Saturday, August 27, 2005

Who I used to be

I like who I used to be. As a child, I had so much fun and was a lovely kid. In my teenage years I had my troubles, but it was a great learning time. When I was 20, though, I had it all together.

My world was full of ideals. Everything could be solved easily so long as I thought about it hard enough and applied logical ideas. Nothing was a problem, only a challenge to be conquered victoriously. The few problems in my life seemed quite small compared to the general feeling of “life is good” that I had.

I was the ruler of my world at 20. I had grown up and conquered the world. Academically, I had won. Friends, I had been lucky enough to get. Free time was easy to come by easy to enjoy. I could be who I wanted to be, and nothing was standing in the way. Little was I troubled by the world outside the one I wanted to see.

In the last three years, almost all of that has changed. I have grown up a great deal, and realised I wish I could be 20 again. It was easier then. It was fun then.

What happened? I suppose I learned my ideals just didn’t line up with the real world. Problems came that I realised I couldn’t solve, and I didn’t even know where to begin. My free time, my hobbies, many of my friends, my technical competence, my care-free and untroubled thoughts – all seemed lost.

It was like I had been travelling across some great land on a great adventure, and I had learned all about how to travel well. I knew what I needed to. I had the right gear. I was fit and experienced at crossing the plains, mountains, valleys, wilderness, and highways. Then suddenly the land ended, like cartoon Coyote chasing after Roadrunner and suddenly running off a cliff. There’s that moment when he’s hovering in the air and looks down to the chasm beneath him with a comical look of horror. Then, he falls down the absurdly deep canyon while accompanied by an equally comical whistling sound and lands unharmed in a puff of dust.

But when I fell, I didn’t hit land. I found myself suddenly learning to swim in a raging ocean. None of my previous experience had prepared me for it or helped me deal with it. I was a complete novice. In many ways I still feel that way.

I wish I could recapture some of the things I loved about being 20. Perhaps my happiness then stemmed from my naivety, so maybe I can never get that sort of happiness back. There must be a kind of happiness living in the real world, though, when we learn to somehow ride the churning chaos and tide of life beneath us.

But where is that happiness? Where do you look for happiness when you realise the happiness you were chasing was just a mirage?

Oh, I know all the “right” answers… the ones that come from idealised views of life and people. But the real world isn’t like that. The real world isn’t “right”. And somehow I think finding happiness is like a skill that you cannot simply “know” because it must be learned. There are no answers, only problems. It’s like learning to ride a bike.

I need to learn. I need to learn to find happiness amidst the trouble, and peace among the turmoil. Find love through pain. Find contentment that does not come from competence or tranquillity, but the contentment that comes from simply surviving through life’s thunderstorms and hurricanes. I must find enjoyment despite my cynicism. Hope despite my broken dreams. I must no longer compare my life with an unrealistic ideal, and instead look at how far I have come.

When I was young, I thought flying to the moon would be nice. Now, just seeing the moon is nice.

I would go outside at midnight and wonder the mysteries of the stars. Now, I go to bed and sleep.

I had visions of being the leader of great world-changing company. Now, it’s hard enough just having a job.

I dreamt of a life without problems, but now I realise it’s those problems that really make life what it is. So, now I wish I could better deal with the problems I have.

It all seems to be far more glum than when I was younger. But, I don’t think I’ve changed – I think I’ve just tasted the real world for the first time. What’s worse is I’m not sure it gets better – because from what I can tell it only gets harder. The waves are larger and the winds stronger. I’ll look back on this time and think it was easy, but I wish I could think that now.

Have I lost my passion for life? Have I lost some precious essense of youth, like forgetting where I put my car keys? And if I have, how can find it again? Is it possible? Do I even want it back? At what cost have I lost it, or have I found something else? And if something else, what?...

Do you see how many unanswered questions I have now? =)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Psychology of Christianity

How much does our psychology affect our understanding of Christianity? After some thought, I decided it must have a very significant affect. Our psychology affects how we percieve and relate with the world, and spiritual matters are inherently connected with the physical world, so why would spiritual matters be unnaffected?

People's mindsets strongly control over their perception of Christianity - so much so I think we all underestimate the extent of this influence. In my own case, I think the factors of my upbringing and past have made me place great importance on building loving relationships by being a Godly person. Obviously, this isn't a bad thing, and it certainly makes me aware of this theme in the Bible.

However, I wonder how much it also blinds me to how others view Christianity, and perhaps other aspects of the faith. It seems our subconcious can block things from our awareness or attention without our even realising it, and I believe our Christianity is no exception. There are, it seems, two ways of dealing with the challenge of maturing as a person... The first is to accept the challenge and courageously grow stronger to meet it - the second is to ignore it and remain the same. The first is often painful, the second seems less so.

When I find something that challenges my faith, my way of living, my security, or even my very identity - I generally try to have enough courage to accept it and seek to grow from it. I accept I do not know it all, and need to grow. I do not base my identity in being sure of what I know, or in knowing everything, or in being right, or in being "good". Far from it, I identify myself far more with learning, growth, and development that with being all knowing, all wise, or all good. I am secure in how I deal with problems, not because I don't have anything to worry about.

Persons who lack such courage, however, do not seem to have such a will to learn and grow and develop. They seek to protect their sense of identity from the challenge that - if they were to accept it - would mean they weren't quite as knowledgeable, wise, or good as they thought they were. They train their mind not to adapt and grow in strength by dealing with new challenges, but to protect itself from challenges dealing with them brings pain. Indeed, it seems their minds fortify their own stability at the cost of decreasing their ability to deal with new challenge.

The result is that their subconcious blinds them to the things that they don't want to see. They can't even contemplate what they are not seeing, because their minds block even thinking about it. In Christianity, this often takes the form of suppressing doubts and anything that would bring their beliefs into question. In other words, they become bound by their own fear to grow and mature as Christians and suffer the emotional pain that comes from maturing.

I struggle to think of examples of this subtle trickery our the subconcious as it is more about the way we think, rather than what we think. Perhaps, it is why when some people read the Bible, some teachings just don't seem to register. And, if an undesirable challenge is raised with them, they simply reject it - finding "reasons" or by "forgetting" that it was raised at all. The result is their Christianity becomes one based on a Bible full of holes, and they do not accept any notions that perhaps there is more to it than they believe.

The most common things left out are, of course, the challenging teachings. Parts of the Bible that clearly state the necessity to forsake sinful things and to live a disciplined and truly devoted life are somehow glossed over and never mentioned. The mind protects what it holds dear, and if someone holds onto sinful things or an undisciplined lifestyle, their mind will do whatever it can to ignore challenges to what it wants to keep. And they justify their ignorance. "We don't need to be disciplined, for we're under grace." "God always forgives us, and loves us just the same no matter what we do." "Oh, God doesn't expect us to be perfect..." "It's so hard to not be influenced by the sinful things of the world, God will understand."

People don't even realise they're justifying themselves so that they don't have to face the challenge of reality. Yet, what's worse - far worse I think - is creating a faith that justifies what they want... What becomes of Christianity when it is used as a phychological drug to cover over the real issues? What happens when you stop wanting to learn more and more of God's true character and how He wants us to be, and instead believe God to be how you want Him to be?

"Each of us has a hole in our hearts that only God can fill... Just accept Him, and He will fill it." No, just invent Him and He will fill it - your very own custom-designed God... He'll be everything you want. He'll "love" you no matter what, and because of this "love" He won't care if you stay as a spiritual infant and won't challenge you at all to become more like Christ. He'll forgive you always, so you know everything you do is "alright". He'll always "be with you", to comfort you and give you warm fuzzy emotions when life actually challenges you.

In fact, this "God" is everything that "solves" all the emotional problems you have. If you feel alone, "He's there". Tired, "He gives strength." In financial trouble, "He provides." In danger, "He's in control." In sickness, "He'll heal you," but if He doesn't, "It was His will." When things go well, "God is blessing you." When things don't go well, "It's all for the best." When you find something or someone you want, "I feel God's telling me..." The list is endless.

The sad thing is that many times nothing really changes. The God who created them would probably love to help them, but they don't really know Him - they only know the God they created. In other words, by decieving themselves with a false god who makes them feel better, they block the way for a true relationship with God to really help them mature to truly overcome the problems of this world.

I believe God does not want to remove our problems or remove us from them - He wants them to be His tools to fashion us into maturity, and the likeness of His own character. So, naturally, by not dealing with problems we fail to use them to mature. Instead, failure to mature through problem-solving is characterised by immature faith - one based on a God we want and reality we invent to suit us. No one can persuade such a person that reality differs from their imaginations, for their own minds will prevent them understanding it. There is only one way such people can change their immature faith, and it is by being committed to maturity and the reality it is founded on. This is my committment. So, while I know I still have plenty of psychological barriers to having truly Godly character, I know I am heading in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The 'Big Picture' Series - 8: Followers of Christ

As I review this series, it strikes me how inadequate it has been. I had hoped to make my ideas clearer than I have, and cover much more ground than I have, perhaps to shed more enlightenment than I have. Throughout this whole series, the content of this post has been my goal. The question, “What is it to follow Christ?”, has always been floating in my mind, and I give some thoughts in response here. I hope that throughout this series I have painted in (very) broad strokes how we, God, and others fit into the big picture of the universe. In response to all of this, I hope the obvious answer to the question “So what do we do about it?” is to follow Christ. Here, I attempt to give a general idea of what following Christ really means. This will be the last post in this series, so I hope you have enjoyed it.



Followers of Christ

Heart – like Christ’s

Christ’s heart was centered on God and others, and not selfish or material things. Love God, and love others – these were the two things He rightly distilled God’s commandments down to. For this loving cause, He lived to help others have more Godly fellowship with each other and God by becoming more Godly. Christ had Godly ambition, rather than selfish motivations, and so should we. Following Jesus has everything to do with our heart, because everything we do is directed by it.

Our heart is like the needle of a compass that tells us which way to go. If the needle has correct magnetization (Godly ambition/desire), it will lead us to the right destination, but if it has the ‘reverse magnetization’ (selfish ambition), it will lead us in the opposite direction. If the needle looses magnetization completely (apathy), it will leave us wandering. In this way, the needle must have the right properties to be faithful to the earth’s magnetic field if it is to lead us in the right direction. Likewise, our heart’s ambition needs to be in the right direction in order to be faithful to God’s guidance and instruction.

Following Jesus is being devoted to the same things He was. In this way, we are also being devoted to God, for Jesus was devoted to God. This devotion is a decision, an allegiance, a commitment, loyalty and dedication to God and what He wants – and far more than a ‘belief’. This devotion is what I talked about in the “faith” section of this series. What we are devoted to is the like the magnetization of the compass needle – we are guided towards whatever our hearts are set on. If our hearts are devoted to the same things Jesus was, we will follow His path and reach the same destination.

Character – like Christ’s

Character is something developed over time by the choices we make. It is like the position we are on a long journey, in that it usually takes a long to time change – and you have to keep going in the same direction for quite some time to notice it changing. If the devotion to God we have in our hearts is like the compass that points towards our destination, then perhaps Christ-like character is our destination. The further we head towards this destination, the more like Christ our character will become. But, Christ-like character itself is not the objective of our faith – it is the state in which we can best enjoy our life’s purpose to have the best possible friendships with God and others. God made us for perfect friendship with himself and others, and this is the real objective.

That said, this should be noted: even if our destination to be like Christ is correct, if the compass of hearts are not devoted to the same things as He was, we will be lost. There have been many times I have realized with dismay why my character is not getting more like Christ’s – because I don’t want to. It’s no good to just want to “be like Christ” if I’m not devoted to thinking and living in a Christ-like way. To have Christ-like character we cannot be devoted to things that are not Christ-like.

Once our hearts are right, and then our character will change accordingly. This change is because our character is molded by the choices we make, and the choices we make are born from the ambitions of our heart. Sometimes it’s a tough road, as the road is not well-trodden and there aren’t many other people walking it. But, there is something to be said for walking on the direction you know is right even when you don’t feel like it. After all, true devotion is not about “feeling” devoted but it’s about being devoted.

So clearly, if we are following Christ, then Christ-like character should increasingly show itself in how we live. The longer we have been following Christ, the more like His our character should be. We should grow to be people of integrity, kindness, compassion, honour, joy, peace, patience, discipline, and above all – love.

Lastly, relationships require two people. So, part of building Godly relationships with others is becoming people with whom Godly relationships will flourish. In other words, we must care for ourselves as much as we care for others – but the focus should lie on building the great friendships God intended with Himself and others, and not greedy and selfish in motivation. So, being self-less is not ignoring ourselves and focusing on others, but it is focusing on our relationships with God and others and doing all that we can to make those relationships good. Godly character is what makes those relationships the best they can be.

Deeds – like Christ’s.

If our hearts point to our destination of Christ-like character so that we live in Godly friendships, then our actions are certainly the steps along the way. Godly deeds are the things we must do to become Godly people. Think of how you imagine saints behaving, and think of their character. If you want to be a saint like them, how else can you do it except by behaving like they do? To follow Christ, our steps must be along the same direction and path that He took, or we will find we are not following Him at all.

The joys and difficulties of life are like the ground we travel – they are part of “life in its fullest”. Our deeds are like the path we take over that ground. Some paths are better than others, some are much the same. Some lead to disaster, and some to blessing. The really important actions are the ones that affect others our relationship with God and the people around us. Actions that don’t involve others aren’t as important as ones that do.

There are many instructions about what we should not do as followers of Christ. But equally important are the instructions about what we should do. If you do not steal then you may not be a criminal, but it doesn’t make you a saint. So, we need to be watchful about both what we do and what we do not. I haven’t the space here, so read a Bible for pointers... but note the importance of making our love measurable by the things we do.

Position - like Christ’s

If we will imitate Christ in the above areas – then it is clear from the bible that we become “brothers and sisters of Christ”, and “co-heirs” with Him. And if we are co-heirs with Him, we will inherit the same eternal life as He did in the resurrection. Surely, this is wonderful news! What could be better than to be the person that God intended us to be, and to be with other similar people having the amazing friendships God intended for humankind? And if we are such a person imagine how pleased God is, and imagine how pleased we will be. But what if we are not Godly?

Jesus was perfect in ways we have already failed to be, but nevertheless, we are called to be on the same overall level as He was – as followers like Him. Though we should aim to be, we do not have to be exactly like Him for God is merciful and forgiving. While we may have displeased Him in the past, God does not hold our bad actions against us after we turn away from them. But note that He is not pleased with our flaws of heart and character of the present, and it would be uncaring of Him to overlook these.

It is possible to have a heart like Christ’s – here and now, otherwise why would Jesus have made it clear to do so? It is this Christ-like condition of our hearts that makes us brothers and sisters of Christ, to be Sons and Daughters of God just like Christ was! This revelation still amazes me, and it is indeed one that is incredibly wonderful. It is possible to be like Christ in our hearts (albeit with some minor flaws), and if we’re like Christ we will have a similar relationship with God. Paul writes in Col 1:19 and Col 2:9 that the fullness of God dwelt in Christ, and then prays in Eph 3:20 that we also would be “filled with all the fullness of God”. It is those who are like Christ that Paul often describes as being “in Christ”. Jesus’ heart does not change to become like ours, rather it is ours that should change to be like His – this is the only way we can be unified with Christ.

Lastly, God is not a cosmic accountant, measuring his acceptance of us by the sum of our good deeds minus the sum of our evil ones – rather He calls all those who are devoted to Him His Children. But true Children of God act like Children of God. Godly actions may not “earn” a position of God’s favour any more than baby cannot do much to earn its parent’s love, but Godly actions are essential to having God’s favour if we are to grow from being spiritual babies.


Role – like Christ’s

Hand in hand with position is responsibility. If we are to have similar position as Christ, we also have a similar role in the world. As followers of Christ, we are to be devoted to the same things He was, and this devotion should be evidenced by doing similar deeds. Jesus said in John 14:12 that people who are devoted to Him will do the things Christ did, and “they will do even greater things because I am going to the Father.” Greater things! How can this be?

Imagine Jesus being a swordsman going into battle. Many Christians seem to view things like this: we are the poor and defenseless and He is the big strong defender who goes and fights off the evil that threatens us, we just have to “stay close to Jesus” and everything will be great for us. Yet, it seems quite clear to me that this lazy and pathetic view is not one Jesus would have wanted. Instead, imagine us (people devoted to Him) giving Him our allegiance, and taking up our swords with Him. Rather than one soldier, there is an army, and an army can surely be of more effect than a single soldier. In this way we can do greater things, when we devote ourselves to the same cause that He was devoted to (God and Godliness).

To follow Jesus is to be devoted to not just His person, but to His cause. Certainly, like in the previous analogy, we need training before we can start be effective. But, nevertheless, we must mature towards and grow into the responsibilities of being devoted to God and therefore Christ – knowing it is part of the road that takes us to being mature Sons and Daughters of God.

So, the followers of Jesus have similar responsibilities as Jesus. Having Godly ambitions and character is essential to fulfill our role to lead, nurture, care for, help, love, and fulfill loving friendships with God and others. Following Jesus is not about getting God’s favour and a free ticket to heaven, but far more about cultivating the Godly relationships with God and others that I believe are the central meaning of our existence.

Jesus did this, and so should we. If we say we follow Him, let us be like Him. And if our actions evidence that we do not follow Him, let us not bring His name into disrepute by saying that we do.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The 'Big Picture' series - 7: Christ

It is with great trepidation that I dare try to summarise the relevance of Christ to our faith. Christ is, of course, the central figure around which “Christianity” finds ground, so please view these thoughts only as food for thought and discussion, not as definitive truth. In saying that, what I write here are the conclusions I currently have based on my incomplete knowledge, and I will present them as such. As always, my rule is this: I only accept ideas that help me to love God and love others more, and thus become more like Christ. I encourage others to adopt the same policy when it comes to what I write here. Take the good, leave what is unhelpful.

Who He was

As many will quickly say, Christ was both “fully God” and “fully human” - but how? Well, firstly, there is the virgin birth. One might say that this made Christ’s very DNA somehow far better than our own – perfect, even. Yet, I doubt Christ was different in any biological way to “normal” people, I think He was quite biologically normal. Christ was a person just as we are people. He saw through human eyes, felt through human skin, and heard through human ears. I am not sure He experienced the world or even spiritual things any differently to the way in which you and I are capable of, for I believe part of being human is how our humanity limits us. I think the virgin birth accomplished something different – in that it showed from the outset that Jesus was the Messiah – the Son of God.

So then we are faced with a dilemma; how can a “normal” human be “fully God”? I believe we as humans are created like God, with a mind. We think, and in this we become more than mere anatomy. I will call this part of us that is beyond our physical bodies our spirit, but do not think of ghosts and apparitions – think of your self – who you are besides your flesh and bones. Just as our physical bodies grow and have different appearances, our spirits also grow and differ in character. “God is spirit”, wrote the apostle John. So, I suggest that biologically, Christ was exactly like a normal human, but spiritually, He was exactly like God.

The word “like” I have used is very important. I do not think God Himself meta-physically come down from Heaven to reside in Christ. It seems absurd that Christ would pray to God if He was God in the most literal sense possible. Instead, I think Christ had the complete and perfect Spirit of God. The very thing that makes God the being that He is – His character, nature, or spirit – is the very thing that Christ also had. It is in this sense that Christ was God, in that He embodied the fullness of the Father’s spirit because Christ had a spirit exactly like God’s.

Christ and the Father are still ‘separate beings’, and their ‘spirits’ are still very separate and distinct entities – but because their spirits are exactly like each other they have the same spirit. In this sense they are “one”, and I believe it is in this sense that Christ says that “whoever has seen me has seen the Father”. It is like pouring water from a jug into both a mug and a champagne glass – the two vessels are very separate, as is the water they contain, but both contain the same water. “Same” means identical in every way.

Mountains of literature have been written on the subject of who Jesus was, but for me it is as simple as I have outlined above. One could spend a lifetime getting to know what the spirit of God is like, but that is a different and entirely more challenging matter.

What He achieved

I know I will fail to write here the full scope of what Christ did, or even how He achieved it. Nevertheless, I will try to describe some of what Christ achieved in the “big picture” I have tried to describe so far. There are three typical categories that this topic is often broken into, His life, death and resurrection. It helps me organise my thoughts again to follow these categories, although I believe such a distinction exists only for this purpose.

Life

Most of the time of Jesus’ ministry was before His crucifixion and resurrection, so I dare say His life is very important. The purpose of Christ’s coming was to free the unrighteous from their destructive ways, and save the poor and the oppressed from the unfairness inflicted on them by the unrighteous. He advocated not a new set of rules, but a condition of heart.

I think there were three main emphases that Jesus had,

1) Our motivation – that should be Godly ambition (forsaking selfishness, the desires for wealth, power, and glory, and instead living for God.)

2) The character such motivation brings – that should be personal righteousness (having Godly character of being morally virtuous)

3) The result of these two – that should be social fairness (caring and loving others as God would wish)

He revealed our motivations in life should not be selfish, but rather to please God. Christ demonstrated, described, taught, and led people in Godly ambition. Ultimately, living selflessly is far more rewarding, fulfilling and pleasing than living selfishly and desiring wealth, power and glory. Jesus taught people so that they would not only see His Godly actions, but they would understand the reasons for the actions – the heart behind the acts. Without this understanding, the Christian way of life becomes nothing more that a fa├žade, a legalistic act played by hypocrites. If Christ’s person was like our light, His teachings are like a map of path He travelled and destination He headed for. Indeed, His teachings are often held in higher regard than his life – but we must remember the teachings were so that we can follow in His footsteps in the way we live.

Clearly, Jesus was an example for people, and He clearly showed the Godly character that comes from Godly motivation. Into a world lost in moral darkness, which had forgotten much of true virtue, Jesus was the light that demonstrated how to live. Not merely the light, but the first flame which lit the hearts of those who followed Him to illuminate more people. Those who follow Jesus, I believe, discover its truth through more than mere teaching – they live it and experience it for themselves. If not for the life of Jesus, the world would have remained in moral darkness – blindly bringing its own destruction. Christ showed what being devoted to God looked like, to a generation that had largely forgotten. Furthermore, in Christ we see that it is entirely possible for a human to live a righteous life, for remember He was entirely human complete with our limitations. Christ suffered all the temptations we do because of his humanity, but He did not sin because He had only a Godly Spirit.

So, Christ freed people from their moral bankruptcy by these external exemplary and educational means, which that don’t directly affect people. Yet, He also freed people more directly by involving himself in their lives and them in his life, and coming inside their lives. Christ’s life was significant in His interpersonal relationships with others. Out of His motivation and Godly character, Jesus worked toward social fairness and healing the wounds of sin. Jesus loved others not simply to set an example, but because He actually cared for those people – if He didn’t, his actions would be hypocrisy. He loved the sick, the lowly, the broken, the oppressed, the hungry and the poor. Jesus stood up for those who didn’t have a voice, and demanded fairness instead of corruption. He went into the kingdom of darkness and walked people out of it.

Christ loved others even when He had nothing to gain by it; on the contrary, it brought him trouble. Not only His teachings but His actions prompted a considerable commotion throughout his life. If Christ had not lived in this way, what would have been so great about Jesus? He would have been just another philosopher, another man with his mind in the clouds of moral idealism but chained to selfish human vice. But this man loved others! And that loving heart was far weightier than His philosophy, wisdom, teaching, or example.

God is love, and Christ loved. In this way, Christ revealed God. In Christ, we see how God would be if He were one of us. This then is another aspect of Christ’s life, in that Christ was clear window into the heart of the Father. In Christ, we can see that the Father is a loving, kind, merciful and fair God – a God worthy of our devotion and love. But how can we be sure Christ did indeed reflect God’s heart, and that God wasn’t like something else entirely? The healings and miracles that accompanied Jesus’ life and work are clear signs that God and Christ were united in Spirit, and that the heart of Christ is the same as the heart of God.

During His life, Christ established the church. The organisation He demonstrated, one of discipleship of a few close people and teaching of many, has proven effective to this day.

Lastly, consider the state world would be in if Christ had not come and done all this, most of the foundational principles and values of our society and legal system would not exist. Modern society has been hugely influenced by Christianity, and I would hate to think what it would have been like without Christ’s life to remind the world of those values and principles of Godly living. In a very real sense, Christ has saved the modern world. As a follower of Christ, I would not know how to live in a Godly way if Christ had not lived 2000 years ago, and His legacy had not reached me. Because of His life, I have inherited His way of life.

Death

If Christ’s life showed His love, His death showed what that love cost Him.

Before I go further, let me state clearly that I do not believe in what is known as the “satisfactory” idea of atonement. In my opinion, no cosmic transaction occurred on the cross, and to suggest that the cross was the means by which God provided “salvation” and the “forgiveness of sins” is in my opinion to misunderstand the nature of both. For me, attaching some all-mystical atonement theology to His crucifixion detracts from the pure humanity of Jesus on the cross. It is His humanity that was exemplified on the cross, in stark definition with His divine character. I refer you to my post on the satisfactory atonement idea for more comprehensive discussion.

So if the cross did not achieve “satisfactory atonement for our sins”, what did it achieve?

The cross showed us the depth of Christ’s love, and therefore God’s love for us. He was deliberately put to death by sinful people of the day who didn’t like Him, and He willingly died. Jesus clearly knew his teaching and actions would lead them to kill him, but this did not stop him. He was a voice of the oppressed, knowing such voices are silenced. He spoke out against unfairness knowing that the corrupt people in power would eventually put an end to it. To avoid being executed, He would have had to stop loving people as He had. If He had stopped, his teaching would have been hollow and his life an act. Yet by dying, He proved his selfless love, that doing what is right was more important than His own life. The cross shows us the depth of Christ’s care for others by the price that He was willing to pay for it.

So, the Cross proved Jesus was not merely manipulating people for His own gain, but that He genuinely loved them. Christ truly gave his life for others to save them during his time on earth, at the cost of his own life. He showed the true value of living a righteous and holy life of love, kindness, and service knowing that it would cost Him His life, so that we might live. Christ gave his life for other people during his entire life, not just at the cross. Greater love has no one but to give one’s life for others – every day of it. Jesus didn’t merely die for us; He lived for us, and that cost Him his life. His death is therefore part of His life and not the all-important reason for His existence on earth, for His death would have meant nothing if it were not for his life.

I don’t think there is anything particularly special in the fact that Jesus died. If He was fully human, one would expect Him to die sometime. Indeed, His death proved His humanity. I also do not think the way in which He was executed was nearly as important as the fact that He was executed publicly. The publicity of the cross was to only add fuel to propel the Gospel far and wide. So Christ’s dead on the cross served to send message of love and hope to others for generations, and spread from Himself to others.

His death was very significant politically. Here was the Christ dying at the hands of the very empire the Jews thought He had come to conquer and set them free from. If there was any definitive answer regarding God’s views on political upheaval, this was it, and it was certainly not what the Jews were hoping for. Indeed, His death was his final strong statement against the political uprising that the Jews were hoping for. Instead of Jesus being victorious over the Roman Empire, the Empire was victorious in accomplishing the great injustice of killing an innocent man. His execution showed the wicked hearts of people for all to see. It says much about the wickedness of people that we would kill the very Spirit of the God who created us. His crucifixion made manifest the sinfulness of people.

There is something to be said for His death being analogous to the Hebrew sacrifices, though I am not sure what. The blood of sacrifices would be made to seal a covenant, or agreement, between parties. And this analogy seems to be used occasionally in the New Testament. It is into this covenant that we enter when we follow Christ and become like Him – also loving others at own cost. In those days, a king might go and give himself over to an attacking army to be killed so that the people of His kingdom would be spared their lives. Such a king would have been referred to in similar ways to how Jesus is referred to as “giving His life for us”, and being a “propriatory sacrifice”. So, if Christ had not died then we would die because of sin, thus He died for us. Indeed, if not for the events of the Cross, Christianity and its teachings may never have changed the lives of the disciples, let alone us in the 21st century.

I must also mention His crucifixion fulfilled prophesies in the Old Testament, and confirmed that He was indeed the Messiah.

On the cross, evil won. It showed that being righteous comes at a high price in a fallen world. Jesus was, indeed, cursed on the cross – but cursed by the people who put Him to death, not by God. If God had intervened, He would have quite falsely portrayed that there is no price to pay for righteousness and people needn’t stand for it because God can fix things. By intervening, God would have destroyed the very reality He was trying to teach people about through Jesus. I believe God mourned for Jesus’ on the cross, but knew it would be better not to intervene. Jesus died, and not surprisingly the hope and faith of the disciples died with Him, but fortunately it is not the end of the story…

Resurrection – to impact the disciples, and give hope for our faith

If all that people got for living righteously and being devoted to God was death, then Christianity would be a farce. Why would anyone follow such teaching, if it only leads to death for all who followed it? The resurrection of Jesus proves that the life He lived was worth infinitely more than what it cost Him. Likewise, for us, if we imitate Christ in how we live we know we will have God’s favour and He will give us life after death. Thus, Jesus’ resurrection offers us the great hope of this wonderful reward for living a Godly life. Note, however, that this should not be our motivation for righteousness, for our motivation should be one of love for God and others, rather than selfishness.

In raising Christ from the dead, God demonstrated that evil does not prevail over God, but rather that God’s goodness triumphs over sin. The resurrection is the ultimately victory of God and Godliness. Death was the worst the sinful world could throw at Jesus, but it was nothing compared to God’s power to resurrect Him. Christ gained a reward far greater than death in return for how He lived.

Of course, the apostles would never have started the church if not for the resurrected. They had lost hope and devotion, but these were restored when Jesus re-appeared to them. So powerful was the resurrection to the apostles that they gave their lives for the message Jesus had taught and the way of life He led, and thus each did a similar thing to what Jesus himself did. The same is true of Christians throughout the ages, for it is His resurrection that proves those who follow Him will also be resurrected to eternal life.

His resurrection was also strong proof that what He said was true and Godly, and indeed further evidenced his Messianic position. Of course, for resurrection to occur, Christ had to die – so this provides another reason for his death. Furthermore, because of the public nature of His death, news of His resurrection was quickly spread. Most of 500 or more people He appeared to after He came back to life would have seen or heard of His death, and therefore these people would have likely formed the early church relatively quickly.

His teachings always had in mind the eternal Kingdom of Heaven, but none could really understand it until His resurrection tangibly demonstrated it to them. Rather than an earthy reward, the reward for the righteous is everlasting.

Summary

Christ is the founder of the church, and the leader of our faith. He is the perfect example of a person like us who has Godly ambitions, righteous character like God’s, and who seeks to put right the wrongs in the world. He has indeed saved us from an empty life of pursuing wealth, power, and fame – that ultimately do not bring fulfilment. By following Him, we become like Him, and by being like Him we too can eagerly hope for resurrection to eternal life.

Jesus was devoted to God, and loved Him and others. He loved others, despite the cost – to bring liberation, restoration, healing and help to those who needed it. He led others to do the same by being an example and giving them motivation, revolutionary moral teaching and the organisation to continue to grow the Church. Finally, He showed the reward of Godliness, eternal life.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The 'Big Picture' series - 6: Grace

Practicality: “Grace” means favour, not forgiveness, and not kindness. We have God's favour when we are faithful to Him. “Grace” does not mean we can live wilfully sinful lives and expect God to be pleased with us, nor does it mean we can expect God to be pleased with us if we do not selflessly serve Him by loving others. Rather, God favours people whose quality of heart is like Christ’s – that of selfless service to God and love for others.



Grace is often said to be central to the Gospel. Many years of hearing Christians speak about grace has given me some insight into how most Christians think of it. Here, I will explain my understanding of the typical view, but I will try and peel back the layers of Christian jargon and catch-phrases to hopefully show the real nature and implications of “grace” as many Christians think of it.

If one thing is clear, it is that many people don’t have a clear idea of what Biblical “grace” actually is. Many see it as the forgiveness of sins that God ‘graciously’ gives us. Another idea is that it is God’s gracious bestowal of blessings on us, to make our lives more enjoyable. Still others would see God’s grace in the fact that He sent Jesus to “die for our sins”. Occasionally I hear that when we “open our hearts” to God He “works in us” to make us more like Christ “by His grace” – making “grace” a process or magical force synonymous with the idea that the Holy Spirit moulds and shapes those who accept Jesus into His likeness. Occasionally, we hear whispers that grace may be something we are to give others.

Common to all of these are a few interesting themes. Firstly, this “grace” is completely undeserved and unmerited, in that there is nothing we can do to earn it or deserve it. This idea is very close to suggesting it is also unconditional, like it is a ‘free gift’ that we simply have to ‘receive’. Second, this idea of “grace” is perhaps described quite accurately by words like “kindness” and “acceptance” (dare I say even, “tolerance”). Finally, it is portrayed as something bestowed the ‘receiver’ not because of anything the ‘receiver’ has done, but rather the emphasis is that it is what the ‘giver’ of the grace does. It is almost like this “grace” can be passed around like a shoebox full of money – all you have to do is take it.

Are these ideas of grace are what the New Testament writers had in mind? Such ideas don’t seem to line up with the conclusions of my own study into this word, and think these ideas about grace not only dull the true and quite powerful meaning of grace in the Bible, but can also lead to conclusions that are simply unbiblical.

After reading through hundreds of verses where “charis” occurs in the greek NT and LXX, I am convinced that it means ‘favour’, and there are very few verses where this idea does not make perfect sense. We need to slightly expand the idea of favour to capture “charis”, though, because it is also used in the sense of “thanks”. In the Greek, though, both “favour” and “thanks” were described by this Greek word, and we get our two words from slightly different applications of the same idea. Now, “charis” is used in quite a distinctly different way to “aleos”, which means mercy or kindness. “Aleos” has the meaning most people associate with “charis”, but they are used in very different contexts and I am convinced they have quite different meanings. I could not find a use of “aleos” in the LXX which did not refer to a kind action or merciful deed. In contrast, “charis” is generally used without reference to any action, which could be expected if it simply means ‘favour’.

So how does such an idea fit with the gospel? To me, it means the gospel is not one of ‘cheap grace’, but describes how to have God’s favour. This is the good news – that tells us how we can have God’s favour. Now let me make it clear that God is merciful and kind, and cares for those who do not have his favour, as numerous verses describe. Christ himself told us to ‘love our enemies’, and then points to God as an exemplar of this, by caring for even wicked and sinful people who are against Him. But this does not mean God is please with them or that they have His favour. So this is quite a scary thought, that God not only is displeased with people who act against Him and His ways, but that they have quite literally “fallen from grace”. The more this idea has been mulling in my head, the more I notice verses where God states quite clearly that the wicked do not have his favour. Such verses strike quite a discord with the catch-cry of modern evangelism to this largely wicked and selfish generation that “God loves you”.

How do we gain God’s favour then? I believe the Bible clearly states it is by being faithful to Him and His commands – the type of “faith” I talked about in the first post in this series. Being faithful requires not merely warm fuzzy thinking, but actions that reflect our devotion to Him. Let me take the parable of the three servants who were given 5, 2, and 1 talents to explain (see Mat 25:14-46). The master gave his servants 5, 2, and 1 ‘talents’ respectively, which apparently was some amount of money. The ones with 5 and 2 both used them to make more money, thus being faithful to their master. The one with only 1 talent hid it and did not even make interest in the bank on it, thus being unfaithful to his master. The master was equally pleased with both the first and the second servant, but rebuked the unfaithful servant. The point is that the master’s favour was given not on how much money they had made, but rather whether they were fully devoted to serving the master in what they were doing – with all that they have been given.

Likewise, God’s favour is not given to us because of how much good we do or how little we sin, but rather whether we are serving Him completely and selflessly – not giving him merely a fraction of our devotion. Indeed, we serve him by not sinning and instead doing good, but I think it is the quality of our hearts and not the quantity of our actions that God favours. Of course, though, quality service to God will result in some quantity of good action. But we must not merely look at someone who is doing “more good” than another and think they are “more favoured”, for what matters is that they are selfless and living their lives to love God and others. The amount of good that people do is dependent not only on their heart, but also their spiritual maturity. I think God looks at a child who loves selflessly but can do little for others with more favour than an adult who could do much but hardly raises a finger to care for others.

So perhaps the most unbiblical misunderstanding is that in His “grace”, God overlooks the quality of our hearts and gives favour to people who mostly serve themselves rather than Him. This “grace” is understood as God’s toleration of our willful sin. Such an idea mistakes “charis” for “aleos”, and leads to the unbiblical conclusion that God has “favour” on the wicked and sinful. God giving favour to those who have a sinful heart and serve themselves instead of Him is the reverse of what Jesus described in the above parable. But do not misunderstand me – God is merciful and forgiving, look at David for example. We do make mistakes. But these are all our sins should be – mistakes. We cannot willingly and continually do something we know God is against and call it a ‘mistake’ – such action is willful disobedience. God looks upon our mistakes with mercy and compassion if we are faithful to Him – for faithful people have his favour - but the idea of God giving favour to people who are unfaithful to Him seems to go against Biblical teaching.

Sadly, the result of decades of Christians believing a doctrine of “cheap grace”, instead of a pure, righteous, Holy, faithful and Christ-like church it has become one full of tolerance and compromise. Gone are the days of discipline, now we are in “grace”. Even though the Bible clearly states Christians should have nothing to do with sin, we water these commands down with “grace”. The emphasis is no longer on the quality of our hearts, but on the quantity of people in our churches.

Not only does cheap grace sweep under the carpet God’s commands to not sin, but people also use it to hide His commands about what we should be doing. This sort of “grace” is given to those who do nothing. “We needn’t worry if we aren’t caring for others,” people think, “because we’ve got God’s grace so He loves us anyway – isn’t that amazing?” It would amaze me, because that’s not the God I know! The God I know cares for people and tells us to do the same, and in the Bible when people are selfish and uncaring God certainly doesn’t like it. The servant who did nothing with the one talent given him was harshly rebuked in Jesus’ parable, not given “grace”. Later in the same chapter of Matthew, Jesus makes it clear that if we do not do the good God has commanded of us, we will be rebuked just like that servant. Not only has “cheap grace” made a church of compromise, but it has also made one full of apathy towards doing the good that God calls it to do.

Rather than quoting and explaining all the many verses I pondered over to reach my conclusions, I will end with just one short quote of Romans 5:1-2, which I have translated from the Greek into meaningful English as best I can. I will be happy to share my thoughts on other verses you may comment on.

“Therefore, we are righteous because of our faithfulness; and we have peace with God because of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of Christ we also have had access by faithfulness into this favour in which we stand, and we rejoice because of the hope of being praised by God.”

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The 'Big Picture' Series - 5: Salvation

Practicality: Not only must we leave the kingdom of sin, but we must live as Christ – as citizens of God’s Kingdom. We cannot think it is enough to try to do only one of these, for salvation is the entire process of going from the kingdom of sin into the Kingdom of God. God gives “eternal life” to those in His Kingdom, but entering His Kingdom comes at a high price. It costs us everything – for must give up our selfish desires and instead love God and others.



The “free gift of salvation”

Is salvation a free gift? By “free gift”, I mean something that we ‘receive’ with virtually no requirements on our part – after all, that’s the nature of something that is freely given. This idea is arguably central to current popular Christianity, yet I am convinced that such ideas distort the Biblical teaching of salvation.

Before I define salvation more clearly, let me describe the current popular ideas. A brief keyword search on the internet for “salvation” and “free gift” gives hundreds of links to the “free gift of salvation”. I even found several sites that condemned the idea that we needed to actually repent and turn away from sin – for salvation is “freely given”, they say. Forgiveness of the guilt of sin by “accepting the gift of Christ”, and resultant eternal life – this is the message of the popular gospel. But it is not the gospel preached by Jesus, nor by the apostles, nor by the early church – it is a gospel of “cheap grace”. The heretical gospel of “cheap grace” comes from consumerism, a narrow focus on only a few verses, and a reinterpretation of the Bible according to a selfish, consumer mindset.

Let me give you an example I have copy-and-pasted from a website I found, I have not added any emphasis (but I have changed the font-size to normal):

quote:


The GOOD NEWS!!!

How hard is it to accept this FREE GIFT, Christ as your Savior?

You may think, as so many do, that you have to clean yourself up to present yourself to God but...YOU DON'T... Just look at this:

Eph 2:8-9

Nor do you have to understand it all!
G
od sent His son Jesus with a wonderful gift (gift means free) for you no matter who you are, what you have done or how bad you have been. We are all sinners but He can offer you the gift of salvation paid in full for you by His death and resurrection. He will give you His perfect pardon, Eternal Life accompanied by the Comforter to stay with you, lead you, and gently encourage you forever. And it's ALL
FREE!! with no strings!
Now Isn't That
GOOD NEWS?

I listened to a Jewish Christian gentleman make the most profound analogy of the offer of Salvation I have ever heard. He compared Christ to a door-to-door salesman, of all things, saying that He knocks at the door of our hearts and asks permission to come in and show His awesome product, Salvation= Eternal Life, because, He can not show the product unless you invite Him in. You see, neither Jesus Christ or the door-to-door salesman can let you see how their product works if you don't allow them to demonstrate it to you. Now the salesman may be pushy but Christ is NOT!

To accept this free gift, all you have to do is ask Jesus into your life. Just pray something like this: Lord God I realize that I am a sinner. And though I may not understand it all, just the best that I know how, I trust that your son Jesus Christ paid for my sins at the cross, overcame death by rising again and is alive with you. I accept your free gift of Salvation. I invite You to come into my life and show me the way to go from here. In Jesus name I pray. Amen

Simple!...Now watch Him give your life a whole new meaning.



My heart both weeps and flares with anger that such heresy is so rampant, and it is heresy, just cleverly disguised in Biblical language.
Its heresy should be clear by comparison with Scripture, as I will endeavor to show. What is the above message really saying? Jesus “does it all”, and we do nothing. It suggests salvation is nothing more than taking a free ticket to eternal life. Salvation is seen as a product that we can get. Salvation is done for us, we simply grab a piece of the cake. What is the focus of this sort of gospel? The individual – this gospel is all about “me” and getting what I want. Is it hard? No. What does it cost us? Nothing.

A comparison with Scripture

What did Jesus say about being a Christian?

Mat 16:24,25

Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life shall lose it, and whoever desires to lose his life for My sake shall find it.

Mat 7:13, 14

Go in through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there are who go in through it. Because narrow is the gate and constricted is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Luk 14:26-35

If anyone comes to Me and does not [comparatively] hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me, he cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he may have enough to finish it; lest perhaps, after he has laid the foundation and is not able to finish, all those seeing begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build and was not able to finish. Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not first sit down and consult whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So then, everyone of you who does not forsake all his possessions, he cannot be My disciple.

Salt is good, but if the salt has become tasteless, with what shall it be seasoned? It is not fit for the land, nor for manure, but people throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

What is portrayed by popular salvation messages? “It’s easy - just choose the broad way.” “Salvation costs you nothing - you don’t have to deny your selfish desires, repent and forsake sin – you just accept it as another product into your life by saying this simple prayer…” So many Christians are like the incomplete towers of Luke 14 because they are unwilling to pay the full cost of the gospel – but what good is an unfinished tower when it is hardly off the ground? Like kings unwilling to yield the kingdom of their hearts and lives to the true and far greater king, God, we are unwilling to let go of what we have and what we want and serve and obey only God. In this way, far too much of the modern Christianity has indeed lost is saltiness, for it is no longer pure and righteous but contaminated with selfishness and lack of selfless love for God and others. So what good is Christianity like this? “It is not fit for the land, nor for manure, but people throw it out.” How heavily those words should hit popular Christianity today! Such heretical ideas of a selfish Christianity are just the same as the ideas advocated by the world, and instead of being a guiding light to the world Christianity becomes an empty tomb. Is it any wonder that so many people do, indeed, “throw it out”?

My understanding of Salvation – the process of going from the kingdom of sin to the Kingdom of God

So what is a biblical understanding of salvation? I described the two kingdoms, of sin and of God, previously in this post series. I also described how repentance was leaving the kingdom of sin. But it is not merely enough to not sin! So many people today view Christianity as about notnothing! doing this or that, so instead of going the good things God instructs, they do Certainly, they may no longer be committed to sin, but they are not committed to God either – they’re committed to nothing. A healthy Christian mindset is not to make sure you don’t cross lines into ‘sinfulness’, but to make sure you do break the boundaries of selfishness to reach out and care for people. When we are being selfless, our own sin will not be an issue.

Clearly, then, to be part of the kingdom of God, we must be faithful to obey Him and actually live as his people. It is when a person becomes faithful to God, in heart and lived in deed, that we can say they are part of the Kingdom of God. They are free from sin. They are “saved”, and the whole process of going from the kingdom of sin to the kingdom of God can be called salvation – literally, “the process of being saved”.

Let me give some examples from the Bible. Think of the prodigal son. He was living a horrible life of sin in a far away land, but he “came to himself” and returned to his father’s house to live with him and according to his will. What a shallow view of ‘salvation’ to restrict it to merely the father’s forgiveness of his son’s sin, for salvation is so much more! The son no longer was in a life of sin in the far away land, but blessed to again be with his father and in a house where he was loved and cared for!

This is the crucial point about his salvation: the son had to leave the far away land, and travel a long distance to again be in his father’s land. It wasn’t about forgiveness of his guilt, it wasn’t about a sacrifice, it wasn’t about declaring his son to be something or somewhere he wasn’t, it was about where his son was. His father couldn’t make him to be somewhere he wasn’t. Again using my analogy of the two kingdoms, the son had to leave the country of sin, and travel to the country of God. The son could not be given “being in God’s country” when he simply wasn’t there! It’s not something that can be given like that. God cannot somehow pick up his country – land, trees, hills, rivers and all - and move it to where people are in the kingdom of sin; they just have to “accept it”, as if it’s some courier package requiring their signature for delivery. That would be like saying that I can go to England if someone picks up the whole mass of land and brings England to me. No – of course I’d have to actually be in England – just as we have to actually be in the Kingdom of God, and the perfect example of a person in the Kingdom is Christ.

Secondly, consider Zaccheus the tax collector (Luke 19:2-10). Jesus said that salvation had come to his house not because Zaccheus felt sorry for his wrongs, not because Jesus simply ‘forgave’ him his sins – but because Zaccheus stopped his sinful actions and instead chose to live righteously. Zaccheus changed from being selfish to self-less, and repaid those he had cheated and indeed his whole live appeared transformed from one of sin to one of goodness.

So how was Jesus the ‘saviour’ of Zaccheus? In the Old Testament, there are many instances of people being saved, usually from death and destruction. The ‘saviour’ in these cases is the person who causes them to be saved – it is also called a ‘deliverer’ in the OT, but it is the same word. It is precisely the same sense in the New Testament. Jesus saved Zaccheus by leading him away from sinful living and into righteous living – hence he was the “saviour” of Zaccheus.

Let me say now that this ‘salvation’ requires no cosmic transaction on the cross; it simply requires people to follow Jesus as he leads them away from sinful ways and into Godly ones. Jesus pointed to Himself as this leader and example, saying “I am the Way.” Jesus never saved people by leading them through the “3 simple steps to salvation”, praying a prayer with them, and sending them on their way – and He certainly never told us to do that.

Costly salvation

The heart of the Bible resonates with the desire for God’s people to be holy and pure, living righteous lives that are pleasing to God by selflessly loving Him and selflessly loving others. He desires more than for us to wander in the vast expanse between the kingdom of sin and the kingdom of God, like the lukewarm Laodiceans who He wished “were either hot or cold”. He wants us to live as He has told us to, and thus be part of His Kingdom. He wants our full salvation, not to give us cheap grace. Full salvation requires us to “die with Christ, so that we may live with Him” – which means to forsake our selfishness and live like He did – for only then do we become “in Christ”.

But sadly this whole idea of salvation has become confused with the idea of “eternal life”. Yes, eternal life is a “gift” (Rom 6:23) – but it is given to the people who are in the Kingdom of God. Read the verse before Rom 6:23 where Paul writes about being “slaves to God”. Joining the Kingdom of God requires us to repent – to forsake – from sin and instead be faithful to God. That process is salvation, and is not without great reward, but it also comes at a great cost.

Personal and Social Salvation

Note also the very important aspect of salvation that is often neglected. It is summed up in Isaiah 61:1-3, which Jesus quotes from, saying:

The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is on Me; because Jehovah has anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to preach the acceptable year of Jehovah and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to appoint to those who mourn in Zion, to give to them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the mantle of praise for the spirit of heaviness; so that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Jehovah, that He might be glorified.

Salvation is for the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, the oppressed and the bound. What does salvation mean for them? Freedom. Deliverance. Salvation is not simply a personal change in commitment to Godliness, but it involves social liberation from the powers that enslave people. Poor, broken, and oppressed people understand the wonder of being saved from such conditions, and understand what it is to give their whole life in return for it. So, in the story of Zaccheus, not only Zaccheus was saved, but also those who he had been cheating were saved from his selfish oppression.

But I wonder; what do the wealthy, proud, selfish, well-off people of this world really know of salvation? As long as we wealthy Westerners have a selfish mindset and reinterpret Scripture to fit with it, I fear we may never see the real meaning of Salvation on both personal and social levels.

Conclusion

To conclude; we are saved by faithfulness to God – to love Him and to love others, which is in obedience to His commands. A saviour is thus someone who leads people out of sin, and into righteousness – such as Jesus. If we follow Him by imitating Him in His love for God and others, we will be lead into the Kingdom of God, and saved from the kingdom of sin. Salvation is the process of someone being liberated from sin and its effects and instead becoming devoted to Godly living and being blessed by the effects of living in Godly community, and gaining the hope of “eternal life”. Salvation is not cheap grace, but comes at the high cost of following Christ – for His example is the only right way. It costs our selfish desires, our devotion, and even our lives. This cost is not simply for our own sake, but for those who need our selfless love and care to free them from sin and the sin of others, as we ourselves have been freed.



And what about grace? That, I think, I will have to leave for a future post, for not doubt you are wondering why I have not discussed it here. However, I am quite excited because I think all this will take us to quite an exciting conclusion…