Monday, October 8, 2007

The Meaning of Salvation

So I didn't get a whole lot of sleep last night. I went to Starbucks on the way back from the 6pm service at Brook Hills. I was trying to avoid drinking something with caffeine in it, so I got some coffee-cake instead. Apparently my plan failed, cause I tossed and turned a lot.

In my half-awake state I pondered a lot of things that I've been examining or learning lately (so if it doesn't make sense now, that may be why, though I've tried to work it out more since I've become more awake). One of those being the nature of salvation.

I think we in the west have missed the point by a long-shot. We say "Justification by faith not works." Then we say "say this prayer and you will be saved." What hypocrisy! A prayer is nothing more than an action, a work. It does not save. Or we say "the prayer or the words don't save you, your belief (often termed "trust") saves you" and then say "but real faith looks like this, this, and this." And we get caught up in the legalism and again forget the faith. The enemy is running circles around us here in the west, and we are arrogantly chasing them.

Undoubtedly, you will live what you believe. But what is it that we were taught to believe?

All throughout the four Gospels we see Jesus teaching forgiveness of sins and the coming of the kingdom of heaven. He taught repentance, but not in the form that we so often see. Usually, when I hear repentance taught, I see it as "avoid these sins" and "do these things" (usually, read your Bible, pray, go to church, listen to Christian music, etc.). That's not at all the impression of Christ's teachings that I see. In fact, that seems to me more reminiscent of the legalism of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, the only people Christ seemed to regularly condemn.

In Galatians, Paul writes a stinging epistle against legalism. He starts off the epistle by reiterating the gospel message in four basic parts- that 1) Christ gave himself as a sacrifice, 2) That sacrifice is to save us from this evil age (variation on this would be sin, I think Paul used this terminology to specifically set up some arguments he makes in Galatians), 3) That this was according to the will of God (God wanted to save us), and 4) It is all for God's glory. The rest of the letter Paul essentially attacks any attempt to add to this gospel with "requirements" you have to complete to be saved.

The impression I have in scripture is that the good news of Christ is forgiveness of sins (built on a Old Testament framework which made the people very aware of just how sinful we are, something else I think we've lost in the West) and repentance in the form of an automatic response. The idea seems to be that when you realize how much you have been forgiven and at how great a price, you cannot help the radical change that occurs. There is no legalism that accompanies it, just a genuine life of forgiveness and benevolence which desires to spread the word of Christ's forgiveness.

Let's think again about the parable of the four soils. We all know that we want to be that fourth group, right? We want to be the ones that, upon receiving the word (and presumably believing it), grow into this bountiful harvest. But let's think about those other three for a minute. Wayne Grudem writes (and for once I agree) that the only sin Christ seems to say is unforgivable is the knowing, willing rejection of the Spirit of God (which seems to drive a steak in some aspects of Calvinism, making Grudem's own doctrinal position all the more interesting, but that's another issue). The first group, the group from which the birds steal the word, seems to perhaps best fit with that. They never make any effort to believe the word, they seem to reject it. We can argue the predestination issues later. Suffice to say, the first group is not who we want to be, obviously.

Where I really want to focus is the middle-two groups. The second group, the ones among the rocks, reminds me a lot of the first problem I said above- that we reduce salvation to a prayer. Sure, they say the prayer, they may be emotionally moved, they may jump up and be ecstatic about their salvation for a bit. But then it withers away and dies. The third group, the ones who get choked out by the thorns, reminds me a lot of the second error we seem to make. They, too, may be excited at first, but as they try and juggle the "fruit" of "real faith" with everything else in life, they get choked out and die.

The interesting thing to me is that both of these groups, in the parable, receive the word and seem to believe it and even start growing. Then it stops, something goes wrong. So my question, and the one I think we all need to ponder, is what happens to them? And second, what happens to the ones who encourage that kind of faith? Another interesting thing to me is that the parable doesn't even mention the ones who never hear the word. They're not even a category. I mean, sure we could extend it to say "well, the farmland that is being sowed is only so big, there is more land out there that we could plant." But I don't think that extension was implied. So that's another thing to ponder.

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