WCG #9: What does it take to get into Heaven?
The State of Separation
The Potential for Something Far Greater
- God - the necessary being, “HE WHO IS,” the eternal perfect standard, and the creator and sustainer of all things...
- He designed the universe with a perfect and pleasing rhythm that all could live into. His will - his voice and breath - brings things into existence. He is the wellspring and designer of all life.
- It is through God that we breathe our every breath and take our every step. We are the contingent, unnecessary, and entirely dependent on the will of God. We ARE the will of God.
- God’s spirit, his life-giving breath, is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn. It is the water that was meant to flow through our branches. Connection to god is what grants us our being, our purpose, and our fulfillment.
- But it is the claim of the Bible that we are not simply another created thing. In some form or fashion, we reflect our creator. We have been given a will of our own. We are not bound to act exactly as God commands.
- We were given this, not that we might be able to choose run away, but that we might be able to genuinely choose to run and embrace our creator. We were created to live in an authentic relationship with our creator.
- That was the life of the first humans (whoever and whenever they lived). They chose willingly and continually to follow the will of their creator - to live in his metaphorical kingdom. They believed wholeheartedly that God’s will could not be capricious and arbitrary. God understood them better than they understood themselves. He alone could perceive the fullness of the meaning and purpose of everything that they were. He alone could satisfy the calling of their souls.
- Living into our created purpose is where we find true and everlasting fulfillment. We are not the authors of our own purpose. We were created for our reason, and it is the highest possible calling (the calling of the very nature of existence itself) to live into that purpose.
- But we were - and continually are - tempted with something quite different. What if God doesn't have our best interest in mind? Why must we blindly submit ourselves to his rule? Why must HIS rule be absolute?
- Every day we choose something else... we choose to try and be our own Gods. We choose to try and define our own ideas of good and evil, and write our own purpose. The moment we were gifted with a sense of true Self, we had the option to reject our place as “secondary” and try to mantle the power of the necessary being for ourselves. And that’s exactly what we did... and do.
- We look to God and, with the same breath he graciously gives us, say “I don’t need you God, I can do this on my own.” We try and forge our own path apart from God, pursuing fulfillment in ourselves and in the world. This is treachery of the highest possible order. Our very existence depends upon God’s will, and yet we forsake it.
- But this cannot last. Like a branch severed from a vine, the source of its life and fulfillment has been lost. The branch may persist for a while, but it will be a painful and slow death before eventual destruction. A child wandering into the cold may try to warm themselves by rubbing their hands together, but they are only drawing from the finite source of heat within themselves that cannot last forever. When we try to separate ourselves from God’s will, we are condemning ourselves to misery, difficulty, and eventual destruction.
- If we really got what we desired - true separation from God’s will - we would instantly fall into non-being. We would cease to exist. God is the foundation of everything. In reality, there was never a kingdom beyond his in which we could have held dominion in the first place.
- But even as we try repeatedly to forsake our created purpose in order to live for ourselves - to try and be our own God - God himself continues to pour into us and sustains us. That never stopped. We may have separated ourselves from God, but God never separated himself from us.
The Potential for Something Far Greater
- But that’s not where the story ends, and thank God for that! The central narrative of the Bible from start to finish is the re-establishing of God’s kingdom. The original place, where the first humans joyfully and willingly lived into their created purpose as God’s representatives and co-creators, makes a reappearance at the end of the Bible.
- This place, the “Kingdom of Heaven,” is so often misunderstood by churchgoers. Many see it as an ethereal realm somewhere in the clouds where disembodied souls live in some kind of passive bliss, but this couldn’t be further from the Bible’s description.
- The Kingdom of Heaven is not the “afterlife” or “life 2.0,” it is the fulness of what creation was ALWAYS MEANT TO BE. The potential that was lost when humanity tried to forge their own path is finally realized.
- It is True Reality, where all willfully and joyfully obey God. It is a REAL (not ethereal) place that is paradoxically described as both now and not yet, both in the unknown future AND immediately after we move on from this life (This is a paradox we will be exploring in later talks next semester)
- In Heaven, we have re-connected ourselves with our created purpose, and it is there - in loving relationship with the nature of existence itself, that we are totally fulfilled.
- But as I’m sure you also know, entrance into this fulfilled and perfect reality is not something that just happens automatically. We are still severed branches fit to be stomped on. We don’t, in any sense, deserve to be given a second chance at living into God’s will. We are still trapped in the cold with no easy way of returning to the True Flame.
- In your understanding, how do you get into Heaven?
By Grace Alone
The Need for Transformation
Where Justice and Grace Meet
The Conquering of Death
The Source of New Life
- The entire system of salvation within the Christian worldview is predicated exclusively on God’s grace. We can say whatever we want and act however we like, but it is God’s will that determines our fate - solely and completely.
- This whole “new covenant” thing is entirely a promise made and sustained by God. He is not obligated to do it at all, and if he decided tomorrow to no longer continue it your “profession of faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior” would be meaningless.
- Now, we know from God’s immutable character and his promises throughout the Bible that such a thing will not ever happen, but it is important to understand the scenario merely so one does not ever come to the conclusion that they had any authoritative power over their own salvation.
- But that brings up the truly interesting question: If salvation (forgiveness of our attempt to be our own God’s and restoration back into our created purpose) is entirely God’s business, and God himself is all-powerful and all-knowing, then what's the point of this whole Jesus thing?
- Why must the necessary being lower himself to become a physical human on this Earth, only to die a human death? Why was his sacrifice even necessary? Couldn’t God just “snap his fingers” and save everyone like that?
- Yes, without a doubt, it is within the power of the all-powerful God to instantly save every individual human who’d ever lived and grant them entrance into the true and proper kingdom - no strings attached. He could have done that yesterday.
- God could have chosen from a likely inconceivable number of different potential ways to offer us salvation, or done none whatsoever.
- So the question is... why did he go with this one?
The Need for Transformation
- To begin to understand this, you first have to ask yourself: If God just took us from where we are, dusted us off a bit, and placed us back in “Heaven” with no other steps taken, what do you think might happen?
- We’d still the same individuals with the same desire to push into our own kingdom. We still possesses that fickle little thing called free will, and we still bear the potential to move away. If any one of us had been in Adam & Eve’s place, I can just about guarantee that we would have done the same as them.
- If God were to just keep “sweeping sin under the carpet” for eternity, what kind of world do you think that would be? A tattered mess, truly not anywhere close to God’s will. Sin and it's consequences need to be eradicated forevermore.
- The only other alternative would to seem to be override our will, and forcing us to live into his desire. But if he was willing to do that, why even go about creating creatures with independent will in the first place?
- So here’s the rub: Sin isn’t just some external thing. It’s in us. It is us. WE deserve destruction. WE deserve the separation which we so desperately desire. WE deserve for God to forsake us and leave us in the dark cold.
- Sin needs to be removed from the world, but it's us that needs to be removed. Would you be so keen on God announcing that he was going to finally remove all the Suffering and Evil from the world if he said that he was going to start with YOU?
- But God’s perfect love tells a different story. He doesn't want us all to be forsaken, even though we deserve it. But blind forgiveness will still not change the heart of a sinful human. We need to be - in some sense - transformed. Without this, forgiveness is only temporarily useful.
- Fantastic section of Mere Christianity, pg. 57 “The Perfect Penitent” --> “Remember, this repentance, this willing submission to humiliation and a kind of death, is not something God demands of you before He will take you back and which He could let you off if He chose: it is simply a description of what going back to Him is like. If you ask God to take you back without it, you are really asking Him to let you go back without going back. It cannot happen. But the same badness which makes us need it, makes us unable to do it... Only a bad person needs to repent, but only a good person can repent perfectly. The worse you are the more you need it and the less you can do it. The only person who could do it perfectly would be a perfect person - and he would not need it.”
- The sacrificial system of the Old Testament is a representation of an incomplete, temporary, and (ultimately) useless method of forgiveness. The model was that the death of an animal could act as a vessel of your iniquity, and you would be “pure” till your next transgression.
- Now, there is nothing intrinsically “special” about animals that lets this happen. This was a means of purification that was ordained and instituted by God, and only did anything at all because he allowed it to. God was still the primary agent of forgiveness here. So, what was the point of it all?
- Sacrifice is an amazing metaphor for our rightly deserved punishment. When an animal is raised, eaten, bred, and used for fur or milk, it in a sense, “lives on.” But, when an animal is sacrificed, it is completely consumed by the flame and is no longer capable of giving anything - it truly “dies.”
- But said sacrifices were explicitly temporary. And repeatedly, systematically, those who were forgiven returned to their rebellion. Mere “forgiveness” wouldn’t do it. Later in the Old Testament we are given prophetic visions of a time when God's "spirit" will create in people new hearts that will finally be filled with love and dedication for God's will. It is the recurring theme of the Jewish story that we simply cannot, in our present state, do what is necessary to be back in right relationship with God.
- The writer of Hebrews says that “The law was only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins...”
- What we need is something that is somehow capable of both absolving us of our sin AND, perhaps far more importantly, paving the way and empowering our transformation into something totally different, something not bound to the dark cold.
Where Justice and Grace Meet
- According to the writers of the New Testament, Jesus’ death on the cross is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system. He is the true and unblemished sacrifice whose death fully atones (takes the place of) the death of anyone who would accept it. But unlike the imperfect atonements of Old, Jesus infinite worth and purity means that we are all now clean once and for all (eternal and permanent forgiveness), with no need to concern ourselves with divine condemnation ever again. But... it’s not JUST that.
- If you were to stop at a simplistic view of “christ taking our place”, one could - like I already mentioned - say that, if God was ever prepared to forgive us, why couldn’t he have just forgiven us without all this Jesus business? Isn’t is a bit sadistic that he “needs” someone to die in our place?
- But you CAN’T stop there, for death and resurrection of Jesus is so much bigger than that! God doesn't “need” anything. God could have instituted an entirely different method of salvation that had nothing to do with sacrifice or substitution. He fulfilled the system, yes, but he was also the one who set it up in the first place.
- The sacrificial system is not a standard higher than God to which he is accountable. God is not placated like a crying child, desiring only to pour out his wrath on something. What he did through Jesus was always the plan. He instituted the sacrificial system SO THAT it could be fulfilled in Christ, not the other way around. But still, why a sacrifice?
- God found a way (or I should say always knew a way) to bind together his PERFECT JUSTICE (the demonstration of His holiness and righteous desire to eradicate evil permenately), his PERFECT LOVE (the unearned offering of total forgiveness and transformation for those not capable of genuine repentance on their own) and a continued respect for our FREE WILL (such that no action is forced and mandated upon us), in an absolutely beautiful and unexpected way. Let me unpack that:
- Romans 3:25-26: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be JUST and the one who JUSTIFIES those who have faith in Jesus.”
- He did not “need” someone to die in our place. He WANTED justice to have meaning. He did not want to keep "sweeping sin under the rug." He wanted the true consequences of sin to be utterly apparent.
- The passage reveals that God wanted both to be JUST (to NOT permit our rebellion) and to be the JUSTIFIER (to not only forgive our crimes but fix and renew us). He wanted to make clear BOTH the magnitude of the consequences of sin and His own transcendent power to overcome those consequences. And God, the holy mind that is necessary existence, knew of a way to do all of those things.
- But of course, one might object that Jesus taking our place is not, in fact, "justice" being done. After all, it just seems to be an arbitrary third party suffering instead of us. How does that do any good, and how does that in any sense make it possible for us to actually be "changed"? If I just pardened a criminal with no questions asked by imprisoning someone else, what good does that do?
- The answer to this objection lies within one of the most ill-understood aspects of the gospel message, the idea of "oneness with Christ." It is not simply that Jesus is taking our punishment. The central idea of Christianity is that, through becoming one with Christ, we do take upon ourselves the full consequences of sin. We get what we deserve. We die. We are symbolically up there on the cross WITH Jesus. But it is through that same oneness with Christ that we are able to conquer death and be ressurected into a new life as a new creation.
- Romans 6: "For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a ressurection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin - because anyone who has died has been set free from sin."
- When Christ became a man, he submitted himself to the paradoxical rule of - well - Himself. The binding laws of creation were now active in his life. He became finite and contingent. He put himself into his own game (a game we’d already lost repeatedly), and, playing by the same rules as everyone else, won. Just as much as we say our situation is impossible, God said “Not for me.”
- Hebrews 4:15-16: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
- God is not a distant condemning judge. Even though he experienced all the same limitations, temptations, and desires as us... he still remained faithful to the will of his Father. His status as a just and worthy God is beautifully vindicated, and we can now KNOW with certainty that God is not aloof to our sufferings and difficulties. He has walked in our shoes, and yet he did far better than any of us could. He was perfect.
- (Now it may very well be the case that God, in his all-knowing nature, did already understand completely our situation more intimately than we could ever express. But what’s far more important here is less the fact that God is capable of empathizing with us, and instead that we can know - fully, completely, and definitively - that he truly is.)
The Conquering of Death
- AND THIS IS KEY: Even though he did not deserve it, God took upon himself the consequences of sin. This is WHY the sacrificial atonement is the just about the perfect choice - a reason for why the entire system existed in the first place. It is a beautiful (and perhaps perfect) means by which we can understand this seeming impossibility: God experiencing the full consequences of sin WITHOUT he himself sinning.
- He Who IS, existence itself, the righteous servant of his own standard, and the one who had won the very game we’d repeatedly lost, was separated from himself. He cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!” The perfect fulfillment which God had experienced within himself since eternity was broken. God stepped outside of himself and out of his own flame. "He became sin, who knew no sin."
- How exactly did this happen? I cannot tell you. That’s a profound mystery. But what’s even MORE incredible was what happened next. Instead of being consumed, destroyed, or annihilated by the full consequences of sin... Jesus conquered it.
- Death could not hold him. It’s not that he was knocked out and the rest of the Trinity revitalized him. It’s that Void simply could not contain the necessary being. Jesus experienced the deepest darkness, the furthest separation from God (something none of us have ever had to experience) and shattered it. He was resurrected and ascended back into glory. That's how powerful God is.
- Could this have been done in a different way? Of course it could have! God can do whatever he wants. But think about the implications of this - think of the message this sends: God is not aloof and beyond us. He is not just waving his hand and magically fixing us. He’s getting involved, deeply, personally, and intimately. He’s totally and completely come down to where we are.
- Philippians 2:6-11: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
- It is through God’s personal conquering of the consequences of sin (that is, death, separation from God) that we, by “incorporation” into Christ’s nature - becoming “one with Christ” (as many New Testament authors describe it) - that we can do exactly the same thing. It is through Christ's death and resurrection that we too can die to sin and be born again as a new and transformed creation.
- This is why, according to the writers of the New Testament, God did all of this in the way that He did. Jesus passed through the fullness of death and returned to perfect unity with God, that we might also - in grabbing hold of him - pass out the the death we are trapped in and return to perfect unity as well.
- The same spirit that was at work in Christ - that is the life-breath of God (the Holy Spirit) - is now available to all those who would believe. And that same power that God used to shatter eternal death is now something any and all of us can acquire.
- And this power does not merely “forgive” us. It changes us from the core. It renews everything about us.
- When you think about salvation like this, it suddenly becomes a lot clearer why the RESSURECTION is so transcendently important. Yes, Jesus’ death is a sacrifice that atones for our sins. But more fundamentally than that, and I think far more beautifully than that, the work of Jesus is God providing a means by which we can truly and meaningfully die to our sin (without being annihilated or lost forever) and be guided back to God’s purpose and will. Not merely temporary forgiveness with the concern for future transgressions.
- While we deserved condemnation, God found a way to unleash the fullness of his wrath not upon us but upon the sin within us. He has destroyed our old self but we still live. Praise God for that! Or, perhaps more precisely, we live in Him. Our sinful nature was nailed to the cross with Jesus and died forever, but it was us who rose to new life alongside Jesus on Easter morning. As Paul says in Galatians: "I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."
- By this means, God is BOTH just and the justifier. His righteousness is clearly known, evil is eradicated, forigveness and mercy reign supreme, the opportunity for effectual and permenant transformation is made possible, and our free will remains intact. Who else but God himself could have orchestrated such a perfect state of affairs?
- With full appreciation of all of these things, God's decision to reveal himself as a living, breathing, physical being who suffered like us and died like us reveals some very very important things about His character:
- It shows that God doesn't desire just to be some sort of a hands-off cosmic presence. He became measurable part of our human history, and a very significant one at that.
- God truly is the perfect eternal standard. No longer just a metaphysical concept, Jesus’s life on this Earth - and all of the teachings and scriptures that stemmed from it - reveal to us exactly what God's purpose for us is.
- Lastly, and most importantly, it demonstrated exactly the kind of mind-blowing power and limitless love that God has. His nature is great enough to shatter non-being itself and carve a path for us to return to Him.
The Source of New Life
- All that is necessary for this redemptive power to become a reality in our life is a recognition of who Jesus really was (your Creator, Lord, and Rightful Authority over all Reality) and a willingness to be transformed by him into who you were always meant to be. The actual power that rescues you from death, the actual things that secure your salvation - that "unite you with Christ" in that unexplainable metaphysical sense - they are entirely out of your control. All you can do is fall on your knees and thank God for providing a way for you (a rebellious contingent being) to return to the unity for which you were created.
- We all may die physically here in this life, but it is the promise of the New Testament that those who pursue Christ in the here and now will be reunited fully with him in the True life that is Heaven. It is there that we, now fully connected with Christ, possesses everlasting relationship with the God who is Existence Itself.
- This transformation, of dying to sin and being reborn in Christ, is represented symbolically through the Christian practice of Baptism. The actual action of dunking someone underneath some water is not intrinsically special, nor is Baptism in any sense a requirement for one to be saved.
- What Baptism does represent is death and rebirth. You breathe out your last breath before being submerged in water before rising up again and breathing in new life. It is a sacramental way of marking this transition.
- Like Adam, into whom God breathed and he became a living being, so to we re-accept the breath and life of God that we might be re-made into the creation we were always meant to be.
- Originally, this source of everlasting fulfilling life was something that was represented in the Tree of Life in Genesis 2 & 3. It symbolized humanity’s connection to God, who was the life-giver and sustainer. By eating of the fruit of the Tree of Life, they could partake in everlasting fulfillment.
- But when they tried to forge their own path outside of God, they were cast out of the Garden and separated from the Tree of Life. In other words, seperated from God’s will, they had become temporary - condemned to mortality.
- But now, the source of our life and connection to God is Jesus Christ. Through what he did on the cross, we can be transformed and redeemed. But... wait a minute... hold on wait a minute....
- “24 He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”
- The “Cross,” referred to as a “tree” by several New Testament writers. And Jesus himself is also called the “firstfruits.” And he calls himself the “Bread of Life,” our source of everlasting fulfillment. And he is “the way, the truth, and the life.” It is through him that we find eternal life. And he asks us, in the act of Communion, to partake of his body... the fruit of the tree...
- The Cross is the new Tree of Life.
- And most substantially, the Tree of Life makes a reappearance at the other end of the Bible (literally in the last chapter), where the New Heaven and the New Earth are described as having a beautiful river on either side of which was the Tree of Life, which bears fruit every month and whose “leaves are for the healing of nations.”
- Wayward branches though we once were, those who pursue and walk with Christ in faith are grafted back onto the True Vine. Once deprived of our source of life, we are now re-connected and our very being beings to flow with new energy and vitality. The sustaining water, that life-force which gives everything its being, is what can now flow through us in abundance. It is the Holy Spirit, and by his power alone can we “bear fruit” (do great things that fulfill God’s will for the world).
- Though we were once unable to return to the flame, part of the heat now resides within us, warming us and preparing us for greater and greater things. The partition is dissolving and we can now approach God with confidence. We are being transformed and renewed from the inside out. Our hearts our being softened and our very essence is being aligned with the will of Existence Itself.
- One day, past the end of our life, we will no longer feel the sting of seperation anymore. We will be fully perfected and directly in God’s presence. But until that day we still exist in this incomplete world.
- But... we don’t exist here alone. The heat once foreign to us now resides inside of us, warming us from the inside.
- We are learning, day after day, more and more fully how to grasp back on to the will of God, to live into our created purpose. We are not instantly perfect, nor do all of our sufferings go away. But the calling of our souls is finally answered, and we have hope for something far greater.
- Now empowered, we can go to others still suffering in the cold and show them the beauty of the light and warmth that was given to us. And slowly, we might be able to warm up the world around us.
- We are called out INTO the world to share the good news of what we have experienced - to bring to others the opportunity to be a part of that same fulfillment and peace that we have come to know through our relationship with the God who conquered death itself.
- But what about the people who don’t have the opportunity to truly hear and comprehend the gospel message? What do you think happens to them? Why does it seem that "access" to understanding of what God has done through Jesus is so unevenly dispersed?
Exclusivism vs. Inclusivism
- When asked the question “But what about the people that don’t have easy access to the gospel?” a fairly common response you’ll get from pastors is: “Nobody is condemned because they didn’t accept Christ, and nobody is given eternal life who deserves it. We all deserve condemnation, and we all deserve eternal separation (what we always wanted). So, we should really try to spread the gospel!”
- Now part of this is certainly true. None of us deserve a second chance. We deserve nothing, so if someone were to be condemned it would be because they were, like all of us, undeserving of salvation - and for no other reason.
- But this doesn't actually answer the core question: If God was willing to offer solution to our dilemma then why isn’t that solution super easily accessible to anyone and everyone in all places and times? If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, why isn’t that message explained fully to every human alive? Why does it seem like their is such an unequal distribution of "access" to this Truth?
- There are two viewpoints within Christianity in regards to how God’s grace works its way out in these situations:
- Inclusivists believe that, while indiscernible as to when such a thing would occur, it is possible that someone could recognize the existence of "God" as the transcendent ultimate reality and also realize that they are utterly secondary to it. Understanding that they are not perfect, such a person might fling themselves on the mercy of whatever this “God” is. In this way, such a person would be saved by faith in Jesus even though they don’t know his name explicitly. This may work itself out within another worldview or religion, but theoretically it would be more likely to happen in an instance where someone realized the insufficiency of the tradition they grew up with.
- Exclusivists believe that the only people who are saved are those who make an exclusive declaration of faith in Jesus Christ sometime during their life here on Earth. This could be right before death, but once again it is impossible to judge when such a thing actually occurs. However, this does not mean that God forsakes those in lands without easy access to the gospel. Most exclusivists would profess that God has full sight of all of human history, and understands exactly what is necessary to be done for the maximum number of people to be saved. This means that - even though it may be impossible to describe how this works itself out - everyone who would ever make the choice to follow Christ is given that choice at some point (or at least they are given the option to pursue the topic further).
- Let me try and “answer” this question by making it more confusing:
- What do we mean by “someone who hasn’t heard enough?” What constitutes not knowing enough?
- Imagine a spectrum of people from “knowing nothing about the gospel” to “fully understanding the gospel” with a bell curve in between. At what point on this curve can you actually say, with confidence, that someone doesn't "know enough" about the gospel to be judged according to it? How do you even go about placing people on this spectrum in the first place?
- We like to draw lines in the sand, but in ultimate truth we just DON’T KNOW the nature of other people’s hearts. Only to God is the fullness of a person’s soul visible - all their decisions, intentions, and desires visible in every conceivable world.
- More substantially, why do we assume that being in a “Christian” nation gives all of America’s citizens easy access to the genuine gospel message? When Christianity gets in bed with culture and government, that’s when things always fall apart. How many people do you know that have rejected christianity because they have had bad experiences with it, or don’t like the way it can have sway over the direction of our culture? How many people can you think of in popular media, of the top of your head, who call themselves Christian but who you’re just about certain has never made a genuine profession of faith?
- This is difficult, but it is crucial to understanding: Just because someone marks themselves as Christian on a census, it doesn't make them a follower of Christ.
- This is so key. Please hear me. The only person you can control is yourself. You don’t know the hearts of other people. There is no salvation “test.”
- Why wasn’t God more clear on this topic? Oh boy, can you imagine what would happen if the bible DID give us a step by step test to see if someone was saved? Can you imagine how quickly we’d abuse that?
- We do NOT evangelize because we think people will be damned without it. We evangelize because we are commanded to, and we willingly want to be used as God’s instruments of salvation in the world.
- Nobody is convinced of christianity purely through arguments and bible passages. People come to a personal recognition of their need for God and fling themselves on his mercy.
- Nobody is trapped without salvation exclusively because you failed to share your faith with them. God's will and mercy are not limited by your shortcomings. That’s a very dangerous mindset.
- Nobody's true intentions are beyond God's sight.
- As followers of Christ, we do NOT evangelize for the purpose of "converting" everyone we talk to or expecting results all the time. We are simply following God's great commission, never knowing when we might spontaneously be used as a profound instrument of God's will. We tell people the good news because we want to and because we were told to.
- We DO know that God is ultimately just and fair, and that he desires all to come to a knowledge of him. Some leave open the possibility for post-mortem salvation (like C.S. Lewis), but that is a subject for another discussion.
- All I know for certain is that the fullness of God’s justice and the fullness of God’s grace will win out in the end, and there is nothing I can do - or would even want to do - to stop that.
Extra Resources / Further Reading:
- The YouTube channel "The Bible Project" is a fantastic ministry that provides free high-quality animated videos over an enormous range of biblical topics. They have a whole series of "theme" videos which interconnect ideas from the beginning to the end of scripture, and tying it all back to the gospel message. Here are some particularly awesome videos that are relevant to this week's discussion: