Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ye Must Be Born Again, pt1

Happy New Year! After a hiatus during the holiday seson rush, I have resolved to blog every day in 2011 and hope you will join me in our journey through God's Word. On my last post, a question was posted in the comments, which I will endeavor to begin answering today.

Please clarify something for me:

I have been taught that salvation is the only way to heaven. But the quote-

"...he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter."

-seems to add onto that. Is it just that salvation is in God's will, or is it actually doing the things He would have you to do, as well as salvation?
The question, which appears to be relaively straight forward, actually opens a theologicxal can of worms (not to be mistaken with a can of theological worms. which would presumably house various heretics). We have walked into a much neglected difficulty. The Bible seems to prescribe different methods of salvation at different parts of the New Testament.  Picking a favorite version and clinging to that instead of harmonizing what the Bible teaches in total is a dangerous game I am not willing to play, but one which has lead to various divisions within the Christian community.

We will go forward on the principle of the Analogy of Scripture. Simply put, we find where the Bible is clearest and then use that filter to understand the second-clearest teaching, then the combination of these two to understand the third clearest and so on.

The clearest teaching of the Bible on salvation occurs three times - once in Hebrew and twice in Greek.

(Rom 10:13)
"And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD Will be delivered; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem There will be those who escape, As the LORD has said, Even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.

(Joe 2:32)

(Act 2:21)
Generally, when God uses almost exactly the same phrase three times, He intends for us to pay attention to it. In this case, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This passage does not say "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord and is baptized." It does not say "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord and thereafter does not commit any of the sins in Appendix B." It does not say "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord and is an upper-middle class Caucasian who regularly attends a church service where the King James Version of the Bible is used and an organ is played." Everyone means everyone.

But what does "calls" mean? Must we say a certain thing aloud? Does this mean that every person who is a professing Christian is saved? No and no. The original words in both Hebrew and Greek convey something entirely different from speech. Perhaps the clearest analog in our own lives is when a child calls on his father. Even if the sounds he makes are not real words, the child has intentioned in his heart to have his father save him and has in desperation made some noise vaguely like "Daddy!" When we call on the Lord, we need to be less like someone in a tract praying from a script and more like a child screaming for our Heavenly Daddy to help us, because we're hurt and we can't run anymore. We are helpless and need to be carried home.

We now turn to the context in Romans, where Paul speaks of the Jews - his ethnic people - who are lost in their sins. Certainly, the Jews who faithfully followed the Law of Moses were in some sense doing the will of the Father, but they missed the forest for the trees.

Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.

(Rom 10:1-3)
If we attempt to be good enough on our own, our passion is misplaced. Here Paul dispels any hope we may have of salvation for all of the world religions. He clearly states, under the guidance of God, that ignorant zeal has not granted the Jews salvation. More importantly at the moment, this must inform our understanding of the method of salvation. The Jews and the Christians call upon the same God, aguably the Muslims as well. But two of these call in ignorance and are not saved. So simply calling on the name of the Lord in the usual sense clearly cannot be what Paul will mean in just a few lines. Last, we see in contrast to establishing our own righteousness "subject[ing] [ourselves] to the righeousness of God." To serve God, we must humble ourself before His goodness. We will keep that in mind as we carry on with our study.

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

(Rom 10:4)
Here is another big theology idea. Verse 4 teaches that when we come to Christ, the law is no longer the vessel of ouyr righteousness. That is, no code of moral conduct will be our guide any longer. This should not be simplified to only the Law of Moses, because the point at hand here is giving up on the righteousness of our own actions and submitting to God's perfect righetousness. The word 'end' here implies a completion. Christ completes what righteousness by rules and regulations could not = he makes it perfect to everyone who believes. Believes in what? Why, the preceeding clause. If you believe that your righteousness is not your own, but God's - it is.

For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness.

(Rom 10:5)

If we truly follow God's commands, that will be our way of life, not just something we do. We cannot follow God's commands externally without keeping them internally. That is simply the way it works. He who keeps God out of his heart will not find God in his actions. This is very relevant to the question at hand, but we are not ready to approach it yet. We will return to this verse.
But the righteousness based on faith speaks as follows: "DO NOT SAY IN YOUR HEART, 'WHO WILL ASCEND INTO HEAVEN?' (that is, to bring Christ down), or 'WHO WILL DESCEND INTO THE ABYSS?' (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." But what does it say? "THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART"--that is, the word of faith which we are preaching,

(Rom 10:6-8)

Since we are not as familiar with the Old Testament as Paul's target audience was, it will be instructive here to look at the passage Paul is alluding to: Moses' farewell address to the people of Israel.
"Then the LORD your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the LORD will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; if you obey the LORD your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and soul. "For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. "It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' "Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?' "But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the LORD your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. "But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them."

(Deu 30:9-20)
In context of the culture, Paul is likening complete salvation of the soul to a simple act of obediance. We need tot go up into heaven to bring Christ down to save us, or ascend to heaven for some special revelation. We need not go into Hell and conquer the grave ourselves. The simple formula for salvation is already in our hearts and our mouths - so plain that we can just claim it. Everything else has already been accomplished for us.

But, all of the other implications of that passage are before us as well. We have set before us life and death. Two paths diverge on this one central decision: We can accept Christ with the word already in our mouths, or we can reject Him. Life and prosperity or death and adversity. Blessing or curse. On this point we choose our side.  Paul continues - what is the word of faith already in our mouths?

that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, "WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED."

(Rom 10:9-11)
Is the mute man then condemned to Hell? Of course not. "With your mouth" is an expression, indicating that you must not be ashamed of your change of heart, but proclaim it. Confess Jesus is Lord and believe God raised Him from the dead. Confess Jesus can save you, as your sovereign Lord and believe He has conquered the death from which He says He will save you.

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED."

(Rom 10:12-13)
There, we see the erse in context, reaffirming what we already knew it said. To wrap up today's treatment of the topic, we see Paul address a version of our problem,. Need we believe, or only call?
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!"

(Rom 10:14-15)
The answer is clear. We need only call - but to call sincerely, we must believe. To believe in truth, we must know. Pending tomorrow's investigation,let us suspect that a similar line of  reasoning will alleviate all 'different methods' and leave only the simple cry of faith.

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