How Salvation Becomes Muddled & Mysterious The More I Read The Bible
I’m betting you don’t know as much about “salvation” as you think you do. Salvation is broader, richer, deeper, and greater than what you imagine. Because you’ve experienced some of what it is, you may think you’ve experienced all of it. For some Christians, salvation is so common that they don’t pause and give it thought. Today, I’d like to challenge you to think about salvation according to some Bible passages that mess with a common understanding of salvation.
Personal “Salvation” Journey
As a teenager, I became enamored with “salvation.” Perhaps due to being a third generation Christian, growing up in a Christian home, or experiencing God’s unique tug on my heart, what it means to be a Christian bewitched me. Almost 50 years later, I’m still enchanted by the nature of a person’s relationship with God.
For most of my life I thought of salvation as being rescued from sin and hell, while being given a home in heaven. At mid-life, the relational aspect of salvation became prominent. Eventually, I came to realize salvation as a reality to be entered into in Jesus Christ in which I participate more and more fully as union with the Trinity is experienced. Salvation is Jesus Christ and a human being’s union with the the Holy Trinity through Him.
Yet for many years, I thought I had salvation clearly figured out – election, calling, justification, sanctification, reconciliation, propitiation, glorification – all in a nice, neat, tidy theological system. I even wrote my doctoral dissertation on the subject. Yet, my intellectual assertions and my visceral heart were often at odds. I would tie myself in knots reasoning one thing while experiencing another. This was extremely unsettling. My “secure foundations” started crumbling, clearing away my defective ideas. I began discovering a deeper, richer bedrock, theologically and fundamentally solid.
Of all things, the scriptures played a major role in the “idea” of salvation morphing into a fuller reality. The more I read scripture the more I couldn’t hold to my “certainty.” That sounds like a bad thing. It was not.
Along the way, I realized that I had forced onto scripture my own tightly-wound perspective of salvation. But, when I began reading scripture at “face value,” free from theological bias, I began discovering how fragmented my thinking really was.
These are some of the scriptures that began dismantling and simultaneously rebuilding my understanding of salvation:
Matthew 19.16-26/Luke 18.18-30
“Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”…If you would enter life, keep the commandments….If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me…Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven….Who then can be saved?…With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Luke 18.29-30: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.“)
Let the little children come unto me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.
What must I do to inherit eternal life? Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself….Do this and you shall live.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” Then he will answer them, saying, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
Truly, truly I say unto you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.
If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.
2 Corinthians 5.10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
…as you have always obeyed, so now…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
2 Thessalonians 1.5-8
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering…when the Lord Jesus is revealed…inflicting vengeance of those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…
Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness — and he was called a friend of God.” You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
1 Peter 4.17
For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?
To Each His Own?
These passages can be spun in certain theological directions. Calvinists will interpret them one way, Arminians another. Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Wesleyans, Baptists, Charismatics, Adventists, Methodists, Anglicans, non-denominationalists can give their distinct and sundry explanations. Ask 100 Christians what these verses mean and you’ll receive 100 different answers. It’s almost impossible to take these words at face value since theological loyalties run deep.
Yet these verses present a direct and authoritative challenge to whatever your theological leanings. If you believe the scriptures are the final word on matters of salvation, eternal life, the Kingdom of God, and the gospel, you must wrestle with the implications of such statements of truth.
I’m not trying to “prove” anything here. I’m simply seeking to broaden your understanding of salvation. I want to challenge you to explore salvation more deeply not confuse you and create doubt.
- Salvation is freely given. Yet, you must accept and live salvation (“put on”) to experience its fullness.
- Salvation is more than a transaction – you believe, God forgives, you’re declared righteous. It is a call to LIFE in union with Jesus Christ as these verses often explain.
- Salvation is a mystery. There is more here than you’ll ever know in this life. New discoveries of what it is to “be saved” need to be happening daily.
Will you take up the challenge to explore what it means to be saved? Meditate on these passages. Follow the evidence. Let the Triune God guide you into the glorious mystery of salvation.
Share your thoughts below.