SALVATION (LESSON 2)
All this month we are talking about salvation. Here is a question for you: Are there certain sins that are so bad that once you have committed them, you are beyond being saved? What about mass murder? Would God forgive someone who took part in the killing of a great number of people? Sometimes we feel as though we have gone beyond being saved. But tonight we are going to show you that God can save anybody, no matter how bad you have sinned.
We are going to start the lesson by learning about a man. This man was someone who hated Christians. His one main mission in life was to seek out followers of Christ and have them imprisoned or killed. The man that we are going to focus on was named Saul. We'll pick up his story in the Bible at a point when Saul was doing something he enjoyed. He was watching a Christian who was about to be killed.
* Now, a man named Stephen, who was a Christian, had been wrongly arrested for spreading the word of God. And now, while standing in front of his accusers, he told them how they had murdered Christ and turned their backs on the true Messiah. And once the men heard Stephen speak of Christ, they hated him and wanted to kill Stephen. We will read on from there:
Acts 7:54-60, 8:1a , "When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, and said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, 'Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he said this, he fell asleep (died). And Saul was consenting unto his death."
We read that Saul was right there in the middle of this mob scene and watched approvingly as this innocent man was murdered. Although Saul himself did not throw a stone, he was obviously the person who was kind of in charge. Undoubtedly Saul probably believed that the only good Christian was a dead Christian. Let's read what is written about him in the Book of Acts. Acts 8:1b, 3, "And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and hailing men and women committed them to prison."
Saul was going door to door to find Christians so that he could drag them off to prison. Saul eventually made a name for himself. He became famous for his hatred of Christians.
* Now, you might think someone like that has gone too far. You might think that God wouldn't want him or that he was beyond being saved. But you know what? God can save anybody -- anybody who is willing to hear the word and receive Christ as their Lord.
Let's read some more about Saul's hatred for Christians. Acts 9:1-2, "And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem."
Saul went to one of the phony religious leaders, who was very powerful, and basically asked him for some paperwork giving him the authority to seek out and imprison Christians from other towns. Saul wanted to expand his jurisdiction, so to speak. He wanted to imprison women and men from far and wide. Saul's hatred of Christ and Christians was without bounds. But as you will soon read, Saul was about to come face to face with the risen Christ, and his life was going to be forever changed. And each of us will one day come face to face with the risen Christ and have to give an accounting of our lives. And on that day, Christ will either be your Savior or your Judge! Let's see what happened to Saul.
*Acts 9:3-4, "And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?"
Whenever we sin, whether it be murder or hatred or stealing or lying or committing adultery, not only do we sin against the people we are directly dealing with -- more importantly, we are sinning against God. Christ asked Saul, "Why persecutest thou me?" not "them." Now, keep in mind that this is Jesus who was talking, the same Jesus who had been crucified on the cross. Saul probably thought that Jesus was dead, never to be heard from again, and here he is having a conversation with him. Let's see how Saul reacted.
Acts 9:5, "And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." (Christ was telling Saul that Saul was wasting his time, that no matter what Saul tried to do to defeat Christ and wipe out the Christians, that he, Christ, would prevail. Here is an illustration: Christ is like a massive mountain. You might hate that mountain and kick against that mountain, but you are only going to hurt yourself. That mountain cannot be moved! )
Acts 9:6-9, "And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink."
Saul went from being a man who hated Christians, to a man who called Christ "Lord" and asked him "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" God can change anybody. Jesus' blood was shed for each and every one of us. But you have to stop fighting against God and be like Saul and see Christ as your Lord, the one who is in charge of your life, and then ask him what he wants you to do and then be willing to obey. And as we will read, Saul was truly saved. We can tell by his immediate change of direction in his actions.
* Acts 9:19b-22, "Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ."
When Saul became a Christian, he lived his Christian life with the same gusto and zeal that he had shown when he was trying to destroy Christians. He was an on-fire believer. He loved the Lord and didn't care who knew. He didn't worry about what his old friends would think. He didn't care about the danger that he would face. He cared about telling others about the Lord. He didn't just "get saved," and that was the end of it. He was not an undercover Christian. He was a man who truly was born again and who wanted to be used by God.
How many of us spend a whole lot of energy doing wrong, but zero energy doing what's right in the Lord's eyes? We get excited about going to a party, and will stay out all night dancing and drinking, but dread spending even an hour and a half once a week at church. Or maybe you can think of a bunch of slick ways to make money and you get real creative when it comes to lying, cheating, and stealing, but you can't think of even one way that you can be used by God. Or maybe you have spent a lot of time making a name for yourself or for your gang in your neighborhood, but you haven't told one person about the name of Jesus. God wants to use you, but you have to be willing to be used.
God gave Saul a new name. He went from being Saul the Christian killer to the Apostle Paul (Refer to Acts 13:9). God turned a murdering, Christian-hating man like Saul into a man who was mightily used by God. God changed Saul's name to Paul and also changed his heart. He went all over the world, being used by God. He healed people, cast demons out of people, and led untold numbers to Christ. He even wrote about half of the books in the New Testament section of the Bible!
God changed Saul's name, and he can change your name, too. Maybe you are known around town as James the liar, or Sheila the drug user, or Bob the thief, or Karen the whore. Or maybe no one knows about your sins but you. Whatever the case, God can change you and give you a new name. You can become James, a child of God; and Sheila, a woman after God's own heart; and Bob, a Christian brother. Your name can be counted with those who are written in the Book of life! But you have to stop running from God and fighting against God and instead ask Jesus, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?"
We are all in a race, and with God it doesn't matter how you start. What's important is how are you going to end? Don't you want to end like Saul (Paul) did? When Paul's life was almost to an end, and he knew he would soon be killed, Paul was able to say these words: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."
Will a crown of righteousness be waiting for you, too? It can be. Here is a direct invitation and warning from the Lord himself. In Isaiah 1:18-20 it reads, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red as crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land; but if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
God is trying to tell you that nothing you have done is so bad that He can't forgive you. But if you insist on running from him and turning your back on him, there is an eternal price you will have to pay.