"Salvation Sticking Points"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2008 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I want to bring one verse really to you tonight, which is Jeremiah 8:20 - which is a verse I've preached on several times, and a verse I'm sure you've heard quoted particularly even at this harvest time or just after it at least: "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved".
We have just concluded, a week or two ago, a series of evangelistic meetings - and perhaps there are folk here tonight who attended those, and felt the Lord speaking to them in those meetings, and yet as you sit in the church tonight you're still not saved. It is to you I want to address the message: 'Salvation Sticking Points' tonight, but let us pray.
Father, we thank You for the precious blood of Christ. We thank You that that blood that flowed from that cross is able to cleanse us from all sin. We thank You for the words of the Lord Jesus Himself, that all manner of sin and blasphemy can be forgiven of men. We thank You that we've got a message to preach that is a message of hope, a message of liberation, a message of emancipation to those who are bound in sin. Lord, we cannot see into the hearts of men and women, young people, and boys and girls in the building. We can't see into the deep recesses of their personality and their past. We don't know what people are hiding, at times our own hearts are deceitful and wicked to deceive ourselves - and yet, Father, we come to You as the One who knows all things, the One who has an all-seeing eye, the discerner of the hearts of men. We pray that those obstacles that may be preventing people coming to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith, that they will be demolished this very night by the power of God's Spirit. Lord, send Your Spirit in the word, we pray, and do a mighty work, and bring those who are afar off from You, who once professed Your name, back to You; save people who have never experienced grace and are still sitting on these pews in darkness and blindness, without any hope. O Lord, come into our midst this evening in salvation blessing, uplift Christ and glorify His name, for we pray these things through Him and to Him. Amen.
Now let me share with you the story behind this text that we're taking in chapter 8 and verse 20 of Jeremiah's prophecy, for the verse fits into a story, and the context is extremely important for us in understanding what it means and how it applies to all of us in this place tonight. I can really paint the picture for you under three headings. First of all, there is the state that the people of Judah, the people that Jeremiah is speaking to, the state that they find themselves in. Then secondly there is the knowledge that they have as the people of God in Judah, some of them inhabiting the city of Jerusalem - that is, the holy city - they have a knowledge of God and an awareness of several of the promises of God that are personal, specific to them. Then thirdly there is an expectation that they have from God, and I'll not go into that in much detail now.
So let's start with the state that they find themselves in. Judah had been disobedient to God. They were in a covenant relationship with Him, a bit like a marriage, but they were not living up to their vows. God was keeping His side of the bargain, but they were not fulfilling the promises that they had made to God at Mount Sinai when Moses was given the Ten Commandments. Because of that, God was going to send discipline upon His people to bring them back to Himself. So we read within this prophet that Judah were being threatened by the new rising superpower of Babylon, and God was sending Babylon to judge and discipline His people. In this portion, Jeremiah 8, God declares that the fields of Judah would be ruined, her cities would be destroyed, the people of Judah would either be slain or taken into captivity. It is very graphically painted for us, if you look at verse 14, this whole episode of God judging His people is described as just like drinking poison, drinking gall. Verse 16 tells us that it would be like the city experiencing an earthquake. Verse 17 tells us it would be as if all the people of Judah were attacked by venomous snakes. Verse 21 describes it as being like the experience of being crushed and broken. When we go to chapter 14 we find that God would send a drought upon the people of Judah as judgement, and I just wonder did this drought already begin in chapter 8 - for read what they say in verse 20: 'The harvest is past', perhaps they're starving already!
But what we have here, as Jeremiah gives us a picture of the state of the people of Judah, is a portrait of war and absolute devastation and destruction. Incidentally, the book after the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament is also written by Jeremiah, it is the book of Lamentations. The reason why Jeremiah took his pen to write that particular book was to commemorate, as it were, the death of the holy city of Jerusalem after the event. The city is left waste, hardly a stone upon a stone, and this is the state that Judah find themselves in in chapter 8 of Jeremiah. The tragedy is, instead of turning to the Lord, verse 14 tells us they fled to their walled cities. In despair, in verse 19, we read that they cried: 'Is not the Lord in Zion?'.
Now that leads us to the point of their knowledge, the second point that paints a picture for us of the state that the people were in. They felt that God should still be true to them. You see, this is a people who knew God, they were well aware of the promises of God - in fact, King David, their forefather, had been given specific promises from God: 2 Samuel 7:16 is one example, God said: 'And your house and your kingdom shall be established for ever before you: and your throne shall be established for ever'. So it was unthinkable to the people of Judah, and the people of the city of Jerusalem, that their kingdom should ever be destroyed, that their holy city should come to devastation. As far as they were concerned they were sure of God's promises and victory over their enemies. So you see, Judah believed that they had an unconditional guarantee from God that He would never leave them, He would never desert them, He would never allow their enemies to overcome them.
That was further accentuated by the fact that they had all the trappings of the Jewish religion. In chapter 7, before this one, in verse 4 you hear their cry where they say: 'The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD'. You see, they thought that they could continue in their idolatry, worshipping the idol gods of other nations - and yet at the same time, because they had the Temple of the Lord like a talisman or a good luck charm, God would still be with them. God had given them His promises, they had a history of dealings with God, but their faith was degenerating into a superstition. They were looking at the temple as something that would bring them good luck from God.
Then thirdly there is their expectation. Their state is awful, and yet at the same time they have this knowledge of the promises of God and what God has been to them in the past, and so this leads to their expectation: they think that God should deliver them immediately! We might ask the question: so why did He not? That is exactly the question that they were asking, that's the sense of verse 20: 'The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and still we are not saved'. It was like a desperate protest: 'God, look at the state we're in! Remember the promises that You've given to us - we're expecting You to intervene and to save us, and yet You haven't done it yet! What's wrong?'.
Now let me apply this to you this evening, because some of you perhaps were with us in that week of evangelism not so long ago, maybe you weren't but you've been at gospel meetings like this before - and you're well aware of your spiritual state before God. The Bible tells us that we are in a desperate state without God and the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, we're going to be judged one day, but we are actually judged and condemned already because we don't have the clothing of righteousness that only Christ provides. You know your state, and you've also a knowledge, like Judah, of the promises of God - that in the good news of the Gospel God has supplied a way that we can be delivered out of our terrible state. You know that Jesus is the only Saviour, He is the Lord, He is the Christ, the Anointed One of God; and He died on the cross and shed His blood, as we were singing, in order that your sins could be washed away. You know that three days later, after His death, He rose again, He's alive now, He's coming again.
Maybe, if I could go one step further, you're not only aware of your state of desperation, and the knowledge of what God has done for you and can do for you, but perhaps just like Judah you have also an expectation that God should do it? What I mean by that is, maybe in your heart there has been some desire created that you would like to be a Christian, you do hanker after this salvation thing, you would like to be born again - you have an urge, a desire there - but yet you're still left wondering, as you sit here tonight: why am I still not saved? Now some people who are Christians in this place this evening might not understand where I'm coming from here. I've talked to people like this, and they say: 'I know I need to be saved, and I know I can be saved, and I know I want to be saved - but I'm not saved, and I don't know why I'm not!'. Some of them start to think: 'Well, maybe I'm not loved. God might love the world, but maybe He doesn't love me, or maybe I'm not one of God's elect, one of God's chosen? Maybe I'm just not good enough, I don't measure up to God's standards? Maybe I'm too bad, maybe I'm not clever enough, or wise enough? Maybe I don't have the religious gene that you need to be born with to be good living?' - that's the way people think and talk!
Now let me say that if you're the opposite of that, a pole apart, and you're not even asking the question why you're not saved - you're in an awful state! You should realise that you need to be saved, and you can be saved, and you should want to be saved - perhaps you're so blind that you don't know the awful predicament of what it is to not be saved, for the harvest to be past and the summer to end, and your day of opportunity to go by and still not be saved! Well, it's not to you I'm talking to tonight - although I do hope and pray that the Spirit will awaken you to your need through this message - but I especially want to help those who, like Judah, don't understand why they're not saved yet. You have, if you like, salvation sticking points, snags, there is some obstacle or other, or a stumbling block, an impasse that is preventing you trusting Jesus as your Saviour and Lord. I hope this message will be like the building of a bridge over your obstructions and your obstacles that will bring you to faith in Jesus Christ.
I want us to note the reasons why Judah got stuck - what were their bones of contention that prevented their release? They may well be yours. There are four - there might only be three if I don't have enough time for the four, but I'll get three over at least. Here's the first that we find in this passage: first of all, Judah thought God was obliged to save them. Judah thought that God was obliged to save them. Now let me say that it was correct, the knowledge that they had, that God had given them promises to David and to the whole nation, and in a sense God was bound to those promises because He spoke them. But here's the problem: they had got it into their heads that, because God promised them certain things, that they deserved them. Now there's a difference: they thought that this was their right, to such an extent that they were willing to shake their fists in the face of God, as it were, and say: 'The harvest is gone, the summer is ended, and You still haven't got us out of this predicament!'. You see their knowledge of God's promises were right, but it was their attitude towards God's promises that were wrong. They thought God was obliged to save them.
Now in Ephesians 2 in the New Testament, verse 8, tells us: 'By grace are you saved through faith' - do you know what 'grace' means? 'Grace' means 'God's undeserved favour and goodness'. You see, if you think you deserve God's forgiveness, you'll never have it - because the very nature of God's forgiveness is that it's undeserved. That's what we were singing:
'Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling'.
Now one of the problems of gospel preaching today and through the ages has been, particularly in our land, that we herald it forth from pulpits and in the open air so much that 'you can be saved', that many people in Northern Ireland believe that they're entitled to be saved! It may be news to you that you're not. This is a problem that also is rife within Christian homes, because many children that are born to Christian parents, or brought up in a Christian environment, or weaned on the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ - maybe that has been your experience - and they think, almost, that salvation is their claim. It's no one's claim! If you look at the Bible, just think of it for a moment, there was an angelic being called Lucifer that was the next best thing to God Himself. He had pride in his heart, and the Bible says he fell, and there is no plan of salvation for Lucifer. The Bible tells us of Judas Iscariot, that he went to his own place, there was no plan of salvation for him. We find other characters within the Bible yet to be, like the antichrist, and the false prophet, and the beast - and there's no salvation for them, they have no chance, there is no grace of God for them, there's no entitlement to forgiveness and salvation for them. In fact, there is a great host of angels that followed Lucifer in their rebellion towards God, and the Bible says that they are as good as damned today - there's no hope for them, there is no plan, there is no cross, there's no blood, there is no sinner's prayer, there is no pardon, no peace for them.
The same is true of many human beings. Many have not been saved. Many will not be saved. Can I say to you tonight: God is not obliged to save you, He is not obliged to save anyone. If you have a spirit in your heart that thinks that you deserve to be saved, perhaps that is your salvation sticking point, the very snag that won't allow you to be saved: your attitude. Not your knowledge now - yes, you know 'Whosoever will may come', and I believe that with all my heart - but I also know this: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted'. You need to come to Christ - now listen, this is your problem - not believing and feeling that you deserve to be saved, and it's your right, but you need to come to Jesus saying: 'Lord, I deserve hell, but Christ have mercy upon me!'. There's a difference, and I'll tell you: that difference could be the difference between heaven and hell.
The second sticking point for Judah was they thought that God should save them, even though they would not leave their sins. Not only did they think that God was obliged to save them, but they thought that God was obliged to save them even though they were living a reprobate, sinful life. They thought that they could continue in idolatry with the Temple as an amulet, a good luck charm. Their religion became nothing more than superstition. In effect what they did was, they accepted the privileges of God and they were not prepared to meet the responsibilities that those privileges brought to their life. That's why, in this book, Jeremiah the prophet is heard to say 11 times this word: 'Repent!'. Now listen, I know as well as you do that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and I know that they are to come to Christ as they are - as a sinner, you can't clean yourself up! We've been saying you've got to come empty-handed, just as you are, nothing in my hands I bring - but let me say this: Jesus Christ, though He came to save sinners, He came to convert sinners, not conserve sinners. What do I mean? I simply mean that He came to purge sinful men and women, to purify them, not to preserve them in their sinful way of life. The Bible knows absolutely nothing about a salvation that permits you to keep your sinful life intact - it's not there!
The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 6: 'Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God'. Now there's no easy way out of those verses - that means if you don't repent of your sins, you'll never be saved! In fact, these are the sins that cost Jesus His life's blood, these are the sins that took Him to the cross. That's why Paul says in Galatians that Christ gave Himself for our sins that He might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father. Christ died because of our sins, and if we do not repent of our sins, our sins will cost us our soul - that's why God requires repentance. He requires initial repentance at the moment that you are converted, but listen Christian, or professing Christian: He requires daily repentance every day thereafter, taking up your cross and following Jesus Christ.
Now someone will say: 'Sure that's salvation by works', it's not! It's nonsense to say that, because repentance, even in itself, is a gift of God. But my friend, this is the whole point: God gives the power for you to do it, but He can't do it apart from you. God can't give any man the power to repent who is unwilling to leave and forsake their sins, who wants to hug them to their chest and at the same time wants to go to heaven. Like the people of Judah, you think that God should save you, yet you're not prepared to forsake the sins that nailed Jesus to the cross! Is that your sticking point? Is that your problem? Is that the obstacle: a particular sin? In fact in verse 12 of chapter 8 of Jeremiah, Judah had lost the power to blush at sin. Someone put it like this: 'Their shamefulness was evident in their shamelessness', they didn't feel the conscience pricking them any longer. This is why repentance is necessary!
Then thirdly, they wanted God to save them on their own terms. First of all they thought God was obliged to save them, then they thought God should save them even though they would not leave their sins, and then they wanted God to save them on their own terms. What I mean by that is that they were looking in the wrong places. If you know a bit of the history about this, they were expecting that God would add His blessing to their choice. The Judaean politicians had gone to the King and requested that the King should appeal to Egypt: 'Egypt, come in and help us to deliver us from the Babylonians breathing down our neck!'. They were looking to human means and human saviours, and they didn't realise that this was fundamentally opposed to God's holy commands and God's way. Maybe you're here tonight, and that's your problem: you've your own ideas about how to get saved and how to get to heaven one day. Human ingenuity is your stumbling block. You see for Judah, when their human means didn't work, and God's preacher, the prophet Jeremiah, came and told them that it wouldn't work, they became angry and resentful, and they blamed God.
Do you know this evening that whatever your way is - whether it's a religious way, or a way of works - the Bible says 'that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified'. When Paul was writing that to the church at Galatia, do you know what the great controversy was? There were people saying: 'Yes, believe Christ died for you...and do this, and do that' - listen: it's not Christ and your way, Christ and your human ingenuity, it's Christ and Christ alone! Not Christ and your works, not Christ and your reputation, or your prayers, or your knowledge, or your morality - it's Christ alone! God will not save you on your terms, for salvation is not a human decision, it is an act of God - that's what it is! An act of God, and if He is going to act like that in your life it must be on His own terms, not yours.
Fourthly and finally, and very seriously, Judah wanted a fire escape from judgement, but not a changed heart to love God. Now this is very important, because I fear that many people who have professed faith in Jesus Christ, and said that they have become a Christian, have done that to get out of hell. I believe that we ought to preach what the Bible teaches and what the Lord Jesus taught regarding hell, but we have to be very careful because some people get so scared that they come to faith in Christ to get out of a fiery pit, rather than because they see the glory of Christ and the Saviour that is in Jesus Christ. Now listen to me: it's not wrong to fear hell, and if you're not converted you ought to fear it! It may well be, or have been the fear of hell and judgement that has awakened you to your need of Christ, but let me be absolutely clear on the authority of the New Testament that if you have professed faith in Jesus only to escape punishment, but you have no desire to follow Christ, to obey Christ, to love Christ, you are still on your way to hell! The gospel is not simply a fire escape, and preaching on hell and the doctrine of hell is not an end in itself - yes, you can frighten a person away from hell, but you cannot frighten someone into heaven!
It's not knowledge, not knowledge. It's not expectation, let me illustrate it to you like this: James says in chapter 2, 'You believe that there is one God; and you do well: the devils', or demons, 'also believe, and tremble'. What does that mean? It means this, as one person put it: 'The devil thinks more true thoughts about God in one day than a saint does in a lifetime, and God is not honoured by it. The problem with the devil is not his theology, but his desires'. Do you think the devil likes the idea of going to hell any better than you do? But does it make him love God? No! It'll not make you love God either, my friend! As James ends his statement: 'But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?'. In other words, heaven is for people who love purity, not simply people who loathe pain! So, young person this evening, if your faith in Christ is nothing more than a fire escape, but you're not living day by day for Christ, that is not saving faith! Maybe that's your sticking point, that your motivation to come to Christ has been out of a fear of punishment rather than seeing that Christ deserves your all, and is worthy of your all, and He is the only Saviour, and you must not only ask Him to save your soul from a lake of fire, but He must have your life today.
Do you desire to be saved? Who wouldn't? What prisoner wouldn't want to be relieved? What man on death row wouldn't want to be emancipated and pardoned? But though you have that desire, you're still wondering: 'Why am I not saved? I know I need to be saved, I know I can be saved, I want to be saved - and yet I'm not saved!'. Do you know why? Are you ready to forsake your sins for good - is that your sticking point? Are you ready to allow the Holy Spirit to cause you to love Jesus and be like Jesus? Will you plead God's mercy, rather than protest your own credentials, and how good you are, and how religious you are, and how much you deserve God? Will you take God on His own terms, and follow salvation His own way? And will you do it not just simply to escape the torments of hell, but because you appreciate who Christ is in all of His glory as the only begotten Son of God, and what He has done for you when He shed His precious blood on the cross to be your Substitute, and to wash all your sins away?
I guess what I'm saying tonight is: a desire to be saved is not enough, you must desire Christ for who He is; and you must be willing to be made like Christ, and leave your sin.
Father, we plead with You now that You will perform that divine spiritual surgery - those blockages, impediments, that are there are preventing grace flowing into the hearts of individuals in this company - Lord, remove them and let the healing of salvation flow. For the glory of Christ we pray, Amen.
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This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Evangelical Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the recording, titled "Salvation Sticking Points" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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