Lordship Salvation

Last week we raised questions concerning the belief that salvation occurs at one point in time, namely when people profess faith in Jesus.  Those who believe salvation is a profession of faith in Jesus criticize those of us who believe that salvation is a process of becoming more like God for holding a ‘lordship salvation’ that adds demands of obedience to the simple response of faith”. [1]

Why do some consider that adding obedience to salvation is in error?  It is because of the belief that salvation is a gift from God and we can do nothing to earn it.  Requiring obedience for salvation appears to add an element of us earning our salvation.

The requirement that we become like God does not equate to us earning our salvation.  We had nothing to do with Jesus dying for our sins.  We did not request it.  If we were to be reconciled to God, he had to take the first step because we certainly would not do it.  Additionally, there was no claim we could present to God that would justify him taking such action.  It was solely God’s decision to make an effort to bring us back to him.

Once God decided to provide a way for us to return to him, he had to decide on a method.  One step was Christ dying for our sins which satisfied God’s need for justice.  But God also requires something from us.  Some believe what he requires is simply that we believe in Jesus’ death for our sins while other believe we must begin the process of becoming like God.

There are many problems with belief being the only requirement of salvation and we have detailed those in this blog and in my book.  To summarize:

  1. A majority of people who have ever lived has never heard of Christ and therefore have had no chance of being saved. Is this the action of a loving God?
  2. God made us finite. Being finite means we do not have definitive proof of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins.  How can God judge us for not believing if he did not give us the ability to know it is true?
  3. There are over 70 verses in the Bible which state salvation is through means other than believing in Jesus. Why did God place all these verses in the Bible?

Are there any problems with salvation being the change of our soul so it becomes like God?  If you are aware of any problems, I would like to hear from you about them.

Christian doctrine maintains that we are sinful creatures which means we are opposed to that for which God stands.  If this is true, does it not make sense that if we want to spend eternity with God that God would insist we begin the process of becoming more like him while we are here on earth?

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[1]   Dictionary of Christianity in America, edited by Daniel G. Reid, Robert D. Linder, Bruce L. Shelley and Harry S. Stout. © 1990 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA; published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.

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From What Are We Saved?

The doctrine of salvation is a major doctrine within the Christian faith and so it is essential we understand it.  What does it mean to be saved?  Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines save as:  To rescue from danger, from possible harm.  It gives the theological definition as:  To deliver from the power and consequences of sin.

What is sin?  Webster’s defines it as “a transgression of divine law; a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle.  Thomas Aquinas states:  “Sins are actions.” [1]  The original sin of Adam and Eve was a failure to follow God’s commands, not a failure to believe in God.

However, the Dictionary of Christianity in America states that:

Some evangelicals have maintained that salvation is granted to those who have trusted Christ for salvation at any point in their lives, regardless of their subsequent behavior or lack of faith. Those who show no visible signs of redemption, known as “carnal Christians,” nevertheless enjoy the benefits of an eternally secure salvation. [2]

These evangelicals evidently believe that salvation is not deliverance from the power of sin because they believe a “carnal Christian”, who obviously succumbs to the power of sin throughout their lives, is saved.

So what is salvation?  Is it deliverance from the power of sin (a process that will take our entire lives) or is it deliverance from the consequences of sin (eternal punishment in hell)?  Is salvation a new life God has planned for us, a new life that is evidenced by a change in our actions or is it a “get out of jail (hell) free card that we get when we, at one point in our lives, admit our faults and profess faith in Christ?

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[1]   Timothy McDermott, editor, St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, Norte Dame, IN:  Christian Classics, 1989, p. 255.

[2]   Dictionary of Christianity in America, edited by Daniel G. Reid, Robert D. Linder, Bruce L. Shelley and Harry S. Stout. © 1990 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA; published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.

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Awe

Awe is defined as an “overwhelming and bewildering sense of connection with a startling universe that is usually far beyond the narrow band of our consciousness”. [1]  Webster’s defines it as “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.   Awe is an emotion that does not receive much attention these days.  Why?  These days it is all about me.  We are so immersed with our electronic devices; we are so wrapped up in Face Book, Twitter, etc. that anything beyond our narrow interests does not gather much attention.

Astronomy and the rest of the sciences can provide an antidote to such an attitude.  The French scientist Henri Poincaré notes astronomy gives us perspective on our place in the universe and as he puts it “this is something which cannot cost too dear”. [2] Astronomy teaches us two things about ourselves.

First, compared to the universe, we are so miniscule; we are not even a speck of dust.  One cannot study this incredible universe of ours and not have a feeling of insignificance.  The immensity of the universe, the endless variety of planets, stars, nebula, and other astronomical objects, and the processes that we observe that we still do not totally understand should prompt the feeling of awe in all of us.

Second, despite of our insignificance compared to the universe, we somehow are able to at least partly comprehend this incredible universe.  How is this possible?  Maybe the author of Psalms is right–we are made with just a bit of God lacking in us (Psalms 8).

The problem is we do not take courses in science so we have no understanding how incredible our universe is.  Our light polluted cities blot out the night sky and most young people have never seen the Milky Way; they have no concept of what the night sky looks like other than what they see in pictures. The result is that we do not appreciate the incredible universe in which we live.

Bill Gates said in an interview in Rolling Stone magazine “The mystery and the beauty of the world is overwhelming amazing, and there’s no scientific explanation of how it came about”. [3]  And as we lose our awe of the universe, as we lose our ability and desire to observe and appreciate the natural world, we are losing one way of knowing about God (Romans 1:18-22).

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[1]   Paul Pearsall as quoted by William Sheehan, “The Importance of Awe”, Sky & Telescope, March 2016, p. 84.

[2]   Henri Poincaré, The Foundations of Science, Lancaster, PA:  The Science Press, 1946, p.289.

[3]   As quoted in Dispatches – Quotables, World Magazine, April 19, 2014, p. 16.  From an interview in Rolling Stone, March 27, 2014.

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An Example of Faith

Sometimes faith seems to be an abstract concept suited only to scholarly discussion of religion and philosophy.  But faith does have an impact on our everyday existence and I ran across an example in an aviation magazine.

Randy Rizor is an Atlanta physician who has made medical volunteer flights to Haiti for over 21 years.  After all these years Rizor admits that Haiti is worse now than when he started. He states:  “On a macro scale, our efforts here have been a failure.  We’ve been doing this work for decades, and we can’t show that we’ve moved the needle in a positive direction”. [1]

God does not require that we change the world; he only requires that we, like the Old Testament characters listed in Hebrews 11, faithfully strive for the goal God has set for us.  The author of Hebrews tells us what our responsibilities are.

. . .let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. . . Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV

But there is a positive way of looking at what we need to do.  Dr. Rizor states that on a micro level he is helping “real people whose lives are better because we came and helped”. [2]  If we live our lives the way God wants us to live, then we can make a difference in other people’s lives and if enough of us do that we will make a difference in our world.

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[1]   Dave Hirschman, “One patient at a time”, AOPA Pilot, August 2015, p. 76.

[2]   Ibid., p. 76.

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Not Ashamed to be Our God

The past two postings have been about faith.  In reading what Hebrews has to say about this topic, I came across a statement that struck me as being a different way at looking at our relationship with God.

“Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God. . .”  (Hebrews 11:16 ESV)

Most of what the Bible says about being ashamed concerns us humans either being ashamed of what we did or what we did not do.  There are only three times in the Bible where it states that God is ashamed of us humans (Genesis 6:6-7, Mark 8:38 and Luke 9:26).

Why was God not ashamed to be called the God of the people listed in Hebrews 11?  Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice, Noah built an ark, Abraham left his homeland, and Moses cast his lot with the children of Israel rather than the household of Pharaoh to list a few of the individuals mentioned.  All those mentioned took action sometimes at great cost to themselves.  They took these actions based upon faith because they did not have proof God would fulfill his promises nor did they, in their lifetime, receive what God had promised.

The author of Hebrews then summarizes how we should emulate the examples of faith that are listed in Hebrews 11.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)

The question each of us must answer is:  Is God ashamed that we call him our God?  Will God be ashamed of us because we did not have the correct belief or because our actions are so different from God’s character?

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Faith Is Not Having

The last posting about faith was prompted by an article by Andrée Seu Peterson in World Magazine.  She mentions as aspect of faith of which I had not thought.  She observes:  “In fact, psychologically speaking . . .faith is always only exercised in the not having.  Once a person receives, the faith, in a sense, ends. . .” [1]  The definition of faith is:  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  (Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV) so once we have proof, once we know, once we have possession of what we desire, we no longer need faith.

Peterson’s article raised one other question in my mind.  In the past posting we discussed faith in the context of the fact that we are finite which means we must have faith to believe in God and Jesus as well as certain aspects of our relationship with them.  An additional aspect of our faith concerns the promises God has made to us.  One promise Jesus made was that if we have at least the faith of a grain of mustard seed, we can get what we desire (Luke 17:6).  Jesus also states we only have to ask God and we will receive that for which we ask.  He states that God wants to give us “good things” (Matthew 7:7-11).  So Is faith also about getting stuff?  The prosperity theology seems to indicate that it does.

The problem is that we do not always get that for which we pray. Hebrews 11 is the hall of fame of faith and it lists many who “died in faith, not having received the things promised“ (Hebrews 11:13 ESV).  So when we pray for the salvation of a loved one, we must recognize that God will not violate the free will of that person.  If that person continues to reject God’s offer of salvation, our prayers will not be answered regardless of how much faith we have.  We might have just interviewed for our dream job and prayed that we get that job but unless we have the education, knowledge, experience, and temperament for that job we will not get it no matter how much faith we have.

God does want us to prosper but his first priority is not our physical wealth but our spiritual wealth.  The ultimate purpose of faith is not about getting what we want, it is aligning our soul so it becomes like God.  Once our soul is aligned with God what we desire and ask for will change.

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[1]   Andrée Seu Peterson, “Faith is the thing”, World Magazine, February 21, 2015, p. 71.

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What is Faith?

What is faith?  When asked many would recall the humorous story of the little boy who replied:  It is believing in something you know is not true.  As with most humor, there is an element of truth in this little boy’s statement for faith is the certainty that something is true even if we do not have proof for it.  Faith says there are things beyond our current knowledge and understanding that are true.  As the Bible tells us:  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  (Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV)

In this blog we have repeatedly emphasized that we are finite and we have explored how being finite impacts various Christian doctrines.  Being finite is why faith is essential.  We must have faith because we do not know everything; we must have faith because we are so limited in all aspects of our lives.  As Timothy McDermott says in his commentary on Summa Theologiæ:  “Faith and hope are virtues of this life only, for in themselves they carry an element of imperfection:  in the life to come they will be replaced by other gifts of God’s friendship, vision replacing faith and possession hope”. [1]  Aquinas states:  Faith “resembles knowing in giving firm assent, but resembles doubting, suspecting and holding opinions in having no finished vision of the truth” [2]

So what is faith?  Aquinas believes that faith “is an act of mind not determined by reason but by will.” [3]  God has given us free will.  It is up to us to decide how we live our lives and what kind of world we want to create.  Because we are finite, we need help in this endeavor and we find such help in Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV).

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[1]   Timothy McDermott, editor, St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, Norte Dame, IN:  Christian Classics, 1989, p. 327.

[2]   McDermott, p. 331.

[3]   McDermott, p. 331.

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Political and Religious Discourse

Janie B. Cheaney’s article “The real idiocracy” in World Magazine is spot on in describing what passes as discourse in politics these days.  We don’t discuss ideas we congratulate ourselves on how right we are and we note how sad it is that everyone who disagrees with us is wrong.  Anyone who dares to question our ideas we call names and characterize them as lacking in some intellectual or emotional function.

My question is:  Is discourse within the Christian community the same in regards to our theology?  If someone raises questions about, for example the doctrine of the trinity, do we consider those questions or do we label such a person a heretic and ignore them?

Everyone agrees that we are finite which means we are fallible yet somehow we believe our doctrine is infallible.  How can that be?  The reality is that our doctrine is fallible.  All the different Christian religions and denominations throughout history that have held very different beliefs prove that.  What we should have learned from history and human nature is that our search for God’s truth can never end.  Instead of ignoring questions about our theology we should engage in a meaningful discourse with other Christians.

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[1]   Janie B. Cheaney, “The real idiocracy”, World Magazine, May 28, 2016, p. 24.

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Marriage

The apostle Paul, in Romans 7:1-6 and Ephesians 5:22-33, compares the relationship in a marriage to the relationship of Christ to those who follow him.  The Old Testament prophets also compared a marriage relationship to Israel’s relationship with God (e.g. Hosea).

What is a marriage?  Webster’s defines it as:  “The social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc.”  Is a marriage just the ceremony?  Is a couple married who exchange marriage vows but who continue to live their lives the same as before they were married?  They might be married in a legal sense but are they truly married?  Would that marriage last long?

So why do we Christians think that salvation is only making a commitment to Christ?  Why do we think that we can continue to live our lives the same way we lived them before we make a commitment to Christ and still consider ourselves saved?  Yet that is what our doctrine of salvation teaches—we only have to believe to be saved and no change is required.

Just as a marriage is more than saying a few words at a ceremony, so too is salvation more than just professing a belief in Jesus and his death for our sin.

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Criticism

None of us like to be criticized because it implies a failure on our part.  However, all of us, including us Christians, are finite.  We also are less than perfect.  This means we will make mistakes.  How do we handle those mistakes and the criticism that sometimes follows?  Joel Belz describes how some do.

Too many Christian leaders and too many Christian organizations seem to believe than an open forum for criticism jeopardizes their believability.  So they sit on the facts and stifle appropriate discussion.  They clam up and shut off the flow of information.  In the process they forget that light always trumps darkness.  Truth, by God’s order of things, always beats out ignorance. [1]

My question is:  Do we hold our theology to the same standard?  If questions arise about a particular point of theology, do we have an open discussion or do we ignore the issue?  In this blog and in my book, The Renovation of Our Soul, we have raised questions about the doctrine of salvation.  What has been interesting is that most Christians with whom I have discussed these questions (including some pastors) either have not asked them or ignore them because they do not have an answer.  Why?  If “truth, by God’s order of things, always beats out ignorance” should we not make an effort to resolve these questions about salvation?

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[1]   Joel Belz, “Absorbing the punches”, World, March 7, 2015, p. 5.

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