We are quick to attribute to too many things that really aren’t great. A home run while perhaps being timely for your favorite baseball team, is not really great. A snow cone on an August afternoon in Texas will be refreshing, but given its short lifespan, should not be put in the category of great. Promotions are usually encouraging, but who can tell if it will still be “great” in five years? Every automobile that has been called great has eventually ended up in a junk yard somewhere (as did the chariots that the Romans probably also called “great”).
There really are few things in our world that are great, if the measure of greatness is that it is lasting and unsurpassed in power and position.
But God’s salvation is great.
That is Paul’s message in the first eight chapters of Romans, as we have seen over the past 100 sermons (and four years). In case we are unsure whether our salvation is great, Paul unfolds three primary reasons in the first half of this book why the salvation God gives us is so great.
God’s salvation is great because our sin is great (large and extensive).
Our sin is large (massive, overwhelming, and consuming) because even before salvation, we know what God requires but we rebel anyway. He fills the world and our consciences with the truth about Himself, so His power, nature, and moral requirements are known to us, and we reject Him anyway (Rom. 1:18-20; 2:14-15). We don’t just reject Him, but we attempt to suppress the truth we know about Him (1:18) and we rebelliously refuse to glorify Him or give thanks to Him (1:21). We refuse to submit to His authority because we desire sovereignty and we long to have Him bow to our demands. This is the greatest rebellion, and it is in every man.
This rebellion is not just in every man, but it is extensively in every man. Sin and rebellion is pervasive in us. As Paul notes in 3:13-16, from the tops of our heads (what we think and say) to the bottom of our feet (where we go and what pathways we follow), we are saturated with sin. We are not as sinful as we could be (we could always sin more times or in worse ways), but every aspect of our being is corrupted and stained by sin.
Further, sin is not just in every man, but it is in all men. No man is untouched by sin — it is in every Gentile (1:18-32) and it is in every Jew (2:1–3:8), so that it can be wholeheartedly affirmed that there is no single person anywhere on earth who has ever been wholly righteous on his own (3:10-12, 23). This wicked rejection of and rebellion against God is in the heart of every man and it pervades every man.
Salvation must be great, because the sin it must overcome is so great (chs. 1-3).
God’s salvation is great because His gift of justification is great (consistent, God-designed, and complete).
God’s salvation is great in that it is consistent. It is unchanging. The way of salvation has always been only one way. Salvation has always been by grace through faith. It is that way now, as it was in the early church (3:25-26, 28), it was that way in the day of David (4:6-8), and it was that way in the day of Abraham (4:1-5). Salvation has never been by works; it has always been by grace through faith.
Additonally, justification is great because it is a monergistic work of God. He not only designed it, but as with all the covenants with Israel in the Old Testament, it is dependent entirely and only on Him. No one does any work to save himself (4:4-5). If work by us were involved, then it could never be a gift of grace (4:16). If work were involved, we would have to labor for all eternity and because of our inherent sin nature and our lack of perfection, we could never bring it to completion. Justification is the work of God. Alone.
Justification is also great because it is thorough and complete. That is, we are completely justified. Once one has been declared justified, he is completely removed from the domain of Adam, and sin and death. Nothing more remains to be justified. The removal of sin is complete. The gift of the indwelling Spirit is complete. The Spirit’s work to secure our salvation is complete. Nothing more needs to be done, once we have been justified. This is because Christ’s atoning work on the cross was completely satisfying to God (3:25) and His resurrection accomplished our justification (4:25).
Salvation is great, because the justification through which salvation comes is so great (chs. 3-4).
God’s salvation is great because His sanctifying work in us is great (progressive, Spirit-empowered, and hopeful).
There is still remaining sin in every justified believer. We still battle with the flesh. Satan is defeated and sin and death are conquered (5:12ff), but sin still remains (6:11ff; 7:14-25). Yet in spite of that sin, there is progressive, continual, ongoing movement towards Christlikeness and sanctification in every believer’s life (6:22; 8:12-13, 28-29). We are not perfect, but we are moving towards the reality of what we will be in glory (8:30).
The reason we can be sanctified is because of the synergistic work of sanctification. We work and we labor for our sanctification (6:12-14; 8:12-13). But the only way we can do anything to move towards Christ is because of the empowerment of the Spirit who has been given to us (8:11, 13, 14ff). We are required to work and we must work and the believer will work; but the work ultimately is always only because of what the Spirit is doing in the believer’s life.
Finally, because the Spirit is working in us who are believers, we are hopeful and confident. Our sanctification is not yet complete, but it will be. There is nothing in this world or in the next world that can thwart God’s purpose to justify and sanctify us in our salvation (8:38-39). We are kept and protected in this salvation, not because we merit it or because we are so faithful to God, but because the love of God in Christ is keeping and protecting us (8:35-37). The One who loved us by humbling Himself in the incarnation and in the crucifixion is the One who loves us by defending us before the accusations of Satan against us and prays the very precise things we need from the Father’s right hand (8:34).
God’s salvation is great because the sanctification that comes through that salvation is great (chs. 5-8).
God’s salvation is great because it is God’s work, from eternity to eternity, from the inside of man out, through the humbling incarnation and crucifixion of Christ, and because of the powerful work of the Spirit.
Like nothing else we know on this earth, God’s salvation is great.