More Thoughts on Salvation

Last week I wrote about “Have you found the Lord?” I.e., got saved. This week I’d like to share with you part of a column in the Manila Bulletin by an apparently Catholic writer, on the same topic, with a traditional view. What does salvation mean, in her mind? It looks like what the theologian and philosophy prof, the late Dallas Willard, meant in saying “making the cut!” (He was asked Who goes to heaven? He responded, All those who can stand it!)

Some of  Nelly Favis Villafuerte  comments,  published August 26, 2017:

“Today, many toss around the term “saved” without really much thought. As used in this column, the word “saved” is used in the same way as the Bible uses it… that Jesus was coming to save us from our sins. All men are sinners; we are all as an unclean thing and all our righteousness are as filthy rags (Romans 3:10). (Isaiah 64:6) God commands us to repent for our sins (Acts 17:30). While it is a fact that some sins are worse than other sins, the Bible does not classify our sins in various graduations. A sin is a sin and if not forgiven will bring death to the soul. Let’s face it. We are all sinners because we are all “in Adam.” This is a fact of history and of life. No amount of good deed will erase our sinful nature. Many religious people feel that since they lead a good honest life, since they attend church services, since they do not drink or curse, they make it to heaven by relying on their own works of righteousness. This is not true because salvation is not attained in our goodness – only in God’s grace.

“What is God’s grace? It’s simply God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s blessing. It’s God’s unmerited favor. God looks upon us with love and forgave us even though we, being sinners do not deserve it. Sometimes God’s grace is called God’s enabling power. As the Lord said to Paul when the latter confessed his weakness. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

“Does it mean then that good works are not considered by God? The Bible simply says that we are saved by the grace of God through faith. Good works are the overflow after one has experienced salvation by grace. If good works were the basis for our salvation, we will never know the extent of good works we are supposed to do to be saved.

“Salvation is a gift. Likewise, faith is also a gift from God. It is not something of man’s own doing. As an individual he is not capable of mustering himself, otherwise he would be credited (partial it may be) for his own salvation and redemption. . . .

“The Bible says in clear terms that “The Lord is my salvation” (Psalm 27:1). This being the case, there is then no more need for us to look for other mediators and intercessors for our salvation. Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and man. (1 Timothy 2:5) He is the only way to salvation. He said so himself in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It could not be otherwise. From the Biblical standpoint, any other way is a dead-end street.

“Be joyful and forgiving!”

Villafuerte makes a valid point, that we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2: 8, 9), through Christ alone. But it seems quite clear that for her, as for most Christians, after death there are only two possibilities: glorious bliss forever, or eternal torment. This has put enormous burdens on thinking people, from children who worry about “poor grandpa, who drank a lot, didn’t go to church, and now must be in hellfire” to older folk, who worry about the vast “unsaved”, say in other religions. (It was far worse in the Middle Ages.) My own father was one of them, until he finally dumped that idea as being unworthy of a God who “is love.”

But is the conventional view really Scriptural, and the view of Jesus?

Yes, indeed, be joyful and forgiving, because God is! But only to Christians? No, there are many Scriptures proclaiming the love of God, and the redemption provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection for everyone. Like I Cor. 15:   For as in Adam  all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Or 2 Cor. 5:   God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. . . so we beseech you, be reconciled to God. A God who “is love”, as I John repeatedly asserts, does not endlessly torment his own children. That would make him infinitely worse than Hitler!

In the four gospels Jesus, when he was ministering to or confronting individuals, never warned them, “IF YOU DO NOT REPENT AND FOLLOW ME YOU WILL BURN FOREVER!” Why not?  If He indeed is the truth (and the way and the life), would not he have felt obliged to warn people, if he believed hell, as taught, were true?  (Yes, he did use the word gehenna on groups of people who were hard-headed, as a metaphorical warning, Don’t go there!– to the garbage dump always stinking and burning outside Jerusalem.)

To be “saved”, then, is to let Christ, his Spirit and his teachings, so live in your life that your life  will be marked by love and righteousness, and you will be His disciple. The Kingdom of Heaven which He proclaimed starts now, and goes on into the world to come. To be “lost” is to live a loveless life, already judged at the Cross.

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