheat and the liar. To war criminals and drug lords and terrorists.”

In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, he gives a list of those who, if they continue in their evil, cannot “inherit the kingdom of God: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers or swindlers” (I Corinthians 6:10). And then he says, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11).

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the amazing good news of the gospel. And when we know that if I, as a recovering sinner myself, can accept Jesus’ good news—then I can go to even a mass murderer and say, “There is, in the kingdom of God, forgiveness that knows no limit.” Repent, allow God to wash you clean, and know that you have been forgiven.

Let us praise God with greater gratitude because we know that everything about our salvation comes from Him, from beginning to end. Salvation didn’t begin with us deciding to seek God—with us making a decision for Christ—salvation began with Him choosing to seek you and me.

Let us pray.

Salvation: Sin and Judgment – Part 2

Have you ever desperately wanted something that you didn’t have? I’m not talking about something you needed, but just something you saw that you suddenly decided you couldn’t live without? Something that you were sure would change your life forever? Something you saw in a catalog or online or in a store display? Maybe something you didn’t even know existed until you saw it?

Maybe something you saw on a commercial? Cars, food, beverages, vacation resorts, even insurance and diet plans: “Buy this and you’ll suddenly look amazing, your life will be trouble free, people will like you more—you’ll be a whole new you.”

Maybe you decided to buy that insurance—and discovered that it really wasn’t any different than the insurance you had before. Maybe you bought that car and maybe you even really liked it—but it didn’t make you more appealing to the opposite sex or change anything important in your life. The diet? It wasn’t any easier than any other diet and your success at keeping the weight off wasn’t any better than it ever was before either.

When my children were small, cereal manufacturers used toys to encourage people to buy their brand. They’d put a toy in the box and a picture of the toy on the outside of the box. Commercials for the cereal focused on a child having an amazing time playing with that toy. So we’d buy the cereal—only to be disappointed that the toy was never as much fun as it had been depicted on television and on the box.

All of this desperate longing, of course, is the sin of lust—lusting after something other than God. It’s a sin that goes all the way back to the beginning of time. Lust and pride are the sins that led to what we call original sin.

And as we continue to talk about how we can know for certain that we’re saved, this morning I want to talk about the doctrine of original sin, which is something we don’t hear much about in the church these days. Because of Adam’s sin in the Garden, all of us are infected with the virus of original sin before we’re ever even born. In Psalm 51:5, King David writes, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” He’s talking about original sin, the same sin that Paul is talking about in Romans 5:12 when he writes that “sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”

Adam and Eve had been placed by God in a perfect garden that He created especially for them. A garden filled with animals and birds and fish and a variety of different fruits growing on trees and ready to eat. Even better, God would come to the Garden and walk with them, talk with them.

But then the serpent showed up and promised Eve that her life would be so much better if she would just eat the forbidden fruit—the one and only thing in the entire garden that God had forbidden.

Eve looked at the tree and “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). The tree was good for food, but so were most of the other trees in the garden. The fruit was beautiful to look at, but, again, the fruit on the other trees was probably just as beautiful. And God never said that eating the fruit would make them wise—it was the serpent who said that.

The tree was just a tree—a good tree, because everything that God made was good. God is simply using it to test man, to give him a choice. He’s placing before them the same choice that Joshua places before the Israelite people thousands of years later: “Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

It wasn’t about the tree. God could just as easily have said, “You can climb any mountain except that one” or “You can swim in any river except that one.”

Because what God was really saying was, “Choose to obey me or choose to decide for yourself whom you will obey. You get to decide.”

Eve chose to believe the serpent rather than God—and Adam chose to put what Eve wanted ahead of what God wanted. They wanted to be like God. The tree is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—which apparently Eve thought would be a wonderful thing to have. Now of course they had no idea what evil was because they knew nothing of it. The serpent doesn’t tell them—he simply makes it sound like something wonderful, something that will make their lives so much better than they already are.

Kind of like all those commercials and catalogs that promise us a life that is so much better if we just send them our money in return for whatever it is that they’re selling.

Adam and Eve made their choice: they choose to disobey God—they chose to eat the forbidden fruit. Imagine what it must have been like—they bite into the fruit, they swallow it. And then they wait in eager anticipation for this amazing new knowledge the serpent has promised. Will they get it right away, will it take a while? How will they recognize it? How will it change their lives?

Because it was never really about the fruit itself—it was about the promise of what they would gain through the fruit.

And sure enough, they recognize this new knowledge almost immediately. They’re naked—they had no idea. Almost certainly not the knowledge they were expecting. Now of course they’d always been naked, but now suddenly they feel exposed; they feel shame and they’re embarrassed by their bodies, uncomfortable being naked in front of one another. So uncomfortable that they try to make aprons of fig leaves to cover themselves.

And they’re afraid—an emotion they’d never experienced before. Even that wasn’t the worst thing, however. “They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Genesis 3:8).

Hid themselves because they were experiencing another new emotion—guilt. They knew that they’d disobeyed God, that they’d sinned. Sin makes human beings guilty in the sight of God.

The perfect relationship they had experienced with their Creator, the Lord God, is broken—broken due to their disobedience. Broken by their refusal to allow Him to be Lord of their lives.

Suddenly everything has changed. And they discover that not only are they now at odds with God but also with the world in which God has placed him.

Once they allowed sin into their perfect lives, it just seemed to grow. God asks Adam if he ate the forbidden fruit, and Adam says, “The woman you gave me to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree and I ate” (3:13). “It’s your fault, God. You gave me this woman. She made me do it.”

Eve blames the serpent.

God doesn’t ask the serpent why he did what he did—the Lord God knows how much Satan hates Him, He knows of Satan’s desire to destroy Him. He simply tells the serpent that he’ll be forever cursed. And He puts enmity between the offspring of Eve and the offspring of Satan—because God knows that we must never comes to terms with evil.

It is because God is holy and just that He must execute judgment here. He promised Adam that if he ate the forbidden fruit, he would die. And although Adam does not die an immediate physical death in the garden, he does die a spiritual death.  He and Eve are put out the garden, separated from God.

Adam’s sin has separated him from the Lord God and therefore his life has lost its purpose and meaning. And eventually, both Adam and Eve will physically die, just as every other person who has ever lived in the thousands of years since that moment in the garden.

Even as God sentences mankind to life outside of the garden, away from Him, however, we see His grace. Because God cannot stop being who God is—and God is good. All the time.

God knew they ate the fruit before He came looking for them in the garden.  They’re hiding, but God’s seeking. Seeking because He knows that they need Him, seeking not in anger but with compassion. He knows that because they now have the knowledge of good and evil, that they’re experiencing these new feelings of guilt and shame. And so He comes. We often speak of our need to search for God, but the reality is that God is searching for us. He has been from the very beginning.

Because God is good—all the time.

Over and over, the Bible tells us “seek and we will find.” This is a promise—because God is waiting to be found. Think of playing hide and seek with a small child. They hide, but as soon as we start to look for them, they jump out and say, “Here I am.” This is the way God is when we’re truly seeking Him.

And even though Adam and Eve’s shame at their nakedness was entirely their own fault, God had compassion on them and He makes garments for them. To do so, the Lord God sacrifices the very first animal in the Bible. And we learn in the very beginning that God values human life more than animal life. We also see that human guilt can be covered with forgiveness only through the shedding of blood in sacrifice.

God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skin—He also provided something far better than anything they would ever be able to provide for themselves—His grace. And at the same time He showed them that He could do something for them that they couldn’t do for themselves and that is to cover up their guilt and shame.

I told you last week that it’s critically important that we understand this as a real historical event that took place in human history. It’s not just a nice story—it really happened. God created a man out of the dust of the earth and breathed life into him. God made a woman from man and placed them both in a perfect garden. And then they sinned—they disobeyed God.

Many today believe that this story is a myth—they think that evolution has disproved the Genesis story. Actually, there is nothing in modern science that contradicts that we are all descended from an original human pair. Recent scientific DNA studies actually seem to verify the truth of this.

Jesus, who created the world, believed that the biblical account of creation is correct. In our gospel passage, the sin that He’s talking about is the original sin that every one of us is born with. The Pharisees who are listening are in denial that this applies to them, just as are many of us in our world today.

 Paul and the other New Testament writers also clearly understood the story of Adam and Eve to be a real historical event. Paul, in the fifth chapter of his letter to the Roman church, is explaining why it is important to know this story and to believe it.

“Sin came into the world through one man—Adam—and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

The Bible tells us there are two kinds of sin: original sin and our own personal sin. Original sin is the guilt every person shares for the sin of Adam. We talked last Sunday about how God was creating a covenant with Adam in Genesis 2. He doesn’t use the word covenant, but that’s what’s going on. God is putting Adam in charge of the garden and promising him eternal life if he doesn’t eat from a particular tree. In this covenant Adam represents all of his descendants, just as Abraham will later represent all of his descendants in the covenant that God makes with him. The first sin of the first man is universal as well as personal. Everyone who has ever lived has been “in Adam” not only biologically, but also spiritually.  Adam’s fall was our fall.

Later we see in the book of Genesis that all of Adam’s children turn out to be sinners in their own right. It’s important to understand that Adam’s children weren’t sinners just because they sinned. Rather, they sinned because they were sinners. The came into the world sinners because they inherited guilt from their father Adam.

They inherited guilt—but God was still available to them, they still had knowledge of Him. Not the personal “walk with Him and talk with Him” kind of knowledge that Adam and Eve had in the garden. But He didn’t abandon them completely.

Because God is good—all the time.

We do not come into the world basically good—or even neutral. We come into the world sinners. Ephesians 2:3 says that “we were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”  In theological terms, God “Imputed” the guilt of Adam’s sin to every member of the human race. In other words, God holds every one of us morally responsible for what Adam did, reckoning his sin to be our sin, and condemning us for it.

Some of you may be thinking that’s not fair. But Adam was ideally suited to serve as our representative, and he was given every opportunity to succeed. He faced only one temptation and he faced it as an unfallen man. The temptation itself wasn’t a big one: in the whole orchard of paradise, only a single tree was forbidden. And Adam knew that his actions would affect his entire race. Given the choice between being represented by such a man, in such a situation, or being considered on the basis of our own merits, who wouldn’t choose to be judged in Adam?

And from our vantage point, it’s clear that, once again, God’s goodness and grace was powerfully at work. Because “if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through one man Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).

Thousands of years after Adam, another unfallen man will come into the world—Jesus Christ. And because Adam served as representative for all his people, Jesus, in His perfect life, atoning death and glorious resurrection, also represented all His people. It was only by standing in their place that He was able to save them.

And so, in the end, being judged on someone else’s merits turns out to be the only hope of salvation.

Paul clearly explains this in Romans 5. He explains and He shows that, while we wouldn’t have original sin without Adam’s failing to choose God in the garden, we would have lost something much greater: “the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” that we receive in Christ Jesus.”

The guarantee of salvation—which we receive if we choose to follow Him. If we choose to let Him be Lord of our lives. The same choice that Adam was given is given to each one of us—with the same promise of eternal life.

When has this message ever been more important? The reason everything we do seems to go wrong, the reason our world is such a mess, is because we’re sinners. The meaning of all our suffering, and the only hope for our salvation, is that Christ died on the cross for our sins.

The message of salvation offers hope that “God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:9). He promises further that Jesus “is able to save completely those who come to God through Him” (Hebrews 7:25). Or, as the Authorized version puts it, “He is able to save them to the uttermost.”

Jesus will do whatever it takes to save us. He will atone for our guilt and cover all our shame. He will reconcile us to God and restore harmony to human relationships. He will deliver us from the evil one. He will bring an end to all our suffering and grant us the free gift of eternal life.

Jesus is the perfect solution to the problem of sin and all its consequences. He is also the only solution. We’ll talk more about that next week.