given on Sunday, August 24, 2014
Grand Slam! Touchdown! Salvation!
It is a team effort.
August 24, 2014
The batter’s whack echoes in the stadium and the crowd roars as the batter rounds the bases, clearing each one, while teammates cross the plate ahead of him adding three more runs. It is a grand slam! August is still summer and the World Series looms before the fans.
Across the parking lot from the Royals stadium lays the Chiefs’ stadium. Summer is slipping away as football season opens. The game may change, but when the ball is snapped and the play is over, the roar in the stadium as the referees’ arms go up confirms the touchdown is official. The season is off and the fans’ hopes are high!
How exciting sports can be especially when the hope for a winning year gets closer to reality! The enthusiasm, the cheers, and the conversations all seem to center on the possibilities of the greatest outcomes for the year. Of course the fans all have their favorites and there are those who still do not understand the game nor want any involvement in it. But as a season gets closer and closer to the finale, watch as those ‘non-fans’ start joining in.
Our lives are seasons within themselves. We are the players and without a coach we stumble and fall, pick ourselves up and continue onward. The stumbles will continue all our lives, but wouldn’t it be easier if you had a coach? Maybe you could use a complete staff of coaches including the trainers when the stumble leads to an ouchy or two. And what if we had a stadium filled with fans cheer for our successes and yell encouragement when we struggle?
We do have! In fact we have it all—coach, trainers, teammates, and fans. As Christians we have it all, and we are a team, even more we are a winning team. The winning roar is Salvation!
Christians are coached by the biggest of names and trainers keep refining their treatments for quicker and better healing. The team, other Christians, work to improve their own skills as well as the skills needed to create the winning team. They even have the playbook, the Bible that has proven to have the winning plays as well as a record of failing plays. Every element is at the disposal of Christians, so why is it so hard to understand what it takes to reach salvation?
Understanding the term is difficult enough. Just what is salvation? Commonly salvation used simply means saved; and we use it in all types of references. For instance we could say the grand slam was the salvation for the game, or we could refer to the acquisition of a new quarterback as the salvation of the team’s year. Salvation can be that simple even in understanding the Christian meaning.
According to Dictionary.com, salvation has a special theological definition for the word: deliverance from the power and penalty of sin; redemption. Just like humans, complicate the issue. John Wesley chose to simplify the meaning, especially after the reformation in the late 1400s. Unlike the early church, Wesley shifted salvation to simply faith rather than creating a list of deeds adequate enough to ‘earn’ salvation.
In the Wesley Study Bible, salvation is one of the Wesleyan core terms and defines it in two aspects:
For Wesley, and generations of Christians since the early church, one receives salvation from God by faith. Wesley describes two aspects of faith: an assurance of God’s love for me, from which grows confidence and trust in God. Salvation, for Wesley, is not merely going to heaven or eternal happiness. Instead, salvation is God’s justification for us in Jesus Christ and God’s sanctification in us through the Holy Spirit. God in Jesus Christ redeems us from the consequences of sin and through the Holy Spirit, renews the image of God in us. Therefore, salvation cannot be limited to a distant paradise on the other side of death but includes a present, tangible, reality of peace and joy in relationship with God, now. (emphasis added, p. 717)
Yahoo! It is possible to be saved and still be human. I can believe and when I make a mistake, there still is hope. I can believe and live as Jesus taught me, and I can help others be saved. This is great news!
Okay, we now have a better understanding of just what salvation is, so now how do we live our lives in a winning manner? First, understand that this is not always going to be easy. We can determine we believe in the reality of Jesus Christ as God living on earth as Jesus Christ the man. We know the lessons he taught during his ministry are rock solid and definitely work.
Secondly, we also know that there are opponents, too many to count, which can easily destroy a game plan. It is critical that the team members stay focused on the ultimate goal and work together as well as privately to protect self and others from those opponents. The Old Testament, especially, is filled with the stories of Satan challenging God’s faithful. Sometimes Satan wins, sometimes he loses. The trainers, our Christian leaders, are busy making sure that we are well prepared to meet Satan’s challenges.
The first reference to salvation –using the concordance and dictionary in my Bible–is Genesis 28:10-15. This is the story in which Jacob goes to sleep with his head upon a rock and has a dream of angels climbing up and down the ladder (sounds familiar doesn’t it—“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder.”). Verse 15 is the key:
15 [God tells Jacob,] “What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”
Jacob woke up the next morning feeling confident in his salvation and what he was called to do. As we study the Old Testament story of Jacob, we learn that his life was filled with life challenges. He was tested, even injured in his hip, but his faith in God and his efforts to live a life focused on God was rewarded.
The Old Testament records all the different characters or players who tried and failed to remain focused on salvation through deeds. But God never gave up on his team. He even decided to change the rules of the game to make it easier, to make absolutely sure that the players understood and could win no matter what. God took to the field. He ran onto the pitcher’s mound and called in the relief pitcher—his son Jesus Christ.
The gospels record the events that followed, introducing the arrival of Jesus and explaining how following him leads to salvation.
Matthew 1:21: 21 And she [Mary] will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,[a] for he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew 7:12-14: 12 “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell[a] is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to [eternal] life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.
Mark 1:9-11, 14: 9 One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him[a] like a dove. 11 And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” 14 Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News.[a]
Luke 13:24-25: 24 “Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail. 25 When the master of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
John 6:67-69: 67 Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” 68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.[a]” (NLT from Biblegateway.com)
Each gospel uses a slightly different approach that is primarily based on the audience for which it is intended. Still, the Bible spells out the events and the lessons needed to learn in order to achieve salvation. The rules are simple, but the application of one’s skills in the game helps determine how simple or how complicated life can be.
Notice, not a mention in these introductory verses indicate that there is a ‘to do’ list of deeds to complete before assuring us that we have ‘earned’ our salvation. Reaching salvation is dependent on your faith in God and your efforts to follow God’s two major rules: love one another and go out and make disciples of others.
Now doing good deeds may seem like a requirement, but John Wesley had an answer to that concern, too. He is our Methodist trainer so his advice needs to be followed. In Wesley’s reading of scripture, he identifies James as being the book that explains how Christians with faith receive salvation but then do deeds that reflect God’s grace for all. Salvation is lived out during one’s life after accepting Christ as savior.
In the James’ letter to the remaining faithful of God’s original 12 tribes of Israel, Wesley identifies the various skills and behaviors Christians should strive to do and to improve throughout their lives. Opening up the various translations and scanning the subtitles, these skills and behaviors become obvious:
- Faith and wisdom
- Poverty and riches
- Trial and temptation
- Hearing and doing the word
- Warning against partiality
- Faith without works is dead
- Taming the tongue
- Two kinds of wisdom
- Friendship with the world
- Warning against judging another
- Boasting about tomorrow
- Warning to rich oppressors
- Patience in suffering
- The prayer of faith
Coming after the Old Testament, this list seems pretty easy to follow. Wesley felt James really knew the way to encourage Christians to keep and to develop their faith so when the game is over “Salvation!” is the cheer that rises above the struggles of daily life.
The editors of the Wesley Study Bible explain Wesley’s choice of James to explain what the Christian lifestyle is that leads to salvation:
In James, faith is a set of specific practices—engendered in the congregation—that make disciples walk in a different direction than the world’s way. . . . In James, Christians suffer because they follow Jesus—God’s divine Yes. . . . In James, salvation is when you talk and walk like Jesus. (Emphasis added, p. 1500)
Wesley’s belief is different than many contemporary churches believe
“. . . being a Christian is often presented as a technique for happiness and prosperity, a helpful way getting what we want. . . . salvation is something that you believe or feel.” (Ibid.)
For the Israelites, the way to salvation had been based on doing good deeds. But Wesley read James’ letter and realized that salvation did not depend on good deeds, it depended on faith in God. Doing good deeds is the consequence of living the life obeying Jesus.
The conclusion of James’ letter is subtitled, “The Prayer of Faith.” When doubts fill our lives or the opposing teams wear us down, return to James and follow his advice:
13Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. . . . (The Wesley Study Bible, NRSV, p. 1504)
True, life is not always going to be easy and we will stumble. Just remember, God forgives.
The decisions you make may not be easy, but you have God, the Coach, trainers, support staff and teammates ready to help, ask for help, listen for God’s direction, and practice living your faith. Salvation is yours. It is a grand slam! It is a touchdown! It is a win-win for you.
Dear God, you are our coach,
We are your team players struggling
To follow the game plan,
To improve our skills and behaviors, and
To provide salvation now and through eternal life.
Guide us daily, even hourly,
As we face the temptations around us,
When health or circumstances take us down,
During clashes with evil forces, or
When exhaustion steps in clouding our judgment.
Open our eyes and minds to the trainers you send
Who work to heal us, to mend our lives,
To provide words of advice,
To model how Christian living makes a difference, and
To support us when we stumble, keeping us upright.
Thank you for believing in us, your team.
Thank you for honoring us with joy-filled lives.
Thank you for forgiving us over and over.
Thank you for the Christian trainers in our lives.
May we accept your salvation and learn to lift you up
In as many ways as we can, at all the times we can,
In all the places we can, so others can experience your love.