Disclaimer #2: Please pardon the way these words do no justice to what I’m about to try to say, but yet how amazing it is to follow a God who can be completely known while simultaneously remains incompletely understood. Jesus Christ offered His divinely-human hand to a group of people who had no idea where the journey would take them once they grabbed it.
That sounds familiar to me.
One of the ways I’ve seen this over the years is in the mystery that it is to reach out to God through Jesus Christ… a little context.
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:8)
Wow… a clear picture of the principle I want to explore for a few moments in this post… one that is about to get very foggy.---------------------
the question I’d like to propose is: How do you get “saved?”
(I know this isn’t an original question nor are the thoughts that follow necessarily a complete, air-tight, slam-the-Bible-down-got-it-all-figured-out answer to the question, but nonetheless I am compelled to ask.)
How do you get “saved?”
Do you get saved through something you say in a certain way… like a “sinner’s prayer” where you ask God to forgive you?
Interesting… especially since this woman who received forgiveness never asked for anything, nor did she say anything to Jesus... and then He just sort of told her... she was forgiven. Wow. My box just got bigger.
Then Jesus turned toward the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little." Then Jesus said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." (Luke 7:44-48)
So… is it a matter of just believing, then?
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (John 11:25-26)
Interesting… so salvation comes about just by believing?
Or do you need to say anything out loud?
That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Interesting… so salvation comes about by believing AND saying something out loud?
Is that it? Or is there more?
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)
Interesting... so heaven will be full of surprises for those who think they're "in" - when actually they're not. Wait... I think I'm "in," so what does that mean?
Do I somehow have to clean myself up?
"As Jesus was speaking, one of the Pharisees invited him home for a meal. So he went in and took his place at the table. His host was amazed to see that he sat down to eat without first performing the hand-washing ceremony required by Jewish custom. Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness! Fools! Didn’t God make the inside as well as the outside? So clean the inside by giving gifts to the poor, and you will be clean all over." (Luke 11:37-41)
In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!" Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. (John 3:3-6)
Interesting… so we must experience a spiritual rebirth to enter God's kingdom… life change? Cool... got it. Air tight now, baby.
So it's all about deciding to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Thats how someone gets saved?
Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven." (Matthew 9:1)Interesting… it was through the faith of a bunch of friends that someone was saved… while the man himself… did nothing but lay on a mat? [also see Mark 2, 1 Cor. 7:16]. Is salvation then linked to other people?
So can one person who is reintegrated back to the Triune God through Jesus Christ become a kind of conduit… maybe like a "royal priesthood" and a "holy nation"… through whom the work of Jesus in his/her life can be extended to others... whether they ask for it or not?
To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:12-14)
Interesting… entire households of people can become holy through the life of one person who authentically lives it out?
Or… does that original believer need to say something out loud so that those other people will say something?
For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" (Romans 10:13-15)
Interesting… so it does matter that we tell them about the Lord so that they can call on the name of the Lord. Back to words, eh? Cool. Got it down now. Phew. Glad that’s back in my box now. (Wait… darn… it’s not staying up like it used to)
While we’re on the topic of the Lord, how much of Him do we need to know (or have a theological answer for) before we can call on His name?
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." (Acts 9:1-6)Interesting… so maybe salvation doesn’t come about by having all the answers but by asking the right questions.
On that topic, what about people who don’t have it all down pat and are kind of lost in an alternative belief system where they’re guessing their way through life and faith?
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23)
Interesting… so even people who are reaching out in untrue ways can find buried way beneath the surface of their false beliefs something very true and real… if someone helps them find the healthy beneath the unhealthy… the "water within the antifreeze" that is worth drinking if it can be completely separated, so to speak. (Wow... that sounds too dangerous... maybe I should go live back in my box again)
What about those who won’t ever have someone come out their way? What if the missionary’s airplane runs out of gas… or he gets speared… or she gets sick and has to go home for a health care and leave the natives behind?
For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)
Interesting… so everyone has the opportunity to connect with God through His general revelation in all things.
Wait… everyone? So does it matter what you believe – a right way of thinking, so to speak - or is sincerity all that counts?
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)
Interesting… so we do need to be on guard against things that smell like Jesus but really aren’t.
What does that look like? Does that show up even in the church?
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-- having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. (2 Timothy 3:1-7)
Interesting… so we need to be careful when we feel we have God down pat and are good note takers and AMEN’ers during the sermons… but never live the AMEN out in our lives?
Then… are we supposed to dive deeper into the truths of God… and where will that lead us when done in accompaniment with integrating those truths into our lives?
Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him. To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:30-32)
Interesting… so exploring a healthy understanding of God should lead to obedience and not arrogance, evidenced in the freedom we enjoy and extend and not in more boxes that we put around ourselves and others.
So... did we answer the question?
If so, what is it?
If not, how do we?
Here’s the curveball…
these are not contradictions in the Bible.
There is a consistent thread in all of this that I hope you caught.
While the Bible shows us that there are many different ways people come to God, every way always is through His Trinitarian grace… often in the way that makes the most sense to that person, even if the next person to come along does it a little bit differently.
Even if the next person to come along does it a little bit differently.
Even if the next person to come along does it a little bit differently.
Which can mess with your theology a bit, especially if you’re quite comfortable with your theological understanding of who is “in” and who is “out.”
And who ultimately gets to decide all of that?
In every case, Jesus is the one who declares who is in and who is out. Kind of like He glances at the homemade rule books we're using and says, "Yeah... um... I actually have an ammendment to that based on the Bible... which may or may not fit with the cliff notes you wrote in the margin."
In the Scriptures, people stumble into the kingdom in all sorts of ways.
Is salvation a destination? Or more?
Is it mathematics - a + b = C? Or more?
Is it a journey understanding that looks different for everyone and can't be articulated at all? Or more?
And for that, is the issue of assurance more important to the person or the Christian who is looking to validate their ministry? Have you ever sat through a sermon where the pastor insisted people come forward because "Jesus called people publicly?" Have you ever sat through a sermon where a pastor insisted people should pray a prayer quietly in their seats because it was a "personal thing between that individual and God?"
Yes and yes... and for that matter, guilty and guilty.
That's the rub... Christ-followers are called to talk about this. So how do you proclaim a message that is larger than our letters, more infinite than our finite minds, and more fluid when we want it to be more solid?
Maybe we just "point people to Jesus?"
Maybe we just "give people a sound theology?"
Or maybe we just eliminate the word/concept "just" from our theological vocabulary.
Here's what we know:
- There is no other name than the name of Jesus Christ that we are given to find salvation under/through (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
- God desires everyone to be saved and is not willing that anyone perish (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet.3:9).
- God cares about justice and will judge people fairly - in ways beyond our understanding (1 Pet. 2:23).
- God reveals Himself (general revelation) to people everywhere through creation and their moral conscience so that they can respond to Him as best as they know how (Rom. 1:20, 2:6-15; Ps. 19:1-4).
- Those who have heard about Christ and deliberately reject Him (whether by rebellion or indifference) will experience their choice forever (unless they turn back to Jesus) through a realm of separation and indescribable emptiness through pain we call hell (2 Thes. 1:9; Matt. 25:46; Rev. 21:8).
Here's what we don't know:
- Who is "in" and who is "out."
- The "right way" to tell someone how to "get saved."
- Who is "in" and who is "out."
- If the "sinner's prayer" is biblical in how it's often presented as an "all you have to do is..." deal.
- Who is "in" and who is "out."
Jesus warns that some of the people you assume are in may be “out," and some of the people you assume are out may be “in.”
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'
"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."(Matthew 25:31-46)
Maybe we should stop trying to sit on the fence and do His job... maybe we should instead seek to invite people of all spiritual backgrounds to trust the direction and details of their lives to Jesus TODAY.
Maybe we should encourage people inside and outside the church community to dig deeper and reintegrate themselves further to the Triune God, living in conscious union with the Father through Christ as led by the Spirit.
Maybe this has to all begin in us first, growing and developing in our human experience in this world right now... being sure that heaven doesn't turn into a destination we all "fly away" to but rather a realm where things are the way they should be... a realm that can be revealed "on earth as it is in heaven."
Maybe salvation is not a formula or a mere affirmation of a "get out of hell free" card, but is instead a change of identity... a reestablishing of a new address... something that shouldn't create its own subculture but instead recreate the entire world.
Maybe Jesus loves me...
this I know for the Bible tells me so.
And Jesus said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)