“Three Things That Won’t Save You” (Matthew 3:9-10 message)

When we went with our church group to the Panthers game against the Redskins in Washington, D.C in December, one of the men told us the story of how he had bought some tickets to a game one time, but when he got to the gate, they told him that the ticket he had was not valid. He had bought it from someone he didn’t know, and it was a phony. He had walked up to the stadium, trusting that that ticket in his hand would get him in — but it wouldn’t.

That’s a bad situation to be in — but there is a worse one. Many people are trusting the wrong thing to get them into heaven. They’ve got something “in their hand”, in a sense, that they THINK is going to get them into heaven, but their trust is misplaced. It is NOT going to get them in. Some of you here today may be in that very place. You are trusting something to get you into heaven that will not. Please listen today, and make sure that your faith is not misplaced, and that you are not trusting something that will never save you, and take you to heaven.

We saw last Sunday in our study of Matthew Chapter 3, that John the Baptist challenged those who were coming forward to him to be baptized, to bring forth FRUIT that showed that they were really repenting of their sin. He told them that if they were really being saved, their lives would be different as result, and that they and others would see the fruit of it in changes in their lives. Here in :9 John takes this message a little further. Having said what he WANTED them to do — bear fruit — now he tells them what NOT to do:

“And do NOT suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father …'”.

When he said, “Do not suppose that you can say to yourselves” John was referring to the issue of their salvation. He had told them to bring forth fruit of real repentance to show that they were really being saved, and then here he says: “DO NOT think that saying ‘We have Abraham for our father’ will save you.” What was he talking about?

The “Abraham” that John was referring to is Abraham of the Old Testament, to whom we are introduced at the end of Genesis chapter 11, as the son of Terah, who took his family from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan. They only got so far, before they settled in Haran, and Terah eventually died there. Then Genesis 12 opens with the word of the Lord coming to Abram, telling him to leave that country, and go to the land which He would show him (the land of Canaan which would become Israel) and God would bless him, and make him a great nation. History tells us that Abram DID believe God; he went to the Promised Land, and God DID create the nation of Israel from him. The people that John the Baptist was speaking to that day in the wilderness were his descendants. And he warned them NOT to say “We have Abraham for our father” when they came to him. That could have referred to any of several things:

— First, “Abraham” represented the whole nation of Israel; the people of God. It was Abraham that God selected out of all the people on earth, in Genesis 12 and said that He would make him a father of many nations. So Israel as the “chosen people” of God began with Abraham. There were undoubtedly some of those coming to John who thought: “Of course I will be saved from this generation; I am of the nation of Israel.” But John said you can’t trust that. Don’t say “I have Abraham as my father” — I am of the nationality of Israel.

— But Second, “Abraham” also represented not only a nation, but also a religion. The Jewish religion began with him. There were, again, undoubtedly some who were coming to John who considered that since they were Jews, God would save them. But John warned them: “DO NOT say “We have Abraham for our father”, and think that they would be saved because they are Jews.

— and Third, “Abraham” was also the literal, physical ancestor for these people. Some of them perhaps thought, since I am one of Abraham’s offspring, surely I will be saved. But John admonished them: “DO NOT say, ‘We have Abraham for our father” — their physical descent from Abraham would not save them.

ONLY a genuine genuine repentance and faith, which demonstrated that it was real by its fruit, as we saw last week, would really save them.

And as Paul said later in the New Testament, these things were written here in Matthew for OUR benefit. If you think about it, if God had meant this message only for those people who came out to John in the wilderness that day, there would have no need to record it at all! Why have it written down? But God DID have it written, and preserved it through 20 centuries, and translated into our language, for the specific reason that He wanted US to hear this, because it applies to US just as much as it did to them! The truths that John proclaimed that day have not changed:
— Your nationality won’t save you
— Your religious background won’t say you
— Your family heritage won’t save you

Let’s look just briefly at how none of these three things will save US today, just as they would not in John’s day:


There were undoubtedly people before John that day who thought they would be saved because they were of the nation of Israel. They were “God’s Country.” But John warned them not to trust that. Their nationality would not save them.

We need to be careful of the same thing. Your nationality will not save YOU either!

I have actually heard of people who were asked, “Are you going to heaven?” Who responded: “Of course I am; I am an American!” Folks, being an American won’t save you. America is not a “Christian nation” in the sense that everyone in it is a Christian nation. In a very real sense, there IS no such thing as a “Christian nation”; there are only nations in which individual people IN it are Christians. Now, there have been a number of attempts to establish a “state church” and a “Christian nation.” John Calvin tried to establish a Christian state in Geneva, Switzerland. Countries like Germany and Denmark still to this day have “state churches” that are the official religion of their countries. The state churches are supported by the taxpayers of their nations: in fact, 8% of a German’s income tax goes to support the state church. 65% of the German population “officially” belongs to the state church. But these state churches always fail. Virtually no one attends the state churches in Germany and Denmark. The pastors are all liberal and their churches are dead. Those countries may have an official “Christian religion” but the truth is, you can’t really have a “Christian nation”, only a nation in which there are a lot of Christian people. And the reason why is because salvation is not a “national” thing; it is an individual thing.

See, the Bible tells us that God made us all to know Him and fellowship with Him in His presence forever. But from the time of Adam & Eve on down to today, every one of us has sinned, and separated ourselves from the joy that God intended for us to have with Him. That’s why He sent Jesus to earth, to die on the cross, and pay for our sins, so that if we would repent of our sins, we could be forgiven and come back to Him and be saved by faith in Jesus, and know that we have a home in heaven with Him forever. BUT THAT DECISION IS AN INDIVIDUAL DECISION. The Bible says in Joshua: “choose you this day whom you will serve” — and each person must make their own, personal choice. A nation can’t choose your eternal destiny for you. Every person in every nation must choose for themselves. And thank God, you CAN choose for yourself. God does not discriminate on the basis of nationality.

There has been SO much controversy this week over Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration: does it discriminate against certain nations, or religions, and so on. Whether it does or not, one thing is true: GOD HAS NO DISCRIMINATION. He saves NO ONE on the basis of their nationality:
— You will be saved in America if you repent and trust Christ as your Savior, and you will be lost in America if you do not.
— You will be saved in Saudi Arabia if you repent of your sin and trust Christ, and you will be lost in Saudi Arabia if you do not.
— You will be saved in ISRAEL if you repent of your sin and trust Christ as your Savior, and you will be lost if you do not.

There is a misunderstanding on the part of many well-meaning people regarding Israel at this point. Many people who love the Jewish people because of their Biblical background mistakenly think that God is going to take all of them to heaven because they are of the nation of Israel. Listen: that is NOT true. YES, they were God’s chosen people to bring us the Commandments and the Law; YES they were the people from whom the Messiah came. YES, although there is debate among Biblical scholars, I still think that it is no accident of history that there is a nation of Israel over there after 2000 years; I believe that God has a special purpose for that country. BUT NO, being from the nation of Israel does NOT save a person. Jesus made it very clear in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” He did not say: “Unless you belong to the nation of Israel.” There is no exception for the nation of Israel. And there is no exception for the United States of America, either!

As Paul said in Romans 3, “there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace according to the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. He said “There is NO distinction”: Jew, Gentile, Roman, American, Saudi Arabian, German, Syrian, Chinese or Mexican. Your national background will not condemn you or save you before God. You must realize you are a sinner, and repent of your sin and trust the grace of God in Jesus Christ in order to be saved. Your national heritage has NOTHING to do with it. Your nationality will not save you.

Listen: you can die and go to hell just as quickly from America or Israel as you can from anywhere else in the world — and you WILL if you do not repent and follow Jesus as your Savior. Your nationality has nothing to do with it. Your national background will not save you.


There may have been others present that day when John was preaching who thought, “Well, John’s message here is good for all these lost pagans who worship at the Roman temple, but I am already going to heaven because I am a JEW! God had given the Jews the Old Testament revelation; He had given them the 10 Commandments; He had given them the sacrifices. There was “one God” Deuteronomy said, and He was THIERS!

But John said to them, “DO NOT suppose that you can say to yourselves, we have Abraham for our father.” DO NOT think that your Jewish religion, which began with God’s choice of Abraham, is going to save you.

God said in I Corinthians 10 that “our fathers” — the Jewish people — all went through the Red Sea; they all passed through the wilderness; they all ate the manna that God miraculously provided in the wilderness; and they all drank the water that came out of the rock. But :5 says “Nevertheless with most of them God was not well-pleased.” In other words, just because they were of the Jewish religion, and went through all these experiences, did NOT mean that they pleased God and were saved. Their religious background wouldn’t save them.

The Apostle Paul made this really clear in Philippians 3. He said he was “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the Law, a Pharisee …” but he said I had to count all those things as “loss” to gain Christ, and be given HIS righteousness to save him by faith. But his religious background and heritage wouldn’t save him.

In the same way, OUR religious background today will not save US either.

Last Sunday night we took what I call a “jet tour” of our Southern Baptist “Baptist Faith & Message” doctrinal statement for a good-sized group of folks who are interested in becoming members here at Pleasant Ridge. I am grateful for our beliefs, and for our religious heritage as Baptists. I was sprinkled as a baby in the Presbyterian church; I attended the Baptist church growing up; I moved over to the Nazarene church in high school because one my girlfriends went there; I looked around at several churches and beliefs when I was in high school and college — but I am a Southern Baptist today by CHOICE. I believe in the doctrines of the Baptist Faith & Message; I love our Southern Baptist Cooperative Program, where we can send a portion of every dollar that is given to our church to support missionaries in 120+ countries all over the world; I am thankful that we Southern Baptists have 6 of the 10 largest seminaries in the world. We have SO MUCH to be thankful for as a Southern Baptist denomination. And I don’t shy away from that. I don’t usually call us just “Pleasant Ridge”, I usually say “Pleasant Ridge BAPTIST”, because we are not a non-denominational church; we are not a community church; we are not an independent church; we are a SOUTHERN BAPTIST CHURCH, and that is reflected in our constitution and bylaws; in our beliefs, and our practices.

But saying all that folks, being a Southern Baptist does not save you. If you say you’re a Baptist, that’s wonderful — but I guarantee you, there’s a whole section reserved in hell for Baptists; for people who grew up in a “good old” Southern Baptist Church, who “made a decision” in a Southern Baptist Church; who got baptized in a Southern Baptist Church; who attended all those years in a Southern Baptist Church — and who died and went to HELL from a Southern Baptist Church — because they never did truly repent of their sin and follow Jesus as their Savior in that Southern Baptist Church! “Southern Baptist” means NOTHING in regard to salvation. You must personally repent of your sin and trust Jesus as your Savior & Lord in order to be saved. Your religious background — whatever it is — will not save you.


Most of these people John was preaching to were literally, physically descended from the MAN Abraham. He was not just “the father of their country” or the founder of their religion — they were literally descended from him — and they went to great lengths to prove it. Many of the Jews were obsessed with with genealogies that proved their heritage. Rabbi Hillel, one of the most famous Jewish rabbis just before the time of Christ, was well-known for being able to prove his genealogical lineage all the way back to King David. The Jews were proud of their family heritage. Remember Paul had said “I was of the tribe of Benjamin.” This kind of thing meant a lot to them.

But John the Baptist warned them: “DO NOT suppose that you can say to yourselves, we have Abraham for our father.” Their family genealogy would NOT save them. And it will not save us today any more than it did in John’s day. Your family background and heritage in the church — no matter what it is — means NOTHING as far as your actual, personal, salvation goes.

Now, let me be clear: having a Christian background in your family is one of the greatest blessings a person can have! When a mom and dad bring their children up in the ways of the Lord, and expose them to Christian truth, it can be one of the most positive factors in that child coming to the Lord.

I think of our grand daughters Lottie & Corley. We are so thankful to have them living close by us again! They were over at our house the other day, and Josh & Libby & Cheryl & I were sitting on the living room talking, and Lottie & Corley were playing just behind us, in what might have been considered a dining room before Cheryl turned it into a little “play area” for the girls, with baby dolls in their beds, and a little kitchen area, and some rocking chairs. While we were talking, I could hear Corley singing something behind me, and I turned around, and she was rocking her baby, and she was singing to it; the song “10,000 Reasons”: “Bless The Lord O My Soul, Oh my soul worship His holy name; sing like never before, O my soul, worship His holy name.” Where would she get an idea like that? She didn’t just make it up; Libby sings that song to the girls every night when she puts them to sleep. Corley was just passing on to her baby doll, what Libby has been doing every night for her.
Do not underestimate the power and the influence of actions like that. Bring your children to church; teach your children to read and memorize the word of God. Sing godly songs to them. Most importantly, LIVE a godly life before your family that doesn’t contradict your teaching! It is the greatest blessing that you can give your family.

BUT with all of that said, we have to understand that even the best family heritage will not save a child. Just like anyone else, my children and grandchildren must personally repent of their sins and follow Jesus as their Savior in order to be saved. I pray regularly for their salvation, because it doesn’t matter if they are the pastor’s children or grandchildren. You & I both know that there are plenty of examples of pastors’ kids in this world who show every evidence that they never knew Jesus as their Savior.
— Being a pastor’s kid doesn’t save you.
— Being the son or daughter or grand daughter of a deacon or a “pillar of the church” will not save you.
— Being related to a “Thomas” won’t save you — not Shawn Thomas nor Dewey Thomas!
— Being a Riddle won’t save you. Being a Miller or a Grindstaff or a Sain won’t save you. Being a Smith or a Burkhart won’t save you.

That’s why you must not take your kids’ salvation for granted. Your kids and grandkids aren’t just going to be saved because they are yours. That’s why we’ve to got to pray and weep for their salvation; that’s why we’ve got to keep them in church where they can learn the gospel. That’s why we have to share with them, and witness to them, and most importantly, LIVE THE LIFE in front of them that confirms the gospel, so they don’t reject our witness as hypocritical. Christian parent and grandparent, don’t take your child’s salvation for granted. They will not be saved just because they’re from your family.

And you will not either. It does not matter what family you belong to; it does not matter what rich Christian background your family has; it does not matter if every single other person in your family for the last 10 generations were all saved — YOU will still be lost, if you do not repent of your sins and follow Jesus as YOUR Savior. There are no “family plans’ for heaven. There are no “group passes” into the Kingdom of God. NEVER, ever, say to yourself, I am of this family, so I am going to heaven. That’s a sure way to hell. Your family background won’t save you.

I’ll give you a little “inside scoop” this morning. I had not originally planned to share this message. I had outlined what I thought would be the messages for Matthew 3 and sent it to Jim so he could plan worship music for the weeks ahead — but this message wasn’t on that list. But when I read and prayed over this passage this week, I just had a conviction: we can’t pass this verse up. Someone needs this. Somebody who’s going to be here today is trusting the wrong thing for your salvation: maybe you’re trusting your national origin; maybe you’re trusting your religious background; maybe you are trusting your family heritage — or maybe it’s something else — maybe “how good you are” or how much you help others — or a thousand other things. Please hear God’s word for you today: this is for someone here: there is nothing that will save you from your sins and take you to heaven but personal repentance from from your sins, and personal faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord & Savior. I am standing this morning in the spiritual footsteps of John the Baptist, giving you this word from God: “DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART …” that anything else will save you, because it won’t. If you’ve never done it, why don’t you trust Jesus as your Lord & Savior today?

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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1 Response to “Three Things That Won’t Save You” (Matthew 3:9-10 message)

  1. Carrie says:

    Thank you for this. I was referencing this scripture and your sermon here speaks to exactly what I am using the text for. I appreciate your words and call for true repentence for salvation. May this be viewed and read by anyone who needs to see it.

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