Recently, while studying the words of Jesus, I made a startling and slightly disturbing discovery.
On the issue of salvation, Jesus never seems to urge anyone to say a prayer or confess belief in a set of doctrines. Although he is often asked by those around him, “What must I do to inherit Eternal Life?” the answers out of our Savior’s mouth rarely sound anything at all like what I learned in Sunday School.
I can remember growing up and hearing the Gospel communicated to me roughly as something like, “Who doesn’t want to go to Hell?” and when those around me raised their hands to identify themselves as someone with a keen sense of self-preservation, they were told to repeat a prayer about sin and forgiveness.
Now, as an adult, I am puzzled that Jesus himself never once suggested anything remotely close to this when discussing matters of eternity and salvation.
To Zacheus, who declared that he was ready to repay all those he had ripped off through the years, Jesus informed him that his faith had saved him. To the woman at the well, he simply compared himself to a spiritual water which could quench her thirst for fulfillment and she responded enthusiastically. To Nicodemus he explained a concept of being born a second time by the Spirit into a new kind of Spiritual life.
In fact, Jesus never seemed to use any sort of formula at all. He never even used the same metaphor twice. His explanations of salvation and his conditions for receiving it were as varied as those who came to ask him the question.
To a rich young man Jesus offered salvation if he would obey the Law and the Prophets and then sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor. Another time, he compared the Kingdom of God to a treasure in a field that one must rush gladly to purchase by liquidating every asset and possession to attain. At still another time, Jesus declared a common thief, condemned to death for his crimes, to be justified simply for recognizing who Jesus was and humbly asking to be “remembered” when Jesus entered His Kingdom.
Honestly, if you or I, or even our Pastors and Teachers were to respond to a question of salvation in any of these ways, we might be tempted to pull them aside and correct their theology or doctrine. Yet Jesus Himself seemed at odds with our simplistic, Chick-Tract versions of how to inherit eternal life.
I recently heard Todd Hunter remark that modern American Christianity had reduced the Gospel to a question that never appears in the Bible. You know the one. It goes something like this; “If you knew for sure that you would die tonight, do you know that you’d be in Heaven tomorrow?” Hunter suggests that, if we’re really going to be true to the Gospel of the Kingdom, and the philosophy of Jesus, we need instead to ask, “If you knew for sure you’d be alive tomorrow, who would you follow and how would you live your life?”
After all, most of us will not be dead tomorrow. We’ll be alive. What we all need is a Gospel for everyday life. The life we all find ourselves living is precisely where we need Jesus to rule and reign and have His way.
The True Gospel involves a daily process of taking up our cross and following Jesus. It is a Gospel for life, not just for the day that we die, and what makes me the most upset is the idea that I’ve wasted so many years of my walk with Jesus focused on the wrong things.
To think I’ve lived most of my Christian life based on the answer to the wrong question. All this time, I’ve thought of Jesus as my “Savior” but not as my “Lord”, and yet if He is not one, He cannot be the other.
All this time, I’ve missed the simple truth that Jesus calls me to surrender my life to Him and trade in my own empty kingdom for the Eternal Kingdom of God.
All. This. Time.
Even more horrifying than my own personal realization is the idea that most of modern Christian culture has got it wrong all this time too.
We’ve traded a daily submission to Christ for a cheap Grace and a set of beliefs, instead of committing our lives to Jesus and setting Him on the throne of our hearts.
I have a poster in my office that says, “Sometimes well-formed questions are more useful than well-formed answers”. Maybe it’s time for us to start asking the right questions instead of always being so quick with the right answers.
The question of where we will spend eternity only prepares us for the day of our death, but gives us no idea of who to follow or how to live our lives until that day should come.
The question that Jesus asks us involves making up our minds who we will follow, who will be our Lord, and then committing ourselves to actually obey and live out the Gospel that Jesus died to proclaim.
Keith Giles was formerly a licensed and ordained minister who walked away from organized church 11 years ago, to start a home fellowship that gave away 100% of the offering to the poor in the community. Today, He and his wife live in Meridian, Idaho, awaiting their next adventure.
His new book “Jesus Unbound: Liberating the Word of God from the Bible”, is available now on Amazon and features a Foreword by author Brian Zahnd.
He is also the author of the Amazon best-seller, “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb” with a Foreword by Greg Boyd.
Keith also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean.
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