What Is Salvation?


Sermon Text: Ephesians 2:8-9
Sermon Series: “What Is?” (#4)

Main Points:
I. Rescue from total devastation
II. The gift of God
III. No boasting but resting in the Saviour

Last June in a foreign country, a building collapsed due to its weak foundation. A newspaper reported: ‘Police arrested the contractor and booked the owner of the three-storey residential building, which collapsed on another structure, claiming the lives of at least 11 people, including eight minors.’ It happened while there was a heavy monsoon rainfall. Yet, the main cause of the collapse was not excessive rainwater, but the building’s illegal and faulty foundation which was insufficient to support the whole building. Stormwater simply hastened its expected failure.

The foundation of a building is underground, hidden from people’s eyes, but is one of, if not the most, important structural parts of a building because the whole building stands on it. I think the beautiful Sydney Opera House is a good example of this. The whole structure of Sydney Opera House is supported by a firm and strong foundation which is consisted of total 588 concrete piers sunk underground as much as 25 metres below sea level which is about the height of 6 storeys. Although the building stands by the Sydney Harbour water, only 10.3 metres above the sea level, this concrete pier foundation will hold the building firmly and strongly no matter what – neither heavy rainfalls nor rough sea waves would shake the building. A building with a solid foundation is strong and will last long.

The same is true for our faith and life. If one’s faith is built on a firm and strong foundation, that person’s life in the Lord will be healthy and vibrant. This foundation is the biblical truth on ‘salvation’ and one’s upholding of this truth. If a Christian understands what salvation is as the Bible teaches, his faith and life is built on a good foundation God laid with His word and Jesus confirmed with His blood.

So, my focus on today’s message is to refine, deepen, refresh our understanding of the biblical meaning and nature of salvation.

Salvation is, first and foremost, rescue or liberation or deliverance. Salvation is an act of rescuing people from danger.

Saying ‘danger,’ I don’t mean any danger that might or might not come. Instead, I mean a dreadful calamity that has already engulfed people, thus, no hope in whatsoever way is there for them. Rescuing them from this kind of total devastation is salvation.

I occasionally go out and fish on a kayak, though I hardly bring home a trophy of my endeavour. Several months ago I was able to go out. As I was getting my kayak ready for fishing by the shore, a man came and asked me – with smile on his face, of course – whether I was one of the two kayak fishermen rescued by water police a week earlier in Kwinana. He and I both laughed because we knew I wasn’t one of them. What happened with those kayakers a week earlier was that a severe weather warning had been issued, but those kayakers went out and they were capsized. Water police alongside the RAC rescue helicopter were called out and the men were located and taken out of heavy winds and waves. That kind of rescue operation is salvation. Other than being taken out of unescapable misery, there’s no way to life – that is salvation.

The historical event of Exodus is the most vivid picture of God’s salvation of His people. As you know well, having left Egypt, all descendants of Jacob or Israel reached the shore of the Red Sea. Then, they realised that they were in a deadly trap – the Red Sea before them and the Pharaoh’s army behind them. The sea was deep and rough, and the army was swift and merciless. In either way, sure death by either drowning or stabbing awaited them. Ex. 14:10 describes that specific situation and tells us that all of Israel feared greatly, and cried out to God. Then, what happened? God opened up the Red Sea and rescued Israel. That is salvation. Other than being rescued from a misery of total destruction, there’s no way to life – that is ‘salvation.’

If this is so, then, salvation must come from outside of the distressed. The Israelites by the Red Sea did not start digging an underwater channel, nor built a great wall between them and the Pharaoh’s army; the capsized kayaker never called out the rescue operation. Their rescue or salvation came from outside of them. God brought His great wind and dried up the seabed while keeping the water stand on both sides of that passageway, Israel’s way of life. It was God who rescued them; it was God who gave them His salvation! This is the truth of biblical salvation. In this sense, the Bible – for example, Eph. 2:6 and 8 – says that salvation is the gift of God rather than man’s own work. Being a ‘gift,’ man deserves to neither demand nor take it for granted.

Unfortunately, there are so many people seeing salvation differently, incorrectly. What I mean is that some people say that if anyone wishes to have salvation, he should come to God and believe in Jesus. They say, ‘Simply come and believe, and you’ll be saved.’ Some of them teach repentance but some others omit the need of repentance for salvation. If anyone omits repentance, he misses a truly important part of salvation, thus, could be charged with heresy. Of course, both repentance and faith – in other words, turning away from sin to face Jesus – is absolutely necessary for salvation.

But the point I’m making today is not to emphasise the elements of salvation, but to focus on the nature of salvation. My point is that the message of ‘simply come to Jesus and believe’ presents people a half-truth or incomplete picture of salvation. It could portray God’s salvation in a false way to the minds of some people. Biblical notion of salvation is never to be acquired, never to be achieved, but to be granted because it comes from God as a gift. So, anyone’s act of coming to God or to Jesus will never make that person eligible or deserving of salvation.

I heard a message of one of the well-known so-called ‘prosperity gospel’ preachers of our days simply to check them out. She said, ‘Come to Jesus and believe in Him, and you’ll be alright for Jesus will receive you.’ Actually, hearing that surprised me as I hadn’t expected that sort of message from a prosperity-gospel preacher. But, that was it. There was no further explanation of salvation. The action of ‘coming’ was emphasised again and again, and her audience was urged to ‘willingly’ come. Then, she asked all to repeat after her in a prayer, and said, ‘Jesus, I come; I believe in You; and I know that I’m saved!’

Although that prayer surprised me once again, I didn’t hear in that message anything that might even slightly hint her audience to consider salvation as God’s gift, thus, the reason for thanks and praise to God for His grace.

Some of you might think that I’m too picky and too narrow-minded. But please don’t misunderstand me. My point is that, if people do not hear from the pulpits of their churches that salvation is the gift of God based on His grace, who could know this truth of salvation, and give their true appreciation and praise to their Saviour? If no one teaches them that their salvation is from God, who would be able to read God word, like Eph. 2:8, and say, ‘Wow! I’m saved because God showed His divine favour to me and made me His own by washing me with the blood of Jesus!’? Who would be able to do it? Many, if not most, of those who never hear the true nature of God’s salvation would misunderstand or falsely see it as anything other than God’s GIFT to them.

What if those rescued kayakers looked at their rescuers and said, ‘Good job, mate. In fact, for this kind of work, I’ve been paying my taxes diligently. But you should’ve come quicker and taken me out of the water in a more pleasant way than this!’, what if they said this to their rescuers or even news reporters, what would that mean? Ingratitude! Biting the hand that feeds!

God gave His only Son to die for His elect so that His blood shed on the cross may wash their sins and His righteousness through perfect obedience to the Father may cover the sinners and adorn them with His glory. In such a way Christians are saved, but what if any of them looks at God and says, ‘You saved me because I came to You; Jesus is my Saviour because I accepted Him to be my Saviour,’ what would be the Lord’s answer? ‘What an ingrate!’ Would God’s heart be pleasing if such an ingrate calls on the Lord or praises Him? If a human rescuer wouldn’t appreciate such an attitude, believing God would be different is implausible.

Surely, salvation is the gift of God; He graciously rescued you and still rescues many souls in His grace which is clearly and richly revealed through the blood of Jesus Christ!

Therefore, knowing salvation as God’s gift to the undeserving like us becomes the sole and exclusive reason for our repentance from sin and faith in Jesus. Repentance begins in a sinner’s heart when he realises how undeserving he is of being rescued from sin and death.

Let me explain this with the case of the rescued kayaker I mentioned earlier. While he was constantly tossed by winds and submerged underwater by endless waves, he would’ve thought how stupid he was by not taking the weather warning seriously. When he was finally grabbed by his rescuer and taken out of water, his regret over his stupidity would’ve reached the deepest point and pledged himself to full adherence to all safety warnings.

Likewise, realising one’s unworthiness of God’s gift of salvation, a sinful heart turns away from sin to face God. As God’s favour shines through the darkened heart of a sinner, he knows he is a sinner and turning away from sin is the way to life! So, God’s gift of salvation is the exclusive cause of sinner’s repentance.

The same is true with his faith in God and the Saviour Jesus. This sinner has received a gift from God which is incredibly eternal and immeasurably gracious. Then, what would be his response to the gracious Giver? Trusting! Thanking! Rejoicing! Would he respond in any other way? No! And what is faith anyway? Isn’t faith trusting, thanking, rejoicing in the Giver, that is, God the Father and God the Son?

2 Cor. 7:10 confirms it when it talks about repentance in these words: “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret.” 1 Pet. 1:8-9 proves it further by saying, “Though you have not seen Him [Jesus], you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

This proves why we must not boast of our salvation, but boast in the Saviour Jesus. Boasting of one’s salvation means claiming salvation as one’s own as a result of his works. But that’s not the salvation of the Bible. Salvation is of God and Christ Jesus; it is given to us as a gift. So, we should boast in the Saviour, knowing the truth of our salvation. Jer. 9:23 is clear about this: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.” Why? Because the wise and mighty and rich are the ones who have received God’s gift of salvation. So, continues v. 24 of Jer. 9, “let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,’ declares the LORD.”

In this sense, boasting in God, boasting in the Saviour Jesus is, in a word, resting in Him, having full assurance and confidence of salvation, because He who is God has given us His gift, then, who could take it away from us? He who is the King of kings and Lord of lords granted us His love, justice and righteousness, then, who else could nullify the effect of this gift? No one!

Or, God gave His gift of salvation to us, and would He take it away from us? Would He ever cancel His gracious gift and nullify or declare it invalid? He will never do that to any of us, any of His dear children!

Instead, because He has shown His favour to us and given us Jesus’ life as His gift, He’ll deepen it in our heart and soul every day; He’ll lead us to rest in His Son and rejoice more every day. So, would you not boast in Jesus or not rest in Jesus? Absolutely, not! Rather, you and I rejoice in Him more every day!

Let me conclude and emphasise again that salvation is God’s gift to you and me and all of God’s elect. This is the foundation of our faith and life in Jesus Christ. We stand on this foundation and grow on this foundation.

So, any faulty foundation must be thrown away, and take this foundation the Bible teaches. And know that you’re saved by grace – in other words, your salvation is the gift of God in His grace through Jesus our Saviour! ***

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