Yesterday we began a look at the Biblical plan of salvation as contrasted with the simplistic, confused and confusing concepts men have substituted for God’s plan. When we attempt to boil what God really did and what he really requires of man into a few simple steps or a mnemonic formula we lose sight of many very precious truths. In our rush to get people “saved” or into the baptistry “so they can go to heaven when they die” we fail to convey to these “converts” the radical changes that must occur in his or her life and what is expected of them beyond just “being good” and “going to church.” They also fail to grasp the nature of the relationship they should be entering with the Lord and with others as well as the blessings and obligations of those relationships.
In my own religious heritage the familiar “five steps” (Hearing, Faith, Repentance, Confession and Baptism) have been so long identified as “the plan of salvation” that God’s plan is, if not ignored, then so downplayed that many people have little appreciation of all God has done. There seems to be little awareness that all he has done is a manifestation of his grace toward man, making it possible that we might be not only forgiven, but restored to a right relationship with him and then through his power to take up the life and service of a new creation. I have even heard people pray and thank God the Jesus died and made possible the “plan of salvation” as if his dying were not the plan!
Most of all, in teaching this or any step or steps as the divine plan of salvation the entire point of what God’s plan really is for the redemption of mankind is missed. God’s plan is not a certain formula man must conform to in order to be saved. His plan is a person – Jesus Christ – who was offered as the sacrifice for our sins. He alone through his blood can save. Man can only respond to what he has done, but even then it is not the response that saves us. That finally comes down to the grace of God. All the response we offer is nothing more than evidence of our faith in him. God is really seeking that we turn to him with all our heart. There is a vast difference between this and some external ritual.
Let me state here that I believe all of the things we in churches of Christ have affirmed as necessary in coming to God for salvation are in fact necessary. What I believe we have done is to make these a kind of check off list that we hurry through in order to get people into the baptistry “so they can be saved.” In a rush to the water what God has done in providing the atoning sacrifice of Christ’s blood is slighted and trivialized. On the other hand, an appreciation of the cost of our redemption gives the sinner a sense of his value to God who paid the supreme price.
“…knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Knowing this and knowing that we are children of God and therefore heirs of God has a very definite bearing on how we behave and how we serve after we are forgiven of our sin. (Rom. 8:12-17). I realize much of this must be taught after a person becomes a Christian as a matter of sanctification, but there are many who are supposedly converted, or at least have gone through the “steps,” who have very little idea of what God has done, of who they are supposed to be as his children or of the sacrifices that will be necessary for them to make as a child of God. It should come as no surprise then that many of these “converts” soon fall away. There is nothing of any depth about them to sustain them beyond the momentary excitement of their baptism. One may see them occasionally making confession of sin, but they will repeat the same cycle over and over.
We live in a time when everything is automatic or “new and improved” and most of all instant and easy. My sons gave me a “super-dooper, whiz-bang” single cup coffee brewer this past Christmas. It is so easy to use and the coffee so good that I am spoiled to it! This desire for the instant and the easy, like so many things in our culture carry over into our concepts of religion. I fear that very few people in America or in most of the world today really appreciate what it meant for the people in the first century to become Christians. Then, all the Bible world was under the domination of the Roman Empire. The Caesar, whoever he was, was considered as a god. To show one’s allegiance to Caesar one had but to offer a token sacrifice and declare that “Caesar is Lord.” Those refusing to do this were seen as traitors to Rome and could be imprisoned, tried and executed. But those people had a faith in God that caused them to endure flames and wild animals before they would renounce their faith. There was no such thing as easy religion or “cheap grace” for them.
On the day of Pentecost Peter’s sermon concluded with a ringing declaration that Jesus had been made “both Lord and Christ” or King. This was tantamount to saying that Jesus was King and Caesar was not. Eventually, as a result of showing one’s loyalty to Christ by confessing his name, being baptized or meeting with Christians could be construed as treason. It was for this reason there were many martyrs in the first few centuries following apostolic age. For the Jewish converts there was the additional problem of being considered a follower of a blasphemer, an impostor and an executed criminal by the rulers and authorities among their own nation. Becoming a Christian wasn’t something taken lightly then. It is highly unlikely any apostle, preacher or Christian would have thought of reducing the very serious matter of becoming a follower of Jesus to some simplistic formula.
But even in the absence of the perils of state persecution, the business of becoming a follower of Jesus is so serious it must not be trivialized by thinking it can be accomplished in some manner like initiation into a club or following the instructions on a box of instant cake mix. Do this, do that, add something else, voila – you’re in!
There can be no doubt that faith is foundational for salvation. It is by faith that we come to God seeking the salvation he gives to those who seek him.
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Heb. 11:6.
It is also certain that there is more to faith than merely assenting to a certain fact or set of facts. That, in fact, is what this verse states. Belief in the existence of God (fact) must go deeper than just accepting or believing the fact. One must trust that he will reward those who seek him. This is belief in God as a person who can be trusted to keep his promises. It is this same kind of faith we must possess when seeking to obtain the salvation God promises to those who believe in his Son. This is a deep, confident trusting in a person and not just acceptance that he exists. The kind of faith God is looking for is the faith that will defy the world in favor of doing his will.
How can one have this kind of faith? Only someone who knows God to be trustworthy can put their life in his hands for all their days on earth and for eternity beyond. And how do we come to have this kind of trusting faith? Only by hearing or learning about him can we know him in this way (Rom. 10:17). This cannot be a superficial hearing about him as in a rumor, or a second hand knowledge as through a friend, but knowing him as he has chosen to reveal himself to us through the Bible and particularly in the person of Jesus who is the perfect representation of the Father.
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Heb 1:1-3).
If this one who did all these things for us cannot be trusted – if we cannot put our faith in him for salvation – who can we trust?
More tomorrow …