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):



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!
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

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.


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…


Mike said...

Hurray! Awesome post Reuben. I think your best one yet :)

nato said...

I read it, and thought it was worth leaving a comment!

(hope you appreciate it :D)

Scott said...

It is unfortunate that the gospel of 'cheap grace' has flourished in the individualistic, anti-intelleculant climate of modern evangelicalism.

I think though that you've treated the topic in an slightly imbalanced way. By holding up the plastic 'free gift' gospel from that website, and showing how ridiculous and simplisitic it is, you then say - 'well it can't be anything like this', and state your case - which of course must be true because the plastic one isn't. You have excluded any possibility of a 'middle' view. One which affirms the objective saving action of Christ achieved for the people of God, and also requires that the response to God's grace in Christ must be obedience for that blessing to be fully realised.

Another thing I find interesting is that you have called this 'The Big Picture Series', but it appears quite seperate from the 'big picture' of God's redemptive-historical revelation throughout the Bible. Surely it is this which gives us a proper understanding of what 'salvation' actually is. For example, the basis on which God called Israel to obedience is that he had already saved them and brought them out of Egypt to be his people.

incognito said...


"You have excluded any possibility of a 'middle' view. One which affirms the objective saving action of Christ achieved for the people of God..."

Perhaps this will be cleared up more when I cover the topic of Jesus, where I intend to describe my understanding of the 'saving action of Christ'. I think you'll find you disagree with me then also. I'll also discuss "God's grace in Christ" as you call it.

My naming of this series is "big picture" because I hope to build up a full picture of my theology - I am not intending it to be an history study, though I agree that the OT gives us some particularly enlightening views.

"Surely it is this which gives us a proper understanding of what 'salvation' actually is."

Your example here is perhaps one of the idea of a savior freeing people from slavery. That is what I have tried to discuss here, so that "salvation" encompases more than just Christ.

Scott said...

I think you have already explained how you view the 'saving action of Christ', he is merely an example to follow.

Can I ask what the point is of providing a full picture of your theology, without reference to the biblical story? The scriptures are not just a bunch of 'examples', but a revelation of who God is and how he works to redeem. Understanding salvation from the unfolding story of the Bible is not a history study, it is a theological study.

incognito said...


I think there's a bit more to Christ than "merely an example to follow." That's why I suggest we wait until my post on Christ to discuss that.

The point of my outlining my theology is twofold: 1) To get it clear in my head 2) To share it with others for opinion and comment, and perhaps if it's useful to be of some help. In light of these objectives, I have concluded that it is sufficient for this series to merely summarise my doctrine and theology in a down-to-earth and hopefully practical manner, without writing down how my ideas relate to every verse in the Bible. I just don't have time to go into that sort of detail.

"The scriptures are not just a bunch of 'examples', but a revelation of who God is and how he works to redeem."

Yes, I completely agree.

Perhaps you'd have time to outline the important points about salvation that you seem to be hinting at and that I haven't given in this post? I'd appreciate a few points to see where you're coming from.

Scott said...

I think there's a bit more to Christ than "merely an example to follow." .

Well I sure hope so. I await your next post!

To make an extremely simplified/generalised point about the concept of salvation from the whole Bible...

The Bible is a story about mankind's rebellion against God, but God's action to reverse the effects of our sinfulness. Salvation is always initiated by God, he saves Noah, chooses Abraham and establishes a covanent etc. The biggest paradigm/act of salvation before Christ was the Exodus. Israel were helplessly enslaved, but God works to redeem them from the land of opression. It is only after he has saved his people that he establishes the law, and indicates that obedience is the proper response to God's salvation. We see this in the way the 10 commandments are introduced. They are not the means of salvation, but a response to God's redemption.

Exodus 20:2-3
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
"You shall have no other gods before me....

Constantly we see this gracious saving work of God's towards Israel, paralleled with human stubbornness/rebellion. But the point is that God initiates salvation, and then declares the terms by which his saved people will live. We see the exact same thing with salvation in the NT. God has acted definitively, in Christ, for the salvation of sinful humans. On the basis of this redemption, his redeemed are urged to respond in obedience. For example...

Colossians 1:21-23
"Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel."

So we were rebellious and lost, but God has acted to redeem us. He has done it in a definitive, past, historical act, the death of Jesus. The purpose was to purify a people, an Israel, a bride (Eph 5) for himself. This was all the action of God, and the required response to that action is obedience.

So the logic in both goes like this:
Rebellious alienated people > Saved by God's action (brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph2:13) > required response is obedience

I should say that I am equally repulsed by a gospel which says, 'pray a prayer = get to heaven'. Eternal life is so misunderstood, because it ultimately means to know and love God.(John 17:3) This gift of eternal life is so precious, that it warrants selling everything you have in order to buy it (Parable of the hidden treasure). This is the definition of repentance: realising that knowing God is far more worthwhile than living for temporary pleasures. If someone has not realised this, they don't have true faith, and will not take up their cross in order to gain Christ.

Katherine said...

Great comments Scott. Helps me clarify what the concerns I have over some of this stuff actually are. Still not sure which side to come down on but cheers for the brainfood, both of you. God bless.

nato said...

I would be interested if Reuben could express his theology of salvation in a format similar to:
"Rebellious alienated people > Saved by God's action (brought near by the blood of Christ (Eph2:13) > required response is obedience"

incognito said...

Thanks for your comments Scott (and others),

It seems we agree in most respects. I think we define things a bit differently because we see God's action differently. I agree wicked people are 'alienated from God', I think we're describing the same sort of mindset/actions if we're talking about one's own sin.

Your next step in logic is salvation. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems you define "salvation" as something God does for us, something that is purely His action and does not require action on our part. Then, as a consequence of God's action, the people who are already saved respond in obedience. Hopefully I've understood your logic correctly.

Now I agree that God acts to bring sinners back to a state of obedience and virtue, and that certainly involves "salvation". But I define things differently to try and avoid the "cheap grace" idea. In this post, I'm primarily talking about salvation of a person or people from their own sinful state.

In the case of salvation from one's own sin, it makes little sense to speak of someone being "saved" if they are not transformed from sinful character to virtuous character ("righteousness"/obedience). In other words, "salvation" has not been accomplished unless they have repented and committed to a life of righteousness.

As a consequence, I refrain from suggesting God's actions to bring people to a state of righteousness is "salvation" in itself, because this might imply salvation does not necessitate obedience. In other words, I see obedience/righteousness as a critical component of salvation, without which there is no salvation at all.

So, I define "salvation" from one's own sin as being the change in character from wrongful to righteous, which is facilitated by God and His people.

However, in Israel's case you seem to be talking about God's merciful rescuing of people from oppression, which is of course a demonstration of God's virtue. Yes, they were saved - but they were saved from the sin of other people who were oppressing them, not transformed themselves.

Thus, I guess there are two types of "salvation" in my mind:

person(people) is(are) unrighteous --> God tells them, helps them, and shows them how to be righteous --> person(people) choose to be righteous (Godly)

person(people) is(are) oppressed by the unrighteousness of others --> God or God's people rescue the person (people) --> person(people) is(are) free from oppression

Note in case 2 they would be thankful to God and no doubt willing to obey Him in return, but this is not my point... my point is their freedom. If they were unrighteous and do become righteous because of their gratitude, then that is the first type of salvation I've mentioned. So I agree that this liberation from oppression is likely to facilitate the first kind of personal salvation, but I would certianly not say they are the same thing.

Thanks for your comments - I wouldn't have put it like this without them, and I think it's clarified it in my own head a bit too. Hopefully that's also made my ideas a bit clearer to you too.