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.


  1. A fantastic analogy! I spent so much of my Christian life believing this was how it works; up a ladder, down a snake, get to the impossible finish! Crazy!
    So glad that's bunk!

  2. Great posting! I can imagine how the game board will look.