As my regular readers will know, I often get involved in online discussions about things theological.
While often these discussions should really be in “air quotes” – so, “discussions”! – where people are simply trotting out their standard ideas, Scripture bombs and whatnot, and are not interested in answers, on one recent occasion things appeared to be different.
First off, the fellow in the discussion stated that REPENTANCE!! was required for ‘salvation’, and then asked his question (although actually it was four questions):
“Serious question gentlemen…
“Did humanity ever have a need to be saved? Did Jesus need to come to save us?
“If yes, what did we need to be saved from? And secondly, when did we actually move from unsaved to saved (time wise, when did it happen)?”
For some time now, I have been trying to express what ‘salvation’ is, and to get a bit more of a handle on it. So I thought, right then, here’s the perfect opportunity. My answer, then, was this:
To me, the problem with salvation depending on repentance* means that it is works-dependent. I don’t mean ‘works-dependent’ in the sense of ‘working for our salvation’ or ‘earning a place in heaven’ or ‘trying to be good’; it’s not that.
No, it’s this: if salvation is dependent on that kind of repentance, then what it means is that it boils down to just one single work: that of repentance. But it’s still a ‘work’; it’s something we do; it’s something we feel we can do whereas in reality we actually can’t.
Therefore, even if the only work we needed was that repentance, then it is still works – based.
This is why Grace, Faith, and all the other amazing things that God has done for us are gifts; indeed they have to be so.
This leads to the point of ‘salvation’ (sōzō or ‘wholeness’); what ‘repentance’ (in the sense of changing your mind) does is to allow us to see this. Salvation, or being ‘saved’, is that we get to live in the knowledge of what Jesus has done in showing God’s love for us. Knowing that God loves just the same us no matter what we do or don’t do. That’s the definition of ‘unconditional’. What we are saved from under this is an incorrect view of how God feels about us.
And once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it. But for those who have not yet seen it, they can’t understand it, because if they did, they would have seen.
So my answer to the questions above – and I am trusting that they are not leading trap questions – then:
1) “Did humanity ever have a need to be saved?” We did need to be saved from our faulty perception of how God sees us. ‘I hid because I was afraid’. (Gen 3:10)
2) “Did Jesus need to come to save us?” Yes, Jesus did need to come to save us; Jesus came (amongst many many other reasons) to save us from that faulty perception. Over the millennia since Adam, humanity’s perception of the anger of God had grown to huge proportions and Jesus came (amongst many other reasons) to set that record straight.
3) “If yes, what did we need to be saved from?” Answer in (2) above
4) “And secondly, when did we actually move from unsaved to saved (time wise, when did it happen)?” is an interesting question because it depends on firstly believing that we had some sort of wrath or hell to be saved from, and having to ‘do’ something (i.e. ‘works’, even if ‘only’ repentance as explained above) in order to become saved at a particular point in time.
If it is true, however, that we simply needed to be saved from that faulty perception, then the problem lies with us, not with God, and so there isn’t a time at which ‘being saved’ actually happens with regard to that problem, which actually never existed.
(And that is, I believe, the ‘original sin’: it is that we have this faulty perception of God that He’s mad with us all the time and therefore we have to ‘do’ something about that. Even if it’s ‘only’ repentance. And let’s be honest, Evangelical theology, despite its proclamations of a ‘loving God’, actually does believe that God is in a radge with most people, for most of the time. Even many of the ‘saved’ are constantly obsessed with ‘sin’ and are paranoid in case they fall foul of that ‘wrath’; if they put one. toe. out of line, they think, then hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Hell you go)**.
So, the point at which we were ‘saved’ is not so much the point at which God was suddenly not mad with us any more, but the point at which we realise the truth that He’s never been mad with us. Sure, the ‘Lamb [was] slain from the foundation of the world’ and this means to me that as far as we are concerned, God has never been mad at us. So yes, we have always been saved, but that also lies in tension with the need to realise the brilliance of the truth *now*, so that we can enjoy it in this life, and thereby be increasingly ‘made whole’ – sōzō – as the magnitude of what God has done for us is revealed to us in increasing measure. Wow!
*(I am using the term ‘repentance’ here in the Evangelical sense of turning away from ‘sin’ and turning towards God; that’s usually how it’s understood in Evangelical thinking)
So that’s the reply, in its raw and uncut form; the only changes I have made are to insert the Scripture reference for ‘I hid because I was afraid’. And the cartoon below 😉
At the very least, this small essay/answer expresses the state of my understanding at present. It passes the ‘Thomas Merton test’*** that “…“If the you of five years ago doesn’t consider the you of today a heretic, you are not growing spiritually”, because my thinking and ideas have evolved to this point over the last few years. Hopefully, you can glean a lot of encouragement from that, both from the essay and from the idea that growth implies a changing of ideas.
Anyway, it transpired that the chap asking the questions actually was just pushing his own ideas and trying to get people to agree just with his ideas. I mean, yeah, that’s fair enough in one way, but to make it look as if he’s willing to discuss things with an open mind was the trap. Usually, these traps are simply leading questions to set up the target for a broadside, and to be fair this wasn’t the case in this instance. But it wasn’t a discussion as such. As one respondend put it, “…you’re looking for YOUR answer based on your flawed premise. That’s a game, not a conversation”.
But it still made me think, showing that even in the most difficult online “discussion” (those air-quotes again!), we can still learn something. And that is in itself something to remember.
Peace and Grace to you 🙂
**There is a cartoon for ‘Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to Hell you go’:
***Apparently, it was not Thomas Merton that said this. But I like the quote, whoever it was that said it 😉