Salvation Is Like a Police Pursuit

Salvation is like a police pursuit, with God pursuing us. Do we yield, or look for avenues to get away?

Conversely, God does not play hide and seek, expecting us to find him as he remains well hidden—an image that is frequently reinforced.

The second metaphor—hide and seek—seems to align with typical “Christian-ese,” particularly in our trendy seeker sensitive churches where we inappropriately credit ourselves with “finding God.”

Nevertheless, Scripture is absolutely clear on the topic, God pursues us. Moreover, we do not find him by accident. Yet, “whenever a person turns (yields) to the Lord, the veil is taken away,”[1] and by his sovereignty, we are saved.

Let’s take a deeper dive and see how Jesus answered the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

It’s impossible with humanity

Jesus actually answered this very question in His discussion with a young man in Luke 18:18-30. He didn’t have a title but Luke called him a “ruler,” probably indicating he was some kind of businessman. Luke also says he was “very rich” and the parallel passage in Matthew says he was “young.” So this man seemingly had a lot going for him.

Notice some other things about the young man. Mark’s gospel says he “ran up to Him . . .” Respectable men in that culture didn’t run. Running meant you had to hike up your robe and expose your ankles. That wasn’t considered dignified. And he “knelt before Him.” This posture showed respect and honor. And he called Jesus “Good Teacher.” This man was anxious and respectful, and we can assume that he was honestly looking for an answer to his question.

He asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”[2] What a set-up! Any Christian wanting to share their faith would love a softball question like this. This man seemed ripe for the gospel. And he was rich, which would make him a great candidate to attract others.

The wrong track

But something went wrong. If this was anyone else one could certainly conclude that he blew this evangelistic opportunity. But this is Jesus. And what did He say? As we see this story unfold it becomes evident that it obliterates two core beliefs of many people today.

First, this story challenges the assumption that people can choose of their own accord to be saved. Notice he asked, “What must I do (underline mine)? This presumes that God’s plan rewards the right questions or human effort. The man may as well have said, “Listen Jesus, I know how these things work. I want to go to heaven so let’s cut to the chase. Just tell me what I have to do and I’ll do it.” This man seemed to demonstrate spiritual interest. But his choice to seek Jesus out and get some questions answered didn’t get him saved.

The second erroneous assumption is people will get saved if we don’t do anything to “offend” them. Many Christians today are deathly afraid of saying the “wrong thing” in presenting the gospel or thinking that they will say something that will “offend” the person they are talking to.

Not Jesus. He wasn’t being harsh, but His immediate response was to rebuke the young man. He responded, “Why do you call Me Good? No one is good except God alone?”[3] Jesus was a good teacher, but that’s not the point of His life and ministry. There is not one example in the Talmud of a rabbi being addressed as “good.” So this man was well intentioned but naïve. Jesus’ response must have been completely unexpected and biting. “Wait a minute young man. You must know that no one is good but God, so why are you calling me good unless you recognize that I am God?”

Keep the law 

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say anything about faith; he doesn’t give him the “four spiritual laws” or explain the “plan of salvation.” He doesn’t even give him the facts of the gospel. Instead, he went right to the heart. Perceiving that he was an obedient Jew He exposed his false sense of morality. Jesus said, “You know the commandments. Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.”[4] Jesus continued, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” [5]

What is Jesus doing here? Rather than trying to elicit a quick acquiescence to certain spiritual truths, Jesus went right at the man’s heart. While it is true that one must believe certain foundational truths to be right with God, it is also true that a person must see their sin before they will ever be moved to truly believe. That’s what Jesus is doing here.

But the young man doesn’t get it. Not realizing he was exposing the pride of his heart, he replied, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”[6] He seems to be saying, “Is that all there is to this?” Check. Done. Wow! Really? J. C. Ryle wrote, “An answer more full of darkness and self-ignorance it is impossible to conceive! He who made it could have known nothing rightly, either about himself, or God, or God’s law.”[7] Had he never lied? Had he never stolen anything? Had he never dishonored his parents? From this time on, Jesus knew he was seeking to justify his self-righteous actions.

Many make this mistake. Many think their relative righteousness is a substitute for God’s absolute righteousness. But God demands perfection. No doubt he thought, “I’ve never committed adultery. I’ve never murdered anyone. What a good boy I am!”

It’s a heart problem

In essence the rich young ruler was practically saying that he was perfect. He said that he kept all the five points of the law that Jesus quoted. Now frankly, I doubt if that was true. And so did Jesus. So rather than let him off the hook, Jesus pressed him further. “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”[8]

This is not an instruction for everyone to sell everything they own. It is a specific instruction given to this man because his riches were the very things that prevented achieving his goal of eternal life. His ticket to heaven was keeping the commandments, but he was not willing to give up his money, which showed where his heart really was. It wasn’t set on heaven; it was on his money. Jesus clarified this principle when He said, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”[9] The man wanted eternal life in heaven – but not enough to give up his money.

John Wesley met a rich plantation owner while visiting America. He toured the man’s vast estate on horseback for hours. At the end of the day they sat down to dinner. “Well, Mr. Wesley, what do you think?” Wesley replied, “I think you’re going to have a hard time leaving all this.”[10] That was the rich man’s dilemma.

The truth is you can’t have the kingdom of God and your kingdom too! J. C. Ryle said, “Many are willing to give up everything for Christ’s sake, excepting one darling sin, and for the sake of that sin are lost for evermore.”[11] It may be different with different people, but “one darling sin,” one thing, one possession, one attitude that counters total surrender can prevent one from obtaining eternal life.

The rich young man’s response revealed his heart. Luke records, “But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.”[12] The parallel passage in Mark tells us he “went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.”[13] He came to Jesus asking about receiving eternal life. He left without receiving it because his heart could not give up its hold on his money.

It’s impossible

When Jesus saw the man’s response He said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”[14] Entering the kingdom of God isn’t difficult. It’s impossible! Jesus explained further, “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”[15]

There are some who say that this refers to a gate in Jerusalem called “The Needle Gate” that was too small for camels to get through. It is said that camels would have to have their packs removed and then they would have to crawl through on their knees for security purposes. The interpretation of this passage is that, while it is hard for a camel to get through the “eye of the needle,” it’s not impossible. Thus, the application is that, while it’s hard for a person to be saved of his or her own accord, it’s not impossible.

But that’s not what Jesus is saying. First of all, no such gate ever existed in first century Palestine. Second, it seems best to observe the natural reading of the text that indicates the camel fitting through the eye of a needle is simply an extreme hyperbole. It’s absolutely impossible for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle.

And it’s absolutely impossible for anyone seeking to earn his or her way into heaven to get there. He wants a cross to hang around his neck as a piece of “Jesus jewelry” but He doesn’t want Jesus. Thomas Watson said, “Morality can drown a man as fast as vice. A vessel may sink with gold or with dung.”[16] The rich young man discovered that neither morality nor riches could gain him eternal life. What a tragedy for many today who think they are either good enough to get in by their works or their money or their position.

Then who can be saved? 

The disciples who were listening to Jesus had a rather obvious question at this point. “Those who heard it said, ‘Then who can be saved?”[17] If a righteous Jew who kept the law (or so he said) and was also very rich couldn’t get in, then who could?

Jesus agrees with this assessment. He replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”[18] This is the beginning of true conversion. It starts with God, not humanity. God is God and we are not. When people approach God with something in their hands, they can’t receive what God has to offer. But when we approach God empty handed, ready to receive, then all things are possible with Him.

Peter showed signs of beginning to understand this. He said, “See, we have left our homes and followed you.” Peter is trying to contrast the disciples’ actions with the rich young ruler. “See Jesus. He wasn’t willing to leave his riches, but look, we’ve left everything to follow you.” That’s quite a statement. And it was true. The disciples had left their homes, their families, their businesses, the possessions, their reputations, everything they had, to follow Jesus.

Jesus replied, “And He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life.’”[19] – Jesus was saying, “I know you have Peter. And you need to know that you will be rewarded with eternal life.”

Most people never make this connection. For a variety of reasons people ignore the summons to follow Jesus as Peter did. As a result they never take care of eternal business.

The book of life

In the last book of the Bible the Apostle John reveals Jesus Christ sitting on a great white throne to judge the living and the dead. Since all believers have already been removed from this earth, the accused gathered in this court are the total number of unbelievers in all of recorded history. John says,

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.[20]

I think this is perhaps the most sobering passage in the entire Bible because it is final. This is it. The finality of it all is seen in very stark terms. There is no hope and no excuse for them. There will be no debate, no plea bargain, no second chance. There will be no public defender, only the prosecuting attorney, God Himself. And when the sentence is pronounced, there will be no appeal to a higher court, no parole, and no chance of escape

How do they get there? The Bible says the unsaved “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”[21] in rejecting the enormous sign of His creative powers in the universe “so that they are without excuse.”[22] Furthermore, “they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”[23] John clearly explains that “the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”[24] Jesus also said, “you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.”[25]

Man will have no excuse when they stand at the Great White Throne Judgment. God’s jurisdiction will be very clear. He will judge everyone who has rejected Him by giving them what they want. John Phillips describes them:

There is a terrible fellowship there.… The dead, small and great, stand before God. Dead souls are united to dead bodies in a fellowship of horror and despair. Little men and paltry women whose lives were filled with pettiness, selfishness, and nasty little sins will be there. Those whose lives amounted to nothing will be there, whose very sins were drab and dowdy, mean, spiteful, peevish, groveling, vulgar, common, and cheap. The great will be there, men who sinned with a high hand, with dash, and courage and flair. Men like Alexander and Napoleon, Hitler and Stalin will be present, men who went in for wickedness on a grand scale with the world for their stage and who died unrepentant at last. Now one and all are arraigned and on their way to be damned: a horrible fellowship congregated together for the first and last time.[26]

After God’s final destruction of death, John pronounces the final judgment: “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”[27] All because their names were not found in the book of life. There is no more important book in the history of the world.

I’m sorry

Randy Alcorn in his book called simply Heaven, tells the story that illustrates the importance of your name being written in the book of life.

Ruthanna Metzgar, a professional singer, tells a story that illustrates the importance of having our names written in the book. Several years ago, she was asked to sing at the wedding of a very wealthy man. According to the invitation the reception would be held on the top two floors of Seattle’s Columbia Tower, the Northwest’s tallest skyscraper. She and her husband, Roy, were excited about attending.

At the reception, waiters in tuxedos offered luscious hors d’oeuvres and exotic beverages. The bride and groom approached a beautiful glass and brass staircase that led to the top floor. Someone ceremoniously cut a satin ribbon draped across the bottom of the stairs. They announced the wedding feast was about to begin. Bride and groom ascended the stairs, followed by their guests.

At the top of the stairs, a maitre d’ with a bound book greeted the guests outside the doors.

“May I have your name please?”

“I am Ruthanna Metzgar and this is my husband, Roy.”

He searched the M’s. “I’m not finding it. Would you spell it please?”

Ruthanna spelled her name slowly. After searching the book, the maitre d’ looked up and said, “I’m sorry, but your name isn’t here.”

“There must be some mistake,” Ruthanna replied. “I’m the singer. I sang for this wedding!”

The gentleman answered, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you did. Without your name in the book you cannot attend the banquet.”

He motioned to a waiter and said, “Show these people to the service elevator, please.”

The Metzgars followed the waiter past beautifully decorated tables laden with shrimp, whole smoked salmon, and magnificent carved ice sculptures. Adjacent to the banquet area, an orchestra was preparing to perform, the musicians all dressed in dazzling white tuxedos.

The waiter led Ruthanna and Roy to the service elevator, ushered them in, and pushed G for the parking garage.

After locating their car and driving several miles in silence, Roy reached over and put his hand on Ruthanna’s arm. “Sweetheart, what happened?”

“When the invitation arrived, I was busy,” Ruthanna replied. “I never bothered to RSVP. Besides, I was the singer. Surely I could go to the reception without returning the RSVP!”[28]

Saying “I’m sorry. I forgot to respond to God’s RSVP” will not be an option on judgment day. Saying “I’m sorry” is not good enough for anyone. Someone has to pay. Hopefully, this prompts us to ask, “Then, what must I do to be saved?”

Next, we finally get to a clear answer.

Grace

The clear answer to “What must I do to be saved?” is not what most people think. Fortunately, the Bible’s answer to this question has nothing to do with our effort. It has everything to do what God does. And it can be explained in one word – grace. Grace accomplishes what law and sheer effort promise but can never deliver. A changed heart that results in salvation comes only by God’s grace.

One of the most powerful literary examples of grace comes from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. In the story, we meet a common thief, Jean Valjean, who is befriended by an elderly and kind bishop. Valjean responds to the kindness of this bishop by stealing expensive silverware and running away. Once he is apprehended, the police drag him back to the bishop. Then the bishop does the unthinkable. He offers him grace; all is forgiven with no penalty to be paid by Valjean.

Each one of us is Jean Valjean. But the thing that’s missing in our lives is the kind, gracious bishop. Where is he? And can he offer grace for more than single sins? All of us have done much more than steal a couple of candlesticks. How can we find the grace of the bishop that will cover our sin?

Everything we’ve said up to this point cries out for this kind of resolution. Humanity has a problem called sin. There is no earthly person to step in with an answer. But God is there and provides an answer in the Bible. Humanity feels the presence of God but tries to run from Him. Despite the fact that God rules this universe with absolute control, He allows people to exercise free will. But we are unable to choose to follow God on our own because that is not our nature. So we are in a spiritual quandary. We are sinful, guilty before a holy God, destined for a physical, literal hell, and unable to do anything about it on our own. Something, or Someone must step in to help if we are to be saved.

And that’s exactly what happened. Someone did step in to save mankind. But what does it mean to be “saved” and how does this happen? David was an adulterer and a murderer. Isaiah said he was a “man of unclean lips.”[29] Rahab and Mary were both prostitutes. Peter “fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!’”[30] Matthew was a hated tax collector. Paul was busy killing Christians when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus and drastically changed his heart and the course of his life.

And yet all of these people are counted as “saved” in Scripture. So what happened to them? How did they get saved? Furthermore, what is necessary for anyone today to be saved?

Repent

The Bible uses a number of concepts to answer that question but we will focus on just two. The first word is repent. It’s good to start here because this is where Jesus started. When Jesus began His earthly ministry the first message that He preached was “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”[31] Luke observes that Jesus’ objective was “calling sinners to repentance.”[32] Jesus also said, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”[33] In essence, this is the gospel in one word.

Believe            

The other primary word that describes the process of salvation is believe. Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”[34] That sums it up – repent and believe.

New Life

Have you repented of your sins? Have you confessed Jesus as Lord? Do you believe that God raised Him from the dead? If you do, you will be saved. You will experience new life on earth, and the blessings of heaven to come. This is the future of the believer—a person caught by a loving God who is in pursuit of us all.

– Jim and Jon McNeff, co-authors of Jurisdiction; A Cop and a Pastor Talk About God

Sources:

[1] 2 Corinthians 3:16

[2] Luke 18:18

[3] Luke 18:19

[4] Luke 18:20

[5] Matthew 19:17

[6] Luke 18:21

[7] J. C. Ryle – Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: Luke, vol. 2, (1858; repr., Cambridge: James Clarke, 1976, 271.

[8] Luke 18:22

[9] Matthew 6:21

[10]Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 2003), 159.

[11] Ryle, Luke, 2:272.

[12] Luke 18:23

[13] Mark 10:22

[14] Luke 18:24

[15] Luke 18:25

[16] Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975), 175.

[17] Luke 18:26

[18] Luke 18:27

[19] Luke 18:29-30

[20] Revelation 20:12-13

[21] Romans 1:18

[22] Romans 1:20

[23] Romans 2:14-15

[24] John 3:19

[25] John 5:40

[26] John Phillips, Exploring Revelation (Chicago: Moody, 1987), 242-243.

[27] Revelation 20:15

[28] Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2004), 31-32.

[29] Isaiah 6:5

[30] Luke 5:8

[31] Matthew 3:2

[32] Luke 5:31

[33] Luke 13:5

[34] Mark 1:15

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