Friday, 12 October 2012


I had an unexpected revelation the other day in Tesco.  We came upon the Halloween aisle and you know what?  For the first time in my life I didn’t care!!

I’ve been a Christian my whole life pretty much and every year at this time I’ve found the Halloween displays troubling. I was never one of those Christians that sees the demonic everywhere – the Christian equivalent of the ‘reds-under-the-beds’ paranoia of the 50’s and 60’s!  But I did find it upsetting to see it.  It used to bother me that so many American Christians would participate in trick-or-treating; dressing up as ghosts and ghouls, witches and wizards and skeletons and devils.  "Didn't they know how evil it all was?" I thought.  I’ve never allowed my children to participate in Halloween parties or dress up.  (I still vehemently object to trick-or-treating but that’s because it’s simply another invasion of American culture into Britain and while I love the USA I’d quite like to keep our society and culture British! However I’d be just as upset if Americans in small villages started doing Morris dancing just because they saw us Brits doing it).

However the finished work of the cross, the message of the superb and complete victory of Christ, the understanding of the delight the Father takes in his creation and the union we have through Jesus has obviously changed my thinking more radically than I thought.

I guess I now think that dressing up for Halloween and enjoying a party with a ‘scary’ theme is no different to watching a scary movie or Doctor Who!  It makes the participants no more likely to become involved in the occult or have any influence over them than dressing up as a Priest or a Nun for a ‘tarts & vicars’ party would make you suddenly decide the religious life in a convent or monastery was for you!  The activities and trapping of Halloween are silly not demonic!  The American Christians that participate in it have a much healthier attitude to Halloween than most evangelical/charismatic Christians in the UK - they treat it as a silly bit of family fun!

The enemy was soundly defeated Colossians 2:15 tells us this “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

So let’s stop focusing on the enemy, stop focusing on the fear, stop obsessing about the outward appearance and most of all stop judging.  Let’s look to Christ and his glorious triumph and give the enemy exactly the amount of attention he deserves – none at all.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Battleship Church

I remember years ago hearing a preach, at least twice, about how the church isn't supposed to be a cruise liner but a battleship; everyone in their place with a job to do to fight the battle.  At the time I absolutely agreed with it and if you’re the person who preached it, or if you’re someone who absolutely believes this, then please don’t be offended by what follows.  It’s not a dig or a personal attack it’s just a reflection of how far my thinking has changed over recent years.  (And perhaps it’s better news for hurting, lost, damaged, frightened people than conscription into an army would be!)

The implication of the battleship analogy is that we have to fight.  That there is an active, dangerous enemy that has power, power to attack us, hurt us, damage us or even possibly kill us if we’re just loafing about not remaining constantly vigilant and ready to defend ourselves.  We know we have a captain, Jesus, in charge of the ship and he’s plotted out a victorious strategy and the outcome of the war is assured but at the moment our enemy is fighting a vicious rear-guard campaign designed to inflict maximum losses out of spite.  Jesus’ earthly mission was like the D-Day landings that turned the tide, the act that effectively won the war but the troops, us, still need to advance to Berlin to ensure peace.

I'm not sure where unbelievers fitted into the battleship analogy.  Were they held captive on enemy vessels?  Were they, in some cases, manning those vessels willingly; perhaps the Satanists or those practicing the occult would be viewed this way?  Were the unbelievers simply adrift in the sea, clinging onto whatever flotsam and jetsam they could awaiting rescue?  But once rescued instead of being repatriated and given tea and sympathy they are immediately given a uniform, some basic training and then assigned a post on the battleship!

You know what?  I think the church IS a cruise liner.  I think the captain is still Jesus, but he’s a captain who’s no longer at war.  He actually did defeat the enemy as the scripture says in Colossians 2:13 -15 “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross”.  He’s now the captain of ‘The Love Boat’!  We are the passengers, enjoyed the rest spoken of in Hebrews 4, the victory over the sinful nature spoken of in Romans 6, 7 & 8.  The enemy is stripped of power, and all that remains is the lies he spread via his propaganda.  We really don’t have to actively engage in warfare.  The only weapon left to the enemy is lies.  Jesus, Mr. Truth, set us free!

Where are the unbelievers in this analogy?  Are they on the enemy vessels?  No – they were all sunk.  Are they adrift in the sea hoping there are no sharks sniffing around?  No.  They’re on the ship with us!  The only difference between the believers on the ship, who spend all day enjoying the fullness and bounty of the banquet at the captain’s table, relaxing in the sunshine, playing, having fun and loving each other and the captain, is that they’re below decks in the dark in the hold!  They either don’t know the captain bought them a ticket for the cruise and that they've got their own stateroom ready and waiting or they don’t believe that they deserve it!  Perhaps they don’t even believe that there is an above-decks to come up to – perhaps they've believed so much of the enemy propaganda they think the hard-life below decks is all there is.

Do we as believers have a job to do?  Yes.  But it’s a pleasant task, an easy burden and a light yolk.  It doesn't involve military drills, harsh discipline or fighting.  All we have to do is open a door into someone’s darkness in the hold and love them into seeing that they really are invited to the captain’s table.  The ticket is real, the full cost already paid for.  The cross paid the price for all, 2 Corinthians 5:14 – “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died”.  So let’s enjoy our cruise, invite as many as we can to join the feast and take Paul’s advice in Galatians 5:1 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” which in this analogy would be abandoning your luxury stateroom to go back below decks and eke out an existence in the dark!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Snakes and Ladders

The snakes and ladders game
We start at square 1 and try to get to 100 by the roll of a dice, try and avoid the snakes and hope to land on a square that will get us up a ladder. If there are other players, that’s fine we do like someone to compare ourselves against. I think it’s a pretty good analogy of how we can live out the ‘good Christian life’. The analogy falls apart with the dice throwing; after all we’re not Calvinists! It is our own effort, (with the Holy Spirit’s assistance, as long as we’re good), that determines where we are on the board and how we advance or decline, well that is how to be a good Christian, isn’t it? We accept that we are saved by grace, a gift, but that is only square one, we now need to get on with living as a Christian, we need to move on, we can’t stay a baby Christian, there is so much more than this first square…..
So square one, where our ‘testimony’ begins, where our salvation began; when we said ‘the’ prayer, when we confessed with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, when we repented of our sins and gave our heart to Jesus, when we decided being a Christian was for us, where we took our own decision to believe having grown up in a Christian household. This is where most of us believe our salvation began, before this moment or gradual realisation we were not Christians, we were objects of wrath, we were sinners in the hands of an angry God. Then we jumped, we crossed the chasm, we made our commitment and we were on square one. Now we’re a Christian we can move along the board and progress according to our behaviour, if we are good and do all the right things, being a good Christian then we can progress up a ladder.
For different people there are different types of success and ladder advancement, if we are looking at our own Christian walk then we may have a great day; pray all day, fast all day, read our bible, witness to somebody, not sin most of the day, the odd lapse but quick repentance with a bit of penance, pray for somebody’s issues to compensate for the slight slip. So at the end of this kind of day a slap on the back and up the ladder called ‘I’ve been a good Christian today’. For others the ladders are about Christian approval, promotion and advancement; speaking to an ‘anointed’ person, an invite to dinner with the leadership team, an invite to speak at the meeting or even better at another church, then of course there’s platform events and being invited to speak at the conference or just sit on the stage. This is like a big ladder up to near the top, being called into leadership, the prophetic and the holy grail of promotions the ‘Apostle’ square.
But then there are the snakes, the ‘bad’ days; those days when you didn’t give God a second thought, didn’t read your bible for a week/month/year, didn’t go to the prayer meeting or God forbid stayed in bed on a Sunday. Non-attendance at meetings are big snakes to avoid. The biggest snake that will take you from even the top line of the board straight to the bottom line is the deception snake, this one is to be feared and avoided at all costs, you can’t even trust yourself not to fall down this one, it is the nature of this beast that you won’t even recognise it. You could think you’re doing ok but you could be deceived! The thing with this snake and belief in it is, you will always be dependent on others to teach you and guide you as you inherently distrust yourself. Sin is almost as bad and can take people off the board, believing that there is no way back on, no way to return to square one, there is a scripture that says that somewhere so it must be true!
Then there is the 100 spot, this might just be the ‘Apostle’ title for some. They’re not too worried about the snakes and ladders as there is no way they can slide from this space, no chance of deception, no chance of being demoted! For most, the 100 is death, there is no way to get to the final square until you’re dead as you’re never going to be promoted enough, never going to have enough good Christian days, avoid enough snakes, you are not perfect after all, you are never going to be that holy until you are dead. So then, just keep going, doing your best, knowing that as long as you don’t screw up too badly you’ll make it when you’re dead. Death the ultimate saviour! And so ends the game.
I think the flaw begins at the very beginning, if we believe it is our decision that resulted in our salvation, we made the choice for God, we said the prayer, we repented, we believed, then we are also fully responsible for how that salvation is outworked. The Holy Spirit is here to help, as long as you’ve had teaching about him, but we still need to ask him to assist and be filled with him continuously as we may have leaked him out or have been thrown off the board for grieving him, he’s much more sensitive than God about sin!!!
However there is another possibility, another way where there are no snakes and no ladders, there is only square one and square 100 and how they are determined is out of our hands altogether and has been decided long before we were born. What if square one, our salvation, our rescue, our leap of the chasm was done a long time ago? What if we didn’t even leap a chasm, walk over a bridge of repentance or get saved through our prayer? What if Jesus leapt the chasm for us?
Here’s the alternative. At the beginning, before time began, the Trinity, all loved up in their relationship, decided to make something that could enjoy their wonderful existence. They created something more than universes and creatures, something that the Trinity would enjoy forever, something so fascinating, so impressive, so beautiful and so like them. The original thought and will of God was to create and enjoy a humanity that would enjoy him.
And then Jesus, the GodMan, the Word made flesh, arrives into our history 2000 years ago. His incarnation marked a massive shift in creation, this is the Word made flesh, he’s the one who holds all things together, he’s the Jesus from Colossians 1 and John 1, nothing is made without him. He is the creator made flesh. Jesus jumps the chasm; he leaves everything, empties himself and becomes a man. He doesn’t become a bridge over which we can pass once we’ve decided to repent, he climbed over into our flesh. So what happens to him, happens to all of us, he is the vicarious man, he is not just our representative for atonement, he holds all of us, all our existence in his being. When he dies, all die, when he is raised, we are all raised. This is how it says we are seated in heavenly places, why it says one died for all. What if the second Adam had more of an impact on humanity than the first Adam? What if the second Adam is much more powerful to change humanity than the first Adam who was, after all, only human?
What if we believe that we are saved by Jesus, by what he did to us 2,000 years ago? What if we believe that he places us in heavenly places, puts us straight on square one without our choice, without our free will? Isn’t that against the rules? Isn’t that cheating? How can that be right? Surely there has to be some choice, some part for us to play, what happened to our free will if everyone is saved by Jesus? Isn’t that universalism? Well I suppose that depends on your understanding of universalism and also why do we assume we choose to opt in rather than choose to opt out? Why do we assume, on this side of the cross, that we are ‘out’ and choose to go ‘in’, when it could be that what Jesus has done, is put us all ‘in’ and we can choose to opt ‘out’? Do we believe that when Jesus died on a cross he dealt with all the sins of the world at that time, whether he was a complete sacrifice or there was more required by God, that our salvation is by Jesus, whether you believe he came to save the world, that he came because the Father so loves the world that he sent his son, that he came for mercy not judgement, that he came to bring life to the full and to reconcile men to God. But we also know that Jesus also talked about hell, he talked about the place of gnashing of teeth and he told parable after parable about the alternative to accepting the invitation, being unprepared, being poorly dressed at a wedding, or even being a goat! But if you read carefully you’ll see the parables start with inclusion, everybody is invited to the parties, the bridesmaids are invited to the wedding, the prodigal son doesn’t get his repentance out before the Father has reinstated him, the sheep and the goats appear before the same shepherd. Then there are verses about when one died all died, how much more powerful the second Adam’s actions were on humanity and even that we are now seated in heavenly places. I think we have hugely underestimated what Jesus accomplished through his life, death and ascension and far outweighed our accomplishment when we said a prayer of salvation!
Two thousand years ago Jesus dealt with the separation between God and man, reconciled us all to him, there is now no penalty for sin, no eternal damnation for sinners – how can there be when everybody’s sin has been paid for, everybody has already been forgiven? Perhaps the reason why the world is still in turmoil is because they don’t know how rescued they are.
So God cheated and stacked the chips in favour of the sinners, redeemed them all, paid the price himself for everyone. This is how outrageous grace is, why the Gospel is an affront, an offense because it’s not fair. We have no part to play in our salvation, which was why the law was so futile, it was there to show that no matter how hard we tried to keep all the rules, we have all fallen short, even Paul the law keeper was a failure before he encountered Jesus and the Gospel of Grace. We don’t have Levitical law anymore, we just have lots of rules to keep instead!
So if we believe that it isn’t our choice that puts us on the snakes and ladders board, how do we move around the board? If we are all included then how is our behaviour affected, why bother with evangelism, why bother with ‘being good’. I suggest reading Romans for the answer to ‘with so much grace, does sin not abound? By no means!’ We don’t understand grace so we try and work our way into it. We don’t really believe that Jesus could have saved us without our help and he certainly can’t keep us on the straight and narrow path without our free will, without our choice. Our obsession with our behaviour, our standards, our works, is back to front. When we understand/believe that he has saved us singlehandedly, that we are his children, that we are holy, then we live from that place. Our response is one of thankfulness. Our behaviour is moulded by our belief, our true nature is exceptional, we are a holy nation, a royal priesthood, made in the likeness of God.  If we believe we are sinners then we will sin because we think we can’t help it, it is who we believe we are but if we believe we are saints, children of God, redeemed ones, then we live out our existence with this reality and our behaviour changes through the truth of who we are.
There is no moving up and down ladders and snakes based on our behaviour. Our true identity, and therefore our reality and behaviour, are based on what Jesus has done, it is based on his response, his behaviour, and our life is hidden in his. He places us on the board, which we call life, and also places us at the 100 mark, we are totally approved, totally qualified, safe, secure and constantly in the presence of God. If you can imagine that Jesus folds the board over so number 1 and number 100 are on the same square and then says ‘it is finished’.  Our response is to stay on this square, it is where everything holds together, it is unfathomable and it is freedom. Moving on from here is straight into religion, grace will always point to what Jesus has done, religion will point to what you have to do. The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus has saved you completely.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

At one-ness.

Unity is something as Christians we believe in, unity with God, other Christians, maybe others but we do seem to have differences in outworking this belief. We believe there is blessing linked to unity following Psalm 133 and the promise that where unity is there will be blessing and so in order to get the blessing we work on our unity. Perhaps if we believed in a unity that was already in existence, or even a blessing that was non-conditional based on living in the new covenant, we might do things a bit differently.
If we believe unity with God is something that we work at it will affect our relationship with God. If we perceive a distance in our relationship, then we will spend time trying to shorten that distance or feel that it is too difficult and we might just settle for a long distance relationship. If however we believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God, that we are ‘In Christ’ and he is in us, then our conversation will not start with trying to sort out a distance. In any relationship if we believe we are in someone’s ‘bad books’ because of our behaviour, we will feel a little hesitant in our conversation, may even distance ourselves further if we believe there is no way back. Whereas if we believe we can’t get into someone’s bad books or that they would never hold a grudge against us, or they are always wanting to talk to us, always wanting to hear us, not interested even in our behaviour other than in how it affects us, not the relationship, then perhaps we wouldn’t waste so much time on sorting out the distance and instead enjoy our union and enjoy being blessed.
Unity with other Christians is something we all work at to a point. We are after all too different to be able to get along otherwise we wouldn’t have so many different kinds of churches. Our differences are much more fundamental than style, they are based on our doctrines and theology, there are lines drawn that we aren’t prepared to delete.  We have programs and meetings where we try and get along, if we can do something together maybe we will have the semblance of unity and maybe that’s all we can hope for. We don’t mention the differences and we will tolerate ‘the others’ for an hour per term for the sake of unity and working together for the sake of our community, who to be honest can’t really get over why if we’re all so loved up with each other we have so many different churches in the first place. So how can there be ‘real’ unity when we are all so entrenched in what we believe and can only just about manage to do things together as long as we don’t mention the war. So what do we have in common with the ‘others’? What do we share with other Christians? Jesus is probably the lowest possible common denominator, only belief in him, not really anything else, but then if we read Corinthians and believe what it says - that we are automatically part of his body, then we might conclude that Unity is an actuality and doesn’t need ‘worked on’ or artificially created through activity. We wouldn’t do things for unity, we would do them because of our unity.  If we believe that the Christian over the road, in another church, maybe even in no church is fully united to us, then maybe we would just get along in our relationship, we would again not try and sort out the distance between us, accept there is no distance and enjoy our unity and our blessing. What if the church exists as a reality without our meetings, structures or attendance, what if the church really is the body of Christ, would we then stop using language like; ‘I’ve left the church’, ‘I don’t like the church’, ‘the church is controlling and abusive’, ‘the church ruined my life’ or even ‘I’m off to church’ – only if you’re having some kind of out of body experience! Perhaps if places have treated us badly we could start calling them something other than church; ’institution’,  ‘cult’ and reserve the word church for what it really is? Perhaps words matter.
What about unity with others, those who are not Christians, can there,  or should there, be unity with those that do not believe in Jesus, not as a saviour, not in a relationship with him, wouldn’t step into our buildings, should there be unity with ‘the others’? I’m thinking Yes. I’m not saying I’m right, I’m just thinking/writing out loud.
What if, unity is something so much bigger than we ever thought before? What if the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ is not only about helping people to see that Jesus has reconciled them to God, what if it is also no longer seeing people as sinners, no longer seeing a separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’? Here’s a definition;
Separatism - the advocacy of a state of cultural, ethnic, tribal, religious, racial, governmental or gender separation from the larger group. So perhaps we have something of the separatist in all of us; ‘the saved vs the damned’, ‘Christians vs other faiths or the atheists’, ‘Catholics’ vs the rest’, ‘the Charismatics/Pentecostals vs traditional/established’. We really are like a Monty Python sketch -People’s Front of Judea vs Judean People’s front! We have so many ways to draw lines to separate one group of Christians from each other, never mind where we draw lines between ‘believers’ and ‘unbelievers’. I’m not saying let’s scrap all the buildings and rent a stadium where we can all be together as we do have different theologies and styles but I am wondering whether we should practise erasing some of these lines. Could we consider seeing past a person’s behaviour or theology to see a unity that transcends everything else? Can we delete some of the lines/fences, not just between Christian to Christian but between any sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’? To be able to see unity between one human being and the next. Not just artificial, worked at unity, but a belief that there is no separation. More than seeing that there is no real separation between one Christian and another but no separation between one human and another, no distance between the people. To begin with, how about we are all made in the image of God? That is something we believe, not an illusion and not something to be worked at, it is a reality, male and female made in the image of God. So if we take that as a starting point in our relationships with others then we would not start with the differences, particularly in value between one person and the next. Could we start to see past someone’s behaviour and see the image of God in them? Could we love people on the basis that there is no separation between us rather than trying to love people because we have to, ‘we have to try really hard to love the person when we don’t like them because we’re a Christian’. To see past behaviour, see a person that is the same as us and allow a love to flow from our union with God and our unity with them through some invisible channel? Perhaps like Jesus saw past our behaviour and loved us anyway??
How much of the world’s difficulties come from separatism, my culture is better than yours, my gender is better than yours, my meetings and theology are better than yours. What if we believed in unity and lived from a belief in reconciliation.
Another definition;
Reconcile - to make two 'apparently' conflicting things compatible or consistent with each other. Harmonious is also linked to reconciliation, living in harmony with one another.  We talk of relationships being reconciled, our relationship with God has been reconciled by Jesus, he did the reconciliation for us. The trinity living in harmony with each other with a desire for unity with us and with each other. John 17 talks of one-ness with each other, unity like Jesus has with his Father. The prayer is for all believers and we could say that if Jesus saw a division between believers and unbelievers so should we and this one-ness is only for believers, but I think we should push this one further and would like to suggest that perhaps separation was never God’s intention. Not between us and Him or indeed between human to human. Being separate from one another surely is a disadvantage, the tower of Babel is a testimony to one language possibility and perhaps speaking in tongues by the power of the Holy Spirit was not meant to be used as some kind of ‘good Christian’ barometer but instead as a language to unite people together. Yes a heavenly language used for worship and prayer but maybe, just maybe Paul used tongues the most because he was travelling the most and knew that speaking the same language as his hearers created a sense of unity. Perhaps being all things to all people meant he found unity where we would now see the differences. Perhaps if we believe that the Kingdom is here already then we wouldn’t worry about changing people’s cultures as the Kingdom is already the uniting force.
We say let’s honour our differences but maybe we actually mean let’s keep them.  Let’s honour our uniqueness and yes we are all created with different fingerprints, live in different cultures and 50% of the population have different body parts but this uniqueness could also be outworked in the bigger reality of unity.
I suppose I’m just a bit tired of the line drawing, the line between good and bad, the line between saved and not, the line between secular and sacred, the line between us and them. All these ways to separate ourselves from others, to see differences, to hole up in our own safe world and hope nobody infiltrates the ranks with some weird teaching about one-ness with God and with all of humanity. Maybe my cave is best or maybe it’s time to think bigger than I have done before. Maybe love never fails.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

To be or not to be, saved. (Part 3)

By reading these last three parables in Matthew, the ten virgins, the parable of the talents and the sheep and the goats, as teaching, rather than as parable, led to me believing that behaviour could affect salvation.  As I am now a true believer in saved by grace, I have found these parables quite difficult to understand and have appreciated Robert Capon’s book, the judgement parables of Jesus, to assist in understanding these parables, in light of ‘belief’ being the sole principle of salvation.
To save repeating what he says I’ll summarise by saying that the common theme that exists in quite a few, and including these three parables, is one of inclusion.  The ten lamp carrying virgins are invited to attend the wedding, all the guests at the wedding have been invited, even the one in the scruffy clothes, all the weeds and wheat have been allowed to grow together, all the workers are employed, and even the sheep and goats arrive together.  Reading these parables there is a definite theme of; everybody is already ‘in’ and then something happens that then leads to exclusion.  We will certainly find it acceptable that Jesus died for everybody, belief that nobody is excluded by God.  Grace means that anybody can be saved and everybody can be invited.  They are presently in the outer darkness and we invite them into the light.  However this is not the inference here, in these parables everybody is already included, the ten virgins are already attending the wedding, the workers are already employed, the nations referred to as sheep and goats arrive together.   
So in understanding these parables an acceptance that we start with inclusion seems important because it will help us to believe that our starting point with salvation is this; I have been included in Christ’s death and resurrection, I have already been fully accepted by God, I have been already reconciled to God.  Now do I believe that inclusion?  By faith do I accept the inclusion and if this is the basis for my salvation then I can’t really be excluded by bad behaviour or included for good behaviour because it has already been done for me by Jesus.  Perhaps this would change our evangelism, not just our own Hokey-Cokey salvation.  If we thought the person in front of us was already included but had no idea, no belief, no faith in that inclusion and we spent time encouraging them to believe rather than telling them about their sin, would we be more ‘successful’ in our evangelism?  Telling them the good news of a gospel of grace, the good news of reconciliation, rather than the gospel of repentance to acceptance, sounds more like the gospel Paul preached.
Before we start screaming about universalism, the parables are pretty clear that there is still an ‘out’ for those that have no faith, no belief, no relationship.  Jesus is the door and it is open and will stay open for all.  The door does not slam because we have behaved badly.  I certainly used to believe that the parable of the ten virgins was all about ensuring you were ready for when the bridge-groom came, watch as you just don’t know when he’ll come, which is understandable as that’s how the parable ends.  But Jesus must’ve been referring to something more than this especially in the light of the revelation that Christ is in us and we therefore don’t wait in fear that he’ll arrive on the clouds, judge us as not being ready and throw us out of heaven, that we appear to already be seated in.  So what is the parable about if not about being prepared?  Perhaps instead Jesus, in the face of his impending death and resurrection, which is going to happen within the week of him telling this story, is hoping they will see firstly that life is not as straight forward as they might prepare for, the bridge-groom might be late, the car might break down, the doctor might give devastating news, the post might bring an unexpected bill, their Messiah might be about to die, life might be full of the unexpected but you need to see past the reality into the truth that he is coming and to have the assurance and certainty that all will be well.  Secondly, to not rely upon the worldly wisdom of preparing for the here and now, the expectation that the world will run properly and instead rely upon the foolish wisdom that the world does not run properly, it is full of the unexpected and it is only faith that makes any sense.  The faith that despite the circumstances and whether I look stupid for believing, or for bringing extra oil to a daytime wedding, asserts that ‘I do believe’ and that is what matters.  Perhaps this is the message of the ten virgins as the other meaning of, ‘be ready or else’, doesn’t fit with saved by grace through faith.
The parable of the talents.  I used to believe Jesus was telling us to make sure we use the talents he gives us or else we’re in trouble.  I don’t believe that this parable is anything to do with working hard with what you’ve got or on judgement day you’re going to get thrown into hell.  Here the master is away a long time, similar to the bridegroom being late, and when he returns there is a problem with the servant who has not done anything with the talent, as he was afraid.  The man is a character in a story to help us see the nonsense of what he has done with being given something for free.  All he had to do was enjoy the gift and it would have multiplied in his hands.  The story is to help us see how ridiculous we can behave when confronted with sheer grace, we can so easily become the older brother, from the Prodigal Son story, offended by so much lavish love.  We want to see a bookkeeper instead, we want to see our good works rewarded, we want God to have another book alongside the book of life marking down all the good things that we do, like the elder brother who stays home and doesn’t run off, we want our good deeds to be marked down in a book and be rewarded.  Jesus is not a book-keeper he’s a grace provider and the story of the talents is Jesus helping us to see that grace is given to everyone, all you need to do is receive it and trust Him and the grace will do its own work.
Jesus is certainly painting an intense picture for his listeners with these last three parables.  He’s forcing them to focus on their own existence, pointing out that there will be a point when time runs out to choose between the wild, all-included, all-free party or to refuse this grace, to refuse him.  There is a cost to this party, that he is paying in full, and he wants to make sure that they understand that refusing his free gift will not go on for an eternity.
Finally, the sheep and the goats, the story of all stories to fearfully inspire people to do things to avoid being a goat and thrown into hell and I have to doubt that is what Jesus was intending them to believe.  The bible is full of references to taking care of widows and orphans, of taking responsibility for the poor and disadvantaged however there is no reference to your salvation being dependant on it apart from in this story and that is the key.  Jesus is telling them a story with a point and I think we’ve picked up the wrong point.  If it’s true that our salvation is by grace through faith and not by works then clearly Jesus is saying something other than ‘visit the prisoners or the lake of fire awaits’.  So what is the message?  
To begin there is the inclusion of all nations being gathered before Jesus, the Son of Man for separation into two groups.  There is nobody missing, the Jews haven’t been given a free pass at this moment and neither have the Christians, those who we might consider shouldn’t even get to this point are here, those we would thought were on the path ‘straight to hell’ or we wish had been sent straight to hell for their evil acts during their lifetime.  Those who have walked a hidden path and those on platforms are here, everybody is here, all nations are present before Jesus.  Maybe this is one of the points Jesus is hoping we’ll understand that ‘at the end of the day’ we’re all the same to Jesus, we are all in the same boat.  A frightening thought you scream, “What?  So nothing I do here on the earth matters, well I might as well behave as I please and sin to my heart’s desire’!  The knowledge of so much grace leads to so much sin?  I think not!  What we do here on earth, during our lifetime does matter, it matters as to our quality of life and to the quality of life of those around us, what doesn’t matter is whether we get that right or not as our behaviour good or bad will not dictate our salvation otherwise we save ourselves.  Jesus clearly cares about our quality of life, healing the sick, feeding the five thousand and even telling the woman caught in adultery to sin no more.  Even the law’s regulations set out in Leviticus are more health and safety rules than spiritual ones, don’t eat mouldy food, wash your hands, don’t be getting tattooed you don’t know where that needle has been!  Unfortunately we, as ever, took these suggestions by God for a healthier and better life and turned them into requirements for salvation.  The Pharisees were always looking to the failings of the disciples’ keeping of the law; not washing their hands, picking ears of wheat on a Sabbath to accuse them, to show they were sinful and therefore God was not with them.  We just have different sins to accuse people of, to consider them ‘out’ of the favour of God, from speeding to not going to church.  We assure ourselves that God is a just God, an honest God who will ensure those who have done evil during their lifetime are punished; we want them sent to hell.  A seriously understandable position for those who have lost loved ones at the hands of another, understandable when thinking of the atrocities caused by dictators and understandable when looking at the pain and suffering caused by humans to humans, somebody has to pay one day.  However, we do not have a God who gives us what we deserve or what we believe others deserve, instead he gives us his son.  
His son who will judge and use his own motivation of saving the world not condemning it and the only exit is from punishment not from his presence.  The Son of Man is the judge; he came to judge the enemy and to give eternal life to all that believe.  Salvation by grace alone means that it is only belief in Jesus that can save you not behaviour, and thankfully, grace dictates that we do not get what we deserve, good or bad. 
In the parable, the Son of Man separates the sheep and the goats as a shepherd, not as a market trader.  He is making the point that he is the good shepherd of both the sheep and the goats; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep and the goats.  His death which is imminent will be for all, the good and the bad.  (Note the Passover lamb could be a goat – Exodus 12:5).  The separation in the story is within the context of the inclusion of all in his death.  The mystery of the gospel was that gentiles would now be included, there was no longer any separation of the nations and here is the picture showing that Jesus has drawn all men to himself, his mission to draw all men into himself on the cross and incorporate them both into his body.  Paul covers this in Ephesians 2:15-16. 
The story now sets out the good-sheep bad-goats scenario.  As mentioned above it cannot be that omission to do good, or doing bad, is an obstacle to salvation or that do-gooders are those that get to celebrate, there must be more to this story than that as it would totally oppose the message of ‘whilst we were still sinners’ Christ died for us.  It negates Jesus’ actions of eating and celebrating with tax collectors and prostitutes.  If our behaviour is what will make the difference then we have a salvation based on works.  I doubt Jesus was trying to change his message in the last few days either, as in, he’s been all about the grace and Mr Nice-guy but at the end of the day it will be all about what you did and Mr Burn-in-Hell.  So what is the message?  If belief is the only thing that Jesus is looking for then where is the faith here, which ‘group’ have faith/belief and which do not?  It is interesting to note in this parable and in a previous scripture, Jesus informs his hearers that casting out demons and healing the sick is not enough, it is instead the ‘knowing Jesus’ that matters.  Here the sheep are commended for having a relationship with Jesus, and the goats have no relationship with Jesus and that is the reason for separation, not who feeds the poor.  There is a danger if we read this as anything other than a parable, we start to be motivated to feed the poor because we don’t want to go to hell and that is clearly not the message. 
The parable is not Jesus’ last call to tell us to feed the poor or we’re off to hell, it is his last call, the story to bring all stories together, to tell us that he’s the judge, he’s come to draw all men to himself, he’s the shepherd of all and there is an eternal party for those who discover and believe him and therefore have a relationship with him.  To be frank it has nothing to do with feeding the poor, visiting the sick and the prisoners at all, any more than his other stories were actual about real events.  They are all pointing to a message, one of salvation through grace.  He even throws in a final point that the sheep didn’t even know it was Jesus, to help them know that they cannot work out this salvation; it is through faith alone, not through intellectual human wisdom.  The story of the sheep and the goats is the final spark to light up their darkness before the explosive light that is his death and resurrection.
Here’s the final shocking point, even the belief, the faith, that is your free pass to a secure and complete, eternal life, is a gift.  We do not even work up our faith; it has been given to us by God.  We cannot even claim that our own work of belief has saved us.  We cannot work it out and we cannot improve it or diminish it.  Our salvation has been given to us so that we have nothing to boast in, except Christ.

To be or not to be, saved. (Part 2)

Jesus mentions judgement directly and also through telling parables about a judgement day. On first reading and face value, taking a parable at a time, not taking into account anything but the words written on the page in front of you, they go something like this; there will be a specific day when there will be a sifting of sheep and goats, wedding attendees and employees, where some people will go into heaven and the rest will be thrown out gnashing their teeth. It is understandable that we have in our theology a whole picture of this day, not only because we read them out of context but its depicted all over the classic paintings and shouted from the pulpits ‘turn or burn, the end is nigh’.
It is understandable we believe that is what judgement day will be like, based on how we generally read our bible; one scripture at a time, a whole chapter if we can manage it, believing everything that is written there is God inspired and not taking into account the context, the audience, the writers own preferences, the readers own preferences, the rest of the mission of Jesus, the rest of the bible and the whole of history plus where we live and all the teaching we’ve ever heard and read on that chapter which might be influencing our understanding of what we’re reading. Now I’m not saying that Jesus didn’t tell the parables or that they were not written down correctly but I do believe that we miss so much and can therefore be misled, if we don’t take into account everything else including that it is God inspired and shouldn’t be read without his input as to what he’s trying to tell us about salvation and judgement.
Here’s a few of the scriptures where Jesus is talking about judgement without using parables;
Jesus said that he had not come to condemn the world but save it, John 3:17. God doesn’t judge the world Jesus does, John 5:22. His judgement is just because he doesn’t judge on his own because God is with him, John 8:16.  He is given full authority to judge by God because he is the Son of Man, John 5:27.
From these scriptures together with Jesus’s mission on earth to ‘be raised up to bring all men to himself’, John 12:32, we understand that Jesus is the judge and his motivation is to save the world not to condemn it.
Other scriptures, paraphrased, ‘it will be tougher on judgement day for you than for the Tyre and Sidon and the Queen of Sheba, because they repented and you are not doing so’. It seems pretty simple to me what this means; with Jesus right in front of them, they missed who he was, how much more disappointed, how much more difficult will a judgement day be for them knowing how much they missed the mark. A scripture not to be taken as a hierarchy in hell with some people standing on the heads of others!
‘The men of Nineveh will stand up on that day and condemn you’, note not Jesus condemning them and to be taken in the context of who he is talking to. Here to shock the audience into thinking that their old enemies, the Philistines, will be getting up on judgement day and pointing the finger because they repented. (Not ultimately I might add, on reading Nahum, they did revert to their terrible ways and were destroyed, so Jesus wasn’t making a point about how good the Philistines were). Jesus knows what he is doing to his audience here, pushing them to see the truth, hoping that their worst nightmare of being condemned by their enemies will wake them up to who he is.
So how does Jesus judge; ‘I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind’, John 9:39. So not to condemn but to bring light to the blind and to those purporting to see, namely the Pharisees and teachers, to make them blind. He wanted them to stop teaching the heavy yoke of religion, adding regulation after regulation, purporting to follow all of them themselves. He wanted to make them see that they were blind guides, not seeing at all and hopefully in recognising their blindness would too come to the light. John 12:31 tells us that Jesus came to judge the Prince of this world and that he would be driven out. An interesting note on the power of the enemy following the crucifixion. 1 John 3:8 tells us that he came to destroy the works of the devil. If he succeeded then perhaps we should be less enemy focussed?? He came to drive out the enemy not to condemn humanity. Humanity he came to save. His judgement appears to be meted out as follows;  John 5:24 ‘ the solemn truth I tell you that he who listens to my teaching and believes Him who sent me, has the Life of the Ages, and does not come under judgement’. John 3:18 He who trusts in Him does not come up for judgement.
This seems to be the only exit clause - one of avoiding judgment rather than being subject to it.
Here’s a scripture that we might consider is about behaviour rather than belief; ‘they who have done what is right to the resurrection of Life, and they whose actions have been evil to the resurrection of judgement.’ John 5:29. I think as it is in the context of those who are already dead and in their graves I think it would be a stretch to use this one verse to build a theology that our actions are what save us. It is also worth noting that ‘what is right’ and what we are told is the work of God is to believe in the one he sent John 6:29. So doing what’s right is always going to start with belief.
The scriptures seem pretty clear about how and what is important when talking about judgement. ‘Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned’ John 3:18.
‘Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’ John 1:12 and our all-time favourite scripture, John 3:16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whosoever believes in him will have eternal life.’
It seems clear to me in the specific words of Jesus; he is the judge, he judges by bringing light to the blind and blindness to those who see. He throws out the enemy and gives eternal life to those that believe in him. There doesn’t seem to be any other qualifier than belief, belief in Jesus gives eternal life, that’s all there is, nothing else required. There doesn’t even seem to be a need for repentance. It is not mentioned as a qualifier for eternal life, it might follow and there are certainly scriptures about obedience and behaviour but our salvation doesn’t seem to depend on them, only belief. It is difficult therefore to reconcile our evangelism technique of ‘repentance to salvation’, the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and even the ever so popular ‘four points’ which makes consciousness of sin and repentance part of salvation. It is difficult to see how repentance can happen when there is no belief. It is difficult to tell people that they are sinners when ‘whilst we were still sinners Christ died for us’ and as he doesn’t make repentance a requirement, then we shouldn’t. We also confuse repentance with sin, when repentance means turning around, changing our behaviour, with no reference to sinfulness we still connect the two together. Paul says in his letters that he no longer considers men sinners and that God no longer counts our sins against us and yet our loudest evangelism tool is ‘you’re a sinner and you need to repent’. The crucifixion dealt with our sin once and for all and repentance for sin is therefore irrelevant to our actual salvation.
Having a belief that sin affects our salvation either at ‘entry’ point or during, will give us a whole theology of Hokey-Cokey salvation. One minute you’re in, the next sin, you’re out and we will therefore have a behaviour based salvation.
Paul preaches the same message; it is not by works, it is through belief, through faith so that none may boast. I don’t believe that Jesus and Paul were preaching different messages; ‘Jesus, a Jew, preaches the law and Paul preaches grace’. Jesus did not preach the law as a way to salvation, he came to fulfil its every requirement for us and when he does preach about behaviour it is clearly to show how much our behaviour is never going to save us. The rich young ruler believed he had kept every law and yet still knew there was more, being rich and being spiritually perfect still left him with a gap that he knew only Jesus could fill. Jesus sends him away to give away everything, not because he objects to us being rich, but he objects to us finding the next formula for spiritual perfection. He sends him away to lose his life, to become a loser, to realise that there is nothing he could do to save himself. It could only be, and remains only, an acceptance that Jesus is the only saviour. I cannot save myself, I cannot behave my way in or out of salvation. I believe in Jesus and I have the right/power to become his child. I am so loved by Jesus that he came for me so that if I believed in him I would have eternal life.
Paul is very clear in his teaching that grace is all that counts. He writes about salvation by grace through faith without any reference of how to be thrown out of the Kingdom, the church meetings perhaps, but not out of favour with God. He understood the good news that Jesus had fully reconciled man to God.  He knew that Jesus had annihilated the sinful nature – see Romans 6. He knew there was now no condemnation – see Romans 8 and indeed that nothing can separate us from the love of God. His prayers were full of wanting the church to know more about this reconciliation, eyes opened to the full revelation of all that we had now been given, to know the depth, width, height and length of the love of God, to live as children of the light, filled with the fullness of the deity and seated in heavenly places. I don’t see extra requirements in Paul’s letters any more than I can see them in what Jesus was saying, they both preach salvation by grace through faith.
Finally, those parables of ‘in and out’, not enough oil in the lamp = out, not the right clothes at the wedding = out, not enough profit made with the talents given and not enough feeding of the poor = out. Here lies most of our theology about a judgement day where behaviour is the qualifier. But have we read them and understood them or have we read them and scared ourselves silly. Can we read past a story and find what Jesus was telling them through the story, and see that it is still belief and not behaviour,that settles and secures eternal life.

See Part 3 for my thoughts on the parables….

Monday, 7 May 2012

To be or not to be, saved. (Part 1)

‘The solution, the cure, the way out of the cycle of ‘it’s me, it’s them, it’s the structure’ – is the gospel.’ Mags Tyler Jan 2012 blog. So here’s another ‘the solution, the cure, the way out of’ = the gospel and this time it’s the Get out of Jail card on the Hokey-Cokey of salvation otherwise referred to as ‘you’re in you’re out, I’m in I’m out’.
As Christians we have a belief in eternal life, we have a belief as to how to attain that eternal life and to be honest it isn’t always the same requirements that are set out in the bible, of any translation. I’m not even sure we really believe what Jesus said were the requirements for eternal life, and have instead added in a few requirements of our own, just to be sure that our salvation is indeed secure.
We may have differing views over the relevance of eternal life to the here and now. Some believe that the certainty of knowing where you go when you die gives you a sense of hopefulness in this life, a sense that life might be rubbish but it will be over soon enough and then paradise awaits, it can take the sting out of death, an ease to the grief process and some atheists might argue that this is the reason for the existence of most religions, the need to find a purpose in life through finding life after death.  There is here no real expectation of ‘eternal life’ having anything more to do with this life other than ensuring that you don’t exclude yourself again. “So I’ve secured my eternal life best not mess up or God will get the eraser out on the book of life.”
Others believe that eternal life starts as soon as you believe in Jesus, as soon as you have said the ‘sinners prayer’ and your spirit comes to life and is connected to God’s spirit and your eternity is now set, you are now seated in heavenly places, have full access to heaven at any time, you can even visit it in visions and dreams. Eternal life and all its benefits are not just for after I’m dead, they can be a reality in the here and now. Jesus comes to live in me now and I live in him, and this can then make a difference to my every day existence. Whilst this has more biblical back up than the previous mere fire insurance theology, there can still be a belief that once saved we can still lose our salvation, we can still go out of the ‘covering of God’ through behaviour and we can still ultimately behave our way out of salvation.
I think it is important to look at what we believe about the how, and when, we secure eternal life as that determines what we believe about; a) losing it and b)the relevance of it in the here and now which in turn helps us with the Hokey-Cokey theology.
We hold a view sometimes that we might be ‘saved’ but only by the skin of our teeth, like there is some kind of grading system in heaven, those that ‘got in’ by some kind of last minute declaration, or made a commitment to follow Jesus but then never did anything ‘good’ with their lives after it, no salvations, healings or deliverances to put in the accounting book for the bigger mansion. Do we really believe there are grades in heaven? An A* for Smith Wigglesworth but a D- for you because you just didn’t do enough or believe enough. I think a belief in a hierarchy in heaven between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, leads to there being a belief in a hierarchy in heaven for everyone and also the need for a hierarchy in the church. I understand the belief in a Trinitarian hierarchy was a major reason why the church after Augustine created and still protects a hierarchy in the church structure. Alternatively, and I think more accurately, there is no hierarchy in the Trinity and therefore no hierarchy in heaven and should certainly not be one in the church. There might be 24 elders but nobody knows who they are, some might have an educated guess as there are no names given I think there can be no sound theology built up around it. Martyrs surely have a bigger house because they paid the ultimate price for the faith and that would certainly seem fair, martyrs and missionaries, people who have given up everything should surely be given a bigger mansion but there is no reference to that in the bible, no definitive verses that say there will be special prize giving events for those who ran the best race. In the absence of definitive verses then I think we are obliged to look at any references in their context and in the context of the whole bible and in light of what the Holy Spirit is telling us, bearing in mind that he can speak to us directly. The trouble is if we believe in a hierarchy in heaven and believe that we have to ‘do’ things here on earth to ensure our salvation is secure or we’ll have a good grade then we have kind of missed the point. We are again looking at our behaviour as some kind of measure of God’s affection towards us. We start to believe in a grading system here on earth and start to consider ourselves or others somewhere on the good Christian/bad Christian scale. It goes something like this; those who are missionaries are the best kind of Christian, especially if their lives are in danger, they definitely get a 10, only a 9 if they are a missionary in the same country they were brought up in, anybody working with the youth, the underclass, in the prisons they too will get points, all this needs to be measured against those with the most salvations, most healings and deliverances again if this is being done in a third world country much more kudos than if in your own town or country. Points are given for how many people have you led to the Lord, how many people have you raised from the dead, how many churches have you planted, how many miracles have you performed and so on. Good Christians going up the scale whilst those who are hidden, sharing their lives with their neighbours, not really praying with anybody and not ‘saying the salvation prayer’ with anybody, not so many good Christian points for them and what about those who don’t pray at all, don’t read their bible, don’t go to church, don’t live a good and moral life, no points at all for them and they are in danger of losing their fire insurance all together. I used to believe this; there is salvation moment, a specific date when I was saved, before this date I wasn’t in God’s favour, in his affection, I was in the dark and an object of wrath and then I said a repentance prayer asked Jesus into my life and then I was saved from that moment, I transferred from darkness into light, from lost to found, to eternal life from hell and then the rest of my life I would need to ensure I did everything to make that salvation secure. Salvation needs to be worked at, the verse we ‘work out our salvation with fear and trembling’ is a good one to inspire us into believing that our salvation is something that is not a constant, and can be made better and more secure. Add in verses about the unforgiveable sin and not crucifying Jesus twice and you’ve got yourself a whole theology of good works = salvation. As soon as we add anything that will affect our salvation we are instantly adding works into the equation and Jesus’s death didn’t do a complete job for our salvation.
My understanding of these three specific verses has changed and therefore so has my belief about my contribution to salvation.
1.            ‘Continue to work out your salvation in fear and trembling’ Philippians 2:12. Here Paul, the great grace preacher of Romans, is suddenly suggesting that salvation is to be worked at. Paul who preaches that salvation is through faith alone and not through works, a gift that none can boast, seems to be suggesting working at our salvation, a little contrary to other teaching. This is quite often the problem we have with scripture, we read one verse and build a theology around it rather than reading the whole letter and maybe all the letters that Paul wrote and Acts to see what his exploits were and discover what Paul was actually suggesting to the Philippian church.  So even here, we don’t necessarily know the rest of the sentence carried on into the next verse – ‘for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose’. It is perhaps not too far a stretch to understand that Paul was actually telling them that as it would be unlikely that he would be able to visit them any longer, as he’s in prison, and they are now on their own to work out their salvation but not in reliance on their own works or efforts but to allow God to be at work in them. He is not suggesting that they work at their salvation in a way that would affect the reality or substance of it. I think any other reading of this particular verse has an implication that Jesus did not do a complete job and there is still work for us to do that relates to our salvation. There are works for us to do but they have no impact on our salvation or on whether God is pleased with us or not.
2.            The one and only unforgiveable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. I used to think this was because Jesus was very defensive of the Holy Spirit, I bit like ‘you can say what you like about me but don’t cuss my brother or there will be trouble’. But it just doesn’t stack up with everything else Jesus says, so perhaps our understanding is not correct! Instead what if we don’t recognise the Holy Spirit as the Holy Spirit then we can’t be forgiven? Nothing to do with Jesus not wanting to or able to forgive us, or all the sins of the world were dealt with on the cross except this one. Instead is Jesus saying ‘if you can’t/won’t see that it is the Holy Spirit, then how can you receive forgiveness?’ We’ve built up a whole fear based theology about not upsetting the Holy Spirit. How many sleepless nights have Christians had worrying about losing their salvation because after they became a Christian they sinned and therefore grieved the Holy Spirit? Is this really what Jesus intended, is this really what this conversation was about or was it more about Jesus pointing out to them that if all you ever see is the demonic and can’t see Jesus or the Holy Spirit at work how can you ever find forgiveness. The context for this verse is the Pharisees accusing Jesus of being demon possessed and it seems clear to me that if all you see is the demonic when you’re looking at Jesus then you can’t receive what is freely given to you.
3.            ‘It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away to be brought back to repentance because to their loss they are crucifying the son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace’ Hebrews 6:4-6. A scripture we have used to worry about losing our salvation or worrying about others losing theirs. If we don’t carry on in being a good Christian, if you decide you don’t like church after all and if you just don’t want to be a Christian any more then there is no way back for you. As the verse says it is impossible. Once again we have forgotten the rest of the verse, it is impossible if you have experienced all of this and then fall away to be brought back to repentance. Perhaps it is impossible because there is nothing left to believe in. If you have experienced everything Jesus has to offer and then turn your back on him, there is nothing left to believe in and therefore to turn back to. Repentance after all is not about sin, it is about turning back, hearing new information and changing your mind. If you have experienced Jesus and he is still not enough for you then repenting will be impossible. I’m not sure it is possible to experience all of those things mentioned and then turn away unless you are very determined to do so, I think with most people who decided Christianity is not for them haven’t experienced much other than a disappointing religion rather than the person of Jesus, the goodness of the word and the powers of the age to come. I think these verses have been used in the past to control people’s attendance at meetings, a tad cultish, ‘once out you can’t come back’. It’s been taught in a way that people have struggled to ‘repent’ as they believe there is no way back for them. A lack of understanding about salvation leads us to create theology’s about who is in, who is out and once you are saved, if you then sin you’re in trouble. A lack of understanding this scripture creates a distance where to God there is none, I think Psalm 139 is pretty clear on not being able to go anywhere where God is not. The door is always open.
So what did Jesus preach about salvation and judgement and is there a difference in what Paul wrote in his letters. Personally, I’m not convinced we’ve been living in the truth about what salvation is all about and have created all sorts of regulations, add-ons and exit clauses because we can’t accept or believe that our salvation is such good news.
More on this tomorrow……