“I was as far down as a body can go, and the gates were slamming shut behind me forever – Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive, O God, my God!” (Jonah 2:6)
Jonah was in one of those places where he could not save himself. He was totally helpless. The poor fellow literally hit rock bottom – as far down as a body can go. Bound in seaweed and confined to the innards of a smelly sea creature, he was trapped in the worse form of solitary confinement imaginable. The gates of the fish’s mouth slammed shut behind Jonah for good. Actually, Jonah was only stuck for a few days, but from his perspective it felt like forever. Eventually, though, he was released. What saved him? How did he survive this horrid experience? Jonah does not offer up any scientific explanations. He did not come out of this ugly mess saying, “I now know human life can be sustained in a fishes gut for at least seventy-two hours. It’s just the right size and there’s the perfect amount of oxygen if one doesn’t move around too much.” That is hardly the case. Here is Jonah’s explanation for how he survived his ordeal, “Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive, O God, my God!” Jonah gives God all the credit. “I was lost. I was dying. I was helpless,” he asserts. “Then God reached into the pit and saved me!” The same goes for all of us. Our situation was hopeless. We were lost, we were dying and we were helpless. Then God pulled us out of the pit and saved us. We didn’t crawl out of the pit through any effort of our own. God reached in and yanked us out.
Jonah underscores a constant theme throughout the Bible – God saves, not man. We get ourselves into the mess, He pulls us out. For centuries we have looked to religion as a way out of the pit but this is wrong, deathly wrong! Sadly, religion will be the doom of many. A poet once put it like this: you can go to hell with religion! Call it satire if you wish but there is truth to that statement. Since the beginning of time the good Lord has pleaded with mankind to look to Him for salvation and not rely upon ritual or tradition or law. This is not to say a religious person cannot be saved, he just can’t bank on his religion to save him. It won’t. Religion does not save nor is it a means for securing salvation. The truth is – you can be saved without any religion at all!
This may surprise you but Jesus was more critical of religious people than He was of known sinners. He once told some uppity religious folk that crooks and hookers were making it into the Kingdom of God ahead of them. Then there was the time Jesus was invited to join a hyper religious group for dinner. It was held at the home of one pious Pharisee named Simon. The noses of these hoity-toity “men of the cloth” were high in the air when a woman of ill repute wandered onto the scene. No doubt you recall the story. Tears flooded from her face like Niagara Falls, and with those precious tears she washed the feet of Jesus. That’s not all she did. She dried our Lord’s feet with her hair then kissed and anointed them with fragrant oil. Now, this gal was more of a locker room legend than a religious person but Jesus was more pleased with her than all the clerics in the house. Listen to what He had to say to these snoots: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.” You see, this woman understood something that the religious elite would not dare admit about themselves – her sins were many. These pious sin patrolmen had no difficulty judging that poor, weeping harlot. They were even quite shocked that Jesus didn’t judge her saying, He must not be a prophet or else He wouldn’t let this woman near him! Yes, they judged the harlot and they judged Jesus. They judged everyone in the room but themselves. And that is one of the great dangers of religion – it makes you feel a notch above everyone else. You can spot sin on others but fail to see your own – which are many!
Once we recognize that our sins are many, we can unload them at the feet of Jesus just as the harlot did. Friend, He will pardon every last one! We will never fully fathom how much we’ve been forgiven this side of heaven, but once it hits you that you’ve been forgiven a whole lot, you will love Jesus a whole lot. That is where the Lord longs to bring us but, sadly, religion oftentimes gets in the way. Worse yet, it can lead us in the totally opposite direction. At least that is what David learned. After coming clean with his own sin he wrote:
“For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalms 51:16-17)
I may be bursting a bubble or two but, this tells us that religion is worthless if our hearts can’t be broken over sin. The Lord will never despise a contrite heart but He is known to despise our vain attempts at being religious. Wasn’t that the whole point of the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee? Both went into the temple to pray. The publican beat on his chest while the Pharisee patted himself on the back. The publican grieved over his sin while the Pharisee tooted his religious horn. The publican came for mercy while the Pharisee came to receive praise. And we all know which of the two left the temple justified – the one which humbled himself; that lowly publican. The lesson is clear – religion doesn’t score us any points with God. If you really want to impress Him, fall on your face and admit that your sins are many. Only then will He pull you out of the pit. We are deceived if we think we can get out any other way.
It is impossible for us to save ourselves and religion doesn’t get anyone any closer to heaven. Like, Jonah, we must recognize we are in a pit. Furthermore, we must acknowledge that it is our own sin that got us there. Finally we must recognize that there is only one way out – God! It is Him who saves, not us. If we could save ourselves through religious works then God would have never sent His only begotten Son to pay for our sins. He would have spared Jesus the humiliation and torture of the cross. It is really this simple – if religion could get us out of the pit then what God did was abominable and Jesus shed His blood for nothing. But that is not the case at all. Jesus accomplished what religion never could. Therefore our boasting is this, “Yet you pulled me up from that grave alive, O God, my God!”
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Sunday Morning at 9:30 & 11:30am
Wednesday Evening at 7:00
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Calvary Chapel of Austin Church
1601 Pecan St., Pflugerville, TX 78660