Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What saves us?

A friend sent me an email the other day. He asked me, "what does it mean to be saved?" Ultimately it is an easy question. Being saved is 'being with the Lord forever.' It is eternal life with Christ. Christians dispute whether this will be 'in heaven' (as in another dimension separate from this creation, a new heaven and earth); or on this earth restored. I think the balance of biblical data favours the latter, we will live with God forever on this world restored and renewed (e.g. Rom 8:19-23).

However, there are many questions. First, how does salvation begin? Paul hammers the point, salvation is by grace through faith. That is, the work of Christ in his life, death and resurrection, has won salvation. He has fulfilled the requirements of the law. He has died a vicarious sacrifice for humanity. He has risen from the dead. His work saves us. He offers us salvation.

For our part, we have to respond to this. The most common NT term to summarise response is 'faith, to believe, to trust.' This is where things get sticky. What does it mean to believe? What things do we have to believe? How must we live out this belief for it to be genuine? At this point it gets tricky and technical depending on interpretations of verses, ideas and whole books.

For me, I cut through this in this way. God wants all to be saved and is reaching out to all humanity. I am uncomfortable with any theology which states that God decrees simply by his own choice some and not others. This would be akin to me as a father choosing one of my daughters as the object of my affection and blessing, and the others for destruction. This is not love in any sense that I can understand whether biblical or otherwise. So, God wants all to be saved and is active in seeking this through his work in history, creation, the Spirit, believers, the church and world.

Salvation faith to me is simply a human saying yes to the offer of relationship God makes. Faith is relational. it is us responding to God's grace with a desire to walk in that relationship. This even applies in human history before Christ's coming, say Abraham and Melchizedek, to name two.

In the NT Christ is revealed as God the Son and salvation faith is found in acceptance of him as saviour and Lord. It is saying, yes Jesus, I believe, save me. Yes Jesus, I trust in you, I seek to live for you. What is clear in Paul is that while good works will flow from a genuine faith, these works do not save. Otherwise grace would not be grace. We would be stuck in the problem of working through how much work saves, what works save?

No, when we accept Christ as saviour and Lord, we enter into Christ and his work saves us, despite our failings. So, it is a cognitive assent to Christ as saviour, a commitment to live for him as Lord. Repentance is clearly a part of this; not in the sense of penitence or necessarily of contrition, but a change of orientation to live for self alone, to God as first priority.

Christianity in its history has lurched back and forth on this. We go through phases of rendering grace impotent by adding works, usually to keep the gospel safe and demand discipleship. At other times we overcook grace making faith empty (e.g. Jas 2). However, one thing is clear to me. We are saved by grace and our response to this grace is 'yes.'

This means that there are many in this nation who do not darken the door of a church and are saved. There are conversely probably many who are not who do go to church. Faith is impossible to quantify. How do you know you believe? Because you do believe.

So, in sum, it is a relational term. It is saying yes to the glorious offer of salvation God gives in Christ. It is accompanied with a desire to live for Christ. At that moment of faith, the Spirit enters us and marks us. We then walk in relationship. The challenge is to yield to the Spirit who now indwells us and not the flesh (sinful desire). When we sin, we do not lose our salvation. We may lose our joy as the Spirit convicts us. However, we are as saved as we were before it happened. As I work with a relational definition of faith, and a volitional view of the relationship in this world, I think there is a point where the relationship is broken. But God will not break it. He will seek us, pursue us, woo us, reach out to us, forever. He is desperate not to lose us. As far as it depends on him, we will remain saved. However, there is a point where we can be broken off the vine through unbelief.

So this means we can have huge assurance. Ask yourself, do I want eternal life? Do I want to be with God forever? Do I desire to believe and yield to God? Even if you stumble and fall, even if you have doubts, even if you make huge errors that would see society completely reject you, God won't, at least while there is a wisp of faith. The NT talks about mustard seeds of faith, perhaps that is all that it takes. The grace of God is way bigger than we can know or imagine. I pray we can know its depth, breadth, height and width.

In the meantime, as believers, we are now joined to God in Christ. We are to get on with being human, to live out our beings with authenticity, reality and joy. We are to build God's world as we go about our work, life, play and family. We are to let this Spirit life well up in us and flow out from us, from our whole beings. This will lead us to spread goodness, joy, hope, peace, life through attitudes, deeds and words. People will be drawn to Christ. Evangelism and mission is not meant to be mechanical but an outpouring of Spirit life from grateful hearts full of grace. We will find as we yield to the Spirit that the world looks different, suffering looks different, joy breaks in, we become winsome and people want Christ. So, yield to God, Christ and Spirit and all will be well with our souls, and planet earth, even in the midst of chaos and brokenness.

So salvation is Jesus, not Jesus + anything. It is Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.



7 comments:

George said...

Thank you friend

George said...

"He has fulfilled the requirements of the law."

Was God then constrained by the Law in that it's penalty had to be met for mankind to be redeemed?

Dr Mark K said...

Hi George. This is all my opinion and so relative.

I do not think God is constained by anything. It is not God who is constrained. It is we who are constrained by sin.

The Law at it heart (the 10 C's) represent the heart of God for humanity, as well as the terms of the covenant. It was given for Israel's good, revealing the heart and purposes of God. The problem does not lie with the law or with God, but with us.

Adam and Eve sinned, the whole of creation was corrupted. Death and decay entered it. As of this point, human ability to meet the righteous requirements of God whether written on our hearts or in the Law was impossible. We are all a part of Adam's sin, because we all sin (Rom 5:12) (note 'because', this is important, we are all responsible). As such it is we who are constrained not God.

As such God in his wisdom cannot give eternal life to us, as we are corrupted and fallen, and it would be a cosmic disaster were he to do so.

As such, Christ came, as a man, God yet voluntarily emptied of using his power for self, and became the first human to fulfil the law and made a way for us through his death.

Now we are able to be saved by God; his son fulfilling the law, and dying on our behalf. We simply say 'yes' and live in faith-relationship with him. His work saves us.

There is now no return to law in the sense of external code, just freedom and grace. Such freedom and grace, flowing from the Spirit now within us, as we yield to his impulse, brings forth the life of God from within us. This life looks very like the law, for the same heart of God that penned the law on stones has now penned it on our hearts... That is how I see it, but I am flawed and there is mystery here all over the place... Shalom.

Dr Mark K said...

Hi George. This is all my opinion and so relative.

I do not think God is constained by anything. It is not God who is constrained. It is we who are constrained by sin.

The Law at it heart (the 10 C's) represent the heart of God for humanity, as well as the terms of the covenant. It was given for Israel's good, revealing the heart and purposes of God. The problem does not lie with the law or with God, but with us.

Adam and Eve sinned, the whole of creation was corrupted. Death and decay entered it. As of this point, human ability to meet the righteous requirements of God whether written on our hearts or in the Law was impossible. We are all a part of Adam's sin, because we all sin (Rom 5:12) (note 'because', this is important, we are all responsible). As such it is we who are constrained not God.

As such God in his wisdom cannot give eternal life to us, as we are corrupted and fallen, and it would be a cosmic disaster were he to do so.

As such, Christ came, as a man, God yet voluntarily emptied of using his power for self, and became the first human to fulfil the law and made a way for us through his death.

Now we are able to be saved by God; his son fulfilling the law, and dying on our behalf. We simply say 'yes' and live in faith-relationship with him. His work saves us.

There is now no return to law in the sense of external code, just freedom and grace. Such freedom and grace, flowing from the Spirit now within us, as we yield to his impulse, brings forth the life of God from within us. This life looks very like the law, for the same heart of God that penned the law on stones has now penned it on our hearts... That is how I see it, but I am flawed and there is mystery here all over the place... Shalom.

George said...

Ok I am going to milk this to make a point about how dangerous 'words' language can be (cause we're mates):-
" ... human ability to meet the righteous requirements of God whether written on our hearts or in the Law was impossible."

Why would God create a scenario that He knew we were doomed to fail at, if not in the garden then at some stage?

"..As such God in his wisdom cannot give eternal life to us, ..."

God is either omnipotent or not, if there are restrictions on what he can or cannot do ....?

"... his son fulfilling the law, and dying on our behalf..... Now we are able to be saved by God; ..."

So the law had to be fulfilled before we could be saved? Does this not mean the law determined what God could or could not do?


..... mate these are I accept all just spurious arguments on my part. I love you man, as you never back away from these sort of issues and that to me is Jesus!!!!!!!!

Dr Mark K said...

Hi George. You ask:
" ... human ability to meet the righteous requirements of God whether written on our hearts or in the Law was impossible." Why would God create a scenario that He knew we were doomed to fail at, if not in the garden then at some stage?

He knew we were doomed to fail at the first post, but not overall. He knew that when the choice of the tree was given, people would resist him. Yet he always planned the next stage of personal relationship to save. He knew that people would reach for him. He knew that he would save us where we were unable to save ourselves. He knew then that it would by faith and not works. He did it for relationship, he did if for love, he did it for those who would say yes. For me, he would have done it for one person. He did it because he is love and creativity, and wants to give and receive love. This must be volitional, not coerced, relationship from the willing. So he did it knowing it all. Amen.

You ask: "..As such God in his wisdom cannot give eternal life to us, ..." God is either omnipotent or not, if there are restrictions on what he can or cannot do ....?

My answer is that omnipotence is not defined by Greek categories and imposed on God. Omnipotence to me is set in relation to God and character. He is in complete control and has power over all creation. He can do what he likes. But he is constrained by his character i.e. he cannot do evil. Thus he cannot give eternal life in the world to come to anything corrupted or evil. So our evil (sin) must be dealt with; God is omnipotent in line with his character, being and purpose. He is free within his creation and self completely; but he is good.

You ask: "... his son fulfilling the law, and dying on our behalf..... Now we are able to be saved by God; ..." So the law had to be fulfilled before we could be saved? Does this not mean the law determined what God could or could not do?
My answer is not that the law had to be fulfiled as much as someone had to live without evil to pass into the world to come. Jesus did that. The law is not the point; purity and holiness is. Jesus as God Man fulfilled the law, died, yet could not be constrained by death because death is a result of sin, excited (not caused) by law (because of our sin). As such, he became redeemer. At this point all my logic runs out. I am not sure how it is that we are saved in and through Jesus? Something mystical happens I suppose. His death becomes ours. His life becomes ours. So all is now faith. Jesus fulfilled the righteousness of God, became our righteousness, and now we are right with God.

All that is left is to believe.

Amen

George said...

"At this point all my logic runs out. .......

All that is left is to believe."

Amen to that brother!!!!!