Lector: In the last post here, it was pointed out that if there is anything at all that we have to do to “get right with God,” even if it is simply “trusting Jesus,” then salvation would be by work and not grace as it would be a transaction between us and God. So how does one get saved apart from some sort of transaction?

Auctor: The only way for that to work would be if faith came after salvation. The faith one has would be faith that Christ has already saved them, in other words.

Lector: So then what does faith do for us if we’re already saved?

Auctor: Why it saves us, of course.

Lector: Ah, of course, it… wait, it does what? If we’re already saved how do we get saved again?

Auctor: Because “salvation” isn’t always the same thing as salvation. The same word can mean different things.

Lector: So “salvation” means two different things then?

Auctor: Actually it can mean many more than just two things, but for what we’re discussing here it actually refers to three different things.

Lector: Do tell.

Auctor: Well, to begin with, there is ontological salvation. This is the salvation I already referred to, the salvation that God gives us even before we begin to have any faith. This salvation happened to all of us in Christ apart from anything we have done or will do. When Christ died all died, and when He rose all rose, and we have all been saved, ontologically speaking, in Him.

Lector: That’s a pretty bold statement.

Auctor: It is.

Lector: How do you justify such a claim?

Auctor: It’s not my intention to even try to do so right now, that would too big a tangent for this discussion. For now it’s enough to remember that if God doesn’t save us apart from anything we do then salvation is a transaction.

Lector: Okay. So what about faith?

Auctor: That applies to the second sort (or stage) of salvation, what I refer to as noological salvation. While ontological salvation is (among other things) the promise of the resurrection of the dead at some point in the future, noological salvation is freedom from the power of sin by being given knowledge of our ontological salvation and truly believing it. Faith, in other words. When someone comes to realize that they are already united to God through Christ and that there is nothing they have to do to please God or earn His forgiveness they are freed from the power of sin, which is the law or religion.

Lector: Ah, I see. But you mentioned three different types of salvation. What’s the third one?

Auctor: That would be what I refer to as eschatological salvation, the physical experience of salvation which occurs at our resurrection  and/or vivification, when the mortal puts on immortality and we can finally enjoy the full salvation that we had all along in Christ.

Lector: Interesting. So we’ve been saved, we’re being saved, and we will be saved, all at the same time.

Auctor: That’s one way to put it. As long as we remember that there is nothing that we ourselves do to gain any of these salvations.

Lector: But what about faith? If we have to have faith to have what you called noological salvation then isn’t that still a transaction?

Auctor: Not if the faith is given to us by God. Remember, we’re saved by grace through faith, and that is not of ourselves but is a gift from God. The only way that it can be a gift is if God gives us the faith. If we have to build that salvific faith up then it would be a work.

Lector: Even if it’s just the amount of a mustard seed?

Auctor: Even that would still be a work. We don’t have to worry, though. Only God can give us the faith that is necessary for the freedom that is noological salvation; we couldn’t possibly muster it up on our own anyway.

Christian Magic

Many of the evangelicals I grew up with were horrified at the idea of magic and witchcraft, all the while promoting the biggest magic spell ever, known to many simply as “The Sinner’s Prayer.”

This magical incantation, when spoken out loud (and truly believed), is supposed to somehow change the location that we end up in after we die from hell to heaven. Not only that, but speaking (and believing) this spell aloud is supposed to also spiritually transform the speaker into a better person, a “new creation.”

Of course there are some Christians who have realized that “The Sinner’s Prayer” is not actually spelled out anywhere in the Bible and they will tell you that it’s not the prayer that transforms your spirit and alters your afterlife itinerary, but rather it’s the accepting of Jesus to save you that does the trick. The problem is that this still makes salvation into a transaction between you and God. Even if it’s just a small transaction, a transaction it remains if there is something, anything, that you have to do to “get right with God.” Unfortunately a transactional salvation is not salvation by grace, it’s salvation by work, even if that work is simply “trusting Jesus.”

So with all that in mind, how exactly is one saved apart from some sort of transaction? Well, I’ll get to that in an upcoming post. 🙂

The Open Church

I’ve been a part of at least two really good house churches over the last decade. The fact that they were house churches, however, was not the important factor here, the fact that they were “open churches” was. This means that we didn’t have sermons or dress codes or have to put up a false spiritual front. Instead we had theological and spiritual (and secular) discussions (and sometimes even friendly disagreements), where any point of view was allowed because we recognized that every human has a different one. We had full meals, not just a piece of bread and a sip of wine. We could wear whatever we felt like wearing, and it was always casual (I never saw a tie once except for perhaps in the closet of the person who’s house we were in). Most importantly, though, we had fellowship. We became friends who didn’t have to hide the truth about ourselves from each other because we knew we weren’t going to be kicked out for not having fundamentalist views or preferences (or even for not having non-fundamentalist views or preferences). Even after each of the house churches stopped meeting regularly (because, in my experience, very few house churches make it to the end of year three) most of us are still good friends who enjoy hanging out with each other or just chatting on the phone. As I said, the fact that this took place in a home, while helpful, was not absolutely necessary. In fact it could even be done in a church building if the members were open to it. 

The key is in not trying to make it a house church but in making it an open church where fellowship is more important than being right. On that note, I highly recommend the book The Open Church by James H. Rutz. I was introduced to this book by my ecclesiology teacher back in Bible College and my life has never been the same since. This book was actually probably the first major spiritual turning point for me in my adult life. If I hadn’t read it I could very well still be the fundamentalist guy I was back when I began Bible College.

Make Them Prove It

Admittedly it’s only a few days old, but so far no takers on my Everlasting Hell Challenge here on my blog [June 20, 2020 Update: I’ve since removed comments from this blog, but I had them for years and nobody ever even attempted to complete the challenge here on my website despite many people reading it], and only one taker on the website where I originally posted it and so far he hasn’t come up with anything substantial.

So with that in mind I want to give a piece of advice to all of my readers that has served me well in life. If somebody tries to convince you of something, make them prove it. Sounds obvious, yes, but too many people just take it for granted that when somebody they trust tells them something it must be true. The problem is, just because somebody is generally trustworthy, it doesn’t mean that they know what they’re talking about. This goes especially for matters of theology. For instance, most Christians are positive that the Bible teaches that non-believers in Christ go to a place of conscious torment called hell for eternity after they die, even though the Bible doesn’t spell this out anywhere. Most Christians are also convinced that a good angel named Lucifer led a third of the angels in a rebellion against God and got them all kicked out of heaven and turned into demons (and Lucifer was renamed Satan), even though this also isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. I could go on and on with example after example of what I call Christian Urban Legends that Christians are convinced are in the Bible but are surprised when they find out they’re not. So I repeat, if somebody tries to tell you dogmatically that something is definitely true, always make them prove it. If they can’t, you are under no obligation to believe it.

The Everlasting Hell Challenge

On a Christian message board I sometimes visit we’ve been discussing the issue of hell, which got me to thinking, and I came up with a challenge for Evangelicals and other Protestant Christians who base their theology on the Bible alone:

Demonstrate convincingly that the idea that “those who die without putting their faith in Jesus Christ’s death for our sins, and subsequent entombment and resurrection alone to save them (apart from any works) will end up in a place of torment called hell forever with no chance of escape” is a much clearer teaching in Scripture than the idea that “hell is not a place of everlasting torment.” You must not contradict any other parts of Scripture or any other of your own theological positions in order to demonstrate this.

How to Lose a Dispute

I am declaring a new rule: As soon as one side in a particular dispute or disagreement begins persecution of the other side they have automatically lost and the other side is the victor by default (and if both sides are persecuting each other then they both lose; there’s no excuse for persecution, although the side being persecuted more loses just a little less 🙂 ). If those on one side of a disagreement have to resort to persecution to try to win, they obviously don’t have enough valid arguments to back up their position.

The Heretic has spoken.

Is it Evil or Sinful?

Regarding my post on evil on Tuesday, I was asked how I would define the difference between evil and sin. As I said in that post, I define evil as an action or experience which we perceive in a negative way. Sin is a bit trickier, but not much once you deconstruct it a little. As most Christians are no doubt aware, “sin” literally means to “miss the mark.” From what I can tell, to sin is essentially to fail to be perfect at something, so if I am playing golf and fail to get a hole-in-one on every shot I have technically sinned. From a theological perspective “sin” would be simply failing to do something God wants me to do or doing something God doesn’t want me to do (not being perfect from His perspective, in other words). What makes this interesting is that something can be evil and not sinful at the same time, and vice-versa as well. For instance, if God tells me to kill a random person on the street it would be evil but not sinful for me to do so, and likewise it would be sinful but not evil for me not to do so. Let me know if that makes sense.

Evil Doesn’t Exist

It seems that most people, whether they be religious or not, believe in something called evil. The problem is, there is actually no such thing as evil because “evil” is really nothing more than an English word we use to label an action or experience which we perceive in a negative way. If nobody had emotions or the ability to feel discomfort or pain then nobody would believe in evil. This goes for good as well, by the way.

One key to understanding all of this, at least from a Christian perspective, is to remember is that evil and sin are two completely different concepts.

Real Friendship

Here’s something I wrote back in April of 2004 on my old blog. I find that it rings just as true today as it did then:

I’ve made lots of friends over the years, both with fundamentalist* Christians and otherwise, and I’ve noticed something interesting. It seems that my non-fundamentalist friends are the only ones that I can be completely myself with (this includes Christians who are not fundamentalists). I have begun to wonder if it is even possible to actually be true friends with a fundamentalist because if you admit to them that you might drink the occasional beer, that you might be pro-choice, that you might not be convinced that premarital sex is necessarily a sin, or that you might not be convinced of any number of doctrines their denomination believes in, you will quickly become a pariah among those you thought were your good friends, or at the very least you will find these “friends” looking down on you. I think that all of this is because, while the non-Christian relationships are based on actual friendship and the non-fundamentalist Christian relationships generally are too, the fundamentalist Christian relationships seem to be based more on having common doctrinal beliefs and religious rules, and on maintaining an appearance of piety with each other rather than on genuine friendship. I’m not sure what to do with these thoughts, though, unfortunately. I should also point out that these observations are not always strictly the case, I do have at least one or two fundamentalist friends who seem to accept me for who I am, although I do occasionally find myself curious about whether they are looking down on me behind my back and what they are saying to others about me when I’m not around (not that it matters, but I do get curious every now and then).

*By “fundamentalist” I am refering to the more conservative, often evangelical Christian who insists on living more by “the law” or flesh than by the Spirit.

What Must I Do To Be Saved?

Someone I follow recently asked the question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Well, presuming for a moment that the Bible is meant to be taken as literally as most evangelicals seem to believe, what does it say that I have to do (and avoid) in order to go to heaven and not get sent to hell? Here are some of the requirements I’ve managed to find in Scripture so far:

Say the right things.

For by thy words thou shalt be justified. — Matthew 12:37

Do the right things and avoid doing the wrong things.

And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life. — John 5:29

For you render to each one according to his works. — Psalm 62:12

When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness … and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul. — Ezekiel 18:27

For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Matthew 16.27

Who will render to each one according to his deeds. … For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified. — Romans 2:6, 13

For we must all appear before the jugment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. — 2 Corinthians 5:10

Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. — 2 Corinthians 11:15

The Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work. — 1 Peter 1:17

I will give unto every one of you according to your works. — Revelation 2:23

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. — Revelation 20:12-13

Feed the hungry, give beverages to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. — Matthew 25:34-36

Have faith.

A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. — Romans 3:28

Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. — Romans 5:1

A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ. — Galatians 2:16

For by grace are ye saved through faith. — Ephesians 2:8

Have faith and do works.

Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. James 2:17

Believe in Jesus.

Whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. — John 3:16

He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life — John 3:36

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. — Acts 16:31

Just ask.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.– Matthew 7:7-8

Be born again.

Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. — John 3:3
– Hear the words of Jesus and believe in whoever sent him.

He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life. — John 5:24

Be born of water and the spirit.

Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. — John 3:5

Be washed by the Holy Ghost.

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost. — Titus 3:5

Be converted and become like a little child.

Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. — Matthew 18:3

Believe and be baptized.

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved. — Mark 16:16

Call upon the name of the Lord.

Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved. — Acts 2:21

Confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.

If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. — Romans 10:9

Follow the commandments (at least some of them).

If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. — Matthew 19:17-19

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life. — Revelation 22:14

– Keep the commandments (at least some of them), sell everything you own, give all your money to the poor, and follow Jesus.

And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? … Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honour thy father and thy mother. And he said, All these have I kept from my youth up. … lackest thou one thing: sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me.– Luke 18:18-22

Be poor, not rich.

Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. — Matthew 19:23-24

But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. — Luke 6:24

Ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. — James 5:1

– Keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.

Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus. — Revelation 14:12

Endure to the end.

He that endureth to the end shall be saved. — Matthew 10:22, 24:13, Mark 13:13

Avoid judging other people.

Judge not, and ye shall not be judged. — Matthew 7:1, Lk.6:37

Have lots of babies (if you’re a woman) and make sure they don’t backslide when they grow up.

And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. — 1 Timothy 2:14-15

Be given by the Father and come to the Son.

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. — John 6:37

Be chosen (predestinated) by God.

For many are called, but few are chosen. — Matthew 22:14

For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate … Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.– Romans 8:29-30
For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth. — Romans 9:11

He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love. Having predestinated us … according to the good pleasure of his will. — Ephesians 1:4-5

Be more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees.

Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. — Matthew 5:20

Eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood.

Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. — John 6:53-54

Don’t blaspheme the Holy Ghost.

And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven. — Luke 12:10

Mutilate your body whenever it offends you.

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. — Mark 9:43-48

Okay, that’s all I could come up with for now, but I’m sure I missed some so I hope somebody can fill me in on the rest because I don’t want to risk going to that place where I have a worm that doesn’t die (no idea what that means but it doesn’t sound fun) and there’s a fire that isn’t quenched.

The above list should get us asking ourselves why we choose certain Bible verses over others when it comes to salvation (not to mention everything else, but we’ll focus on soteriology for now). Many of those verses, if taken literally, contradict each other, yet seem to clearly tell us that the requirements in each verse is necessary for salvation. Many Christians take the last half of Mark 9:43-48 literally when they want to prove that there is an everlasting torture chamber called hell, for instance, and yet they don’t seem to take the first half very seriously or else we’d see a lot more blind and disabled Christians. So, what reasons do we use to justify picking the particular verses we prefer when it comes to soteriology and deciding that the rest of the verses are not meant to be taken literally?