Monday, July 21, 2008

Sermon 7/20/2008 Why Not Mix God and Politics Part One "The Enviroment: What is the Inconvience of the Truth"

Environmental Issues: What is the Inconvenience of the Truth?

Today we are begging a three part sermon series called, “Mixing God and Politics.” Despite being warned in seminary about preaching on political issues, Dwight and I both believe that with the election coming up this fall, it is important for us to have a biblical reference point from which to help determine how we vote. While I do not believe I should force my faith on others, I do believe as a Christian, we should vote according a biblical world view instead of voting down party lines.

In these next several sermons I hope to address three important issues, namely the environment, social issues, and moral issues. In each sermon, I will begin by presenting two views on the subject and then we will see how the Bible as a whole deals with these or other issues like these and to the best of our ability draw some concrete concepts to take with us as we research the candidates in the upcoming election.

Up front I do want to make these commitments. (1) My aim is not to choose one candidate or party and find Scripture to back up this perspective. I will, to the best of my ability, try to be as objective as possible. (2) My goal is to help you have some tools that will help and guide you as you make decisions about which candidate to vote for.

This being said, I feel I should be up front about my own political biases. I was raised as a good republican and I have voted this way for most of my life. At the present time, I would still call myself a republican, but I have been somewhat disillusioned as of late. Due to this disillusionment, I have become somewhat more open to ideas that I used to consider “bad politics.” With this being said, let’s tackle the first issue: the Environment.

The environment has become a very important topic these days with the controversies over global warming and with our dependence of oil resources. John McCain’s website attests the importance of this issue

Our nation's future security and prosperity depends on the next President making the hard choices that will break our nation's strategic dependence on foreign sources of energy and will ensure our economic prosperity by meeting tomorrow's demands for a clean portfolio

Likewise Obama says, “Well, I don't believe that climate change is just an issue that's convenient to bring up during a campaign. I believe it's one of the greatest moral challenges of our generation.”[ii]

Global Warming

The issue that both candidates speak of is what we call global warming. In the earth’s atmosphere gases like carbon dioxide are trapped in order to trap solar heat. This solar heat keeps us alive. The problem, according to a lot of scientist is that due to our burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and by clearing forests that naturally convert some of the carbon dioxide into oxygen, there is too much carbon in the atmosphere, causing the rise in temperatures.

This does not sound too bad for those who are always cold, but according to those scientist and Al Gore, this causes a huge crisis for our planet. Here are the implications:

1. The number of large hurricanes will increase with the rise of ocean temperature
2. Glaciers will melt causing flooding
3. Malaria will spread to higher altitudes due to rise in temperature.
4. Extinctions of many animals who rely on the ice and cold
5. More heat waves and droughts[iii]

Another environmental problem that goes with Global Warming is that we are using our natural resources faster than the environment can reproduce them. We are also producing more waste than we can properly store in landfills.

While both of the presidential candidates believe that global warming is a serious issue, other scientist like the founder of the weather channel John Coleman disagrees. Coleman argues that there are two primary ages, the ice age and the interglacial age. The ice age means that everything is frozen and the interglacial age means the earth warms up and the ice melts. He says that for the past 10,000 years, we have been in the interglacial age, which is a good thing or we would not be able to live. Global warming a cooling are natural cycles.

Coleman defends his position by arguing that sense 1998 global temperatures have actually decreased. He also argues that CO2 is natural to the environment and make up only a small portion of the atmosphere. He says that out of 100,000 molecules, only 38 would be carbon. He then argues that this is not a significant amount to change the whole face of the earth.

Coleman then argues that the Global Warming scare has massive effects on us. Due to our concern for the environment, we do not drill oil in America, causing higher gas prices. The use of Ethanol, a corn based fuel; he argues actually increases the cost of both gas and food. He blames our economic crises on our global warming scare.[iv]

The Bible and the Environment

In any survey of the Bible for environmental concerns has to begin at creation in Genesis. After God creates the plants and the animals he calls creation “good.” After he creates human beings, he gives them this charge,

28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
29 Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food." And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

On first glance, Genesis seems to be anti-environmental. Notice that humans are commanded to fill up the earth. Some have taken this to mean that the Bible promotes overpopulation which strips the earth of resources. Then Genesis tells us to “subdue the earth” and to “rule over all the animals.” Some Christians have taken this to mean that we are to use and abuse the environment because God has given it to us to do as we choose. As one of my professors says, “You could say that, but you would be wrong.”

Genesis is actually telling us that we are to be responsible with creation. As Walter Brueggemann says, “The task of dominion does not have to do with exploitation and abuse. It has to do with securing the well-being of every other creature and bringing the promise of each to full fruition.”[vi] The Biblical foundation for the environment is one where God gives humanity the responsibility to oversee creation in such a way that we bring out the best in the environment. In the original design of creation, Adam and Eve worked hand in hand with the world around them.

After Adam and Eve ate the fruit that God had told them not to eat and thus rebelled against God, everything changed, including Adam and Eve’s relationship with the earth. God tells Adam,

17 To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,'"Cursed is the ground because of you;through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return."

Not only were Adam and Eve’s relationship with God broken, their relationship with the earth and the animals were broken as well. CS Lewis says, “Man is now a horror to God and to himself and a creature ill-adapted to the universe not because God made him so but because he has made himself so by the abuse of his free will.[viii]

The problem we sometimes have as Christians is that we view the environment from the perspective of the fall rather than the way God originally meant us to. In other words, we view the Christian response to the environment as being one in which we have to strip and manipulate the environment to get what we need out of it in order to survive and maintain the lifestyle we believe we need. Therefore we would rather destroy our world rather than go without.

There are some Christians who might disagree with what I have said because they believe that God will take the Christians off this planet and then destroy it. If one were to hold this view, then there would be no real concern for the environment. While I understand this line of thinking, I believe Paul tells us different. In Romans 8 he says,

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God

Paul seems to be saying that while the creation was subjected to decay, the hope is that it will one day be liberated from its bondage. God is not planning on destroying creation; God is planning on redeeming it as God redeems us. This means that we as Christians are responsible to help God in redeeming the world around us as opposed to destroying it.

As you can clearly see, the Bible is pro-environment. As Christians we are charged with making this world a better place because we will live on this earth for eternity. God will redeem the world we live in and God wants to use us. If we destroy our world we are actually working against God’s plan for redemption.

Biblical Principles to Vote For

How should the Bible help us vote on environmental issues? (1) Make sure that candidates support programs that take care of the environment rather than implementing policies that will further destroy it. (2) Sometimes policies that address environmental concerns cause people to have to pay higher prices so make sure that there are plans to help those who will be most effected by these policies. (3) Look for programs that will help individuals take part in helping the earth like recycling etc.

(4) Finally I want to add the “real inconvenient of the truth.” Even if you are a person who does not believe the effects of global warming are series, the Bible calls for us to be good stewards are we oversee creation. We are called to be responsible with the earth’s resources and the amount of waste and pollution we create. The inconvenience is that we are all called to sacrifice. We can all take steps to help the world. We can begin with a simple step of recycling. As a response to this our church will begin a recycling program next week. Our youth will be organizing this so make sure to use the recycling bends here and at your own home.

[v] TNIV Gen. 1:28-32
[vi] Walter Brueggemann “Genesis” Interpretation (John Knox Press: Atlanta, 1982) 32.
[vii] TNIV Gen 3:17-19
[viii] CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain (Harper San Francisco: New York, 1940) 46.

Sermon 7/13/2008 Back to the Basics Part Six: "The Inclusive-Exclusive Factor"

“Is Jesus the only means of salvation: The Inclusive-Exclusive Factor?”

John 14:5-7, Acts 4:12, 1 Timothy 2:3-6 Romans 2:12-15

The Foundation for Pluralism posted an article on the web that stated:

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life concluded that 57 percent of evangelical church attendees said they believe many religions can lead to eternal life, in conflict with traditional evangelical teaching.In all, 70 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation shared that view, and 68 percent said there is more than one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion.[i]

This raises questions not just for Christians, but for all religious. But for us as Christians, the question is: Is Jesus the only means of salvation. If the answer is yes, then what happens to all of those people who have never heard about Jesus?


The first answer that is often given to this question is that: all religion, including atheism are equal paths to finding the ultimate truth. This view is called pluralism. Let me spell out the argument for you.

1.We cannot know everything there is to know about God.
2. All religious expressions of God are human attempts to understand God.
Because we cannot know everything about God, we cannot say one religious expression is more valid than any other.
3. Therefore, all religions are equally valid paths to God.

John Hick, who is a philosopher who has really defended this position, begins his argument for pluralism by arguing that the reason these four points make sense is because neither Christianity, nor any of the world religions are any more moral than any other group. Often we even find that Christians can act less moral than non-Christians.

I find that oftentimes Christians are just as immoral as those who are non Christians. The other day I was shopping for groceries and I got to the check out line just in time to witness the lady in front of me chew some poor kid out for making a mistake. When I got to the parking lot, for some reason I was so convinced that she was a Christian, I looked for a fish sign on her car. Thankfully I did not see one. Imagine, if I would assume that someone who just chewed out a kid was a Christian, think about what non-Christians assume about Christians.


On the flip side, Christians have claimed that the Bible uniquely reveals the means of salvation and that Jesus I exclusively the means by which a person is saved. The argument is as follows

1. Salvation is given uniquely through Jesus Christ. Therefore salvation is “exclusive” to those outside of a relationship with Jesus.
2. God’s gift of salvation is given through special revelation, i.e. the Bible
3. Therefore those who do not confess a belief in Jesus in this life will not have salvation.

This view espouses that God sent Jesus exclusively into the world to bring salvation and that salvation is 100% dependent upon both hearing and accepting the message about Jesus. One of the positive aspects of this belief is that is takes seriously the claims of the Bible about Jesus and confirms our Christian faith.

To review in broad terms, pluralism says that God’s offer of salvation in inclusive to every person, no matter their faith and background. Exlcusivism teaches that salvation is exclusively given through Jesus.

The Bible and Salvation

It is important to note that in the 1st century, Rome was in control of most of the known world. Rome has a pretty relaxed religious policy with one exception. They would accept and tolerate people’s religion as long as people acknowledge that the Emperor was sent by God and worshipped. The 1st century was very pluralist by all appearances. As a matter of fact, the Romans called Christians atheist because they did not acknowledge all of the gods. The writers of the Bible were not narrow minded knowing of only one faith, they were well aware of many gods and religious belief.

As we begin our search in the New Testament, the best place to begin is by reading the most notably controversial text. John 14:5-7 says,

Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?"
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him."

To understand this passage, it is important, as always, to understand its context. Jesus has just predicted his death when Peter asks Jesus where he is going. Jesus then tells them that where he is going, they cannot come. Peter, being persistent as normal then wants to know why he can’t go. Jesus then tells Peter that he cannot come because he is unwilling to lay down his life, but Jesus will be laying down his life. Then Jesus tells them to trust him, that what he is doing is a good thing and he will prepare a place for them and then he will come back and take them to be with him. Then Jesus tells them that they know the way to the place he is going. Thomas then speaks and tells Jesus that they actually do not know they way. Jesus then tells them that he is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is essentially telling them that the way can be seen through his own life. If they want to love God, they need to love him. In loving him, they love God.

Jesus is making a very exclusive statement at this point. He is saying that if they love him and follow his example, they will have life. If they refuse him, they refuse life. In John’s gospel, Jesus and the Father are seen as one and the same. If you love one, you love the other, if you reject one, you reject the other.

In the book of Acts, Peter confirms this thought. In his third sermon in the book of Acts he says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.” This sermon is preached after Peter and John have healed a lame man and then preached a sermon and converted a bunch of people. They are questioned by the Jewish authorities and they defend their actions and say this lame man was healed because of Jesus, who they crucified and God raised from the dead. He then says that there is no other name that is given for salvation.

In the midst of religious pluralism on the one hand and among the Jews who believed exclusively in monotheism, Peter announces that Jesus is the only name that brings salvation.
Paul though adds a twist. In 1 Timothy 2, he tells Timothy to be in prayer for the rulers of the world because, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Paul continues by explaining the truth, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.”

Paul affirms the truth laid down by both John and Peter that salvation is exclusively through Jesus Christ, but takes it one step further. He adds that God desires that everyone come to this knowledge. He does not say only those who hear the gospel and repent, he does not say the frozen chosen; he says point blank that it is God’s desire that every person know the truth about Jesus. You could say that God wants all people to find salvation.
I want to share one more passage from Paul, this time from Romans 2. In this passage, Paul has first talked about how Gentiles have exchange the truth about God for a lie and worshiped the creature rather than the creator. He then tells the Jews not to look down on the Gentiles because they have had the advantage of the law given to them and they are equally sinful. He then says,

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

This is a difficult passage, but let try to explain what I think Paul is driving at. God has always been working for the salvation of humanity and is trying to reach people anyway he can. For the Jew he gave them the law in physical form, for the gentile he gave them nature to reveal himself to them. Paul then goes on and says now God has given every person Jesus as means to reveal himself. Paul is saying that God will do whatever it takes to bring salvation to the world
Inclusive-Exclusive Factor

I believe the Bible teaches what I would call the Inclusive-Exclusive factor.
1. The Bible teaches, God desires the salvation of everyone. Therefore God is “inclusive”
2. Salvation is given uniquely through Jesus Christ. Therefore salvation is “exclusive” to those outside of a relationship with Jesus.
3. Therefore, God will use any means possible to bring people into a relationship with Jesus Christ, including other religions.

I am not always sure how God will offer the unique opportunity for salvation to ever person through Jesus, but I am convinced he will. I believe Jesus is God and I believe salvation comes through Jesus, but I also believe God will go to whatever he has to in order to offer salvation to every person. I believe God can use other religions to lead someone to Jesus, but God does not have to. That is God’s decision, not mine.

The amazing thing about the belief we hold about Jesus is that we truly believe Jesus is the salvation of the world and we believe that God wants every person to find Jesus. We believe every person really matters to God. This theology is so great, the problem is that often times we act as if we want to share the good news of Jesus with the least amount of people. If we really believe that Jesus brings salvation. I mean if we really believe it, we will do what the disciples did at the end of Acts 5. “They never stopped teaching and proclaiming the name of Jesus.”

When I was in Orlando some time ago I was getting a ride back to my hotel room late at night to a guy who had grown up Catholic and had been to a Christian school all his life. He was very intelligent. He knew theology and Church history very well, but he told me he had become an agnostic. I asked him why he had concluded this and he shared with me how much he had been hurt by the church. He was gay and his family and their church had basically put him out. He shared with him about how he missed having God in his life but that he really could not be a Christian anymore. It was obvious that he was hurting and broken, as most of us have experienced.

In our conversation I asked him if he liked Jesus and he said, Yes, I think Jesus one of the most profound people I have ever read.” I agreed with him, of coarse! Then I challenged him with the challenge I want to give you. I told him to go back and fall in love with Jesus so that Jesus could set him free. Follow the truth of Jesus’ life show you the way.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Sermon 7/6/08 Back to the Basics Part Five: "The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing, The Main Thing"

“The Main Thing is to Keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing”

Matthew 22:34-40 & Mark 12:28-34

Last week we talked about how the goal of salvation in not just getting to heaven, but it is being conformed to the image of Jesus. We also talked about how God will be faithful to do that for us if we will let him. This morning I want to focus on what is looks like to be conformed to the I image of Jesus. What does the goal of salvation look like?

One day this week I was at my computer and I “googled” “The most important thing a Christian believes.” One of the results took my to the web site of a fictitious Baptist church called Landover Baptist where there was an article entitled, “Who We Are and What We (God) Believes.” Here is the advice it gave to new Christians,

We believe that when a person first gets saved, the first thing they should do is buy a suit and a tie. If the individual is a female, then a dress not raised over an inch above the knee is acceptable. Clothing is perhaps the most important thing about being a Christian. If one is not properly clothed and fully representative of what God would want them to appear like... well then, that person is probably not saved. Our motto is "get saved, get to a Christian Clothing store, and get fitted for the kingdom." A man should dress and act like a man, and a woman should dress and act like a submissive female helpmate. That about sums it up. Anyone who does not conform to the dress code at Landover Baptist will be fined no less than $300.00 a violation. It is a privilege to be a Christian and we believe that it is about time folks started acting like it![i]

I know this article was written in good fun about how some churches loose focus off of God and place it on lots of rules that people have to follow, but it does raise a good question, namely how should Christian’s life look? Is the goal of our faith to follow a dress code? What does the bible tell us the main thing is about our faith?

Jesus was asked a similar question towards the end of his life. The story is told in both Matthew and Mark. In both gospels Jesus is in the temple where he is being asked a series of questions so that the religious leaders could test his faith and maybe trap him into saying something they could use against him. The Pharisees (which was the religious group that stressed strict observance of the law, followed the whole of the Old Testament, and believed in the resurrection of the dead) asked Jesus if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar. When Jesus answered this question, one of the Sadducees (which was the religious group which took care of the temple, had a see no evil policy with Rome, only believed the first five books to be true of the Old Testament, and did not believe in a resurrection) asked Jesus a question about marriage in the afterlife. In Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus gives another successful answer, these two groups get together, which was a miracle in itself, and ask Jesus which command is the greatest? In Mark’s gospel, the conversation actually turns good because Mark records a lawyer, after being truly impressed with Jesus, asks him which of the commandments are the greatest.

Just for informational purposes, this question was really not that random. It may have been like us asking a Bible scholar today which laws in the Old Testament still apply to us today. The religious leaders had been able to count 613 commandments in the Old Testament, which is quite a bit and obliviously some of these commandments were broken. They often wanted to know which were the most important so they would know which ones the HAD to obey and which ones they could skip out on.

Jesus answers the question by quoting two Old Testament passages. He says in Matthew, “Love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” The gospel of Mark adds one phrase and that is also to love God with all your strength. In other words, Jesus says that the main thing is to love God and your neighbor because all of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two things. In Mark’s gospel the lawyer agrees with Jesus and compliments him on his answer.

Loving God

What does it mean to love God? Jesus was quoting from perhaps the most famous passage in the Old Testament. It is called the “Shema” and it was recited in Jewish prayers. It comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Four words: ‘Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength.” Eugene Peterson uses these words instead to help his readers understand the meaning of what Jesus is saying, “Passion, Prayer, Intelligence, and Energy.” Lets explore these one at a time.

Heart- Passion The Hebrew’s believed that the heart was the essence of a person and it was the place where all our emotions come from. Jesus said once that it was not what comes out of the month that made a person clean, it was what was in the heart. Out of our heart comes what we truly are. We must then love God with all of the emotions that we have inside us. I think this is why Peterson uses the word ‘passion.” Passion is what our true desires are so we have to love God with our passions.

Soul –Prayer The Hebrew word for “soul” is nephesh, which comes from the root of “breath.” When we breathe we are then alive and when we stop breathing, we have no more life in us. Sometimes we talk about the soul as being the part of us that will not die as opposed to the physical body. Peterson uses the word prayer I think to relate loving God with the spiritual part of our being. I would take this one step further and suggest that loving God with our souls means loving God with our actions because we love God with every breath we breathe. We love God with our emotions and our actions.

Mind-Intelligence We are to love God with our minds. I think this is often the most neglected part of how we love God. It is easy to see that our emotions and actions should love towards God, but we normally see intellect as a barrier to our faith. Instead we are told that our mind is a good thing and we need to love God by using our mind. After all, God gave us a brain so we ought to love God with it. So often I talk with people who attend church somewhere because they their friends go there and when I ask them what the church actually believes and teachers, they have no clue. When I tell them that the church actually teaching things they do not believe, they reply, “If you love God, it does not matter.” Jesus is telling us to stop checking our brains at the door. Love God with your mind.

Strength-Energy As you may have noticed, Deuteronomy uses “strength” instead of “mind” while Matthew uses “mind” instead of “strength” while Mark uses both. I have generally understood strength to be a summery of the other three by saying succinctly that we are to love God with everything we have.

Loving your Neighbor

Notice that Jesus continues on by added another Old Testament verse from Leviticus 19:18. It simply says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself, I am the Lord.” Jesus is not making up something new, but he is tying together two threads that run throughout the whole Old Testament. Look at the 10 commandments for example. The first 5 commandments are about how to love God and the second are about how to treat other people. O often though, we try to divorce these two things. We either focus on loving God or forget to love our neighbor or we forget to love our neighbor as a response to our love for God. Later on John says that if we cannot love our neighbor who we can see, how can we love God who is unseen. The way Jesus bridges these two things together means that we cannot unconnected them. They are both the essence of our faith.

The Main Thing

Jesus reminds us to never forget the main thing. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing is to (1) Love God with everything we have and (2) Love our neighbor as ourselves. This is religion itself!


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Sermon 6/29/08 Back To the Basics Part 4: "More Than Front Porch Religion"

“More than Just Front Porch Religion”

Romans 8:28-30

Melanie and I were able to do some traveling during the month of June. We went to Lexington, Kentucky to perform a wedding ceremony for one of my former youth group members. After leaving Kentucky we drove to Lake Juniluska, North Carolina. You may remember me telling you a few months back that Melanie had bought me a GPS so that I would not get lost when I am making home visits on Sunday afternoon. We decided to take the GPS with us and we entered in the address of the house we were staying in Lake Juniluska and proceeded on our way.

The GPS told us to take exit 24 off of I-40 in North Carolina, which was not really a big deal, but it was somewhat different than I was used to going. I normally take exit 20 or 27. Being the gadget person I am, I decided that we needed to follow the GPS, so we took exit 24 and turned right. Several miles down the road, the GPS told us to take a right turn on to Daniel Lane, so we did. After turning onto Daniel Lane, we noticed a sign up ahead that read, “Pavement Ends Ahead.” Our GPS was telling us to continue on and so not to disappoint the GPS, we continued ahead down this little gravel road. Finally, we came to an intersection and we made a few m ore turns and in front of us was the house we were stating in.

Melanie and I were completely amazed that we had made it to the house, but we quickly learned that we had another pressing problem. We had no idea how we had gotten there nor did we know exactly where we were. I have been to Lake Juniluska a few times, but I could not figure out how to get where we needed to go. Taking the back roads had saved us plenty of time, but now we had to figure out how to find our way to the actual entrance to the lake and the convention center.

When it comes to understanding “salvation” often times we want the GPS version of the story. We want to know how to avoid going to hell and how to get heaven without really knowing or understanding what it is God actually wants to accomplish in our lives.

As we continue our “Back to the Basics” sermon series, today we will talked about the nature of salvation. To begin with I want to study two verses in Romans 8. Verses 29 and 30 say, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”[i]

To be honest, these verses have caused a large amount of controversy. Some theological traditions read these two verses as a way of saying two things: (1) These verses limit our freewill (2) these verses limit the scope of those who God offers salvations. As we study these verses this morning, I want to show you why these things simply are not the case. If we understand the context in which Paul uses these verses, this will become very clear. Paul begins in verse 29 by saying that those who God foreknew; he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son. To understand this, think about the word “destine.” It comes from the old English word “destiny” and it means “having a specific end.” When we had “pre” to the word it means that before hand, there is a specific end. In this verse, it seems to be saying that those who God foreknows he created with a specific end in mind, that they be conformed to the image of God.

In no way does this limit human freedom or the scope of salvation in its offer. If we go back to verse 28, we can add that those who love God, God will work things together for good because they God has a specific end in mind for them to be conformed to the image of Jesus. That is the plan. The plan is not that God randomly choose some people for salvation and leaving others to die in their sins. The plan is to take those people who love God and conform them to the image of God.

For our purposes, it is important to understand that the destiny of salvation is NOT going to heaven. The destiny of salvation is being like Jesus. An added benefit of salvation is spending eternity with Jesus, but this is not the goal to which God has for you. Salvation is not fire insurance from the flames of hell, it is a living dynamic relationship with God through Jesus as we are conformed to his image.

In verse 30 Paul explains how God achieves this in our lives. That who have been “predestined”, he first calls, then justifies, then glorifies. John Wesley uses the illustration of a house in describing these three steps. He used the term “Prevenient Grace” in talking about God’s calling us. He said this was like standing on the porch of the house waiting to go inside. God calls us into relationship with him. Again, remember that Paul is not talking to every person, he is being specific to those who love God and he tells them that God first called them.

This calling is significant and it is one thing that we and other protestant churches agree on. Those who love God did not first choose to love God, but God first chose them. Salvation is not something we can earn by our good deeds. It is not something we randomly choose. We did not randomly wake up one morning and decide to follow God or believe in Jesus. If we are people who are followers of God, God first chose us. God has been working in our lives through various influences, making it possible for us to choose him.

Next, Paul tells us that those whom God calls, again, not in an irresistible way but to say that if you are a follower of Jesus, this is true for you, God then justified. This word is often used in a legal sense to mean “God acquits us.” When we say that God has justified us, we mean that God has forgiven us for our past sins. All of the things that stand in the way between us and God have been forgiven.

Justification in the legal sense is one way to understand what happens when we hear the calling of god through the gospel of Jesus and respond to it by allowing God to justify us. Justification can also take on a relational meaning as being adopted into the family of God. Paul uses this language in Galatians when he says that we have become sons of God. It can also have an economic meaning as in redemption. We have a debt and it has been redeemed.

John Wesley refers to justification as the “door to the house” that we must walk into. Notice that with justification, we have not arrived yet, we just enter through the door into something greater. Likewise, Paul is not quite finished either because he declares that those who have been justified are also glorified. The word for glorified means to give honor or respect and Paul normally uses the word to describe how we should act towards God. In this context he is saying that God will show us honor, not because of our good works, but because of what he has done in and through our lives.

I hope we can take three things away from this passage. First, God wants us to move past covering up our sins and wants to create us in the likeness of Jesus. The other day Melanie and went to go to the dentist office and when we went to get into Melanie’s car, we noticed the tire was flat. I drove us to the dentist in my truck and we came back home. Being the man in the house I told Melanie that I would pump the tire up because I did not see a hole or anything. I began filling it up and when I thought it was close to full I took off the end of the pump and I heard a hissing noise to which I noticed that the stem of the tire was cracked and leaking air. We took the car to sears and they had to replace the stems on all four tires because they were all cracked.

I began thinking about these tires as a way of talking about salvation. Justification is the door of the house just like putting air in the tires puts the tire up to the correct size. The problem is that unless the tire is properly fixed, the tire will be flat again. In Paul’s order of salvation: Foreknowledge, Predestination, Calling, Justifying, and Glorifying, God does not just forgive our sins, God begins the process of creating us into the people that God wants us to be. God begins to fix the leaks and cracks in our lives so that we can be new people.

This is what John Wesley refers to the religion itself or the house of religion. Going through the door means that you are entering a new life in which creates in you a new person and a new life. Far too many people are standing on the porch or in the doorway when God is inviting them inside. Too many people are filling up their tires without realizing that God wants to fix the leaks. The heart of the gospel is not just about experiencing forgiveness to cover up our sin problem, the heart of the gospel is about experiencing new life so that we can become the people God has created us to be.

Secondly I want to stress that salvation is not something we can achieve on our own, it is a gift from God. Every step of the way, God is the one acting on our behalf. God calls us, God justifies us, and God glorifies us.

You may wonder how you can go from the front porch to inside the house. The answer is simply to accept what God is already doing in your life. If you are in this building this morning, God has already called you. We simply have to trust that God will do this work in our lives and that God has already began the work.

Finally, in trusting God, Paul was actually reminding his readers that when God calls us he will be faithful to complete the work in us that he began. The verse just prior to the two verses we read this morning says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” We can trust that God will take all of the circumstances of our lives and use them to bring us to the place where he will glorify us. If we will let him, God will have his way in our lives and his purposes will be achieved.

[i] TNIV Rom. 8:29-30