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Posted: January 10, 2013 8:57 p.m.

Scharf: When were you saved?

"When were you saved?" Have you ever been asked that question? When were you saved? Maybe it's just because of my line of work, but I get that question all the time.

And, I've got to tell you, rarely are my answers what the person asking is looking for. All too often, the askers are missing the truth we have in our text today, Titus 3. All too often, they're looking for when I did something or I had some experience. So when I tell them I was saved about 2,000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross, they always act like I didn't hear the question properly.

"No, when were you saved?" they'll ask. To which I reply the same thing.

"No, when did it come to you?" To which I talk about when I was baptized when I was 8 days old. At that point, they feel the need to explain and ask about when I felt it in my gut and my heart was filled. I tell them I'd much rather rely on God's promises in his word than always having to wonder whether my "being saved" was really imagination or emotion or indigestion or even just a product of an overzealous energy drink.

Really, the heart of the question comes down to one word: "Saved."

Paul uses it four times in three verses, but what does it mean?

To be "saved" means that there was something bad we were headed for and we were rescued, we were delivered, we were brought out of that and into something else - like the firefighter carrying the barely breathing victim out of the burning building into the fresh air or the lifeguard performing resuscitation on the person who was just moments ago drowning. That word "saved" has vibrant pictures in it - but realize the constant - "saved" is not something you do for yourself - it's something done to you, for you. That right there gets at the heart of my issue with that question - "When were you saved?" because the askers aren't really asking for when something was done for you, but when you did something, when you claimed that salvation. That's not "saved," then. You have to call that something else.

In order to know when you were saved, you have to understand what it means to be saved. You have to get what it is you were saved from. Paul is really clear about that. "He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy." (Titus 3:5) In the only negative in this entire text, Paul said our being saved has nothing to do with our doing. In fact, in the verses just before this - Paul tells us what we were "doing" before "being saved."

And those things were not pleasant. They weren't helping us. He describes us "pre-saved" as "foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another." OK, that's bad, right? We can see how those addictive habits and lifestyles would require a dramatic rescue. But think about it - we can relate to those habits and lifestyles, can't we? Even now, having been saved, we're still tempted to act like that, aren't we? Think through that list.

Foolish: when we do the things we know are bad for us but well, we just want to, whether that's overeating, giving in to greed or even addiction.

Disobedient: when we do the things we know we aren't supposed to, but maybe we won't get caught - from speeding to tax evasion.

Enslaved by passions and pleasures: just look at our entertainment choices.

Living with revenge and hard feelings: has Paul been watching us?

You know as well as I that we need some help. We needed saving from that - and being saved from that is not just trying to be better - it's being rescued from the wrath that that deserved. "When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us." (Titus 3:4) Why? "Because of his mercy." When were you saved? When God's kindness and love appeared. When they were "Ephiphanied" - that's the Greek word there - the name of the season of the church year we are in. God revealed his kindness and love in Jesus - born a baby, crucified a criminal, defeated death - Jesus.

When God's salvation appeared - in Jesus - that's when you were saved. It's not when you decided to make lifestyle changes or finally kept a New Year's resolution. It's not when you did enough to make up for those past mistakes or transformed yourself into a person worth something, because you couldn't. Just like the victim of the fire can't get out because their lungs have filled with smoke and they are trapped; just like the drowning victim can't rescue themselves because they can't swim - that's why they are drowning in the first place. We couldn't "get saved" - It happened when Jesus appeared, when God showed himself in Jesus.

So Paul explains then, how that "saving" happened to us individually. "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by his grace we might become heirs having the hope the sure certainty of eternal life." (Titus 3:5-6)

When were you saved? You were saved when Jesus came, when God revealed his kindness and love - and you were saved when you were baptized, when God claimed you as heir to everything Jesus won, when the heavens were opened and God said of you what we heard him say at Jesus' baptism: "This is my child, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased."

Knowing who you are and where you are headed, that changes things, doesn't it? Priorities are shifted. Now the goals for this new year are not in line with all the passions and pleasures you've been saved from, they are not resolutions for revenge, but godly goals, for growing closer to him. So, as we start this new year, commit to growing closer to God.

You're invited to join us at Abiding Grace on Jan. 20, for our Commitment Sunday, and sign up for our new year Bible Information Class that begins on Jan. 21, at 6:45 p.m. The class runs for 12 weeks and is designed to grow us in our relationship with God. It meets Monday nights at 6:45 p.m. and Friday mornings at 11 a.m. I hope to see you there.

Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at


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