1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
Sermon Are You Pruned?
Good morning! When I was in high school, my mother had a part-time job as the alto soloist in the choir of an American Baptist Church in an affluent suburb of Pittsburgh. Eventually, she started dragging me with her to church. By that point, I was a freshman in high school, so she couldn’t physically drag me—I was too big for that—but I didn’t want to go. I wanted to sleep in and I really wasn’t all that interested in church. Eventually I got to know and like the other kids who were in the youth group, so I came around to the idea of going to church.
At one point, the pastor felt that the kids in the youth group weren’t getting enough religion, so he thought it would be a good idea to send the youth group down South to church camp. Southern Baptist church camp. I’m a Yankee, through and through, so I had some serious culture shock. And let me tell you, we got a whole lot of religion that week.
As Yankees, we were something of a curiosity to all the Southerners. Very often, we were asked, “Are you saved? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” Looking back on things, I wonder if they asked us this because they thought the Holy Spirit had given up on everyone north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Or maybe they asked that question of everyone they met.
My problem with that question is theological; it suggests that salvation is a once-and-for-all kind of thing. The way the question is phrased suggests that the work of salvation is completed the moment you accept Jesus. That’s it. Accept Jesus and there’s nothing more you need to do. You’re saved from eternal damnation. Period.
On one level, that’s absolutely true. As Reformed Christians, we believe that Jesus has done all the work that is necessary for our salvation. We believe that we are saved by grace alone, and there is nothing, not a single blessed thing, that any one of us can do to work our way into heaven. So, in that sense, if you are a Christian, the only possible answer to the question, “Are you saved?” is, “Yes!”
The English theologian N.T. Wright has a slightly different take on that question. Instead of looking at what we’re saved from—eternal damnation—Wright focuses on what we are saved for. The short answer is that we are also saved for building God’s kingdom here on Earth; this is our calling. Wright says: “God is utterly committed to set the world right in the end.”