Safe? - Matthew 7:21-23
After twenty years of shaving himself every morning, a man in a small Southern town decided he had enough. He told his wife that he intended to let the local barber shave him each day.
He put on his hat and coat and went to the barber shop which was owned by the pastor of the town Baptist church. The barber's wife, Grace, was working, so she performed the task. Grace shaved him and sprayed him with lilac water and said, "That will be $20."
The man thought the price was a bit high, but he paid the bill and went to work.
The next morning the man looked in the mirror, and his face was as smooth as it had been when he left the barber shop the day before. Not bad, he thought. At least I don't need to get a shave every day.
The next morning, the man's face was still smooth.
Two weeks later, the man was still unable to find any trace of stubble on his face. It was more than he could take, so he returned to the barber shop.
"I thought $20 was high for a shave," he told the barber's wife, "but you must have done a great job. It's been two weeks and my beard still hasn't started growing back."
The expression on her face didn't even change, expecting his comment. She responded, "You were shaved by Grace. Once shaved, always shaved."
How many of you men can imagine being shaved like that? Shaved one time, only to never have to shave again? I imagine if there were truly a barbershop like that, the waiting line would be out the door, down the street, and around the block.
How many of us can imagine being not shaved like that, but saved like that…saved once, only to find that in it that we are saved forever more? We’re familiar with the thinking behind the barbershop humor, “Once saved, always saved.” Many of you would expect me to argue against that kind of thinking, especially in light of our Scripture reading this morning. In fact, as I started writing this sermon, that is exactly what I thought I was going to say—that the idea that of “once saved, always saved” needs to be tossed out because it is not true.
However, the more I thought about it, the more I reflected on it, the more truth I came to find in the statement, “once saved, always saved.” This truth is not in the way that we typically think.
Most of the time when we think of “once saved, always saved,” we tend to think that it means that if we get on our knees and pray that “sinner’s prayer” or in some other way surrender our lives to God, then through our actions we have obtained, through grace, the salvation. From this point forward, it does not matter what we do. It’s okay to only come to worship once or twice a month, maybe even only on Christmas Eve and Easter morning. In fact, since we’ve been saved through falling to our knees and praying when the preacher called us forward that day, we really don’t need to darken the doors of that church anymore…we’ll leave our seat open for someone who really needs it, the beach, the lake, the golf course, the mountains, they’re calling our name. Since we’ve said that one prayer, there is really no need to pray again. We’ve said everything that needs to be said to God. We may even develop the mindset that it really doesn’t matter what we do—getting drunk or high, sleeping around, gossiping, ignoring the needs of the poor, mistreating those who don’t share our ethnicity or nationality as ourselves—none of it really matters in the long run because when all is said and done, we prayed that prayer—God has to take us in. If we think any of that is what “once saved, always saved” is all about, then we have travelled down the wrong path.
The truth of the matter is that through the grace of God found in Jesus Christ, in His birth, life, death, and resurrection, each of us, in fact the entire world, has been saved once and for all. All of creation has been saved—one time, forever more: “Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself”[i]; “But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and haves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption”[ii]; “But as it, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself”[iii]; “And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”[iv] The author of Hebrews makes it very clear that “once saved, always saved” is completely true…and that one time occurrence of salvation has nothing to do with us—not anything we do, but everything to do with God’s action through Christ. Christ has once, for all time, brought salvation to the world.
This is the grace, the gift, that God offers to us…to surrender to the fact that nothing we can do can save us and that only His Love offered to us through Christ is capable of saving us from ourselves…only complete surrender…and that complete surrender is not a one-time event, it is a daily surrender of our will to God’s. God loves us enough that He accepts us where we are when we surrender our lives to Him, but after we have surrendered to Him, God expects us, through the strength of His Holy Spirit residing in us, to daily lay down our lives and be conformed to Christ.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the initial surrender, whether it be through response to an “altar call” or the traditional “sinner’s prayer” or some other means is not important. It is of upmost importance. However, surrender is not a one-time historical act. We cannot lay our lives down, surrender our wills to Christ one time, or even here at the altar on Sunday morning, and then take them up again on our way out, or tomorrow morning, and just do what we want.
Jesus said, ‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ [Did we not when we were twelve years old, twenty years old, fifty years old, seventy-five years old, pray “Lord, I am a sinner, I need you to save me, come into my life.” Did we not feed the hungry in your name? Did we not welcome the stranger in your name?]” Then, [Jesus continues], I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you go away from me, you evildoers.’”
Jesus says, just because you call me Lord, just because you said you need Me, just because you prayed a prayer one time, just because you did a good deed one time, it isn’t what saves you. A one-time special status with God does not ensure it forever. The prophet Ezekiel says, “But when the righteous turn from their righteousness and commit iniquity and do the same abominable things that the wicked do…None of the righteous deeds that they have done will be remembered….”[v]
What saves us, my brothers and sisters, is Christ and Christ alone, and we find ourselves assured of that salvation—we can feel safe—when we daily surrender to the grace of God in Christ Jesus—who is the one and only source of our salvation now and forevermore—and in that surrender allow our lives to be transformed to look less and less like who we were when we began our relationship with Christ and even who we are now, and more and more like Christ Himself…it means surrendering so that we are not trying to make God’s will the same as our will, but so that our will reflects the will of God. So that in the end, who we become is identical to Christ—as John writes, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”[vi]
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!