Summary: 1. Salvation is more than just me being forgiven for my sins. 2. The goal of the Christian life is not just salvation, but transformation. 3. We are transformed in order to be God’s transforming agents in the world.
Several years ago, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks did a comedy skit called “The 2013 Year Old Man”. In the skit, Reiner interviews Brooks, who is the old gentleman who has lived for over 2000 years. At one point, Reiner asks the old man, “Did you always believe in the Lord?” Brooks replied: “No. We had a guy in our village named Harry, and for a time we worshiped him.” Reiner: “You worshiped a guy named Harry? Why?” Brooks: “Because he was big, and mean, and he could break you in two with his bare hands!” Reiner: “Did you have prayers?” Brooks: “Yes, would you like to hear one? ‘O Harry, please don’t be mean, and hurt us, or break us in two with your bare hands.’” Reiner: “So when did you start worshiping the Lord?” Brooks: “Well, one day a big thunderstorm came up, and a lightning bolt hit Harry. We gathered around and saw that he was dead. Then we said to one another, ‘There’s somthin’ bigger than Harry!’”
Mel Brooks humorous skit is more than comedy; it tells us something very important about ourselves. It tells us that we are all in search of something bigger and greater than ourselves. Something transcendent. We were made to worship and seek something beyond ourselves — not something like ourselves. It is interesting that in our culture which has rejected the obvious truth that it is God we are seeking, we have turned to other things. Some worship themselves. Since, outside our relationship with God, sex is as close to the transcendent as some ever get, we worship sex. For others it is paranormal experiences. I think this is why we have such an extraordinary and amusing interest and belief in aliens — from books, to television, to movies. We are looking for something beyond ourselves, something bigger than ourselves. We are searching for an experience of awe and mystery. We are searching for answers, and the meaning of the universe and life itself. But, as in the case of the 2000 year old man worshiping Harry, just because something or someone is bigger and more powerful than us is not enough reason to worship. Fear by itself is a poor motivator, even if it is directed toward God — it never lasts long. It is the wrong motive, even if it ends in the worship of God, because it is not how God desires to relate to us. It is not what he wants from us.
I want us to think this morning about our motivations for being Christians. How do we relate to God and what should our motives be? What is the Christian life all about? Let’s think about some erroneous ways some Christians think, and then what our real motivations should be. The first point is that I want to consider is that some people only think of the Christian faith as a way to be forgiven for their sins. We all need forgiveness, and this is certainly a central part of why Jesus came and what he wants to do for us. But it is only the beginning.
Much of what we hear today is a simple plan of salvation. It goes something like this: God loves you and wants to forgive you, but there is a great gulf between you and God. This gulf that separates you from God is your sin. You cannot get across the gulf by yourself, and so Jesus had to come and die for your sins. His cross is laid over the gulf like a bridge that enables you to cross over to God. When you accept Christ as your savior, you walk across the gulf and come to God. When you do this you are forgiven and assured that you will go to heaven.
All of that is good and true, but the problem is that it often stops there. It is only a small part of what life, and the Christian life in particular, is about. It is almost as if people ask for forgiveness, wipe their forehead and say, “Thank God that is over with,” and just sit back and wait till Jesus comes. If that is all we have it is a truncated Gospel. What was meant to be a starting point becomes the whole thing. Some people only want to be forgiven without wanting any real relationship with God. They want forgiveness so that they will not have any negative experience in the afterlife, but they do not necessarily want any contact with God, or have God change the way they live. The whole point of forgiveness is that it clears the way for us to have an ongoing relationship with God and get to know him.
The apostle Paul in speaking to the learned men at Athens said, “From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.’” (Acts 17:26-28). Paul was saying that the result of believing the Gospel was that we might find God and know him. He was saying that we should live in a way that we realize that the Christian life is a matter of living in God, moving in God and having our being in him. Jesus said, “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). This indwelling of the Spirit of God is how we come to know him. It is not just about being forgiven, but having the very Spirit of God living in us, us living in him, and knowing him intimately. Forgiveness only opens the door to a relationship with God. It makes that relationship possible. It is in growing in that relationship that we are transformed into his likeness.