Summary of what we believe about salvation:
- Salvation is seen as a good, painless eternal destiny, in heaven, with God, in constant intimate and worshipful communion.
- Salvation is seen as re-opening communication channels with God, and reforging our personal relationships with God.
- Nobody deserves salvation; and not everyone gets saved.
- Accepting Jesus Christ personally as Saviour and Lord is the only way of reaching this eternal destiny.
It will be before God's Judgement Seat, after the end of Time, that whether we have availed ourselves of salvation in this way or not will be made clear.
- Our lives here are the window of opportunity to make the volitional act of accepting Jesus.
The volitional act of accepting Jesus has become hugely important to evangelical and other Christians. Partly because Jesus told Nicodemus "You must be born again." Partly because of the very plausible reasoning that we are talking about something that is eternal and thus of infinitely more importance than a mere few years 'down here'.
Whether one likes or dislikes these summaries, they are problematic yet contain some important truth. It is not that they are wrong (except, IMHO, on one point) as that they are partial, suited to one particular cultural or human context and not the entire truth.
First, the problems with 'accepting Jesus as Saviour and Lord' as the only way to attain salvation.
Now, in bringing these problems into the open I am not trying, like an old-fashioned liberal theologian, to deny the fact of salvation or to propose universal salvation. No: I'm trying to understand things from God's perspective, that goes across all times, situations, contexts, cultures, etc. I'll never reach it fully, of course, but at least I think I have something that satisfies me more.
I see salvation a bit differently now. But, I believe, in a way that encompasses the spirit at least of what is set out in the
- If this really was so important, in God's eyes, then surely one would expect God to have made it stand out much more clearly in Scripture. Surely it would occur much more clearly as "Make sure you truly accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord" in the letters of Paul and John, and the elements of it would have been more frequent? Surely Jesus would have explained it more clearly to his disciples? Surely the need for the volitional act of accepting God's promised Saviour and Lord would have stood out more clearly? This doctrine is supported by verses of Scripture - but only a few of them.
- What about those instances in Scripture, and in non-Western cultures, where whole families come to Christ when the head of the family does so, such as the Roman Centurion Peter went to.
- What about those who accept Jesus as Saviour but not as Lord? Those who pray a prayer for his forgiveness, but then whose lives display only self-centredness, disregard for others, etc.
- Likewise, what about those who accept Jesus as Lord, work hard and diligently for him, but have never accepted him as Saviour. Either they have never seen themselves particularly as sinners, and so don't realise they need to pray a prayer of forgiveness, or who have just never heard the good news that God forgives sins.
- What of those before Jesus came? I know the standard answer: Jesus went to preach to them in 'prison' and released them. But on what criterion did he release some but not others? Why could God not use the same criterion now? If all were released then it was better to have lived before Christ - and yet Jesus himself said it was not so.
- What about those who have never heard? Do they perish or reach salvation? On what grounds? I have heard a few heartless Christians say "Well, nobody deserves salvation, so tough!" Most reasonable Christians say "Well, God judges their hearts, by whether they would have accepted Jesus if they had heard; after all, God knows everything." (But that, IMHO, is unsatisfactory because if God can judge that way, why bother offering anybody the good news?)
- What of those situations in which a zealous Christian proselytizer exerts such pressure that the victim is put off the picture of Jesus and God that is portrayed? (I know the Watchman answer: they will still perish but the proselytizer will bear responsibility, but I confess I don't find it entirely satisfactory.)
- It makes us seek converts rather than disciples. It tends to make Christians the opposite of what we should be. If eternal destiny hangs on whether or not we have accepted Jesus as Saviour and Lord, then our imperative (Great Commission, Acts 1:8) is to offer each living person at least one chance to make this volitional act. Then I get into problems of how well they understand what I have told them, whether or not I have misrepresented it to them. Worse, I try to force the decision on people who are not yet ready for it. One Christian leader, when told gleefully about a hundred people who 'came forward' at a recent meeting, responded "Oh no! Now you have a hundred people immunised against the gospel of Christ."
- When we are before the Judgement Seat of God, we will all be satisfied, at a very deep level, that God has made the right decisions about the destiny of each person before him. Even if we deeply dislike the decision, we will acknowledge it is *Right*, and will do so without any psychological bullying whatsoever.
- Orientation of Heart. The pivot of this decision will not be whether or not we have made the volitional act of accepting Jesus as Saviour and Lord, but whether, at heart, we are orientated towards God or towards something else. (This something else is often ourselves: self-centredness.) Or, to put it in simpler words that have unfortunately changed their meaning, whether we are humble or proud.
- I find this criterion far more satisfactory for several reasons:
- It is according to what a person is, or has become, not according to one past volitional act.
- So it is deeper.
- It is more clearly seen in the way a person lives their life.
- This criterion is mentioned many more times in Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.
- This criterion can encompass other criteria for salvation as special cases that are useful in particular cultures. e.g. Volitional act is useful when there is an oppressed industrial class who see themselves as of no value (e.g. the miners to whom Whitefield and Wesley preached in the UK) because it is some power such dispossessed people can still have before God. It can also cover both those Scriptures that argue for salvation by faith and those that seem to argue for salvation by works (and also that curious Scripture in Romans 10 that argues for salvation by what we say): both faith and works (and speech) are an outworking of our heart orientation.
- It makes sense of the first sin of Adam and Eve: it was a turning away from God, not just a wee act of disobedience. The act was the outworking of the orientation.
- Continual obedience is a natural outcome of a heart orientated towards God, and yet occasional disobedience does not necessarily jeopardise it. (So tough theological questions about whether 'once saved, always saved' become untangled.)
- This state of salvation, this state of being-saved, can indeed be entered by a volitional act, such as of praying and asking Jesus to be Saviour and Lord (as long as it it genuine), but it can also be entered in a myriad of other ways. Matthew was told "Follow me." Francis of Assisi was told "Build my church."
- Jesus' death that procures salvation for us can be effective for a person even when they are not aware of it. A person in a dense forest without a compass can be facing north even without realising it.
- It shifts our focus in evangelism away from trying to put before each person at least one chance of accepting Jesus, to proclaiming God's good news, that God has opened a way to salvation. Then people can, in whatever way is appropriate to them, avail themselves of it.
- Salvation itself is no longer just about eternal destiny (though it is that), but also about life here and now, in all its infinite God-grounded meaning and richness. (The one thing in the original formulation I disagree with is that our eventual destiny is heaven; I believe it is to be in a renewed resurrected earth, and that heaven is only a staging post while we wait 'beneath the throne in white robes'. Whilst we will be in continual worship, this will be what Paul calls 'true worship' (Romans 12), which is life lived to its full with transformed minds and an open relationship with God.)
- Our desire for a clear touchstone by which we, puny humans, can know the salvation state of someone, is not right.
This page is offered to God as on-going work. Comments, queries welcome.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden at all dates below. But you may use this material subject to certain conditions.
Part of his www.abxn.org pages, that open up discussion and exploration from a Christian ('xn') perspective. Written on the Amiga with Protext. Number of visitors to these pages: .
Created: 22 July 2001.
Last updated: 19 November 2006 unet. 12 August 2014 .nav, new .end, rid ../, strong replaced by bold.