Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Is Salvation Fair?

The last in a series of messages asking tough questions of God. Based on Luke 3:2-6 and John 3:16

Is salvation fair?
After briefly flirting with church attendance, a certain TV sitcom character chalked up his experience as generally beneficial because "I finally learned what that guy in the end zone holding up the big card that says 'John 3:16' on it is talking about!" It may come as a big surprise to long-time churchgoers, Because we’re steeped in a biblical, Christian experience, And we’re accustomed to hearing religious-sounding words and seeing religious-looking symbols, but we now live in a genuinely post-Christian culture.
It is a fact that our society is defined more by all those who have no clue as to what that guy in the end zone is trying to say than it is by those recognizing the citation of a biblical chapter and verse. A post-Christian culture doesn’t mean that there is a lack of spiritual interest or that there is a loss of spiritual hunger. Actually, just the opposite, this postmodern, post-Christian age has recently awakened to the fact that it is spiritually starving – and the hunger pains are leading to a frantic feeding frenzy. Without the table of church tradition to offer them nourishment, spiritual seekers have snacked on a smorgasbord of what they hope will be soul-satisfying samples. There is a renewed interest in prayer. There is a new fascination with the state of the spirit in healing and in health issues. Native American, Indian, Asian and Eastern European traditions have been infused into the middle of suburban American culture in order to try to inject some new depth and meaning into everyday existence. Astro-physicists, genetic researchers and computer scientists studying artificial intelligence are increasingly introducing spiritual questions into their technological studies.
People in this modern culture are becoming more and more aware every day of their need for some higher connection, some spiritual reality in their lives. As the band Plumb sang, we’ve all got a hole in our spirits that only God can fill. That’s what salvation is really all about. It’s about achieving that spiritual connection with God for all eternity. It’s about filling that God-shaped hole with the only thing that will ever fit.
But is salvation fair? Is the concept of salvation balanced?
Well, first off, fair is a relative term, isn’t it? I mean, what’s fair?
For instance, a socialist once came to see Andrew Carnegie, the rich philanthropist and soon, this socialist was railing against the injustice of Carnegie having so much money. In his view, wealth was meant to be divided equally. He claimed that Carnegie having so much was just not fair. Carnegie asked his secretary for an assessment of everything he owned and at the same time looked up the figures on world population. He did a little arithmetic on a pad and then said to his secretary. "Give this gentleman l6 cents. That's his fair share of my wealth."
Do you want the simple answer to the question of whether salvation is fair? No. Now, I could end the sermon right there, but I think that would leave a lot of you scratching your heads. “What does he mean that salvation isn’t fair?”
Well, in essence, it isn’t fair. Salvation is not about what we deserve. In fact, if it were about what we deserve, it’d be called damnation not salvation. It’s not about what’s fair. It’s about God’s love, grace and mercy. But let’s put that idea aside right now. I’ll come back to that.
There are really two ideas that people are talking about when they claim that salvation isn’t fair.
The first is related to the idea that some folks have never heard about Jesus. Some were born, lived and died before Jesus existed. What about them? What about all those people who still live tribal, jungle lives? They might never meet a missionary. What about them? Is it fair that those people don’t go to heaven because they’ve never heard of Jesus?
In reality, the issue of those who haven’t heard is just a matter of interpretation. There are certain truths about this issue that the Bible makes plain. For instance, in John 14 Jesus says “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the only way of salvation. That’s plain, straightforward. Now lots of people think that this means that those who’ve not heard are automatically damned.
Truth is, we don’t know that for certain. While the Scriptures never explicitly teach that someone who’s never heard can be saved, we believe that they do infer as much. We believe that every person will have an opportunity to repent, and that God would not exclude anyone simply because of the accident of their birthplace or birth era.
In John 7:17 Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God's will, that person will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” In other words, it’s in doing God’s will that we understand God’s way.
Aside from that, Romans 1:20 explains how anyone, even those who’ve never heard explicitly, will know of God. Romans 1:20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that humanity is without excuse. It’s a fact that all of humankind can tell that a creator does exist, because the creation testifies to it.
We also know from the Scriptures that it is God’s desire that no one should perish. 2 Peter 3:9 reads, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God cares, even for those who have never heard and may never hear the Gospel. Even though we may not know how God is going to deal with these folks specifically, we know that God’s judgment will always be fair.
That fact alone should settle the question of those who’ve never heard.
But there’s another way of thinking that salvation isn’t fair. Have you ever heard that argument about the death row criminal who repents right before he’s executed? And you know how some Christians respond to that on, right?
How is that fair? I’ve been good all my life. I’ve worked hard to be a top notch Christian. I’ve denied myself and taken up a cross. I’ve suffered for my faith. I’ve tithed! How does this life-long criminal get to sit at my table at the heavenly feast? That’s just not fair!
Well, maybe for the first time since I started writing these mock rants, I agree with you. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that someone has committed heinous crimes for his or her whole life and then gets to go to heaven and sit with you and I at the table with Christ.
But you know what; nowhere in the Bible does it say that God is fair!
God is holy.
God is righteous.
God is just.
But God is not fair!
Now while that may raise your hackles a bit, remember the story that I opened with this morning about Andrew Carnegie. If God were playing fair, what we’d probably get would be something like sixteen cents.
But God doesn’t play fair. God plays grace. God showers us with the unmerited favor of free salvation.
We can’t earn it.
We don’t deserve it.
It is a free gift and it’s available to anyone and everyone.
Folks, grace is such an enormous concept in Christian theology, I could preach about it for weeks on end. It is without question, the biggest most important point to remember.
God’s grace is so wide that it encompasses the whole world.
God’s grace is so deep that we could never get so low as to be beneath it.
God’s grace is so amazing that we could never do or say enough to deserve it.
Is it fair? It’s fair to those who receive it. It was fair for each of us while we were still in our sinful state. Why wouldn’t it be fair for a truly repentant criminal? We should rejoice for that repentant soul, not gripe that they received the same gift that we did.
So I come back to the question, “Is salvation fair?”
If you’ve never received it, it certainly is! All are welcome in God’s Kingdom. And since God is making the rules, who are we to question?
Jesus taught Nicodemus that anyone who believed would be saved. John preached that all humankind would see God’s salvation
In the end, it comes down to this: Have we believed? Have we seen salvation? Fairness isn’t really the issue. Grace is.
I’d like to leave you with a story and a question this morning.
Lord Kenneth Clark, internationally know for his television series Civilization, lived and died without faith in Jesus Christ. He admitted in his autobiography that while visiting a beautiful church he had what he believed to be an overwhelming religious experience. "My whole being," Clark wrote, "was irradiated by a kind of heavenly joy far more intense than anything I had known before." But the "gloom of grace," as he described it, created a problem. If he allowed himself to be influenced by it, he knew he would have to change, his family might think he had lost his mind, and maybe that intense joy would prove to be an illusion. So he concluded, "I was too deeply embedded in the world to change course." Our Daily Bread, February 15, 1994
Are you too embedded in the culture of the world to change course? Or has grace grabbed a hold of your life and taken control.
Are you plodding along with contemporary society? Or are you on a wild ride of mercy with God today?
As Led Zeppelin said in the song “Stairway to Heaven”: There’s still time to change the road you’re on.
Leave all those ideas about fairness behind, and climb aboard the grace train. We’re heaven bound!

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