So, a recurring question has come up in my life over the past month or so – a question often asked by folks who are truly searching and interested in the faith. A lunch-time conversation, a good deal of reading, and a month filled with prayer and reflection (on multiple fronts) has made a number of things clear to me, but most of all: We, as Christians, make it a whole lot harder than it should be.

[Now, while I've done the heavy lifting in the background - and I'll be willing to discuss this, and cite Scripture, in the comments - I'd like to keep this at a high, readable level, without all of the breaks, and caveats, and cut/paste efforts from BibleGateway. Yes, these are necessary for understanding what goes on "behind the curtain", but they make simple conversation pretty stilted.]

Depending on our traditions, we’ve got confirmation classes, the Roman Road, The Way of the Master, and all sorts of other systematic methodologies, which lay out the “steps required for Salvation”. But when I open the Gospels, and read the words of Jesus and his Apostles, it seems a whole lot simpler than this. In fact, it seems that we miss the fact that “becoming a Christian” is the first step in a lifelong journey, and that we lose faith in God and His grace by trying to hold off Step 1 until we’re satisfied that someone is on the right road. And that’s not the Gospel.

Modern Tradition Plan of Salvation

My own church tradition, the Independent Christian Church, which is about as simple as any one I’m familiar with, still tends to communicate the “road to salvation” as kind of a step-by-step process (which can be run pretty quickly, mind you): 1) You hear the Gospel; 2) You believe it; 3) You confess your sins; 4) You repent of your sins; 5) You are baptized as a public sign of your acceptance of Christ; 6) You’re a Christian, walking with Christ; 7) You die, and you are saved for eternity.

All of these steps have good, Biblical backing, but I’ve heard them presented, as above, with each step presented as somewhat of a prerequisite for the next, and with Salvation as the end result. Step 1, though, tends to be pretty complex, with lots of systematic proof texts and propositions, and sometimes gets bogged down with denominational distinctives, as well.

If we look to other traditions, we can also add to these steps: Confirmation classes, Church Attendance, Bible Study, and a host of other hoops & hurdles. After all, we need to make sure that the new initiate is fully cognizant of what they’re signing up for…

But all of this seems to miss what we see, narratively, in the Gospels and Acts.

A Response to Grace

When we read the Gospel accounts, and the Acts of the Apostles, what we see is that Jesus, through his death and resurrection, has already saved mankind and healed the rift between man and God. That happened in 33 A.D. So, since mankind has already been saved, it is the gift of grace being offered to each of us – for us to accept or reject. Once we accept the gift of Grace, everything else is a response – not a prerequisite – to our Salvation. And the benefits of that Salvation are ours today and forever – increasing. Response to Grace

So, unlike the way “becoming a Christian” is often viewed – particularly by those who didn’t grow up in the church – there is just ONE step required between hearing the Gospel and becoming a Christian – accepting the veracity of the Gospel, as it applies to you.

The Gospel, as described by Paul, is pretty darn simple:

  • Jesus was the Son of God, who lived with us here on earth
  • Unlike us, he was sinless
  • He died as a sacrifice, to do away with any need for anyone to sacrifice again
  • He was resurrected, as a promise that those who accept him will be a part of his eternal kingdom

When we accept this Gospel, we are saying that we understand that God has already saved us, and has given us Grace – something we can NEVER earn, we can only accept it or reject it. It is not “the sinner’s prayer” or any other formula that you pray or recite – it is a truthful, heart-deep acceptance of His grace. Everything else is a response to this grace:

  • When we sin, we confess our sin as a response to the grace we’ve been shown
  • When we confess our sin, our response to grace is that we want to turn from this sin, to repent, so as not to hurt the One who saved and sacrificed for us
  • As a response to grace, we want to publicly declare that we have accepted this grace. This was taught to us in the sacrament of Baptism, from which we receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit
  • As a response to grace, we want to be part of a community of believers – a church – and to worship our Savior, and to serve Him
  • As a response to grace, we want to tell others about this gift, so that they, too, will no longer have to live in a cycle of despair

It is all a gift, which we respond to.

But What About…

If this all seems too good to be true, it is true, nonetheless.

Sadly, the church has gotten the reputation for making all sorts of issues of primary importance – prerequisites for Salvation: Creation vs. evolution; Abortion; Homosexuality; Nativity Scenes; The Virgin Birth; The Trinity; Predestination; Eschatology; and on, and on, and on.

All of these (and more) are topics, of varying importance, which Christians should wrestle with in prayer, meditation, discussion and Scriptural study (not necessarily in that order). But they are not core to what it means to take the first step toward Christ – to accept His grace. And when we make them so, we add to the Gospel. And the Gospel Plus Anything is not the Gospel, at all.

Blessed to Be a Blessing

When God brought Abram out of his pagan culture, to be the Father of Nations, He said that He would bless him, in order that he would be a blessing. Abram did nothing to deserve the grace he was given – he was blessed, he accepted the blessing, and he passed it on, through the generations.

When God brought His people out from Egypt, they did nothing to deserve their salvation – they just accepted His rescue, and He blessed them in order to be a blessing to all the nations.

When God brought me out of my sin, I did nothing to deserve it – I could only accept it, and He has blessed me in order to be a blessing to the world around me. Everything I do can only be a response to that Grace – I cannot do anything to earn it.

If you have not accepted His gift, all He asks is that you accept it, because it is already yours if you want it – and He will bless you, in order that you will be a blessing to the world around you. A response to His blessing, not a repayment.

If you have not accepted His Grace, its message is simple – you have a loving God, who sent His Son to die in your place, so that you would not need to bear the burden of your sins. His Son tells you “my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”. There are no hoops to jump through: Just accept the gift. Don’t try to repay it (because you can’t). Instead, live in a way that blesses the Giver and everyone around you – live as a response to the grace you’ve been shown.




Comments

This entry was posted on Thursday, November 4th, 2010 at 11:55 pm and is filed under Lessons, Religion/Philosophy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

1 Comment so far

  1. Charlene on December 2, 2010 11:02 am

    It is true that people must have a change of heart and mind to belong to the family of Christ. No special prayer or acts of penance. The thief on the cross is one example. Heartfelt realization of who we are (enemies of God) and who God is (love, holiness, grace) and what He has done, and just depending on Him to save us not only from eternal separation from Him (i.e. hell) but also from slavery to sin in this life is taught scripturally.
    However, it is when we trust in God that we we receive the Holy Spirit, not when we “do” something. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit, he indwells believers, convicts of sin and righteousness, enables believers to be followers (can’t be a true believer without being a follower of Christ i.e. follower=journey in someone’s footsteps). Note that although being filled or baptized in the Holy Spirit does not always result in speaking in tongues, speaking in tongues was evidence in the early church that the Holy Spirit was for not only Jews, but also gentiles, and was used to confirm God’s acceptance of all people. So then, when the gospel was told, and the gentile believed, the Holy Spirit enabled him to speak in tongues, bringing recognition to the Jewish believers that gentiles didn’t have to become Jews, and could be baptized.

Name (required)

Email (required)

Website

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Share your wisdom