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Salvation Available For All
Summer Quarter: Confident Hope
Unit 2: Faith and Salvation
Sunday school lesson for the week of August 1, 2021
By Dr. Jay Harris
Lesson Scripture: Romans 10:5-17
Propagating the Faith
The second unit this quarter, which culminates with this lesson, has been devoted to Faith and Salvation. One of the most wonderful events to witness is the Christian faith taking root in a person’s life – saving faith that results in the transformation of that person’s life. This lesson talks about how the faith takes root in a person’s life and also how faith is transmitted from person to person. Paul had the matchless joy of seeing the faith being propagated among whole communities of people. “Propagating” is a term used in farming or gardening, but it can also be applied to the Christian faith. Pay attention to Paul’s intense focus on the propagation or transmission of the faith in our scripture.
The Word of Faith Is Nearer Than You Think
Would you agree that generally we can and often do make things harder than they need to be? There are many areas where this can be true. It is also true that we can make things harder than they need to be when it comes to God saving us. Paul addresses this in our scripture.
“Moses writes concerning the righteousness that comes from the law, that ‘the person who does these things will live by them.’
We have learned already from Paul that trying to obtain God’s righteousness through living the law of Moses is futile, because we will fail. To say that a righteousness that comes from the law is a distant prospect is an understatement, because it is impossible – out of reach – anything but near.
Do you remember Jesus’ frustration with many of the religious leaders of his day? Jesus said about them, “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.” (Matthew 23:4) Jesus chastised the religious leaders for attempting to put a relationship with God out of reach for the masses of common people. In contrast, Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29) Jesus was saying to ordinary people that a vital relationship with God was within reach. I think Jesus would affirm the direction Paul is going in our scripture lesson.
“But the righteousness that comes from faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).
When it comes to the righteousness that comes from faith
, a relationship with God moves within reach. You don’t have to say in your heart that I have to work my way to heaven to bring Christ down or dig my way down to the abyss to bring Christ up from the dead. The righteousness that comes from faith, the journey of faith, is not an impossibly long journey. It has been said that the journey of faith is 18 inches – the distance from your head to your heart.
“But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);
The word of faith is near you. The word of faith is on your lips and in your heart. Is the planting of the word of faith that accessible? Is it much more within reach than we may make it out to be? Paul was not being random in his choice of words. The words “lips” and “heart” were deliberately chosen.
“because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
“Confessing with your lips” is a reference to a public profession of the Christian faith. Making your profession of faith public is vitally important and necessary. You dare not, however, give mere lip service to this public profession of faith. You must also believe what you say in your heart. Notice how lips and heart are both needed and interrelated.
When you announce with your lips what you believe in your heart, you are becoming accountable to others for what you believe. When something is kept to yourself, it remains tentative in your spirit. Once you are ready to say it out loud, that which was tentative rises to a new level of confidence. You are willing and ready to go on the record with your faith. Moreover, you are stating what you believe before the body of believers. You are thereby joining the fellowship that will nurture you in the faith, hold you accountable, and give you a venue to serve.
If you are confessing with your lips that which you don’t really believe in your heart, you must ask yourself why. Were you pressured? Did you do it to conform? Did you do it to gain respectability? Did you do it to advance your standing in the community or please your boss? Did you do it to please your mother or your spouse? Did you do it because it seemed like the thing to do, but you were going through the motions?
We should consider what it is that we are confessing. We are confessing that Jesus is Lord. What is it we believe in our heart? We believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. To believe this, it follows that we also believe in the message of Christmas – that in Jesus, the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. It follows that we believe the message of Good Friday – that Jesus died on the cross for our sins – sins we acknowledge in our confession and repentance. It follows that we believe in Easter – that Jesus rose on the third day.
When we put what we believe together with our confession that Jesus is Lord, we believe that Jesus ascended into heaven, and that from there he reigns as our Lord. For him to be our Lord, we believe he is also present with us through the Holy Spirit, which means we believe the message of Pentecost – that when Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit was given to believers to form them into Christ’s Body on earth.
To confess that Jesus is Lord, you are confessing that Jesus is your
Lord. You are confessing that you are his subject. You are accepting his reign and rule over your life. With lips and heart, you open the door to be justified, to be made right with God, and to be saved from
your sins and saved for
the life that the Lord Jesus Christ has for you.
“The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
No one who believes in him will be put to shame by being refused. We have noted in previous Sunday School lessons how Jews and Greeks came to Christ in the New Testament Church from different starting points and how they may have had different issues to work through, but those distinctions pale against the desire of the Lord to be the Lord of all, and to be generous to all who call on him.
Paul quotes Joel 2:32, when he says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Calling on the name of the Lord is a beautiful way to characterize a person’s first turn toward the Lord. Have you ever called out for help? Have you ever called out in desperation? Have you ever called to be attended to? Have you ever called for recognition? Have you ever called out in the silence just to see if someone was there to answer you back? Do you happen to remember the very first time you prayed to God when you were by yourself, and although it felt new, it felt so natural? Do you remember calling on the name of the Lord one day, and you were ushered into an intimate experience? Because of the generosity of the Lord, saving faith is within reach.
Messengers of Good News
Nevertheless, there is a great need for people to be involved in the transmission or propagation of the faith.
“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
In order to believe, we need to hear, and to hear we need someone to share the message of Christ with us. Someone needs to proclaim, to give witness, to teach us about God revealed through Jesus Christ. We need to hear about God. We need to hear the Christian Story. We need to hear that we need a Savior, who must become our Lord. We need witnesses to tell us about the word of faith.
“And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’
How do people become witnesses? They are sent. Do you remember when Jesus sent witnesses into the towns and villages two by two? They were sent. Do you remember the ending of the Gospel of Matthew that we call the Great Commission? Jesus gave this commission to all his followers to go make disciples of Jesus Christ so the good news would spread to the ends of the earth. When Paul said, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” he was quoting Isaiah 52:7, which recalls the messengers of Isaiah’s day who were prized for their ability to run great distances to bring messages.
God calls all believers to give witness to their faith by sharing their faith and by sharing their church. If you feel, in the beginning, that sharing your faith is too daunting a task, then share your church. Share your church by inviting your friends to church to see what it’s all about and to hear the gospel preached in your church. The first message they hear doesn’t have to be a message about salvation. Sometimes just hearing the Bible applied to daily life is enough to make the God of salvation come alive. Be ready to answer their questions, and before you know it, you will be sharing your faith.
I can’t talk about proclaimers being sent without also talking about the men and women God calls into part-time or full-time ministry. They have a special place in my heart, because I help shepherd people in the process of becoming licensed for ministry and ordained in The United Methodist Church in South Georgia. In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul writes, “The gifts God gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ.” In Ephesians 4:1, Paul is begging his readers “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Whether you are called and sent to be an equipper of the saints for the work of ministry or you are called to be one of those saints being equipped and doing the ministry, listen for your calling and go where you are being sent.
What About When People Refuse to Hear?
“But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.”
Some people refuse to receive the good news. God does not coerce our response. God desires that we respond freely to God’s offer of salvation. God patiently waits for us to say “yes” to his offer. As we share our faith with people, it is important that we do not burn our bridges if they refuse the first time. I know of many people whose journey of faith took detours. They did not say “yes” the first time, or the next time, or the next time, but finally they said, “yes.”
The Wesleyan tradition is fond of talking about “prevenient grace.” This is the grace that comes before our salvation. We use this term to remember that God chose us before we choose God. (John 15:16) No one comes to the Father unless the Father draws him. (John 6:44) No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except through the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
Although God does not coerce us into the faith and we have the freedom to say “no,” God does not leave us alone to come to Him on our own. God is wooing us to Himself behind the scenes. How does this happen? Prevenient grace is also called “convincing grace” or “convicting grace.” God wants to be found. God desires to bring us into an awareness of Himself. The Holy Spirit working through our conscience gives us those first feelings of right and wrong and our need for God. The God-shaped hole is that realization that there will be an emptiness in our hearts without God. God also works through our families, our churches, special individuals in our lives, or special events or circumstances to bring us to God.
We believe that God extends prevenient grace to everyone, but everyone’s prevenient grace story is unique. When we say, “yes” to God’s offer of salvation, it is the culmination of a journey uniquely our own, and the start of an even more wonderful journey.
Indeed, the word of faith is nearer to people than you think. Remember that as you share the faith with others. There is nothing more exciting than to be part of a person’s journey of faith.
God of the Church, You sent leaders, You sent your prophets, You sent Jesus, You sent the Holy Spirit, and You sent the apostles. Send us now to work with You in transmitting the faith to others, so that we may discover all the ways You have been cultivating the hearts of people for the seed of your word. Through Your Son, Jesus Christ, who reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever, Amen.
Dr. Jay Harris serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Ministerial Services for the South Georgia Conference. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.