Yesterday morning I took as a text Hebrews 7:25 where it is said, "He (Christ) is able to save them to the uttermost that come to God by Him." I pointed out that the KJV word "uttermost" is far superior to the actual meaning of the Greek word panteles than "forever," which is the word chosen by the NIV and NAS translators. It is true that God saves us forever, but the teaching of this verse is that Christ saves us to the "uttermost"--which means "completely" or "totally" or "fully."
The million dollar question is "Christ saves us from 'what' to the uttermost?' I pointed out that Christ saves us from "being 'cut off' from the goodness of God." This is the teaching of Romans 11:22 where the Bible says "Behold the goodness and severity of God" and proceeds to identify in the very next verse the people who continue in God's goodness (those who are in Christ) and then identifies the people who are "cut off" from God's goodness (those who are not in Christ). Being cut off from God's goodness is a very severe thing to experience (thus, the imperative "Behold [contemplate] God's severity"). There is a popular saying that "God is good all the time and all the time God is good." This saying contains only partial truth; God is good all the time to those "who come to Him by Christ." Those who refuse Christ are 'cut off' from God's goodness. By the way, to be "cut off" from the goodness of God is the biblical definition of hell. Hell is not Dante's version of a sadomasochist Creator who tortures sinners. Hell, or rather 'the biblical hell,' is a prison where lawbreakers are 'cut off' from the Creator's goodness.
Jesus Christ delivers (saves) those who trust Him from the severe danger of being cut off from God's goodness.
I cautioned everyone yesterday not to consider God's goodness only in terms of health, wealth and other material or temporal blessings. These things are good and definitely comprise some of the blessings that come from God ('for it is God who gives you the power to have wealth'), but these things are not God's greatest blessings. A rich, healthy, powerful man can be 'cut off' from experiencing God's goodness spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically. The internal knowledge that God is good to you eternally is far superior to the temporal experience of material blessings externally. A believer in Christ can have cancer, lose a job, or experience family difficulties and still be confident that they are smack dab in the middle of God's goodness. Christ delivers us from ever being, in any form or fashion, cut off from God's goodness, no matter how things seem around us.
Sunday Night's Experience of Pain
Twelve hours after preaching that message three times Sunday morning, I am asked to give a death notification to a family in our community. A man in his fifties, a husband and a father, died suddenly of a heart attack. His daughter, a woman in her twenties with two children of her own, heard the news that her father had died from my lips and fell apart emotionally, psychologically and physically. My heart went out to this young lady. She and her husband were recently separated. She had also lost her job as an aid at a hospital this past month, and was without work herself. When I found her to give her the news of her father's death, she was in the process of moving out of her rundown rental home because she and her two kids had been evicted. Her oldest child is autistic and the pressures of her current situation compounded by the shocking news of her father's death caused her to collapse on the front porch. Struggling to breathe, she rasped, "I can't handle this.. I can't handle this..."
I realized at that moment that the message I had preached that morning was completely useless to this young lady. Don't misunderstand; the message of God's grace in Jesus Christ is not useless. It was useless to this young lady at that moment. Theological grace must become practical grace or there is actually no grace at all. Not knowing the truth, it was impossible for her to experience the truth.
On the other hand, there are some who hear the truth at church, but don't put it into practice. Unless we hear the truth of God's grace in Christ, accept it, and then apply the truth in real life situations, biblical truth is just something we learn in Sunday School and church. We preachers have a tendency to spend too much time in the classroom and not enough time in the homes of our students.
Fortunately for both me and this young lady, her grandfather--the very father of the man who had just died--was soon on the porch, offering his warm embrace, gentle comfort, and strong, reassuring words to his granddaughter. The message of God's grace in Christ has made a difference in this man's life. He not only hears it every Sunday, he believes it and applies it ... as evidenced by his reaction to the news of the death of his only son. I overheard him say to his granddaughter, "Sweetheart, this is part of God's plan for us. We can trust Him."
I left that porch questioning my ministry for all the right reasons. Do I understand the mess that many people are in or have made of their lives? Do I truly comprehend the pressures of life? Is Sunday morning more than just a Bible lesson? Could I honestly react to the news of my son dying prematurely in the same manner as the father I had just observed? Is the goodness of God in Christ, particularly when circumstances seem so dark and painful, as easily relayed upon as I make it?
I went to bed thankful for my church member who displayed for me that unless one's theology of grace is actually lived out grace becomes just a word people use in songs and sermons on Sunday.