Sermon illustrations



Biblical Salvation

[Biblical] salvation lies not in an escape from this world but in the transformation of this world…. You will not find hope for the world in any of the religious systems or philosophies of humankind…. The Biblical vision is unique. That is why when some say there is salvation in other faiths too, I ask them—“What salvation are you talking about?” No faith holds out a promise of eternal salvation for the world—the ordinary world—that the cross and resurrection of Jesus do.

Vinoth Ramachandra, The Scandal of Jesus, InterVarsity Press.

The Christian Self-Actualization Plan

In her excellent book on following Jesus in the suburbs, Ashley Hales describes one of the ways in which our discipleship has been influenced by modern secular trends such as the desire for self-actualization:

There’s also a particularly Christian version of the self-actualization narrative: it’s found in hearing how the salvation story revolved around me and God’s wonderful plan for my life. This story wound its way around us so that mission trips were validations for the goodness of a soul. It grew a vocabulary around a person’s seriousness about living for Jesus, and a subsequent call to “change the world” by doing big, exotic things.

This story found a liturgy in the hours of personal Bible study and puritanical evaluation of the dark nights of the soul. It’s not that these activities are wrong but that Christian piety, belief, and practice continue to be wrapped up in a narrative of the self, where the I is the key to unlocking faith.

God does have a wonderful plan for your life, but blessedly that is not the point. Redemption is not, in fact, all about you. Freedom is not about you at all. It is not a freedom from—an “escape from the constraints of community” (Berry again)—but a freedom for. Freedom is a far grander story than a suburban bootstrapperism, where your worth is measured in square footage.

Taken from Finding Holy in the Suburbs: Living Faithfully in the Land of Too Much by Ashley Hales Copyright (c) 2009 by Ashley Hales. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Christian Symbols of the Early Church

At the same time Church historian Philip Schaff was writing his 8-volume history of the Church, the Roman catacombs were being discovered. Schaff had this to say about symbols Christians used to adorn their tombs:

Roman Catholic cemeteries are easily recognized by crosses, crucifixes and reference to purgatory and prayers for the dead; Protestant cemeteries by the frequency of Scripture passages in the epitaphs, and expressions of hope and joy in prospect of the immediate transition of the pious dead to the presence of Christ.

The catacombs have a character of their own, which distinguishes them from Roman Catholic as well as Protestant cemeteries. Their most characteristic symbols and pictures are the Good Shepherd, the Fish, and the Vine.

These symbols almost wholly disappeared after the fourth century, but to the mind of the early Christians they vividly expressed, in childlike simplicity, what is essential to Christians of all creeds, the idea of Christ and his salvation, as the only comfort in life and in death. The Shepherd, whether from the Sabine or the Galilean hills, suggested the recovery of the lost sheep, the tender care and protection, the green pasture and fresh fountain, the sacrifice of life: in a word, the whole picture of a Saviour.

Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church (1859; repr., Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002).

The Cross our Spiritual Centerpiece

God could have chosen any method to save us, but he used the cross. The cross is our spiritual centerpiece, the sign of our soul’s emancipation.

However, the pre-Christian cross might offer a sliver of insight to God. Some skeptics claim this ancient sign of the cross disproves Christianity. Because this image recurred in early divergent cultures, they claim Christ s story wasn’t true; that the first Christians borrowed “the cross myth” and its sign from pre-existing religions. But couldn’t the God who oversees the universe and its events have etched the cross image into humanity’s soul before Christ appeared? Could this early sign have prophesied our need for a savior? Perhaps when the pagan ancients created their own gods and religious signs, they unwittingly patterned the way of Christ.

Taken from The Mystery of the Cross by Judith Couchman Copyright (c) 2009 by Judith Couchman. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Curse of Living Under the Law

To have Abraham-like faith brings blessing (v 9). The result of living by the law is that we are “under a curse” (v 10). This “curse” has two aspects. Theologically, anyone who says-. I can be saved by obeying the law must then be prepared to really look at what the law commands. To love God wholly, we would have to obey the law wholly.

To be blessed by God instead of cursed by Him, we would have to look at the law and satisfy its every demand. And that cannot be done. Objectively, attempting salvation-by-law-observance means we are cursed. This means that, psychologically, everyone who is seeking to save themselves by their own performance will experience a curse subjectively.

At the very least, attempting to be saved by works will lead to profound anxiety and insecurity, because you can never be sure that you are living up to your standards sufficiently, whatever they may be. This makes you over-sensitive to criticism, envious and intimidated by others who outshine you. It makes you nervous and timid (because you are unsure of where you stand) or else swaggering and boastful (because you are trying to convince yourself of where you stand). Either way, you live with a sense of curse and condemnation.

Timothy Keller, Galatians For You, The Good Book Company, 2013.

Freeing us from our Self-Centeredness

‘Salvation’ is a wonderfully wide-ranging word and it would be a great mistake to think that it refers only to the forgiveness of our sins. God is as much concerned with our present and future as with our past. His plan is first to put right our relationship with him, and then progressively to set us free from our self-centeredness and bring us into harmony with other people. We owe our forgiveness and reconciliation chiefly to the death of Christ, but it is by his Spirit that we can be set free from ourselves and in his church that we can be united in a fellowship of love.

Taken from Basic ChristianityThe IVP Signature Collection  by John Stott. Copyright (c) 2019 by John Stott, p.131. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

“Look at These”

Davon Huss tells the story of a boy who came home one hot afternoon, anxious to take a cool swim in the pond behind his home. He lived in south Florida, so taking a quick dip was a common way to cool off.

He was so anxious to get in the water, he didn’t even go inside to change clothes. He just raced for the pond, dropping his shoes, shirt, and socks along the way. His mother spotted him diving off the dock, and went outside to check on him.

As she watched her son swim toward the middle of the lake, she also spotted an alligator moving from the far shore, toward her son! She began screaming the warnings, and the boy stopped in mid-swim. He finally understood the danger, and began racing back toward the dock. Just as he reached her, the alligator reached him.

It was a tug-of-war from a mother’s worst nightmare. From the dock, she pulled his arms. From the water, the alligator held his legs. The water was quickly stained with blood.

A farmer driving by heard the screams, and ran to help. He shot the alligator and helped the mother call for help. The boy survived, and after several weeks of hospitalization, was ready to talk with a news reporter.

The reporter asked the child if he could see where the alligator had bitten him. With the typical pride of a boy, he showed off his healing wounds to the interested reporter. “But wait,” said the boy, “look at these!” With that, he showed the reporter the scars on his arms. “I have great scars on my arms, too. I have them because my Mom wouldn’t let go.”

Note: There is some question as to whether or not this actually happened. Fact-Checkers were unable to say one way or another if this actually happened. 

Andy Cook

A Grand Gesture

A man appears before the pearly gates. “Have you ever done anything of particular merit?” St. Peter asks.

“Well, I can think of one thing….” the man offers. “Once I came upon a gang of high-testosterone bikers who were threatening a young woman. I directed them to leave her alone, but they wouldn’t listen. So I approached the largest and most heavily tattooed biker. I smacked him on the head, kicked his bike over, ripped out his nose ring and threw it on the ground, and told him, ‘Leave her alone now or you’ll answer to me.'”

St. Peter was impressed. “When did this happen?”

“A couple of minutes ago.”

Source Unknown

In My Beginning is My End

It is characteristic of any great work of literature to have in its ending something that brings a sense of harmony to the whole. Like the finale of a symphony, or the confetti at the end of a national championship, or even just the last bite of a delicious dessert, there is a satisfying conclusion. This is most perfectly true here at the closing of the canon of Scripture. The Bible is the great tapestry of God’s work in history, and all of its threads are bound together at the end of Revelation. As we come to this great ending and tie together all the loose threads, notice first that creation will be recapitulated. Revelation 21 and 22 are filled with echoes from Eden.

Again, this is characteristic of great literature. There is a sense of coming back home. It’s like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien, which begin in the Shire. The protagonists leave their home to have all kinds of adventures, with elves and dwarves, and dungeons and dragons. But at the end of it all, they come back home to the Shire. Or, to give another example from literature, consider the poem “East Coker,” by T. S. Eliot. Eliot begins with the line “In my beginning is my end,” and when we get to the end of the poem, he says, “In my end is my beginning.” Readers have a sense of traversing a distance, but also of coming back home again, so there is a sense of harmony and completion.

Taken from Phillip Graham Ryken in Coming Home edited by D.A. Carson, © 2017, pp.121-122. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.

Meriting our Salvation

At the core of every project of self-salvation is the staunch unwillingness to believe that God’s love and forgiveness can be unmerited. Those who would try and save themselves prefer work to rest, effort to gift. Instead of receiving the free gift of grace, they wear themselves out trying to earn what has been given in Christ.

They will insist upon working for the goodness they receive from God. It produces the sweat equity of works-righteousness: wages of death (see Romans 6:23). We are each bred with this common resistance to grace. It is never easy to live as the indebted.

Taken from Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michel Copyright (c) 2014 by Jen Pollock Michel. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

The Mule in the Well

A Louisiana farmer’s favorite mule fell into a well. After studying the situation, the farmer came to the conclusion that he couldn’t pull the mule out, so he might as well bury him. It would be the humane thing to do. So he got a truckload of dirt, backed up to the well, and dumped the dirt on top of the mule at the bottom of the well.

But when the dirt hit the mule, it started snorting and tramping. As it tramped, it began to work itself up on top of the dirt. So the farmer continued to pour dirt in the well until the mule snorted and tramped its way to the top. It then walked away, a dirtier – but wiser – mule. What was intended to bury it turned out to be its salvation.

Andy Cook

Pickup Basketball and Assurance of Salvation

One afternoon I was at a local basketball court and started a pickup game with a guy I’d seen there a few times. He was quite a character—he cursed like a sailor and had so many tattoos on his body I wasn’t sure what the actual color of his skin was. He boasted continually about how many girls he was sleeping with. He wasn’t the kind of guy you’d suspect knew his way around the Bible.

As we played our game, I began to share my story of how I came to Christ. About three sentences into it, he stopped, grabbed the ball, and said, “Dude, are you trying to witness to me?” Surprised he even knew the term witness, I said, “Uhhh . .. well…yes.”

He said, “That’s awesome. No one has tried to witness to me in a long time…. But don’t worry about me. I went to youth camp when I was thirteen and I asked Jesus to come into my heart. And I was legit. I became a super-Christian. I went to youth group every week, I did the true love waits” commitment thing, I memorized verses, and I went on mission trips. I even led other friends to Jesus.

“About two years after that, however, I ‘discovered’ sex. And I didn’t like the idea of a god telling me who I could have sex with. So I decided to put God on hold for a while, and after a while I just quit believing in Him altogether.

I’m a happy atheist now.”

He then added: “But here’s what’s awesome: the church I grew up in was Southern Baptist, and they taught eternal security—that means once saved, always saved.” By the way, aren’t you a Baptist?”

****awkward silence from me****

He went on, “That means that my salvation at age thirteen still holds, even if I don’t believe in God anymore now. ‘Once saved, always saved,’ right? That means that even if you’re right, and God exists and Jesus is the only way. I’m safe! So either way, works out great for me.. If I’m right, then I haven’t wasted my life curbing my lifestyle because of a fairy tale. OK, it’s your shot.

J.D. Grear, Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart, B&H.

Rescuing His Pursuer

In sixteenth-century Holland, the Mennonites were outlawed and, when caught, often executed. One of them, Dirk Willens, was being chased across an icefield when his pursuer broke through and fell in.

In response to his cries for help, Willens returned and saved him from the waters. The pursuer was grateful and astonished that he would do such a thing but nevertheless arrested him, as he thought it his duty to do. A few days later Willens was executed by being burned at the stake in the town of Asperen. It was precisely his Christlikeness that brought on his execution.

Ronald A. Wells, History Through the Eyes of Faith (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989)

Salvation From and For

Being saved always involves being both saved from something and saved for something. We are saved for shalom—a flourishing life with God. What are we saved from? Salvation as described in the Bible is about our being rescued from the whole chaotic mess that is our existence. There is no category of human need that God doesn’t want to redeem. But it’s the inner disorder of persons that the biblical writers say is our deepest problem. We are saved from brokenness, or death, or guilt, or wrath, or hell. We are saved from what we might otherwise become. We are saved—I know it sounds archaic—from evil.

John Ortberg, Eternity Is Now In Session: A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught About Salvation, Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2018), Kindle Electronic Version.

Two Ways to Reject Jesus as Savior

…there are two ways to fail to let Jesus be your Savior. One is by being too proud, having a superiority complex—not to accept his challenge [to accept what the gospel says about our unworthiness]. But the other is through an inferiority complex—being so self-absorbed that you say, “I’m just so awful that God couldn’t love me.” That is, not to accept his offer [receive his mercy and grace]. …

It is just as much a rejection of the love of God to refuse to seek him, to refuse to come after his mercy, to refuse to accept it, to refuse to be content with it, as to say “I’m too good for it.”

Tim Keller, King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (New York: Dutton, 2011, p.90.

See also Illustrations on Atonement, Jesus, Justification, Rescue

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Salvation. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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