Salvation

Christians constantly talk about salvation and being saved but what exactly is salvation? The theological definition of salvation, according to Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, is: “Deliverance from the power and penalty of sin”. The problem is this definition does not tell us how we obtain this deliverance.

Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary in BibleSoft’s PC Study Bible gives us more details on what salvation is:

The salvation that comes through Christ may be described in three tenses: past, present, and future. When a person believes in Christ, he is saved (Acts 16:31). But we are also in the process of being saved from the power of sin (Romans 8:13; Philippians 2:12). Finally, we shall be saved from the very presence of sin (Romans 13:11; Titus 2:12-13). God releases into our lives today the power of Christ’s resurrection (Romans 6:4) and allows us a foretaste of our future life as His children (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:14). Our experience of salvation will be complete when Christ returns (Hebrews 9:28) and the kingdom of God is fully revealed (Matthews 13:41-43).

So why does most of Christianity only emphasize the first aspect of salvation—belief in Christ? Are the other two aspects of salvation of no consequence? Why did God include these other aspects of salvation in the Bible?

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The Gospel

In this blog we maintain that when we stand before the judgment seat of God everyone will be judged based upon the knowledge they had and how well they lived up to that knowledge—did they fear God and do what was right (Acts 10:34-35). Because of this belief, we are often asked why Christians should share the gospel with others since belief in Jesus and his work for us is not essential to go to heaven.

The definition of “gospel” is the good news. The good news is that Jesus died for our sins; he bore the burden of all of our sins past, present and future. We do not need to worry about doing something to atone for those sins. We are free from our sins and the only thing we need to worry about is what kind of person we want to be—do we want to be like God or do we want to continue to follow our own sinful, selfish nature. Here again Jesus provides us with an example of the new life God wants us to live.

So why would we not want to share this good news about what Jesus has done for us and about the example he provides for us? When something good happens to us, we share it with everyone. Why not what Jesus has done for us?

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A Resurrection Theology

The book I am reading, The Sun in the Church, mentions that the early Christians were more interested in celebrating the resurrection of Jesus than his death. [1]  Even today, Easter Sunday is celebrated more than Good Friday.

So why does our theology emphasize the death of Christ for our sins and barely mention the resurrection?  Why is the symbol of Christianity the cross and not the empty tomb?  Back in July 2011 this blog quoted James A. Fowler who asked why we do not have a resurrection theology.

The answer is because it is easier to live a crucified Christ theology (we just ask God to forgive us our sins) than it is to live a resurrection theology (changing our soul so it becomes like God).  Christ is our example.  He died for our sins but he did more than secure our forgiveness, he was raised to a new life and he wants us to experience that new life as well.

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[1]   J. L. Heilbron, The Sun in the Church, Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 27.

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To read most of the popular press, religion has been at war with science since the time of Galileo.  The fact is that most religious organizations have never been opposed to science and in fact promoted science.  This is illustrated in a book I am reading—The Sun in the Church by J. L. Heilbron.  He states that the Catholic Church gave more financial support to astronomy over six centuries (late Middle Ages thru the Enlightenment) than any other institution.  Of course the reason for this generosity was the Church’s effort to determine a precise date for Easter but the Church was using science in this effort. [1]  Many cathedrals were used as observatories—a hole in the roof and a meridian line on the floor was used to tell time and determine the precise length of the year. [2]  The Church supported geography because it need to know where to spread the gospel. [3]

Part of the reason some people criticize the positions religion has taken concerning science in the past is because they are judging religion based upon our current knowledge of science, not based upon the scientific knowledge that was available in times past.  I just read a book review in Sky and Telescope about Setting Aside All Authority.  This is a new translation of Giovanni Battista Riccioli’s New Almagest (written in 1651) in which he discusses the arguments for and against heliocentrism (the planets revolve around the sun).  At that time, heliocentrism could not explain all the observations made.  On a strictly empirical basis and given the knowledge available at that time, geocentrism (the entire sky revolved around the earth) was as plausible as heliocenrism.

Sometimes this mindset about religion being at war with science gets old.  Religion at times disagrees with the theories of science but theories are not facts.  Demonizing those who disagree with your theories is a very unscientific way of trying to win a debate.  Facts are a much better method.

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[1]   J. L. Heilbron, The Sun in the Church, Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1999, p. 3.

[2]   Ibid., p. 4.

[3]   Ibid., p. 78.

[4]   S. N. Johnson-Roehr, “Science vs. Science”, Sky & Telescope, October 2015, p. 65.

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God’s Character

In this blog, we make the assertion that salvation is not through belief in Jesus and his death and resurrection for our sins but rather by changing our soul so it becomes like God.  In my discussion with Christians, they raise the following three objections.

God is sovereign and can do whatever he wants which includes making salvation only through belief in Jesus (e.g. Paul, in Romans 9:14-21, states that God will have mercy on whomever he wants).  However, II Peter 3:9 states that God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.  Once again Christians must read and interpret the entire Bible and not just pick out verses that suit their theology.  That God is sovereign and can do whatever he wants is without question.  That God is a God of love and justice is also without question.  God will not act contrary to his character.  If that is true how can God condemn people to hell for eternity even though they have never heard of Jesus or they do not have sufficient information to convince them of Jesus’ reality?  He cannot and therefore our theology of salvation must change to match the character of God.

Ignorance is no excuse.  Romans 1:18-20 states that all men are without excuse because God’s eternal power and divine nature can be clearly seen and understood though nature.  Ignorance of the law is no excuse in our society because there are ways we can find out what the law states—we can search the web, go to a library or talk to a police officer, judge, or elected official.  We do not have that option in regards to Jesus and his death and resurrection for our sins.  God made us finite and knowing the reality of an event that has occurred only once in human history is difficult.  One other point:  The Romans 1 passage refers to belief in God, not belief in Jesus and his death and resurrection for our sins.

People are not condemned to hell because they do not believe in Jesus but because they have a sin problem.  While this might be the case, it still does not speak highly of God.  God has a solution to this sin problem through the person of Jesus.  The question is:  Why does he only inform a minority of the people on earth of the solution?  We humans will take extraordinary actions to save someone from physical harm.  So why would God not do the same for our eternal fate?

These three objections raise one question we Christians must answer:  Will we make God fit our theology or do we make our theology match the character of God?

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Spreading the Gospel

Why did God entrust Christians to spread the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins?  It is now over 2000 years since Jesus died and rose again and yet a majority of the people who have ever lived have never heard of the God of Israel or of Jesus. [1]  God obviously knew Christians would not communicate to every person on this world in every age.  So why did he structure his plan of salvation in this manner?

Most Christians do not ask this question.  They just accept the standard Christian doctrine of salvation on faith.  That is fine if you have already heard and accepted Christ, but what if you had never heard of Christ?  Would you think it would be fair and just of God to send you to hell even though you had never heard of Christ or if your culture/religion told you Jesus was just a great moral teacher?  Most people just accept what their culture/religion tells them; they do not have the time to fully question because they are too busy making a living.  If we Christians expect our religion to be taken seriously, we must address this question.

Saying God is sovereign and can do whatever he wants is not an answer.  It is true God can do whatever he wants but it would not be in keeping with God’s character—he is a God of love and justice—for him to condemn people who have never heard.

I have proposed a solution—Jesus death and resurrection for our sins applies to everyone who has ever lived; everyone’s sins are forgiven (see John 1:29, John 3:17, John 4:42, John 6:51, Romans 5:18, II Corinthians 5:14-15, Hebrews 2:9, I Timothy 2:5-6, I John 4:14, 1 Timothy 4:9-10, I John 2:1-2, Romans 5:6-10).  However, the Bible teaches not everyone will be saved.  So how are we saved?  The Bible contains over 70 verses which state salvation is through belief in God, or through our conduct, motivation, repentance, persistence, and development of our abilities (see the tab on the home page of this blog titled “What the Bible Says about Salvation”).  God requires that our soul be changed so it becomes like him; he requires the renovation of our soul.

So, where am I wrong?  Let’s have a discussion.

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[1]   John Sanders, What about Those Who Have Never Heard?, Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1995, p. 9.

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Blaming the gods

This weekend I watched the movie Ran.  It is King Lear in a Japanese setting.  In one scene, the court jester laments the death of his lords, blames the gods for this tragedy, and is reproached with the following words:

“Do not curse the gods!  It is they who weep.  In every age they’ve watched us tread the path of evil, unable to live without killing each other.  They can’t save us from ourselves.” [1]

We Christians are like the court jester.  We think that God’s sovereignty means God must control all events in our world and many blame God for the misfortune that befalls them.  While God is in control it does not mean he causes all events to happen.  It is us humans who are the cause of the evil in our world, not God.  The problem is that we do not want to accept our responsibility for this evil.

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[1]   Akira Kurosawa, Director, Ran, Nipipon Herold Films, 1985.

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Pretty Words

In discussing the value of a well-defined vision to the success of any organization, a management blog comments that:

“When the vision is merely a pretty collection of words that doesn’t drive decisions and behavior it is pointless.  When it does drive behavior it is powerful.  Sadly that is rarely the case.”

Is not the same true in Christianity?  If our beliefs do not drive decisions and behaviors in our lives, our beliefs are pointless.  If they are pointless, then why do we have those beliefs?  Is God content to hear our “pretty words” or does he require more?

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[1]   John Hunter, “Pretty Words”, www.management.curiouscatblog.net, July 29, 2014.

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A Civilized Society

Walter Williams maintains that “A civilized society’s first line of defense is not the law, police and courts but customs, traditions, rules of etiquette, and moral values.  These behavioral norms—mostly transmitted by example, word of mouth, and religious teachings—represent a body of wisdom distilled over the ages through experiences and trial and error.” [1]

My question is:  Is this first line of defense a set of beliefs or a set of behaviors?  If it is a set of beliefs, then we can say we believe in a certain moral value but practice just the opposite.  I do not think that was what Williams meant.  The whole purpose of a belief is ultimately to translate it into a concrete action.

The same principle applies to Christianity.  Knowledge of Jesus’ teachings is good but what God ultimately wants is for us to put those teachings into practice.

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[1]   Walter Williams, “Failure to pass on American values”, Tulsa Beacon, July 2, 2015, p. 4.

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The Right Kind of Christian

Ana Maria Cox is undoubtedly to the left, politically speaking, of most Christians.  When she became a Christian, she was told she was going to hell because she was not the right kind of Christian. [1]  What exactly is the right kind of Christian?

We Christians have a tendency to think other Christians should be like us, believe like us, and behave like us.  We think our interpretation of the Bible is correct.  However, as we have mentioned before, how we do we reconcile this belief with the truth that we all are finite?  Do we really think we know precisely the mind of God?

Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines Christian as:  “of, pertaining to or derived from Jesus Christ or His teachings”.  As long as someone makes the effort to follow the example and teachings of Jesus, they should be considered the right kind of Christian.  If their beliefs are different than ours, then that should be cause for contemplation, not condemnation.

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[1]   Jamie B. Cheaney, “You be the judge”, World, April 18, 2015, p. 26.

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