What is Salvation?

What does it mean to be saved? The New Testament talks about salvation a lot. We talk about getting saved in church quite a bit. So who gets saved? And what are we getting saved from?

Salvation suggests that people need to be saved from something. The Bible tells us that everyone needs to be saved. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” says Paul in Romans 3:23. What we need to be saved from is the judgment and consequence of sin. We can theoretically say if a person were good enough, he or she would not need to be saved. But the New Testament insists that none of us are good enough.

Fortunately, though we cannot earn God’s eternal life, God has offered it to us. “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8).

Saving faith is not mere belief. It is a spiritual act that God brings about in our hearts. We cannot just do it when we want to. When saving faith occurs, the Spirit of God produces a change in the spirit of the person who is saved. Jesus referred to this as being “born again.” This is a change in the heart and life of a person.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Salvation begins when we receive the gift of God’s saving faith in our lives. Salvation has three aspects. In that moment when we receive Christ, we are justified. That means God has forgiven our sin and declares us righteous. We are accepted into God’s family and our eternal life is secured. This is only the first phase of salvation.

While justification takes place immediately, the second phase of salvation has only begun. In addition to justification, we begin the process of sanctification. When we are justified, we are set free from the judgment of sin. As God’s Spirit sanctifies us, we are set free from the power of sin. We begin to improve, not just in our outward actions, but in our inner motivations. The most certain evidence of salvation in a human life is that a person is growing in holiness motivated by love. “so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness” (Romans 6:19).

The final phase of salvation is when we die. At that time, we go into eternal life with God. When we do, God completes the perfection of our hearts and lives that He began when we were first saved. “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

So who will be saved? Salvation is available to anyone who will acknowledge that they need salvation and will have faith in Jesus Christ. “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).

Love in Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC

The Resurrection is Believable

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! So they say some Christians in the ancient world greeted each other. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is a foundational truth of our faith. But in the modern world, more and more people are questioning whether it could be true.

Opponents of Christianity and skeptical minds have always questioned the resurrection, just as they question many other teachings of Christianity. Such skeptics are more common in contemporary America, but they have always been around. What is surprising is that more and more Christians are stating their skepticism about the resurrection.

“If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14, NIV). So says the apostle Paul, and this is the belief of the Christian faith. The resurrection is a matter of faith. No one can give definitive historical or scientific proof that Jesus rose from the dead.

But even though believing in the resurrection is a matter of faith, there are still good reasons to accept that the gospel reports of Jesus’ resurrection are trustworthy historical accounts. Here are a few reasons why it is reasonable to believe in the resurrection:

1. Something dramatic happened that changed the disciples from a hiding, defeated group to a group willing to die for their faith in Jesus. They were devastated when Jesus was killed. Did they just decide to reinterpret His death or did they see Him alive again?

2. If Jesus’ dead body was in a tomb near Jerusalem, why didn’t His opponents simply bring out the dead body when His disciples started preaching that He was alive?

3. The gospel reports of the resurrection agree on major details: the women were the first at the empty tomb, Jesus appeared to the disciples and not to the general public, He was a physical person and not just a ghost. But they don’t tell the story with exactly the same minor details. That is what you would expect from multiple reports by eyewitnesses. If the disciples were making up the story, we would expect them to coordinate the stories more closely.

As I mentioned before, none of these elements proves either historically or scientifically that the resurrection occurred. Belief in the resurrection is a matter of faith. But it does show that belief in the resurrection is not blind, illogical faith.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, as a physical living human being, has been and should continue to be an absolutely essential part of the gospel message. As Paul says, continuing the message of 1 Corinthians 15 quoted above:

And if Christ has not been raised your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we
have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:17-20

Love in the Risen Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC

Denying Jesus

Last week I went to see the new movie God’s Not Dead. The movie is made for Christians. The movie’s intent is to encourage believers to be bold witnesses for faith. I pray that it will inspire many Christians to explore the rational foundation of our faith and be courageous in sharing the truth. I also pray that we will remember to do so with genuine love and respect for those who disagree with us.

One scripture reference that is used to encourage believers to share their beliefs openly is Matthew 10:32-33. In these verses, Jesus says, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (NIV). This is a powerful statement indicating that Jesus expects us to openly declare our faith to the world.

But I want you also to remember that denying Jesus is not only a matter of what you say. It also matters how we act. We can acknowledge Jesus with our lips (or Facebook banners) and still “deny” Him with our actions. Jesus Himself quoted Isaiah when talking about some “religious” people around Him. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matt. 15:8 NIV). In Matthew 7:21, Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me,’Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (NIV).

When we claim to be a Christian, but live our lives devoted to ourselves and not to the works that Jesus called us to do, we deny Him just as much as if we were to hide our faith. Jesus sought out the weak and poor and commanded us to do so as well. Jesus healed the sick and welcomed the outcast. He commands us to do so too. Jesus confronted religious hypocrisy and self-satisfaction.

We do need to admit that we are believers and not be ashamed of that. But many of those who are criticizing the church are not complaining about Jesus. They are calling us out because we say we believe in Him, but we deny Him with how we live. Let us shout gladly that we believe in Jesus. Let’s show that we mean it by how we love others.
Love in Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC

Walter Brueggemann’s Three Prophetic Tasks

About a year ago, I had the pleasure of joining my good friend, Methodist pastor Clyde Denny, to attend a lecture at Greensboro College by Professor Walter Brueggemann. Professor Brueggemann is a world-famous biblical scholar, preacher and author. The title of the lecture was “The Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks.”

Professor Brueggemann said that our time is not much different than the times in ancient Israel when the prophets were speaking. They were responding to the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. The world as they had known was changing dramatically and so many things that they took for granted were crumbling around them. The world we live in is changing like that as well. We must resist the temptation to pretend that we can go back to the way things were. The prophets of Ancient Israel provide a model for what the church today should proclaim.

Prof. Brueggemann said that there were three things that prophets like Jeremiah offered that we should be saying as well. When the official royal prophets were telling everyone that Jerusalem would be okay, that God would make it all right, Jeremiah told the truth that Jerusalem would indeed fall. The church today needs to be willing to tell the truth, not just tell people what they want to hear.

Second, Brueggemann said that the prophets truly grieved the loss of the city of Jerusalem. The church today must provide a place and affirmation of our grief. The Lamentations of Jeremiah and many lamentation Psalms provide the biblical texts that remind us that grieving is a necessary part of human life. You cannot skip over it.

And finally, we must offer real hope based in the promise of God. The official prophets offered false hope, saying that things would go back to the way they were. But Christian faith offers hope, not that this world will be okay, but that God remains and renews even as this world falls apart.

Love in Christ,
Greg Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC