“More than Just Front Porch Religion”
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