We are all aware of the religious diversity within Christendom that accompanies the message of salvation. While all churches agree that we are saved by grace through faith without the benefit of any affect from ‘meritorious works.’ Indeed, all of our righteous deeds piled up together would be of no more worth than ‘filthy rags’ (Isa. 64:6). We also understand that the holiness and justice of God could not simply allow our sins to be overlooked and ignored. They had to be paid for; so, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). If churches do not understand, appreciate and adhere to these two truths, they are in the wrong business.
But sadly, the subject doesn’t end there. Even though we can all easily agree to the ‘why’ of our salvation being grace, and the ‘how’ of our salvation being the atoning sacrifice of the sinless Son of God, there is still considerable disagreement on the subject. The resultant religious incompatibility revolves around when that gracious gift of justification is realized. Some claim to receive their salvation when they have ‘prayed through.’ Others have been taught that their sins have been absolved by a priest. Still others know they are saved when they have spoken in tongues or experienced some other miraculous manifestation of the indwelling Spirit. A number of churches teach that they are saved when they ‘invite Jesus into their hearts,’ ‘accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior,’ ‘choose Jesus as their personal Savior,’ pray ‘the sinner’s prayer’ or any combination of these formulas.
However, instead of finding any of these in scripture, in the words of Christ I repeatedly find: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mat. 16:24 et al). Then James quotes Solomon, “God opposes the proud -but shows favor to the humble” then concludes: “Submit yourselves, then, to God” (Jas. 4:6-7). We have no right and no ability to do the choosing, inviting or accepting of Jesus. In fact, we submit our lives to Him and He is the One who has done the inviting, the choosing and the accepting (John 10:3; 15:16 & Rom. 15:7). We bow our lives before Him. We die to our selfish ‘pre-disciple’ lives and surrender our will to Him.
Yes, biblically, this repeatedly occurs in the context of baptism, being ‘born of water and the Spirit,’ ‘putting on Christ,’ ‘having the body of sins removed from the flesh,’ and ‘being saved’ at that time of soggy surrender. But before we ‘Church of Christ-ers’ become too smug, we must remember that all of our trust needs to be in God’s grace and in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. Any perspective that trusts in the ‘right plan of salvation’ is completely devoid of scripture. All of the ‘steps of salvation’ were taken by Jesus on the way to Calvary. When we have been baptized into Christ we have not graduated from faith nor from repentance, those and other characteristics of the life of a disciple must be ongoing. And we have encouraged much rejection of biblical truth by our ‘self-righteous’ exclusivity. Yes, they are wrong. But we are just as wrong. Only Jesus is right.
A couple of centuries ago, believers from a variety of denominational systems in America decided that to be truly followers of Christ, ‘as much as it depends on us,’ we needed to be united with all Christians. They left those systems with the desire of calling all others to be simply brothers and sisters in Christ, overcoming any denominational loyalty with a fervor for following the very person of Jesus. But somewhere along the line, we became so loyal to our codified soteriology that we decided that the unity of the body was not nearly as important as it was portrayed in scripture. As Reuel Lemmons so clearly stated at the ’86 ACU Lectures: “You can’t un-brother what God has brother-ed. Now, what that lacks grammatically, it makes up for theologically.” We have access to a message of salvation that can be used to unite rather than divide believers. We would do well to rethink our ways and share the joys of being born in Christ that focus on love. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6). And would you believe it? Love isn’t even one of our ‘steps.’
Maybe it should be.
Because He lives,