So this past weekend at home church, I was in charge of bringing the message. And I took on the topic of salvation. And I think best when I write and so I wrote out a lot of my thoughts on the subject while I was doing my research. And I was pretty stoked on what I learned and so I figured it would be an easy thing to kind of edit my notes into a blog entry.
Boy, was I wrong. I'll spare you the details, but cleaning up my notes and making it readable was far harder than I thought. Anyway, I was hoping to post this last night but it took a whole 'nother day to whip into shape, and even then I only got the first part done.
Okay, on to the blog:
There's an amazing song by (one of my favorite songwriters) Sheryl Crow called "Letter To God." It's part plea, part critique, and the second verse goes like this:
I took you in, made a bed for you
in return you gave me some
words to go on, told me I was saved
but you never said what from
And maybe it's not as clear here, but in the context of the song, she's talking about becoming a Christian and in this verse she's trying to figure out what it is that salvation means - what is it that she’s saved from? And I think this is a useful question because there's so much discussion in Christianity about how to get people saved that I think we forget to stop and ask what it is that we're saving people from.
Now when most Christians talk about salvation, they're talking about saving people from going to hell after they die. They talk about salvation as if it's a token you can hold in your pocket - a token you earn after praying the "sinner's prayer." And making sure you have this token is of utmost importance for believers because it's your get-out-of-hell-free card.
To illustrate, think about one of the most common ways Christians are taught to share their faith. They're taught to try and steer their conversation towards this question, "if you were to die tonight, do you know where you'll spend eternity?"
And it makes sense that we would look to the afterlife to get people to think about the need to be saved because in our modern world, the things that we need salvation from are relatively small. Chances are, if you're reading this blog, you have a job (and/or are going to school), you have a roof over your head, and you're not worried about where your next meal is coming from. Congratulations, your life is a pimped out luxury compared to that of most people on earth.
For example, I just finished reading a book called Left To Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza. It's a firsthand account of what it was like to live through the 1994 holocaust in Rwanda (the same one depicted in the movie Hotel Rwanda). Ilibagiza is a woman who hid from roving bands of killers for three months in a tiny bathroom. And she wasn’t the only one hiding in that small room, she hid there with seven other women. At times, she could hear the voices of killers outside the window. And occasionally the roving gangs stormed into the house where they were hiding. They'd make it in to the room adjacent to the bathroom, and they would confront the man who was hiding them, accusing him of hiding Tutsi women.
Imagine being huddled in a tiny room with people on the other side of the wall chanting death threats. Imagine standing there knowing that if you were found that your death would be neither quick nor merciful. During the genocide, women were gang raped before being literally hacked to pieces with machetes - the killers would start with their victims' limbs, cutting them apart, piece by piece, and only when there was nothing left to hack off would they deliver the blow that would kill them. With all this hanging over her head, it's clear that she was someone who understood the need for salvation.
Compare this with our lives in America. For most of us, having a creditor call to remind us about an overdue payment is the closest most of us will ever come to feeling hunted. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that most Christians need to resort to talking about what happens after we die because what else is there that our modern world needs salvation from?
See, I think talking about salvation from sin is far more useful than talking about salvation from a life in hell because being saved just so that you get to go to heaven is kind of like loving your parents just so that you can get a share of the inheritance after they die. On top of that, it leads to a kind of belief system where a person can pray the sinner's prayer but still live a wretched life.
To me, salvation is about being freed from the burden of sin. And it’s clear to me that there are lots of Christians who don’t get this. I think we all know Christians who aren’t very nice. I’m talking about Christians who talk about believing in Christ but act like assholes. There's a big dent in the back of my car that I got after parking in a church parking lot, and no one left a note with their contact or insurance info or even an apology.
And I know I’m stepping on sticky theological grounds here, but I have to wonder if Christians who behave badly are really safe from a life apart from God. And on the flip side, I wonder if non-christians who do their best to live virtuous lives are really doomed to hell the way most evangelical theologians say they are.
In Matthew 13:47-50, Jesus tells a parable about net fishing. After the fishermen haul up their catch, they throw the bad fish overboard and keep the good ones in the boat. Jesus says, "This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Check it out. The angels aren't separating the Christians from the non-christians, they're separating "the wicked from the godly." And I don't want to get into the details of who is and who isn't getting past the pearly gates (because in the end, God only knows). My point is that salvation has to be about more than getting a ticket into heaven.
The Bible makes it clear that apart from Christ we are slaves to sin - that we can't do the good that we ought to do without him. In Romans 7:15-24, Paul spells out what this slavery looks like: "For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it." (Romans 7:18b-20 NIV)
And this, finally is what salvation is about - freedom from this life of sin through belief in Jesus Christ: Romans 7:25-8:2.
And what does a life free from sin look like?
It's a life filled with "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control," (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV). And that's something non-christians can have here and now while they're still alive. That's a kind of salvation they can use, a salvation that makes their lives better today. And as for the question of who's going to heaven, I think it's a no-brainer that a life that calls upon Jesus for freedom from a life of sin will be guaranteed a place in heaven (they'll be one of the good fishies).
Okay, there it is, part one.
"That was the edited version?"
Yeah, can you imagine how unreadable the original version must've been?
Yeah, and you must be one of those non-christian Christians. Hope you like to swim. "Man overboard!"
Anyway, there's part one. I'd love to get your feedback on anything I shared here and stay tuned for part 2!