WITHOUT APOLOGY: WANTING TO SEE THEM SAVED
The very word “saved” is an embarrassment to many people in the pulpit today. It smacks with simplistic decisionism and it pictures street corner preaching and it seems to indicate to some a lack of a theological understanding. The word, to many is totally distasteful and very awkward, and very seldom Biblically used.
Yet, it was not that way for Paul; he said of his Jewish family, “… my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1) We cannot escape a solemn emphasis for our own day. These words should guide us. He spoke of “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” (Romans 9:2) But even more, the greatest extreme, “I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ …” There cannot be greater anguish expressed. So, we must ask the immediate question, what caused all this in Paul?
He did not mention it was caused by Roman rule and being unfairly taxed. He did not say it was cultural identity being challenged or independence or Jewish freedom. Also, nothing was said about how the Jews were hated, ridiculed, boycotted, and despised because of their secrecy and exclusiveness. It was that they were not “saved,” that was the single source of his profound anguish and pain of his soul.
As we examine our hearts, there is so little of that in us. In fact, few of us, maybe very, very few, feel this at all. And to tell why, it’s because of our spiritual immaturity. Jesus Christ rings out the words, “I have come to seek and save that which is lost.” (Luke 19:10) There can be nothing more clear nor more unmistakable than it is desire that the lost are saved. Beyond a doubt the Christian has his assignment. Billy Graham has a choice word for us, “It could be that one of the greatest hindrances to evangelism today is the poverty of our own experience.” Those who are saved want other people saved!
So that, all true theology has the salvation of mankind as its thrust, and all true salvation of mankind is theology in saving action. Thank God for the words of John Wesley spoken to those Methodist evangelists of his day; it now challenges us, “The church has nothing to do but to save souls; therefore spend and be spent in this work. It is not your business to speak so many times, but to save souls …” Wesley was never afraid to use the words “save” and “saved”—let that teach us!
In classic word the jailer in Philippi asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:31) So then, in New Testament terms, the fundamental result of repentance and faith is that we “shall be saved” (Romans 10:9). Indeed, to that end Christ died and rose again; it was that we might be saved as a direct consequence. Cornelius was assured that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43) and is saved.
John R. W. Stott said, “Christianity is in its very essence a rescue religion.” He adds, “The fundamental questions in every religion are the same: By what authority do we believe and teach what we believe and teach? By what means can sinful men and women be reconciled to God or ‘saved’?” So as distasteful and unpopular as this message with the word “saved” in it is today, being saved remains man’s chief need and is an indispensable part of the mission Christ gave to the church.
The saving of souls is to be our aim. Every activity we participate in, to have value, must have an end product in mind. Also, for that activity to be done with intelligence and passion, it must be done with a clear purpose or awareness of this desired result. In other words, we must quite clearly know what we are trying to do. This happens when the objective is clearly defined so that it can be realized. Anyone doing evangelism must be absolutely certain about the result desired. So then, it can concisely be put in one sentence—our aim is to see people come to know Christ personally and as a result to be saved.
Yet here care must be taken for our responsibility is not to create a Christ of our own, one not consistent with Scripture, a recreated Christ of our own for our generation. Thank God for Basil Mitchell, once an Oxford philosopher who attended church regularly and said that he did not come to hear “a lot of qualified propositions … not a word of human opinions.” He said “he wanted to hear a word of real authority … the word of the Lord, from God and about God.” Any preacher, he said, who fails to do that “is not doing his job if he is failing to present the great affirmations of the gospel.” One certainly is “Christ came to save sinners” (I Timothy 1:15). Jesus was announced as the Savior to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The preaching of the Word was said to be “able to save your souls” (James 1:21).
It is to be noted that it all centers on Jesus Christ, the historical Christ who died and rose again and the contemporary Christ who now saves people. That is the goal, the objective of all witness of Christ. It is done by faithful proclamation of the saving gospel. Done, always with a view of persuasion and a longing to see people transformed—“saved.” Therefore, pray, “hear their cry, and save them.” (Psalm 145:19)
In Lavenham, England, I was in that beautiful church and I asked a minister, “When was the last time someone in this building interrupted a sermon and asked the question asked on the day of Pentecost, ‘What shall we do?’” He replied, “Never, not since this building was built—never!” Then I asked, “What about, ‘What must I do to be saved?’”
Two things hinder evangelism. Nothing does that today more than a loss (which I believe is widespread) in a confidence in the power, the truth, and the relevance of the gospel itself. But add to it an embarrassment of Biblical words plainly said (as Wesley indicated) to plain people. Vague wording said in such a way it is almost an apology! C. S. Lewis lashed out against pulpit vagueness that had no power to convince people. Lewis amazingly stated, “The salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world.”
I believe Charles Spurgeon, who preached in another day and culture, also speaks timelessly when he says:
“No man has ever been convinced of a truth by discovering that those who profess to believe it are half ashamed of it, and adopt the tone of apology.”
“By this cutting and trimming policy we shear away the locks of our strength and break our own arm. Nothing of that kind affects men, either now or any time.”
“We are not at all wishful to make our beliefs appear philosophical or probable: far from it! We do not ask that men should say, ‘That can be supported by science.’ Let the scientific men keep to their own sphere, and we will keep to ours. The doctrine we teach neither assails human science nor fears it, nor flatters it, nor asks it aid.”
“Let it stand as a world of wonders, marvellous beyond all things: we will not, for a moment, attempt to explain it away, or pare down the angles of truth.”
Salvation is a comprehensive word that includes the grand sweep of God’s saving work, from beginning to end. In fact, salvation has profound depth and meaning. All that, I admit. But if you were to ask a person, “Are you saved?” only one correct reply is Biblically possible, it is “Yes” or “No.”
The answer “Yes” means, by the amazing grace and incredible mercy of God, through the death of Jesus Christ, the only Savior, He has forgiven sins, justified, and reconciled and saved me to and for Himself. That is the right and mature answer.
The answer “No” means that a person still is separated from God with a fallen nature and lives without Christ personally real. Such a person, may not realize it, but they wait for the message of salvation to be brought to them in the words of Paul, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:30-31).
May we fill Paul’s role in our world and see them saved.
“We need the great, heartening trumpet note to come breaking across the confusion of our souls, ‘He is able to save to uttermost’ (Hebrews 7:25). This is the word of the Lord.” James S. Stewart New College, Edinburgh 1968
“Without enthusiasm to see people saved—what is the church?
It is a Vesuvius without fire, It is a Niagara without water, It is a firmament without sun!” Joseph Parker London