Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE SUDDENNESS OF SALVATION”

 

If a thorough consideration of salvation is considered as it is dealt with in the Bible, it becomes very clear that the salvation of a sinner is a comprehensive undertaking of God. It begins when the sinner comes to faith in Christ and is justified, Romans 5.1, and concludes when Jesus appears and “we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is,” First John 3.2.

What happens between the beginning of the Christian life and this grand and glorious culmination? Two things, essentially, the life the Christian lives in the flesh, and the death the Christian dies in the flesh, which ushers him into the eternal state. Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote about his own Christian life, which should serve as a model for every Christian. I read from Galatians 2.20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Thus, the Christian life is supposed to be a life lived by faith in Jesus. Not always an easy life. Certainly not always a comfortable life. However, it is a life that is pleasing to God, because Hebrews chapter 11 was written, in part, to show us how pleasing the life of faith is to God. After the life that is lived in the flesh, there is the Christian’s physical death. I must emphasize that it is a physical death, owing to the fact that the Christian possesses eternal life and therefore cannot experience spiritual death. The physical death of the Christian, however, is just as much a physical dying as is the death of any unsaved man.

There is, of course, one huge difference between the death of a Christian and the death of a lost man. Though both deaths involved the dying of the physical body, and both deaths are a passing from time to eternity, the place to which the Christian passes when he dies is a different place than the Christ rejecter. Before Christ’s bodily resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven the righteous dead passed from this life to a place referred to by Jesus as paradise and as Abraham’s bosom.[1] Since our Lord’s resurrection and ascension the child of God goes to heaven when he dies, and there awaits the resurrection of his body.[2] For the Christ rejecter, the procrastinator who waited until it was too late, anyone who never heard the gospel or who refused to embrace the Savior, the result of dying is vastly different. When the unsaved die their opportunity to respond to the gospel has passed, never to return again, and they are cast into Hell.

Heaven and Hell are very good subjects for other sermons. This morning, I seek to address the matter of salvation, particularly the beginning of salvation. It is appropriate to consider a Christian’s glorification as a fitting aspect of salvation, as well as the Christian’s growth and maturity over the course of his Christian life before he dies or is caught up to heaven in the Rapture. However, my concern this morning is the beginning of salvation, when it all starts. There is a passing from darkness to light, from death to life, from guilt to forgiveness, from being an enemy of God to being a child of God, from being an unbeliever to being a believer, from being in conflict with God to being reconciled to God, from being a Christ rejecter to being a follower and disciple of Christ, from being unrepentant to repenting, from being without to being one who is in Christ, from being imprisoned in the power of darkness to being translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son.[3]

Specifically, this morning I want to bring to your attention the suddenness of salvation, how very quickly one is transformed from not being a Christian at all to fully being a Christian, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. I would not deny the gradual nature of God’s dealings with many sinners to persuade them to change their disposition toward Christ, to show them the wrongness of their sins and the desperate situation of one who is without Christ. Neither would I deny the gradual nature of one’s growth and maturity after he becomes a Christian. Both the before and the after can very much be slow processes. However, the conversion experience itself, the trusting of Jesus, the placing of one’s faith in Christ, the new birth that Jesus spoke of to Nicodemus, the forgiving of sins and the giving by God and the receiving by the sinner of the gift of eternal life, can only properly be described as sudden.

So that it will be very clear in your mind, consider with me the suddenness of salvation, in three ways:

 

First, THE SUDDENNESS OF SALVATION IS ILLUSTRATED IN THE BIBLE

 

In First Corinthians 10.6, the Apostle Paul reminds his readers why God recorded the details of people’s lives in scripture for us to read: “Now these things were our examples.” As well, Second Timothy 3.16 explains to us that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Thus, what happened long ago was recorded so we can learn how important events, such as salvation, actually take place.

First, there is Abraham. We know from Acts 7.2, where Stephen testifies, “The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran.” That corresponds to the events recorded in Genesis chapter 12. However, we know from the Apostle Paul that Abraham was actually saved in Genesis 15.6, where we read, “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”[4] What time elapsed from Abraham’s call to leave Ur of the Chaldees and Genesis 15.6, when the Apostle Paul accounts him to be saved? The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible approximates it at eight years.[5] However, Ussher’s Chronology approximates it at ten years.[6] The point that needs to be made here is that though God dealt with Abraham for some years after first revealing Himself, that single verse in Genesis that addresses his salvation, Genesis 15.6, shows that Abraham’s salvation was sudden. That is, his salvation was an event that took place quickly rather than being a gradual process.

Next, there is Jacob. As with his grandfather, Abraham, an examination of Jacob’s life shows that God dealt with him for years before his salvation, beginning with His revelation to his mother, Rebekah, in Genesis chapter 25, before he and his twin brother were ever born. God’s dealings continued, most notably when He revealed Himself to Jacob in a dream about a ladder reaching from earth all the way to heaven, and then confirming His covenant with him. This is recorded in Genesis chapter 28. However, despite the reality of God’s dealings with him spanning years, Jacob’s salvation took place as he journeyed back to the Promised Land, just before daybreak after having sent his family on ahead, when he wrestled with the Angel of the LORD. That night Jacob became a new man, and was given a new name, Israel. That night he seriously strived to enter in, and was suddenly saved. God’s record of it can be found in Genesis chapter 32.

Turn with me now to the New Testament, and the salvation of the Ethiopian eunuch, in Acts chapter eight. If I may provide a greatly abbreviated account, Philip asked a wealthy Ethiopian who passed by in a chariot if he understood the portion of God’s Word he was reading.[7] The eunuch honestly admitted that he did not understand without someone to guide him, and asked Philip to join him.[8] Acts 8.35-38 tells us what happened next:

 

35     Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.

36     And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?

37     And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

38     And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.

 

Philip would never have consented to baptize the eunuch unless he was convinced he was saved. Therefore, since he was not saved when Philip began to preach Jesus to him, and he was saved sometime before the events of succeeding verses took place, his salvation must have been sudden.

Now for a second illustration from the New Testament, this time in Acts chapter nine. Here we find the record of the salvation of Saul of Tarsus, who would come to be known to us as the Apostle Paul. He set out on his journey to Damascus an enemy of the gospel, but along the way the glorified Savior appeared to him on the Damascus road, and spoke to him. The experience blinded Saul, and his traveling companions took him the three days’ journey to Damascus, where he did what Jesus told him to do. What Saul did not know until he arrived in Damascus was that the Savior had also given instructions to a Christian named Ananias. Acts 9.17-18 records the events immediately surrounding Saul’s conversion, as typified by his sight being restored and being filled with the Holy Spirit of God. Keep in mind that Ananias would not have baptized Saul unless he was convinced of his salvation:

 

17     And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

18     And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

 

It may be that God first began to deal with Saul of Tarsus when he witnessed Stephen’s wonderful sermon in Acts chapter seven, that ended with his martyrdom. We know for sure Saul’s opposition to Christianity crumbled during the three days of his blindness after seeing and hearing the glorified Jesus. Thus, it is clear that God was dealing with him for at least three days. However, as represented by the scales falling from his eyes, the filling of the Holy Spirit, and Ananias’ willingness to baptize him, it must be that Saul was suddenly saved when he was dealt with by Ananias in Damascus.

Perhaps the most well known example of a sinner being suddenly saved was the thief on the cross. Luke 23.42 records him saying to Jesus, “said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” Undeniably, the sudden salvation of a sinful man who had neither the time or the opportunity to do anything to save himself but have faith in Christ.

Thus, we have five clear examples, two from the Old Testament and three from the New Testament, showing that though God frequently deals with sinners for extended periods of time before they are saved, the salvation experience is itself sudden. It is an event that occurs, rather than a process over time.

 

THE SUDDENNESS OF SALVATION IS ALSO ILLUSTRATED IN CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE

 

God dealt with Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic monk, for years to persuade him that righteousness cannot be obtained by means of religion or good works. It was when Luther’s understanding that justification was by faith was illuminated that he was suddenly saved from his sins.

Though their experiences were not exactly alike, both George Whitefield and John Wesley both agonized over their sins while they were students at Oxford. They both mightily strived to achieve a standing before God by means of good works, without success. However, their testimonies both show that when they came to faith in Christ they were both saved suddenly.

One of my favorites is Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who was the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London for decades in the 19th century. God had been dealing with him about his sins for a long time, but his salvation came suddenly. I read from his biography:

 

In his diary, Spurgeon stated emphatically that he had found Jesus Christ on the sixth of January, 1850. He later verified that same date in a message preached at New Park Street Baptist Church on Sunday morning, the sixth of January, 1856. In that sermon, he stated that exactly six years earlier, “as near as possible at this very hour of the day,” he had come to Christ. Ten years later, on Sunday, the ninth of January, 1876, Spurgeon declared in his message, “twenty six-years exactly last Thursday.... I looked on the Lord, and found salvation. Moreover, Spurgeon went back to the little Colchester chapel fourteen years after his conversion on the 11th of October 1864. He preached on that occasion, and pointing to the pew where he sat on that January Sunday in 1850, he said, “I was sitting in that pew when I was converted.” Spurgeon was very clear about the details. So it seems obvious that Spurgeon himself was absolutely convinced that on the first Sunday in January, 1850, in the little Primitive Methodist Chapel, he came to new life in Christ.[9]

 

There can be no doubt that the fifteen year old who, had been under conviction for months without talking to either his father or his grandfather about it, was saved very suddenly on that cold winter Sunday morning.

Let me now introduce you to the greatest evangelist in the history of China, Dr. John Sung. I am reading excerpts from a sermon delivered by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr. that I urge you to go online to read at http://www.rlhymersjr.com/Online_Sermons/2009/060609PM_JohnSung.html:

 

In 1901 John Sung was born. He became known as the greatest evangelist in the history of China. Thousands of those who were converted under his preaching remained faithful to Christ after the Communists took over in 1949. In the last 60 years the number of Christians in China has exploded in the greatest revival of Christianity in modern history.

John Sung himself believed that he was not converted until he went through a spiritual crisis in America many years later. When he was nine years old a revival occurred in Hinghwa. Within a month there were about 3,000 professions. On Good Friday morning he heard a sermon on “Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.” The preacher contrasted the sleeping Disciples with the fearlessness of Jesus. Many people wept with grief at the end of the sermon. Among the mourners was John Sung, the nine-year-old son of the Methodist preacher. It seems to me that John Sung “dedicated” his life to Christ but was not truly converted at this time.

In 1919, Sung, now 18 years old, decided to go to America, and was accepted at Ohio Wesleyan University with free tuition. He began a pre-medical and pre-theological curriculum, but dropped the pre-theological courses and decided to specialize in mathematics and chemistry. He went to church regularly and organized evangelistic bands among the students. But during his final term he began to neglect Bible study and prayer, and cheated on one of his examination papers. He graduated in 1923 cum laude, as one of four students at the head of a class of three hundred. He was awarded the gold medal and the cash prize for physics and chemistry, was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Fraternity, an exclusive society of the foremost scholars, and was given a gold key, a badge of great distinction in scholarship.

He was now offered scholarships from many universities, including Harvard. He accepted a scholarship for a Master of Science degree at Ohio State University. He finished this degree in only nine months! He was offered a scholarship to study medicine at Harvard. He was given another offer to study at a seminary. He felt he should study theology, but the fame that had come to him blunted his desire to become a minister. Instead he entered a doctoral program in chemistry at Ohio State University. He completed his Ph.D. in just twenty-one months! Thus he became the first Chinese to earn a Ph.D. He was described in the newspaper as “Ohio’s most famous student.” “But deep in his heart there was no peace. A growing spiritual unrest showed itself in periods of deep depression.”

During this time he came under the influence of liberal theology, and their teaching of the “social gospel.” Liberal theology teaches that Jesus is a noble example, but not the Savior. . . One evening as he sat alone he seemed to hear the voice of God say to him, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

The next day he had a conversation with a liberal Methodist professor. He told the professor that he had originally come to America to study theology. The professor challenged him to go to New York to study religion at the extremely liberal Union Theological Seminary. With only a moment’s hesitation he decided to go. At Union Seminary he was given a full scholarship and a generous living allowance. Later he said that he was not interested in the ministry, but only wanted to study theology for a year to satisfy his father, and then return to a scientific career. His heart was full of turmoil and darkness.

In the autumn of 1926 Dr. John Sung enrolled at Union Theological Seminary. The extremely liberal Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin had just been installed as president. Among the lecturers were such hard-core liberals as Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, the author of several books against [orthodox Christianity]. . . He preached against the bodily resurrection of Christ and the truthfulness of the Bible every week on his radio program. The Seminary was a hot-bed of criticism of the Bible and rejection of evangelical theology. “Anything in the Bible which could not be justified scientifically was rejected as being unworthy of belief! Genesis was held to be unhistorical and belief in miracles unscientific. The historical Jesus was presented as an ideal to imitate, while the substitutionary value of His death and His physical resurrection were denied. Prayer was regarded as largely subjective in value. To [disagree with] such views was to become an object of pity or derision.”

Dr. Sung plunged into his study of liberal theology with all the powers of his intellect. During that year he made high grades, but turned away from Christianity as he studied Buddhism and Taoism. He began chanting Buddhist scriptures in the seclusion of his room, hoping that self-denial would bring him peace. He wrote, “My soul wandered in a wilderness.”

In this state of mind he became close friends with a Chinese classmate, but the fact that he was betrothed to a girl in China made him break off the relationship. His life became intolerable. He wrote, “I could neither sleep nor eat. . . My heart was filled with the deepest unhappiness.” The officials at the Seminary noted that he was in a state of continual depression.

It was in this emotional state that he went with some other students to hear Dr. I. M. Haldeman, the fundamentalist pastor of the First Baptist Church of New York City. Dr. Haldeman was famous for saying, “He who denies the virgin birth denies Bible Christianity.” Dr. Haldeman was in a direct conflict with Harry Emerson Fosdick and Union Theological Seminary. John Sung went to hear him preach out of curiosity. But Dr. Haldeman did not preach that night. Instead a fifteen-year-old girl gave her testimony. She read the Scriptures and spoke on the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross. Sung said he could feel the presence of God. His companions from the Seminary scoffed, but he himself went back for four more consecutive evenings of evangelistic services.

He began to read Christian biographies to discover the power that he felt in the evangelistic meetings. During one session at the Seminary, a lecturer spoke strongly against the substitutionary death of Christ on the Cross. John Sung stood up at the end of the lecture and answered him in front of a startled student body. Finally, on February 10, 1927 he experienced true conversion. “He saw all the sins of his life spread out before him. At first it seemed that there was no way to get rid of them and that he must go to Hell. He tried to forget them, but he could not. They pierced his heart. . . He turned to the story of the Cross in Luke xxiii, and as he read the story came alive. . . he seemed to be there at the foot of the Cross and pleading to be washed from all his sins in the precious Blood. . . He continued weeping and praying until midnight. Then he [seemed to hear] a voice saying, ‘Son, thy sins are forgiven,’ and all his load of sin seemed to fall at once from his shoulders. . . he leapt to his feet with a shout of ‘Hallelujah!’” He ran shouting and praising God through the dormitory. He now began to speak to everyone about their need for Christ, including his classmates and the teachers at the Seminary.

The president of the Seminary thought he had lost his mind due to extreme scholastic efforts, and had him committed to a psychopathic ward in an insane asylum. He spent six months in the asylum. During that time he read the Bible from beginning to end forty times. “The mental hospital thus became John Sung’s real theological college!” He was finally released on the condition that he would return to China. John Sung had cut off his connection with Union Seminary when he burned his theological books, calling them, “books of demons.” Union Seminary has never been proud of its connection with the greatest evangelist in Chinese history.

On his voyage back to China he knew that he could easily obtain a position as a professor of chemistry in some Chinese university. “One day, as the vessel neared the end of its voyage, John Sung went down to his cabin, took out of his cabin trunk his diplomas, his medals and his fraternity keys and threw them overboard [into the sea]. All except his doctor’s diploma, which he retained to satisfy his father.”

Dr. John Sung stepped off the boat in Shanghai in the fall of 1927, to become the most famous evangelist in Chinese history. He is often called the “Wesley of China.” John Sung became an extremely powerful preacher of the Gospel. Over 100,000 were converted in China under his preaching in only three years! He also preached in Burma, Cambodia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. He always preached with a translator, even in China. Like Whitefield, John Sung personally counseled most of those who responded to his preaching. “Christians today in China and Taiwan owe much to Sung’s ministry; he was one of God’s greatest gifts to the Far East in the twentieth century.”[10]

 

Dr. John Sung’s salvation was obviously sudden.

My last Christian experience illustration is my daughter, Sarah’s. Like Spurgeon with his parents, Sarah had been under considerable conviction for some time without telling us before she accompanied me downtown where I was scheduled to preach at the Baptist Tabernacle. After the sermon, while I was dealing with some lost people, Dr. Hymers asked me if I would permit him to approach Sarah about her salvation. I agreed. He then asked her to come into the counseling room and she agreed, where both Dr. Hymers and Dr. Cagan counseled her. She is better able to give you the details than I, but the thing I want to emphasize this morning is that though God had been dealing with her for some time to convince her of her need to be saved, her salvation like every genuine salvation was sudden.

 

Finally, THE SUDDENNESS OF SALVATION IS REQUIRED BY BIBLE DOCTRINE

 

When you take a step back and look at the religious beliefs that exist throughout the world, it becomes readily apparent that they fall into two general categories. The one category embraces a notion of religion whereby a man improves his standing by doing a series of good deeds. The other category embraces a notion of religion whereby the improvement of a man’s standing cannot be accomplished by anything he does, but must be done for him in its entirety.

The first category of religion would include such religious or belief systems as Roman Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even Communism and the different forms of Humanism. Each of these faith systems embraces the notion that a person must perform certain deeds as a means of accumulating merits that will either enable one to enjoy benefits in the afterlife or create their version of heaven on earth for those who deny an afterlife.

Standing in stark contrast to those religious views is Bible-based Christianity. Embracing the reality that genuine salvation is by grace through faith, the Christian understanding is that while God may deal with a sinner for extended periods of time before his salvation experience, salvation itself occurs rather suddenly. This has already been shown by the salvation experiences of Abraham, Jacob, the Ethiopian eunuch, the Apostle Paul, and the thief on the cross, and was confirmed by the experiences of such historical figures as Martin Luther, George Whitefield, John Wesley, Dr. John Sung, and my daughter. If you are a Christian, your own salvation experience, as well, was sudden.

Is this not to be expected, in view of God’s choice of the terms used to address the issue of salvation in the Bible? Saved, born again, quickened, gift of God, and justified, to name only a few. Salvation is sudden. Though labor can be lengthy, birth is sudden, as is the new birth it is likened to. Quickening, so as to impart life to the lifeless, is sudden, with a person being either dead or alive. Receiving the gift of God which is eternal life is sudden. And finally, justification is sudden.

 

Consider the life of a man who becomes a Christian, from conception to standing before Christ in glory. From his birth, life is a gradual process. When God begins to prepare him for salvation, the process of convicting and convincing him takes time, but salvation is sudden. His Christian life is a process of growing in grace until he passes into eternity.

Throughout that man’s existence, from conception to eternity, three things happen to him that happen suddenly. He is born. He is born again. He dies. Everything else involves processes that take time. Of those things which happen suddenly, the most important is his salvation. Salvation takes place suddenly.

Is that how you have understood salvation? To be sure, salvation involves being delivered from death, forgiven from sins, and acquitted from guilt. On the other side, salvation is eternal life, communion with God, and knowing the Savior. However, what I have wanted to stress to this morning is that when salvation occurs, when it happens to you, it will happen suddenly.

It does not always happen spectacularly, as was the case with the Apostle Paul. However, it does always happen suddenly, as it will happen in your case if you will come to Jesus. My friend, come to Jesus this morning, and be suddenly saved from your sins.



[1] Luke 23.43; 16.22

[2] 2 Corinthians 5.6, 8

[3] Colossians 1.13

[4] Romans 4.1-5; Galatians 3.6

[5] The New Chain-Reference Bible Fourth Improved Edition (Indianapolis, Indiana: B. B. Kirkbride Bible, Co., Inc., 1964), page 10, marginal note for Genesis 12.1 (B.C. 1921(?)) and page 13, marginal note for Genesis 15.1 (B.C. 1913(?)).

[6] James Ussher, The Annals of the World, revised and updated by Larry and Marion Pierce (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, Inc., 2003) pages 23 and 25.

[7] Acts 8.26-30

[8] Acts 8.31

[9] Lewis Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince Of Preachers, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1992), pages 116-117.

[10] http://www.rlhymersjr.com/Online_Sermons/2009/060609PM_JohnSung.html



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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org