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.