We all know that Jesus can save sinners, unbelievers, pagans and heathens, all of them great or small; sinners who have been very good at being sinners. You’ve likely seen it yourself or at least heard of it happening. I recall hearing testimony after testimony from Christians who had been convicts, gang members, drug addicts, alcoholics, perverts, deviants, anarchists, extortioners, and scam artists. And Jesus saved all of them.
Have you seen and heard of them, too: Witnesses to the awe-inspiring, life-changing power of the Gospel? I cannot tell you how thankful I am that Jesus saves people like this. And I’m thankful that He not only saves them from the wrath of God, but also delivers them from their addictions, strongholds, and proclivity to do great harm to themselves and others in outrageous ways.
But these are testimonies of only temporal resurrection. These are testimonies not unlike the testimony of Jairus’ dead-from-illness daughter, of the widow’s son on the funeral bier, of Lazarus four days in a rotting tomb. All were raised from their death-like-slumber to live another day. All were given one more chance at life. All had tasted death and were restored to life.
But, you see, the end of Lazarus’ story is not when he walks out of the tomb. The end of Jairus’ little girl’s story is not where she sits up and they give her something to eat. The end of the widow’s dead son’s story is not where he steps off the funeral bier and embraces his mother.
Today, Lazarus is lying in another tomb. That little girl had her last moment on another deathbed. And the widow’s son was carried on a second funeral bier. All of them are dead. They are buried. Gone. Lost and forgotten, the record of where they now lie has conveniently been forgotten or lost or edited right out of the history books.
In the wake of so many temporal resurrection testimonies, there seems to be another type of testimony that often gets overlooked, ignored, or goes completely unspoken. It is the testimony of the defeated victor. This is the victory that no one is holding their breath to see because it leaves so much to be desired. It does not satisfy our lust for self-realization, self actualization, for power, strength, recovery, and healing. We like stories that conclude with a happy ending that we can see in our lifetime, and preferably, we’d like that happy ending yesterday. Thank you very much.
But before we can talk about these testimonies, we have to ask another question.
We all know of sinners who were very good at being sinners whom Jesus saved, but can Jesus still save Christians who are not very good at “Christianing"?
Can Jesus save a Christian who is not very good at hiding their failures, clumsy stumbles, and sin? What about Christians who are masters at disguising and hiding their sin? Can Jesus save them?
Can Jesus save a Christian whose biggest sins happened after they confessed faith in Christ? What about Christians who think they haven't sinned, not really, in big enough ways to matter since the day they were born again? Can Jesus save them?
Can Jesus save a Christian who is forced to wear scarlet letters of shame because they confessed the "wrong" sin in front of the wrong "brother" or "sister"? What about the Christian who has assigned scarlet letters of shame to others? Can Jesus save them?
Can Jesus save a Christian who keeps falling back into the same sin, over and over? What about the Christian who self-righteously judges others because they don't struggle with the same sins? Can Jesus save them?
Can Jesus save a Christian who struggles to bear the burden of their guilt instead of seeing it borne on Jesus' shoulders? What about the Christian who would rather keep bringing up past sins and who shifts blame to others instead of proclaiming all sins covered, absorbed by, and obliterated in the death of Christ? Can Jesus save them?
Can Jesus save a Christian who is less than half-repentant, half-believing? What about Christians who don't think they have anything to repent of, who don't realize or admit they struggle with doubt? Can Jesus save them?
Can Jesus save a Christian like you? A sinner like you?
We have this excellent and comforting testimony from Paul:
"The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." (1 Timothy 1:15)
Paul doesn't shy away from declaring that Christ has come into the world for sinners, to save them, nor does he flinch when he identifies with them as the chief sinner, or foremost of sinners. He doesn't say, "I was the foremost," but, "I am the foremost [of sinners]." Present tense. Not past, not even yesterday but no longer today. Instead, it's today and still going to be so tomorrow should Christ delay in returning. See, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. No one is righteous, no not one. No one seeks for God (not even some who profess they do).
Paul still needed a Jesus who could save a Christian; even after his radical conversion on the road to Damascus, even after he was made an apostle, even after his many missionary voyages, even after he planted his many churches, even after he wrote the better part of the New Testament. Because even after all this, Paul was yet a great sinner, desperately in need of a greater Savior.
Jesus still saves sinners. And Jesus still saves Christians who are still sinners. In fact, Jesus only saves sinners. He didn't come for anyone else. Anyone else doesn't need Jesus. Anyone else doesn't get Jesus. Jesus only saves sinners.
So let me ask again: We all know sinners who were very good at sinning whom Jesus saved, but can Jesus still save a Christian who isn't very good at "Christianing"?
Or maybe I should ask, do Christians still even need to be saved? Thankfully, the answer to every last question that I have asked is a resounding... YES!!!
So why don’t we hear more testimonies from these kinds of Christians? Of Christians who struggle to believe, to avoid temptation, to kick bad habits, and yet, whom Jesus has saved, is still saving, and will save? We need more stories and testimonies like these. We need authentic, candid, real, transparent testimonies. Real, gritty testimonies about how Jesus saves in spite of all we do and regardless of what we don't do.
We have been saved, not because of anything we’ve done, or will do, or abstain from and don't do; not because of any change in behavior, or because we swore off sin, or because, because, because…
Jesus saves, not by the blood of goats and bulls, but by shedding his own precious blood and by His own perfect life, and through His holy, innocent, bitter suffering and death, we are redeemed.
And then Jesus was laid in a tomb. And if this were a story about anyone of us, or any other man, woman, or child, that’s where the story would actually and truly end. But this isn’t a story about just any man. This is the story of the Defeated Victor, Himself, who defeated Defeat and rose victoriously on the third day. The tomb could not keep Him. Death had no hold on Him. Unlike Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and the widow’s son, this Man, Jesus the Christ, took death down forever with the knockout punch of His own passive obedience unto death and victorious resurrection from the tomb.
Your testimony isn’t about how Jesus saved you to overcome all your sins, to have a finely edited, squeaky-clean, perfectly cropped victory moment and pretend like you’re not going to die someday. Your testimony is about how in spite of your sin, in spite of the wrath of God that was upon you, in spite of your constant and consistent failure to live the Christian life, or any life at all, Christ has, is, and will save you.
In His version of the story, He does not forget about you because in spite of your unfaithfulness, in spite of your hatred and resulting sin against Him, in spite of all the ways you have been self-centered, thoughtless and unkind to your neighbor, He is faithful, loving kindness itself. And on His Day, the day designated for Him to return, the scene after the credits roll, He will appear and will raise you from that graveyard full of bones and dust and death to a new, actual reality of eternal, incorruptible, perfected and glorified life in Him.
Jesus is still in the business of saving Christians; even Christians like Paul; even Christians like you. In fact, He's doing it all the time. Fear not. Jesus can save even you, Christian. He has and He will.
This article is an excerpt from the Sermon, "Can Jesus Save a Christian," preached by Brandon Hanson at Church of the Prodigal in Corning, NY on May 22, 2016. You can listen to the complete sermon audio above. For more information, please visit www.churchoftheprodigal.org.