Tuesday, 8 May 2012

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….


  1. Great to read a few of your blogs, I love finding a site that has such a grasp of Christ and Him crucified. cheers, Graeme

    1. Thanks Graeme, good to see so many on the same journey of 'it really is all about Jesus' lets leave the Christanese and Christendom behind.