A number of years ago I happened to go to the post office on April 15, Tax Day. As you may have guessed, it was quite busy. People were hustling in and out to get their taxes in before the deadline. For the convenience of those last minute tax payers, there was a hotdog stand set up just outside the post office.
If I hadn’t just ordered a pizza I would have picked up a few and brought them home for my family.
But as I looked around I noticed that there weren’t all that many people scooping up these free hotdogs. I wondered what was making people refuse such a good thing? It sure wasn’t because there was a lack of people. The place was bustling like a bee hive. Certainly there couldn’t have been that many people on their way to the pizzeria. For some reason, many people refused the free offer that was set before them.
Now whether or not someone takes a free hotdog is of minor importance. But there are other offers that are much more significant, and how you respond to them is of great significance. Take for instance the offer of an extension on filing your taxes. If you don’t take the government up on that offer you’re going to be in for a lot of trouble, perhaps even to the point where you are put in jail.
But there are free offers that are of even greater importance. As a matter of fact we find the most important one right here in our passage this evening. In verse 15 it says, “This is a trustworthy saying deserving of full acceptance, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This verse proclaims God’s free offer of salvation. In essence it says, if you receive Jesus Christ as your Savior, God will forgive you of your sins and will give you eternal life.
But you know what? A lot of people don’t take advantage of that offer. The promise of eternal life is refused like one of those postal hotdogs. No matter how many times God offers to save people from eternal condemnation, people still refuse it.
You have to wonder, “What makes people do that?” Tonight I want to consider with you that very question. What makes us refuse God’s offer of salvation?
As I see it, and, as our passage puts before us, there are three ways we can refuse God’s offer of salvation. You can say, “I don’t need it” “I can’t have it”, or “I don’t want it
Even though they are given the offer of salvation, some people refuse it by saying, “I don’t need it.”
I. “I don’t need it.” [8-11]
And maybe you are one of those people. Many people think that religion is just a crutch for the weak. Maybe you believe that Christianity is just for the gullible. You might say that Christians have either been duped into thinking that this God stuff is real by some crazy church-leader, or you’re just weak and need someone or something bigger to make you feel safer.
Whatever you think about Christians, you say of yourself “I’m doing just fine. I don’t need that religion stuff. And even if I had some rough times, I know I’d get through it, so I don’t need that stuff.”
If you are just such a person, then what you don’t realize is that you are not OK. And if you would take a second and think about the law, you would realize that.
Providentially for us, verses 8-11 make us think about the law. And what do these verses tell us? It tells us that the law exists because man is wicked. Verses 9-10 affirm this. It says, “that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.”
You can ask yourself this: Why do we need laws? Why do we make laws? Laws are needed because people are evil. They do bad things. The Law is there to restrain sinful behavior. Laws are made to keep people from doing bad things.
I find it very ironic that those who say that people are not inherently sinful run for office in congress. They want to become lawmakers. But their whole occupation is trying to keep people from doing bad things. They need to make laws because they need to regulate people’s behavior.
And that’s why you need God’s salvation. Because if you are a law breaker it means you are liable to punishment.
Someone might object, “That’s all well and good, but I don’t need that salvation stuff because I am not one of those big time sinners.” If you say this, it’s obvious you just don’t get it. The list here hits every one of us. You might not be a murderer, but somewhere some time I’m sure you have disrespected your parents. That’s the biblical equivalent to murder. You might not have physically murdered them, but in your heart you have.
Not convincing? How about lying? Have you ever told a little white lie? Maybe bent the truth a little bit so you would save face? If you have, then you are a law breaker. And any infraction, no matter how minor it may seem, when it is against an infinite and holy God, it is a big thing, deserving a big punishment.
Can God really punish you for a little lie? He sure can. If he can punish Adam and Eve with death because they ate a piece of fruit He had told them not to eat of, he can do the same for us. And if we are honest, we’ll admit that we have done more than tell a little white lie.
If you are one of those people who say, “I don’t need that,” it is my hope that this evening you will face up to the law. We are all law breakers, and the law condemns each and every one of us. You are not OK. You need his salvation. And what you need to do is get a lawyer.
That’s what people do, right? When they break the law, they get a lawyer and go to court. And your in luck, because Jesus Christ is a lawyer. 1 John 1:8 calls Jesus an advocate. He is one who speaks to God on another’s behalf. And this is what Jesus says, “We both know that this guy is guilty, but I’ll tell you what. I’ll suffer his penalty for him.”
That’s the salvation that is offer to you. Jesus Christ was given over to death. He suffered so that you who believe on him may live. God is patient. He continues to offer his salvation to you. But you must take advantage of it.
And it is imperative that you come to him and receive the salvation he offers. They say in the court system “A person who represents himself has a fool for a client.” If you think you can represent yourself on the day of judgment, then you are a fool. You will not be able to stand. The evidence against you will be so flagrant that you will certainly be condemned. So stop saying you don’t need God’s Salvation. You do need it. You need Jesus Christ to represent you before God.
As we think about God’s offer of salvation, we need to think about another group of people. Some people refuse it because they say “I don’t need it.” But others refuse it by saying, “I can’t have it.”
II. “I can’t have it” [12-17]
A lot of people are like that, and you might be one of them. This is the kind of person who will readily admit that they are sinners. But they think that their sin is so bad that God would never forgive them. They say, “You don’t know the things that I’ve done. I’ve got a history that would make your grandmother blush if she heard it.”
But this is another myth. It’s absolutely false. God is willing and able to forgive even the worst of sinners. That’s the point of verses 12-17.
In verse 12 Paul renders his thanksgiving because God enlisted him in His service, even despite his wretchedness. “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.
If you know anything about the Apostle Paul you know that, prior to his conversion, he was a ruthless man. He was something of a Jewish bounty hunter. He sought out Christians in order to put them to death. His persecutions were so intense that he was willing to travel over 150 miles (the approximate distance from Jerusalem to Damascus) to imprison believers.
When Steven was martyred by the Jews Paul was there giving his approval. He said, “Here let me hold your coat so that you can throw these stones a little better.”
Paul says, “If you want to size up sins, there’s no way your going to beat me.” That’s why he confesses in verse 15 that he is the chief of sinners. Paul says, “We are exactly the kind of people Jesus Christ came to save.”
And Paul’s point is driven home in verse 16. “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
What’s that saying? If I could summarize it, it would go like this, “If Jesus could do this for me, He is able to do it for you.”
It’s almost like a heavy weight lifter. Have you ever seen one of these guys? Maybe you’ve seen them on The World’s Strongest Man Contest or a power lifter in the Olympics. You have a man who walks up to a bar loaded down with weights. He squats down and steps under the bar to put it behind his head and on his shoulders. Then he reaches back and grabs the bar with his hands in order to help support it. With a grunt he extends his legs and lifts up the load. As he does so the bar bends because of the weight.
If this guy can lift such a load as this, then certainly he lift whatever amount we can.
Paul is saying that Jesus Christ is like that heavy weight lifter. As he hung on the cross he bore the weight of Paul’s sin on his shoulders. And if Jesus could atone for Paul’s sins, certainly he can bear yours too. The death of Jesus Christ was sufficient to atone for sin. So you cannot out-sin Christ’s atonement.
You might think that your sins are so heinous that God could never forgive you, but you are wrong. You might think that you can’t have God’s salvation because your life isn’t as neat as other people, but that’s not true. Jesus came to save sinners just like you. And he can save you, if you believe in him. If you receive him as your Savior, just like Paul did, you will have the same salvation Paul was granted.
You don’t have to make up for anything. You shouldn’t think that you have to get things straightened up before you come to Jesus. Jesus is willing to start with you where ever you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. He is offering you full and free salvation. He can give you eternal life. You need only to trust him and receive it.
This is a trustworthy saying deserving of all acceptance: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Christ offers us salvation. But we can refuse it. Some people think they don’t need it, they think they can’t have it, but we’ve seen how these excuses are false. You do need it and you can have it. But there is another group that we must consider. And perhaps this is the hardest group to convince. There are people who say, “I don’t want it.”
III. “I don’t want it” [18-20]
There are people who become associated with Christianity, even become members in a local church, but, for some reason, they turn their backs on the gospel offer.
That’s what these two fellows in Ephesus did. In verse 20 Paul names names, Hymenaeus and Alexander. He says that these two guys rejected the charge, the gospel offer, that Paul was entrusting to Timothy.
But what happened to them? Paul says they “made shipwreck of their faith.” In other words, after having professed faith, they have fallen away. They had come to be wrapped up in false teaching and now embraced doctrines that were contrary to the gospel.
Now let’s not go so far as to say they fell away from the faith. As the book of 1st John tells us, their falling away is evidence that they never experienced the full working of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. We believe that Jesus saves and never casts back, as if he were fishing for sport. Jesus says in the gospel of John, “No one can snatch them out of my hand.”
These folks are people who have been acquainted with the truth of the gospel. They have had it presented to them many times. They have even professed it at one time. But, because their hearts were never changed, they turned on it. They ended up saying, “I don’t want it.”
If any of you fall into this category, I’m sorry to say that I cannot say anything to help you. You need to figure it out for yourself. That’s why Paul says that he had handed these two guys over to Satan.
Now what does that mean? We have to keep in mind that this is an act of (church) discipline. Its intention is to correct. As Paul says, “so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.”
We can read of this same sort of thing in 1 Corinthians 5:5. You may remember the man who was boasting about having sex with his father’s wife. In that context Paul says, “hand this man over to Satan.” In the same passage he says, “With such a man don’t even eat.” It’s the idea of excommunication, being alienated from the people of God.
Paul’s phraseology emphasizes the harm that comes to someone who is cast out of the church. Being that they no longer have the protection of Jesus and God’s people, they suffer under the heavy hand of Satan. The shield of God’s covenant protection is removed so that they are now susceptible to intensified misery. But again, the aim of this severe step is that they may return.
It is as if a boy were in a house surrounded by fierce dogs. While living within the protection of the house he is safe. But if he becomes obstinate and rejects what the house offers, he is cast outside. Once outside he becomes the dogs’ prey. They hound him in order to rip him to pieces with their fangs. If he is wise, after he has been exposed to such grief, he will wise up and return to the house to find protection, and repentant of his waywardness. If he continues in his foolishness he will be as if he dies a thousand deaths, even tasting the torments of hell while yet still on earth.
This is what it is like for the person who turns his back on the gospel of Jesus Christ. And I merely set this before you as a warning of what will come. But I do not wish to speak to such stubborn people anymore, for they won’t listen to sound reasoning. After all, that is why they must run this gauntlet.
Let me speak to those of you who love the household of faith and cling to Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. This is one reason why we should not despise church discipline. When we hear of elders taking such actions or see it happening, we should not be appalled at it. Rather we should be thankful. For in instilling such measures the church shows how much they care for the sinner. It is tough love, but love nonetheless.
We often hear of churches that do not practice church discipline. They say it is unloving. They tout, “We can’t be so harsh with someone or they will never come to church.” But in withholding discipline they show how much they hate the person. By not enforcing discipline they implicitly approve of his actions and do harm their backslidden brother.
But we must take heed to God’s way of working. His wisdom surpasses ours and His care will bring his children back to their home. Moreover we should recognize that this sternness shows the infinite mercy of God. He is willing to open the door again. Whoever is cast out to be tormented by devil, is welcomed with open arms again into the bosom of Christ.
And perhaps I should voice that loudly, in case there is someone in our group who may say that they don’t want Christ’s salvation: When you come to the point in your life where your misery breaks you, don’t be afraid to return to the Lord and to his church. As long as the Lord tarries, until he comes again, he freely offers his salvation. If you come to him in repentance he will forgive you and joyfully welcome you back with open arms.
In a sense, we hear the parable of the prodigal son in this message tonight. There was the son who said to his father, “I don’t need you and I don’t want anything to do with you. Let me have my share of the inheritance.” As soon as he got it he took off and squandered his inheritance on wild living. When he ran out of money he found himself as desolate as his wallet. So despairing was he that he longed to eat the pods the pigs ate. And it was in that mess that he came to his senses. He made up his mind to go back to his father’s house. He said to himself, “I can’t have what I once had, I don’t deserve it. But I’ll go back and make myself a servant.”
And what was the Father’s response. He saw his son in the distance, hiked up his robe, and ran to meet him. He lavished his prodigal son with love: He put a ring on his finger, a robe on his back, and sandals on his feet. There was embracing and celebration.
So it is for stubborn prodigal people who stubbornly refuse God’s offer of salvation. If you come to your senses, and when you decide to receive Jesus Christ rather than reject him, God will lavish you with his welcoming love.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.