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How does God save sinners?

1 July 2011 | by Peter Jeffery

How does God save sinners?

God saves sinners. These three words summaries perfectly the whole of the Christian gospel. Of course there are other aspects of the gospel such as God’s desire to help the poor and hungry and his efforts to motivate charitable works to meet this need, but the supreme essence of Christianity is the God saves sinners.

God hates sin and it grieves his holiness. There is no excuse for sin because it originated not in a time of desperate need and trouble, but in the perfection and plenty of the Garden of Eden ( Genesis 3). Sin is not some human social defect but a rebellion against the rule and authority of God. It is lawlessness. There is no excuse for it but still God loves sinners and longs to save them from the consequence of their sin, which is hell and an eternity without God.

Sin is not an expression of some activity of man’s body, but a determination in his mind to go his own way. This is why Jesus said, for example, in the sermon on the mount that a man has committed adultery in his mind when he lusts after a woman. Where the mind goes the body wii eventually inevitably follow.

Sin dangles before men and women many attractive pleasures but these are only temporary. Eventually the price will have to be paid and the wages of sin is death. From this awful state men and women need to be saved, but how can it be done? Man is totally incapable of saving himself so if God does not save him he has no hope.

How does God save?

First of all God decides to save. Among Christians, the subject of election and predestination is undoubtedly one of the most controversial. Some believers love and cherish it as most thrilling and humbling; others will not tolerate it at any price, regarding it as totally abhorrent.

Many object that election is unfair and it removes human responsibility. In Romans 9 Paul states clearly the doctrine and then in verse 14 asks: ‘What then shall we say?’ — or in other words, what is our reaction to this? He then poses and answers two questions.

  1. ‘Is God unjust?’ (v. 14) — It is not fair, say some. His answer to this is twofold.
  • This is what Scripture teaches, illustrated by Exodus 33:19.
  • Far from being unfair, election is an act of divine mercy.

God does not punish anyone unjustly. He did not make Pharaoh a sinner any more than he made us sinners. We are all sinners by nature, and therefore all deserve God’s wrath. But God in his mercy saves some, and in his justice condemns others. So he who is saved cannot claim that he is better than others, and he who is condemned must acknowledge that he receives only what he deserves.

‘Then why does God still blame us?’ (v. 19) — that is, man cannot be held responsible, for who can resist God’s will? Paul answers that such an objection springs from ignoranceof the true relationship between God and man (v. 20). God is our Creator, so we dare not demand that he should answer to our reasoning. Who are we to dismiss something so clear simply because it is not acceptable to our little minds? Election is one of the most thrilling and humbling truths in the Bible.

Secondly God provides a saviour. But who can do it? In the Bible records the loves of its great heroes are shown with all their strengths but also with all their weaknesses and failures. One of the reasons for this is to show that great men like David and Moses coiuld not keep themselves from sin let alone save others. So who will the saviour be? It has to be someone sinless so that sin and judgement has no claims on him, and it has to be a man because by man came sin so by man must come the remedy to sin. The problem was that no man was sinless so in the person of Jesus , God became man and as the sinless Jesus he himself became the saviour.

Jesus had to become a man in order to deal legally and justly with our sin. It was man who had broken God’s law and sinned, therefore it had to be man who would pay the penalty for that sin. But there was no man qualified to do this, so God became man in the person of Jesus Christ and did for us what was crucial for our salvation.

Salvation was planned in heaven, but it could not be accomplished it heaven. The punishment of sin must be given to man and the sacrifice that would obtain salvation must be made by man. But all men and women are sinners so there is no one good enough to do this. The only solution was for God to become man’ so that by his death’ (Hebrews 2:14) he could purchase salvation for his people. God became man so that as the man Jesus he could die for his people and obtain for them an eternal salvation. This is why God became man.

God saves

‘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). Here we have a perfect statement of God’s glorious remedy for sin. God hates sin, but in his divine love he has prepared a remedy which deals justly with the punishment that sin deserves, and yet at the same time provides pardon for the sinner.

God has said that the penalty for sin is death-spiritual and physical death. Nothing can change that, because it is the judgment of the holy God. As such it is perfect and correct. God will not pretend that a man has not sinned. Justice must be done. The demands of God’s law and the penalties for breaking that law must be satisfied.

In love and mercy God declares that he will accept a substitute to die in the sinner’s place. But God’s law demands the substitute must be free from the guilt of sin, and therefore not deserving of death himself. There was no man who met these requirements. So God became man, a holy, perfect, sinless man, whose name was Jesus. Read very carefully the following words from Romans 3:25,26: ‘God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus.’

Now turn to Ephesians 2 and read that chapter carefully. Here is God’s remedy for your sin. It is all of grace. ‘Grace’ means that you did nothing to deserve such a remedy, and that you contributed nothing toward it. This should encourage you in seeking God. It is not that you seek God, but that God seeks you. The Lord God Almighty has himself provided a remedy for your sin so that you may know and love him. This remedy is to be found only in the Lord Jesus Christ. So, in seeking God, it is vital that you know who Jesus is.

God’s workmanship

How do we become Christians? The popular notion is that we do so by trying our best. Salvation is therefore a reward for our efforts. The Bible says, ‘No, this is not true.’ Salvation is not the result of our works (Eph. 2:8-9), it is the result of God’s work. The Christian is God’s workmanship (Eph. 2: 10). This simple illustration tells us so much we need to know about salvation. A workman needs three things – raw material to work from, tools to work with and a design to work to.

I knew a man who was highly skilled and clever. He could do almost anything with a piece of wood, and his shed was full of all sorts of bits and pieces that he would never throwaway because they might come in handy one day. There was one beautiful piece of teak that he always said he was keeping for a special job. It was so much better than the other wood he had and too good for most jobs. So with this workman, as with most, his raw material varied. Some was excellent, some not so good.

God’s raw material has no special pieces. It is all rubbish. The raw material of human nature is so twisted and warped by sin, so full of flaws and knots that it would take a workman of infinite skill to do anything with it. God is such a workman. There is no raw material that God cannot fashion into a thing of beauty. That truth gives every sinner hope.

As God begins to work on this raw material, his main tool is Scripture. As the Word is preached, the Holy Spirit begins the vital work of conviction. The hammer of God’s law, the screwdriver of conviction and the plane of divine mercy to take off the rough edges, all do their work. Another tool is circumstance. A sickness, a chance meeting, an unexpected happening can all be used to show the sinner his need of salvation.

The design that God is working to is to make us like Jesus – to change our vile nature so that we radiate something of the beauty of Jesus. Only God can do this. Only God can make a Christian. A Christian is not a patched-up sinner, he is a new creation. God does something in him so wonderful that the change cannot be explained in any other terms than that this person is God’s workmanship.

God’s invitation

If you are searching for God, are you begin to despair of ever finding him? Here is a great encouragement for you: it is not so much that you are seeking God, but that God is seeking you. Jesus came into this world ‘to seek and to save what was lost’ (Luke 19:10). In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables – of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost Son. Read the chapter, and notice at the end of each parable the great rejoicing when the lost is found. Jesus tells us also that ‘There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’ (verse 10). Are you beginning to see now how much value God places on the souls of men and women like you? Your search for God is not a hopeless one, for he has promised, ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you … ‘ Jeremiah29:13,14).

This is the gospel, the ‘good news’: ‘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). If you have read the pages of this little booklet with any understanding, you cannot doubt his love. There remains but one word from the gospel to bring to you. It is a small word, a simple word, but it is of vital importance. The word is ‘Come!’ Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest … rest for your souls’ (Matthew 11:28,29). Are you weary and burdened with the load and guilt of your sin? Then come to Christ! You want rest for your soul, don’t you? Then come! Jesus said, ‘Come, for everything is now ready’ (Luke 14:17). There is nothing you have to do, neither is there anything that God has to do, for Jesus has already done all that is necessary for your salvation. ‘It is finished’, it is ready; so come!

Almost the last words in the Bible are: ‘Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life’ (Revelation 22:17). A great preacher speaking on this verse once said: My text is such a precious one, that I cannot enter into the fulness of its freeness and sweetness. Remember, my dear friends, if you are willing to be saved, God requires nothing of you except that you will yield yourselve up to Christ. If you are willing to be saved, none can prevent, there is no obstacle. You are come where Jesus stands-stands arms, stands with open mouth, crying to you this day, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink … And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.’

And now will you refuse the invitation? Will you go this day and abuse the free mercy of God? Shall his very mercy lead you into more sin? Will you be wicked enough to say, that because grace is free, therefore you will continue in sin year after year? Oh, do not do so; grieve not the Spirit of God: today is the accepted time; today is the day of salvation.

To ‘come’ means to believe in Jesus, to trust him, commit your soul to him and be saved. This is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15. Read carefully from verse 17 to verse 24. The words ‘He came to his senses’ mean that he began to think seriously about what had happened. We see him reviewing his life. He has stopped thinking superficially, and for the first time he is seeing things as they really are. What a mess he is in! How desperate his need is! Are you in this situation?

He realizes that there is only one answer: he must go back to his father. Why? Because he has come to the conclusion that the decision to leave home was not just a bad mistake; it was sin-sin against his father and sin against heaven, that is, against God. His sin has caused him great misery, but, more than that, it has caused misery both to his father and to God. Is this how you are thinking at the moment? Then do something about it. In verses 17-19 we see the Lost Son deciding on the right course to take, and then in verse 20 he acts upon it.

It may be that by the grace of God you can clearly see the problem of sin and you now know the way of salvation. Do not stop at that: come to God! Once you make that response to God of repentance and faith, you will realize that God the Father is moving toward you in love and compassion, just as the Lost Son did. There will be no need to ask, ‘Will he receive me?’ God loves you, Jesus died for you, the Holy Spirit is drawing you, so come! Read again verses 20-24 and see there the wonderful reception a repentant sinner receives from God himself.

Come to God like this, and your seeking will be over. You will have found God; you will have found salvation and peace in the Lord Jesus Christ forever!