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……

1 comment:

  1. Great job tipping those sacred cows!!! Yum!! I'm left wondering just how many more cows are left to tip. They seem to be everywhere and they sure leave behind an awful lot of **** to be cleaned away later... Love your clear and to the point discussion on this. Thanks!