'Are You Saved?'
'Are You Saved?'
I have a picture, sitting on the windowsill in my study, of Bishop Westcott. It was given to me by his great-grandson. The nineteenth-century English scholar, Bishop B.F. Westcott, was Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University.
On one occasion he was approached by a zealous undergraduate who asked him, ‘Are you saved?’ ‘Ah,’ said the Bishop, ‘a very good question. But tell me: do you mean…?’ And then he mentioned three passive participles of the Greek verb ‘to save’, indicating that his answer would depend on which of the three the student had in mind (the English translation is given here in italics). ‘I know I have been saved,’ he said; ‘I believe I am being saved; and I hope by the grace of God that I shall be saved.’
‘Salvation’ is a huge and comprehensive word. It means ‘freedom’. As the Bishop pointed out, there are three tenses of salvation: you have been set free from the penalty of sin, you are being set free from the power of sin and you will be set free from the presence of sin.
Know freedom from the pastPsalm 107:10-22
The psalmist continues to give thanks to God for the many times he has saved his people when they have cried out to him in their trouble (vv.13,19). Each time, he set them free.
In this section we see two examples:
Freedom from chains of sin
Here the people are sitting in ‘deepest gloom’, prisoners suffering in iron chains (v.10). ‘When they cried out to the Lord in their trouble he saved them from their distress’ (v.13).
Often what happened to people physically in the Old Testament is a picture of what happens to us spiritually in the New Testament.
Sin leads to darkness and deepest gloom. It is addictive. It chains our hearts. On the cross, Jesus broke the chains. He forgives your sins and sets you free. You, like Charles Wesley, can declare, ‘My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth and followed thee.’
Freedom from fear of death
The psalmist goes on to say that again they rebelled and drew near the gates of death. Again, they cried out to the Lord and he saved them. ‘He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave’ (v.20).
Again, this foreshadows what Jesus did for you. Through his death and resurrection, he rescues you from the grave and from the fear of death. You are freed from death – from the fear of death and all the fears that go with it. No wonder the psalmist wrote:
‘So thank God for his marvellous love,
for his miracle mercy to the children he loves;
Offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
tell the world what he’s done – sing it out!’
Lord, how can I ever thank you enough for setting me free from the chains of sin and addiction? Thank you that I need never fear death because you, Jesus, have conquered death through your death and resurrection.
Enjoy freedom in the presentGalatians 1:1-24
Your salvation was won at a great cost. Jesus ‘gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age’ (v.4).
Galatians is one of Paul’s earliest letters, possibly written as early as AD 48. Paul is burning with indignation because the freedom of the gospel is under threat. Freedom is hard won and easily lost.
Religion can be used as a means of controlling people. That is how Saul of Tarsus had used it. Then he encountered Jesus and experienced something radically different – a freedom that comes from within.
The message of the gospel is one of freedom. You are freed from sin, guilt, shame, addiction and death. You are also set free from justification by works of the law. You do not have to be circumcised. You do not first have to become a Jew before you can become a proper Christian. Paul’s passionate indignation in this letter is explained by the fact that the freedom of the gospel was at stake.
In his early travels, he had planted a series of churches in the Roman province of Galatia. He had told them about this Jesus who sets us free. They had experienced this freedom. A few years later some religious leaders had come along questioning Paul’s views and authority and trying to introduce rules and regulations that would have taken away the new-found freedom of the Galatians.
They were saying it was not enough to put your faith in Jesus. You had to be circumcised as well. They were drawing the boundaries of what it meant to be a true Christian far too restrictively.
Some today try to draw these kinds of boundaries. They say it is not enough to be a Christian. You need to be ‘like us’. You need to be ‘evangelical’ or ‘Catholic’ or ‘Pentecostal’ – you have to be like us, whatever we are. You have to be a particular type of Christian to be a proper Christian. But faith in Jesus is enough. You do not need to add to it by circumcision or by any other brand. Accept one another on the basis of faith in Jesus, rather than the type of Christian.
Paul testifies to his own experience of finding this freedom in Jesus and how it changed him from someone who was ‘all out in persecuting God’s church’ and ‘systematically destroying it’ to ‘preaching the very message he had tried to destroy’ (vv.13–24, MSG). Paul’s conversion reminds us that no one is beyond the reach of God.
Have you ever wondered whether God could use you? Have you ever thought that something you have done in the past might disqualify you? Paul’s testimony is evidence that God not only forgives, he sets you free and can use you greatly – no matter what you have done in the past.
This testimony was powerful: ‘Their response was to recognise and worship God because of me!’ (v.24, MSG). Your testimony, even if seemingly far less spectacular than Paul’s, will have an impact on those who hear it.
Lord, thank you that the moment we put our faith in Jesus we find true freedom. Help me today, and every day, to live in that freedom.
Anticipate freedom in the futureIsaiah 33:1-35:10
Although you have been saved from the penalty of sin and you are being saved from the power of sin, you are still anticipating an even greater future freedom from the presence of sin – from the struggles of this life. You await the time when you will know everlasting joy and when sorrow and sighing will be removed (35:10).
Isaiah paints the picture of a scorched desert (ch.34) – but then he anticipates how the desert will be transformed into a lush garden – with bubbling springs and blossoming crocuses and grass and reeds and flowing rivers (ch.35).
For God’s people, as they were being taken into exile in Babylon, they could look forward with anticipation and expectation to being rescued by God and brought back to the freedom of Jerusalem.
Yet, this picture in Isaiah 35 is of something far bigger than just a return to a physical homeland. This is a prophecy of God’s people returning to their eternal homeland in a new heaven and a new earth.
Isaiah writes of how ‘the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’ (v.10).
And, just like the people of Israel, as you are in anticipation of future freedom, how should you wait? In frustration? In anger? In disbelief? In denial? In rejection?
Isaiah gives us two commands as to how to wait:
‘Strengthen the feeble hands, and steady the knees that give way. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, do not fear, your God will come’ (vv.3–4).
‘A highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; … Only the redeemed will walk there and the ransomed of the Lord will return’ (vv.8–9).
Whatever the highs and lows of life are for you, try to lift up your head and look forward. You can look forward through struggles, through challenges, even through your own death, until you come in your mind’s eye all the way to heaven. It is right to anticipate your freedom from your present struggles.
Having this certain future in mind that will enable you to live now a strong and holy life – even in times of sorrow and sighing.
Lord, thank you that because of your victory on the cross, one day all creation will be liberated. As I await this day, be my strength every morning (Isaiah 33:2).
‘… I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.’
It is amazing when someone encounters God with no human intervention. We must keep praying for people to be woken in the night with a vision of Jesus, particularly if they come from a part of the world where they are unlikely to hear about Jesus.
Many, however, become Christians after hearing someone talk about their faith. We have some great opportunities at church over the next few weeks. Alpha at HTB starts on 26 September. Pray that there would be some people like St Paul that go from persecutors to preachers in a few days.
Verse of the Day
‘… Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come…’ (Isaiah 35:4).
Charles Wesley, ‘And Can it Be’ (1738).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.