Who am I, really?

There’s much talk today of “identity crisis,” defined as “a feeling of unhappiness and confusion caused by not being sure about what type of person you really are or what the true purpose of your life is.”

And it only affects humans. Cats and dogs don’t look in the mirror and ask, “Who am I, really?” They don’t feel unhappy being the types of cats and dogs they are either, nor do they worry about what other cats and dogs think of them, nor are they confused about their sexual identity, or if they’re being true to who they are.

But humans do worry. We worry about not fitting in, not being accepted, and not being noticed. We are self-conscious and sensitive to how people react to us. We like to be liked, and if people don’t warm to us the seeds of an identity crisis take root. So on the search we go to find or create an identity that enables us to fit in and be liked, that also makes us feel proud of who we are, because it’s crucial when we look in the mirror that we like what we see.

A quick look in the Bible, however, tells us who we are. As humans we are unique in all creation as the creatures that God made most like him. He equipped us with gifts and talents that enable us to explore and discover what he created – and make it all work beautifully, because that’s what he made us for. He also made us male and female, because each gender contributes a different but vital perspective, and together male and female work as a wonderful team. As humans we can also commune directly with God to receive insight, energy and love, enabling us to fulfill his purpose for us.

But right from the start, the Bible shows us we have trouble identifying with God and his purpose for us. We’d rather find our own way, and identify with things of our own creation. And we don’t like being restricted to just male and female either.

But this is where we discover our true identity, because for all our shenanigans, God doesn’t reject us. Instead, he formed himself as one of us, took all the consequences of our selfish pride on himself, lived the life he created us to live, and now provides us every day with the power, love and wisdom to live that life too. He does all that for us, because he loves us. And that’s when our identity crisis dissipates, when we realize at last who we really are TO HIM.


“If we neglect so great salvation” – meaning?

In the old King James Version Hebrews 2:3 uses the word “neglect” in connection with salvation. But how does a person neglect salvation, and how would he know he was neglecting it, too? With a garden it’s easy to know because neglect breeds a weed patch. Neglect your health, home or car and things soon go to pot, rot and ruin. But what obvious symptoms show up when salvation is neglected?

Well, like anything neglected, salvation stops doing what it was made for. Salvation, just like a car or a home, is built to serve our needs as perfectly as possible for as long as possible, and if cared for it works beautifully for us. A car that coughs to a halt and leaves you stranded isn’t doing what it was made for. Neither is a home that goes mouldy or a body that gets weak and sickly. But neither is salvation doing what it was made for if it isn’t enabling us to love God and love neighbour at all times.

Because that’s what salvation was made for. So when I’m driving home after a long day and the traffic is nose to tail and crawling along at snail speed, salvation enables me to not get upset, because salvation was made for all circumstances in which I’m tempted to hate my neighbour. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Paul said in Philippians 4:13, which today would include not coming unglued in traffic.

But that’s what salvation was made for. It was made for survival in the devil’s insane world, where circumstances constantly arise that make us want to spit at people. It struck me, therefore, how silly I am to neglect so great salvation that was made for such a world, because included in that salvation are all the fruits of the Spirit, which far exceed what’s needed to survive in traffic. I also know what symptoms show up when I neglect that salvation too – obvious things like road rage, near misses with pedestrians, heart-thumping emergency stops and risky overtaking manoeuvres, and long, grim trips that make me irritable and short-tempered.

And what stirred these thoughts, ironically, was being stuck at the back of a long line of traffic, weaving its way through the countryside like slugs on holiday, with no opportunities to overtake. It was getting late and I’d had a long, tiring day of work as well as nearly 6 hours driving. I wondered at the time if salvation covered situations like this. And it dawned on me that of course it does. How silly I would be, then, to neglect it.

What do Christians experience that non-Christians don’t?

Since “Christ died for all,” 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, and therefore everybody’s saved already, what’s the difference between Christians and non-Christians? And what’s the point of being a Christian if every human being has already been “reconciled to God through the death of his Son,” Romans 5:10?

But there’s a second part to that verse that says “MUCH MORE having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life,” and this is the part that Christians experience. All humanity received the first part of their salvation already with Christ’s death, but there’s a second part to salvation as well, that comes with Christ’s life, and that’s the part non-Christians don’t (yet) experience.

Why not? Because the second part of salvation is LIVING it, and how can you live what you don’t know you’ve got? You have to know you’ve got salvation already to be able to live it. So non-Christians aren’t into the salvation offered by Christ’s life yet.

But to Christians Paul said, “Work out your salvation,” Philippians 2:12, because salvation is to be lived, as well. Now that we know we’ve got it, LIVE it. Salvation, therefore, isn’t just something that happened to us way back when Jesus died, it’s something that can be experienced every day too. A whole new world has opened up to us: We’re saved already, so live in that knowledge and see what happens, because as Christians we can.

That’s why Paul encourages Christians to work out this salvation we’ve got, or, as The Message translates that verse, “be energetic in your life of salvation,” because salvation is something to be lived, and to be lived out energetically, to the full, making the most of it. Non-Christians can’t do that, but Christians can.

How? – “By GOD’s energy,” verse 13. It’s not our energy or strength by which we “work out” our salvation, it’s God’s. It’s “by HIS life” – by Christ’s life being worked out in us – that we experience this second part of our salvation. It’s by Christ living who he is in us. His life becomes our life, so completely and absolutely that Paul says “Christ IS our life,” Colossians 3:4. Jesus brings to life all that he is in us, and what we then get to experience is “gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him,” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (The Message).

More bright and more beautiful. Well, of course, because Christ is living his beautiful life in us. That’s what being saved by his life does. So go on, says Paul, let Christ work it out in our lives, because that’s what we’re Christians for, to live and experience our salvation every day.

Is salvation our responsibility or God’s?

Written on a church billboard was the stark message: Responsibility. Jesus help us.

I’m sure it was well meaning, that it’s about time we got serious about Jesus dying for our salvation, and asking him for help to fulfill our part in it, but is that the message God wants the world to hear? Is the gospel about God landing us with this huge Responsibility (with a capital ‘R’), and our future for eternity depends on us fulfilling it? Must our message include what God expects us to do, because that’s what salvation depends on as well?

But didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 19:17, “If you will enter into life, keep the commandments”? That seems pretty clear: If we want salvation, then we’d better be doing our part in it too, by obeying all ten commandments perfectly, right? But is that what Jesus is saying, that we too have a responsibility to fulfill in our salvation, and the only way we fulfill our responsibility properly is by our obedience?

Jesus went on to say in verse 26, however, that “With man this is impossible.” It’s impossible fur us humans to gain or secure our salvation by our obedience. In other words, God has given us a responsibility we can’t fulfill. But that begs the question: “Why on earth would God base our salvation on something we can’t do?” And if we think we can do what our salvation requires – like the young man in that story thought he could – Jesus simply lifts the “Responsibility bar” ten notches higher to a level that’s beyond our ability to fulfill. In the young man’s case it was sell everything he owned to help the poor. That was the responsibility Jesus gave him, but the young man couldn’t do it. Does that mean the man loses out on his salvation because he couldn’t do his part perfectly?

But Jesus hasn’t finished yet. He then says in verse 26, “but with God all things are possible.” Oh, so what God has given us to do is only possible for him to fulfill. It’s still important that we obey his law (verse 17), and nothing less than perfect obedience will do, but only God can pull that off for us. In other words, God made himself responsible for our salvation. As Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, “May GOD HIMSELF, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and HE WILL DO IT.”

When it comes to salvation God has taken that responsibility on himself. He will do it.

Does “Work out your own salvation” mean we have to make it happen?

The phrase, “Work out your own salvation,” in Philippians 2:12, sounds like WE are supposed to make our salvation happen. But hasn’t Jesus already worked out our salvation for us by dying to forgive all our sins? Well, yes, but it sounds like there’s more salvation to come after we’ve been forgiven, which very much depends on what WE do.

Other scriptures seem to back that up too, like Matthew 5:48, when Jesus said, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Is that not a clear command from Jesus himself that we should live up to all God’s standards and requirements as perfectly as possible? “Be perfect,” Jesus says. And WHO is he saying be perfect to? To us. So WHO does the perfecting? We do. Who “works out” our salvation? We do. It’s not surprising, then, if Christians get to thinking WE make our perfection and salvation happen.

If it’s true, though, that salvation boils down to how far up the perfection scale of God’s standards we climb by life’s end, then does that mean we should never sin again, and we’d better be fulfilling all our church and Christian duties perfectly? But what if that creates a stress so great that it affects our physical and mental health, which in turn creates a whole new dilemma, of not being able to keep up with all our Christian obligations – because we’re so tired and burnt out? And what will that then do to our final salvation at the resurrection? Imagine lining up to meet Jesus at the resurrection, and all we have to offer him in our response to “being perfect” and “working out our salvation” is a stressed-out life that only made us more weak and vulnerable to sin, not stronger?

Fortunately, Paul didn’t stop at verse 12 in Philippians chapter 2. He went on to say in Philippians 2:13, “for it is God who works in you to will and do what pleases him.” It’s God working in us that enables us to work out our salvation and be perfect. Paul still says, “Be energetic in your life of salvation” (verse 12, The Message), so there’s energy involved all right, but he also says the “energy is GOD’S energy” (verse 13).

Paul doesn’t back down from us needing to be “perfect in Christ,” Colossians 1:28, and Paul worked very hard at making it happen, verse 29, but note that he “struggled with all the energy HE (Christ) so powerfully works in me.”

Paul never stopped aiming at or encouraging perfection, but he was also aware that how straight and true his arrow flew was  totally the work of Christ. Christ was the one who made it happen.

Is “Once saved, always saved” correct?

The first part of that phrase, “Once saved,” is correct for all of us. We’ve all been saved “once for all,” Hebrews 10:10, “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.” When Jesus died his sacrifice saved all, Hebrews 7:27, and in Ephesians 2:5, God “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.” All of us, therefore – including everyone who’s ever lived, who’s alive right now, or is yet to be born – have been saved already, before any of us even heard about salvation or cared about it.

“Ah, but,” some ask, “does that mean we’re always saved, and there’s never any danger of losing out on salvation? And isn’t it unwise too, telling people ‘once saved, always saved,’ because what incentive would people have to obey God and stop sinning if they think their salvation is fixed forever? Won’t they just carry on their lives as usual, and not change at all?”

It’s a good point, because scripture certainly warns about “changing grace into license,” Jude 1:4, and exploiting God’s gift of salvation to continue doing whatever one wants.

But when it sunk into Paul’s head what Jesus had done for him, it didn’t create that reaction at all, 2 Corinthians 5:14. Instead of thinking, “Oh well, I can do what I like,” Paul found himself “compelled” instead by Christ’s love (same verse). He found that love, Christ’s love, was now the motivating power in his life, and that’s what took over from everything else. Paul’s reaction to “Christ died for all” in verse 15, therefore, was to no longer live for himself, or worry about losing his salvation, but to live instead for Christ “who died for him and was raised again.”

Paul’s entire motivation in life changed. He was propelled into a completely new life of love for the one who loved him. That’s how “once saved” hit him. He never even hints at “once saved, always saved,” because eternal security was never an issue for Paul in the first place. He was even willing to GIVE UP his eternal security in exchange for his fellow Jews understanding what Christ had done for them (Romans 9:3), because it would change their lives too.

Christ’s love would now be their motivation in life, and with the love of Christ compelling them, they wouldn’t even bother about whether their salvation meant forever, or not – or whether salvation could be lost, or not. All those selfish worries were totally neutered by Christ’s death, and replaced by the resurrected Christ living his love in them. That’s what they’d been “once saved” for – and would always be saved for, to live a life of love.

Is salvation really all that important?

The Christian message is full of the word “salvation,” but why do we need saving in the first place? Saving from what, pray tell?

Well, that’s what the gospel is supposed to explain. And hopefully it rings true, because there are things the gospel talks about that in reality we already know. We know, for instance, that something is terribly wrong with us that we seem to have no power over. Look at the world with all its problems that we can never permanently solve. We’d love to solve them, but we can’t. We can’t end poverty, war, disease, child abuse or power crazy tyrants. It’s so frustrating, to the point that Paul cried out, “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” And isn’t that our thought too after watching the News on TV: “What a wretched world this is; how can we ever sort it out?”

The gospel actually confirms, then, what we already know, that we are a mess, and a powerless mess at that, because evil persists no matter what we throw at it. But the gospel also confirms something else we already know, that there is a lot of GOOD in us as well. We dream of a better world, and we work hard to make it better. We love peace. We love family. We love helping out in the community. We love seeing children safe and successful. We jump in to help in emergencies and disasters, and we sacrifice our time, money, and even our lives for the sake of others. And the gospel brings all this out too, that God made us good, and there’s still a great deal of good in us longing to make life on this planet better.

And we recognize this in ourselves, that we are an exasperating mixture of good and bad, and if only we could get the bad part out of us, we could make this planet a great place to live for everyone.

Well, that’s exactly what the gospel means by “salvation,” that God dealt with the bad part in us. In Romans 8:3 (The Message), “God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition in order to set it right once and for all.”

God dealt with the bad in us through his Son, and now through the Spirit he makes possible the good he put in us too. Both parts make up the word “salvation.” And that makes salvation important, because imagine our world with both parts complete.