Salvation eternal and salvation now

The gospel talks of two salvations, the salvation of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” and the salvation of Acts 2:40, when Peter cried out to the crowd, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”  The first salvation is about saving us from the penalty of our sins forever, and the second salvation is about saving us from the influence of sin now. Salvation eternal and salvation now, the two great salvations included in the gospel message.

It started with John the Baptist and his “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” in Mark 1:4, and it continued with the apostles and their preaching in Luke 24:46-47, that “Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.”

And that’s exactly what Peter preached in Acts 3:19, when he told his fellow Jews: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may wiped out,” and verse 26: “When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you (Jews) to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” It was the same message in Acts 5:31 too: “God exalted Jesus to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.” And thousands of Jews believed it, that their sins had been forgiven forever and their lives could be straightened out in this life now.

That same message then went to the Gentiles in Acts 26:17-18 when Jesus sent Paul “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” That’s the first salvation, salvation eternal, the total forgiveness of their sins forever made possible by Jesus’ death. And then in verse 20: “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” That’s the other salvation, salvation now, where real changes start happening in one’s life now.

Peter talks again about both salvations in 2 Peter 1, how God has made it possible for us to “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires,” verse 4. That’s the salvation we experience every day, but what stirs a person to live that salvation from the wrong ways and thinking of this world now is the ever present memory of being “cleansed from his past sins,” verse 9. He never forgets his salvation eternal either.

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Everybody’s saved, they just don’t know it yet

Christ “died for ALL,” 2 Corinthians 5:15, to be the “Saviour of ALL men,” 1 Timothy 4:10.

So Christ doesn’t miss anybody out. He “gave himself as a ransom for all men,” 1 Timothy 2:6, and he “tasted death for everyone,” Hebrews 2:9, “for the sins of the whole world,” 1 John 2:2, so that God could “reconcile to himself all things…by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross,” Colossians 1:19-20.

So it’s abundantly clear that Christ’s death covers everybody. And when he died, all humanity died with him, 2 Corinthians 5:14. Logically, then, if Christ died to save everyone and we’re all included in that death, then everybody must be saved already. Christ died, job done. “It is finished.”

But not all Christians see it this way, that salvation for all humans – past, present and future – was done and dusted by Jesus on the cross. Some, for instance, believe that only an elect few are saved. Others believe that only those who repent and believe receive salvation. In the minds of these Christians, therefore, salvation is either selective or conditional, that only some people are saved based on certain conditions being met. Salvation for them is definitely not for everybody, nor is it a free gift. Instead, salvation is only “potentially” ours, or it’s only granted in exchange for something we do.

That’s not what Ephesians 2:5 says, however, because “God made us alive with Christ EVEN WHEN we were dead in transgressions.” In other words, God saved us before we even had a clue what salvation was. He saved us from eternal death when we couldn’t care less about repentance and faith. It was when we were in no condition to be saved that he saved us. Why? Verse 8, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this NOT FROM YOURSELVES, it is the GIFT of God.” Salvation from beginning to end is a gift, and a gift that was ours already before we even knew about it.

So here we all are – all of us saved already as God’s amazing gift to us through Christ’s shed blood. But not everybody knows that yet, so it’s the job of the Christian church to tell them, Romans 10:15 – but – tell people in such a way that they get the message of how GOOD God is in making salvation his gift to us, so that people respond and “call on him” (verse 12), because in responding to God he then goes to work on “blessing” them (12) with his OTHER wonderful gift, “the righteousness that comes from him” (3). He now begins to change their lives, because that too is included in his gift of salvation – and if only people knew that as well.

Can we save the world without God?

Rejecting God and Jesus as no longer real or relevant still leaves us with the problems of discrimination, racism, polarized views on sexual orientation and gender, and a host of other issues, opinions and feelings that separate, divide, marginalize, ostracize and drive an increasing number of people into conflict, depression and suicide.

So how are we going to save the world from all these problems without God?

Easy, society says, we create a world where everybody is treated fairly and equally, by honouring people’s right to be who they are, and embracing everyone no matter what they self-identify as. We also treat sexual and gender diversity as a normal, wonderful part of being human, and since we’re deeply emotional and spiritual beings we elevate feelings above facts. And to make sure this program goes ahead we make laws that require people to be inclusive of all, that shame and blame those who argue and disagree, that crush free speech and debate, and silence rebels with jail time, loss of income and public humiliation.

This way, society believes, we can put an end to people being marginalized, enabling all of us to get along by being free to be ourselves without discrimination, harassment, guilt or shame. And if we all get on board with the program we can save the world – and without any need for God and Jesus too. So, take that God; we can do without you.

Is God miffed by our arrogance? Not in Job 40:14 he isn’t. He tells Job, “I’ll gladly step aside and hand things over to you (since) you can save yourself with no help from me!” – or as another translation phrases it, “I’ll readily admit that your own right hand can save you.” Hey, if we can prove we can save the world without God, God’s response is, “Go for it.”

And we’ve certainly taken him up on his challenge too. We’ve come up with all sorts of utopian experiments, with the usual massive societal pressure to get everyone on board, but there are always people who resist, because they either feel their own rights are being trodden on, or they think they’ve got a much better idea. And God did warn in verses 11-13 that this would happen, that there would always be resistance. “But,” he says, “if you think you can bring these wicked people to their knees so all resistance is smashed forever and no evil exists anymore, then I’ll admit you can save the world without me.”

So, come up with something to save the world that everyone agrees with and there’s no resistance, and that’s when we can rightly say we don’t need God.

Is it “inclusive” – or is it “indulging”?

So what would you say to a Christian pastor who says we Christians should not only welcome people to church who identify as transgender, we should celebrate their gender identity and expression as well? He wasn’t stopping with just being “inclusive” in other words, he was going one step further into “indulging” too, by wanting his church to celebrate gender variance.

The inclusive part I had no trouble with, because Jesus made the marginalized in his world feel very welcome. But I don’t see him indulging the marginalized by creating safe places for them in the synagogues to enable them to continue in and celebrate what had marginalized them in the first place. Jesus did not invite lepers to join him, or create churches for them, so they could celebrate their leprosy. Instead, he healed them, so that they wouldn’t be marginalized by their leprosy any longer.

Compassion for all and healing were Jesus’ solutions to the ills that marginalized people, so why should his solution be any different today? Or did he change his spots at some point along the way and he’s now telling the church that the solution to people being marginalized is “celebrating their diversity”?

On the other hand, why not celebrate, when we know Jesus loves the transgender community as much as anyone else, and given the chance he’ll remove the baggage that got them being marginalized in the first place? They can, therefore, become remarkable examples of what Jesus came for. And that really would be something to celebrate.

Society, however, demands that we indulge the transgender community by treating gender variance as just another “normal” part of a diverse society, so that people can continue being who they identify themselves as, and that way no one is marginalized. For some of us that will be tough, though, because a large part of Jesus’ ministry was devoted to healing, and the reason for that was “this present evil age” in which people “exchange the truth of God for a lie,” one obvious proof of which is society’s blatant deviation from what God created male and female for.

It doesn’t stop us being inclusive as far as God accepting people – including those who’ve deviated far from his normal – but it does stop us indulging them. Peter pleaded with his audience in Acts 2:40, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation,” not indulge it. And God sent Jesus “to bless us by turning each of us away from our wicked ways” (3:26).

Jesus came to heal people from the damage evil had done to them, and he was utterly inclusive and indulging in that, refusing no one who turned to him for healing.

When people let you down

Have you spent an enormous amount of money on car repairs without the problems being solved, or with vital things being missed that led to more problems, or the mechanics did a shoddy job and didn’t report the damage they’d done?

Having experienced all of those things myself, and several times too, I wondered how God would want me to react to them. Should I simply ignore the problems to keep the peace, or confront the management and mechanics with enough anger to get the point across that this was unacceptable and I’d be taking my business elsewhere?

Neither way appealed much, though, because if I ignored the problem I’d be seething for days, but if I got angry at the management and mechanics they’d be seething for days, and we’d never want to talk to each other again. And I don’t like having that kind of cloud hanging over me, and I’m sure they don’t either.

It then struck me, while walking home after another botch job had been done on my car, that all these problems with my car wouldn’t be problems if grace was added to the mix. I thought of the terrible botch job I’d made of my own life, but to God it wasn’t a problem, because he simply applied grace to it. And because of that grace a relationship with him grew.

So what did that grace include? Forgiveness, yes, but confrontation too, because I certainly got the point that my life needed to change. But never at any point did God give me the impression that my relationship with him was over, or that he was taking his business and his love elsewhere, to someone he liked much more. He got the point across that because of grace my problems weren’t insurmountable, nor were they cause for him to break his relationship with me.

To be a witness to Christ’s grace, therefore, I applied the same principles to the problems with my car. Never at any point in the proceedings would I give the impression that I thought the problems were insurmountable or cause for breaking our relationship. I would get the point across that things needed to change, yes, but it would be my desire to continue the relationship that would create the change, not anger or threats.

That’s not how you typically get things done in this world, of course, but we are witnesses to Christ and the power of his grace, where relationship comes first. And what a witness, because people do respond to it, which gives them a great head start when they get to hear about God’s grace as well.

Should the Catholic Church be forgiven for its child abuse?

As Christians it is tough having to watch the most visible and influential representation of Christ’s church on Earth bring such public disgrace on itself, on its people, and on Christ himself through its systemic problem of child abuse. These are our fellow Christians too, and here they are stuck in a desperate situation where they are damned if they don’t stop the abuse, but just as damned if they do try to stop it, because that would be admitting the Church is terribly fallible and even criminal in its actions.

So our brothers and sisters carry a heavy burden. They know they have God’s unlimited mercy and forgiveness, but they also know from their own Catholic teachings that there’s no pardon without repentance. And repentance means turning away from sin through faith in Christ. This is what God sent Jesus for, “to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways,” Acts 3:26.

The Catholic Church has done an enormous amount of good in this world, so is God now offering the Church itself a great blessing, by zeroing in on what has been hurting its effectiveness? Child abuse obviously qualifies as “a wicked way,” so in bringing it to the surface where it cannot be denied or covered up any longer, a great blessing awaits the Church if it truly repents by asking and trusting Christ to deal with the abuse his way.

And that may mean a huge black eye for the Church hierarchy, but that might bring an end to the other systemic problem in the Catholic Church, the idea that eternal salvation only comes through being members of the Catholic Church. So two birds could be killed with one stone here, that through open confession of criminal abuse, and trust in Christ to deal with the problem no matter what the fallout, the Catholic Church could then join the rest of us fallible, sinning Christians as brothers and sisters who don’t mind admitting our frailty and fallibility, and our need every day for Christ’s forgiveness, mercy and his great gift of repentance.

To ask the question, then, “Should the Catholic Church be forgiven for its child abuse?” I hope the answer given by Catholics themselves is, “No, the Church should not be forgiven UNTIL it repents, meaning we Catholics should all – from the Pope on down – openly state that we are trusting in Christ to clean us up completely, because the blessing that results in our Church will show the world that this is what God sent Christ to every hurting, fallible, sinning, abusive person for.” And what a witness to Christ that would be.  

“If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”

Right after Jesus “breathed” on his disciples in John 20:22 and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he immediately launched into verse 23, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” So are the giving of the Holy Spirit and forgiveness connected?

Well, we know from Acts 1:8 that the purpose of the Holy Spirit was to give the disciples power to be Jesus’ witnesses. Jesus had already defined what that witness was too, in John 3:16, that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” and verse 18, that “Whoever believes in him is not condemned.” But he also said in verse 18, “but whoever does not believe stands condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

To tell people they “stand condemned already” is also part of the witness that the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples for. And the reason people stand condemned already is verse 36, that “whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” God’s wrath remains on a person, therefore, until he, or she, “believes in the Son.” Or, as Jesus told his disciples in John 20:23, go tell these people that until they believe in him “they are not forgiven.”

We see Jesus himself saying this to people in Matthew 23:33, when he yells at the Pharisees, “You snakes and brood of vipers; how will you escape being condemned to hell?” He then predicts nasty things happening to the Pharisees because they were “not willing” to listen to those whom God sent to them, including, of course, Jesus himself. So Jesus tells them in verses 38-39, that “your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

In other words, Pharisees, you can go through hell first, and you stand condemned already to stay in hell too, with God’s wrath remaining on you and no forgiveness “UNTIL” you’re ready to listen to and believe those whom God sent to you – or as Jesus phrased it in John 3, until you believe “in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Those were tough words, and they led to Jesus being killed too. No wonder, then, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on his disciples, because they’d be called upon to say the same words and face the wrath of people’s response just as Jesus had to.