Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The journey

The subject of salvation is not easily understood, at least not to me. A question has been sticking with me the last few days. It is question that will be difficult to display in words. On this blog Danny asked me if I thought that Gandhi was going to heaven. My initial impulse was "no" he didn't believe in Jesus. Then I stepped back and questioned what I had just said. What do I mean "he didn't believe in Jesus?" And a thought came to me. What if my understanding, the orthodox understanding and reguard for scripture about Jesus, is inacurate? Should I say that because someone doesn't believe in my version of Jesus they are doomed. What if Gandhi was living for the exact same thing I am but without the same intellectual decision I have made about Jesus, without the same “knowledge” of Him. We are speaking in terms of what you can convey through language. This is where this question begins to get difficult. Now understand I am simply using Gandhi as a simple illustration for a much less specific body of people.

Now my biggest difficulty about this question is it is forcing me to be concerned with something I am not normally nor wish to be concerned about. What happens when we die? What deems a person worthy or unworthy to enter the everlasting Kingdom?

To understand this question lets put it into the two easiest ways to look at it. Either we must make an intellectual decision and be right about who Jesus is for us to live for Him or our salvation is dependant on the things that are His attributes (doing good). Now neither of these things sit well with me. Now let's examine something else what does making an intellectual decision about Jesus demand of us? Let's look at this in terms of essences. What exactly must I essentially know about Jesus to be right about Him? In other words what is essentially Jesus? What is the essence of Jesus? Now direct this examination toward yourself. What am essentially me? How much do you have to know about me to be right about who I am? To do this examination on someone else you must have intimate relationship with that person. You have to really know them. Now it's a popular theology that we are saved by a "personal relationship with Christ." I have accepted this theology in the past and still do but it seems to me now that something must come before the "personal relationship." Which would follow that something must come before the "intellectual decision." I have settled in this and it seems to make sense. I believe that your salvation lies in simply seeking Jesus, for the kind of "knowledge" that is obtained preceding the ability to “seek” or “pursue” is not one that can be contained in language, it is a much more abstract kind of knowledge that is not found in studying. This knowlege is not the kind that is contained in the brain, but the heart. It comes from the deepest parts of human emotion and relationship, it is love. It's not an intellectual decision based on fact but a faithful decision based on something that is shown (which is the knowlege contained in the heat). This faithful decision is a direction shift into a loving relationship.

In a loving relationship there is a bond. Both parties know each other, but it's different than just knowing about the other person. no matter how much I tell you about my gilrfriend you'll never know her in the same way I do. The "knowlege" I know about her simply cannot be said. I can try but it'll probably end with me squinting my face and cupping my hand in deep emotion. I simply cannot say it, and even if I did what you know about her will probably either mean nothing or it will have nothing to do with what's "essentially her,"meaning that if you took out all the knowlege you have about her she'd still be her. What I know about her, that can't be said, cannot be taken away, it is essentially her. If the things I know about her were subtracted from her she would siese to be her she'd be something else. people are more complex than to be able to say the most essential parts of their being and have them understood unless the person, that you are explaining to has alreafy attained knowledge of them. God is even more complex. Here are two examples: 1. I say "God is just," a proper understanding of that must be shown. So by me saying it it is meaningless until it's shown to you. 2. I might tell you that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Died on a cross, etc. But thoes events in His life are not essential to who He is.
So knowlege of the heart precedes knowlege of the brain. So it is whatever precedes the loving relationship that holds our salvation. When I am shown God I must chose to embrace or not to embrace Him. Either continue on my path and accept something else possibly that is "shown" to me, or I shift directions and begin to pursue His path, the path to the knowlege of Him.

I must be shown God to ever know God. In knowing Him it will, eventually follow that we will be able to say, intellectually, who He is and be right and that we will know of Him that which cannot be said. Now we Christians are all on this journey. Can I say weather or not Gandhi embarked on it or not? No. I can say simply doing good things is not where your salvation lies and an intellectual decision is not either; rather, these things naturally grow from Pursuing, from seeking Jesus, from "embracing" what we were shown. Our good is nothing without Jesus without faith. Embarking on this journey takes faith, a leap of large proportions of faith ( as it does with pursuing most things). And God is not to be known through study. If He is as I said before "mystical" than He must be shown or made manifest, so intellect is meaningless until the manifestation of what you are trying to understand comes into play. Our task in evangelism is to simply nudge people onto the path, show the kingdom of God so that they may pursue it. When the desciples wentout "declareing th kingdom of God" they did so doing miracles as means to not just tell but "show" the kingdom. In Luke 17 Jesus says this "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say 'here it is' or 'there it is,' because the Kingdom Of God is within you" (some translations say 'in your midst') He says here that you can't look for the kingdom and find it. It's here it's amung you, in your midst. This could saound like a paradox, it's within you but you can't find it by looking. It is in fact what we have been discussing. You can't say "here it is" or " there it is" because it has to be shown. Jesus explained this just after healing ten lepers, just after showing what it was all about.

"How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" Romans 10:14. We, in this, are not excused from evangelism people must be told but though they may not be able to believe without information, the acceptance of the information given is not how we become “Christians” it’s not how we are saved. The information, the "telling" is meaningless unless it is shown the same way me telling you about my girlfriend is meaningless (from our example). We all are on a journey our directions may vary but only one leads to salvation!

9 comments:

Danny said...

This is a very good post with some very good points. I really like your thoughts and questioning. It is always healthy to question and doubt your beliefs. When Jesus says that we doubts he states that he will, “give generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). The Lord will surely bless you and find you his answers. Just keep questioning and I believe that God will give you the answers (or at least more and deeper questions…)

Danny said...

Originally posted by Wes
The subject of salvation is not easily understood, at least not to me.

Tonight I will only look at Old Testament salvation. I believe it should play a large role in how we understand New Testament salvation as well.

In Exodus 15:2 it states, “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will exalt him.” (3802, Gen. 45:7, Ex. 14:13, Ps. 18:2, 25:5, 27:1, 62:2, 118:14, Isa. 12:2, 33:2, Jonah 2:9, and Hab. 3:18). The word salvation interestingly enough comes from the Hebrew yesuah. It simply means in the Old Testament “to save” (NIV Key word Study Bible). It is used throughout the Old Testament as “help, deliverance and victory.” It also “denotes something saved or delivered from distress.”

The NIV Key Word Study Bible takes it further stating that it was “initially used in the sense of rescuing people form national or individual crises (Job 13:15) and enemies (Exodus 14:13, 1 Samuel 14:45) and from natural catastrophes, plagues, famine, or physical ailment (1 Samuel 2:1). “Later,” the Key Word Bible states, “the term…acquired a very strong spiritual meaning in the sense of salvation from the guilt and punishment of sin (Psalm 68:19.”

Let’s take a quick overview of the theme throughout scripture with a couple of principles that we can lay out:

(1) Salvation is not an experience that happens once and then never happens again. There is no such thing as one “salvation experience” that saves us forever. It is to “be our strength every morning” (Isaiah 33:1-4).

(2) God has planned out salvation for his people (Genesis 45:7).

(3) Salvation happens in unlike places when we truly repent. It can even happen in the belly of a whale (Jonah 2:1-9).

(4) God acts in times of the desperate need of his people (Exodus 14:10-18). It would be quite problematic if God first checked our theology before he answered us with salvation. These people were scared not much unlike newborns in the world. And yet, God still answers their theologically incorrect cry in his great mercy. Even when the people do not believe, God still comes out for them. Moses again reminds us that all we have to do is “be still.”

(5) It involves exchanging the human knowledge that we cling to and exchanging it for the ways of the Lord. Psalm 25 is a good Psalm to meditate on in this regard.

(6) God’s salvation is incredibly scary. I will let the God speak for himself in this regard:

“The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him into his ears.”

“The earth trembled and quaked and the foundations of the mountains shook; they trembled because he was angry. Smoke rose from his nostrils; consuming fire came from his mouth, burning coals blazed out of it. He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet. He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—the dark rain clouds of the sky. Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and blots of lighting. The Lord thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most high resounded. He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies great bolts of lightning and routed them.”
-Psalm 18:4-14


(7) This salvation gives us ability to rest in God (Psalm 62:1-2).

(8) It involves becoming a “blameless” person (Psalm 26). This one has always been difficult for me, but this is a clear teaching throughout scripture. As we come to redemption we are redeemed in Christ and “made new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). It states clearly that Noah was blameless (Genesis 6:9). He clearly told Abraham to be blameless (Genesis 17:1). He tells all of Israel that they must be blameless before God (Deuteronomy 18:13). David says that has been “blameless” and “kept himself from sin” (2 Samuel 22:24). The Lord refers to Job as “blameless” (Job 1:1). This part of salvation has become conveniently removed to become what Bonhoeffer would call “cheap grace.” There are many other passages that I would quote, but I do not have room in this post.

(9) Salvation supplies courage for our everyday lives (Psalm 27). For who can we fear if we serve the Lord who is truly the king of kings and the Lord of Lords (1 Timothy 6:15)? This is not saying that we should have high “self-esteem” or self-determination to be a “good person.” This goes farther than simply being a good person. The Lord, in Psalm 27, actually is the “light.” This is to say that the Lord is the light and we are not the light.

When Jesus says that we are the “salt” and the “light” (Matthew 5:13-16) he also states that it should be about the people seeing our good deeds and praising God. Here we can turn to Bonhoeffer to better understand this:

“The death and the life of the Christian is not determined by his own resources; rather he finds both only in the Word that comes to him fro the outside, in God’s word to him. The reformers put it this way: Our righteousness is an ‘alien righteousness,’ a righteousness that comes from outside of us. They were saying that the Christian is dependent on the Word of God spoken to him. He is pointed outward, to the Word that comes to him. The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ.” (Life Together, 22)

These areas of salvation are brought into completion in the book of Habbakuk where he states the following:


“I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones and my legs trembled. Yet I will wait patiently for the day to calamity to come on the nation invading us. Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen, and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” –Habbakuk 3:16-19


What Habbakuk says here incorporates every area of salvation posted above. It is first of all not rooted in some “salvation experience” that happens only once in our lives. Despite all of the circumstances of his life Habbakuk will still trust in the Lord daily as Isaiah commands. His “heart pounded” because he knows that part of God’s plan is that a nation will invade Israel and destroy it. Yet he trusts the Lord because he knows that the Lord has a plan. It is an eternal plan that does not fade (1 Peter 1:4).

Habakkuk does not find salvation in a place that is all together usual. Usually, we hear of people’s lives being changed or being “renewed” in Christ. The only salvation that the Lord has promised to Habbakuk is that a nation is going to destroy Israel. Yet the prophet still trusts in the Lord’s salvation in his own life.

Here also we see that God acts to the cry of his people. But God does not answer the way that Habbakuk answered. God actually says that he must destroy his people in order to raise them up again. Sometimes the Lord’s answer to our cry will be totally breaking our boxes and our presuppositions about who he is.
Habakkuk also releases his own knowledge and puts his total faith and trust in the God he serves. Even after hearing the bad news he still puts his faith there. He simply says the Lord is “sovereign.” Part of exchanging our knowledge for the King of glory is calling him simply sovereign over all creation.

Habbakuk also affirms that the Lord’s salvation is scary. The Lord actually says that he is going to do something Habbakuk will not believe (Habakkuk 1:5). And that is the destruction of Israel. He also affirms that he finds rest in the Lord and claims Him only as his strength (Habakkuk 3:19).

The actual reason for this salvation is because the Lord is too “pure to look on evil” (Habakkuk 1:13). In other words, Habakkuk is affirming the idea that we need to be blameless before the Lord and that the reason for chastisement is our impurity. The Lord brings negative salvation experiences into our lives very often to “purify us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).

This also supplies Habakkuk with strength for his everyday life. If he did not know the Lord was sovereign, he may not have been able to go on. It is a hard path to know that we are not in charge of our own lives. It is hard to put it totally in the hands of an eternal God.

Danny said...

Note to the below response: This is part of a YMIN manual that I’ve created for Philosophy and Theology of Youth Ministry at Azusa Pacific university. It ties in a lot to the salvation experience and I thought you could use it. Anything that says (Gerali) after it means that it was given in a lecture by Stephen Gerali. Any other referenced books can be found simply by asking me or looking up the authors name in parentheses. My e-mail is Coldfire@apu.edu if you would like further information...


He Recognizes that there is a process to commitment

Step 1: Come and see (Gerali 3 February 2005). This is investigating who Christ is (John 1:37-39). The passage in John breaks this first step down into three sub-steps:

 People Hear (Gerali 3 February 2005). The disciples first simply hear John the Baptist exclaim that Jesus is the Messiah. In the same way, we should first realize others need to hear who Jesus is.

 Jesus Invites (Gerali 3 February 2005). Jesus then invited the two disciples to see who he is. Youth pastors get to make the same invitation and explain who Jesus was and is today. They must ask kids to investigate Jesus and form their own conclusions during this investigation.

 Hearers Accept (Gerali 3 February 2005). This is illustrated as the two disciples follow Jesus and it states that “Jesus spent the day with them.” It is important to note that this is not the same as the hearers accepting Jesus as their savior. The disciples simply said yes to Jesus’ invitation to hang out. Youth pastors must make it a priority to simply “send the day” with kids who are seeking God. Spending time with Kids is the best way to evangelize to them. Becky Pippert says that:

“…instead of delivering a sermon, he took them home with them, and they became his disciples. Later some of their relatives were among the first people he healed. But Jesus was more than merely charming; he cared about building a sense of family.” (Pippert, 36).

Step 2: Come and Drink (Gerali 3 February 2005). This step is in regards to trusting Christ. Coming and drinking refers to a passage in John 7:37. It says in this passage that as we drink we are filled with the Holy Spirit. This also has two sub-steps based on a booked entitled The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright. It involves stopping and trusting.

 Stopping: We must first stop. Wright argues this by using a parallel passage found in Josephus’ work where he asks the Galileans to “stop their mad rush into revolt against Rome.” Similarly, we must stop and consider whether Christ’s way or our own way is more valuable (refer to previous point on “process of commitment” for more information on this point).

 Trusting: Wright goes on to argue that not only did Josephus ask the Galileans to stop but he asked them to “Trust him and the other Jerusalem aristocrats.” In the same way Jesus is asking us to “give up our agendas and to trust him for his way of being Israel, his way of bringing the kingdom.” (Wright, 33-34)

 Result: As a result of this stopping and trusting Michael Hryniuk argues that the Christian is “named as beloved.” Just as Christ was told the Father was “well pleased” with him, so Christ is will pleased with his followers. Hryniuk goes further to say that, “Just as Jesus becomes fully self-aware of his identity as the Christ, we believe that in our baptism we too…are invited to gradually shed the false identity of the flesh” (A ministry of the Beloved, Hryniuk).

Step 3: Come Follow (Gerali 3 February 2005). This step might also be called “discipleship.” It must be understood that this is the natural outflow of trust. This is when we begin to understand that God’s way is “more than right behavior…It is to walk in humility with God, acting with justice and kindness toward other human beings.” (Starting Right, 156) It is the way that we see life. We begin to follow in the footsteps of our rabbi.

Step 4: Come Rest (Gerali 3 February 2005). This is where we begin to have intimacy with Christ (Mark 6:31). This is a time of rest and reflection on the action of discipleship. It isn’t a time of doing, but a time of loving. It is a time to say, “Lord, I’m deeply and passionately in love with you.” It is a time for us to renew our strength as he washes our tired feet.

Step 5: Come Deny (Gerali 3 February 2005). This is when a disciple of Christ who has gotten to know Christ in a number of ways internalizes the cause for Christ (Matthew 16:24). It’s when the disciple really knows that he can give the things of this world up because Christ is so much better than this world. They begin to understand it as they are discipled and want to live it.

Step 6: Come Act (Gerali 3 February 2005). This is the lifestyle that disciples live after they’ve internalized this cause for Christ. In the previous step it was a want to live and know it is simply living. Matthew 14:29 is the famed “walking on water” passage. It is at this point that Peter has understood what it means to be a disciple. He has given up faith in things of the world and has put his total trust in Christ. He’s followed Christ, rested with Christ, denied himself for Christ and he wants it to become a lifestyle. So he asks. He asks Jesus what to do and he obeys. This is the ultimate goal of a disciple.

Danny said...

All points in bold were origianlly posted by Wes

1. What if my understanding of Jesus is off?

This first point declares (indirectly) that you have an understanding of Jesus. Although we can concede that you answer this point later in your post it is important for you to define your terms when you are outlining a point of view or argument. Later on we come to find that you state, “Salvation lies in simply seeking Jesus.” Is this the understanding of Jesus that you speak of? Would you say that seeking Jesus as salvation is your entire understanding of Jesus? What other components are there to this? Are there sub-components?

1.1. Should I say that because someone doesn't believe in my version of Jesus they are doomed?

Again, this first sub-point begs a definition of the above first overall point.

1.2. What if Gandhi was living for the exact same thing I am but without the same intellectual decision I have made about Jesus. This is where this question begins to get difficult.

I assume that the intellectual decision you have made about Christ is the idea that Jesus is Lord and savior of the world. Is this all you mean or do you mean more?

1.3. Now understand I am simply using Gandhi as a simple illustration for a much less specific body of people.

This point is well taken.

2. Now my biggest difficulty about this question is it is forcing me to be concerned with something I am not normally nor wish to be concerned about.

2.1. What happens when we die?

Is this a rhetorical question or are you really conceding agonisticism on this point?

Danny said...

Originally posted by Wes:
What deems a person worthy or unworthy to enter the kingdom of heaven?

You might consider this part of my New Testament version of salvation. One should probably read the Old Testament version in order to understand the backdrop for the way that Jesus brings entrance into the kingdom of Heaven.

The Ability to Count: Luke 14 (my favorite chapter in the Bible) makes it clear that we should “count the cost” before entering into the kingdom of heaven because it is a hard path (Luke 14:25-35).

Faith: Often before performing miracles Jesus would be “amazed.” There is only one thing that amazed him and that is “faith.” When the centurion told him that he didn’t even need Jesus to come, but he took him at his word it amazed him. It was more than in all of Israel (Luke 7:7-10). There are many other times that this happens as well (Luke 5:20, Matthew 8:26, Matthew 9:29, etc.).

Redemption: To illustrate this I’m always reminded of the prodigal son when he came home. He admitted to his father that he was not “worthy” to re-enter the house. But his Father nonetheless welcomed and ushered him in just as the Father welcomes us into the kingdom of heaven. But first we must come and be willing to be redeemed.

Humbleness: First of all we must realize that there are no lone ranger Christians. We already spoke of being redeemed and we should not forget it here. There isn’t one man who can start his own church. In saying that we must be humble enough to admit that we can’t do life on our own. We must admit that we need Christ and those Christians around us constantly to lift us up. John the Baptist was one of the most humble people in this regard (Mark 1:7).

Sacrifice: Although it is unpopular in our Christian culture today, Jesus provides this as a prerequisite course before we can enter into Jesusology 101 (Matthew 10:37-39, Acts 5:41).

Their Live: Those who are adamant that salvation is by grace alone and quote Ephesians 2:8-9 should also read verse 10. Paul actually calls us to live a life “worthy of the calling” (Ephesians 4:1, Philippians 1:27, Colossians 1:10, and 2 Thessalonians 1:5).

Not wrapped up: People who are kingdom people are not wrapped up in the ways of the sensual world. Jesus explains that those “worthy of taking part” in the “resurrection from the dead” realize that there is no marriage after death (Luke 20:34-38). Likewise, Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we should not store up our treasures in this age but in the age that is to come (Matthew 6:18-24).


This is by no means exhaustive by a beginning picture of what it means to be worthy to walk in the kingdom of God.

Danny said...

The italicized is originally posted by Wes with the numbers added in for clarification by Danny

To understand this question lets put it into the two easiest ways to look at it:

1a. Either we must make an intellectual decision and be right about who Jesus is for us to live for Him

1b. Our salvation is dependant on the things that are His attributes (doing good). Now neither of these things sit well with me.


Could you explain 1a and 1b salvation experiences more clearly for me. Thanks.

Robin Dugall said...

The only one who can make the call on salvation is God. Thank God we don't have to or are we encouraged to be anything but the creatures who are supposed to love God, share His love with others and NOT play God or pretend to be anything else than what we are. Is Ghandi saved? Who knows...take away his words and where he lived and you could look at his actions and see ALOT of Jesus. MMMMM....I wonder what that means? Glad I'm not making that call!

WES ELLIS said...

Thanks Robin, You stated it great. I hope that I am getting at what you said in my blog. We really can't know weather or not someone will go to Hell, personally I don't want to know.
Danny I think the questions you asked are more appropraite to answer in person so we'll meet up and talk ok?
The purpose of my post is not to decide what get's you into heaven it is simply to do away with tsome of our preconcieved notions about salvation. It's not about works it's not about intellectual decisions. It's not about being right. As Robin said "it's up to God" who is and isn't savedm, the only ones we can know about is ourselves. Are we pursuing Jesus?

spiritual ingenue said...

There is a portion within "The Book Of Common Prayer" that says "for those whose faith is known only to God". I really believe that God alone knows the true condition of a man's heart and mind, and it has to break His heart that we put the salvation experience inside such a small box.

Nowhere in the Word do I read a scripted prayer that I must recite in order to experience salvation. It just says "believe" and "confess". What that looks like is as individual as the person who is searching.

I look forward to reading more!

Blessings,
Jan