How Can We Be Saved?

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Well, this is what we call an invitation service, which is just a chance for us regulars to invite new people along, to give the Christian message a look. So I guess it's like a trailer at the cinema – which we hope will leave you wanting to come back, to find out more about Jesus and what he offers. And no other religion or belief offers what Jesus does, because he offers the chance to be sure about God and where you stand with him. And I wonder whether you'd say that's true of you, yet?

Billy Graham, the evangelist, was once doing a mission in Sydney in Australia and they interviewed him on national radio. They asked him, "Dr Graham, if you were to die tonight, how sure are you that you'd go to heaven?" And Billy said, "Completely sure." And that caused uproar: the lines were jammed with angry people phoning in to say how arrogant he was. And that's because they thought he was saying, "I'm sure I've done enough to get to heaven." But that's not what he was saying at all. Because Billy Graham doesn't believe he's going to heaven because of what he's done, but because of what Jesus has done. And that's what this trailer is going to be about. I want us to see:

  • What Jesus has done for us – so that we can come into relationship with God; and
  • How we need to respond to Jesus – to be sure of that personally.

1. What has Jesus done for us?

I want to answer that from the bit of John's Gospel we had read to us earlier – John 14.1-6. This is Jesus talking to his disciples on the Thursday night before the 'Good Friday' when he died on the cross. Jesus knew exactly what was about to happen. He knew he was about to die on the cross, then rise from the dead, and then return to his Father in heaven – which is where he is now. But at this point, his disciples didn't understand any of that. All they knew was that he was talking about dying and going away – which left them understandably troubled. So Jesus says to them, verse 1,

"Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me."

Just notice how Jesus puts himself on a level with God. He says, 'Believe in God – the Father. And believe also in me – his Son.' And when he says, "Believe also in me", what he means is, 'You need to believe in what I'm about to do for you on the cross.' So onto verse 2. Jesus says:

"In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?"

When Jesus says "my Father's house", he's talking about heaven. I was talking about heaven recently to someone in his eighties, who's not yet a Christian. And he said to me, "The thought of heaven doesn't appeal at all. I mean, who'd want to live forever with all the aches and pains and evils of this world?" And I realised he thought heaven was just this life going on forever – which would be grim. But the Bible says heaven is life finally made perfect – because everyone there is finally living as God wants.

And Jesus was saying to his disciples, 'I'm about to go and prepare a place for you there.' He didn't mean that next stop he was going straight back to heaven to get the rooms ready – cleaned and tidy and so on. He meant that next stop he was going to the cross to pay the price of us going there.

A few weeks back I took Tess, my wife, away to a B&B in the Lake District. You had to book and pay in advance, online – which I did. So when we arrived and I waved the booking confirmation, it was all smiles and welcome and, 'You must be Ian and Tess...', whereas if we'd just turned up expecting a room, we'd have been disappointed – because it doesn't work like that. And nor does heaven. With most people I talk to at funerals, if they believe in heaven at all, they also believe that pretty much everyone's going there, so long as they haven't done anything really bad, like Hitler. But the Bible says that isn't true. It says: none of us is welcome in heaven as we are. Because, like I said, heaven is where everyone is finally living as God wants. So everyone there is saying to God, 'This is your kingdom, you're the King, and I'm going to live how you want me to.' But that's not how we are by nature, is it? By nature, we all say to God, 'I don't want you to be King, I want to live my own way.' And that attitude is what the Bible calls sin. And, along with everything we do wrong as a result, it's unbelievably offensive to God and brings us under his judgement.

That's why Jesus had to die on the cross, for us to come back into relationship with him - because in his love, God didn't want the story to end like that – with us under the judgement of being cut off from him. And in his love, he made a way for us to be forgiven without justice being compromised. And that way was Jesus dying on the cross, because Jesus was God's Son, who came down from heaven to become human, and who lived the only perfect life ever lived. So he never sinned, and so he never deserved the judgement of being cut off from his Father. But on the cross, out of love for us, he took responsibility for our sin, and took the judgement we deserve, so that on the one hand we could be forgiven, and on the other hand, justice would be done.

And that's what Jesus meant when he said, 'I'm going to prepare a place for you.' He meant, 'I'm going to pay for your forgiveness on the cross.' He knew he would then rise from the dead, return to his Father, and start calling people into a relationship with God – which starts now and lasts into heaven, which is why in verses 3-4, Jesus says:

"And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am [which is heaven] you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going."

But at this point they didn't know what he was on about. So in verses 5-6:

"Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.""

So all along, Jesus has been talking about the way into relationship with God. And now he says, 'I am the way – and the only way. So if you want this relationship with God, you need to respond to me.' So we're into the second half of the trailer and:

2. How do we need to respond to Jesus?

Actually, he's already told us how to respond to him, because in verse 1 Jesus says,

"Believe in me."

So most people believe there is a God. Muslims do, Hindus do, Jews do, some Buddhists do. And most people who tick the 'no religion' box in the census do. But that isn't what Jesus is talking about. Just believing there is a God doesn't make you a Christian or give you a relationship with him. What Jesus says is:

"Believe in me."

And that means more than, 'Believe Jesus really existed' – he did, but believing that doesn't make you a Christian. And it means more than, 'Believe Jesus was a good man or the Son of God' – he was both, but just believing that doesn't make you a Christian, either. When Jesus said, "Believe in me", he meant: 'Trust in me and let me do for you what's needed for you to come back into relationship with God.'

It's a bit like having an operation. A few years back, I had a lump on my leg which they were a bit worried about. So I was sent to a surgeon called Dr Meggitt to have it removed. And by having that operation, I was believing in Dr Meggitt. That meant more than just believing he existed – which he does. And it meant more than just believing he was a good surgeon – which he is. It meant coming to him in the RVI, trusting in what he could do as a surgeon, and letting him – in fact, asking him – to cut my leg open, dig out the lump and stitch me up again. (Pardon the too-much-detail.)

Believing in Jesus is like that. Jesus died, rose again and went back to heaven, where he is now, and believing in him means coming to him in prayer, trusting in what he did for you on the cross, and asking him to forgive you and give you a new relationship with him and his Father.

I wonder if you've done that, yet? This isn't asking us, 'Have you been baptised and confirmed?' Or, 'Have you been a churchgoer all your life?' Or, 'Have you done Christianity Explored, Discipleship Explored, Life Explored and anything else Explored?' Or, 'Are you a Catholic or Methodist or Anglican?' Because none of that makes you a Christian and gives you this relationship with God that Jesus offers. This is asking us, 'Are you believing in Jesus, yet? Have you come to him, and trusted in what he did for you on the cross, and asked him to forgive you and give you a new relationship with him and his Father?' Because (John 14.6):

"Jesus said... "I am the way... No one comes to the Father except through me.""

Now in my experience, people get offended by that. Sometimes they're offended on their own behalf and say, 'But I've always tried to live a good life, so surely if there's a God I'll be OK?' But the truth is that's just blagging. Because if we're honest, we have to admit we haven't even always tried to live a good life – let alone succeeded. But sometimes people are more offended on behalf of others and say, 'But what about other religions? Don't they all lead to God? And the answer is: no – because if you compare the Christian message and the world's religions, they say completely different things. There are similarities – for example, Islam says there's one God who's Creator and Judge – but it's not the similarities that matter, but the differences.

I was at Central Station one time, sitting on the train to London, waiting for it to go. And this nervous-looking bloke got on, sat next to me, checked and double-checked his ticket and said, 'This is seat 25B, isn't it?' So I said, yes. And then he said, 'This is coach F isn't it?' And I said, yes. And then he suddenly said, 'This is the train for Edinburgh, isn't it?' And it would have been beside the point to say, 'Well, it's very similar – it's a North East Line train, it's the same colour, it serves the same coffee and sandwiches.' The point is: it wasn't going to get him to Edinburgh. And even if some religions say some similar things to the Christian message, the point is: they won't get people into relationship with God – because they don't solve the problem of sin and the judgement it deserves.

As an example of that, I once spoke at an invitation event like this – only a dinner. And I was sat next to this lovely Muslim lady called Aawa. And after speaking, I asked what she thought. And she said, 'Well, we really believe the same thing, don't we?' So I said, 'No, I don't think we do.' And she said, 'What do you mean?' So I said, 'Well, imagine on our way home we're both run over by a bus and killed (my usual, light after-dinner banter). On your belief you'll face Allah. How do you think it'll go?' And she said, 'Well, I believe he'll weigh up my good deeds against my bad deeds and whether he has mercy will depend on how that turns out.' So I said, 'And how do you think that's looking right now?' And she very honestly said, 'Not good.' So I said, 'And do you think that's likely to change before you die? And she thought, and she very honestly said, 'No.'

That is completely different to Billy Graham, isn't it? He's completely sure God does accept him, whereas Aawa is pretty sure God can't accept her - because they're two completely different ways. One is trusting in Jesus and what he's done for us. And the other is trusting in ourselves and what we do. And one's true, one's false; one gets you there, one doesn't.

So I wonder where you stand with God right now? Some of us here have been around church for a good while, now. And, really, you've heard this all before, and you know it's true – but you haven't actually responded to Jesus. And I want to nudge you and say, 'Why not?'

It may be you're like a friend of mine called James, just before he became a Christian. He'd heard it all, knew it was true, and had counted the cost of becoming a Christian. But he said to me, 'There are two things holding me back. I'm not good enough to become a Christian. And I couldn't be what a Christian's supposed to be.' 

And maybe that's you. Maybe you're thinking, 'I'm not good enough to come to Jesus. I've made such a mess of my life; I need to sort myself out before I could possibly come to him.' That's a bit like saying, 'I need to make this lump on my leg go down – or even go away – before I take it to Dr Meggitt for surgery.' But Jesus is saying, 'Just come to me as you are. That's why I died for you – so I could forgive all of that mess, and accept you just as you are right now.'

Or maybe you're like James because you're thinking, 'I couldn't be what a Christian's supposed to be. I couldn't change where I know God would want me to.' And you're right. None of us can change ourselves. But here's the other part of what Jesus offers. It's not just to forgive us, but to come into our lives by his Spirit, to change us and give us the will to live for him. And I'd testify to that in my own experience – that he's given me the desire and the will-power to turn away from sinful habits and attitudes that otherwise I don't think I could have done anything about. And I've not done that without a good deal of failure – and I'm still failing, day by day. But here's the other thing you need to know: where you fail – which you will every day – he'll keep forgiving you and won't give up on you. So why hold back any more?

But then I guess there are others here and all along you've been thinking you were already a Christian – but maybe you've just worked out today, hearing all this, that you're not. Because you've realised it's not about 'Have you been baptised and confirmed?' Or, 'Have you been a churchgoer all your life?' Or, 'Are you a Catholic or Methodist or Anglican?' It's about, have you believed in Jesus? Have you come to him, and trusted in what he did for you on the cross, and asked him to forgive you and come into your life by his Spirit?

Well, I'm going to end by giving you the chance to do that. I'm going to say a prayer that would be a way of responding to Jesus for the first time. So before we pray, let me run it past you so you can work out whether it would be appropriate for you. Here's the prayer:

Lord Jesus,
I'm sorry for living my own way, as if you weren't there.
Thank you for dying for me to put that right.
Please now forgive me and give me your Spirit to help me live for you from now on.

Now you may be further back, and not ready to pray like that. Or you may already have begun this new relationship with God – and you don't need to begin again. But if you want to respond to Jesus like that, you could echo that prayer to him in your mind as I lead us now. Let's pray:

Lord Jesus,
I'm sorry for living my own way, as if you weren't there.
Thank you for dying for me to put that right.
Please now forgive me and give me your Spirit to help me live for you from now on.

Let me say a few extra things. Earlier in John's Gospel (John 6.37), Jesus promises this:

"Whoever comes to me, I will never drive away."

In other words, 'Whoever comes to me, I will accept them and then never give up on them.' And if you've prayed that prayer and meant it, you can put your name to that promise. And if you have just prayed it, can I encourage you to do two other things. One is to tell another Christian – because they can then make some suggestions about what would help you, going on from here (especially what there is going on at this church to help you). And the other is to take and read a copy of this booklet 'Why Jesus?' because it talks about that step of responding to Jesus, and would help you be more sure about what you've done. And whether or not you just prayed, if you want to get clearer about where you stand with God, 'Why Jesus?' would be a good thing for you to read anyway.

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