Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Christians That Need to Be Saved

A man in a local church I used to attend had a habit of coming up to people and asking them exactly when and how they had been saved. He would probe for very specific details of the blessed event, presumably to confirm that the person he was interrogating was the real deal, genuinely a believer. I can’t remember what he did when he was dissatisfied with the answer but I’m not sure it was anything particularly helpful.

When he did it to me, it kind of threw me. Frankly, I didn’t know how to respond to him.

The Inevitable Backstory

I professed faith in Christ as a child, was baptized as an early teen, floundered through high school and into my early twenties, and got serious about obedience to the Lord at the age of 23. I can recall no time at which I doubted the existence of God or the fact that he was uncomfortably involved in my daily experiences and committed to working out his will in my life. From very early on, the question for me was not whether I believed in the historicity, goodness, deity and ultimate victory of Jesus Christ, but whether I was prepared to trust him to run my life.

So … was I saved as a child when I was reduced to tears at the thought that Jesus died for me? Was I saved when I was baptized, because the process enabled me to nail down what I believed and confirm it in public? Was I saved when I started to really apply the word of God consistently in my life and obey him? Was it on some other occasion or through some other mechanism entirely?

Depends what we mean by ‘saved’, doesn’t it.

From Death to Life, or ...

I used to hear the words ‘salvation’ and ‘saved’ and assume I knew exactly what they meant. Sure, I thought, that’s when someone believes in the Lord Jesus Christ and crosses over from death to life. It’s a point in time. You exercise faith. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead,” you will be saved. Done, finis, in the books.

Simple, right?

Except when I look at the word of God, not so much. It has been extremely helpful to my understanding of scripture to learn that when you see the word ‘saved’ or ‘salvation’ in a passage, you always need to ask the question saved from what? Saved in what way?

Wise for Salvation

This morning, for example, I read Paul’s words to Timothy:
“… and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Now, I suppose it’s possible Paul is speaking very generally, reminding Timothy that the Old Testament scriptures provide sufficient information about God’s plan of salvation to allow individuals to believe and escape hell. The “you” could be people other than Timothy, since Timothy was already a believer of long standing who had worked alongside the apostle during persecution and times of great hardship. Could be.

But not necessarily. If you look at the number of times the words “saved” and “salvation” are used in the New Testament to refer to things other than initial confession and belief — works of God that continue all through the believer’s life right up until the moment we are finally and gloriously ushered into the New Jerusalem — it’s quite possible he’s talking about another sort of salvation entirely. If so, we might ask ourselves in what way Timothy might have needed to be saved, and in what particular way Paul wanted him to exercise “faith in Christ Jesus”.

Adequate and Equipped

We don’t need to speculate, since Paul was kind enough to spell in out for us right in the context. He goes on to tell Timothy that the “sacred writings” or “scripture” are profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be “adequate, equipped for every good work”.

At this point in his experience Timothy didn’t require salvation from hell or the faith in Christ Jesus necessary for eternal life. Contextually, I think it makes much more sense to conclude that he needed to be saved from inadequacy, from being a sub-standard servant of Christ. He needed to be fully equipped.

Paul is in the process of charging his protégé with a number of very serious responsibilities and he wants to ensure that Timothy is up to the job, because he knows he will not be there to supervise. When Timothy encounters opposition, persecution and the “difficult times” to which Paul refers, how is he going to respond? Paul refers him to the scriptures, saying they are able to “make you wise for salvation”.

Ongoing Faith and Salvation

Of course it’s through the word of God that we can come to Christ in the first place and receive eternal life. But the salvatory process continues through our Christian lives. The faith that we exercise in coming to the Lord and believing on him is the same faith we must continue to exercise in service of Christ and in growing in grace and knowledge of him. It’s through the word of God that we become adequate and equipped. It’s through the same word and the same ongoing exercise of faith that we are enabled to produce anything useful at all.

Paul uses similar language to the Philippians:
“As you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Not “work for your salvation” but “work out your salvation”. These were people that Paul says in the very same sentence have “always obeyed”. They had no need to exercise faith to be saved from a lost eternity but every need to continue in obedience to the instructions Paul had given them; in obedience to the word of God.

What can we conclude from this? I suggest that no Christian who fails to pay regular, personal attention to the scripture is ever going to be sufficient to the purposes and plan of God in his or her life. He or she will be insecure, unsure, immature … inadequate.

Shouldn’t we all want to be saved from that?

1 comment :

  1. Maybe we should all start praying more for the “salvation” of our fellow Christians, in this sense. Wouldn’t that be a startling kind of prayer meeting!