Nov 15 2010

Ironic repentance vs. the real deal

There are people in every church I’ve been in who need to be set free.

This is not to say that some of these churches didn’t preach grace. But sometimes, it just takes a while for grace to seep in to where change needs to happen. Grace on the surface is one thing; grace in our innermost being is life-changing.

Much of Christianity teaches that we “miss the mark.” This is true, of course. However, much of Christianity forgets to teach that Jesus has hit the mark for us.  So, rather than hearing that we have succeeded in Christ, we only hear that we have failed and that we need to do more, and try harder. Once this concept is fully rooted in someone’s thinking, it may stay with them for years, in spite of their gaining an intellectual understanding of grace.

I suspect that some people first join these graceless, “miss-the-mark” churches because they already know that they don’t hit the mark, so they fit right in. They are given some guidelines that may help them hit the mark, sometimes, and they are promised that someday they will either make the mark in Heaven, or perhaps that the mark will simply be removed. And, being beat up every week for continually missing the mark helps assuage their guilt.

That’s the only reason I can think of to explain why people actually convert to a works-oriented form of Christianity. This parody of Christianity functions something like a 12-step group: The first step is admitting you are a sinner, and realizing that you will always be a sinner. The best you can hope for is God helping you to sin just a little bit less, or perhaps it’s enough just to know you’re surrounded by people who feel as lousy as you do.

This kind of graceless thinking gets into your core, because in your core you’re already feeling like crap. It simply confirms that what you have believed about yourself is really true. Here’s the irony about converting to a legalistic version of Christianity: In some ways, because you aren’t changing how you feel about things in your core, you don’t really have to repent all that much.

To accept salvation by grace takes real repentance. What you need to repent from is the thinking that your performance actually matters, in a spiritual sense. Yes, you’re a sinner, and if you ever think you can keep God’s law, it will condemn you. Now, get over it.

What you need to repent (turn) to is the truth that Jesus performed on our behalf; he kept the law, and more than that, he conquered death (the consequences of sinning). Think of the law as a video game (only with life or death consequences): Jesus has beaten all of the levels. In essence, the game is over. And not only that, the consequences for losing the game has been removed. You are now free to play the game (just make sure you log on under Jesus’ name).

The truth about repentance

Repentance (in a soteriological sense) has never been about changing your behavior; no behavior-mod program can save you. Repentance is about changing your core beliefs. For most of us, repentance is like peeling an onion; it happens layer by layer. With the discovery of each new layer of self-reliance, more repentance needs to take place. The good news is that it’s all by grace, the great onion-peeler.

So be free—because that’s why we’ve been set free.


Sep 18 2009

An Orthodox view of Salvation

My friend Duncan posted the following video on Facebook this evening.  It’s worth watching, whatever your theological background; it’s especially worth watching if you’ve no familiarity with Eastern Orthodoxy.

I have a very deep respect and appreciation for Eastern Orthodoxy, although I do have some disagreements with various points. (Of course, to the Eastern Orthodox, my issues don’t matter.) I have just finished reading Three Views of Eastern Orthodoxy and Evangelicalism, in which a number of theologians discuss various differences in approach.  I have perhaps more disagreements with evangelicalism than I do with Eastern Orthodoxy; as I’ve remarked before, I tend often to side with Luther, who tends to be somewhere in the middle of these two camps.  This is not because I was raised Lutheran (I don’t think, anyway), but because Luther just seems to echo what Paul appears to say.

So, while I do agree with much that is said in the video, the Orthodox position on cooperative salvation – our work being added to the work of Christ – is something I have an issue with.  I do agree that we were saved 2,000 years ago, that I am currently being saved (Luther seemed to agree with the Orthodox understanding of theosis or deification), and that at the final judgment I will be saved.  Again, this is simply an echo of Paul.

My problem with the Orthodox view comes from 2 main sources: Paul, and Jesus.  And yes, these are pretty good sources.  The Orthodox view of cooperative salvation seems to beg Paul’s rhetorical question in Galatians 3:3: “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”  Paul seems to be clearly saying in this letter that to add any human effort to the work of Christ is to lose the Gospel completely.

To this, add the words of Jesus in John 10:27-29:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

I do believe that we are to continue in good works; that is the work of the Spirit in us. I just don’t believe that this contributes at all to our salvation, and in fact, can be as dangerous as Peter’s reverting to kosher food.  That’s not me, that’s Paul.  I’m guessing that there is an Orthodox interpretation of Galatians, and I would be very interested in seeing it.

Without further commentary, here’s the video.  Again, I do agree with most of it, and very much appreciate the spirit in which this is presented:


Aug 22 2009

Luther on Salvation

Since God has taken my salvation out of my hands into his, making it depend on his choice and not mine, and has promised to save me, not by my own work or exertion but by his grace and mercy, I am assured and certain both that he is faithful and will not lie to me, and also that he is too great and powerful for any demons or any adversities to be able to break him or to snatch me from him. “No one,” he says, “shall snatch them out of my hand, because my Father who has given them to me is greater than all” [John 10:28 f.].

Luther, M. (1999, c1972). Vol. 33: Luther’s works, vol. 33 : Career of the Reformer III (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (33:III-289). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

h/t to Mark Latham


May 22 2009

Is salvation really free?

Marlene Winell makes a very interesting point today on the Debunking Christianity blog:

I’ve thought that there is a fundamental contradiction in the evangelical message of salvation because, according to them, it is NOT Christ’s atoning death that saves you, it is YOUR BELIEF in it. (otherwise everyone would be saved). Therefore, this is not a salvation by grace, it is another salvation by works, albeit cognitive work. You must DO several things – find out about and understand the atonement, accept that Jesus dies for your sins, feel guilt and express your sorrow for being responsible, ask forgiveness, and invite Jesus “into your heart” to rule for the rest of your life.


I’ve wandered a bit from my initial point, which was that this doctrine is a salvation by works, ie, it is the accomplishment of the believer. Maybe that is why fundamentalists are so smug.

Sometimes non-Christians are quite good at picking up on theological inconsistancies.

What are your thoughts?