How to Understand What it Means to Be Saved

“What must I do to be saved?”

The first person to ask that question was a Philippian jailer. Paul was in jail one night and at about midnight, while chained to the walls, and earthquake hit and freed Paul from his chains. It was the practice of jailers in those days to kill themselves if they lost their prisoners.

So, while everything was pitch black at midnight after the earthquake the jailer thought he’d lost his prisoners. He was ready to fall on his sword when suddenly he heard a voice. It was Paul who said, “Sir, don’t do that. We’re all here.”

The jailer order that the lights be brought in so he could see. Then he fell in front of Paul and asked what he could do to be saved. The jailer probably wasn’t seeking to be led to Jesus or even saved from sin. The jailer was probably wanted to be saved from the power of whoever caused the earthquake.

Whoever did this is bigger than all of us. What must I do to be rescued?

That question from Acts 16 is large throughout human history. Every person in every generation tries to answer the question, “What must I do to be saved?” Because as a mortal you’re always up against forces out of your control. You only hope that nothing happens to you, but you can’t make it. So you’re always wondering, “What must I do to be saved?”

In Homer’s day, to be saved was to perform heroic acts of valor. Or as gladiators, “What we do in this life echoes in eternity.”

Philosophers had a different answer. They said one had to avoid the chaos that will inevitably implode on us. Instead, live by virtues. As your inner life becomes ordered and peaceful, then you are saved. saved.

Easterners said to get in touch with the God already inside you. Sounds familiar, right?

Some people think we can manipulate nature to expand the limits of our horizons. If we do that we can be saved.

As a kid, we had this verse on our walls of what we could do to be saved. Seemed silly, because we had the answer. All you had to do was believe in Jesus! Say a prayer, mean it, and you’re saved.

Why is the world making this so hard?

Then when you read the Bible, chaos happens. You start to discover that there are people in the Bible who are not Christians either before or after they are saved. How could you be saved and not be a Christian? Then you read the Gospels and discover that there are people who asked to be saved and never where. The thief on the cross for instance who said, “If you’re God then save yourself and us,” and he wasn’t.

Then there were other people who didn’t ask to be saved and they were. The other thief on the cross who said, “If you die, remember me.” That guy was saved.

Wait a second… that seems to wreck the plan. A cripple was forgiven of sins without asking. If you were the director of the movie, you’d step in and cut the scene.

The Gospels have “salvation” all fouled up. Or so it seems.

There were people in the Gospels who hardly believed and were saved. The father in Mark 9. Then there are people who believe a ton and didn’t get anything, Pharisees for instance. Seems impossible to know who is saved and who isn’t. That’s scary! Especially if you talk about it that way in a Sunday School class as a kid.

The first time salvation was used in the New Testament was before Jesus was born, not after.

Six months before Jesus was born, an old man named Zechariah held up his son, John the Baptist.

Luke 1:68-69, 71
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
    because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David
salvation from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us—

Why has he done this?

Luke 1:72, 74-75
to show mercy to our ancestors
    and to remember his holy covenant,
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
    and to enable us to serve him without fear
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

If I’ve got this right, by the time Jesus comes onto the scene, Jesus has already been talked about. Salvation is anchored in the Old Testament, not the New. It sounds like God already has a group of people that he’s made a promise to.

Observations About Salvation:

1. Salvation isn’t God doing something new

Salvation is something God is doing that dates back years ago.

When Jesus is named in Matthew 1:21

Save the people from their sins. Jesus is a New Testament form of “Joshua” or “Yahweh Saves.” God was doing this again.

In the Old Testament, there’s a narrative that kept recurring. When people of the Old Testament talked about salvation, everybody tells the same story: The Exodus.

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.

Salvation was best seen when God took his people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Then in Deuteronomy, they were directed to tell their kids about what God did.

Deuteronomy 6:20-24 NLT
“In the future your children will ask you, ‘What is the meaning of these laws, decrees, and regulations that the Lord our God has commanded us to obey?’

21 “Then you must tell them, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand. 22 The Lord did miraculous signs and wonders before our eyes, dealing terrifying blows against Egypt and Pharaoh and all his people. 23 He brought us out of Egypt so he could give us this land he had sworn to give our ancestors.24 And the Lord our God commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear him so he can continue to bless us and preserve our lives, as he has done to this day.

That was Moses. He died, then Joshua was the successor.

Joshua 24:5-7, 13-14 NLT
“Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I brought terrible plagues on Egypt; and afterward I brought you out as a free people. But when your ancestors arrived at the Red Sea,the Egyptians chased after you with chariots and charioteers. When your ancestors cried out to the Lord, I put darkness between you and the Egyptians. I brought the sea crashing down on the Egyptians, drowning them. With your very own eyes you saw what I did. Then you lived in the wilderness for many years.

13 I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.

14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve theLord alone.

Same story! Years later.

The same thing is true in Psalm 136- the Lord who parted the sea and led us out of Egypt.

If you want to know what salvation means… Salvation is bigger than just a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is bigger than God writing his relationship with you.

Salvation involves your body, soul, relationships, your job, future, your past, emotions, impulses. Salvation isn’t being right with God, that’s too narrow. It doesn’t include the whole testament. Go back and see how God saved his people originally.

You’ll discover that when God saved his people out of Egypt, it was not only one of God’s finest hours, it was also a pattern of what God will do with every single person he saves thereafter.

2. You can’t be saved, in the fullest sense of the word, until you are saved like Exodus.

So I read Exodus to figure out what salvation is. When I do that it takes everything I’ve thought about salvation and throws it into more chaos. When you read about salvation in the story of Exodus, you discover you’re never saved from a sin/habit you’re saved from a predicament.

You are not saved from what you did, you are saved from what somebody did to you. Salvation isn’t so much forgiveness it’s deliverance from what was done to you. So it doesn’t give you a fresh start, it gives you a new life. Salvation, in Exodus, is a resurrection not a makeover.

Which leads to the next thing. In Exodus we are never saved in order to become the people of God. We already  are the people of God and that is why he’s saving us. See it? That shatters what happens in most churches! If you talk to Christians today, they think they are already saved. But, in Exodus, it’s because you’re the people of God that you need to be saved.

In Exodus, remember, it’s a predicament. It’s not a sin to be in Exodus. It’s not a sin to be in Egypt or God wouldn’t have led you there. The predicament is that somehow you’re in something you can’t control or get out of it.

3. To be saved, it doesn’t happen in a moment

It takes 40 years. A person in Exodus would tell you he was saved one time when God parted the Red Sea. But if that were the whole exodus, the book would end in chapter 14. There’s 26 chapters that follow. There’s 12 before it. So salvation in Exodus isn’t a snap-you-finger moment. It’s 40 years of walking with God and being the people of God.

It means that if you are a Christian, you need to be saved. You can have Jesus in your heart and still have a crappy life. If you doubt that, look around. There’s a lot of people who became Christians and life didn’t measure up. But, no! You were saved and are saved.

Peter wrote it’s at the end of your faith when you will receive the salvation of your souls.

Map: Salvation in Exodus

Bible Map

We find ourself in a predicament we cannot get out of.  Then, God sees. And when he sees, he remembers his covenant. When God remembers a hundred year old promise, nobody else remembers but him.

God kept the covenant he made to the ancestors. In doing this, he separates us from that which entangles. Israel had learned to trust the Egyptian way of thinking. So part of salvation is going through the arduous process of de-tangling belief systems that entangle us. Do you see? Even though you are a Christian, you still have though process that entangle you.

These process are what we learn to rely on and trust. That’s what always works, or so we think. But you can’t be saved until God separates you from those. When God does this, it’s a miracle, he separates you from everything behind you. And, like the Egyptians, the things you left always chase you. Some of you know this.

After God separates you, he’ll test you. He’ll put you out here in the wilderness where you don’t have any answers because they all dried up and went away. Why will God put you in hard circumstances and seem so far away? Why does he do this? Because God is trying to teach you that you can trust him even when it seems like you can’t.

When you are in the wilderness you will be tempted as they were to run back to the old belief system. You will be tempted to “go back there when I knew how things worked than to be out here in this dry arid place.”

There are no answers in the desert, only raw courage, trust, patience, and faith. If you don’t have that in the desert then you die. That’s the way it should be. You cannot be saved until you go through the wilderness.

If somewhere in your mind you thought that you could be saved by God and go straight to heaven, I’ve got bad news for you. There’s a long season when it will be hard in dry. But the great news is that you will discover a God who is enough. That is the richest truth you will ever know. But you’ve got to be out of answers to receive it.

After God tests us, he’ll call us.

Exodus 19

God could have anyone he wants, and he wants you.

So many of you want God to call you into an occupation to make your mark on the world. But more often than not, God will not call you until he tests you. You’ve got to go through the hard places first. And after God calls you, he will dwell with you. And so this beautiful story with God being “absent” ends with God being at the center. Isn’t this a beautiful story?

4. Saved, not from, but to…

In the book of Exodus, one is never so much saved from something, they are always saved to something.

God is never just trying to get you out of Egypt. He’s trying to get you into the Promised Land. When you are caught in slavery, there is no future. You only think there’s a future but there isn’t. In the brickyard in Egypt, you are never known for who you are. You’re known for what you do. If you can’t produce more than you aren’t much of a person.

In Exodus, the same time God is saying that Israel is the firstborn son the people are working in the brickyard. When you work in the brickyard and are defined by what you do, build, how smart you are, and what you’ve made… it becomes your identity! And that works well until you’re 65 and the world starts to change. And you start to realize you’ve always been known by what you do and not by who God has called you.

Someone told me as a young man, “You should always be careful what you want when you’re 30 because when you’re 60 you’ll have it and it may not be enough for you.

Or you’ll hit it at 40 and feel like you need an encore.

Man! If I could pull some of you aside, because I know you (and me), and I want to say to us that what we do is not who we are. We are God’s treasure.

When you’re stuck in the brickyard, the only desire you have is for the things in front of you. And because you’ve never been to the Promised Land you have no clue what it is. You try to picture it but you can only see it from your perspective in the brickyard. And you’ll think you know what that means.

Hearing I have come so that you may have life and have it to the full,” while in the brickyard is nothing of what it actually means. You’ll minimize that message to something you can understand. And you think it’s enough.

Here’s the problem: Every time you do what you want, you don’t like what you get.

Life’s a payback. When you’re in Egypt you say to yourself, “I’m free.” Because you’ve redefined the word in Egypt. To be free in Egypt is to do what you want but when you do what you want you don’t like what you get. And in order to get what you want you don’t like what you’ve got to do. Something in your soul better alarm to say there’s something wrong and that you’re in the brickyard in Egypt and you can’t imagine what God is talking about.

So he will come in one day and he will say, “I want to call you out…” but a call to leave is a call to follow. I am speaking to people who have found themselves entangled in a bunch of things because you did what you wanted to do and have now backed yourself into a corner. You’ll say to yourself, “I don’t like the addictions, the impulses, the temper, etc.”

There’s so many things wrong and, like the Israelites, you’ll call out for God to break you free. But God is not going to let you out, God is going to take you out. He’s not the God who lets you out of Egypt, he’s the God who brings you out of Egypt.

So the decision to leave the life you have is hard but it’s a decision to follow God wherever he will take you. And if you don’t, you’ll find yourself somewhere in between leaving and arriving. Somewhere between repentance and heaven. And you’ll always feel pressured to go back. I think that’s why they did. I think that’s why the Jews said, “We should just go back to Egypt.”

Do you know why? They never really wanted to leave Egypt. They just wanted Egypt to be a better place. They wanted God to make Egypt nicer and more livable because it was all they knew. And if the conditions weren’t so harsh then they could have made it another 400 years.

God had a vision they couldn’t imagine. If you want to get out, you’ve got to follow. We are far better at leaving than following. If we knew how to follow we wouldn’t want to go back. If we knew how to follow, obedience would be easier for us.

You have to leave Egypt to get to the Promised Land.

All I want for you this morning is for you to believe again. Because I think this is a cynical generation. I think this is a generation that has been captive for so long, seen altar calls not working, experienced pressure and wondered if this was the best it got.

Even if you can’t fathom it, would you believe in the possibility that there is more?

What might God intend for you?
What might God want?

What we have is not enough, there is more. I’m not worried that you may have sinned, I’m worried that you may have lost your horizon. What might God want for you still? And what have you settled for?

Sermon Notes in your inbox every Monday. Get free updates:

College Wesleyan Church

This message is from Rev. Steve DeNeff,
Teaching Series Lent 2015
Title: “God Sees”

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.