Salvation and Works

I believe that we are not saved through works, but we are saved to work. I feel that ‘getting saved’ is like getting your diploma or degree.

It’s a great development, and to be celebrated, but it’s not the end point. You’re supposed to do something with it!

Who would get a degree in veterinarian school, then go live on an island where there are no animals? No, you go somewhere that you can start helping animals.

God did not pay a great cost to redeem us, just so we could sit around and be redeemed.

I believe his purpose is to redeem and restore the entire world (I get this idea from the book of Revelation). Once we have accepted his amazing, gracious gift, we’re supposed to continue and cooperate with his will: the expansion of his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

We can’t earn God’s love. When I support a charity or feed a homeless person or visit a prisoner or share the gospel, I don’t earn an extra crown in heaven. What I’m doing, rather, is the same thing Jesus said in John 5:19: ”I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

I’m just doing what I see God doing. Caring for the downtrodden. Giving hope to the hopeless. Offering a hand to those who have fallen.

Because there is a great deal of work to be done in this world, and God himself has chosen to do it with and through us.

We are God’s plan A, and there is no plan B. This doesn’t point to how great we are, but rather how incredible God is. The epitome of perfection, willing to work through fallen, flawed and frail humanity because he values us.

Working for God and his purposes is not an obligation, it’s an honor. One that we’d have to be blind to refuse.

Salvation: An Ongoing Process

Recently, I read the portion of scripture below: “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:9-11 emphasis mine)

We tend to focus on the death of Jesus. He died for our sins. Then we celebrate Easter and shortly after that, he goes directly to heaven. Are we forgetting that Jesus didn’t just die for us, but that he also lived for us?

His sacrifice wiped the slate clean, restored us to zero when we had been at negative one zillion. But the goal isn’t to stay at zero. It’s to start counting up. To build on the second chance, to seize the opportunity.

Accepting Jesus’ sacrifice isn’t the finish line we often treat it as being: “Accept Jesus and you’ll end up in heaven”. It’s a beginning.

When God found you, you were laying in a roadside ditch - crippled and unable to help yourself. He picked you up and healed your legs. The worst thing you can do now is sit back down and wait for the end of your life. It’s time to start using the legs he healed. To go on the journey that he’s been calling you toward all along.

That journey is about restoring this world, not escaping it. To be part of his movement to make all things new. To bring light to the darkness, hope to the despairing, freedom to captives.

If you’ve accepted Jesus death as payment for your sins, then I want to say ‘Congratulations, welcome to the family. We’ve got a lot of work to do, so roll up your sleeves and let’s get busy.’

The Poison Pill

There’s an analogy about Jesus and Hell and Salvation that I’ve heard a number of times in my life: that people have been poisoned and they will die without the antidote. The poison is sin, death is hell and the antidote is salvation. So we seek to get people to pray the prayer of salvation in order that they would be saved from hell.

I don’t think this analogy is a very good one. Here’s why:

If I get bit by a snake, I’ll drink the antidote and the poison will be gone. Then I’ll go about my life the same way I did before I took the antidote.

Jesus isn’t a quick fix. You don’t pray a prayer of salvation and find that sin has disappeared and you just bide your time until heaven calls you home.

We stress the need for people to make a ‘decision for Jesus’. We see it as the determining factor on whether they end up in heaven or hell for eternity. We say things like ‘God will write your name in the book of life’ if you respond to the altar call.

Like God just has a holy excel spreadsheet and the only column next to each persons name is ‘Accepted Jesus’ with a yes or no in the field.

If I hurt somebody, and I tell them I’m sorry, than I walk away, was I really sorry? If I was really sorry, wouldn’t it show? Wouldn’t I try to make right what I caused to go wrong?

I don’t believe Jesus is after people who will just intellectually acknowledge that he is saviour. I believe he is after people who act like it.

Even Jesus gives an example that shows intellectual ascent isn’t what he or anybody else is after:

There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.

Matthew 21:28-31

The belief in God that the Pharisees had wasn’t the antidote to the “poison” of sin and the world.

And as James says, even the demons believe in God. They know Jesus was saviour. I don’t think the ‘antidote’ cured them.

What if I told you that you were poisoned, but that the antidote would cause you a great deal of pain? Would you still take it? You’d have to put some thought into it, right?

Because accepting Jesus means living a life of dying daily (1 Corinthians 15:31). It means that, at the minimum, you have to take up a cross (Matthew 10:38). It means living a life where you do the things you don’t want to do. (Romans 7:15).

How’s that for an antidote? Is that a quick, easy way to fix all your problems?

Jesus isn’t some snake oil cure all, but we make him out to be exactly that. Jesus hasn’t made my life easier. He’s made it better, but it isn’t without cost, and it certainly wasn’t some one-time thing.