Who Is Saved? What Does It Mean to Be Saved?

TODAY’S READING: LUKE 19-20

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” – Luke 19:10

Here is a simple, direct statement from Jesus about his mission. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. However, even though the statement is simple and direct, I believe the meaning has been totally missed by most. I know I missed it for a long time.

I think many, if not most, Christians think Jesus came to save sinners, which is typically understood to mean those who live an immoral life based on a specific code of conduct. This specific code of conduct would include sins such as drinking, swearing, lying, lusting, murdering (which is always said to be different than their own justified killing in war or killing by God), etc. If someone does not get in line with this personal code of conduct, then God is going to burn up him or her in hell. Therefore, Jesus saves us from our sin by making it possible for us to keep this specific code of conduct, thereby preventing our eternal destruction due to the wrath of God.

I used to believe this, but now I have come to understand who Jesus save and what it means to be saved in an entirely different way.

Who did Jesus come for? Who is saved?

The lost.

Who are the lost?

The Greek word for lost is apollymi. It derives from the word olethros, which means to destroy. The prefix apo in this case basically means completely. So, the essential meaning of apollymi is destroy utterly or completely.

But, the word apollymi can also mean to perish or lose. However, these meanings are reflexive. Reflexive means

  • directed or turned back on itself
  • of, relating to, characterized by, or being a relation that exists between an entity and itself (“is equal to” but not “is the father of”)
  • of, relating to, or constituting an action (“he perjured himself”) directed back on the agent or the grammatical subject
  • characterized by habitual and unthinking behavior

So, when apollymi means or is translated perished or lost it has the idea that the action of perishing and being lost is something that one does to themselves. In fact, if we study carefully the times when apollymi is translated perish or lost, then we will see this is true. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) Jesus says that if we take up the sword to defend and protect our lives or to get even with our enemy then we die cause ourselves to die by the sword.

In Luke 13:3 and 5, Jesus said, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus said this about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices and the eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell. Most understand the blood that Pilate shed in the temple as a military confrontation. The tower of Siloam was likely a part of the temple. Therefore, it’s likely that these two incidents are connected,especially since they are nowhere else mentioned in scripture or other historical writings.

So, Jesus asks if the people involved in this military confrontation were any worse sinners or offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem. Therefore, unless you repent of the your desire for military conflict then you cause yourself to perish too.

In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus said, “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger.” (Luke 15:17) The younger son realized that his father’s servants had plenty of food yet he causing himself to die of hunger because he refused to repent and go back to his father.

In John 3:16, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” We know God’s love because of the cross. Jesus laid down his life there. He blessed all who persecuted him by forgiving all of his persecutors completely. If we do the same as Jesus, then we will not cause ourselves to perish.

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) If we try to find, protect, keep, defend, our life then we will cause it be lost. However, if we cause our life to be lost by laying it down, forgiving others, blessing our enemies instead of seeking to kill them, for Jesus’ sake then we will find our lives.

Notice that in these cases it is our own evil that comes back upon us to destroy us. This theme is repeated throughout the Old Testament. Most prominently, the theme is found in Psalm 7:15-16, which says, “He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.”

Our own violence descends upon our skull. That’s an extremely important point when we consider where Jesus crucified by our own violence – Golgotha, the place of the skull. Where did the cross need to be driven into to stand upright? My skull. Therefore, the cross destroys my own violent tendencies.

When apollymi is translated destroyed, the destruction typically is done to someone else.

“For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:15)

“And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.” (1Corinthians 8:11)

Notice that we are the ones who destroy, not Jesus. Instead of destroying, Jesus died for these people.

Jesus does not destroy. The gospels repeatedly declare that the people wanted to destroy him.

Why do we destroy? Because we are of our father the devil as Jesus said in John 8:44. And, it has always been Satan that is behind every destructive act. Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 10:9-10, “We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.” God was not destroying people in the wilderness after the exodus. Satan was.

Now, you might try to quote Jude 5, which says, “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” Translated this way, Jude 5 is in complete contradiction to what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:9-10.

But, I believe this is a poor translation of Jude 5. The problem is the word “afterword.” It is the Greek word deuteros. Deuteros simply means second. Jude 5 literally says “a second” or “the second” destroyed those who did not believe. Translated that way, it was Jesus who saved a people out of Egypt but a/the second that destroyed those who did not believe. Translated this way Jude 5 fits in exactly with what Paul says.

So, the lost are those who are destroyed by Satan and by others. And, the lost are those who bring destruction upon themselves because they look to violence for the answer. They seek to repay their enemies evil for evil. But, their violence comes back on themselves. So, by taking the sword they die by the sword. The lost perish from their own violence.

It is the lost that Jesus came to save.

Therefore, we are saved when we do what Jesus said

  • love your enemies
  • do good to those who hate you
  • bless those who persecute you
  • show mercy
  • forgive as you have been forgiven

This is what the cross was all about. This is why the cross was symbolically driven into our own skulls on Golgotha. The cross, the self-sacrificing love of God that is merciful and forgiving to all, was meant to cause us to repent from violence, evil, and wickedness.

Jesus is our savior when we follow him and give up violence as a way to fix the world and make things right, as a means of justice.

There’s actually an ancient letter from a proconsul that uses the Greek word for savior in just this way. It says, “Providence, which governs the course of our lives, has shown attention and goodness and has provided for the most perfect good for life by producing the emperor [Augustus], whom it has filled with virtue in order to make him a benefactor of humanity. So it has sent to us and to others a savior [sotera] who has put an end to war and will restore order everywhere.” But, Augustus attempted to bring an end to war through war. Much like World War 1 was said to be the war to end all wars.

So, the term savior was applied to a Roman emperor, a warring and conquering military victor. This sheds light on why Paul said he was not ashamed by the gospel of his savior, his savior who died on the cross, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing [apollymi], but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

What is the word of the cross?

Forgiveness.

Love.

Laying down your life for others?

Dying.

Peace.

It is not violence, killing, murdering, war.

That’s why it is folly to those who are perishing, those who are destroying and being destroyed by their own violence. The perishing cannot understand how non-violence will solve anything. It’s complete and utter folly to them.

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 4:3)

Again, the gospel is the message of the cross. It is Jesus’ message of self-sacrificial love. It is his message of non violence. The gospel is a message of loving enemies, not taking vengeance. But, it is veiled to those who are perishing, those who are destroying and being destroyed by their own violence. It is veiled to the lost.

Why is it veiled to them?

“In their case the god of this world [Satan, the Destroyer] has blinded the minds of unbelievers [those that don’t believe in the self-sacrificial love and non-violence of Jesus], to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)

How is the veil removed?

“But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” (2 Corinthians 3:16)

The veil in the temple was torn after Jesus proclaimed forgiveness on the cross. When we turn to the Lord and believe his message of self-sacrificial love for enemies and non-violence then the veil that hid God’s true nature from us is torn. Then, we are no longer blinded by Satan that the way to make things right is through violence. When the veil is torn and we know the truth about God’s ways, the we are saved.

“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and be saved.” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10

Satan uses all kinds of power to do false signs and wonders so that his way of violence, his murdering and lying, appears like the way we should go. Satan uses all sorts of wicked deception so that the perishing, the lost, the destroying and those being destroyed by their own violence, believe violence, hating enemies, and vengeance are the ways to make things right.

But, Satan can only do this when we refuse to love the truth, which is the message of the cross, the message of self-sacrificial love for enemies, even to the point of becoming a martyr if necessary.

So, who is saved?

The lost. Those that perish because of their own violence, evil, and wickedness. Those that are destroyed by Satan.

What does it mean to be saved?

It’s not simply following a moral code of conduct. To be saved means that we believe Jesus’ message from the cross. And, as a result of that message we practice self-sacrificial love, mercy, and forgiveness so that we can participate in the reconciliation of the world to God. The saved know that this is how we make things right.

As the Lord Lives, or Jesus Is Lord

TODAY’S READING: JEREMIAH 4-5

“If you return, O Israel, declares the Lord, to me you should return. If you remove your detestable things from my presence, and do not waver, and if you swear, ‘As the Lord lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness, then nations shall bless themselves in him, and him shall they glory.'” – Jeremiah 4:1-2

If Israel was going to return to God and if they were to swear “As the Lord lives” in truth , justice, and righteousness, then the nations would be blessed and glory in the Lord.

Israel was originally called by God to be a witness of him, a light, to the Gentile nations. They had failed in that calling because they had become enslaved to idols and false gods. But, if they would return to God, turn from their false idols, then they would once again be a witness of God to the nations and the nations would be blessed through them.

A condition of their returning to God was to proclaim “As the Lord lives” in truth, in justice, and in righteousness.

What does “As the Lord lives” mean?

And, how do we see Jesus in this proclamation?

“As the Lord lives” was something Israel was to swear. Therefore, this phrase is an oath. And, it is used that way all throughout the Old Testament.

However, you could swear “As the Lord lives” falsely.

Jeremiah 5:1-2 says, “Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her. Thought they says, ‘As the Lord lives,’ yet they swear falsely.”

Israel was proclaiming “As the Lord lives,” but no man could be found who did justice and sought truth in all Jerusalem. In other words, men were claiming “As the Lord lives” but their actions revealed that oath they swearing was not a reality in their lives. So, the profession “As the Lord lives” was false because their words did not line up with their actions.

Jeremiah 23 connects the oath “As the Lord lives” to Jesus.

Verses 5-6 say, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.'”

Remember that Israel was to declare “As the Lord lives” in truth, justice, and righteousness but not one man could be found to do so. However, in Jeremiah 23:5-6, we find just such a man.

Of course, these verses are referring to Jesus, the righteous branch, that came forth from David. This one man, Jesus, does not profess the oath, “As the Lord lives,” verbally, but he does profess it with his life. Notice that these verses say Jesus would reign as king and deal wisely and execute justice and righteousness. In other words, by the life he lived, Jesus professed “As the Lord lives” in truth, justice, and righteousness and all the nations are blessed in him, just as Jeremiah 4:1-2 says. Here is the one man in all the streets of Jerusalem that could not be found in Jeremiah 5:1-2.

In Revelation 1:18, Jesus said, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Jesus declared of himself that he is the living one, alive forevermore, the Lord that lives.

In the New Testament, we do not find the words “As the Lord lives,” but we find a similar oath.

Romans 10:8-9 says, “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

1 Corinthians 12:2-3 says, “You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.”

In the New Testament, instead of professing “As the Lord lives” we profess “Jesus is Lord.” This is our oath. This is the declaration we swear to live by. But, we can swear it falsely, just like in the Old Testament, if our the actions of our life do not line up with the words we say. This is why Paul says that no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. Not because you can’t literally say the words “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit, but because you can’t actually live the life that reflects the reality of the words “Jesus is Lord” without the Holy Spirit.

How do we go about professing “Jesus is Lord?”

Notice that back in Jeremiah 4:3-4 it says, “For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem.'”

Jeremiah stated that in order to swear truthfully “As the Lord lives” one had to break up their fallow ground and be circumcised, removing the foreskin of their hearts. In other words, one had to repent and be baptized.

This is exactly what we see in the New Testament. In Acts 2, Peter delivers the first sermon in church history. He closes it in verse 36, saying “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” In other words, Peter closed by saying, “Jesus is Lord.”

What was the response of the hearers?

Verse 37 says, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?'” The hearers had come to see that “Jesus is Lord” just as Peter proclaimed. What should they do in response?

Verse 38 says, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Just like Jeremiah 4, you need to repent and be baptized to truly profess “Jesus is Lord.” And, Peter says that you will receive the Holy Spirit to ensure that the profession of your mouth lines up with the profession of your life.

So, what will the life of one who proclaims “Jesus is Lord” with his mouth and the actions of his life look like?

I believe there are threes specific actions the flow out of allegiance to the oath “Jesus is Lord.”

Isaiah 53:9 says, “Although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”

Daniel 9:9 says, “To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness.”

Jesus lived a life that was marked by absolutely no violence and no lies. This is why he was also to go to the cross and be crucified to be free us from our bondage to sin, idols, and false gods. And, it was because Jesus lived a life marked by no violence and no lies that he was able to proclaim forgiveness, mercy, to us from the cross.

Jesus proclaimed that the same should be true of us. In John 8, Jesus said that Satan was the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning. He told the Jews he was talking to that Satan was their father, meaning their lives were marked by murder, violence, and lies. But, Jesus told them that those whom the son sets free are free indeed. Therefore, to say that “Jesus is Lord,” means that your life is no longer characterized by the works of Satan – murder of lies – but by Jesus, who did no violence and no lies.

In the context of loving your enemies, in Luke 6:36, Jesus said, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” The ultimate display of that mercy was Jesus’ forgiveness of us even as we were crucifying him. Therefore, our lives should be marked by the same level of forgiveness.

Remember that Jeremiah 23 said that Jesus was the one man that was found who said “As the Lord lives” in truth, justice, and righteousness. And, that Israel would truly swear “As the Lord lives” if there profession was lived out in truth, justice, and righteousness.

To live in truth is to live without lies.

Righteousness is not the right moral action alone. It is more than that. Righteousness is setting things right. For Jesus, this meant bringing to life. In John 10:10, Jesus said he came to give life and life more abundantly. This will be fulfilled when the last enemy, death, Satan’s chief weapon, is defeated. To live in righteousness is to bring life and overcome death, murder, violence.

To live in justice is to give mercy. Mercy, forgiveness, was Jesus’ justice from the cross. James 2:13 says, “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.”

Paul sums this profession, “Jesus is Lord,” in two ways for me.

First, in 1 Corinthians 1:31 and 2 Corinthians 10:17, he says, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” And, in Galatians 6:14, Paul says, But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Second, in Galatians 2:20, Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Let me close with two final points.

First, “As the Lord lives” is used eight times in the book of Jeremiah. Eight is the number of new beginning or new creation. When we proclaim “Jesus is Lord” and truly live a life marked by no violence, no lies, and complete forgiveness as Jesus did, then we participate with him in ushering in the new creation and causing the nations of the world to be blessed and glory in Christ.

Second, “As the Lord live” us used 35 times in the Old Testament. The number 35 speaks to vindication and hope. Remember, we can say Jesus is Lord because he is the living one who died and is alive forevermore. That Jesus lives and is Lord is both or vindication and our hope.

1 Corinthians 15:13-14 says, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” In other words, if Christ has not been raised, then our faith would be without hope, without vindication.

However, 1 Peter 1:21 says, “God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Jesus has been raised, resurrected. He is the living one. “As the Lord lives” he is our vindication and hope.

Jesus is Lord!

Required: Do Justice, Love Kindness, Walk Humbly

Micah 6:8 – “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with you God?”

Israel thought God wanted their sacrifices. But, through Micah, God says he doesn’t want sacrifices and burnt offerings. He wants Israel to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly before God. Micah’s statement is not an isolated portion of scripture as it is repeated over and over in scripture.

When I read Micah 6:6-8, I think of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. The Pharisees had caught a woman in adultery. And, by the law, she was to be stoned to death. So, they asked Jesus for his opinion? As one who claimed to know God, even be God, would he consent to stoning her?

Jesus said nothing. Jesus stooped down. Stooping down is a sign of humility. Imagine this group challenging you, demanding an answer from you, perhaps even threatening you. But, Jesus got down on the ground, in a sense under the Pharisees.

Then he wrote in the dust. To do so, his eyes would have been on the ground, not looking up to the Pharisees. Again a position of humility. He stalled, delayed, waited. The Pharisees demanded an answer.

Then, Jesus stood up. He got back on the level of the Pharisees and said whoever is without sin let him cast the first stone. Having said that, Jesus stooped down again and went back to writing in the dust. He stalled, delayed, and waited some more. Having answered them, he went back to his position of humility.

The accusers left. But, the crowd was still there. What was the crowd expecting? Did they expect Jesus to stone her? He was proclaiming to be God. Would he follow the law as they had been taught it by the scribes and Pharisees?

It’s only Jesus and the woman in the middle of the crowd. He stands up once again. I imagine he did so to look her in the eye. He asked her where her accusers went. Didn’t any of them condemn her? She said no. And, Jesus said he didn’t either, so go and sin no more. He was merciful. He gave her what she did not deserve.

Think about that. Jesus was without sin. So, by his own statement he could have thrown the first stone at her. He could have rightfully judged her and condemned her to death. But, he was walking in humility and loving kindness. In Luke 6:36 we are told to be merciful even as God is merciful. And, if we have seen Jesus we have seen the Father. So, in Jesus’ act of mercy we see what God is really like.

But, what about justice? Or, what is justice?

I think when most of us think of justice we think of punishment being doled out for wrongdoing. Maybe I need to rethink what justice is to God.

Do You Find Mercy Shameful?

God is incredibly merciful. So much so that we have a hard time understanding Him.

David’s son Absalom attempted to steal the kingdom from him. At first David fled from Absalom. In time though, he sent his army after Absalom. But, he told them to protect Absalom. When Joab, one of David’s military commanders, hears that the army found Absalom stuck in a tree, he pierces Absalom with three javelins.

Now, Absalom had quite the past – covering up his sister’s rape by his half-brother, murdering said half-brother, and attempting to steal the kingdom from his father. Yet, in 2 Samuel 19, David is weeping and mourning for Absalom, grieving for his son.

David’s actions completely confound and anger Joab. In 2 Samuel 19:5-6, Joab says, “You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life and the lives of your sons and your daughters and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you, for today I know that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.”

“Because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you.” This statement from Joab is what really struck me. David loved Absalom even though he had acted so wickedly toward him. David felt compassion and mercy to Absalom that Joab could not understand. Joab saw David’s mercy as shameful. To Joab it seemed that David loved those who hated him which equated to David hating those who him.

I think this statement from Joab is a window into how we view God at times. We say, “If you love those who hate me, then you must hate me even though I love you.” We have a hard time understanding how God can love all.

Later in 2 Samuel 19, we read of another instance of this very phenomenon. In 2 Samuel 16, Shimei cursed David. At the time David rejected the idea of killing Shimei. Then, in chapter 19, Shimei comes to meet David and falls before the king in worship. But, Abishai, one of David’s military commanders, says, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?”

David responds, “What have I to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah [speaking to Abishai], that you should this day be as an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I knot know that I am this day king over Israel?” David knows that Shimei cursed him, called him a murderer, and rejected him as king over Israel. But, David knows he’s king. Therefore, why does he need to kill Shimei to prove it?

David’s statement to Abishai recalls Jesus’ word to James and John. Luke 9:51-54 says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.”

Jesus knew he was king. He didn’t need his servants to call fire down from heaven to consume those who had rejected him to prove it.

I think David’s actions are just two small pictures of God’s love and mercy. God’s love and mercy goes much, much further than any of us can imagine. He is not like us. God thoughts are not our thoughts.