Calvary in the Park: Faith/Hope/Love

Faith That Leads Us to God

A friend sent me an email telling about a question asked by a coworker:

“How is a Christian defined? It used to be that if you were not Jewish or Hindu or Buddhist, you were a Christian, whether Catholic or Lutheran or Episcopal or Baptist. But it seems now that the word means something more specific. Is it considered to be an actual religion other than Catholic or Lutheran or Episcopal or Baptist or whatever. If so, what makes it different?”

That’s a very good question. It shows that the person has been doing some serious thinking about spiritual issues. It also reveals that her friend has penetrated to a core issue that has long confused millions of people: What is the difference between being a Christian and a church member? The simplest way to answer that question is to say that a Christian is a person who has come to know God deeply and personally through genuine saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. To say it that way means that while nearly all Christians are church members, not all church members are necessarily true Christians. Knowing God through Christ is about a personal relationship made possible through faith; it is not about religious ritual or merely “joining a church.”

That truth leads us to an important point: No one “drifts” into Christianity by accident. At some point you must consciously trust Christ as Lord and Savior. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, “You will never go to heaven in a crowd.” It’s true there will be crowds in heaven, but we only go there one at a time. God saves individuals, not masses or groups.

That’s a hugely important issue to consider as we gather in this public park. Today there are hundreds of people here from various churches. Some are Catholic, some Baptist, some Methodist, some Lutheran, and many of you come from Calvary Memorial Church. We’re glad to have all of you here and we want to you to feel right at home. And I want you to know up front that we’re not here trying to get you to come to Calvary Memorial Church. You’re certainly welcome to visit any time you like but that’s not what this event is all about. Even if you wanted to join our church today, you couldn’t do it. We’re not trying to get more members. We want to introduce you to Someone who can change your life forever. His name is Jesus Christ.

John 1:12-13 offers a simple outline of what it means to come to Christ for salvation: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

A Simple Step—Receiving Him

“To all who received him.” The way of salvation begins with a simple step: Receiving Christ as Lord as Savior. The word “receive” means to welcome a visitor into your home. It’s what happens when someone knocks at your door and you open the door and invite them to come in. To “receive” Christ means to welcome him as an honored guest and to have him make your heart his home.

A Wonderful Result—Child of God

“He gave the right to become children of God.” The word “right” means “honor” or “privilege.” The moment you receive Christ into your life, God gives you the honor of becoming a member of his family. This teaches us that not everyone is a child of God. All are created by God, but not everyone in the world is a child of God. Sometimes people carelessly say, “We’re all God’s children,” but the Bible says no such thing. God only gives the privilege of being his children to those who by personal faith receive Jesus as Lord and Savior.

A Mysterious Truth—Born of God

“Children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13). This verse teaches us that God’s grace doesn’t run automatically from one generation to another. You aren’t a Christian just because your parents were Christians or because your grandfather was an Episcopal bishop or your uncle a Baptist deacon. And you won’t get brownie points with God just because you come from a good family and have a fine education. You can’t save yourself by human effort so don’t bother trying. The sooner you stop trying to save yourself, the sooner you can be saved by God.

The whole gospel is contained in the little phrase “born of God.” Salvation is of the Lord. It’s a free gift—totally free and totally of grace. It’s not a cooperative venture where you do your part and God does His. But someone may object, “Don’t I have a part to play in salvation?” You do indeed have a part. Your part is to be hopelessly lost in sin and God’s part is to save you. That way God alone gets the credit. Salvation is a work of God from first to last.

That leads to some questions you ought to ask yourself:

“Not everyone is a child of God. Am I?”

“Not everyone has eternal life. Do I?”

“Not everyone will go to heaven. Will I?”

Hope That Never Disappoints

Hope is the confidence that no matter what happens, we’ll be okay because we have placed our lives into God’s hands. It’s the certainty that earthly circumstances cannot separate us from the Lord Jesus Christ. True hope means that you come to the end of your life knowing that death ushers you into the presence of the Lord. Do you have that kind of hope? Suppose you were to die tonight, are you certain that you would go to heaven? “I think so,” you reply. Or maybe you say, “I hope so.” But that’s not the kind of hope I’m talking about. The hope that God gives isn’t a wish or a dream, it’s a settled confidence that rests on the unchanging promises of God himself.

I’ve never forgotten a police officer I met in my first church in California. He had been a cop’s cop. He was tough with a capital T. He had seen the underside of life and it had left him jaded and skeptical. Before he was a cop he had served in Vietnam and had seen some horrible things. I think that’s what made him live “on the edge.”

He lived right across the street from our church and his children occasionally came to Sunday School—and he and his wife would sometimes show up for a worship service. Over the months we struck up a friendship—mostly because he told the most incredible stories I had ever heard in my life. He was what you would call a “seeker.” For a long time, he just plied me with one question after another about the Bible and Jesus Christ, not hostile or negative but sincerely looking for the truth.

One day we went to eat at a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant where they made the best tacos in town. He said, “Let me tell you what happened to me.” And he proceeded to tell me that after thinking about it for a long time, he had recently given his heart to Jesus Christ. “As I was reading the Bible, suddenly it hit me, ‘This stuff is true!’” Then he told me how he had asked Christ to become his Savior and Lord. I will never forget his description of that moment: “It felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted off my shoulders.”

That’s what it means to have peace with God. The weight of sin is lifted off your shoulders. The guilt is gone because your sins have been forgiven.

The Need For Forgiveness

We need God’s forgiveness because the Bible says we are lost in our sins. Isaiah 53:6 declares, “All we like sheep, have gone astray, we have turned each one to his own way” Our problem is sin and it is a problem that affects each of us. The famous words of Romans 3:23 remind us that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We need forgiveness because we are lost and we are lost because we are sinners who have strayed away from God.

Our sins have separated us from God. He is on one side and we are on the other and there is a great divide between us. Where will we find such a bridge? We stand on one side and cry out, “Help, we need a bridge across the great divide.” Who will build it for us?

The Provision For Forgiveness

God’s answer to our need is wrapped up in a person. His name is Jesus. Acts 10:43 says, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Someone may hear that and say, “Good! I believe in Jesus.” But it’s not enough to believe that Jesus existed or that he was a good man. It’s not enough to believe about Jesus, the Bible says you must believe in Jesus in order to be saved. Acts 4:12 tells us that “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” If you want to go to heaven, the only way to get there is through Jesus Christ. It’s not as if God has a Plan B for those who reject Jesus. Our Lord himself declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This is a truth that Oak Park needs to hear. Jesus Christ is God’s appointed way of salvation.

He was and is the Son of God from heaven.

He was born of a virgin.

He lived a perfect life.

He died on the cross for the sins of the world.

He died in your place, bearing your sins.

He rose from the dead on the third day.

He is God’s Son and our Savior.

Billy Graham tells the story of a patrolman on night duty in a town in northern England. As he walked the streets, he heard a quivering sob. Shining his flashlight into the darkness, he saw a little boy in the shadows sitting on a doorstep and tears were running down his cheek. The child said, “I’m lost. Please take me home.” And the policeman began naming street after street, trying to help the boy remember where he lived. He named the shops and the hotels in the area but the little boy could give him no clue.

Then he remembered that at the center of the town there was a church with a large white cross and that cross towered high above the rest of the city. The policeman pointed to the cross and said, “Do you live anywhere near that place?” The little boy’s face immediately brightened up. He said, “Yes, sir. Take me to the cross and I can find my way home.”

The cross is God’s provision for man’s sin. If you go to the cross, you will find your way home to God. If you are lost and confused, the cross of Christ beckons you to come, repent of your sin and receive Christ.

Love That Lasts Forever

The most famous verse in the Bible declares that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). If you doubt that God loves you, go with me to a rocky hilltop outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem. There you will find three men hanging on Roman crosses. Fix your gaze on the man in the middle. He has been beaten severely. He is bruised and covered with blood. His face is covered with grime and sweat mixed with his own blood. He wears a crown of thorns. Around the cross a mob gathers to watch him die. They laugh, they jeer, they mock his every tortured breath. When he cries out, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” the mob howls like a pack of wild hyenas. They did not come for forgiveness; they came to watch him die. Soon they will have their wish. But first he cries out again: “It is finished.” The word he used was common in those days. It meant “paid in full.” By his bloody death God’s justice had been satisfied and the price for sin had been fully paid.

Think of it. In the death of this One Man, the price for sin has been fully paid for—past, present and future. As a result, those who believe in Jesus find that their sins are gone forever. Since Jesus Christ paid in full, the work of salvation is now complete. That is what “It is finished” means. The debt was paid, the work was accomplished, the sacrifice was completed. And since the verb is in the perfect tense, it means that when Jesus died, He died once for all time. The sacrifice was sufficient to pay for the sins of every person who has ever lived—past, present or future.

So let me ask you a personal question. What sin is keeping you from God right now? Is it anger? Is it lust? Is it a hard heart of unbelief? Is it alcohol abuse? Is it an uncontrollable temper? Is it cheating? Is it gambling? Is it stealing? Is it adultery? Is it abortion? Is it pride? Is it greed?

Let me tell you the best news you’ve ever heard. It doesn’t matter what “your” sin is. It doesn’t matter how many sins you’ve piled up in your life. It doesn’t matter how guilty you think you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve been doing this week. It doesn’t matter how bad you’ve been. It doesn’t matter how many skeletons rattle around in your closet.

When you come to Christ, you discover that all of your sins have been stamped by God with this phrase: Paid in full.

Anger … … Paid in Full

Uncontrolled ambition … Paid in Full

Gossip … … Paid in Full

Drunkenness … … Paid in Full

Fornication … … Paid in Full

Embezzlement … … Paid in Full

Lying … … Paid in Full

Disobedience … … Paid in Full

Slothfulness … … Paid in Full

Pride … … Paid in Full

Murder … … Paid in Full

Bribery … … Paid in Full

Those are just examples. Just fill in the blank with whatever sins plague your life. Through the blood of Jesus Christ the price for “your” sins has been Paid in Full.

Being a Christian means coming to Christ for salvation. It means leaving your sin behind and leaning completely on Christ by faith, trusting totally in Him. You come by faith because that’s the only way a guilty sinner can come to God.

As we come to the moment of decision, let me ask you one final question: “If you were to stand before God and he said to you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what answer would you give?” You might say …

“I was raised Catholic.”

“I’ve been a Baptist all my life.”

“I go to a Lutheran church.”

“I was baptized as a baby.”

“I attend Calvary Memorial Church.”

“I came to Calvary in the Park.”

But if that’s what you are banking on to get into heaven, you’re going to sadly surprised one day. None of those answers will suffice when you stand before the Lord. The only answer that counts is tell God in your own words that you are trusting Jesus Christ for your salvation. Then and only then will the gates of heaven swing open for you.

Ponder the words of this little verse:

Upon a life I did not live,

Upon a death I did not die,

I risk my whole eternity.

That is what it means to be a Christian. It means trusting in Christ so much that you risk your eternity on what he did for you in his life and in his death. I have sometimes told people that trusting Jesus for salvation means to trust him so completely that if he can’t take you to heaven, you aren’t going to go there. Are you willing and ready to do that?

Let me say a word to the gamblers in our midst. If you gamble at all, you know that it’s usually not a good idea to bet all that you have. Lots of gamblers have lost it all because they bet it all on a “sure hand” that turned out to be not so sure after all. Most gamblers will bet some and hold the rest back. That may be good advice when it comes to wagering your money, but it’s bad advice when it comes to wagering your eternal destiny.

True saving faith means to push all the chips to the center of the table and risking everything on Jesus Christ. If you hold something back because you think, “I’m going to bet 80% on Jesus and 20% on my good works,” you’ll never make it to heaven. God’s plan is simple and clear: Only Jesus and Jesus only.

Are you ready to risk it all on Jesus? Perhaps it will help you to form your words into a very simple prayer. Even while I encourage you to pray this prayer, I caution you that saying words alone will not save you. Prayer doesn’t save. Only Christ can save. But prayer can be a means of reaching out to the Lord in true saving faith. If you pray these words in faith, Christ will save you. You can be sure of that.

“Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept You out of my life. I know that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. No longer will I close the door when I hear You knocking. By faith I gratefully receive Your gift of salvation. I am ready to trust You as my Lord and Savior. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank You for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe Your words are true. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Savior. Amen.

In the end I can’t believe for you or you for me. Jesus said, “Come unto me.” Will you come? Come and see for yourself. Come and discover how Christ can change your life.

If you are fearful, put your heart at ease. He avoids no seeker. He will not turn you away. You will see for yourself. God invites you. But still you must come. Do not hesitate. Stop making excuses. Come to Christ and be saved. Trust in Him and your new life will begin.

If God gives us understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He did for us, our only response can be to come to Him in love and trust, asking Him to save us. May God grant you faith to believe in Jesus Christ. If you have doubts, come and see for yourself. The way to heaven has been opened by the Son of God. Come just as you are, holding nothing back, making no excuses. Come, and as you come to Christ, He will come to you. Amen.

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