This blog post is Part 7 of a series entitled "May I Ask A Question?" by Pastor Jeffrey Dean Smith of Donelson First in Nashville, TN.
Message Date: June 18, 2023
Imagine this... a friend you have not seen in a while requests coffee with you. You meet your friend, and after a time of “small talk” over work, family, and the Denver Nuggets winning it all last Monday night, your friend asks: “I know you are religious, so I have come to you for advice. My father recently passed, and his passing has me thinking more about eternity than I have previously in my life. Please explain to me what it means to be a Christian. I am not sure I really know.”
This morning, I implore you to keep such a scenario before you and ever on your mind as you listen.
Today we are going to discuss 4 questions, that though unique, are equally connected, and today will provide for an extremely robust time of teaching.
In a time in which there are so very many varying messages on the way in which one is granted access to heaven, it is my ambition today to present to you a very clear, succinct, and direct dissertation of salvation and its impact on our lives presently and in the life to come after life.
Here are 4 questions you have submitted for discussion in the May I Ask A Question? series: How do I know if I am really saved? If I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, can I then do anything to lose my salvation (ie based upon subsequent sin)? If not, how can I know for sure? Are we “elected” (predestined) or does everyone have the opportunity to receive Jesus as Savior? Do people who take their own life go to hell?
As I have thought through these questions this week, Scripture has reminded me:
No matter my worldly knowledge, personal successes, accomplishments, accolades, and notoriety, if I get my eternity wrong, nothing else matters. I lose. I die. I spend forever in hell.
I can say this unequivocally - - This is the most important message I have ever delivered. I am confident this is one of the, if not the, most important messages you will ever hear.
I am going to answer each of these 4 questions in a somewhat different way than you might expect. To properly answer each, requires us a deep dive into biblical doctrine in the areas of sin, humanity and eternity. So, I am going to answer these 4 submitted questions by offering 4 broader questions.
The 4 questions I am presenting for discussion today:
1. What is salvation? 2. Why do I need salvation? 3. How do I attain salvation? 4. Is it possible to lose my salvation?
So... here we go!
1. What is salvation?
The word “salvation” appears 182 times in the Bible. The word “save” or “saved” appears 104 times in the Bible. Cumulatively, these three words, salvation, save, & saved, appear almost 300 times in the Bible.
What is salvation? Spiritual deliverance from the eternal danger of God’s wrath.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas, pastors of the Lord, are imprisoned for preaching, “Jesus saves.” While in prison, there is an earthquake that shakes open all of the prison doors.
Look at what happens: Acts 16:25-31
Paul is revealing to the Philippian jailer that the key to his eternal destiny is salvation.
The word “saved” here in Acts 16 is the same Greek form of the word “salvation” we find Paul uses a few chapters earlier in Acts 4: Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12
Salvation /Greek/ soteria - Deliverance; rescue; the removal of one from grave danger in receiving God’s wrath.
I’ve made people mad in my life before. I am sure I have made some of you mad at me before. I’ve told y’all about Patty Funk. She blacked my eye in first grade after I went in for a kiss on her cheek on the playground. But Patty’s anger and your anger are nothing like God’s anger. As a matter of fact...
Have you ever paused to consider what the wrath of God actually is?
Listen to this: But I am full of the wrath of the Lord, and I cannot hold it in. Jeremiah 6:11a
But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God, the eternal King. When He is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure His wrath. Jeremiah 10:10
Consume them in your wrath, consume them till they are no more. Then it will be known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob. Psalm 59:13
I will take vengeance in anger and wrath on the nations that have not obeyed me. Micha 5:15
In each of these passages, we find this same Greek word “wrath,” which means:
Wrath /Greek/ ogre = a righteous anger of God toward sinful disobedience.
I tell you... making someone mad as opposed to being on the other end of God’s wrath is a mad I’ll take over and again.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! Romans 5:9
For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:9
Salvation is the only way by which I am provided an escape from the eternal wrath of God.
2. Why do I need salvation?
When God made everything, God gave everything a very specific title. What is this title? It’s recorded in Genesis 1:3.
Good / Hebrew/ = of the highest quality; morally uncompromising
Everything God made was of the highest quality and morally uncompromising.
But once man committed a sin, all of mankind, at that moment, was sentenced to death: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned. Romans 5:12
Came / Greek / dyschromia = to pass through; to travel through
Simply: The sins of one now pass (or travel) through to all others.
Why is this so critical? Well, this reality actually confirms a death sentence for all of humanity from birth forward!
Why do I need salvation? Sin. (and too...) I need salvation because the dreadful reality of the presence of sin in my life requires there is no other way for me to avoid spiritual death.
Think about how your choices affect others. Sometimes you may make a choice that impacts one or two or three people…. Imagine making one choice, one choice, and that one choice impacting every single human who will ever walk on this planet throughout the span of time on earth. It only took one choice, one choice at the beginning of time, and that one choice affected every single person born from that moment forward until the end of time on earth.
This is how seriously God distinguishes my sin.
One choice affected all of humanity… forever. I think about how casual I am, at times, with my choices... even my deliberate choice to sin.
“It’s just one comment.” “It’s just one thought.” “It’s just one complaint.” “It’s just one bit of gossip.” “It’s just one lie.” I am often so very callous about one choice to sin. Yet God takes every sin, just one sin, my sin, incredibly seriously.
How seriously does God consider my one sin to be? Well, consider this thought…
What if the next time you gossiped… What if the next time you exaggerated the truth… What if the next time you said a lie… Your child would have to die? It only took one sin to require the very death of God’s one Son.
What is sin?
Sin = My failure to conform to the moral law of God.
I can achieve such failure in countless ways through my actions, my attitude, and my nature.
First, I sin through actions as I lie, manipulate, lust, steal, cheat, and more.
Secondly, I, too, sin through my attitude as I think thoughts I should not. The Ten Commandments address such wrong attitudes when we read: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Exodus 20:17
Thirdly, I sin through my nature through the internal character of my humanness. I am sinful by nature because, as we discussed earlier, I am born into this fallen world as a fallen person.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were, by nature, deserving of wrath. Ephesians 2:3
How I view sin will determine how I make decisions.
If I view sin as merely a bad choice, I will more often than not continue a life of sin, because I carelessly and casually view my sin as a simple choice that I sometimes get right and sometimes get wrong.
If I view sin as a failure of injustice against the moral law of God, then I realize that even the slightest deviation from God’s lofty standard is the greatest atrocity against a Holy God and His expectations for my life.
No matter how I view sin, God’s standard is constant and never-changing. I am a sinful person, born with the very nature of a sinner. And no matter how hard I try, and no matter what good I am able to accomplish... I am a sinner.
This is why I am in need of salvation.
This leads us to the following ever-important question... a question that eternity demands you and I answer:
3. How do I attain salvation?
Here are 2 critical steps:
We believe in so very many things and circumstances in this life of which many are out of our control. Do we not? We believe the world will spin in proper order – close enough to the sun to bring us heat and light, yet not too close to completely set us and all things afire. We believe in the fall that will soon come and change the color of the leaves and usher in cool nights and frosty mornings.
We believe in electromagnetic waves, though we rarely, if ever think of such. Radio waves cannot be seen with the naked eye, yet such waves transmit data and are used for satellites, computers, and network communication. Then there are x-rays and microwaves which are actually not seen, yet without such, we would have a much less operational and productive and efficient way of living. We place our beliefs in so very many things, often things of which we almost never fully see.
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Romans 10:14
All your words are true; all your righteous laws are eternal. Psalm 119:160
Sovereign Lord, you are God! Your covenant is trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant. 2 Samuel 7:28
I must pause to say this, because this is where so many people stop and never move forward in their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Belief in God is a critical step in my salvation. But belief in God is not enough.
Paul, a writer to the church of Rome, wrote early Christians to say this: They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. Romans 1:29-32
Even Satan, the great adversary, believes in God. But Satan has not chosen to live for God. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. James 2:19
Satan and his demons believe in who God is. Yet, this is not enough and offers to us proof that: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:21-23
Knowledge of and belief in God is not enough to grant me access to the Kingdom of heaven.
While under arrest, Paul stood trial before King Agrippa. King Agrippa, also known as Herod II or Agrippa I, was the last Jewish king of Judea. He was the grandson of Herod the Great. Paul stood before the King, and this story is recorded in Acts 26.
While talking with the King, Paul understood that Agrippa was extremely familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, which is what we call the Old Testament today. Look briefly at their conversation: Acts 26:28-29
Agrippa clearly understood the text of the Old Testament scriptures. Agrippa was a religious man. However, it appears he never moved passed knowledge to the very important and critical and necessary next step, to:
Believing in Jesus is so very critical to each of us if we are to receive the salvation of the Lord. Yet, “believing in” is not enough.
I do believe, in light of the fact that today is Father’s Day, I do BELIEVE that I will finally be given from Amy, Bailey and Brynnan that 21 foot inboard/outboard 250 horse speed boat. I BELIEVE it with all that I have and with all that I am! Look... I can BELIEVE it all I want. But until I RECEIVE it, it’s not mine! Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Psalm 32:10
Receiving Jesus through salvation is the most important decision I will ever make. And it is this one decision upon which my eternity is determined.
You make so very many decisions in life...
You choose what time of day you get out of bed, what you eat, how you dress, the way in which you are entertained, and on and on and on.
You too choose who you worship, how you worship, and to what extent you honor with your life the one in which you worship.
As a human, God made mankind with freedom to choose mostly all that he does.
This includes man’s relationship with Him. God has made you with the free will to either choose or to not choose Him.
God does not force Himself upon man. And God does not require man to accept Him.
Now, some say, and specifically some denominations believe, that God chooses some and God does not choose others. I do not see this to be true in the fullness of Scripture. I too believe, that when taking into consideration the free will ability with which man has been granted to operate and live, and even misuse...
It is not within the character of God to offer man free will in every area of life yet deny man free will choosing to either accept or reject eternal life. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
Denying man the ability to choose or deny God would contradict the very words of God in Scripture!
Why would God create all of mankind in His image, as described fully in the Creation story in Genesis, only to then condemn a portion of humanity to a forever torment in hell forever damned and separated from Him with no opportunity for an eternal choice otherwise?
God would not.
Such a move on the part of God would be completely contrary to the very heart of God to allow some access into His kingdom but to then never give others an opportunity to accept the same eternal destination. Instead, we read where Scripture clearly states:
... that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:2-6
Jesus Himself stated this about God’s redemptive plan, not for some, but for all: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
...so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. Psalm 67:2
Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. Isaiah 45:22
Now, if God gives man freewill to choose, how does man reconcile such a verse as this: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. Ephesians 1:4-5
One of the questions submitted that we are talking through today: Are we “elected” (predestined) or does everyone have the opportunity to receive Jesus as Savior?
Paul writes to the church in Ephesus that, before the creation of the world, God predestined or “elected” us all. This is true. However, this statement does not trump nor contradict the other verses we have just considered that state God would have that all would be saved.
Church, this is why it is so very important that when reading Scripture, we read all of Scripture. In this case we have to take the truth found in the fullness of Scripture so that, together, we arrive at the proper biblical conclusion. Yes. God desires that all be saved. And yes, God predestined before the beginning of time for us all to be adopted into His kingdom. You see, Scripture helps us arrive at the proper place that both can be true. Let me explain with this question: Before the creation of time, has man yet sinned? He has not. Therefore, before the beginning of time, as Paul wrote to the church of Ephesus, all of humanity is predestined, all is “elected,” because all of humanity is without sin. But...
Once sin entered into the world, sin did not change God’s plan. Sin did not change the fact that all are predestined.
Instead, now all of mankind is faced with the decision of whether or not to receive his/her own predestination or to deny it. The end result is that sin instigated a divide between God and man that can only be reconciled by man’s choosing to receive the free gift God offers of salvation. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Romans 10:9
... for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13
Let me quickly tell you what does not grant one salvation:
Salvation does not constitute: 1. Someone praying over me nor committing me to the Lord or to the Church as an infant. 2. Baptism. 3. Attending church and/or being a committed member of a church. 4. Being a good person.
If you have never made the personal choice to believe in and receive Jesus as your Savior, you can do so right now by praying this prayer with me: Dear God, I believe I am guilty because I have sinned against Your moral law. I confess my guilt. I surrender my life to You right now. I ask for Your salvation today. Thank You for giving me a relationship with You and ensuring my eternal destiny in heaven. Amen.
Another question submitted: How do I know if I am really saved?
If you prayed this prayer, or one similar today, or if you have prayed this prayer of one similar before, be confident in knowing that you absolutely are saved!
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved! Romans 10:13
Calls / Greek / epikaleo = to pray; to appeal.
4. Is it possible to lose my salvation?
First to clarify, a Christian is not merely a person who has faithfully been a church-attender, who has grown up in a religious family, who has been baptized and who strives to live right. Of course, a Christian can be all of these things and more. However... A Christian is one who has trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior and therefore the Holy Spirit resides permanently within.
A follower of Jesus Christ receiving salvation is = a new creation.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17
New /Greek / kainos = replaces the old; the most recent
When one receives salvation, this person is not simply an improved person of his former self. No! This person becomes an entirely new person – a new creation that has replaced the old.
A follower of Jesus Christ receiving salvation is = redeemed.
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 1 Peter 1:18-19
Redeemed /Greek / lytroo = free a slave by paying a ransom
Once a slave is freed, that slave can never again be enslaved. Free is free! The word “redeemed” refers to “a purchase being made, a price paid” that forever guarantees the freedom of one once enslaved. For a Christian to lose salvation, God would have to revoke His purchase of the individual for whom He paid with the precious blood of Christ. That is entirely impossible to do.
A follower of Jesus Christ receiving salvation is = justified.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 5:1
God never, never goes back on His Word!
Justify /Greek/ dikaioo = vindicate; acquit; declare righteous
When one receives salvation, that person is vindicated and declared whole and righteous. For God to “un-vindicate” someone, would require of God in the spiritual court of law to go back on His Word to un-declare what He has declared. One once declared innocent cannot be again tried and then found guilty. The same is true with God.
A follower of Jesus Christ receiving salvation is = promised.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
Jesus did not say, “I give you eternal life... unless!”
No, eternal life is eternal life. God made this promise, and God never ever goes back on His Word... no matter what!
A follower of Jesus Christ receiving salvation is = marked + sealed.
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14
At the instant that I give my life to Jesus Christ, I am marked with a seal that can never be erased. Not even unto death.
Therefore... the last question today: Do people who take their own life go to hell?
No! Not even in death do I lose my salvation. Of course, God would never desire that I take my own life because my life, once marked and sealed, is His. At salvation, I lose all of my rights, even the right to take my life. But if I choose to take my life, I do not forfeit the fact that...
At salvation, I am: a new creation. redeemed. justified. promised. marked + sealed.
Jesus said it best when He said: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:28
Jeffrey Dean Smith is a husband, father to Bailey & Brynnan, author, and the Senior Pastor at Donelson First in Nashville, TN. If you are in Music City, meet Jeffrey and enjoy iced tea on the front lawn each Sunday at 10:30a.