Lesson 8: First, Ask the Right Question.

Americans are obsessed with “What must I do to be saved?” I think that is the wrong question. When we ask it, we are very much like the rich young man in Mark 10: 17-28, and Jesus’ response to him is very much what he would say to us.

After the man reveals he is truly a good person as evidenced in living his life in obedience to the Ten Commandments, Jesus says something like, “You really don’t get it. It is not all about me, me, me. It’s not about what I have to do to get admitted into the Kingdom of God. Maybe the only way I help you see what it is really about is to challenge you to sell everything you have, give the proceeds to the poor, and then come follow me. Maybe if you spent some time traveling with my little band, living and learning with us, you would finally get it.”

Wow! He just hit most of us wealthy Americans where it hurts. Sell all of our possessions on which we base our identity and security. That is silly! Give the money we get from the sale to the poor, whom we regard as lazy and not deserving any special care. That is stupid! If this is what it is all about, I am not going to waste my time learning any more.

Of course, the question is asked a number of times throughout the Bible. However, when you look at the basis of the salvation pictured in the scriptures, it is the wrong one. The history of salvation is set in an understanding that God creates a good world that is then corrupted. Humans do not have it in them to correct the situation, so God comes to rescue them. He begins with Abraham promising he will bless him, his family, and his nation so they can bless all the other nations of the world. In other words, salvation is about healing the creation. If that is the case, the question should be “What should I be doing to participate in the salvation of the world?”

The New Testament takes it further yet when it proclaims we are saved by grace through faith. We are not saved by anything we do, but rather what Jesus Christ has done for us on the Cross. There is a hint of that in the Mark 10 lesson when the writer reports Jesus “looking at him, loved him”. The man was already saved, because the Son of God loved him. If that is the case, the question becomes, “Now that I am saved, what should I be doing?” Martin Luther took this position when he observed once we trust that we do not need to do anything in order to be saved, we can then concentrate all our efforts on loving our neighbors.

Salvation is often described as a two part healing process: getting rid of the bad and replacing it with the good. Jesus speaks of this in demon passion when he warns casting out a demon is not enough. You must replace it with a good spirit or else seven evil ones will come to take up residence. (Matthew 12: 43-45) Jeremiah 31: 31-34 described the new covenant as forgiving sins and placing the law into their hearts. Acts 2: 33-38 says the benefits of Jesus resurrection are the forgiveness of sins and the granting of the Holy Spirit. Paul and John often call this second part love. Salvation then is living in love. I John 4: 7-21 proclaims “God is love and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God…God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” It is worth reading the whole passage as a picture of salvation.

Next week I want to follow Bob’s suggestion to make some comments about the popular picture of salvation that speaks of entering an elevator that goes up or down after death.

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