The name Shannon Wright is one you probably are familiar with. If the name doesn’t ring a bell let me tell you that she was 32 years old and taught school. She taught school in Jonesboro Arkansas. She was the teacher who was killed in the brutal shooting of innocent school children by an 11 and a 13 year old boy. Shannon Wright, lost her life saving the life of one of her students.
This tragic yet moving story this week reminded us once again that life is unpredictable. One week ago Shannon and her family were returning from a vacation at Disney World. Life looked rich. They looked forward to many similar vacations in the future. But suddenly all the plans have changed. A husband is without his wife, a son is without his mother, students have lost their teacher.
The idea of eternity seems so distant to us. Consequently it is easy to sidestep the most crucial decisions of life. We figure we have many years to get serious about our relationship with God. Someday, we plan to “get our house in order.” This week we were reminded that this issue is important because we may not have a tomorrow.
In our text this morning. The apostle describes for us what “being saved” means. It would be easy to dismiss these words as irrelevant theology. But we must fight that temptation. It is crucial that we understand these words. Not only will they prepare us for the unexpected. They will also enrich the life we currently are living.
Paul describes our salvation with two different images. He tells us that God has: qualified us and rescued us. Both images describe the same thing in different ways.
He has made the Impossible Possible
Paul tells the Colossians to, “give thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.” (1:12). The word for “qualified” means “to make sufficient, to empower, to authorize, to make fit’. The word is in the past tense which means that it has already happened. We ARE qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints.
Notice a couple of things, first, this is something God does for us. The text does not tell us that WE have qualified for this inheritance of Heaven. This is not a matter of our doing something to earn this privilege. It’s not like getting into the State Track meet by beating a certain qualifying mark. This is something that is done FOR us by Christ.
I remind you again that the Bible is clear on our status before God. We read, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) He does not say, “all the really bad people have sinned”. . . it is everyone. To sin is to commit an act of treason against God. The Bible is crystal clear: those who sin will be cast from God’s presence. Those who sin will be considered enemies of God. God is Holy and will not compromise with those who are evil.
Even the heroic efforts of Shannon Wright are not enough to qualify her for Heaven. What she did was great (by our standards) but it is not enough to gain Heaven. If Shannon Wright is in Heaven today, it is because of what God did for her in Christ. Even at our best we are not good enough to warrant God’s acceptance. Listen to this humorous piece that puts our “goodness” into perspective,
If you can start the day without caffeine or pep pills
If you can be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with you troubles,
If you can eat the same food everyday and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when loved ones are too busy to give you time,
If you can overlook when people take things out on you, when through no fault of your own, something goes wrong,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can face the world without lies and deceit,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without liquor,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
Then, you are almost as good as your dog or your cat.
Our “goodness” does not even measure up to that of our pets . . . there is no way we can be good enough to qualify for Heaven. Our finest acts are corrupted with selfish motives. One of the things that is the most scary about the barbaric acts that we have been hearing about in the news is this: we could sink that low. That depravity is within each one of us. In a moment of anger we too could strike out in unimaginable wickedness. We may not use a rifle – – we might use our words. We might use our position. We might strike out in any number of ways. The idea of earning our way to Heaven . . . is impossible.
This is where God’s act of “qualifying” comes in. We cannot help ourselves. God reaches out to us. In Romans 5 Paul writes: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Christ died as our substitute. He paid for our sin. He traded our sin for His goodness. That’s how we become qualified for Heaven. This is how the Lord makes the Impossible Possible.
Second, this is not just saving us FROM sin . . .there is a qualifying us FOR an eternal inheritance. The word for inheritance is the same one used to describe the division of the promised land. Each tribe of Israel reached a portion. We are not only saved from Hell . . . we are given an inheritance in Heaven. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you . . . “
Evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman recounted a testimony given by a man in one of his meetings. The man said: I got off at the train depot one day as a tramp. For a year I had begged on the streets. Badly in need of food, I touched a man on the shoulder and said, “Mister, please give me a dime.” As soon as I saw his face, I recognized my aging father. “Don’t you know me?” I asked. Throwing his arms around me, he cried, “Oh, my son, I have found you at last! All I have is yours!” Think of it — I was a tramp who begged for 10 cents from a man I didn’t know was my father, when for 18 years he had been looking for me to give me all he possessed!
We tend to view “being saved” only in terms of what we were saved from. We must open our eyes to what we are saved “to”. We are welcomed by the Father into the fellowship of the family of God!
Paul tells us that we become a part of the “Kingdom of Light”. I must tell you that grasping what this means is quite beyond me. But I can share a glimpse of what it means. For months we have been living in the gloom of winter. During this last week, when the sun was out . . . didn’t you feel more alive? Didn’t life seem richer? Didn’t you enjoy things more? Of course you did. What made the difference? It was moving from the gloom into the sunshine. If warm sun and a blue sky can make that much difference, imagine the difference living in the Kingdom of Light would make.
Third, this is what we all long for.
The reason these truths are so important is because the majority of people we know (perhaps many of you) are trying to “earn” their way into Heaven. You hope you can qualify by your good works. You can’t. A runner in a race who cuts across the infield is disqualified no matter how fast he is. It doesn’t matter how hard they have worked . . . breaking the rules dis-qualifies you. In our lives we break the rules daily.
Consider what it means to know that you (as a believer) have been made “acceptable” to God. The stain is removed. The inheritance is extended. Do you see how this changes things?
- We no longer have to fear the future . . . it is guaranteed
- We no longer need to fear death . . . it means going home to our Father
- We no longer need to pretend to be something we are not . . . God has dealt with the way we are . . . not the way we pretend to be.
- We don’t have to work to impress God . . .we can enjoy the love He extends to us
- We don’t need to stay awake and fret about the difficulties of life . . .nothing can separate us from His love. Our God is stronger than any circumstance.
- We don’t need to crave the material things of the world . . . what we have already been given is far superior to anything this world has to offer.
He Changes the Direction of Our Life
Paul continues his majestic description of our salvation: “He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves.” (1:13).
In Biblical days conquering armies had a common practice. They would export the majority of inhabitants of a land into their own country and re-inhabit the new land with their own citizens. The idea was that by moving, for example, the Jews in Babylon, the identity of the Jews would be diminished and eventually forgotten . . . absorbed into the new culture. And in the land they used to live the new residents would eventually inter-marry with the old inhabitants and the purity of the race would be gone. (This is where the Samaritans came from). This moving from one land to another is the image used in this picture of salvation.
Notice first, where we used to live. We had been a part of the dominion of darkness. In our day this is one of the least embraced truths. Contemporary society wants to believe that there is nothing really wrong with humanity. Any problems are due to a bad environment, underfunded education, psychological maladjustment,
In our contemporary world the approach to sin is simple: excuse it, redefine it, and minimize it. This is where we lived before we met Christ. And while we were there our minds were darkened
- to the truth about God
- to the truth about ourselves
- to the truth about judgment
- to the truth about the gospel
Before we were “rescued” we were wandering in darkness. But God has taken us from the darkness and moved us into the “Kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We no longer live in the Kingdom of the enemy . . .we now live in the Kingdom of the Son. We are no longer enemies . . . but friends.
Notice also the benefits that are given to us: We are people who have been redeemed. This is a term we are not real familiar with. It has to do with slavery. A person would be made a slave until someone “redeemed” them. Someone needed to come and pay off the debt that was owed. When someone was redeemed they moved from bondage to freedom. That’s what Christ has done for us. He has set us free: free from punishment, free from drudgery, free from emptiness. We have been set free to live and enjoy life.
We are people who have been forgiven. Forgiveness means to be released from punishment. When we hurt someone and instead of striking back, they embrace us . . . we have experienced forgiveness. Oh how we long to be free from our past. We carry the burden of our guilt and the weight of that burden causes us to stoop over. This is the image that John Bunyan, the Puritan Pastor, uses in his tremendous book “Pilgrim’s Progress”. The main character, Christian, carries this terrible load on his back. This burden slows his progress and hinders all he tries to do. But something remarkable happens when Christian reaches the cross of Jesus. The burden falls from his back and tumbles into a great abyss. Christian is set free. He is forgiven.
Some of you carry heavy loads today. The stains of the past haunt you. The burden of your sin affects everything you do. It sucks the joy from your life. It slows your steps. It wears you down. Friend . . . hear what Jesus has done. He has paid for your redemption.
God said these words to Jeremiah,
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jer. 31:33,34)
Oh, friend, wouldn’t you like to believe that your sin and failures were remembered no more? How would you live if this were true? Wouldn’t you have more life in your step, more joy in your heart? It is true! It is true for everyone who places their trust in Christ. We are FORGIVEN.
The Father has moved us from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of the Light. At first there may not seem to be much real change. But over time we will learn new attitudes, adopt new values, and respond to life less like a child of the darkness and more like a child of the light.
There are a couple of things we need to see from our text this morning.
You live in One Kingdom or the Other. You are either free or living in bondage. You are either serving the Lord or the Devil. These are the only two alternatives. You can whitewash the truth any way you like. . . but it all boils down to this.
Our Salvation is Dependent Upon God. We are addicts. We are so used to sinning that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. We have become so good at excusing it, covering it, and redefining it, that we don’t even see the problem. Our only hope of rescue was for God to come and get us. He had to break the power that we could not break ourselves. And that’s what He did at the cross.
The gift must now be appropriated
Lord Congleton of Dublin once devised a clever plan for teaching his tenants how faith secures forgiveness of sins, while unbelief shuts one out from the benefits of the Gospel. Many who owed him several years’ rent were expecting severe action in the court. Instead, he posted a notice promising remission of back dues to any who would meet him on a certain day prior to 12 noon. On the designated day, he sat in his office awaiting their response. They crowded the street, whispering and talking, but not one of them entered the open door. Just a few minutes before 12 o’clock, a tenant who had been delayed came running in to ask for his receipt. “Do you really expect to be forgiven your debt?” asked Lord Congleton. “Yes, sir, because you faithfully promised it.” “And do you believe me?” “Yes, I do, because you would not be the kind to deceive a person.” “But are you a good and industrious man?” the landlord inquired. “The notice said nothing about that, sir.” “So you just believed what I said and have come for your receipt?” “Indeed, I have.” Lord Congleton wrote “paid in full” on his bill and handed it to him. Just as the hour struck, the happy fellow ran out of the house waving the release and crying, “I’ve got it! I’m a free man!” The others milling in the street rushed to the house, but the door was shut! One man had believed, and he alone received the benefits.
So what about you? Are you willing to believe the declaration of salvation. Are you willing to take what God wants to give? I know you are looking for the fine print . . . but there isn’t any. He offers you forgiveness, new life, freedom, status as a child of God rather than a servant of the Devil.
Do you want to be saved? If so, you must believe the declaration. You must come to the Father and receive the salvation which is offered through Christ. I encourage you to bow in prayer right now and come to the Lord and tell Him that you are willing to take Him at His word. Tell him that you are willing to put your hope on what Christ has already done on your behalf.
Making such a decision today will guarantee that you will be ready to face eternity whether you live a long full life or whether your life is cut short by some enemy. As we learned this last week . . . .you never know when eternity may move from being a distant concept to a present reality. I encourage you to be ready . . . whenever it comes.
I encourage you however not only to take this step of faith to make sure you go to heaven when you die. I encourage you to do so because of the wonderful experience of living this life as a child of the Father. When you have tasted of the inheritance that comes from His grace . . . you will be filled with a profound sense of gratitude . . .and your only regret will be that you didn’t come sooner.