Held In God's HandsErwin W. Lutzer | June 5, 1994
Selected highlights from this sermon
Can we lose our salvation? Some believe we can. But our salvation goes from one spectrum of eternity to the other. By looking at Romans 8:29-39, Pastor Lutzer shows us how our security doesn’t lie in anything we do, but in God.
Those of us who are truly saved will be taken by God all the way to heaven despite our backslidings.
“For by grace we are saved,” the Bible says. It is a word that is used interchangeably with the word conversion or being born again as we learned last week, but the question I want to ask you today is how many times can you be saved? Do you ever need to be saved again?
There are those who say they can lose their salvation. Ted Turner, who is known to many of us, and who received the Humanist of the Year award a number of years ago, said that he was brought up in a Christian home and was saved 7 or 8 times and felt better when he lost his faith than when he had it. Well how many times can you be saved?
There are some people who say you can lose your salvation. You can come to saving faith in Christ. You can be sealed with the Holy Spirit of God, and then because of backsliding and rebellion, you lose your status with God, and if you died, you’d be lost. Some people say that this happens, as a matter of fact, whenever you sin again. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine if we lost our salvation every time we sinned?
You know, in churches that believe that I remember a woman who was in our home who told us that she came from a tradition where that was the doctrine, and there was a town drunk who got saved every Sunday, and then got drunk again every Monday. And after he got saved one Sunday morning the pastor said, “You know, the next time you get saved we ought to shoot you.” (laughter) Now he did have a point. After all, if he got shot after he was saved, he’d be in heaven. If he got shot on Monday, he’d be lost. Do him a favor and blow him away right after he believes. (laughter)
Well, if that was the Gospel I can assure you that it would not be good news at all. I was riding on a plane one time and a man said, “I can’t stay saved. I’m on furlough from living the Christian life.”
And then there are those who say, “No, you don’t lose your salvation after you sin some sins, but if it is willful sin…” John Wesley, whom we admire for many other things, held a view similar to that. It has to be a willful sin, it has to be knowingly done, and I’m saying to myself, “John Wesley must have been more righteous than I am because sometimes I sin willfully, knowing what I am doing,” and if there is anybody who says that they have never done that, you can come up later and you can privately confess the sin of lying to me. (laughter) The fact is that we all sin, sometimes deliberately.
And then, of course, there are those who say, “No, only in the case of extreme apostasy!” Now if you were here last Sunday evening you know I looked at those passages of Scripture that appear to teach that one who is saved can lose his or her salvation.
Today what I’d like to do is to emphasize that the preponderance of evidence in the Bible is that those who are truly saved will stay saved, and God will take them all the way to heaven, however many bumps there may be along the way. And the reason is because the work of God in salvation is so deep, and involves so much of God’s sovereignty and God’s purposes, that He would not leave to chance, nor to even our own wandering, the possibility that His eternal plans and purposes would be frustrated. So today we are going to become builders, and what we are going to do is to sink three deep pillars right into bedrock, and upon those pillars we shall see that the doctrine of security rests.
Romans 8 is our passage. All those who have been saved more than six weeks, to put it positively, should be able to quote Romans 8, beginning in verse 26 and through to verse 29. Someday, if I live long enough, what I’d like to do is to preach an entire series of about ten messages on these verses. Today we get the overview. This is the scenic route.
Let’s take a look at what the Apostle Paul is saying. First of all, he’s saying that our security really rests in the very plan of God. We have to pick it up here in verse 29, and what I’d like you to do is to notice five big words that Paul uses to show the work of God in salvation. Don’t be afraid of big words because sometimes big words have big meanings, and these are five big words with explosive and big meanings.
Notice it says, “For those whom He foreknew.” That’s the first big word. You say, “To foreknow something means just to know ahead of time.” No, God knows everything ahead of time. This word foreknowledge is never used of events. It is only used in relation to people, because the word foreknowledge as it is used in the Bible does not mean simply to know ahead of time. It means that God fore-loved these people.
For example in Romans 11:2 it says, “God has not forsaken His people whom He foreknew.” Well, He foreknows everybody if you are just talking about omniscience. What it means is God has not forsaken those whom He has chosen, those whom He has fore-loved. You realize that if you are saved today, you were foreknown and you are included in this text.
The second big word that is used is the word predestined, which means predetermined. It says, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that Christ might be the first-born among many brethren. That word predestinate means to mark out ahead of time. It was sometimes used of surveyors who would come to a location before anybody showed up, and they’d determine that a street would go here, and an avenue would go the other way, and they determined all of that before the inhabitants began to move into town.
God says, “Those whom I foreknew are the ones also whom I have predestined and marked out ahead of time that they will be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, that Christ might be the firstborn, but that He might have many brothers.” And that’s what the text is saying. It’s saying, “Before we were born, it was predetermined that we would be like Christ.”
Now notice the third big word. It is the word called. Now think this through. Here we have the first two words in eternity past. God foreknew and God predestined that we would be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. The word called speaks about our present experience. It is the effectual call that leads people to saving faith.
Nicole Chapin, who used to be a Buddhist, whose testimony we just heard here, you’ll notice that the first words out of her mouth were, “The Holy Spirit drew me to Christ.” Nicole, I don’t know who discipled you but they had some really good theology. That is the effectual call.
And now notice what happens after we are called. What happens? Those He called He also justified. That’s the other big word, and may I say that if you have not been here consistently for the messages in this series, I would like to encourage you to get the message on justification, and the message on grace, and the others that fit into this series. Justified means that God declares us to be as righteous as He Himself is. And I pointed out that unless you are as righteous as God, you will never get to heaven. Never! And it is only because we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, which is the righteousness of God, that God accepts us.
So after we are called, we are justified. And then the text says, “Whom He justified.” The very same numbers are the ones whom He glorified. Some day we’re all going to have glorified bodies. We’re going to look a lot better than we look now. We all have to do the best we can with what we have, and with varying degrees succeed, but someday we are going to be glorified. What does the text say? It says, “That we might be like Christ, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.” And I want you to notice that the word glorified here is in the past tense. God says, “Consider it a done deal.” Whether that’s good English or not, consider it a done deal. You are glorified.
Now follow this. Here are five beautiful links in a golden chain. The first link begins in eternity past - those whom He foreknew and those whom He predestined. And then you have the word called which has to do with our present experience. And now we have been justified, and in God’s sight we have been glorified. It goes from one spectrum of eternity to the other.
And follow carefully. The very same ones whom He foreknew are the ones whom He glorified. I don’t believe that there is any slippage. I don’t believe that anyone has fallen through the cracks. I don’t think that God’s purposes are frustrated because of our sins. And may I say it, though I’m going to receive letters about it? Even because of our backslidings, grievous though that may be to God, God’s purposes will be fulfilled, and He will take those whom He foreknew all the way to glory. And God says you are already there.
What is the first pillar upon which our security rests? It is the plan of God. I hope that during this series of messages on salvation you become absolutely convinced to the depths of your soul and spirit that salvation not only represents God at His best, but that salvation is a mighty work of a great and wonderful God. It rests on the plan of God.
Secondly, notice that salvation rests on the pardon of God. That is the second pillar that goes down to bedrock. He says in verse 31, which is somewhat of a transitional verse, “What shall we say then to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” Do we have any takers? Is there anybody who is going to come against those whom God has decided to align Himself up with? What a challenge. And, of course, the answer is, “If God is for us, who is against us? What shall we say to these things?” Well, all that we can do is comment on them with breathless wonder. That’s about all we can say. If God is for us, who is against us?
And He says in verse 32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” If God has given to us the best that He has, will not all of the secondary blessings simply be thrown in for good measure? If someone gives you a beautiful diamond, will they not also give you the box in which it came? Or will they say, “I give you the diamond but you can’t have the box too?” Unthinkable! They go together. And the diamond is more valuable than the box.
If a woman is willing to give up her precious son in adoption will she not also give the new parents the crib in which he has slept? God who spared not his own Son, his precious Son whom He so greatly loved, will He not also with Him give us all things? The answer is yes.
But now we’re talking about the pardon of God, and Paul visualizes a courtroom, and I want you to visualize it with me. There is, of course, the judge who is God. There is the defendant, the one who is being accused, and he’s sitting over here. And then over here there is the accuser, the prosecuting attorney. The gavel sounds and the courtroom is open for debate. The devil takes out his briefcase because it is filled with the sin that we have committed. And he reminds us that he does not only have a briefcase, but immediately outside the door there is a U-Haul trailer filled with all kinds of material that will prove us to be sinners. And so the debate begins, and his accusations are not general. He does not say, “Now this person here is a great sinner.” Oh no! That would never do. He gets very specific because, you see, the devil knows all the hidden sins that, if they were exposed, you and I would be overcome with shame. The devil knows those things, and furthermore, God knows them.
So the accusations begin, and they are very specific and they are very detailed, and they are very shameful, and they are very, very ugly. What can the defendant do? What does he do? Well, notice the text. “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect?” Some people don’t like that word but Paul evidently did. I just don’t know why he had this love for that word. “God is the one who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ is the One who died, yeah rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God the Father, and He intercedes for us.”
How shall we, as the accused, handle the accusations? Shall we say, “No, they aren’t true?” And of course it’s not even an option in this court. It may be in a Chicago courtroom. It may work for some aldermen. It may work for some members of Congress, but it doesn’t work in the presence of God. The issue here is not truth. The issue is justice. Well then, we can begin to minimize our sins and say, “God, if you only understood. Don’t you realize I’m better than other people? Don’t you realize I did try to serve you? Don’t you remember I walked forward in a meeting? God, I did pray once. Don’t you remember during the war? Lord, what will I do?”
No, Satan has marched in and he’s winning the court case. If the defendant is wise he will do the only thing that is wise to do, and that is to punt the ball to the defending attorney, and say, “Jesus, I can’t handle this. You handle it for me.”
“Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again and is even at the right hand of God, the Father,” reminding God the Father that salvation was purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, that cleanses from all sin, and that Jesus died for some very messy and very ugly sins. And God, the Father, accepted the payment. Justice has been satisfied and the defendant is acquitted and he can go free.
“Five bleeding wounds He bears, received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers, they strongly plead for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”
This past week a man called me on the telephone and asked my advice regarding counseling a woman who had an affair, a Christian woman now suddenly in the slough of despond and despair and depression. Not all depression is because of sin and guilt, but a lot is. How do we as Christians handle it? I do not merely mean handle the outworking of reconciliation with her husband that is going to be very painful under any conditions. I’m talking about how do we handle it theologically, so that this woman can look into God’s face again and be cleansed and be redeemed?
You see, on one level as a Christian, she is as pure as Christ, clothed in His righteousness, even though a sinner. And she needs to see that. If she does not see that, she will be driven into despair. On another level she must also see that in experience she has sinned grievously, and she must ask forgiveness, not that she might again receive the holiness of God, which she now has as a free gift already, but that she might be reconciled to the Father whom she has wounded so deeply through her sins.
You see, there is the object, but there’s also the subjective cleansing, and the cleansing has to do with the purging of the conscience so that she not only is pure before God, but that she knows she is. She must be given hope to understand that no matter what the accusations are, if she looks to her defending attorney, the Lord Jesus Christ, God, the God of the universe, has pronounced her clean. Now who is it that shall declare her guilty if God has spoken?
Oh I know she’s in for some hard times in reconciliation with her husband because those sins run deep, but she needs to know that she is cleansed, washed and accepted. Who is He that condemns? Christ died, and God accepted that death as a sacrifice for sinners.
And by the way, those of you who are troubled and hassled by a past that will not leave you, what you must sometimes do is to memorize these passages of Scripture, and maybe even quote them out loud to the enemy of your souls who wants to keep you dragged down in guilt. And you must say to him, “Be gone, Satan, for it is written ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? God has justified me. Who is He that condemns? Christ died,’” and you look to the redeeming Savior for your acceptance and for your forgiveness. The second pillar that goes down to bedrock is God justifying sinners. And they remain holy despite their sins, and even their need for discipline and the need to be cleansed in order to be forgiven subjectively. They remain holy in the sight of a God who has accepted them because of His Son. It is the pardon of God.
The third pillar is the pledge of God. Now Paul becomes very realistic. He does not become like some preachers who paint a very rosy picture of the Christian life, and say, “Now if you believe, you are going to be healthy, wealthy and wise, and all of your life you are going to have a beautiful path with flowers on both sides.” No. He says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (verse 35) And then he lists seven things that Christians often have thought separated them from the love of Christ.
You and I know, and we’ve probably been there ourselves, that when those who simply say, “God doesn’t love me anymore,” and we ask why, it’s one of these seven things. I don’t know what else there could be that could separate us from the love of God that we might think would separate us from His love if it’s not one of these seven.
“Shall tribulation?” Well let me ask you this. How was this past week? You say, “It was so filled with tribulation, I don’t think God was on my side anymore.” Well, Paul says tribulation is not going to separate you from the love of Christ.
“Well,” you say, “what about distress?” You say, “I always was told that Christians never have distress. They just go to heaven every evening and return again in the morning, and they walk with such uninterrupted victory that there is no distress.” Well, I want you to know today that Christians have distress. Paul says though that if you have it, this is one thing that won’t separate you from the love of Christ.
Persecution! In the ancient times Christians were marched to the lions. They cried to God. They pled to God for forgiveness, and the lions came and devoured them, and there was no deliverance. Did that separate them from the love of Christ? Paul says, “No, it’ll take something else maybe but not that.”
What about famine? So the economic plan in the United States doesn’t work. We go into another recession. The economy unravels. And there’s nakedness. That’s another one, and poverty and peril! That won’t separate us from the love of Christ. But what about death itself? If somebody takes a sword to you (And here in this church, as you know, we have had several families who have lost teenagers through drive-by shootings; the boys have been gunned down on the streets of this great city) will that separate you from the love of Christ? Will a sword do it? Will a gun do it? No, no, no! In fact, he quotes from the Psalms. “For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long. We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” That was true of the Old Testament. It’s true today. Persecution, difficulty, death, despair and ill health have always plagued the people of God, just as they have plagued those who are not the people of God. Paul says that these things will not separate us from the love of Christ.
And then just in case there is some enterprising person who says, “I think Paul knew something,” Paul says, “I want you to know that I’m going to cover everything.” And he says, “But in all these things we are overwhelmingly conquerors through Him who loved us, for I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels (Well, we wouldn’t expect them to separate us from the love of God, but what about principalities and what about the demons? They would love to separate us from the love of God for sure.), nor things present (Well, we could imagine somebody says, “Well, you know this was ancient; this is 2,000 years ago.”), nor things to come (things that will exist in the 20th century or the 21st), nor powers, nor height, nor depth (and Paul says, “For those of you who want a closed case”), nor any other created thing will be able to separate you from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
I get the impression that Paul wanted to leave with us the general idea that if you are believer you will never be separated from the love of Christ - period.
And if you think that this kind of teaching was unique to the Apostle Paul, Jesus taught it as well. Today we have emphasized the three pillars that Paul puts in the ground here. He says, “The plan of God is to save those whom He foreknew, and He will save them despite the difficulties along the way.” And then he goes on to say, “The pardon of God is such that God’s elect stand justified in His sight despite their sinfulness and despite their distress and weaknesses.” And then Paul says, “We have the pledge of God that nothing shall separate us from God’s love - period.”
You say, “Well, that’s what Paul taught.” Did Jesus agree with him? Did Jesus agree with the Apostle Paul? Well the answer is yes. Turn to John 10 for just a moment where Jesus is talking about His sheep. And what He wants to make plain is that His sheep will never perish. In fact, it would be embarrassing if a sheep were to perish.
You know, if you were given 100 sheep in the morning and you returned later on with 95 in the afternoon, you would be a laughing stock among shepherds. They would say, “What kind of a shepherd is going to lose some sheep?” Now I’ll just comment on this. Verse 27 says, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me, and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.”
Somebody says, “Oh yes, but we can snatch ourselves out of His hand.” It’s not quite that easy, my dear friend, because we are not only in His hand, but the Bible says, “We are his hand.” It’s not that simple. “My Father who has given them to Me is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Jesus said, “If you can’t trust My hand, at least trust the hand of My Father.” And what you have in this passage is hands in harmony. You have the Son’s hand, you have the Father’s hand, and the sheep are in those hands clasped together. And at the end of the day the shepherd brings all of the sheep home.
What would you think of a shepherd who returned home with 95 after being given 100? And then what would you think if he said, “Well, you just don’t know how stubborn these sheep are? They find all the false paths that they take. What was I supposed to do? I just let them wander according to their own free will. They didn’t want to come to the sheepfold at night.” We’d say, “Friend, look for another job. Do something else. Your calling lies in another direction.” Shepherds bring sheep home and it is unthinkable that about those sheep that are a gift from God the Father to the Son (“those whom God has given Me”), God would say in the end, “Well, some are missing, but you just don’t understand how stubborn they were.” They will arrive.
What about Ted Turner? In a continuation of the quote with which I began he said, “The business of Jesus Christ dying on a cross for sinners is weird stuff, man.” You see it is possible for people to pray, to even generally believe, to even emotionally have an experience, and not be genuinely one of God’s sheep. You say, “How then do we know that we are one of God’s sheep? How do we know if our faith is real faith?” The answer to that is, “Come back next Sunday.” That’s what I’m preaching on. That’s what the whole deal is because there is a false faith, but we can also know that we have a true faith. “And as many as received Him to those He gives the authority to become the children of God,” and they become His children forever.
Now you say, “Well, I can’t wait till next week.” Well, that’s all right. Even now if you are here today and do not know Christ as Savior and you look to Him and you say, “Jesus, I transfer all of my trust to You as best I know; I cleave to You alone to receive the gift of eternal life,” you can be saved. Yes, my friend, if you are a believer, you are held in God’s hands. And when it comes time to die, despite the doubts and the darkness, God’s sheep will make it all the way home. And if you will, let us pray.
Our Father, we do want to thank You today that long before we were born we were already special to You. The Bible says that we were loved in Christ. We were chosen in Christ. We were foreknown, and we’ve been in Your mind for all of eternity and it overwhelms us to think of it. We will be in Your mind for eternity to come. And it’s all by grace, and You did it for people who are so overwhelmingly unworthy that all that they could do throughout all of eternity is sing Your praise. We thank You. Thank You today that we are held in hands that are much stronger than we are.
And now before I close this prayer, perhaps you don’t know where you stand in your relationship with God. Would you at this moment say, “Lord Jesus, just save me?” Depend wholly on Him. Seek Him because it may well be that He is seeking for you.
Father, let no one leave here today without a recognition and a solid conviction that they belong to You. We pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.