Did I ever tell you about the time I got saved? No? Well let me tell you the story. I think I was in the fifth or sixth grade. There I was minding my own business when for some reason I aroused the ire of a certain very big and very mean high school student. Honestly, I cannot tell you what I did to this child that made her (yes, it was a girl, but keep in mind, a much, much bigger girl than I was) so mad, but suffice it to say that she set her sights on me and salivated over the opportunity to throttle me after the last day of school. Finally, the last day of school dawned and I ventured to Lamberton School filled with fear and trepidation. (Now I know how some of those Old Testament kings felt). Unlike the rest of my schoolmates I simply couldn’t get into the joy of that last day. There was no talk of summer plans, final grades or who was breaking up with whom. My world was filled with the dread that sometime after the final bell rung my bell was going to be rung.

I caught a bus which let me off a few miles from the school to wait for a trolley. It was here that my adversary planned my demise safely away from the watchful eyes of the all seeing school monitors. I’ve had plenty of long bus rides folks, but I have to say that that was the longest, most foreboding ride on a bus I have ever endured. She kept her eyes on me the entire time as visions of my mangled, bruised and bloodied body surely danced in her twisted little head. We drew near to our stop and the bus driver called out ‘63rd and Girard’. I got up to leave via the front of the bus while my tormentor slowly exited through the side door with a look of sheer, sick glee on her face. As the bus pulled away she began to approach me and I just froze. There was nothing to say, nowhere to turn and no place to run.

Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of light blue and the two familiar fins of a late sixties hog. (That’s a Caddy for the uninitiated among you). My father Charles E Lewis Jr. pulled up in our family hog opened the door and said, “Hey Lance, get in.” With great relief I literally jumped in the car, we pulled off and I GOT SAVED… GLORY HALLELUJAH! My father had rescued me from the certain anger of someone I could not have overcome.

What is the nature of salvation? Do all evangelicals agree on what salvation is and is not? Silly questions you say—perhaps not. Our last two posts detailed the Biblical theology of how God saves; yet present circumstances demand that we focus on the nature of salvation itself. In years past the two main camps of Protestantism disagreed on how God saves. The Reformed camp generally argued that God saves by giving unresponsive, dead sinners new life and bringing them to faith in Jesus Christ. The Arminian camp generally argued that God offers the gospel to all and then saves those who through their own free will believe in Jesus Christ, which causes them to be born again. While both camps held to radically different views on how God saves, for the most part they agreed on what salvation was. With a few notable exceptions Arminians and Calvinists agreed that salvation was a deliverance from the penalty, power and eventually the presence of sin. Furthermore, salvation was deliverance to a new, vital spiritual life that could be enjoyed now even as the saints awaited the full expression of glory in the age to come.

Neo-liberal Black theology, however, has redefined salvation in such a manner as to marginalize the issues of sin and vital spiritual life to the back pew. This new theology views salvation primarily as deliverance from poverty, (or even a good working/middle income) sickness, and any and all forms of trouble, trial, distress and pain in this life. Instead of being delivered to a new, thriving spiritual life in union and communion with Jesus Christ the new salvation brings us into a ‘victorious’ life in which destinies are realized and dreams come true. Obviously this description of salvation is dangerous on a number of levels. It deceives people into believing that faith in Christ will bring a lifestyle that simply does not exist. No matter how much you believe, how high you jump and how loud you shout, money will not drop out of the sky, your body will still decay and the regular troubles of life will still affect you. Thus, to have as our prime witness a salvation that is an illusion is to invite grave consequences to that witness in the near future. Think of what could happen when the next generation finally wakes up and realizes that the emperor doesn’t have any clothes and the Christian's supposed so great a salvation is nothing more than a sham.

Biblically driven churches must not only proclaim God’s way of saving as spelled out in Scripture; we now have an obligation to explain what that salvation is. We dare not allow our people to equate Biblical salvation with realizing their own private destiny or living out their own version of the American dream. We have the privilege of announcing to our communities a great, blessed salvation. Why is this salvation so great? Its magnificence is highlighted by the enormity of our problem. You see, our main issue really isn’t poverty. Not that poverty is a good or even desirable thing. Our chief obstacle isn’t sick, diseased, decaying bodies. Trust me I’m not making light of sickness and disease. The father who saved me in the late 70’s would succumb to the ravages of cancer in just a few all too short years. Our foremost challenge isn’t the specter of a lifetime of emotional pain, grief and sorrow. Again, please understand it is not my desire to trivialize these issues. In my short time as a senior pastor I’ve had to walk with saints who’ve endured the sudden deaths of close family members (including the passing of a 29 year old newly married husband).

That said, a lifetime of poverty, filled with the stress and distress of regular life and punctuated by occasional bursts of unexpected and unwelcome grief pales in comparison to our very real and pressing problem. For we have rebelled against the Holy One of the universe. We have disrespected, disregarded and dismissed His Person, word, agenda, sovereignty, will, holiness, worship, service and Son. We have pushed Him to the very margins of our existence and have constructed idols in a vain attempt to satisfy our emotional, psychological and spiritual needs. And if that weren’t enough we’ve co-opted His precious Name to further our own selfish, prideful agendas. We are under the settled, righteous, passionate anger of a God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, absolutely holy and who will by no means acquit the guilty. Our biggest issue folks, isn’t poverty, sickness or temporary trouble. No, our biggest issue is our own filthy sin. We need a Savior.

Thank God for Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ, the Righteous One has once and for all time settled the sin issue for all God’s people. Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary and lived the perfect life of holiness that the Father requires to enjoy a right relationship with Him. Jesus Christ willingly endured the full measure of God’s passionate wrath against the sin of His people so that we would not have to endure that anger for all eternity. Jesus Christ physically rose from the grave proving that He is in fact the unique, eternal Son of the living God and that the Father had accepted His sacrifice on behalf of our sin. Jesus Christ has brought us into so great a salvation.

For those who struggle with want, poverty and lack, Jesus has brought us into an inheritance that is imperishable, unspoiled and will never ever fade away. For those who wonder if trouble is a sign of God’s displeasure, be assured that your right standing in Christ is so secure that nothing—not tribulation, or distress, or persecution, hunger, homelessness, danger or even death—can separate us from His redemptive love. For those who are feeling the decay of sickness slowly take their bodies be confident that though the saints sow your lifeless body into the ground it will not stay there. You will rise with a shout of triumph as you declare ‘O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting?’
For those who’ve suffered a lifetime of inexplicable sadness, sorrow and grief be comforted in the reality that one day the Lord who loved, died and lives for you will wipe away every tear from your eyes, and forever do away with death, mourning, crying and pain. You will be made whole. What a great salvation and what a great Savior.

I still don't know how my father knew to pick me up from that spot on that last day of school. I hadn't spoken of my trouble with the bully and couldn't recall my dad ever coming to pick me up before. However, like my spiritual condition before Christ I was utterly powerless to save myself and thanked God for a father who somehow knew to come and rescue his son from certain danger.

To Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Pastor Lance Lewis