The issue of salvation has been on my mind of late. What does the average Christian understand about salvation? What is the good news, really? What are we believing in? What have we been teaching?
Given post-modern thinking, there appears (more and more) to be a move towards universalism, in varying degrees and definitions. At the extreme, we have certain preachers declaring that ALL will be saved, regardless religion or means. This is because God is love and thus will never send anyone to hell. Then, there’s the milder variation. These proponents hold to the name of Jesus as the means by which one is saved. However, if a person has not had the chance to hear the good news of Jesus, God has a different benchmark for these. And since He is all gracious and loving, it is His prerogative to save these if He so chooses to, Jesus not withstanding. When the consistency of God is raised as a point of challenge to this position, the sovereignty of God is used as a blanket rebuttal. After all, He is God and He can do what He wants. Ultimately, “salvation belongs to the Lord.” Honestly, I wonder how anyone can trust a sovereign but inconsistent God like that?! He is no better than those of Greek mythologies where they either wake up happy or upset and then take it out on helpless earthlings.
Then, there’s our consumer culture of advertising and media that has affected the way we “sell” Jesus and “position” the good news. In marketing, we must understand that the consumer is not interested with too much as long as the product works. And this has been the strategy [or trick] of mass marketing. Marketing and advertising teams brainstorm for hours to determine a product’s unique selling proposition (USP), then design campaigns and pour dollars to promote this USP. Simply, give the consumer what he wants! Unfortunately, this strategy [trick] works and has been adopted by the church at large. We must be careful to notice how it has been applied to salvation. Depending on the type of “gospel” meeting, a USP is identified and heavily promoted. For example, at a healing service, the call is for one to believe in Jesus and be healed. At a faith meeting, the challenge is for one to believe in Jesus in order to receive – usually material gains and breakthroughs. When people respond to the altar call, a sinner’s prayer is conveniently tagged on for all to recite. And voila! they are saved! But are they, really? Remember, the consumer only wants what he wants. So, as long as he gets that, whether healing or provision, who cares about salvation?
I must confess that I too have been blinded by the numbers game. When people respond to an altar call, when tears flow freely, I presume these are genuinely moved by the Holy Spirit. And if that is the case, then who am I to begrudge anyone salvation? And especially if I am the one making the altar call, why would I want to question anything? Hey, it looks good for my track record and newsletters.
So, why the concern and burden suddenly?
In the past months, I believe the Lord has been causing me to ponder the real issue behind salvation, or the need for salvation. Thinking more deeply as I considered the various Scriptures brought to mind, I began to see [again] that the key issue is that of righteousness, or the lack of. It’s that simple and straightforward. It has always been and it will always be about God’s righteousness and His holiness! The problem of humanity is sin and the death sentence that hangs over each and every person born in sin. If not addressed, the result is eternal separation from God in a place of eternal torment. That’s really bad news! In His mercy, God can forgive. But in His righteousness, the penalty must still be paid. Knowing that man can never achieve righteousness on his own, God sent Jesus to pay for our sins and to die in our place. When one believes in Jesus (and His salvific work), he is made righteous, reconciled with God and saved from eternal damnation. We give Him our sin and death, and He gives us His righteousness and life! That’s why it’s called good news.
I know this may sound like sunday school stuff to some of you. But today, I can no longer assume that Christians understand this. Or if they know this, that they fully believe in it. As mentioned above, there are those who can quote John 14:6 that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” but still contend that He is not the only way to the Father! Quite clearly, these overly focus on God’s love and grace, but downplay His righteousness. As for the USP proponents, these tend to equate healing, prosperity and blessing with salvation. Now, salvation [sozo] may include physical healing and material provision; but the reverse is not always true! One may be healed from an ailment and still die in his sin. Allow me to challenge your thinking a bit more: Jesus may have healed many but we really don’t know if these finally believed in Him for salvation. But we do presume that, don’t we? As we understand today, the healing miracles were merely signs that pointed to Jesus as the Messiah, the King of Righteousness, that they may believe and be found righteous in Him. Make no mistake! Believing in Jesus for physical healing or your dream house is not the same as believing in Him for salvation from the penalty and power of sin.
Let me conclude with Rom 1:16-17 in which Paul declared, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes … For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.” In case you missed it, Paul said that God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel of Christ. In other words, the good news (gospel) is not the revelation of healing, prosperity, love, grace, nor universal salvation. Not at all! It is God’s righteousness that is revealed, against which one acknowledges his sinfulness and responds through faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross! There we have it again – the good news of salvation is all about sin and righteousness! It is such faith in such a gospel that invokes the power of God that brings one towards true salvation! My deep concern is that there might be too many who have believed in a gospel that reveals anything and everything BUT the righteousness of God. Is there then the power of God to salvation? From the text, plainly, NO. If not, then are these saved in the first place? Could this explain why there are still so many in the church who struggle with sin and have no desire to bear fruits worthy of repentance much less that of righteousness?
Indeed, such a short post cannot possibly address everything about soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Through the centuries, this has been debated by accomplished scholars and theologians. It is not my intention to present anything new nor complicate this subject further. Much the opposite, I am proposing we re-visit the gospel of salvation again, grounded upon Scriptures and not some fancy humanistic desire for all to hold hands and live happily ever after. In today’s age of sound-bites and slogans, I fear we may have diluted the understanding of the gospel and of salvation a little too much to our own detriment and that of others in dire need of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ. For an issue of eternal significance and consequence, surely we are treating it too lightly and way too flippantly.
Related Post: David Pawson: The True God and the True Gospel