Saturday, September 13, 2014

What is Salvation?

Eternal life.  Salvation.  Heaven.  Life-after.  The thin door.  Millennial Kingdom.  Life forever. 

Acts 22:16 ESV And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

This topic has been on my mind as of late.  It is the great assurance of Christians, of our souls, in resurrected bodies, living forever on a renewed Earth.  The world mocks us for such a belief, such a reason, and insists on a material existence.  But we know the miraculous does in fact occur.  The reason is not so obscure or far fetched when examined. 

We evangelical intelligentsia's tend to call upon the reasonably minded to consider the evidence.  But just as much we call upon the sleepy American/western churches to realize that Christianity, Jesus Christ, the Bible, it's not just a nice community, or a wonderful message, it's the actual real truth of life, reality, existence, and everything.  It's real

Since it's real, and right, and true, the perfect ethic, the perfect way of life, and the perfect salvation for all who would hazard investigation, how then shall we live?  Yes, I did steal that line from Francis Schaeffer, but it fits!  That's the call today.

But what about the future?  Our existence doesn't evaporate in 80-90 years.  It goes on beyond that.  It goes far beyond that.  I imagine after 10,000 years in the next life, I will be just as glad then as I am now to have chosen to step into reasonable faith in Jesus Christ.  80 years to choose.  That's what I've got, you've got, everyone's got.  That's a long time.  But what's longer, is the time someone will have to consider their choice to reject God, as they live in total disconnection from him, forever.  Imagine that.  The pain, the regret, the shame, consciously living in that terrible state of disconnection from God.  I wonder how I could endure it for a few minutes, or a full hour.  But someone who chooses that place, the place Jesus called "hell" or "gehenna" they will be there always.  After 200 years of that, no hope.  Another 500 years goes by.  Still no way to leave, choice is made, willful rejection.  10,000 years later?  then another 100,000 years?  Still nowhere to go.  Just sit there.  500 billion years later.. still there.  No escape, no exit.  And no hope of ever being redeemed by Christ.  Such a terrible thing.  Yet perfectly just.  God has not rejected that person.  God offered that person a simple formula for eternal closeness and peace with him.  That person said no again and again and again.  Eventually God stops offering, and gives them what they wanted: disconnection from him.  Nothing to do with him. 

People ask me how a good God could send people to hell.  I say, as CS Lewis wrote, God doesn't send anyone to hell.  A person chooses hell by rejecting God, rejecting the obvious evidence, rejecting the powerful words, and the constant invitations from believers. 

That is not my choice.  My choice is Jesus Christ.  And how he is revealed in the pages of the Bible.  The Bible, a book of impeccable authority and scholarly authenticity.  The Bible's purposeful message is to reveal the road to eternal life.  That way is Jesus Christ. 

The purpose of this post is to see if we can take a look at the Bible as a full revelation when taking considering the idea of salvation.  What does it mean to be saved?  Are there conditions?  What is the full sort of "theology" or studious way of understanding salvation as it's revealed in the Bible?  Let's have a look.

John 3:16 (NIV) For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 is a good place to start.  God offers a gift, Jesus Christ out of love as a simple solution for the problem of sin.

John 3:5 (ESV) Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."

Rebirth, baptism are part of salvation.

Luke 13:1-9 (NIV) Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”

Repentance is required as part of salvation.  Most good teachers will acknowledge this.  Is the doctrine of eternal security compatible with scripture?  Nope.  If you aren't active in repentance, and bearing fruit for the kingdom, you'll perish.  I choose to agree with Jesus Christ, not the world or even the confused church of today.  

Romans 10:9 (ESV) Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 

Belief is an incredibly prominent theme within the scriptures in regard to salvation.  Truly it is the primary requirement for salvation, believing in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and his literal resurrection.  Belief in the heart, as said in Romans 10.  Repentance by itself is useless, might as not repent at all if you don't know, trust in, and commune with Jesus Christ.  

Acts 4:12 (ESV) confirms sole reliance on Jesus Christ: "And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” 

Universalism is becoming an all too common theme in the churches today.  "Jesus Christ is just one way of many to God."  That statement is false in the highest regard.  The scriptures attest to this.  Jesus Christ said "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me."  I was talking to a coworker who was telling me about her Buddhist friend.  I asked her if she believed in Buddhism.  She said yeah, it's just like Christianity, another way to heaven, to God.  False, false, false.  That is not the case.  It wouldn't even make sense.  In Buddhism there is no god, and life is about reincarnating over and over across the ages to pay off karmic debt.  In Hinduism there are over 300 million different gods.  It doesn't make sense.  But try telling that to many Christians so in love with the idea of all inclusive religions and really, anything the world is saying.  Whatever is popular and whatever people like to hear.  That is not the way of Jesus Christ.  That is contradictory foolishness.  Ask a Christian in Iraq, Pakistan, or Iran how tolerant and "basically the same" other religions are.  They'd tell you that Islam is a constant threat to their very lives, where the call is "convert or die."  Ask a member of the Dalit caste of Indian society how great Hinduism has been, and they'd most certainly tell you that India is corrupt and the lower castes have nothing.  Contemporary scholars have argued that British occupiers brought the caste system to India, but that is false, it was simply utilized by the British to control the population more readily

Luke 13:22-25 (NIV) 22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

Fascinating teaching by Jesus regarding salvation.  Won't hear about this one in the hyper-grace gospel.  

Mark 8:34-38 (NIV)
34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life[b] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Once again, how is Jesus so amazingly awesome?  I mean wow.  He just lays it out.  It's a very stark reminder that I can't base my doctrine of salvation on only one book, say Romans, which is entirely grace through faith alone.  What about what Jesus Christ himself said?  What about what's recorded in the Gospels?  What about the book of James?  What about Revelation Chapters 1 to 4?  

The Bible is a full and complete revelation regarding salvation and pulling too much from any one book is unwise.  The church of the United States I believe in reacting heavily to a works gospel and a legalism of the past that was dead, entirely without love and something very ugly to behold.  But in the reaction of grace through faith, are we losing the necessity of repentance and radical forgiveness?
Luke 17:1-4 (NIV) Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.
“If your brother or sister[a] sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Jesus taught radical forgiveness.  Incredible repentance.  

Matthew 25:14-30 (NLT)14 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15 He gave five bags of silver[a] to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.

16 “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.
19 “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’
21 “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together![b]
22 “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’
23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’
24 “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’
26 “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’
28 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Once again, allow me to obliterate the false doctrine of "eternal security."  I once heard Mark Driscoll say "we don't get our doctrine from parables."  There are many places to look when developing doctrines, and yes the parables of God himself, Jesus Christ, straight from the mouth are most certainly included in doctrine.  Sorry, no way to get around the parable of the three servants or the parable of the vine and the branches (John 15).  

Before we move on let's look at Matthew 25:14-30.  Three servants, representing followers of Jesus Christ.  The master is Jesus, and when he leaves on his trip, that represents when Jesus Christ ascends to heaven, his present location.  The three servants are given silver, probably representing spiritual gifts, ways in which they may serve the church or share the gospel.  The first two servants invested their gifts, the silver and made some profits.  Imagine two people living their lives on Earth as Christians, and they die and meet the Lord Jesus Christ.  The first servant was a dedicated church member, served on several ministries, occasionally talked to friends about Jesus, and cared for his family well.  In so doing he made a profit, and when he meets Jesus Christ he is welcomed as a true servant of God, and he celebrates with Jesus.  The second servant say was an occasional church goer, he prayed regularly, loved Jesus, here and there talked about his faith, went to some conferences, and later on his life he helped his daughter to know Christ.  Wonderful, excellent, again his crop isn't as big, but Jesus doesn't require every person to be a super-dedicated world missionary.  This second servant did his part, lived well, and now he is welcomed as a true follower into the eternal kingdom.  Then there is the 3rd servant.  He was baptized a Christian, believed in his heart, but later on in life he fell away from the practice of his faith.  He didn't attend church for years, didn't pray, and never mentioned Jesus even in the most casual or serious conversation.  He hid his gifts away, did not use any of them at all.  And in so doing, he is disconnected from God.  And rightly so.   Verse 27 here is interesting too.  It would suggest, at least in my view, that a Christian follower of Jesus Christ who even just barely generates a little bit of goodness for the kingdom, just a little bit of interest would find himself welcomed as well into the kingdom.  

In conclusion, let's look at Romans 8:1-11 (NLT)
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power[a] of the life-giving Spirit has freed you[b] from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.[c] So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.
But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life[d] because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

In the end, it's all about faith in Jesus Christ.  Just as Abraham trusted God, and believed what God said, so we Christians trust that after death, Jesus Christ will raise us.  And we trust that in Christ our sins are gone.  Faith is trust.  Trust is faith.  After faith in Christ we receive the Holy Spirit's indwelling, and the Spirit guides us, empowers us, and directs our thoughts and actions.  It's a beautiful thing, justification by faith.  That is the central message of salvation.  Jesus Christ is our salvation.  Yet it is a journey, like the Pilgrim's Progress.  We are gifted grace through faith, and we journey through the world, in the world but not of the world, and at journeys end we have acted as a blessing to others and to ourselves.  We have agreed with God and done our best to repent (have a change of mind) and be active in sanctification (becoming a better person), growing in grace.   

In the final analysis, let me say this:  The purpose here was to look at the full revelation of salvation.  The last thing I want is for Christians to question their salvation on my account.  My desire is that Christians would continue in the faith until the last day. Matthew 24:13 (ESV) says: "But the one who endures to the end will be saved."  My purpose here is the continuation of faith until the last day.  We in the United States like 3 step approaches, 5 steps to success, ordering and receiving and being done there.  The Christian faith is a lifelong journey.  The Christian faith is a lifestyle change for peace.  So fear not, and live to the very last day as a devout follower of the great savior Yeshua, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the risen Lord.

Luke 12:32 (NIV) "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Related Posts:
What is God Like?
God's work in the Human Heart 
2 Timothy 3:1-5 Marks of the Last Days 
Justification by Faith Alone, but What is Faith?  
Daybreak: Examining the Problem of Pain