Questions About Salvation

This is an email I wrote this morning. I think it’s anonymous enough to post publicly.

1. What does “saved” mean to me?

“Saved” is a big word that means different things in different context. In Romans 5:9-10 for example, “saved” is used in a future tense in reference to the judgment, being “saved from wrath.”

In that particular passage, our “past tense” salvation–when we were born again, forgiven, and brought into the life of Christ–is referred to as being “justified.” However, in Eph. 2:8, “saved” is a reference to the exact same thing that is called “justified” in Rom. 5:9-10.

Let me give you a three-part picture. Every part can be called salvation, and the whole process can be called salvation, too. But each step has its own terminology that never varies, at least in Paul’s letters:

Stage 1: justification, born again, new creation – Jesus died for us, so that we could believe and obtain grace and have our past sins forgiven. Grace is the power of God to overcome sin and live spiritually, which is simply the power of the Holy Spirit in us. We have grace because we have the Holy Spirit. Grace is spiritual power (Rom. 6:14; Tit. 2:11-12; 1 Pet. 4:10-11). Our previous sins are all forgiven here, and we die to our old life. We start a new life, and everything previous is forgiven and forgotten.

Stage 2: We live for Jesus on this earth by the power of the Spirit. Paul referred to this stage as “saved by his life” in Rom. 5:9-10. The picture of living on earth is spelled out in Romans 8 especially, but I like Galatians better. I love this picture, “Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me. The life that I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal. 2:20).

When Paul talks about Jesus’ death (and I think other NT writers, too) to Christians in this stage, he speaks about what Jesus did for us in the past. Jesus’ death is what allows us to be forgiven and born again. We don’t live by Jesus’ death. We live by Jesus’ life, which is no different than living by grace or living by the Spirit.

Since you’re asking such specific questions, let me add that we still need daily forgiveness, which comes by Jesus’ blood. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from every sin” (1 Jn. 1:7).

However, you should read “cleanse” correctly. The verse I just quoted is 1 John 1:7. Two verses later, in 1:9, John distinguishes between forgiveness and cleansing. We need both. The hymn “Rock of Ages” says it well, “Let the water and the blood, from the wounded side which flowed, be for sin the double cure, cleanse from guilt and make me pure.” The song uses “cleanse” for the forgiving part of Jesus’ death, while John uses “cleanse” for the deliverance part of Jesus’ blood, but the idea is the same even if the terminology is slightly different.

Stage 3: This is the judgment. It is possible to appear before the judgment blameless and without fault. In fact, that’s the plan. If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, that should be what we face at the judgment because Jesus’ blood will have been cleansing us daily.

But let’s not be fooled. If you want to have the righteousness of Jesus at the judgement, you had better be living in righteousness. John could not say it more plainly than he does in 1 Jn. 3:7-8: “Do not be deceived, he who practices righteousness is righteous as he is righteous. He who practices sin is of the devil.”

The judgment will be according to works. Nothing else. You can read about the judgment in Matt. 25 and Rev. 20, and there are numerous comments about it in the apostolic writings (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:17; Rom. 2:5-8, etc.). Christians don’t get an easier judgment. They get the same judgment the world gets. There are not two judgments. The 2-judgment theory is a fantasy created by people who refuse to believe that Christians are judged by their works.

This is stage 3. If you live by his life, then you will be saved from wrath at the judgment. If you don’t, then you will be condemned with the world.

2. Where does grace come from?

Have I already answered this above, like I hope?

3. How is Jesus’ death “for us”?

Christians today get so stuck on the penal substitution theory of the atonement, even though it was just invented 700 years ago, that they can’t really conceive of anything else. “For us” gets to meaning “in our place.” The Scriptures don’t really use that terminology.

A person can die for me by being my substitute in a trial, though I doubt that has ever happened or that any judge would allow it to happen. A person can also die for me by throwing himself on a grenade next to me. “For me” means I benefit from it.

The benefits we receive from Christ’s death are so great and so many that of course we can say he died “for us.” His death, according to Scripture, was a “ransom” and a “purchase” and a “redemption.” Who gets redeemed, purchased, or ransomed, and to whom is the redemption money, purchase price, or ransom paid? Slaves and captives are redeemed, purchased, or ransomed, and the price for the redemption, purchase, or ransom is paid to the captor or slave owner, not to the Father.

Our Father God paid the price for us. He paid with his only Son to redeem us from slavery. Jesus didn’t pay a price to God so God wouldn’t be mad. God already loved us, “while we were yet sinners” (Rom. 5:8). Nor was the blood brought to our slavemaster, satan. Instead, Jesus’ himself was given into the hands of satan. He was exchanged for us. We were set free from satan’s hold.

But it didn’t stop there. Satan didn’t know what he was getting into. He thought he had Jesus all wrapped up in the chains of death. Had he known that Jesus was going to shatter the chains of death forever, he never would have crucified the Lord of glory.

Jesus came roaring out of death, leading forth a host of captives, ending satan’s reign for all who would come to him. He gives his Spirit to all who believe, transforming them from mere humans into sons of God who house the very life of God and partake of his divine nature.

Jesus did all that “for us.”

4. What about baptism for the remission of sins?

You asked how this “fits into your points.” Um, I don’t know. I didn’t go back and look at the original Sola Fide article, so I’m not sure how baptism came up. I would likely have talked about it because it’s supposed to be the place where you acknowledge your belief, are buried with Christ, rise to new life, and receive the Spirit of God.

5. What is the point of having our sins forgiven, especially if it doesn’t lead to eternal life?

Wow. It’s amazing how brainwashed we modern Christians can get. So if I say that Jesus didn’t “pay the penalty” by suffering a death penalty in our place, then I said that forgiveness of sins doesn’t lead to eternal life???

I said no such thing. Of course forgiveness of sins has to do with eternal life. Sins were going to keep us from eternal life (Eph. 5:6). Jesus’ death brought both forgiveness of sins and deliverance from sin.

6. What does it mean to believe in Christ or have faith in Christ? Is it to believe that he is the Lord, the great I AM, the Messiah? That he’s the final judge? Something else?

I’m sorry for marveling. I would have asked questions like this, too, I think. However, no one who has not been showered with evangelical narrow-mindedness could even ask such a question.

Believing in Christ means believing in Christ. It’s not a reference to believing anything *about* Christ, that he’s this or that he’s that. It’s a reference to believing in him. Become his disciple, do what he says, believe everything he says, follow him.

Believe it or not, if you’re not brainwashed by weird Christian thinking, that’s what believing in someone will automatically mean to you. If I told you I believed in Hulk Hogan, you would expect to find me learning whatever Hogan teaches, living like him, and talking about his life and ways.

Unless we’re Christian, we all know that is what believing in a person means in Greek, English, German, Hebrew, or Pig Latin.

7. My case seems much stronger in the letters of Paul than in John.

The opposite is true. My case is stronger in John. Have you ever read 1 John? Consider these verses:

“Do not be deceived, he who practices righteousness is righteous as he is righteous. He who sins is of the devil.”

“He who says, ‘I know him,” and does not keep his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.”

“This is how that we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”

I focus on Paul in my writings on salvation by faith because evangelicals make their case primarily from Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. I use those letters primarily, and that is because I want to show that even Martin Luther’s great “faith” epistles don’t teach salvation by faith alone the way the evangelicals do.

Just so you know, from my perspective, I have to work at understanding even why you would reference Acts 13:48 as though it were relevant to our discussion. “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” What do you think that means? Are you suggesting that if that verse is true, then there is no judgment by works for us? Are you suggesting that verse says that all our sins are forgiven, even future ones? Are you suggesting that verse says that anyone who believes [believes what?] has eternal life no matter what they do?

I am simply astounded that anyone would suggest that “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” somehow contradicts anything I’ve been saying. How much interpretation and “reading into” are you putting into those 9 words???

1 John 5:11 is worse. “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son?”

Oh, wait. Maybe I’m starting to get it. You’re saying that this verse must mean that we have “eternal” life, so now that we have it, we must go to heaven because we have life “eternally.” It can’t go away.

Okay, that at least helps me understand where you’re coming from.

Here’s my answer. That interpretation contradicts all sorts of verses, makes a mess of the apostles writings, and it’s only one possible interpretation.

Here’s a better one. It is the life that is eternal, not our possession of it. That verse says we have eternal life, not that we have life eternally. “Eternally” would be an adverb. It would describe a verb, and thus it would mean that our possession of life is eternal. However, “eternal” is an adjective. It describes the noun, life. The life is eternal, not our possession of it.

1 John 5:11 is talking about eternal life rather than our physical, temporary life. Not only is that life in the Son, as 1 John 5:11 says, but Jesus actually *is* that life, according to the start of 1 John. At the beginning of the letter, John tells us that he and the other apostles handled and saw eternal life. It came down and lived with us. Jesus is eternal life.

So yes, as long as we have the Son living in us, we have eternal life. If the Son departs from us, we no longer have eternal life, because “that life is in his Son.”

Take heart, though! Immortality is a reward of the judgment (Rom. 2:7). If you continue faithful to the end and overcome, then eternal life will be in you as well as in the Son. Then you will confidently possess eternal life eternally.

Let me add a question you didn’t ask:

8. How do we have assurance that we will go to heaven?

We don’t and we are repeatedly warned not to think we do. Peter tells us to fear because there is a judgment according to works, without partiality, coming to all of us (1 Pet. 1:17). Paul uses the example of the Israelites in the wilderness, who were baptized into Moses and had Christ with them, to tell the one who “thinks he stands” to “take heed, lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:1-12). John tells us that if we want to have assurance, then we need to love in deed and truth rather than in word and tongue. This will assure our hearts before him (1 Jn. 3:18-19). Jesus’ whole point in Matthew 7:21-23 is to snap us out of our assurance and make us afraid to be “workers of iniquity.”

And is it really possible to miss that 1 Cor. 6:9-11, which tells us not to be deceived, and Gal. 5:19-21, which tells us that Paul felt it necessary to warn his hearers repeatedly, and Eph. 5:5-7, which again tells us not to be deceived … is it really possible to miss that all these are warning Christians not to be fooled into thinking that they just have a guarantee of heaven?

I’m sorry, but a person who can’t tell that is what those verses are saying isn’t even trying. He’s just defending tradition, playing silly games. Such a person is not trying to find out what God, through Paul, is saying.

I apologize if any of my “marveling out loud” was offensive to you. It’s just that the ability of evangelicals to refuse to consider any alternative way of looking at any of their favorite verses is amazing.

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4 Responses to Questions About Salvation

  1. Jon says:

    I simultaneously love yet get deeply frustrated with the teaching of Francis Chan. His example and passion is commendable. Also, his emphasis on living out proper New Testament Christianity is bang on. However, I always found that he gets rather vague when it comes to the ‘how to’. Most of his sermons (and I have heard many – in fact he once came and preached at a church in London I attended at the time) seem to sound like a guilt trip about not living radically enough.

    A common response would be to then try and live out the radical life by the power of one’s resolve (which inevitably fails and leads to discouragement). I also found the overall message of the book ‘Crazy Love’ (which he virtually repeats in most of his sermons) to be somewhat unbalanced – You must love God with a radical, crazy love (who by the way can’t stand you and is about to spit you out of his mouth). Not exactly compelling. In fact, I marvel at the doublespeak which seems to permeate so much of contemporary american reformed evangelicalism.

    I had a similar reaction when watching some of the videos he and David Platt have done as an introduction to the ‘multiply’ project. A lot of solemn, ominous threatening rhetoric to ‘false christians’ but not much instruction on what one should do if they think they are in that situation.

    Anyway…

    How would you define the ‘witness of the Spirit’? Do you believe it is some sort of existential sense of God’s presence (like John Wesley did) or do you see it in more of an objective thing?

    • Shammah says:

      I’d see the witness of the Spirit as something we “feel.” I think that is what John Wesley thought, too, but apparently you’re more familiar with that than I am.

      I’ve never read Crazy Love. I thought it was about God’s crazy love for us, not our crazy love for God.

      When I first heard Francis Chan, he was still pastoring in southern California, and reading about his activities, I found his idea of radical discipleship very easy to follow because he was living out an example. I also think his plan for San Francisco creates roles for people to fill so that they’re not wondering, either.

      Ok, gotta go. Abrupt ending to this comment.

  2. Jon says:

    Although I was not the original questioner (though they do sound like things I would ask), I can’t help commenting.

    I get points 1-7, but I have to say I disagree (I’m tempted to say ‘as usual’)on point 8.

    I don’t diminish the warning passages – indeed, even Luther, champion of sola fide, made the following comment on Galatians 5:19-21:

    “This is a hard saying, but very necessary for those false Christians and hypocrites who speak much about the Gospel, about faith, and the Spirit, yet live after the flesh.”

    However, there are many incidents in the NT that seem to suggest the early Christians had strong assurance (even if those in the next few generations didn’t)that they would make it in the end. Stephen when he was being stoned to death is one example. Paul in 2 Tim 4:7-8 and Philippians 1:23 are another (indeed, he would hardly say that to depart and be with Christ is ‘far better’ if he thought there would be chance of a negative judgement).

    Also, Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 says the following

    “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

    He is not compelled add “providing they had done enough good works” and seems confident in their positive eternal destiny (though certainly, ‘in Christ’ implies active faith up to the point of death, that I wouldn’t deny).

    Perhaps a cliched example is the dying thief next to Jesus (Luke 23) who is promised paradise without any works whatsoever.

    On 1 John 3:18-19 I admit I have no scriptural retort. However, it strikes me as being rather odd (to put it mildly) to be thinking along the lines of “Well, I’m very loving so I’ll be OK”. Maybe that’s just my hang up.

    I reject the doctrine of eternal security. However, I also reject the doctrine of eternal insecurity.
    (though I fully admit that scripture often seems to suggest that things ain’t looking optimistic for me, eternally speaking. suggestions on a postcard)

    • Shammah says:

      Hmm. Another comment I didn’t know went up. Maybe WordPress just doesn’t want me to know about your comments, Jon.

      There is an assurance that the righteous can live in. The Holy Spirit does bear witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

      Fear of the judgment, however, is a missing doctrine today. We say things like, “You can’t be worthy,” but Jesus says that only the worthy will walk with him in white, and he makes it clear that the worthy are those who do not defile their garments (Rev. 3:4-5).

      There is a battle to live holy, together in the church, that the early Christians talk about all the time. Once you’ve heard it, it can be seen all over the apostles’ writings. Those engaged in that battle can walk in incredible spiritual power, in peace, and in fellowship with God. Today, however, the majority of Christians–the vast majority–are “entangled with the affairs of this life.” Many have no idea of the danger of riches, and many have never heard of or seen a sold out Christian life, where Christ is honored above father, mother, son, or daughter. Most find Jesus’ statement that we cannot be his disciple without forsaking all our possessions impossible to interpret or understand and way overboard.

      I’m not saying all Christians are like that, but I’d say that if I threw out 80% of “Christians” are, then I’m being generous, perhaps very generous. That’s not true in every church, but if I threw out that it’s true in 80% of churches I would definitely be very generous.

      I stayed once in Utah at the house of a pastor who was the father of a friend of mine. He had a big house and a decent salary from his church. He was, even by American standards, well off. His hospitality was so phenomenal that it was a little hard to believe. That man, with all his possessions, knew what it meant to forsake everything for his Master.

      He’s the exception, though, not the rule.

      Thank God for men like him, or men like Francis Chan (and many others, I’m sure), who have taught and encouraged people by example to take risks for the sake of kindness to those who need it. They exist, but not only are they exceptions, but the teaching that we not only should, but must, be like them is also the exception.

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