May 19, 2016

How Must I Be Saved?

That is the key question that was asked by a 'pagan' as recorded in the New Testament. It's a question that many people of good faith-- but skeptical of religion-- would really like to know but have 'written off' as unknowable. Take heart, tho, because the scriptures give us the answer!
The question many would like answered was asked by a person identified as 'the Philippian jailer' of Paul (the disciple/writer) and his helper, Silas, who were his prisoners at the time. Their reply was short and precise [Acts 16:31]. They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

To anyone with some exposure to 'Christian' faiths, the response from Paul and Silas must sound almost ridiculous. 'That's all there is to it?' such neophytes may wonder. After all, if you investigate the way to salvation prescribed by most denominations, you will likely find a more complicated formula. It will probably involve reciting a 'sinner's prayer' of repentance, then enrolling for studies in a pastor's course, and culminating in baptism into the denominational faith.

The early disciples did perform baptism, and they also explained Jesus' mission on Earth and what he revealed about the Kingdom of God. So, I'm not down-playing the role of knowledge and baptism. The point is that, in it's essentials, the path to salvation is simple! It does not require a 7-week seminar given by an accredited preacher. It does not necessarily require baptism if that symbolic sacrament cannot be practically accomplished.

No; the essential requirement for being saved is, first and foremost, to believe in Jesus.

And, let's clarify what is meant by 'salvation' or 'being saved.' These terms refer to the inheriting of eternal life in the spiritual realm, the Kingdom of God. Jesus stated the gospel ('good news') in a nutshell in John 3:16-- “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but will have eternal life.”

In Luke (8:11-13) Jesus tells the parable of the seed scattered by the road. He states: “Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. [12] Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.” Today, almost everyone has heard about Jesus; yet the devil comes via scientific materialism, and people abandon their spiritual leanings, yielding their belief to worldly authorities instead.

So again we see from Jesus' own words that it all comes down to belief in him. To believe in Jesus is not just some vague, intellectual assent, like believing in a helio-centric solar system. Believing in Jesus is an exercise of the will, one that requires constancy and steadfastness in the face of forces that would wrest that belief away. Belief thus requires faith, so that the two traits are in a sense synonymous.

You see, it was always by faith that humans found favor with God. It was by faith that Abraham was justified (deemed righteous) before God. Romans 4, vs 3: “For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness'.” (See my essay, 'One Man, One Faith' for an in-depth exploration of this theme).
Belief-- in faith-- is the beginning of salvation. If you were to die the moment after accepting belief in Christ, you'd be saved. However, more typically for most of us, it's the beginning of a process, like most things in this temporal world. This is where the endurance comes in. As we mature in years, we can grow in faith as we see the subtle grace of God in our lives. Or, on the other hand, we can let the world's incessant message of disbelief in God grind our faith into dust.

So far, I have barely mentioned repentance; and there's a reason. I think the churches (the church leaders) are far too focussed on sin rather than on the solution to sin! As humans, we have a tendency to constantly measure and monitor performance-- how people behave in terms of a given set of rules. (The rules are usually the 'Ten Commandments,' which is a big trap the mainstream churches have fallen into... but that's another big topic!)

Before people get all upset, I'm not saying repentance (lit. changing direction) isn't necessary. I'm saying that by emphasizing the sin problem, Christians can down-play the one who solved that problem-- Jesus. It can scare some people away from true Christianity if they're the type who feel their sin is too great to be forgiven. Making repentance the first step in getting saved is a putting the cart before the horse, and a big mistake. Let me explain.

True belief in Jesus will initiate 'natural repentance' in any case! You see, a true, heart-felt belief in Jesus starts to change one's thinking-- the renewing of the mind as spoken of by Paul (Rom 12:2). Only as the mind is changed can we be in a position to change our behavior.

The purpose of the sinner's prayer is to acknowledge that we are inherently morally weak, and in need of external, spiritual rescue. It's useless to promise, at that initial point, that we'll mend our ways. Only as the Spirit of God works on our thinking can we behave differently. And it's not that we will always struggle with some old behaviors; most of them will now appear abhorrent to our new mind/spirit.

There will, inevitably, be some area of our character that will fall back into the old, sinful rut, from time to time, even after we accept Christ and his salvation. Let's not kid ourselves about this; the epistle writers faced it, but didn't dwell on it. This fact gets back to the process aspect of salvation. As Paul wrote to his Philippian flock (2:12) “ out your salvation with fear and trembling; [13] for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Clearly, Paul is talking about a process, not an instant transformation. God regarded Abraham as righteous even tho he showned occasional moral weakness. David was called a man after God's own heart, despite his moral lapses. Perfection is not found in mortal human nature, but in Jesus alone. By believing in Jesus we partake of his moral perfection by means of 'covenantal solidarity.' This is what is meant by the symbolic white garment worn by believers.

Remember that at the 'last supper,' Christ instituted a new covenant (Luke 22:20). This is why the Bible books from the gospels to Revelation are known as the New Testament (i.e. New Covenant). Unlike the Mosaic Covenant (Old Testament) that was given to a specific group (the Israelites) the NT was given to everyone ('the many'; Matt 26:28). This essay is intended to point the reader to the means to salvation, not to present a treatise on covenant theology which would take a separate full essay.

The vital essence of all that precedes is this-- that God made salvation easy, not difficult. And that no one should avoid the opportunity to be saved because of thinking that they are too sinful to speak to God, or that they will never be able to achieve moral perfection. It's all been accomplished for us in the life (perfection) and death (propitiation) of Jesus. Remember the verse above, Phil 2:12, that states “it is God who is at work in you.” It's not your work; our 'works' to be good are as filthy rags before the glory of God!

Don't be dazzled or deterred by the salesmen of denominations; go to the source-- the scriptures, and see for yourself how generous God is. You can do it... now, just do it!