Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Us and them

I was raised with a very polarised view of salvation. You were either (a) a Christian and were saved, or (b) a non-Christian and were not. There was a clearly defined line which you had to cross to pass from one state to the other. Kind of like in this picture:Each black dot with a letter on it represents a person. If a person is to the right of the line, in the green zone (i.e. B, F and C), they are a Christian and are saved. If a person is to the left of the line, in the red zone (i.e. D, E and A), then they are not. The church I grew up in would try to reach out to those who were not saved, but were close, i.e. 'A', but would have little or nothing to do with those who were further away, i.e. D and E.

Over the years I've cone to a very different understanding of Salvation which is a lot more fuzzy in some regards. The line has become blurred. Indeed I'm not sure the line exists, as such.

Suppose person 'A' is slowly drifing right. At current rate of travel they will cross the line on Wednesday of next week. If they die on Tuesday they go to hell, if they die on Thursday they go to heaven. It can't work like that! I'm pretty sure God isn't like that.

And what about person 'B', in the green but slowly drifting left? In order to ensure their salvation, the best thing to do would be to kill them before they cross the line...? Nonsense! It doesn't work like that.

There is no line.

Steve Chalke's 'controversial' book 'The Lost Message of Jesus' touches on this issue. While he may not have expressed it in these terms, this is the gist of one of his points. It doesn't so much matter which side of the line somone is on, but rather their direction of travel is what is important. More like this:
Here the differnce between 'A' and 'B' is more apparent. Even though they are quite close, they are travelling in opposite directions. To use new testament teminology, I'd go as far as to say that 'A' is 'being saved' (1 Cor 1v18, 2 Cor 2v15). Indeed, despite being much further into the red, 'D' is also heading in the right direction and I wouldn't be too surprised if folk who died in a state like that - apparently far away from the Kingdom - will be found in glory.

'B' on the other hand is heading the other way. He is losing his salvation. And what about 'F'? There are a great many folk in the church who are neither growing in righteousness or apparently backsliding. They just pootle along. I wouldn't be surpriesd if it was to people such as these who Jesus said "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you." (Matthew 21v32)

What is the point of saying all this? To prompt us to widen our sights - we should not just direct our energies to 'evangelising' those just outside the church, but we should be aware that others, further out, may be more receptive to the gospel than we think. And also to note that we shouldn't let people be once they are 'saved'. We need to encourage all to be heading in the right direction.


Marcus Green said...

This comment is severly limited by the inability to produce graphs and arrows in the comments field!

Or maybe not...

The thing is, salvation isn't a state is it? It's a relationship. Jesus' comment in Matthew 7 to those who have used his name but won't see his face in heaven is "I never knew you".

Now in those terms, there is a point at which a relationship begins - so I guess diagram 1 has a point; and yet relationships don't begin abruptly - we move towards them. And we do, sometimes, leave them behind. Though, if we are part of a family, perhaps we always are. There's another debating point for you which the church has never quite sorted out.

"Am I saved?"

We so want technical answers to non-technical questions. Am I saved? Who's in, who's out?

On this one, I have a feeling that God sent his SON that we might know him, not a text book that we might just learn an answer. So I'm not sure that either Steve Chalke or your old church quite do it for me.

Chris Hamer-Hodges said...

> There is no line.

...but there is a cross!

Salvation is not a gradual change of position we do for ourselves but a radical transfer from one kingdom to another made possible only in Christ.

Ricky Carvel said...

True, Chris.

But I know quite a few people who cannot specify a day, time or even year when they made the transition from 'one kingdom to another', so it isn't a black and white (or green and red), us and them issue. There are some fuzzy boundaries.

But some are definitely in and some are definitely out.

I do prefer to think in terms of salvation being a process rather than a state. We are being saved. Even those on the outside who are being pulled in are being saved. Perhaps they're not there yet, but they're part of the process.

And yes, Marcus, relationship is highly important too.

I waver between the 'once saved always saved' belief and the alternative, but kind of feel that not everything is black and white there either. Even if we are faithless, He remains faithful (as Paul quotes to Timothy). I started reading David Pawson's book "Once Saved, Always Saved" once, but never finished it. Maybe it would have resolved this issue for me, but I suspect not. If you consider salvation as a process the whole thing gets a different spin.

Anonymous said...

interested in your thoughts outlined here so i thought i'd add my two cents if that's ok!

i would say that there definitely is a line. however, from our human perspective we cannot place it for others, it's a line that God sees, as he can only know for sure "who is in and who is out".

i would also disagree with your model that there are degrees to which someone is near the line or not; that is for either side. maybe if we are discussing someone's knowledge of who God is, and obviously it is a process of coming into a relationship with God, but if we are being specific about salvation, as the Bible puts it we are either dead to sin or alive in Christ.

however, i further don't agree that this line of argument leads to the conclusion that the point of someone's death determines whether they go to hell or not, because again that is God's perspective and in God's hands.

From the point of view of God, while Jesus purchased salvation on the cross, surely God knew those who it was purchased for? Therefore, either your sins were placed on Jesus or they weren't - no line.

Anonymous said...

*correction - despite my conclusion of "no line", i obviously meant to say, "there is a line, and there are no degrees either side of it."

that was very silly of me, i apologise!

Ricky Carvel said...

Thanks Matt.

(I hope what follows doesn't sound patronising, it isn't intended to be, but I have a feeling it will come over as such, sorry...)

I used to believe something along the same lines as what you present here. But on reflection, with repeated reading of the bible and other books, I cannot now subscribe to the idea that when Jesus died on the cross it was already decided - for everyone who would be born in the future - who was included and who was not, who was saved and who was not. God does not want anyone to 'perish' that is clear from several biblical passages. I do not believe that he has predestined anyone (not even Judas Iscariot) to condemnation and hell. We can choose. Of course, its not as one-sided and simple as that, but we can choose to accept the offer of salvation or reject it.


Anonymous said...

firstly, please don't feel that your at all patronising, i know that you don't want to be, and even if you were I wouldn't mind! I'd rather people say what they thought rather than be afraid that they'll come across as arrogant or patronising. i'm quite used to challenging those well ahead of me in years and wisdom in pursuit of the truth.

but surely the Bible does say that we have been predestined? Romans 8:30 and Ephesians 1:5. Now I'm not a calvinist, I believe we do have a choice, but that choice is obviously within God's knowledge.

Going back to my example of jesus as a sacrifice for sin. the sins of many were placed on jesus. many not all. but, jesus was punished a finite amount. he took a certain amount of sin onto himself. if he had taken everyone's sin then everyone would go to heaven for their sin which separated them from God would have been paid for.

now by God knowing who will be saved, he knows those who will reject him, and therefore he predestines both ways. i believe that the predestine idea is not active but reactive, God doesn't make us go one way or the other, merely before we are born God knows are destiny.

Anonymous said...

That is the same as my understanding: Jesus knows who will be saved, because they will choose to. Our decisions are based on things, they are a part of the world, and God knows the whole world.
Also, as a scientist, what exactly are you measuring on that x axis? I cannot help but notice that motion, as a vector and not a scalar, has the most fundamental devision: Between + and - . So perhaps in a sense you are learning better ways to grasp the same concepts. Notice that Jesus' call to his disciples "Was come, follow me." The state of salvation is a dynamic one or none at all. The life of God is self renforcing, leading from faith to faith. Furthermore I have always heard repentance described as turning 180, from rebellion to God. In the same way, I cannot help but notice that sin is a verb, so it seems reasonable that sin doesn't "stain" as is often described, but instead the patterns of choice created by it, people loving darkness because their deeds are evil, leads to further sin. So what then did the cross actually do? Well its got something to do with the passover, with being bought out of slavery, with punishment, and with adoption, but beyond that I need more insight, way more!