Truly Saved

My generation of Christians love rationalistic debates.  And one favorite debating point is the question of salvation: among professing believers who is truly saved?  Whenever that question is raised claims and counterclaims fly: “You don’t have any right to judge us!” Or, “You’re bending the Bible to build your view!” And again, “Our faith offers the only true doctrine because it represents two thousand years while your church believes all sorts of new nonsense!”  And so on.  Stimulating, maybe, but not very fruitful!

But my generation has seen its heyday.  In today’s American church a reaction has developed among lots of twenty- and thirty-year-olds.  Blame it on debate-avoidance, or a cynicism towards intellectual puffery, or perhaps on a post-modern openness.  Whatever the cause an axiom for many younger believers is that everyone has a right to embrace their own theological preferences; and a person’s private faith should be free from critique.

This broad-minded impulse may not be as pronounced in the UK as in the US but the same youthful church wing in Britain certainly prefers a rather privatized and more relational, experience-rich faith than is provided by many current-generation church leaders . . . especially those who lead through the authority of a church post and creed but without the accompanying authority of a transformed life.

What should we make of these youth movements?  I think we should in some measure both celebrate them and be wary of them.  Here’s why.

Celebration is in order because these movements recapture the importance of personal faith, hope and love as bedrock features in a real community of faith.  While creedal traditions may define faith as a collective exercise—the acceptance of community truths to ensure community membership—my younger friends see a problem here.  For love to have any meaning it must be personal; yet the elevation of impersonal truth as an end in itself is relationally compromised.  Love is sensitive, compassionate, and open.  And true Christians are those who love others.

We must also be wary.  The nature of love is for a lover to be devoted to the one who is beloved.  But there can be a serious misstep involved if a given love loses its reference to the source of love: to God himself.  And not just God in generic terms, but the Triune God who “is love” in himself.  In other words we must not love love as an end in itself.  Instead we must turn to our source.  We must be reconciled to God before his love will transform us.   Such love is very different to a self-elevating scheme of mutual approval.

So as much as my generation has been foolishly rationalistic, the emerging generation faces the threat of being foolishly emotive. One seeks arid ideals and the other seeks relativistic relations.  And both face the threat of idolatry: of worshiping autonomous human intellect on the one hand, or a devotion to autonomous human experience on the other.  God made us to have intelligence and to enjoy experience but not as ends in themselves.  Instead we were made for him: to know his love.

The point of salvation is to restore what was intended for us in the creation and lost to us in Adam’s fall: a shared love.  In other words we do not come to salvation as a life-extension scheme but as a stunning reconciliation with the God who “shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  What sort of experience does this generate for all who respond?  We “rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (5:11).

Reconciliation is the critical concern: a saved person is now reconciled to God in response to God’s love expressed in Christ’s death on the cross.  Our hearts are no longer selfish—whether in the older form of a rationalized but disaffected faith, or in the newer form of a relativistic sentimentality.  Instead we find the Triune God at the center of our newly awakened desires, with others included in his spreading love.

This is what it means to be truly saved.  We dare not settle for less.

8 Responses to Truly Saved

  1. Paul Anderson November 8, 2011 at 4:26 am #

    Sounds like those who are truely saved love God above all else. That is so true. That is what Paul called incorruptible love (Eph. 6:24). He also said, “if anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ let him be accursed” (1 Cor. 16:22). Sounds like Paul agree’s with this post to me.

  2. Kay Fisher November 9, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    I agree with your article, I believe we have allowed this very discussion to be used by our enemy Satan who will try to divide any believer in an attempt to stop someone from growing spiritually, by making us all question how God reaches out to us as individuals, when we become reconciled to HIM. We all have different stories of how God called us back into a love relationship with HIM, and how HE chooses to work in our lives and grow closer to HIMSELF is individual but also must have a common ground upon which we study and grow from. I truly believe that is Gods Word and through the working of the Holy Spirit, who was given to us through Jesus Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension back to the very creator that we are following after. In order to prove this is to READ GODS WORD. When we live out the Bible we should be a light and example of Christ in every area of our lives. Paul talks constantly about Unity and our reflection of Christ. We must stay in Gods word daily. His message of Love is for everyone. To share that means we agree to Love GOD ABOVE ALL ELSE and stay at His feet listening to Gods voice so that we can carry out the Great Commission (reaching out in Jesus name to the world).

  3. Jonathan November 20, 2011 at 1:34 am #

    Throughout the generations there does always seem to be a cycle where a weakness of previous generation is countered strongly in that issue but it then creates its own weakness and so the cycle continues. What is interesting looking at being saved and that we are reconciled; every step of the way God does all the work as we can’t save ourselves he even sent his son to die for us, what a great act of love from a groom to his bride, the only thing we have to do is to respond to his love. Due to the nature of love our response is something we have to do not as a thought processed evaluating level as that would be difficult to define as love, love can only be responded with acceptance or rejection. So the argument of “are we truly saved” it seems like a group form of “how am I doing” and looking to others on how to evaluate whether we are worthy or not, rather than looking to God knowing we are not worthy but accepting his love and reconciliation which he invites us into.

    Thank you for that Ron it really gets the synapse firing hopefully what I have written isn’t too convoluted where there are big jumps, as brain to keyboard gets lost in translation.

  4. Ron Frost November 20, 2011 at 2:32 am #

    Yes, Jonathan, the problem of looking to each other for mutual approval is a real issue today, isn’t it. But so it was in Jesus’ day as he chipped at the spiritual leaders for their love of mutual glory while lacking a love for God (John 5; see chapter 12 too).

  5. Ben Scadden December 13, 2011 at 9:16 am #

    Very interesting points.

    You’re making me think about the whole point of salvation rather than whatever rules need to be met or characteristics displayed in a person to know whether or not salvation has been achieved. We always seem to be debating such things as ‘once saved always saved’ etc…

    Seems rather irrelevant when you put it in that light.

    As you say, salvation is the transformation back to what was always intended. What should have been and what will be. This must be a process that we all enter into from differing points and move through at varying speeds. The love we aim for and (hopefully, increasingly) display whilst we are doing it is what holds it all together. And what will always hold it together. God (and us combined).

    So how much of a role do we have to play in our own salvation?

    It would be great if you could let me know what you think about that. I’ve thought about it a lot, perhaps unnecessarily. It seems that we all have many issues, hindrances to salvation, that didn’t necessarily start with us but that we need to finish with and because of these issues many may have real difficulty even believing.

    Thanks for your post.

  6. Ron December 14, 2011 at 12:17 am #

    I think it’s important for us to read the Bible by beginning with it’s own premise that God is a Triune lover who created us to share in that love (his “spreading goodness”). Salvation in that context begins with our being invited, Heart-to-heart, to respond to that love that Adam spurned and we follow his lead in our own self-love (e.g. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world . . . . But men loved darkness rather than light”).

    In our self-love I think we’re all very prepared to find & fulfill a duty or task to offer back to God as a basis for our own salvation. But Paul, interpreting Christ for us, tells us that just doesn’t work (e.g. Galatians). Instead faith works through love; and that love is poured out in our hearts by the Spirit. John summarized the same theme in his first epistle: we love [God] because he first loved us.

    So we are merely responders; God is the initiator. Some respond & others simply harden their hearts until God finally gives them over to their desires. Paul spoke of this not only in Romans 1 but also in 2 Thessalonians 2, “They refused to love the truth and so be saved.” And, we can add, truth has its ultimate center in the one who is “the Truth”. When we begin to abide in his word and thus begin to “know the truth” we find the freedom of meeting our Father whose love captures us (all in John 8:30 and following).

    So in this framework we find a hurt lover (God) wooing a faithless, loveless person to himself: and he succeeds with those of us who respond as we find the emptiness of sinful self-love (in separate Bible images: as those who know we’re blind; or know we need a physician). This still involves a mystery (of why some respond and not others) but it’s a mystery set in the narrative of an original love; a love lost; and love restored. Hosea certainly understood.

  7. Ben Scadden December 15, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    Thanks Ron,

    You really touch on what I’m thinking in that last paragraph: Who responds and who doesn’t, that seems to be a huge mystery. God know’s but we don’t. Is that what predestination is all about? He know’s who will turn to him but the whole scenario still has to play out.

    What I mean by ‘how much do we have to do with our own salvation’ is the question about faith and works. You can’t earn the right to enter the nice side of the afterlife but once you start to walk the path your life does need to change. How much of the change is down to us? (Or predestination? – which is perhaps just God knowledge of the future). Depending on what you believe about that whole question you may or may not be motivated to really try and ‘walk as He did’ (I guess the only real motivation come from loving light?).

    There’s a lot in the Bible about how salvation is down to God and also a lot that talks about our own freewill. i.e if we live a certain way or don’t do certain things we may well find ourselves ‘nashing our teeth’ when all is said and done.

    So it seems that there must be a balance between the two. We dont have a right to salvation and can’t buy it – buy we can ‘not work/not change’ our way out of it. Parable of the talents etc…

    It’s that thought that says to me that we really need to understand the balance between what God does and what we do. Salvation is a gift from God and we have a part to play. A choice.

    Do you agree? (Sorry if I’m using you as a study aid!)

  8. Ron Frost December 16, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    No, Ben, I don’t agree if by “choice” you mean a human free-will determination must be a basis for salvation.

    Let me expand by taking up themes from many earlier blogs. I embrace a “free heart” [i.e. affectively defined] rather than a “free will” [a volitional self-determination or autonomous] version of the soul.

    That is, we are constituted as lovers who choose things on the basis of what we love; and not as free-will moral agents who choose to love God in a self-directed volitional act. At an applied level we are responders: those who love on the basis of the object of our love. The object of our love rules us through our affectively defined desires. Spiritually (i.e. most fundamentally & as those who are real believers) we are those who love God because he first loved us. We respond to his love rather than “choose to love”.

    This opposed pair of views was at the center of the debate between Augustine and Pelagius; between Luther and Erasmus; and it was elaborated at length by Jonathan Edwards in his Freedom of the Will (in which he dismisses any freedom of the will).

    Given the affective understanding of the soul we approach the question of predestination differently than do the supralapsarian theologians who start with a God who is “pure will” or “pure act”. I call them the Stoic Christians because central Stoic assumptions are present in their portrayal of the soul.

    Here’s their basic theology: God is necessarily defined by absolute volitional determinations that lack any affective engagement with his creation. With that version of God comes a symmetrical premise that humans are, like God, defined by our own volitional determinations. So the quandary of competing wills (God’s will versus our own) becomes the feature issue of salvation.

    If we dismiss this tradition and listen instead to the Bible’s own narrative we find a relational God who comes to us out of his eternal triune communion. In the spreading goodness of his affective and winsome love he created us as lovers who are bonded to him in love, so that all our “choices” are responses to his love – with love viewed as a mutual and reciprocal delight.

    Sin – taken to be a violation of our bond of love with God – came as all humans, in Adam, preferred to become independent from God’s love and instead embraced autonomy as a self-elevating identity, i.e. self-love. And with that seduction the Edenic version of a self-absorbed monadic deity (Satan’s own preference) allowed a theological basis for will-based autonomy: God is re-conceived to be the Great Monad (the ‘unmoved mover’) and humans are mini-monads (individuals).

    When we repent of these monadic themes (by our utter and delighted dependence on God in response to his wooing love) we find ourselves where we were first meant to be: as lovers of God and others, bonded by the Spirit’s ongoing love poured out in our hearts.

    At the heart of your question, if I read you correctly, is the seeming dilemma of why “some but not others” respond. My response: if we try to answer that question from a context of separate and competing volitions/choices we’re left to say that one will must be determinative and the other passive.

    If, on the other hand, we understand a heart – in affective rather than Stoic terms – to be the shaping feature of every soul (i.e. that we’re responders, either to God or to the serpent’s portrayal of autonomous selfhood) we find a compatibilistic solution: two hearts can have a shared love without either heart being ruled by the other. We are free to choose together through an alignment of desires.

    To press your basic question: how is it that some respond to God’s love, then, and others resist that wooing? Paul’s conversion is a workshop that can be explored here: his heart is captured by God but only after he recognizes that God has pursued him despite his zealous misdirection into religious responsibilities.

    The “mystery” of why God pursues some (e.g. Paul) until his heart finally responds and Paul reciprocates God’s love; and why God “gives over” some to their persistent self-love is addressed in terms of Exodus 34 after the golden calf fiasco. God has mercy on some but not all. Perhaps to shame the “wise”? Or to humble those who see themselves as “powerful”? In any case we see Jesus treating the latter group as those who refuse to listen & respond because they insist that they don’t need a physician, aren’t blind, have all they need, are already righteous/good, etc., etc..

    Here’s a bottom line: don’t use the common premise of a Stoic self-determined will as the basis for determining the affective portrayal of the soul. That is to beg the question.

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