The Struggle to Discover Salvation
I have often heard the question ask, what does your church believe? There are as many varied answers as there are churches. When someone asks me this question I always feel as if the person is asking, how does your church differ from other churches? I have heard church members seek to answer the question by defining the church by the activities of the church. They may say, we are a mission oriented church or we are a youth oriented church. A person may describe a church by a doctrinal tenet. The church may be described as one that believes in baptism or the trinity or the resurrection, etc. Many define their church as a seeker church. The church may be described as a church that seeks to plug people into church programs. I can only wonder if we are so mesmerized about what we want a church to be that we have lost our focus about what is important.
During my years attending a Christian college I learned how to defend the faith. I was taught the doctrinal tenets. It is not that those aren’t important, but I wish I had been taught how to live by faith. Over the years I have learned that a living faith is the only way to truly defend my faith. I have learned that increased Bible knowledge doesn’t automatically translate into a dynamic faith or change the way people live. I have discovered that knowledge of the Scriptures does not guarantee an understanding of the Scriptures.
Jesus told the Pharisees, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:37-40 NIV).
Jesus’ disciples had a working knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. They knew the Old Testament stories of Adam and Eve, Noah and Abraham and all his descendants. They even believed Jesus was the Messiah, but they didn’t really understand the Scriptures. After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus had to open their minds so they could understand what they thought they knew.
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high." NIV
The disciples stayed in Jerusalem as Jesus instructed, but even though they were obeying, their ideas about the kingdom of God were much different than God’s. They were obeying Christ with a totally different idea about God’s kingdom than what would actually transpire. The whole time they were waiting in Jerusalem they were still wondering, when God would restore the kingdom to Israel. Ten years later they were still struggling with taking the gospel to the gentiles as God led Peter to Cornelius’ house. Jesus didn’t make any attempt to correct their ideas about his kingdom before he ascended to heaven. He simply let the true nature of his kingdom reveal itself as they followed him.
A Misguided Purpose is Better than No Purpose
The disciples weren’t much different than most. They began their journey with the Messiah seeking greatness. They wanted to do something great to earn the right to sit on his left hand or right hand in his kingdom. It was difficult for them to understand what God wanted to accomplish through each of their lives. We find Saul on the road to Damascus ambitiously seeking his personal dreams for the kingdom of God as he persecutes Christians for believing in Jesus. Jesus opens his eyes to understand. Saul gives his testimony of Christ revealing himself to him.
9 "I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.
12 "On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 About noon, O king, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, '
Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
15 "Then I asked, 'Who are you, Lord?'
"'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' the Lord replied. 16'Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'” NIV
Paul later wrote to the Corinthians saying:
2 Corinthians 4:6
6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. NIV
We have the same problem; the nature of our world hasn’t changed. The nature of our dreams hasn’t changed. Human nature hasn’t changed. We come to God desiring to do great things; and God humbles us to accept him. The only true way to know God is by seeking him even if we are misguided by our dreams of grandeur. I am always overjoyed when I see someone who sets out to find a church to attend who discovers God’s salvation. The amazing aspect of God’s salvation is not discovered once and for all. It is not about a past experience of salvation.
The free gift of salvation is given to us when we confess Christ as Lord—ruler—of our lives and are baptized into Christ.
26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. NIV
Salvation isn’t just something that happened when we believed and confessed Christ as Lord in baptism. It is about what we are discovering and experiencing about God moment by moment throughout life. It is about the fact that I have been saved to experience salvation as a life long experience. It is a daily experience as God gradually and ever so wisely chips away at our ambitious earthly dreams and replaces them with himself.
Salvation doesn’t end with our acceptance of the free gift. It requires allowing God to lead us through our sometimes shameful ignorance to reveal his living truth. We must allow God to unwrap his free gift in every experience in life. Otherwise the gift becomes static and absolutely meaningless. Salvation is a journey of discovery where God is continually helping us discover his ongoing priceless gift of salvation.
If you don’t believe this; you have got to put everything down right now and begin reading the stories of the Old Testament. Notice how every faithful character in these stories is struggling to believe. Just look at Abraham’s struggle to believe God’s promise of a son. When Abraham is finding it extremely hard to hold on to God’s promise, God ask him a simple question. God finally asks Abraham “Is anything too hard for the Lord.” We see the same struggles in the lives of Jesus’ disciples. It is the same know-how each of us must experience for salvation to become real.
We must have the experience of Job. In midst of all his troubles Job declares.
42:1 Then Job replied to the LORD:
2 "I know that you can do all things;
no plan of yours can be thwarted.
3[You asked,] 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?'
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
4["You said,] 'Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.'
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes." NIV
Job’s ideas about God obscured God’s counsel. His thoughts prevented him from seeing the awe of God. His friends were certainly no help. When God questioned him about his understanding he was dumbfounded.
38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said:
2 "Who is this that darkens my counsel
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
4 "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
8 "Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, 'This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt'?
12 "Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken. NIV
God questions Job with unfathomable questions until Job declares, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes." He had heard of God, but it was his experience of God that opened his eyes to the true nature of God—to see the God he had only dreamed of. It caused him to despise his ways and repent in dust and ashes.
Job’s journey is a journey each must take as we seek the light of God’s counsel. We must seek it to discover the true nature of salvation. The free gift of salvation is freely given to us through the sacrifice of Christ, but discovering God’s salvation in every living circumstance is something each of must come to know for ourselves.
The Bible is a book that we must seek to experience in our lives. We must allow God to make our lives his story before our minds will be opened to understand. The disciples came to Christ with great dreams of a powerful earthly Messianic kingdom. The Messiah would overcome Israel’s enemies and restore her prominence in the world. Instead Titus marched into Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and demolished the city along with all their hopes and dreams of the Messianic kingdom of their dreams. Yet, it was through seeking this misguided dream that the disciples learned the true nature of the Messiah.
The disciples learned it all through experience as they sought a misunderstood dream. They came to Christ seeking to fulfill their ambitious dreams with the Messiah. They came to Christ seeking to fulfill their worldly dreams. They came to Christ seeking their own righteousness. They were seeking to earn a place of honor. They were no different than most walking into church buildings today.
God never asks us to give up our ambitions without giving us something better and more glorious to hold onto. Study the lives of the faithful; behold how God leads them as he works in and through them to accomplish his will. Allow God to work in your life.
Commit yourself to discovering salvation on a daily basis. Allow God to work his plan for your life. Allow God to come alive in your life.