Sunday morning sermons at the headquarters church in Portland, Oregon, have recently featured some key doctrines taught in the Word of God. This sermon is the first in that series.
Two subjects in the Word of God that I love to hear about are Bible doctrine and salvation. Bible doctrines are the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith; the word doctrine means “teaching” or “instruction.” Salvation is the act of God’s grace by which man receives forgiveness for his sins and stands before God as though he had never committed them.
We read in 1 Timothy 2:4 that God wills for “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” Notice the order. It does not say that we must first come to the knowledge of the truth and then are saved. I am thankful for that, because I was saved without knowledge of the truth. I had no understanding of the experience of salvation or what it could do in a person’s life. In spite of that, God saved me!
However, we do want to have a good understanding of the Bible, because it is a message from God Himself. Anytime a book is recommended to us, we should be interested in knowing something about the author. What is his background? What does he stand for? At times such information is disclosed and at other times it is not, but knowing something about an author helps us to understand him and his perspective. The same is true when it comes to Scripture. If we know the Author, we will have a better understanding of His Book.
God’s Word is where we learn God’s doctrines—and doctrines are the foundation and the framework of our faith. They could be compared to the framework of this building. Take away the structural components that hold the roof and the walls together and the building would not stand. If we were alerted that the structural components were to be removed, we would make a quick dash for the exit. We would similarly make a “quick dash for the exit” if we discovered that the framework of what this body of believers stands for was to be removed. Bible doctrine is vital.
We want to know the teachings of the Bible, but we also want to live by them. Jesus said, “Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock” (Matthew 7:24). It is not enough to simply know the doctrines and teachings of God’s Word. We want to obey them! Then, as Jesus described in this parable, when the winds come and the floods beat upon us, our spiritual house will stand firm because it is built upon the Rock.
Jesus went on to say that those who hear His sayings and fail to do them are like a man who built his house upon the sand. When the rains and storms came, that man’s house fell, “and great was the fall of it.” When Jesus concluded His teaching, the Bible says that the people were “astonished at his doctrine” because He taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes. The religious leaders of that day had a doctrinal foundation, but it was corrupt and unsound. So the people marveled at Jesus’ words; they had never heard teaching like His.
The Apostle Paul also emphasized the importance of a framework of beliefs, or doctrines. In his first epistle to Timothy, he instructed the younger man to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3). He was warning Timothy of those who wanted to be teachers of the Law but who taught principles that were contrary to sound doctrine.
Sound doctrine is still vital in our day. What will hold us steady when the testing times come? What will prevent us from having an erratic spiritual walk as we endeavor to serve the Lord? Sound doctrine! It is good to have friends who support us, but friends come and go. It is good to have family worshiping with us, but one day family members will pass on to Heaven. So we must build our spiritual lives on something more solid than individuals, and what is more solid than a right understanding of Biblical teachings? That will hold us; it will guide us through the storms of life. It will provide the basis for our decisions in such matters as academic and career selections, friends, the choice of a marriage partner, and how we teach our children and grandchildren. We have a purpose to serve the Lord, so we want to make our decisions based upon an understanding of the principles of God’s Word.
One of the foundational doctrines of the Word of God is the doctrine of salvation from sin. The word saved comes from a Greek word meaning “delivered” or “made whole.” Sometimes we refer to the experience of salvation as justification—being pardoned by God and absolved from the penalty of sin. Looking again at 1 Timothy 2:4, we understand that it is God’s will for all men to be saved.
Paul the Apostle was one who experienced salvation when he did not know what being saved was. In 2 Timothy 1:9, he spoke of God “who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace.” Experiencing salvation is not so much the result of us initiating action toward God as it is the result of God reaching out to and calling us.
We read in Acts 9 how Paul—then known as Saul—was traveling on the road to Damascus bearing letters from the High Priest authorizing him to arrest the followers of Christ. The Lord reached out, by His own purpose and grace, and spoke from Heaven saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” Paul responded by asking, “Who art thou, Lord?” The reply came back, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (Acts 9:4-5).
Paul was not looking for God, but God was penetrating Paul’s disposition to do wrong. Paul had a sinful nature, and the manifestation of that nature is seen in his deeds. He lived a life of defeat even though he was a religious zealot and claimed to serve the God of Heaven. However, the Lord broke down all of that. This self-sufficient, academic, highly-respected man suddenly found himself helpless on the road to Damascus, struck blind by a light from Heaven. He had to be led by the hand into the city, where he was taken to the home of Judas on a street called Straight.
Paul stayed there for three days without eating or drinking, and then God instructed a disciple named Ananias to go and pray for him. Ananias initially objected, saying, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem.” However, God reiterated His command, telling Ananias, “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, . . . for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). Ananias obeyed, and when he prayed, Paul’s sight was restored. Immediately Paul arose and was water baptized. He was a transformed man, and for the rest of his life, he worshiped the God who had reached his undeserving soul.
God has not promised us a way of ease, but He has promised to keep us regardless of what may come our way.
Notice that God alluded to what Paul would suffer after he was saved. We are not promised that serving God will be a way of ease. Salvation will not be the end of all our problems. It will be the end of some, but it will be the beginning of others. In his writings to Timothy, Paul addressed that as well. In the course of his service to God, he found himself imprisoned and persecuted beyond measure. However, though he suffered for the cause of Christ, he could state with assurance, “Nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). God has not promised us a way of ease, but He has promised to keep us regardless of what may come our way.
Just as God called Paul, He has called you. If you are saved, you did not earn salvation. You had no merit that made you worthy of God’s grace; salvation comes through the mercy of the Lord. Paul wrote to Titus, “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:3-5).
In one of our recent services, a sister testified about praying for an individual whose life was in jeopardy. She said she told the Lord, “He is a good person. He has a good family.” She went on to list all the merits of that person that she could think of, but at last she concluded that her prayer must be based solely on God’s mercy and grace. That is true! You can be the best person in the world, but if you have not experienced salvation, you are just one of the best sinners in the world. Good deeds and a moral life will not earn salvation.
When God’s mercy and grace reaches out to an individual and that person responds, there is an inward change. That is what happened to the Philippian jailer. He was a ruthless man—clearly a sinner. When Paul and Silas were apprehended by the authorities for preaching the Gospel, this jailer thrust them into the inner prison and made their feet fast in the stocks. But at midnight, as the two men of God sang praises and prayed, an earthquake shook the prison, the doors were opened, and the prisoners’ bonds were broken.
Assuming that the prisoners had all escaped, the jailer drew his sword to kill himself. But when Paul assured him that all the prisoners were still there, he fell down before Paul and Silas and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” He recognized that there was something different about those two men, and he wanted to be saved as well. Paul and Silas’ response was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:30-31).
As we proceed through the account, it is apparent that the man did get saved, for his subsequent actions bore it out. He brought Paul and Silas into his house, bandaged up their wounds, fed them, and let his family hear the Gospel. That very night they were all saved and water baptized. The jailer became a different person than the one who had thrust Paul and Silas into the inner prison. We do not know the end of his story, but we can imagine that if he went back to work the next day, the prisoners in the jail must have asked, “What happened to the jailer? He is a different person!” If they inquired of the jailer, no doubt the reply would have been, “The Lord saved me!”
Paul explained the transformation that takes place at salvation when he wrote to the believers at Corinth, “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are not just patched up. We are recreated! We are regenerated! We used to do ungodly things, but we do not do them anymore. We are changed from the inside out.
Prior to getting saved, I was a twenty-one-year-old college student who lived from weekend to weekend, bound by the sinful habits and appetites that are part of many college students’ lives. Then I was saved. Nobody told me not to do the sinful things I had done before—God instantly removed those things from my life. My buddies came over the next Friday night expecting me to go with them to do what we had done every weekend. Not understanding how to explain what had happened to me, I simply told them, “I am not going to do those things anymore.” And I didn’t do them anymore—not because I was told that I should not, but because God had changed my heart in an instant of time. It was a crisis experience, and it made a difference in me! That is what happens when we are saved.
Wherever and however you receive salvation, you will be a different person on the inside.
It is true that everyone does not get saved in the same way. You may not be on the road to Damascus. You may not be a jailer, or a twenty-one-year-old college student when you respond to the truth of the Gospel and experience God’s salvation. But wherever and however you receive salvation, you will be a different person on the inside.Some have the benefit of learning early and comprehending God’s willingness to save them when they are quite young. They may not experience a crisis in the sense that an older person does, but there is still a moment in time when they become acutely aware of their need of forgiveness for sins. They pray a simple prayer, trusting in Jesus, and they are saved.
No matter what our background, there is something for us to do. Paul put it this way, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” However, those actions do not save us. The transformation takes place through an operation of God upon the heart, for Paul goes on to say, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).
Today, the Savior of the world is willing to hear the sinner’s prayer and forgive sins. Paul assures us, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). If you are not saved today, and you sense that the Lord is calling after your heart, seize this opportunity. Pray an honest prayer, admitting that you have sinned and that you need help from Heaven. Confess to God what you have done wrong; He knows all about it anyway. Turn away from all sin in your life, and believe that God hears your prayer and saves you!
The urgency of making our peace with God and experiencing His salvation is immeasurable. There is nothing more important! Salvation is a miraculous act of God, and He is waiting today to respond to those who will turn with all their hearts to Him.