In the past two blogs, we have seen that two aspects of the human condition (our lack of knowledge and our difficulty in knowing what is true) raise major questions about the Christian doctrine of salvation. However, Christians will argue that at times God’s ways will be difficult to understand (Isaiah 55:8-9). It is to be expected that finite, material humans would have difficulty understanding an infinite, spiritual, omniscient, and omnipotent being. Christians maintain that even though our logic tells us one thing, we must believe the Bible if the Bible tells us something else. The Bible is the inspired word of God and it makes sense to trust the one who created the universe over any other source, including our own finite logic. What we will do in this blog is to put aside the questions we have raised and determine what the entire Bible has to say about salvation.
What the Bible says about salvation is a lengthy subject so in this blog I will only summarize my conclusions. I do not expect you to take my word for what I say so I am including the Biblical backup for my conclusions under a page entitled “What the Bible Says about Salvation” listed in the blog heading.
Our current understanding of the doctrine of salvation is so connected with Jesus that we neglect to consider how people were saved before Jesus came to this world. Understanding how God dealt with humans over time will provide more insight into God’s plan of salvation. God’s dealing with the people of the Old Testament period teaches us that:
* God wants us to worship only him – Joshua 24:19-20
* The original sin was a disobedience to God’s command, not a failure to believe in God – Genesis 3
* God seemed to be very concerned about the behavior of people. God grieved over making man because of his wickedness and wickedness implies a failure to meet God’s standard of conduct – Genesis 6:5-6
* God punishes sin so atonement for sin is necessary. This atonement was through sacrifices – Leviticus 17:11
* God considered conduct more important than sacrifices which were established by God for the forgiveness of sins and which Christians teach foreshadowed Christ’s death and shedding of his blood for our sins – Isaiah 1:11-17
* God rewards people according to what their deeds deserve and this judgment involves people’s motivations and one’s pattern of behavior (persistence) – Ezekiel 33:12-16
Throughout the Old Testament, God consistently places the highest priority on obedience to his commands. There is no place in the Old Testament where God places obedience subordinate to beliefs or sacrifices. Why is this so?
However, it must be noted that belief is an essential component of the system of sacrifices and the code of conduct prescribed by God. The children of Israel would need to believe that God existed, that God had a code of conduct for them, and that a sacrifice would result in atonement for their sins when they failed to live up to God’s code of conduct. If they did not believe, they would not live by God’s code of conduct nor offer sacrifices. By the same token, if they did believe but did not live by God’s code of conduct or offer the prescribed sacrifices, God threatened and did inflict punishment.
The New Testament’s teachings about salvation parallel that of the Old Testament with one exception: belief in Jesus. When the Gospels and Epistles talk about how we obtain salvation, they include the following:
* Repentance of our sins or humility – Luke 18:11-14, 2 Corinthians 7:10
* Belief in Jesus – John 3:18, Acts 4:12
* Belief in God – John 5:24, Acts 10:34-35
* Our conduct or actions – Matthew 16:27, Romans 2:6-10
* Our pattern of behavior or persistence – Matthew 10:22, Hebrews 10:26-27
* Our talents or the use of what is given us – Luke 16:9-11
There is no dispute the Bible teaches that salvation is through belief or faith in Jesus’ death for our sins. However, there are over 70 verses in the New Testament that state salvation is through other avenues listed above. If belief in Jesus is the only way to heaven, why did God include these verses in the Bible? Either we must ignore these passages (that is essentially telling God we know better than he does) or we must deal with the issues they raise. If we ignore these passages, what is to prevent us from ignoring any other part of the Bible with which we disagree or have a problem? If we start down that road, we might as well ignore the entire Bible. God put all these statement in the Bible for a reason. It is up to us to determine what that reason is. And that is what we will start to do in our next blog.