I set stage for this blog with the question, What is Christian Salvation and Why Would Anyone Want It? If you haven’t read that blog first, you might want to take some time to read it. I set this piece up with my own story, but I am no different than anyone else who has encountered the God of the Bible and the salvation that He offers.
In this piece we will get into some detail on the meaning of salvation, sin that poses the problem for which salvation is the solution, and righteousness, which is, perhaps, more misunderstood than the other two.
To begin with, salvation means, generally, “preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss”; theologically, it means “deliverance from sin and its consequences” according to Google. Righteousness means, generally, “the quality of being morally right or justifiable” according to Google.
These definitions are simple and easy enough to understand generally, but they have very specific and nuanced meanings in context of faith that belie the richest and deepest of Christian truths.
One of the simplest and most fundamental principles of Christianity is that salvation is a free gift. It is nothing that we earn. God gives salvation to us freely.
A closely associated principle is that righteousness is nothing that we achieve. God attributes righteousness to us freely. Again, we don’t achieve righteousness; God considers us righteous when are rightly related to God.
These words, salvation and righteousness, are among the most basic of Christian principles. These words are used with a great deal of presumption that everyone knows what they mean, but that isn’t necessarily the case.
What is salvation? Why should we want to be saved? Saved from what?
Righteousness may be even more misunderstood. Are we talking about moral superiority? Self-righteousness? Holier than thou?
I will try to illuminate these very central ideas to the Christian faith in this blog. Few things are more central to Christianity than the idea of salvation and righteousness.
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, … and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance
These are some of the most terrifying words in the New Testament:
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit,and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)
For anyone but the hardest core Calvinist, these words are enough to make one shudder. No one wants to fall away. But we often do what we know we shouldn’t. The mind is willing, but the flesh is weak. Though we may be born again, the old man lurks incessantly beneath the service and around every corner. The struggle is real.
Most people, however, (me included) tend to read these words out of context. As an isolated statement, we might be strongly tempted to believe these words speak to sin, especially those nagging, habitual, ingrained sins that we have a hard time overcoming. We feel as if, one day, we will sin one too many times and will have fallen away – completely lost and irredeemable!
But the context speaks to something different than the direction our mind is prone to go.
The statement in Hebrews 6 quoted above is prefaced with the following introduction:
“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God ….” (Hebrews 6:1)
What is the “elementary doctrine of Christ”? What are these “dead works” from which we must repent? This is the key to keep from “falling away”.
We live in a world that defies God. That is the point of the Adam and Eve story. The temptation to go our own way is great. In fact, like sheep wandering without guidance, ignorant of the dangers that lurk around us, we have all gone astray. That is our lot.
From Adam and Eve, throughout all of the Old Testament, this is the story of the world. This is the world into which God came, having reduced himself from the greatness of being our creator, to become one of us, in the form of the man Jesus.
That God loves us could not be more intimately or completely demonstrated for us than in the life of Jesus. Though he was God, he did not hold on to His privilege and power over us. He emptied himself for us. He came humbly and obedient to his own purpose, which was to lay down his own life for us in a demonstration of love and compassion the world had never seen before and has never seen since.
God came into the world, and the world did not recognize him or receive Him. Yet God was faithful to his purpose. He was faithful in his love for us. He was faithful to fulfill what he came to accomplish, which was to redeem us.
He came while we were yet sinners. He didn’t wait until we became holy, righteous and good. He would have still been waiting. He came to heal us from all that makes us broken, which is our innate inclination to separate ourselves from God and to go our own ways.
This is the world and the reality in which we live. The world sets itself in opposition to its creator. Many people pay lip service to God, but their hearts are far from Him. They deny Him in the way they live their daily lives. Though they honor Him with their lips, their actions belie them.
The good news, which is what Gospel means, is that God loves us anyway. He came for us while we were in this very condition, knowing the worst of us. God became man and lived among us knowing how corrupt we were, that we would reject him and knowing that we would attempt to put him to death. He came anyway. This is the extent of God’s love for us.
Our choice of how we will live in this world has consequences because of God’s love and the fact that He made us in His own image, to love him back. We are not compelled to love Him, but we are given the freedom to love Him. We are not robots or automatons who have no choice. But our choice is eternally significant.
I’ve been reading through the Bible slowly from Genesis to Revelation. This is something I have not done in many years. I have taken some sidetracks and rabbit hole excursions along the way, but I am still plodding forward.
It’s amazing that circumstances of life arise from time to time of which the particular passage I am reading comes to bear on those circumstances. This is the case in a poignant way in regard to a conversation I had with a very close friend recently.
We were talking about the Catholic Church and a very bad experience that someone very close to both of us had being raised by strict parents in a strict Catholic school setting. I was also raised Catholic, though my experience differed from his. I didn’t go to parochial school, and I didn’t experience the strictness of the Catholic Church like he did, though I certainly saw evidence of it.
In my friend’s case, the strictness and severity he experienced bordered on abuse. I don’t know the details, but his reactions to things religious suggest he might have some degree of PTSD as a result of his experiences.
I don’t mean to pick on the Catholic Church. I have seen the same “spirit” evident in other denominations as well. Certain Baptists and Pentecostals and people we might label “fundamentalists” or other labels have exhibited a similar spirit as the Catholics in the focus on do’s and don’ts and religious rituals practiced in front of foreboding audiences. The Westboro Baptist Church is a very extreme example of the legalism and dogmatism I am talking about.
In the context of this conversation and these thoughts, I read these words the very next day that were penned by Paul the Apostle about two millennia ago:
Therefore, let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival our new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is in Christ. Colossians 2:16-17
My Christmas thoughts a year ago were focused on the women in the genealogy that Matthew included in the beginning of his Gospel. Tamar, Rahab and Ruth are all stories of redemption foreshadowing the ultimate redemption story when God entered into our story, which is ultimately His story. The grand story of global redemption is what we celebrate at Christmastime, and these women are all instrumental in that global redemption story.
A total of five women are listed in the patriarchal lineage included at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. The oddity of including women in a patriarchal lineage bears some investigation. Indeed, we find the redemptive theme when we look into it, and, that theme continues with the next woman on the list, but with a twist.
The twist begins with the fact that the next woman isn’t even named! The genealogy in Matthew reads like this:
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife[i]
Another oddity signals that something is different here. The stories of Tamar and Ruth were stories of kinsman-redeemers, women who embraced the shelter and protection of the relatives of their deceased husbands and, thereby, gave birth to sons who would carry on the line that would eventually lead to Jesus, the Christ (Messiah). All of the first three women, including Rahab, are also stories of faith and God’s faithfulness.
The story of “Uriah’s wife” is another example of God’s faithfulness, but human side of the story is one of unfaithfulness. Bathsheba is the mother who had been Uriah’s wife. She isn’t named for a scandalous reason.
The tree of life is mentioned only three places in the Bible. The first and most prominent place the tree of life appears in the Bible is in Genesis. The Tree of Life is one of two trees specifically identified in the garden. The other tree, of course, is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
It really doesn’t matter for purposes of considering our present reality. From dust to dust is our current condition, but the tree of life appears three times in Proverbs and again in the Book of Revelation.
The fact that it appears again in Revelations, the vision of the ultimate redemption of mankind and victory of God, gives us hope. Though we are presently cut off from it, the tree of life figures into God’s ultimate plan and purpose. The tree of life appears on either side of the “river of the water of life… flowing from the throne of God….”
Where do we find the tree of life in between the Garden of Eden and standing beside the river of the water of life from the throne of God? Let’s take a look.