Saved by Grace
Dad was a man loved by so many. Again and again I've heard stories of how he went out of his way to encourage others, as choir director, as mentor, as principal, as brother, and as a friend.
Even in his final days at Atria he went out of his way to express appreciation for the staff that served him, although sometimes he was bossy and thought he thought he was still in charge. But he was genuine in his desire to be thankful, and in his efforts to lift the spirits of others, even when he had trouble finding the right words.
One time, a few weeks ago, trying to compliment me, he said in the presence of several people, “Very few people know this about my son...but he is an intelligent man.” Oh, well. Dad had trouble with finding the right words but he meant well.
And among those that knew him, even a little bit, it didn't take long to figure out that his faith is what motivated Him to be so outgoing and caring toward others.
So, it's his faith I want to talk about right now. And in order to understand Dad's faith we need to understand how he viewed himself. Many of us viewed Dad as a hero, as a faithful, obedient, humble servant of the Lord. But that isn't the way he saw himself.
See, in Dad's last days he was consumed with regret and grief over his past. Sometimes he was inconsolable.
As death became increasingly closer he became increasingly distraught over all of the compliments because inwardly he believed he wasn't the man everyone thought he was.
People who visited him, as you'd expect, told him how wonderful he was and how much he meant to them, but privately after they left, he told me and others just how inadequate he felt. And I don't think it was just a false humility. He really meant it.
On several occasions he told me in a panicked tone "I'm just a man...I don't deserve all of these compliments, who am I? I haven't done anything." On the one hand Dad was like everyone else and enjoyed to be made much of but on the other hand he knew there was a deeper truth. He knew that often his efforts, although seemingly focused on others, many times were really just focused on himself and that bothered him.
Over the years, Dad and I have had some very interesting conversations about theology. We'd talk about the 7th day Sabbath, celebrating Christmas, eating pork, observing the OT Holy Days, the Trinity, the Gospel, the resurrection...you name it.
And, honestly, we disagreed about almost everything, but in the end it would seem we agreed about the most important thing.
A few weeks ago I had my last real discussion with him. When I arrived at Atria he was in his room and in a near state of panic. He couldn't be consoled. He was going on and on, "Why me?...I'm nobody...please forgive me."
Most people would've taken the opportunity to encourage him with words like "you're special, don't worry you've done so many good things in your life, there's nothing to forgive, etc." But I knew from past experience that these words wouldn't help.
So, instead, we read passages from 1 John about how we can have confidence and know for certain we're forgiven and belong God.
We read 1 John 3:5 which says,
5 You know that he was revealed so that he might take away sins, and there is no sin in him. 6 Everyone who remains in him does not sin, everyone who sins has not seen him or known him.
That's not a very comforting verse for someone who knew he was a sinner that still sinned. But then we read on in 1 John 3:19...
19 This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows all things.
God knows all things, including all our mistakes, and Dad's heart was condemning him which meant he did not have the confidence he'd done enough good...not to earn salvation, because I'd talked with him enough to know he didn't believe that, but in order to qualify to receive God's gift.
Dad believed the verses that say we are are saved by faith and that salvation is a free gift we can't earn. But he also believed salvation was conditional upon his obedience, just how much obedience he wasn't sure.
So at the end of his life he wondered if he had done enough to qualify. People told him he had, but his heart condemned him. As he reflected over his life he increasingly realized he had failed in many, many ways. Outwardly, he was good but inwardly his heart condemned him.
See, in the OT there are more than 600 commands and more than 1000 in the NT. So, even if he'd been pretty good at keeping the basic 10 what about all the others?
Dad did better than most but at the end of his life that wasn't enough consolation to give him the peace he craved. He needed to have faith in someone who was greater than his heart. He didn't need to hear how good a person he was, he needed to hear how great Christ is.
And peace is what he received. I know this because of what happened next.
He desperately wanted to pray, so he prayed and I prayed. He asked God to forgive him. He asked God to help him trust and not doubt that he was forgiven and that he belonged to Him.
We read more Scriptures together...
We read 1 John 1:8...
8 If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
And we read 1 John 2:1...
My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous one.
An advocate is someone who does something on your behalf, a substitute. Dad knew a lot about substitutes. They take your place when you can't to the work yourself. Jesus' righteousness is what Dad asked God to help him trust in, not his own.
Dad experienced a visible peace as he cast all his anxiety, all his cares, all his regrets on His Savior. And by all accounts from the staff where he lived he slept peacefully that night.
The next day Dad remembered our conversation, which in itself is remarkable. As I sat next to his bed, he reached for me, looked me in the eyes and told me how much he loved me and that he thought he loved me now more than ever. He added, “perhaps it’s because of that message you’ve been giving me.”
It's not my message. It's the message of Scripture which says we're more sinful than we realize but more loved than we can ever imagine. That's what Dad believed and it's what he would want you to believe too.
To many of us Dad was a hero. He seemed to have it all together. He read his Bible everyday. He prayed every day. He loved his family as best as he could. He worked hard. He served his church. He sang from his heart. He was an amazing principal. He accomplished so much, yet in the end he knew he still had far too many faults.
And if that's true then what hope do any of us have?
We have none except to have the same hope he had which is that when our hearts condemn us, we trust that God is greater than our hearts.
In Dad's final days, Dad trusted that when God looked down on him He no longer saw Dan the sinner (his words not mine) but Dan clothed with the righteousness of Christ. And being clothed with the righteousness of Christ he was reassured of being God's child. And just like I will always be Dad's son, Dad believed, through faith alone, he will always be God’s child.
This is the kind of faith we all need and this is the only faith that will sustain us in the end. And I'll add that when we come to understand this, there is no greater motivation for doing good in this life. When we come to understand just how completely, how unconditionally, how absolutely we are loved, why would we ever want to do anything other than try to please the one who loves us like that?
At the end of Dad's life he couldn't do the things he used to so He questioned God's love for him. He couldn't walk, he couldn't read his Bible, he couldn't pray out loud, He couldn't sing, and eventually he couldn't even speak. He couldn't do much of anything to please God except one thing which was to trust in what Christ had done for him.
In John 6:28. The Pharisees asked Jesus…
28 … “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
There are many things we should do, but none are more important than believing in him whom he has sent.
Today we are remembering the amazing legacy of Dan Salcedo. He had many qualities worth admiring. His outgoing nature. His ability to see things in a positive light and a tireless desire to encourage others. But he didn't want to be put on a pedestal because in his heart he knew who he was. Stripped of his health, and his ability to serve as he once had, everything became clear. He was a sinner saved by grace and all he really had was faith in his Lord. All he really had was belief in the one whom He had sent. And that was all he needed.