Friday, March 09, 2007

A Good Challenge About Salvation

The one man asks, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The other two men reply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” This exchange between the Philippian jailer and Paul and Silas in Acts 16:25-34 is a model of evangelistic efficiency. But what does it mean to “believe in the Lord Jesus”?

Baptist preacher David Gushee throws a wrench in the spokes of American Christianity’s culture of Easy Believism in a recent article in Christianity Today (“Jesus and the Sinner’s Prayer: What Jesus says doesn’t match what we usually say,” March 2007). He refers to the common practice among Baptists and other conservative evangelicals of “inviting Jesus into your heart as your personal savior” via the “Sinner’s Prayer,” but notes that whenever Jesus is asked in the Gospels about how to have eternal life, he seems to have more in mind than a quick prayer.

In the two occasions in Luke’s gospel, for instance, when Jesus is asked about the criteria for admission to eternity (Luke 10:25 and 18:18), Gushee notes that “Jesus offers a four-fold answer: Love God with all that you are, love your neighbor, do God’s will by obeying his moral commands, and be willing, if he asks, to drop everything and leave it behind in order to follow him. I suggest that we tend to confuse the beginning of the faith journey with its entirety. Yes, believe in Jesus… but then embark on the journey of discipleship in which you seek to love God with every fiber of your being, to love your neighbor as yourself, to live out God’s moral will, and to follow Jesus where he leads you, whatever the cost.”

Baptist and Church of Christ folks have often argued about the role of baptism (the former say it follows salvation, the latter that it facilitates it), but in this regard Gushee calls us both to account (along with all Christian communities). Namely, to what extent are we preparing people before their prayer/baptism for the kind of life Jesus demands of his followers? Just because someone is baptized instead of saying the Sinner’s Prayer does not mean that they have been taught what their life in the Kingdom of God should look like.

To be sure, we are “saved by grace through faith, and this is not our own doing, it is the work of God” (Eph. 2:8). Christ accomplishes the work of atonement in his death and resurrection; we don’t. But the salvation life is not a static possession to be vouchsafed until heaven; it is a dynamic journey which we willingly enter into through our baptism and the primary imperatives of which we should be aware before our baptism. Jesus calls this “counting the cost” (Luke 14:28) and it is an important part of becoming his follower. In talking to a potential Christ-follower, we must instruct him/her not only in the theology of baptism but also help paint for him/her a picture of the baptized life as a follower of Jesus in God’s kingdom.

As Gushee puts it, “Mediocrity and hypocrisy characterize the lives of many avowed Christians, at least in part because of our default answer to the salvation question. Anyone can, and most Americans do, “believe” in Jesus rather than some alternative savior. But not many embark on a life fully devoted to the love of God, the love of neighbor, the moral practice of God’s will, and radical, costly discipleship.”

Sounds to me like a good challenge.


Post a Comment

<< Home