Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright. Sleep in heavenly peace.
Is that usually how you feel during Christmas? Peaceful. Calm. Quiet.
I don’t know about you but I often think that song would need to be rewritten to cover my Christmas:
Busy night. “Things need to get done by next Tuesday,” night.
Not so calm. My heart’s filled with fright.
Because baking, wrapping, and decorating need to be finished before Grandma comes in.
Did I buy the Christmas cheese? I need a break from Christmas please.
I don’t think that’s supposed to be the tone of the season. Yet – it is so easy for Christmas to become so complicated that our hearts are filled with stress and anxiety rather than peace and joy.
How do we stop that?
Over the next couples of weeks, we will be going through a new sermon series called A Simple Christmas. Our goal is to learn from God how to make this Christmas season – the simple, peaceful, reflective season that it’s meant to be. We want to recapture that simple joy of the shepherds, the simple peace of the Mary, and the simple song of the angels.
There’s no better place to start when you’re trying to make things simple, than with your schedule.
I. Schedule Complicators
What I mean is this. Take a look at my Google calendar. Here’s what it looks like around October. I’ve got a good game plain. There’s a few events. But in general, things are nice and easy.
Then, November comes around. I make a few additions here and a few additions there. Then, suddenly….my calendar looks a lot more like this. It’s so loaded and so full that I have to schedule time to interpret my calendar into my calendar!
Check out this warning from Jesus in Luke 21:34 “Be careful,” he says, “or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.”
Anyone here like shopping at the mall? Did you ever notice that you can travel a lot more quickly at the beginning of the mall run than at the end? Once your arms are weighed down by bags from Macy's, Nordstroms, Best Buy, the Apple Store, and Spencer’s – you can’t move as fast as you used to. You may even have to sit down at one of those nice benches and watch the kids sit on Santa’s lap.
The same thing is true spiritually. When we weigh our hearts down with things and stuff – things and stuff that might not even be inherently evil – the things and stuff make it more difficult to prepare our hearts. They slow us down when we’re running to God. They distract us in hearing his Word. In fact, they might even prevent us from ever getting to the peace of God altogether.
Every holiday season there are a few culprits that repeatedly fill up our schedule. Watch out. These things aren’t bad. But when they become more important than seeking God, then there is a heart problem.
I already mentioned this one as an illustration. (And no, dads, this isn’t your excuse to say, “Hey, I don’t have to get anyone any gifts. Pastor said so.”) Gifts are just fine. Gift giving is a godly trait. Gift giving is a fine tradition.
But when scouring through the Toys ‘R Us catalog is more important than scouring the pages of the Bible, when a search of your internet history brings up the Word “SALE” thousands of times, but the name “Jesus” – once — in the form of a cross for sale at Hallmark. Then, isn’t it possible shopping has become a distraction?
I say this with all the love in my heart, because I am a person who loves baking. Not actually slaving over the oven, but eating what comes out of the oven. Baking is not a bad thing.
Yet somehow, somewhere, we got it ingrained into our skulls that a successful American Christmas has gingerbread, pfeffernusse, sugar cookies, peanut butter cookies, chocolate chip cookies, cookies in the shape of Santa, cookies in the shape of a star, peanut brittle, bon bons, pralines cookies, peppermint cookies, and those little pretzels covered in dyed green chocolate to look like a wreath and two little red M&Ms to look like a bow.
Ya’ll – we have to skip Advent devotion tonight because I’ll be too busy baking. Problem?
Again – decorating isn’t bad. But we live in a society where there’s more than a few reality TV shows bent on showing us how real Americans celebrate the holidays by disguising their house as a light up pinball machine. And Martha’s Stewart’s magazine Real Simple gives us article after article of 20 step directions for hanging the perfect wreath next to the perfect garland leading up to the perfect mistletoe.
I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to miss that Advent service at church because the little lights on the ceramic church in my Christmas village aren’t working right.
Oh parties. There are lots of parties. Parties with family. Parties with friends. Parties with coworkers – for your job and your spouse's job. Parties for the kid in PreK with the birthday. Parties for neighbors. Parties at that big old mansion down the street that perhaps you were invited to on accident, but you don’t want to miss that party because you've always wanted to be inside the mansion.
Parties aren’t bad. But when we party simply for the sake of partying (or better yet) simply for the sake of telling people “Look at all the parties I have been to.” Isn’t there something wrong?
Thanks for the invite to Christmas Eve service pastor, but…I’m invited over to “the coolest guy at work's” house. You understand, don’t you?
5) Social Networking.
I put this one up here, because the honest truth is that this is a huge problem in society. We are convinced that we are the busiest people in the history of generations on earth. Why? Because of Social Media.
Tasks that should take two minutes – I’m gonna check to see if that place is still having a sale – become hours. “But as I was looking for the sale, I found a good deal that I felt I should SHARE on Facebook with my friends. Which led me to TWEET about how the sales aren’t any good anymore. And then I saw this video condemning how Facebook distracts us all from the true meaning of Christmas, so I thought I’d share it—on Facebook.”
“No, Pastor, I just don’t’ have time to read through the Gospel of Luke in preparation for Christmas. I’m #TooBusy.”
Read the warning from Jesus again. Luke 21:34 “Be careful,” he says, “or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap.” That day? It’s not referring to December 25th, 2015. It’s referring to a Day that’s much more important than that. A day that will only happen once and if you aren’t ready for it there won’t be a chance for you to shape up and try it again next year.
Jesus is talking about Judgment Day. The day when all people are judged. The day when people are sent to heaven or to hell. Not just for a day. Not just for the time it takes to go to a bad office party.
Brothers and sisters, there is nothing more important that you can do this Christmas. Then, prepare your hearts for the coming of the Lord. Today God’s Word says, Be careful. Don’t get distracted.
Don’t be Lot’s wife.
Do you remember the story? Lot was a believer. Lot and his family lived in a city of unbelievers. A city that hated God. A city that proved their hatred for God by acting in defiant opposition to everything that God had to say.
A city that God was going to destroy.
But an angel fo the Lord came to Lots’ family. He warned them. He said, “Follow me. There’s little time. We must get out of the city. We must run outside of the gates. We must run to safety and not look back. God is going to destroy this place with fire from heaven. There is no time. Pursuing God’s command right now is the only thing that should be taking up your time.”
His daughters ran.
His wife ran…and stopped. It was too hard to leave her things, her stuff, her friends. She longed for earthly things more than the things of God.
She turned around…and became a pillar of salt.
II. God’s Simple Schedule
I’m not suggesting that you’ll turn into a pillar of salt. But I am suggesting that if things and stuff keep us from following God, we will be punished.
Repent. Confess your sins of filling your time with things and stuff and dropping God from your schedule. Ask for forgiveness.
And know that he gives it.
How do we know that? Because your forgiveness was a part of God’s simple schedule. Take a look at this passage from Galatians 4:4 “When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” Notice the simple two part schedule that God planned.
Might I add that this has been a part of God’s schedule since the beginning? Did he not say to the devil in the first few days of this earth’s existence – “I will put enmity between you and the woman..and one of her offspring, will crush your head.” (Gen. 3:15)
Romans tells us that when the time was just right. Eve’s great, great, great, great, great, great (many times over) grandson, her offspring Jesus, was born. Born of a woman.
God didn’t get distracted. He didn’t let questions like – “How can your Son be the Savior? He’s God. He isn’t held to the same restrictions as humans. He can’t trade in his perfect life for their perfect life because they aren’t on the same playing field.” “And How can he be God? If he is born of a human, he needs a mommy and a daddy. But then, he wouldn’t be God and your plan wouldn’t work. He wouldn’t be aable to save human beings.”
God did what he did. He sent his Son. Born of a woman. Born of to a woman who had never had sex. Born to a husband who knew that she had never had sex. Born of God’s miraculous power.
2) Save the World
And he was born, to save you. It says, “to redeem those under law.” That’s us! We were the ones who were to be punished for not putting God first. We were the ones who had missed the boat because we were spending our time pursuing our own fleshly desires.
But God came to save you. That was part two of his simple plan. Live perfectly. Die Innocently. Rise triumphantly. Save you.
God didn’t get distracted. He didn’t get distracted by our wants. He’s not like Santa Claus who gives us what we want. “I want a New Transformer toy that I’ll play with twice and then get bored with and leave in the bottom of my toy closet.” Nope. God gave us what we needed. He didn’t come to get us a million dollars. He didn’t come to get us a challenge free life on this earth. He didn’t come to make sure that our Christmas trees are fully decorated with hundreds of gifts beneath it.
He came to save us from sin, death, and hell.
Scripture says, he came to “redeem us who were under law.” To buy us back from the punishment we deserve. He came to win forgiveness. He did this to “give us the full rights of sons.” We have the right to have peace with God. We have the right to have joy this holiday season. He gave us the right to heaven.
He gave me the right to say “You are forgiven.” And for it to be true.
III. A Sample of a Simple Schedule
Peace, joy and God’s love must be what predominates our Christmas schedules. We do that in three simple ways:
Specifically. Meditate on his word. Read Romans 13:14 “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”
There are a lot of ways to dress for Christmas. When I was younger, my mom insisted on dressing me up in a matching velvet suit coat to my sister’s matching velvet dress. Some people love wearing Christmas sweaters.
Jesus reminds us to dress up in Him. In his righteousness. In his purity. In his forgiveness. You do that by meditating on his Word.
It’s so much easier to dress, of course, when it is the only thing you are doing. It’s hard to dress when you are doing the dishes OR to dress while you are hanging tinsel.
It’s the same thing with studying God’s Word. Set aside time to put it on your schedule. Make it as a part of your day as getting dressed is. Put on the LORD Jesus Christ. First thing in the morning. Do it in the afternoon. Do it in the evening. Literally go into your schedule and mark it in permanent marker. Make it the one part of your schedule that you will not and cannot give up.
In the section we were reading from Luke earlier, Jesus offered this is a second way to prepare. He said, “Be always on the watch and pray.” (Luke 21:34)
Can you imagine what it would be like if we spent as much time in prayer as we do on our iPhones?
“This is exciting. Rather than post it on Facebook, I’ll say a prayer of thanks.”
“This is challenge. Rather than complain via mass text, I’ll say a prayer asking for God’s help.”
“I feel terrible. Rather than soothe my conscience with pictures of dogs dressed up in Santa costumes, I’ll ask God for forgiveness.”
Pray brothers and sisters. Know that God hears you. It is a “right of sons” to talk to their dad and it is a right that God has given you through Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 63:7 says, “Tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is praised.” This is probably the hardest one for us. It’s the one part that we dread.
But it’s so important.
Think about it. There is no better gift than the message of salvation. Salvation doesn’t get old. It doesn’t wear out. The batteries don’t die. It is one size fits all. You don’t need to take it back to the store. There isn’t a salvation 3.8 set to come out next year – so why bother on it this year?
Salvation is one of kind because it comes from our eternal Lord. There is no better gift than that.
We need to do that together this Christmas. We need to invite others to come hear this message – it’s why in the back of the bulletin you have a worksheet to help you determine who to invite. Please read that. Please partake. This is one of the MOST important things for you to do this Christmas! So important that God promises to go with you as you share.
IV. The Time is Now
Jesus told them this parable. “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” (Lk. 21:29-31)
God's kingdom is near, but we don't know how near it is. Share His message with others and keep it a SIMPLE Christmas. Amen.
Who’s the Boss? Do you remember that show? It was a light hearted sitcom starring Tony Danza. The implication was simple. He was a single dad. His daughter was a teenage girl. His mom lived with him too. It was his house. He was supposed to be the boss – but oftentimes he wasn’t.
I think you could ask the same question about our country right now. Yes. President Obama is the president. He is the leader. But it almost seems that the real ruler of America is more ethereal. (And much more sinister).
Immorality rules – Do whatever you want; whenever you want; who cares who you are hurting!
Violence rules – Attacks in the news every night, Paris, but then Mali and China.
Death Rules – Each night WRAL and RNC report for the first 20 minutes about how it’s been claiming the lives of many more that day.
Fear rules – Should we let in Syrian refugees or not? They might kill us all!
How did this happen? How did we get like this?
Today we are continuing our series called SOLA. Our Latin phrase for today is Christ Alone. Our goal is threefold: (1) How did it get that these terrifying things came to rule our world; (2) How did/does Jesus defeat their rule; (3) What is it like living under the rule of Christ.
I. How Sin and Death Got into Control.
We’re heading into Romans 5 to learn more about how exactly these terrible things got into power. Specifically we’re starting at verse 12. “Sin entered the world through one man.” To understand what exactly this is talking about – we need to head back to the very first days of this planet’s existence.
God had created a perfect place – a world without suicide bombers, crooked cops, internet trolls, and racism. In fact, this world wasn’t even host to some ‘lesser evils’ like mean words, pencil stealing, and the occasional sneaking a two seconds longer than necessary look at someone you aren’t married to.
In this perfect world, God in his infinite wisdom thought it necessary to allow his people a way to show love to him. So he created one very special tree. He placed it in the middle of the garden. He told the man (named Adam – which roughly translated in Hebrew means: “The man”); he told the man to not eat of the tree out of love for him!
Simple enough right?
It isn’t long before Adam and his wife get to looking at the tree. They examine its fruit. They smell it’s smells. They wonder about it.
Then, the devil – in the form of a talking snake – says to them, “Go ahead. Eat it. It’ll be awesome. Don’t listen to the Almighty, all loving God who created you, gave you life, gave you this 70 degree, perfect climate with all the tangerines and cucumbers you want to eat – ready to go at a moment’s notice. Don’t listen to him. Listen to me – a talking snake.”
And they did. They ate.
When they did. Look at what happened. Sin entered the world through one man.
Think of Adam like a door. Beforehand, sin wasn’t there. God didn’t create sin and add it to this world. But when Adam disobeyed God, he opened up that door and he let them right in. Suddenly, sin was all over the place. Disobedience was Adam’s next door neighbor. Selfishness made up its residence down the block. Pride, anger, and rebellion got an apartment together. Lust bought a townhome. Murder got a permanent job.
Suddenly – sin ruled the world!
But sin didn’t come in alone. Look at what Scripture says next, “Sin entered the world through one man…and death through sin.”
It’s not like God didn’t warn Adam. He told him, “If you eat of it, you will die.” God knew what sin would bring with it. He knew that evil being a part of this world would force His Almighty Hand to destroy it. He knew that a good God cannot let evil slide. He must wipe it out. Even when it’s permanently linked itself to his beloved creation, God knew that he would have to act. So he warned Adam!
But Adam didn’t listen.
Picture sin coming through that door, but not alone. With its grisly, pale arms wrapped around sin’s neck, death comes in with him. It begins wreaking havoc immediately. Adam and Eve’s first son kills their second son over an offering to God!
Death is still ruling isn’t it? Cancer. AIDS. Drunk driving. Fires. School shootings. Racist shootings. Terrorism. War. Old Age.
Don’t you wish you could slap Adam sometimes? “Look at what you did! Was the fruit really worth it? Was the shot of Vitamin C really that incredible? You ruined it!” But Adam isn’t the only one to blame.
“Death came to all, because all sinned.”
Do you see it? Death isn’t just Adam’s fault.
This world is like this because of us! We are the ones who let sin and death have control.
We are the ones who say, “God I hear what you’re saying, but I’d prefer to do this.”
We are the ones who say, “God, leave me alone. Stop being so controlling. Can’t you see that my sin is what I want to live my life by?”
We are the ones who say, “God, get out of my life. I’m with my sin right now. Don’t bother coming back. I’ve given him control.”
Lord, forgive us. Death and sin are in control – and we let them!
II. How Death & Sin were Overthrown
What now? How do we defeat sin and death?
Shall we stage a revolution? #OverthrowSinAndDeath? Shall we start a social movement to vote them out of office? Are we hear to start a Mockingjay-esque revolution?
Nope. I don’t mean to be a downer, but it won’t work. How can enslaved, chained, and as good as dead people, fight back and win?
Look at who came to save us. The gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Did you catch it? “Grace came by Jesus Christ.” “The gift of God…brought justification.” “We will reign in life…though the one man Jesus, Christ.”
Somebody’s name got repeated there. Last I checked he doesn’t go to this congregation. It isn’t you. It isn’t me. It isn’t some other pastor at some other church.
The one who overthrew sin and death was SOLUS CHRISTUS. Christ alone!
Jesus did it by himself. He fought sin & death in a handicap match…and won!
And no, it wasn’t like a UFC fight. It wasn’t Rhonda Rousey and Holly Holm – (Although that would be quiet the billing: Jesus v. Death!) In actuality, it didn’t look like much of a fight at all.
Jesus was beaten. He was handcuffed. He was betrayed by his friends. He was led to a false trial. He was deceptively sentenced. He was spat upon, slapped, and scourged. He had a crown of thorns placed into his head and a rod repeatedly striking him in the face. He carried a heavy “T” of wood outside the city and there he was nailed with large spikes – hand and foot to the cross.
Honestly – it looked like he had lost. He died!
But – hidden behind the this grim death scene –invisible to the naked eye -- our Jesus had already won. He had taken our sins and choked the life out of them. He put the devil in a strangle hold and weakened him into a frail shadow of himself. He looked death square in the face and knocked the “death” out of him!
And soon…this was apparent. Because three days later, he walked the earth again. He was alive – death was dead. He was in the winners circle (shaking hands and giving hugs) – sin was nowhere to be found! He was victorious – the devil was defeated.
III. Under Jesus’ Reign
Brothers and sisters, it’s nice to be under Jesus’ reign.
Did you ever notice that it matters who is in charge? If you’ve ever had a change of boss at work, then you know that. You might be used to a boss that let’s you play on Facebook and take afternoons off. Then, that guy might get fired and be replaced by a tyrant who sends you home with work to do on your iPad at home – so you never get a break. Maybe your company struggled, but then you replaced the CEO and things began to take off.
What’s it like under Jesus’ reign? How do things change when you go from sin and death – to Jesus?
But with Jesus as ruler, our lives are overflowing with grace. It’s like taking a bathtub of water and trying to fill up a little Dixie cup – with a picture of Dora the Explorer imprinted on the side. You have way more than you need.
Jesus has gifted us way more than we need!
2. Jesus Calls us "Innocent"
Verse 16 says this, “The gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: the judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation" – Because that’s what sin deserves. Condemnation. But here’s where it gets interesting. “The gift followed many trespasses" – which we might expect to lead to “Many condemnations.” But that’s not what followed it. Scripture says, “the gift…brought justification.”
That’s literally the exact opposite of condemnation. Justification is a courtroom term that means “not guilty,” “innocent;” “free from punishment.” This phrase is proof that sin has been defeated for you. Because they no longer bring the condemnation that they hoped to bring! Because of Jesus, you are forgiven!
That’s who you are.
We don’t have to live each day like we got called into the principal’s office – who has a tendency to get so angry with our sins that he pounds the desk, shakes the earth, and fire comes out of his eyes!
No. instead. We – you – live each day “FORGIVEN.” Free from sin. God’s dear child. A powerless victim of sin – no longer!
3. We Reign in LIFE.
But sin isn’t all that was defeated. There’s still that death thing. Does it still have power over us?
Read verse 17 “By the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace (that’s the overflowing love that we talked about) and of the gift of righteousness (that’s the declaration of “not guilty” we just talked about – both of which you have received , so this is talking about you!) How much more… will you reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ."
An ironic twist, Jesus turned death, who had turned Adam into a doorway for death, into a door itself. Jesus turned death into a doorway for life.
Not just any life either. Eternal life. Peaceful life. Perfect life in heaven with Jesus.
So don’t be scared. No matter what it looks like out there in the world – don’t be scared. No matter what your friends tell you and your Facebook feed suggests – don’t be scared.
Jesus reigns. Christ alone Rules. To Him be glory and honor and praise now and forever. Amen!
Sola Scriptura means "By Scripture Alone."
Click above to hear why Scripture is a MUST read and a MUST Share.
Last week our sermon was called Sola Gratia. That means “by grace alone.” We talked about how salvation has to be a gift from God. It has to be because the cost is too much for us. Salvation costs a perfect life. That’s something none of us own. But it is what Jesus had – and it is what Jesus completely paid for and freely gifted you and me when he died on the cross. Salvation is ours. It’s a gift by grace alone. It’s yours. New phrase – sola fide – which means "by faith alone.”
The professors at seminary always described faith like an empty hand – an empty hand that receives gifts. Not a hand that earns salvation by sweeping the broom. Not a hand that holds onto a credit card and pays its way in. An empty hand.
Think about it. At your birthday, people give your gifts and you receive them. You take them up. They are yours. You don’t earn the gifts by your hands. Your grandma doesn’t say, “This sweater is yours – if you can catch it from me.” (Although that might make for a mighty fun party game.) No, you don’t do anything to get the gifts. You simply receive them.
God’s gracious gift of salvation is received by faith alone!
But…just like last week’s teaching of salvation by grace alone gets attacked by the devil, so this week’s teaching gets attacked by the devil, too. Today we want to (1) be made aware of ‘common ways the devil ruins the teaching of faith alone’ in our lives and (2) be assured that faith alone is the true teaching of God’s Word.
I. Common Additions to “By Faith Alone”
The Jewish Addition.
Jesus was a Jew. So the message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone started among the Jews. The apostles did what Jesus said and told people that Jesus died to pay the price of their salvation. Many believed. They loved it. They treasured it. After all those years of living like a Jew, wearing the right clothes, eating the right food, observing the proper traditions and still hearing form their own religious leaders that “they weren’t good enough,” salvation sola gratia was joyous news.
But then the message made it’s way to those who weren’t Jewish – the sexually immoral Greeks, the hard-nosed violent Romans, even multi-god worshipping residents of Africa. Suddenly, salvation seem too easy.
It got to be too much for one group. They began to add to the original Apostles’ message. Their additions?
“Yes, you are saved by Jesus…BUT ALSO being circumcised.”
“Yes, salvation is a gift…that you pay for by never eating pork.”
“Yes, you have salvation as long as you become Jewish.”
Suddenly, just like that, the Jewish people had their swagger back. Now they felt like they had earned it. Salvation came from Jesus, but mostly from their DNA. Those who were Jewish? Happy. Those who became Jewish? Proud. Those who weren’t Jewish? They despaired.
Sounds silly doesn’t it? Yet the same devil that tricked people back then is the same devil at work among Christians today. Here are a few modern additions.
The “Emotion” Addition.
This is from desiringgod.org It’s an evangelical blog. Take a moment and listen to this pastor’s response on “How To Know You’re Saved.” He says, “To be sure (of your salvation)…say what you feel about this: “Jesus is my Lord…” If you say it and mean it, God is at work in your life, you have the Holy Spirit."
What do you think? Good way to know that you're saved.
I’ll tell you what I thought. I thought, “Yes, I think Jesus is my Savior. And I feel really good about it too. At least I think I do. I’m not sure if I really feel good about it right now or I’m just manufacturing a good feeling about it because I’m in front of a hundred people and I don’t want them to be disappointed. Honestly, I might feel alright about it right now, but after saying something nasty to my wife OR watching a TV show that reminds me of some past sins – then I don’t feel as good about it. So am I saved now…maybe…perhaps…but next week when I’m struggling with depression – not so much?”
Do you see what happened here? “Emotions” have been added to the salvation equation. That’s foolish. Emotions go up and down. They are about as steady as a kite in a thunderstorm. If you add that to the “by faith alone” equation, you’ll feel better when you feel good. (But you’ll feel better because you believe you're feeling better is proof of your salvation. Not Jesus.) When you feel bad, you’ll only feel worse!
If this is the case, we should invest in an endless supply of laughing gas from the dentist. That way we’ll always feel good and we’ll always be saved.
The “Time” Addition.
Jesus told a story about this. He said there were a bunch of workers hanging out at the local marketplace hoping to find work for the day. At 7am, the farmer hired a group to work a full day until five. He promised to pay them a day’s wages and then got them situated for the day. Then, he went back to the marketplace and hired some more people at about 9am. He did the same at 11am, 1pm, and even 3pm – when there was only an hour to be oriented and an hour to work – he still hired them.
Then, at quitting time he called the people who had only worked for two hours. He gave them a full day's pay which got them excited, but it excited the full day's workers most of all. They thought, “We’ve been here all day. He’s going to give us 10 times that amount! Awesome. I can’t waited to order a steak dinner tonight."
But then the workers got the same as everyone else. They got a day’s pay. Which wasn’t wrong. It was exactly what they had been promised.
The parable illustrates our human way of thinking. "Yes, salvation is by faith alone, but you’ve gotta be a believer for awhile. You can’t just believe at the last second. There must be some timeline associated with it. There must be something that I get for going to this church every Sunday, for the last hundreds Sundays, without missing a Sunday. Maybe, that something is salvation. I’ve been a believer for 40 years. I know I’ll be saved because I’ve been a believer all my life.”
Unless this arbitrary cut off point (which isn’t in the Bible) isn’t 40 years, but 40 years and 1 day. In which case, you are wrong. You aren’t saved.
Do you see the danger? Do you see how foolish that is?
The “Religious” Addition.
The last is very similar. It’s the Christian version of what the Pharisees. They thought, "I am going to heaven, because I'm awesome. I do religious things. I say religious things. I think religious things. My religiousness gets me to heaven."
Be careful of the Christian version of this: “I’m saved as long as I do religious things. I’m saved because I serve on the Council. I’m saved because I sing in the choir. I’m saved because I bring sliced cheese once every other month for fellowship. I’m saved because I used to do bad stuff, but now I do good stuff. I’m saved because I…because I…Because I."
What happened to because Jesus?
II. The Truth About Additions to Faith
Have you ever made Kool Aid before? My favorite is tropical punch – or as I called it growing up – ‘The red one.’ To make Kool Aid you have to get a Kool Aid packet, pour it into the pitcher. Then, a cup of sugar and then some water. You mix it all together and get a delicious, comforting drink.
But there’s also that Koo lAid that comes in the jar. It already has sugar mixed into the “Red Dye Number 6” flakes. To make that kind of Kool Aid, you only need water alone. Nothing else.
I remember one of the first time I tried making it like that. I was nervous that it wouldn’t be any good. “No sugar? I doubt it. It must need sugar. I’ve always made it with sugar. I think it needs sugar. I better put some sugar in. Two cups.”
Needless to say – I had ruined the drink. I think it ended up down the sink.
Additions ruin salvation in the same way. Here are three ways:
1. Additions Ruin Jesus' Work.
Galatians 2:21 says Paul was talking about how he didn’t add to faith. He said, “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
In other words, if there were a need for any of these additions, then what would be the point of Jesus on the cross? What would be the point of his sacrifice?
I can see Jesus right now. He's up in heaven rubbing his wrists after having hung on the cross. Then, he looks to his left and sees a group of people getting into heaven without putting faith in him.
He looks at the Father, "Really?"
If we add things to salvation by faith alone, we are essentially ruining Jesus' work.
Now what's interesting is that we usually do these things and make these additions because we feel like we are being more faithful than others.
Sadly, the opposite is true.
2. Additions Show a Weak Faith.
One time Jesus told his disciples to watch out for the ‘yeast’ of the Pharisees and the disciples got nervous. “He’s mad because we forgot bread for lunch. We’re all going to go hungry.” Which – by the way – is a conversation that takes place right after Jesus fed over 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Then, another time he fed over 4,000 people with 7 loaves of a bread and a few fish. In both instances he had basketfuls left over!
So when they began to think that they had failed to “do their part” in order to make his “miraculous part” work. He said this, “You of little faith...?” Why do you think you need to add something to my power in order to make it work?
The same is true when we believe these additions are necessary. Our faith isn’t strong; it’s weak!
3. It Comes from Pride
Do you remember those phrases from earlier? I’m saved because I’m Jewish. I’m saved because I feel good about it. I’m saved because I do good. I’m saved because I have been a Christian for awhile. I’m saved because I do Jesus stuff. I’m saved because I….because I…because I…I ….I.
Did you notice that theme? Besides being rooted in unbelief, these additions really stem from pride.
It’s why God calls us to repentance as more than a one time thing. Scripture doesn’t tell us to say, “I was a sinner undeserving of heaven, until I met Jesus. Then, I put my faith in Jesus and now I’m saved because I’m awesome!” Nope.
Repentance is a daily thing. In repentance we drown our pride and we put our faith in Jesus.
With faith in Jesus, you will be saved. That's all you need!
III. Faith Alone Saves
Here's some proof of the "by faith alone" message of Scripture. Open up your Bibles to Romans 4.
He was man of the year. If there would have been a Time Magazine back then, he would have been on the cover. If there would have been a Nobel prize, he would have had a cave full. He did a lot of incredible things!
But those things weren’t what saved him. Romans 4:1-3 says this, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness."
Did you see that? “Abraham believed God.” Faith. “And it was credited to him as righteousness.” Not because faith was a meritorious work that impressed God, but because Abraham’s faith – his empty hand – simply held onto God’s promises. He believed God would send a Savior – a righteous Savior. He believed God would provide the righteousness he needed to get into heaven.
God is righteous. He knew the requirements. He provided exactly what Abraham needed in the gift of Jesus as his Savior.
The same is true for you. God provided a gift of a Savior. Believe it!
2. Gifts vs. Obligation
Take a look at the next verses in Romans 4. 4 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5 However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
Do you see the difference? An obligation is something that is owed you because you earned it. Which means if someone owes you something, you better do what you need to do to earn it.
But a gift – is a gift. It doesn’t require anything from you. You simply receive.
When it comes to salvation, you receive forgiveness. Forgiveness for pride. Forgiveness for unbelief. Forgiveness for a weakness of faith.
And forgiveness? It's sweet.
Just ask King David.
You remember him, right? David slayed Goliath. David became King of Israel. David won many battles. David had a beautiful palace.
One night on the palace David went to the roof and looked out over his kingdom. There in the distance he saw a beautiful woman bathing. He looked. He desired. He sent for her. He brought her to his room and had sex with her. (Forget about being married.)
A few days later she sent word that she was pregnant. SCANDAL. He sent for her husband who served as a soldier in David's army. David brought him to the palace. David got him drunk and told him to go home and sleep with his wife.
The man didn't. He didn't want to enjoy what his comrades out in the field couldn't enjoy.
So David sent him back to the battle with a note. The note went to the general. It said that this man was to be placed in the front line of battle. Then, when the fighting was fiercest, the general was to give the retreat signal. But he wasn't to tell this man about the signal so that the fighting would get to him and he would die.
The general listened. The army drew back. The man died. And David was consumed with guilt.
Finally, a prophet of God came to David and convicted him of his sin. David confessed, "I have sinned."
The prophet's response? "God has forgiven your sins."
David understood what salvation by faith alone meant. Romans reminds us of what David wrote in the Psalms, "6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them."
Insert yourself. Insert yourself and believe God.
"Blessed are you whose transgressions are forgiven."
"Blessed are you whose sins are covered."
"Blessed are you whose sin the Lord will never count against him/her."
The Final Word
Therefore, Romans asks this question, "3:27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law."
Make sense? This week work hard on boasting in Jesus. Not in yourself. In Jesus. Think about ways you can boast in your Savior and share the message of your salvation.
A salvation by grace alone...by faith alone. Amen.
I’m from Wisconsin. I love the Green Bay Packers and I try to never miss a game.
But we live in North Carolina. The Packers aren’t always on television. So I have to be creative. I can go to a sports bar – I can make friends with those who have an NFL ticket – or I can sneak a peek through someone’s back window.
One time I was feeling a bit sick and I didn’t want to go out. So I opened up my computer and I typed into Google, “WATCH PACKERS ONLINE FOR FREE.” Sure enough – a link popped up right away with that exact phrase, “WATCH PACKERS ONLINE FOR FREE.” I clicked on it.
I was taken to a “kind of shady" looking website where there wasn’t a lot of punctuation and every letter was lowercased, but right in the middle was a big flashing GREEN button that said, “WATCH FREE HERE!” Again – I clicked. This time an ad popped up, “Complete 2 of 3 offers for access to the game.” The offers? Sign up for two year subscription to a magazine; buy $20 of stuff at Home Depot OR take a 45 minute survey for a clinical trial.
FREE isn’t so FREE, is it?
That was for watching a Packer game. How much do you think heaven costs? How much do you think forgiveness costs? What about peace, eternal life, and victory for your soul?
I. Salvation Can’t Be Bought
Romans 2:6 says this, “God will repay each according to what he has done.” You get paid what you have earned. If you work 4 hours, you get paid for 4 hours. If you work 8 hours, you get paid for 8 hours. If you work on commission, you get paid for the work you did.
Romans is saying, “if you want salvation, you’ve gotta earn it.”
Ever heard of UBER? It’s a phone app that allows you to request a ride from just about anywhere. Only uber isn’t a taxi service, it simply alerts people who have signed up to be Uber drivers that you need to be picked up and moved from point A to point B.
Being an UBER driver sounds pretty sweet. You get paid for gas and for the time spent in the car driving person from A to B. Once more people use this service, I imagine you can live in and this becomes a full time job. But – if you live in the outskirts, Concord OR Rolesville – probably not a full time job. You probably aren’t as busy.
What does it take then to get heaven?
How much do you have to do to earn salvation?
How many hours do you have to put in?
Take a look at Romans 2:7 “Those who persist in doing good will be given eternal life.” Notice that word persist. That means “To continue in.” There’s no qualifier in this sentence. It doesn’t say, “Persist for a while.” “Persist for a week.” “Persist for a month.” Nope. It simply says, “Persist.”
As in, “All the time.”
Sound easy enough? Just do good, speak good, and think good all the time.
But, I gotta ask, do you even think you’ll persist in good until noon? As you’re leaving, will you fight over the radio? “I want Justin Bieber – but my NFL game is starting.” Will you argue over lunch? Swear at the first turnover during your football game? Lust as the cameras pans in on the cheerleaders? Or dream about the guy next door doing yard work with his shirt off? Yell at the kids, not because they’re doing anything wrong, but because they’re annoying you. Call up your mom to bad mouth your sister and have enough glasses of wine that the room starts to spin.
Honestly – we might not even persist in doing good the rest of this church service. We might see someone and start thinking about how much we hate them. We might ignore the sermon because we want to check out our fantasy stats. We might gossip with the person next to us during the sermon because, “Did you see how ornery those kids were?”
Let’s be honest. We haven’t persisted in doing good. We can’t persist in doing good. We don’t quality for receiving eternal life.
What then? What do we do if we haven’t done persistent good, but instead we’ve done sin? Romans 6:23 explains it very simply, “The wages of sin is death.”
It’s Halloween weekend. Did you see anything scary? Miniature witches? An exorbitant amount of spider webs? My neighbors have a scarecrow that’s motion censored and moves when you get close. (I didn’t get scared at all. I promise.)
But Halloween’s not that scary. Afterall, it’s pretend. That Romans passage? It is. It mentions death. It talks about eternal separation. It mentions the hellfire wrath of God against sin.
I can understand if you don’t want to believe it. It’s a terrifying thing to be true. But just because it’s terrifying, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Just because you don’t believe it, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
Sin is scary and the wages of in is scary.
Ask Martin Luther. He was a 16th century monk. Martin Luther was terrified of God. He understood sin. He understood that a Good God MUST hate sin; therefore, Martin would try to soothe God’s anger. He would lock himself in a dark tower. He’d beat himself. He’d starve himself. He’d pay money to the priests earn forgiveness.
Yet he knew it wasn’t working. He knew he was still persisting in bad. He knew he was earning death.
Then, Martin got to studying the Bible for himself. He learned Greek and Hebrew so that he could read the Bible in its original languages. When he did, what he found shocked him.
Here for instance. Read the entirety of Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.”
Every birthday party – there are always some gifts you look forward to and others that you can do without, right? Grandmas’ gifts? Awesome. She’d give you a Nintendo game or a sweet book. Mom? She always knew exactly what you wanted. Crazy Aunt sally? She'd knit two pairs of socks that didn’t match because she ran out of the color yarn she was using.
Look at who is giving a gift in Romans 6. It’s God! The divine Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t run out of yarn. He owns all things. He has an unlimted supply of everything.
What he gave – is even better than one of those cards with cash in it – God give something that lasts forever. He gifted us eternal life in Christ Jesus.
This wasn’t cheap for God. Notice he gave us eternal life in Christ Jesus. Eternal life was so costly, so expensive, that God had to give up the life of his one and only, persisting in doing good, never sinned once, holy in every way Son.
And this was hard. Jesus endured nails through his hands. He endured thorns pressed into his head. He endured a slow painful death on a cross.
But he stayed up there. He stayed up there because he loved you too much. He stayed up there to save you. He stayed up there, because you couldn’t pay for salvation. He stayed up there because he could. He stayed up there because salvation MUST BE A GIFT!
Three day later, what happened to him? He came back to life. He rose from the dead. He didn’t die trying to win you a gift, but he came back to life triumphant because he had had!
Look at the result. Romans 3:24 says this, “We are justified freely by God’s grace in Jesus.” Justified is a courtroom term. It’s legal speak. It means, “Not guilty,” or, “Innocent.” “Forgiven.”
It means that when God is judging you, God remembers Jesus. He says, “This one persisted in doing good, give him eternal life!”
The devil objects, “Didn’t you see it? Didn’t you watch this person’s life? The porn use. The time he cheated on his wife. The time he stole money at work. The lies. The guilt. The greed. The anger. God – it’s all over this person. Don’t you see how sinful they are?!”
And God? “No.”
This is grace. It’s a gift – an eternal, incredible, divine gift from God to you!
But, here’s the thing. The devil didn’t convince God that Christ’s sacrifice wasn’t enough; so the devil will try to convince you. “That Pastor is foolish. Grace might work for that Wally Cleaver over there, but not you. Jesus isn’t enough. Grace isn’t enough. You need to do better. You need to earn your salvation. You need to get better – which you’ll never do – so you might as well give up!”
Romans 11:6, “If it is by grace, then it is not by works; for it were, grace would no longer be grace.”
In the back of church, there are a bunch of free Bibles. Guests, please take one. If anyone else wants one to take to a friend or coworker, go for it.
Now, if we had someone back by the Bible with a cash register and one of those little card swiper thingies who said, “That’ll be $5.” Then, we can’t say “Come get your gift.” It’s not a gift. Even if the Bibles cost a penny OR sign up to be a member in our church, then it wouldn’t be a gift.
Same thing with salvation. It is a gift. It’s yours by faith. It’s yours without having to earn it. It’s your by grace alone.
Now what? Believe it. Don’t leave this gift behind. Experience its benefits.
Like the Philippian Jailer. Do you know that story?
There had just been an earthquake. As the dust settled and the landscape calmed, the insides of the jailer became a jumbled mess. “Shoot. Did the prisoners get out? Are they getting away? If they do, where should I go? The Romans will kill me. If they do, who will look after my family? Who will pay for their food? How much longer do I have to live? When I die, where will I go? How will I face God? Will it be peaceful? Or will I be punished?"
The jailer ran to the cell. Hoping – praying that they were still closed. Hoping – praying that the men were still in them. Hoping – praying that he would get to keep his life.
As he turned the corner, his heart dropped. He saw a cell door – wide open.
With tears streaming his face, the flickering light of the one remaining candlestand revealed that all of the cell doors had been busted open. His shook his head in disbelief. This was a disaster. There was no reason to remain. No reason to face his employers. No reason to live.
He unsheathed his sword. He took a deep breath….and…
“Don’t do it!” A voice shouted, “We are all here.”
The jailer opened his eyes. He followed the voice. There he saw the man called Paul in the corner. He was some sort of religious guy. He had the others prisoners gathered around him in prayer. He had been singing praises to God. He was smiling.
The jailer didn’t know a lot about him, but right now…right now that didn’t matter. His life had just flashed before his eyes and he hated what he saw. Now only one question went through his mind:
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Maybe he was expecting some incredible answer. Maybe he was expecting “Increase your giving to the temple.” Maybe he was expecting, “Improve your morality.” Maybe he was expecting, “You can’t; it costs too much.”
But that wasn’t what he heard. It wasn’t what Jesus taught. Paul replied, “Believe in Jesus and be baptized.”
In other words: “Trust in God’s grace. Receive his gracious promises." God did it all!
You do the same. We are saved by grace alone. Amen.