This sermon addresses two issues people often find problematic about being saved through the work of Jesus. The first is the issue of particularity, or how salvation is an exclusive offer found only in Jesus. The second issue is what we are saved from. Many have argued that we are saved from the wrath of God, but this presents a myriad of problems, many of which actually portray God as inherently angry and violent towards humans. This sermon lays out a different view of salvation, one based in the loving sacrifice of God on the cross.
This sermon addresses two questions regarding the nature of salvation. The first question pertains to the scandal of particularity: How do we think about the claim that one can only be saved through Jesus? Jesus says that he is the way and the truth and the light, that he is the only way to God.
Greg offers an analogy of a pharmaceutical company that claims that it alone provides the vaccine that will work. Some might argue that such a claim is narrow and lacks openness to other possibilities. But the only question is whether or not their claim is correct. The same question applies to what Jesus said about the exclusivity of salvation that comes through him.
Humanity is infected with a lethal virus, one of self-centeredness that puts us on a path of self-destruction, as stated in Ephesians 2:1-2. Sin causes death and the state of not being able to revive ourselves. While there is an inherent greatness in human beings, as we are made in the image of God, we also have free will and we have not used this free will in a way that aligns with this greatness. We have chosen evil ways that cause us to build self-centered lives, which means that we don’t naturally love God, others, or the world.
It is obvious that we need a savior. We need someone from outside of ourselves to save us and defeat this virus of self-centeredness. When Jesus makes exclusive claims, he is saying, I am the antidote. He is saying that he offers life. It’s not an intolerant, narrow-minded exclusivism. It’s merely saying that he offers true life and freedom to live as we were designed to live.
The second question is: What are we saved from? Many say that we are saved from the wrath of God because God is all holy and cannot be in relationship with sin. As a result, God the Father vents his wrath against Jesus.
This misconstrues the character of God because it teaches that God is conflicted in his relationship with humans. He is holy and therefore requires justice, which means that sin must be punished. But also he is loving and cares for the humans he created. However, mercy is not possible because it breaks the law, and sin must be punished. With this view, God’s holiness is in conflict with the love that is shown on the cross. In contrast, Paul writes (see the focus scripture above) that God is reconciling the world through the cross. He is not trying to reconcile the law with his love, nor is Jesus reconciling God and his anger to the world. He is reconciling the world to himself.
With this view of reconciling God’s anger to sin, salvation is merely a way of dealing with the consequences of sin. In Matthew 1:21, we read that Jesus comes to “save his people from their sins.” Jesus came so that we are free from the bondage to sin itself, not just the results of the sin. There is a vast difference between the two. If we are only saved from the effects of sin, then sin continues to be an expectation, a normal part of life. We are stuck in the perpetual cycle of merely making the best of things. But if Jesus brings salvation by setting us free from our sin, then we can adopt ways of living now that align with the freedom that is to fully manifest when God’s kingdom fully reigns.
We can have this freedom because Jesus came to eliminate the virus of sin itself by conquering evil. He did this by defeating Satan, an intelligent evil force who influences the world through lies. We read in 1 John 3:8, “The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the works of the devil.” The work of the cross “disarmed” evil forces that seek to destroy God’s creation (Colossians 2:13-15). This experience of salvation occurs in the past, present and in the future. We have been saved through the work of Jesus, we are now continually experiencing new elements of God’s salvation, and we will be saved fully in the future when God’s kingdom is fully manifest and evil is completely overcome with love.
When we receive the gift of salvation, we are aligning our lives with the reality that Jesus conquered sin and death so that we might fully live. This is not about an argument against other religions. It was about finding true life, discovering the freedom which we were designed to have, and embracing the peace of God in the midst of chaos.
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