I have written before on the typical Protestant concept of “Life Boat” salvation. However, upon more in depth consideration of this erroneous notion of “once and then you’re good” salvation there appears to be a much more flawed ideal at the base of it all.
The Bleak Background of a Well Meaning Notion:
Those who espouse the notion of “life boat” salvation do so out of a sincere kindness. Their concern for the salvation of those around them is nothing short of admirable, and it shows a truly Christian charity. Well-meaning as those who espouse this notion might be, there is an inherent flaw in the basic formulation of the notion.
What is this flaw?
The basic flaw which forms the base of this well-intentioned, although erroneous, idea is found in the notion of God and the nature of salvation which forms the basis of it. This notion of God and of salvation come to us from the work of the early Protestant Reformers, that God hates us.
Since this is surely not something that many of us (and by us I mean those raised in Protestant families/churches (and I suppose other Christians as well)) were brought up being taught, I think it’s best to move backwards from the “life boat” notion with which we are all familiar and trace that back to the bleak and dire root of this notion of salvation.
Why You Need a Life Boat (or, The Reformer’s History of Salvation Told in Reverse):
When we look at this notion of “life boat” salvation, our first thought should be, “why do I need a life boat?” To explain this, we must look at the notions of Sin, the Fall of Man, and Christ, but first, we should look to the theory itself. Going past the lifeboat analogy, we should take a more complete look at the idea of salvation presented.
In this view of salvation, we are spared from God’s fury (which is this views conception of hell) by their being “clothed” or “bathed” in the Blood of Christ. The innocence of Christ sits upon their heads, because God has unleashed his Absolute and Divine vengeance upon Him, rather than us. Since it is a Christ-mask which gets us through the Doors, while Christ bears the brunt of God’s “Holy” and “Just” rage towards men, thus forming a sort of loophole in the “Divine Justice.”
We can see that in this view God is not at all forgiving, and in a sense He isn’t a loving God at all (although Christ is certainly loving), for he has to find a loophole in his Divine Justice in order to not simply subject us to his eternal and unquenchable wrath.
All of this, the Reformer’s history of salvation, points back to a fundamental misunderstanding of one thing, God’s reaction to that first sin of Adam and Eve. With the typical “life boat” view, God was infuriated by man’s sin against him, and so man was separated by God, since God, in His infinite justice, turned his back on man because of man’s guilt.
God’s Real Response to Sin (or, A God Who Suffers With Us):
Rather than the horrible wrath which the Reformers associated with God’s response to sin, the Scriptures reveal something different. In the Genesis account of the Fall of Man it is not God who, in His infinite justice, is forced to turn His back on man, but rather it is man who hides from God. God is not divinely pissed off at mankind, but is rather saddened by mankind’s refusal of Him.
What then is the role of Christ, if not to bear the cosmic hatred of God for man upon His shoulders? He has rather come to bear the weight of sin, and suffering, which are the real result of man’s refusal of God, and thus bridge the gap between us and God.
This pre-Reformation and orthodox view of God’s response to man’s sin explains something essential to salvation, that we are not saved from God’s unquenchable wrath, but rather we are saved from our own sinfulness. And since it is not God’s legalistic hatred from which we need saving, a single washing will not suffice, we need to struggle in the life of the Church, the way of the Christian, the following of Christ, our guide, our teacher, our Lord, the God who came to suffer with us; who will suffer along-side us until the end, and has promised to “remember us in His Kingdom.”