Is salvation only for believers?

For many Christians salvation is conditional, meaning, “you will be saved IF….” – the “if” part being, “if you repent,” “if you believe,” and “if you confess.” In other words, every part and molecule of salvation requires our belief, our acceptance and our receiving, before an ounce of it is released or given to us. Salvation depends on our will, our choice, our decision, and fulfilling our part and responsibility before we even get a smidgen of forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, justification, sanctification, adoption or union with Christ, or even a chance at having our record of sins and our old self wiped out, or preventing our condemnation and eternal torment in the lake of fire, or sitting with Christ in the heavenly realms. We remain lost, unsaved and separated from God until that magic moment we believe on (or in) Jesus and suddenly all is forgiven and forgotten, and we are saved.

But isn’t that what Romans 10:9 says, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved”? Isn’t that saying, “you will be saved IF….” – the “if” part, in this case, being confessing and believing? Well, yes, it could hardly be stated more clearly. And then in verse 13, that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” There it is again. Do your part and call on Jesus as your Lord and Saviour and you “will be saved.” So it’s not surprising that many Christians believe and preach that salvation is conditional.

But Paul hasn’t finished yet. In the next verse he asks, “But how can they call on the one they have not believed in?” Good question. It’s all very well saying salvation depends on a person believing in Jesus, but what about the person who’s never believed in Jesus all his life and never intends to? And as Paul points out in verses 16-21 that included most of Israel. They heard the gospel (verse 18) but they were “disobedient and obstinate” (verse 21). Israel refused to believe, so was that the end of them? Did they lose out on their salvation for their lack of belief?

Or as Paul phrases it in the very next verse:  “Did God reject his people?” (11:1). Did God say, “Too bad, salvation is only for believers”? “By no means!” he answers. And in verse 11, “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all.” And why is that? Because God is going to save them despite their lack of belief, verses 26-27, to show us all through Israel that salvation is for unbelievers too.

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The weapon that rules the world

“Let them rule…over all the earth,” God said in Genesis 1:26 – but there was ALREADY a ruler of the world, “that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan, who leads the whole world astray,” Revelations 12:9. Adam and Eve arrived in a world already being ruled by an archangel, who wasn’t giving up his throne without a fight. He’d prove these two young lions were no match for his brilliance, and he’d show God a thing or two as well, by destroying them in their opening battle.

The first thing Adam and Eve had to do, then, was face the incumbent ruler because this is what God had created them for. To this end were they born, that they rule the world God had created, so a battle could not be avoided. But Adam and Eve made the fatal mistake of not using the one weapon God had given them that would have sent the serpent packing: If only they had followed God’s instructions. But they didn’t, and from that point on the serpent became “the ruler of the kingdom of the air (the earth), the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient,”  Ephesians 2:2. The serpent not only preserved his position, he could also manipulate humans to follow his will, not God’s. Humanity’s first run at rulership of the world was a disaster.

But along came the second Adam, Jesus, with a shot at toppling the serpent, because to this end was he born too, to rule the world in the serpent’s place. “For this reason was I born,” Jesus told Pilate in John 18:37. Jesus, therefore, became the new challenger to Satan, so like the first Adam, the first thing Jesus had to do was face Satan in combat. And this time the serpent did go down to defeat because Jesus DID use the weapon that would send the serpent packing. In answer to the serpent’s cunning Jesus stuck to putting God’s will and God’s instructions first (Matthew 4:1-11).

And now it’s our turn to face the serpent, because to this end were we born too, to be co-rulers of the world with Jesus, so that under our rulership all enemies are placed firmly under Jesus’ feet. And we’re in training for that job right now in the same way Jesus was trained for it as a human – by “reverent submission” to God’s will and instructions, Hebrews 5:7. To “all who obey him” – obey JESUS’ will and instructions – “eternal salvation” and the chance to rule this world with Jesus is ours (verse 9).

“Submit yourselves, then, to God” and “the devil will flee from you,” James 4:7, because that’s the weapon that wins the battle.

“I want equality with God”

Jesus “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,” Philippians 2:6. But Adam thought it was. Offered the chance, and the excuse, to “be like God” he grabbed it, Genesis 3:5.

But why? What did he hope to gain by it? He had no idea what being equal with God was like, except what the serpent told him, that he’d gain some sort of special knowledge from it. But why was it so important to have this special knowledge? Adam and Eve had no clue, but it didn’t matter. They were so excited by the chance to be equal with God that nothing else mattered, even the risk of dying.

Was this the serpent’s problem too, then? Scripture certainly hints at that, in Ezekiel 28:13. “You were in Eden, the garden of God,” a “guardian cherub” (verses 14, 16), “the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty” (verse 12). And that became his problem, verse 17: “Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendour.” And once his wisdom was corrupted by his pride, he got some really big (and stupid) ideas about himself, Isaiah 14:14. “I will ascend above the tops of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.” And he certainly didn’t mean “like God” in God’s good qualities. He meant like God in authority and power.

The last thing the serpent wanted for Adam and Eve, then, was for them to “see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). There is a being who truly IS “like God”, and that’s Christ, but instead of that making him want God’s power and authority, he “humbled himself” to his Father’s will, including “being obedient to death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

And Satan wants to blind people to that, that the one being who truly is like God DIDN’T seek to be equal with him (same verse). The devil even tried to get Christ to disobey his Father, but Jesus would have none of it: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only,” Jesus told him, Matthew 4:10.

Jesus, who WAS equal with God, gave up his position of equal power and authority to die, obey his Father’s will and worship God. Lucifer, meanwhile, wasn’t equal with God, but gave up all he had to be equal. He failed. He failed to tempt Jesus into wanting to be equal too. So who does he turn on next? Those other beings God created in his likeness. He wants us now saying, “I want equality with God.”

A purposeless nothingness is what we chose

For people who have no interest in God, what is life, really? They live and die and end up as names on gravestones, which after three generations mean very little to anyone. It’s as if they never existed.

But that wasn’t what God had in mind at all. He made humans in his own image, equipped us with amazing minds and gave us a paradise to live in, where he walked and talked with us in person. That was the life he wanted for us, not a purposeless Nothingness, and he made a tree of Death to make that clear. Death meant Non-existence, because that was life otherwise, but if that’s what Adam and Eve wanted….Well, against all logic that was what they wanted, so from that point on humans just lived and died, for no actual purpose beyond just living and dying. Worse still, nobody seemed to care.

But God cared, deeply. He was looking forward to humans joining him forever in the same life he enjoys, but now his beloved humans were disappearing into oblivion – and by their own choosing, too. Well, no way was God going to let Death have its way with us. No way was his plan for the one creature who shared his nature going to be thwarted by its own stupidity or by the devil’s deceit. But what could he do? Humans had chosen death.

The only solution was to void the power of death. Destroy it. Make it disappear. But how? God said humans would die, and he couldn’t go back on his word. But what if he took the penalty of death on himself? What if the Creator of humans became a human being himself, surrendered his own body to death and offered it to the Father in their place? He could then re-create humans in his own image again, this time in the likeness of his own perfect humanity, and in the process not only destroy the power of death but give humans a fresh start and a new humanity too, just like his own, forever motivated by the same love for the Father he had. That way they’d never make the same mistake again.

Such was the love of our Creator, for us and for his Father. No way was he going to let his Father’s plan for us come to nothing, and no way was he going to let us disappear into Nothingness. So he took our life of hopeless Non-existence and made it his own, and in his own death destroyed it. And in so doing he opened the doors to paradise to us – again.

What’s so terribly wrong about knowing good and evil?

God told Adam that knowing good and evil would be the death of him. But later on he says that knowing good and evil would make Adam “like one of us,” Genesis 3:22. So why would knowing good and evil be the death of Adam when it made him like God himself?

Because it would put Adam in competition with God, not fellowship with him, and that was the difference between life and death for humanity. Before the serpent turned up, Adam was in perfect fellowship with God. Everything was fine. God talked personally with Adam and gave him instructions; Adam obeyed and trusted God in return. It was great, humans and God together in perfect harmony – and without any need for knowing good and evil, take note. It wasn’t necessary. Fellowship with God does not require knowing good and evil, it only needs trust and obedience.

Break that trust and obedience and humanity’s relationship with God dies. Break the relationship and humanity dies, because life for humans only exists in fellowship with God. We’re made in his image to be able to fellowship with him, unlike any other creature he made. Break that fellowship and our reason for existence ends.

So what does the serpent do? He sets about destroying humanity’s fellowship with God. Destroy the fellowship and you destroy the human. And what creates a human being’s fellowship with God? Trust and obedience. So the first thing the serpent does is destroy trust. He gets Eve thinking God’s a liar and can’t be trusted. The “truth,” according to the serpent, is that God’s afraid of humans knowing good and evil because it would make them just like him, Genesis 3:5, and God doesn’t like competition.

And with that picture of God firmly implanted in their minds, it didn’t take much for Adam and Eve to disobey God next and eat the forbidden fruit. Mistrust leads to disobedience, the two things that destroy a human’s relationship with God. But in their minds it didn’t matter because knowing good and evil would make up for it. It would make them like God himself. They could be their own God instead, capable of figuring out life for themselves without any need for obeying or trusting God. Who needs fellowship with God when you can “live” without him? So instead of fellowship with God, they were now in competition with him.

What’s so wrong about knowing good and evil, then, is that it focuses us entirely on ourselves and not on God anymore. And just as Adam and Eve ate off that tree, so has humanity ever since. Result? “Life” as we’ve got it today. How sad.

What was Eve’s problem?

Eve was easily hoodwinked by the serpent into eating off the wrong tree, but why, when all the serpent’s reasons for eating the fruit were total rubbish? He told her, for instance, that she’d be “like God” if she ate the fruit (Genesis 3:5), but Eve was ALREADY like God, because God said all humans were designed “in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). And when the serpent said she’d know good and evil – a Hebrew way of saying “know everything” – she ALREADY knew everything she needed to know. She knew why God had created humans in his likeness, to rule the earth, and all she had to do was follow his instructions. What more, therefore, did she need to know?

But the serpent made her doubt God, because if everything God made was good (1:31), how could this one tree be bad? And why would God make it good for food and pleasant to the eyes if it killed them? What was the point of such a tree if it wasn’t of some benefit to them?

Well, clearly it did have some benefit or God wouldn’t have created it and made it so appealing. He could have made it ugly and full of maggots so they wouldn’t go near it, but “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.” So that’s why God made the fruit so appealing, because it perfectly illustrated why created beings jump the tracks: Eve saw only what God’s creation could do FOR HER, not what God had created her to do for his creation.

God had created her and her husband to rule over his creation, establishing a little colony of heaven on the earth. They hadn’t got a clue how to do that, of course, so it was essential that they follow his instructions. This was no hit-and-miss experiment where they learnt gradually by experience, or learnt on the job. They had to get it right first time, and the key to that was following God’s revealed instructions exactly, just as Jesus obeyed his Father’s revealed instructions exactly in everything he said and did as a human.

If Eve followed God’s instructions, no matter what clever reasons the serpent gave her for not doing so, she could have eaten off the Tree of Life and lived forever, enabling her to do what God had created her for. But she gave all that up because of what SHE wanted from God’s creation instead. And that was her problem, as it has been for humans ever since.

Earth: Heaven’s first colony

“Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,” the old King James Version says for Jesus’ prayer in Matthew 6, because that was God’s purpose for this planet, to bring heaven to earth and make it heaven’s first colony.

He created God-like creatures to rule it too: “Let us make man in our likeness” to “RULE over all the earth” (Genesis 1: 26). The earth was only a minor planet in a medium-sized galaxy, but under human rulership it would become a little bit of heaven itself.

The humans needed training, of course, which began in the Garden of Eden with God instructing Adam and Eve to “work the ground” (2:4), because under human care this little planet would flourish. Energy for the job came from the Garden’s trees, all of which were “pleasing to the eye and good for food,” including the tree of life and the tree of knowledge (2:9).

The rest of the story tells us what happened when Adam and Eve ate off the wrong tree. But what if they’d followed God’s instructions, and then eaten off the tree of life instead? God would have made them immortal (Genesis 3:22). They would have lived on in the Garden, doing a grand job of caring for it, then onto the rest of the planet, and then – assuming their now immortal bodies were capable of ascending into the heavens just as Jesus’ resurrected human body was – it would be onto the rest of the universe next, spreading heaven everywhere humans went.

And all they had to do to get that ball rolling was follow God’s instructions not to eat off the tree of knowledge (2:16-17). There was no explanation given for why God had made the fruit good for food when it would also end in death for them if they ate it, but God wasn’t into explanations at that point. He was only into giving instructions and a warning of what would happen if they didn’t follow them. For the plan to succeed, the message was simple and clear: “THY will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”

But the only human who ever did that was Jesus. He was the only one who understood that following his Father’s instructions was the key. And in doing that he got us all back into the Garden of Eden, free of death and free of the serpent, making it possible for us, this time, to eat freely off the tree of life and fill up on the-life-giving fruits of the Holy Spirit, because God has never given up on setting up earth as heaven’s first colony, with his beloved humans ruling it.