Salvation. Salvation is one of those key words in the Christian faith that carries a lot of weight to it. But if you and I are honest with ourselves, do we always let the power of that word impact us as it should? To illustrate this point, I want to share a quote from renown 20th-century American novelist William Faulkner. In his book, As I Lay Dying, Faulkner writes this: “People to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too.” To put it another way, the proper way to understand and be impacted by salvation is to first understand and be impacted by our need for it because of our sin. The Good News of the Gospel is first and foremost only Good News when we realize and recognize, with conviction, our fallenness compared to God’s holy and perfect standard.
Salvation is a beautiful thing but, if you’re at all like me, there are times when I can take it for granted. I can hear a sermon preached on this topic, read a blog post about it, listen to a podcast about it, and even hear about someone else’s experience with it and I can almost have a “Yeah, I’ve heard that before” kind of attitude. Or I can take salvation for granted because I have in some way justified my sin in my heart. To me, it’s not all that bad or at least it’s not as bad as someone else’s. Have you ever done that or thought like that? Do you act and think like that? If we’re really honest with ourselves, we all do this. Not all the time, but often enough.
The Good News for us today is that salvation is more than just words. The depth and breadth of this word brings with it freedom, hope, purpose, belonging, compassion, mercy, and grace. God’s salvation that He longs to give and freely gives each and every person is found in Him alone. We can’t replicate it on our own, we can’t buy it or earn it, it is simply a gift; a gift that we treasure, enjoy, and live in. Take a moment this week to thank God for this ultimate gift that He gives to you that has truly saved you and made you His child.
What do you believe and why does it matter? These are just two of many very important questions that we will get to explore, wrestle with, and be blessed by as we go through this coming year together.
For the next several months, Oak Hill Church will be walking through a series called “Believe.” The content of this sermon series is based off the work done by those who wrote “The Story,” which is a series we went through together as a congregation a few years ago. The basis for “The Story” was to familiarize people with the connecting narrative of the Old and New Testaments in a way that showed that God’s Upper Story, His Grand Narrative, was all about Him bringing grace and truth into our world and our lives through the person of His Son Jesus Christ. If you know the Son, you know the Father, and if you know the story, you know the mercy, forgiveness, and hope found in the Gospel.
The next question can become “Now what?” or “So what?” That is what “Believe” will seek to share and show. In this series, we will be looking at questions like, “What do I believe?” “What should I do?” “What am I becoming?” Knowing the foundation of the Gospel and the message of the cross of Jesus really helps to put those next things into perspective.
We need to have a faith-first perspective as we look at these questions. Without this foundation, without this perspective, we can lose sight of the gift that faith is. When we hear the phrase, “What should I do” or “What am I becoming” we can begin to look at things like good works as something that should be running the show. We can be driven by a theology that says we either have to do good works to earn or pay God back for His gifts to us or we can operate under a perspective that idolizes good works as badges or trophies to be put on display. Both of these perspectives and viewpoints fall short of what God intended for us to experience.
I stumbled across a powerful quote by Martin Luther that spoke on this dynamic of faith and accompanying good works. Here is what he had to say about it:
I have often said that the Christian life has two dimensions: the first is faith, and the second is good works. A believer should live a devout life and always do what is right. But the first dimension of the Christian life – faith – is more essential. The second dimension – good works – is never as valuable as faith. People of the world, however, adore good works. They regard them to be higher than faith.
Good works have always been valued more highly than faith. Of course, it’s true that we should do good works and respect the importance of them. But we should be careful that we don’t elevate good works to such an extent that faith and Christ become secondary. If we esteem them too highly, good works can become the greatest idolatry. This has occurred both inside and outside of Christianity. Some people value good works so much that they overlook faith in Christ. They preach about and praise their own works instead of God’s works.
Faith should be first. After faith is preached, then we should teach good works. It is faith – without good works and prior to good works – that takes us to heaven. We come to God through faith alone.
With a foundation that is firmly grounded in a faith-first perspective, we can hear and experience a question like “What should I do” in the freedom and purity that Christ designed us to hear them in. May we learn what that means and may we experience the joy that this brings in allowing the work first done in us by Christ to be shared with those around us.
1 Luther, Martin, By Faith Alone. Iowa Falls, IA: World Bible Publishers, 1998.
Pastor Ben Bigaouette