Consider a typical inquirer who attends a Billy Graham Crusade. The message strikes several responsive cords in the man's heart. Graham's analysis of life makes sense. The news that all of us are sinners comes as no big surprise really. The offer of God's love and forgiveness sounds too good to be true, but suppose it is all true? What does a man have to lose if all he has to do is to invite Jesus Christ into his heart and life and accept God's free gift? Why not respond to the call.
"The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23).
Many thousands of people of all ages get started in the Christian life by simply responding in faith to an announcement of the good news from God.
"...the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?" (that is, to bring Christ down)or 'Who will descend into the abyss?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. The scripture says, 'No one who believes in him will be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him For, 'every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.' But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!'" (Romans 10:6-15)
Of course only a fraction of the people who "go forward" at a Billy Graham Crusade actually do become true Christians. Nevertheless there is a true sense that real, Biblical salvation is a package deal which alters a person's entire destiny in a split second of time. The individual's sins are all forgiven and expunged from the record. The sinner undergoes an immediate change of citizenship, he or she is transferred (translated) immediately out of the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of the Son of God's love. He or she is baptized by the Spirit and made a member of the Body of Christ. Identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, the new believer finds he has been already seated with Christ in the heavenly places--as if he or she were already literally in heaven. New Christians are depicted in the New Testament as having already been justified, sanctified, and glorified all at once, in one fell swoop. Apparently, nothing more needs to be added to one's new life in Christ. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit indwell the new Christian. His body has become the very temple of the living God. Assuming the person is really a Christian and not a fake, heaven awaits him when he dies.
I like to call this whole model of salvation "static salvation." Receiving Christ as Lord means God treats us henceforth as if we had never sinned in the first place. We have been saved from the penalty of sin, which is death. Daily we are being saved from the power of sin, and at death we will be saved from the very presence of sin.
So sit back and relax? No. That view is not quite correct. In a previous article, The New Covenant: Entering In, I quoted Professor David Wells, of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, who was asked in an interview, "Have you seen evangelicals restoring their core beliefs, moral vision, and worldview? Why or why not?" Prof. Wells replied, "There are pockets of hope but the larger picture is not encouraging. A recent study by George Barna on boomers illustrates the main problem. In recent years, boomers have been opposed to organized religion but now make up half of the born-again population. What happened? They are consumers, Barna says, and we offered them a deal they could not turn down, For a one-time admission of weakness and failure they got eternal peace with God. That was the deal. They took it and went on with their lives as before. The result is that there is no significant difference between the way born-againers live at an ethical level as compared with those who are nonreligious."
Clearly something is missing in the popular view that a one-time "decision for Christ" (static salvation) is all God asks for us in return for a free ticket to heaven with no strings attached.
Puritan author John Bunyan's (1628-1688) popular book Pilgrim's Progress, (http://www.ccel.org/b/bunyan/progress/title.html) was the believer's bedside companion to the Bible in early American life at least until the frontiers had been settled. Salvation was seen by Bunyan as a perilous journey, but "he who endures to the end will be saved." (Matthew 24:13)
The Letter to the Hebrews shows clearly that Christians must respond to God's grace and cooperate fully with God's work in their lives--from start to finish.
"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you, both to will and to do according to His own good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13)
"Salvation" as used in the Bible means a rescue from grave peril, ultimate healing, health and wholeness, and at last complete deliverance from all danger and evil. The convert at the Billy Graham Crusade soon discovers that the package deal of his salvation may indeed be his present possession, but our whole-hearted and life-long response to God's grace is part of the deal. When one takes into account the relatively large group of people who start out on the Christian journey, only few finish the race.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat there; and the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear
When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, "Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field." He answered, "He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:1-9, 19-23, 36-43)
Actually many misunderstand the free gift of salvation. They will arrive at the end of their lives discovering too late that they are not in God's family after all. Jesus warned of this quite plainly at the close of the Sermon on the Mount,
"Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few." Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. "Not every one who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.'" Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it." (Matthew 7:13-27)
The letter to the Hebrews calls the Christian to run a race, a marathon, to embark on a long journey--the goal of which is the heavenly city of New Jerusalem. The race is not to be run alone, but in company of other Christians. The individual must take active concern along the way for the others in the race, especially for the weak, the elderly, the stragglers.
"By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city." (Hebrews 11:8-16)
Five great warnings in the Epistle to the Hebrews explain the fact that the journey of faith is dangerous from the start. The first warning (2:1-3) alerts us to the ease with which we can drift away from the faith little by little, eventually ending up back where we started without realizing what happened. The second great warning (3:12-19) urges us to make certain we have entered into God's true Sabbath rest, and that we stay there. We are to cease from our own efforts in all areas of life and do everything by faith, relying on the indwelling life of Christ, 24/7/365. (See "Jesus is our Sabbath Rest" by Ray Stedman, http://ldolphin.org/sabbathrest.html). Powerful warning #3 (6:1-6) let's us know that God is seeking fruit from our lives. The person who claims to be a follower of Christ but whose life never changes has not gotten the message.
And Jesus told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, `Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?' And he answered him, `Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'" (Luke 13:6-9)
Warning #4 (10:26-31) calls us to persevere in a church where apostasy is all too real. There is grave danger for those who claim to be Christians but who persist in sinning or compromising with the world. Warning #5 (12:25-29) speaks of life-long obedience and persistence in following Christ in every circumstance in life. Ray Stedman says, "Truth understood is never acceptable in and of itself, it is truth done that counts."
"Dynamic salvation" is more robust than mere "static salvation" obviously. We'll do better as Christians if we see that our response to God's grace and mercy, our obedience and our faith make all the difference in the world. There is an old saying about being a Christian: "Believe that everything depends upon God, but live as if everything depends on you."
All the great truths described above under "static salvation" are true about the Christian because God declares them to be true. But truth about God and about ourselves is ours experientially only by faith. Doubt, disobedience, and unbelief throw us back to square one where we may again think we could not possibly be children of God after all. We've sinned one time too many, or stopped trying to please God, or drifted far away with a long road ahead of us when we do decide we should come back.
Clearly, "static salvation" is too easily misunderstood as "cheap grace" and "easy believism." As Prof. Wells points out "The result is that there is no significant difference between the way born-againers live at an ethical level as compared with those who are nonreligious."
Teaching through the Book of Hebrews this summer was very refreshing for me, and I hope for my class as well. In addition to Ray Stedman's great commentary, http://pbc.org/dp/stedman/hebrews2, a number of good evangelical commentaries are now available. But even without recourse to any commentary, Hebrews is eloquent and persuasively written. The writer speaks as though he means what he says and that our very lives depend on taking God very seriously. But this is actually the message of the rest of the Bible as well. Hearing the truth about God, as we have in this country for generations means we must respond vigorously to God's call--or else we perish. Many Americans today are in the same state Israel found herself after long years of not taking God seriously,
"For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.' But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it." (Matthew 13:15-17)
There are of course people for whom "static salvation" is their only option. The thief on the cross next to Jesus is an example. In a matter of hours he would be in heaven with no chance to live out a Christian pilgrimage in the life. None of us knows when our time to die will come, so we all must take one day at a time.
"Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised. 'For yet a little while, and the coming one shall come and shall not tarry; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.' But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls." (Hebrews 10:35-39)
August 11, 2002
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