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Salvation: More than a ticket to Heaven?

God Saves

When someone says, “I’m Saved!” There is always the contextual question, “Saved from what?” Except if it’s said at Church. Within Christianity Salvation has become synonymous with Eternal Life. Salvation means that if I believe, one day I will go to Heaven. Yet, should Salvation always equate to being rescued to Heaven?

There are many places in the Scriptures that Salvation is past, present, and future to the author or reader. One tricky example is Romans 13:11 the Apostle Paul writes,  “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed?” Was Paul saying that he was not “saved” yet?

Or take for instance Luke 19:9. Jesus said Salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house that day. Does this mean Zacchaeus died and entered Heaven that day?

“In the Old Testament, God’s acts delivering the people from hunger, bondage, and other difficulties are usually called ‘saving’ acts, and Yahweh is repeatedly praised as the Savior of Israel.  In the New Testament, ‘salvation’ may mean either healing or deliverance from sin-and sometimes both.  Thus, salvation has to do, not only with one’s eternal destiny, but with everything that stands in the way of God’s purposes of communion with creation-and specifically with the human creature.  Thus salvation includes both justification and sanctification.

In the Greco-Roman world in which Christianity was born, there were many religions offering ‘salvation.’  Most of these understood salvation mainly or exclusively as life after death, and often combined these notions of salvation with the ideal of escaping from the material world. Given that context, it is not surprising that quite often Christians lost the fuller notion of salvation that appeared in their Scriptures, and came to think of salvation merely as admission into heaven-sometimes even seeing such admission as an escape from this physical world.  Perhaps the most notable development in soteriology [the Study of the Doctrine of Salvation] in recent decades has been the recovery of the wider notion of salvation as including, not only salvation from death and eternal damnation, but also freedom from all sorts of oppression and injustice.  Salvation, in its fuller sense, certainly includes eternal life in the presence of God; but it also includes the process of sanctification, whereby we are brought greater communion with God; and it includes also the destruction of all the powers of evil that stand between God’s purposes and present order of creation.”

-Justo L. Gonzalez, Essential Theological Terms. pg 162-163

Salvation cannot be understood in reference to one particular saving act of God. Jesus has rescued us from many things, and will one day rescue, redeem, and renew us and creation. The one unifying aspect of Salvation throughout the Scriptures is that God does the saving apart from the help or interference of man.

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What did Jesus’ death accomplish?

1. Propitiation: Jesus died and took God’s wrath stored up for us because of our sin.

2. Expiation: Jesus died to cleanse us.

3. Sacrifice: Jesus died as our sacrifice for sin before God.

4. Victor: Jesus died to crush our enemies.

5. Redemption: Jesus died for our freedom.

6. Justification: Jesus died to forgive us.

7. Ransom: Jesus died to pay our debt and free us the enslavement of sin.

8. Example: Jesus died as the example of God’s wondrous love.

9. Reconciliation: Jesus died to restore the relationship between God and man becoming our mediator.

10. Revelation: Jesus died to reveal God.

* This was all adapted from Mark Driscoll’s Sermon series,Christ and the Cross, and Doctrine: What Christians should believe.

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Christianity compared to other Religions

 

 

Religion: Man pursues “god.”

Christianity: God pursues man.

 

Religion: Man tries to appease “god” by doing good.

Christianity: God sacrifices himself for man, to reconcile the relationship, because man is sinful.

 

Religion: If man works hard enough he might be able to reach salvation/nirvana.

Christianity: Man is hopelessly lost and a slave to sin. Only by God’s grace through faith can one be saved.

 

Religion: Truth is a path, lifestyle, doctrine, or teaching.

Christianity: Truth is Jesus.

 

Religion: Man, by his own will, reforms his life.

Christianity: God frees, and transforms man, empowering man with his Spirit so that man can lead a new life.

 

Religion: God is needy, wrathful, or indifferent toward creation

Christianity: God is love, because God is triune. Love only exist in community, and since God is self-existent and eternal he was love before creation, nor did he need creation to love.

 

 

Christianity can be twisted and perverted in any of these areas reducing it to just other religion that controlled by the hand of man.

 

However, when we understand and believe the *Gospel of Jesus it is the power of God to save, transform, and breathe life into our broken world.

 

*The Gospel of Jesus is the good news that says man is hopelessly lost and enslaved to the things of this world. But God in his great love pursues man, and made himself the substitute for the corruption and punishment our sin created, dying on the cross, and rising again the third day welcoming us to live under his rule as newly freed and redeemed slaves.

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A Protestant Debate: Luther & Zwingli

As the Protestant Reformation grew it quickly splintered creating many different subdivisions and groups.  Martin Luther was one of the key figures of the Protestant Reformation. Most would even attribute its origins to his 95 Thesis of protest against the Catholic Church. However, Luther never intended to divide or create his own branch of Christendom. Luther only intended to reform the abuses he witnessed with in the church. Luther even criticized others who he labeled revolutionaries, and radicals; people who were making unnecessary revisions to church policies and dogma.

It seemed that what he began as reform quickly unraveled into revolution. Today the protestant branch of Christianity is still divided among the issues that arose during his lifetime.

One of these debates that polarizes Christianity began between Luther and another man, Ulrich Zwingli (a contemporary of Luther’s and fellow reformer). The two parted way over the issue Christ presence in communion (a.k.a. Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist).

Luther in defense of classical Christina tradition defended the real presence of Christ in Communion. Zwingli, on the other hand, argued for the symbolic remembrance of Christ at communion. For Luther the Sacraments Christ instituted (namely Baptism and the Lord’s Supper) were a means of grace, a means for the believer to receive by faith the promises of God. Zwingli rejected this Scriptural interpretation. Instead he adopted an ornamental view of the sacraments. The sacraments were not a means of grace but an act of obedience and love expressed by the believer. God’s grace did not come through the elements; they were merely symbols of God’s unseen direct activity with believers.

*Other examples of signs/means of grace may include the word of God, profession/confession, conformation, penance, orders, and matrimony. The two listed above are the common sacraments instituted by Christ.

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A Protestant Debate: Calvin & Arminius

It may be hard to determine whether one’s worldview shapes ones faith, or if ones faith shapes one’s worldview. The spiritualist might hope that faith is the force that develops ones worldview, leading and guiding the adherent to view the world through the lens their faith tradition. The secularist, on the other hand, hopes that it is tolerant worldview that will guide and interpret ones faith, fearing man’s long history of religious violence.

To this question I have no answer. It is but the springboard for the topic I wish to discuss.

Within the Protestant branch of Christendom there is a debate. It is a debate everyone is engaged in. It is both a public and personal struggle. It is a campaign that attracts the attention of the academic, the pulpit, and the coffeehouse thinker.  It is both pragmatic, and dogmatic.

It forms around several simple questions about God.

“Did I chose God or did he choose me?”

“Can I resist God if he chooses me?”

“Once I receive God’s salvation can I loose it?”

Now matter where you go, you will find Protestants engaged in this debate. Many have chosen a side and raised their flag. Many others are still wading through the murky waters dogging shots that the two polarized sides are taking at each other.

Many don’t realize but this is a unique debate to the protestant branch of the Christendom. The reason why it has such a polarizing effect of denominations and Church’s is because this debate represents a rift tracing back almost to the beginning of the protestant reformation.

A key figure that rose to prominence after the wake of the Protestant Reformation was a Pastor named John Calvin. John Calvin was a gifted preacher and theologian, who detailed his theological views in a work called Calvin’s Institutes. This became theological framework many adopted and taught. One of these students was Joseph Arminius. Arminius in a strange turn of events abandoned the views of Calvin, and began teaching an opposing theological view. The pupils of both men would eventually label each other heretics and part ways.

Calvin’s influence can be traced through the Presbyterian, Reform, and some Baptist traditions. Arminius influence can be traced most predominantly through the Methodist, Holiness, Pentecostal, and Charismatic traditions.

Many Protestants assume that this issue consumes all of Christendom, however it does not. Lutheranism, a protestant denomination that solidified early into the Protestant Reformation, accepts what they like to label the balance of the truth represented in the Scripture.

Below is an outline of the issues that divided Calvin and Arminius, and how Luther balances the harmony of Scriptural witness.

T: “total depravity”

Calvinism: Man after the Fall has no ability to cooperate with God’s grace in conversion

Arminianism: Man after the Fall can cooperate with God’s grace in conversion

Lutheranism: Agrees with Calvinism on total depravity

Relevant Bible passages: Romans 3:9-20; Gal. 3:22

U: “unconditional election”

Calvinism: Before the world was created, God unconditionally elected some (the elect) for salvation and the others (reprobates) for damnation.

Arminianism: Before the world was created, God foresaw those who would choose Him of their own free will and elected them to salvation

Lutheranism: Before the world was created, God unconditionally elected some (the elect) for salvation but did not reprobate (chose for damnation) any.

Relevant Bible passages: Romans 9:11-13; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Mat. 25:34, 41.

L: “limited atonement”

Calvinism: Jesus only died for the elect, objectively atoning for their sin, but he did not die for the sins of the reprobates.

Arminianism: Christ died to give all the possibility to be saved.

Lutheranism: Christ’s death objectively atoned for all the sin of the world; by believing we receive this objective atonement and its benefits.

Relevant Bible passages: John 1:29; 1 John 2:2; 2 Cor. 5:14-15, 19.

I: “irresistible grace”

Calvinism: In all of God’s outward actions (preaching, baptism, etc.) there is an outward call which all receive, yet there is also a secret effectual calling which God gives to the elect alone. This effectual calling alone saves and is irresistable.

Arminianism: God gives in His outward actions the same grace to all; this grace can be resisted by all.

Lutheranism: The question is not answerable; for the elect, grace will irresistably triumph, yet those who reject Christ have rejected that Grace; yet the grace is the same.

Relevant Bible passages: Eph. 2:1-10; Acts 13:48; James 1:13-15

P: “perseverance of the saints” (sort of like “once saved, always saved.”)

Calvinism: Salvation cannot be lost. Those who have truly put their faith in Christ may temporarily lose the evidence of their faith and even live for a time in grave and unrepentant sin, without losing their salvation.

Arminianism: Salvation can be lost through unrepentant sin and unbelief.

Lutheranism: Salvation can be lost through mortal sin and unbelief, but this legal warning does not cancel the Gospel promise of election

Relevant Bible passages: 1 Cor. 10:12. 2 Peter 2:1, 20-22.
*Comparisons taken from Three Hierarchies.

For many people, what they believe is more of a reflection the conflict between worldview and faith, then theology.


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Spiritual Milk? Do you get enough? Has it changed?

The writer of Hebrews lists several key items and labels them “Elementary Teachings.” He says of points listed that they are “spiritual milk,” and that his Christian audience should be growing up and feasting “spiritual meat.”

Here are the points of understanding that the writer labels “milk”:

  • Repentance from acts that lead to death.
  • Faith in God.
  • Instruction about baptisms.
  • The laying on of hands.
  • The resurrection of the Dead.
  • Eternal Judgment.

(Hebrews 6:1-3)

Some of the items on this list are understandable as “milk.” Repentance and faith in God are the introductory elements to the Christian life. However as one examines the other items on the list unanimous consent isn’t a given. For some these points might be areas of contention between denominational communities. For many others there might a complete and genuine ignorance as to understanding of these issues. To this ladder point I write to address.

The Christian church has failed on many levels to educate its people. At one point Christians were at the forefront of community education. Yet our ranking has dropped. Many churches are “producing” dumb Christians. I am not an advocate that every Christian needs a seminary education. However, I do believe that the community of believers need to taught more than many of them get in the Sunday morning situational/behavioral sermon. Our lives are shaped and flow out of our understanding of who God is. If our view of God is shallow than our lives are build on a shallow footing and any powerful event may have the ability to shake us from beliefs.

It also seems as though this list has shifted today from what it was. The elementary teachings of the church ages past are not consistent with the elementary teachings of the church modern. I have debated my self, wondering if this is due to contextualization or if there is a misrepresentation of what truly is an “elementary teaching.”

Two of the most common substitutions on this list are the teaching of Creation, and the Rapture. In many circles these have become the benchmark doctrines for new believers. Evolution is only equaled by some to Satanism, and the teaching of the resurrection of dead has been surpassed by the Hollywood images of floating in clouds in some mysterious Rapture.

I want to hear your opinion on the issue. Think back for me what was the most common and frequent teaching you remember or hear to this day in church?

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Righteousness not camouflage.

Christ blood is not some divine act of camouflage so that we can continue to sin unpunished.

Christ blood does not only cover our sin, but it cleanses us. We are WASHED in the blood of our crucified lord. Our sins are not just masked with a big red ink splat. It is by his blood we are welcomed as sons and daughters of God. The Holy Spirit comes to live and reside with us, teaching us to walk with him and be like him.

We cannot continue to treat the spilt blood of Christ as if it were something that little red light flasher in the movie Men in Black that makes people forget what just happened. Christ blood does not make God forget our sins, his blood cleanses us from them, it allows us to enter a new life were we are to live righteously.

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Wonderful cross or place of death?

We often sing of the wonderful beautiful cross. And because our mind cannot handle the intensity or cruelty of the cross we grow numb to the brutality of the cross. Yet, we have to remember the cross was torture leading to death. Jesus experienced pain at the highest levels of the human experience.

The cross was not just some uncomfortable experience, like the awkwardness of telling a stranger on the plain you’re a Christian, or the embarrassment of getting to front of the line at the grocery store with a cart full of items and realizing you forgot your wallet.

Jesus died on the cross. He bled, and breathed his last breath on the cross.

When we sing of the cross it should be in the sober reality of what happened, why it happened, who it was that died for us.

The cross is the anchor point of our faith, not some pithy poppy featurette of the Sunday lineup. Our God died at the hands of his creation; the creation he loved and formed. Our God suffered and was humiliated by the very people he gave life to.

The cross is not wonderful, it the shame of humanity, and the glory of God. The cross does not represent the best in man, but the worst. The cross is the premiere exhibit in our museum of disgrace.

I understand why people wish to forget the cross, and down play its reality. As a humanitarian why would I want to highlight the cross any more than I would want to highlight the holocaust as an act of human civility and love?

All one should do at the cross is fall down before it and cry out, “I will never deny you again. With my heart and with my actions I too crucified you, but never again. I will serve the King whom I killed. He will be my God.”

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God and Pain

I think there are two ways of dealing with pain and God. And both of them are not healthy.

First, let me start my explaining the way I deal with pain and God…

This past year has been particularly painful for me in my relationship with God. This past year has been a year of darkness.

Let me explain. My wife and I moved from California to Texas. This was not an easy move for us, but we felt like this is where God wanted us, and He did for a season. Before this move things were great. Everything was progressing forward, and then God stopped us in our tracks, closed doors in California and relocated us to Texas. In this experience we felt we learned a valuable lesson. Don’t make plans for God! Lesson learned, we were happily living and serving in Texas.

Then after a few years serving there, and as the reasons for us moving there were coming to close we began to seek God for what he desired next. No answer… and it seemed like every time we were ready to give up something little trinket came along and sustained our faith for another week. But the feeling of darkness overcame us, and this darkness persisted, and lingered…

We both began to question ourselves. What did we do wrong? Did we do anything wrong. Why no answer or direction?

And throughout this time we did the only natural Christian thing, we tested different doors. The problem was to many were opening and too many were closing. Nothing seems to match up or make sense.

Then the ridiculous happened. We felt God leading us back to California. The feeling was the only hazy thing we could understand. But Why? Why Could we not understand? Why did it seem the answer was sitting in our blind-spot? Why California? We had just gotten settled, created a great network of friends around us. Then is off to California? Oh, but no more information then that.

My impression was that the longer you follow God, the more it all makes sense, the clearer his voice is, and the more his plan becomes visible. The truth in our experience was proving to be the opposite.

Darkness.

Where are you taking us? Why are you not responding to my prayers? Why do I feel more alone then ever?

Darkness.

Darkness hurts, and looking back now I see how I dealt with the pain. I depersonalized God. I am a person with a deep-seated belief and conviction in God. So in times of pain and frustration in God I de-emphasis his love and focus on his sovereignty. Somehow for me this makes it ok for me to follow God although I feel hurt by Him. I turn to the religious side faith, rather than the personal. My focus drifts toward theology and philosophy. I think God can do what he wants and who am I to be question it. The thoughts of God’s love, mercy, and grace, are overshadowed by his truth, holiness, and power. I grow cold, and tired. “Who is God to know?” I think. I can study him, and maybe that is all a relationship with him means… so I study and study. But my heart… its hard to get my heart into anything. My mind and my strength are Gods… but my heart… my heart is hurt.

That is how I deal with pain and God. Maybe that’s you maybe its not.

The other way I see people deal with pain and God, it to take it personally. Pain in their life is a direct attack from God. If a person at the church hurt them, God did it. Or if a friend or family member dies, God killed them. They see God as the personal predator in their life.

This person retreats from God altogether… this person questions the reality of God. How could a God who causes me pain exist?

In my pain I did not run from idea of God, because I saw God as sovereign but impersonal. However, this person sees God as personal but not sovereign. They question God’s sovereign plan.

I except God’s crushing blows in my life, because I know his plans are bigger. But to deal with the pain God become someone less personal, and more like a steamroller. He’s not doing this to me; I’m just in the way…

The other person rejects God, they must. They see God as the personal God he reveals himself to be… So if he’s real, then he is cruel, and not worthy to be served. Or on the other extreme maybe he’s not real at all…

Both lead nowhere…

God is both personal and sovereign. Sometimes there is an explanation of the circumstances we are wading through. Other times there are not.

God does love you. He is personal. And he does see our need and look upon us with compassion. I was sustained and not crushed. He has held me up by his grace and mercy.

Why the darkness… why the pain…

I wish I had an answer…

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Must death preceed recreation and renewal? Is creation lost?

There is this conflict within the christian community as how the recreation of the world will take place.

One side believes that all of creation will be destroyed. Then God will form again from nothing a new created world.

The other side believes that this created world will not be destroyed merely recreated. God created this world “good,” loves this world, and does not and will not ever destroy it.

Side one:

2Peter 3:10-13

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

The interpretation:

  • Sin has completely corrupted the world, beyond saving.
  • Both mankind, and all of creations was changed beyond return because of mans sin.
  • Therefore God, must destroy the old to bring forth the new.
  • There must be death before recreation.

*This would seem true, but not all believers will die before receiving their resurrection bodies. Those who are alive at the time of Jesus’ return will just be transformed.

Side two:

Genesis 8:21

“Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.”

Romans 8:20&21

“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

The interpretation:

  • Sin has not completely corrupted creation
  • Creation was distorted and pulled down because of man’s fall into sin.
  • God does not need to destroy creation to restore it.
  • He knew man was wicked, yet when man is restored then creation will be freed from the effects on sin.
  • Man’s sin is what is keeping creation from being how God has intended it, paradise.
  • Once sin is removed creation will be restored.
  • Man’s corruption is the issue not creation.
  • Creation is only a tool that God uses to both bless and punish.
    • Blessings: fruit of the land, provision, beauty.
    • Punishment: Toil the land, natural disasters, sickness.

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