“Salvation is not punching a ticket to heaven, but accepting an invitation to live.”
So one of my friends has been thinking about Christ’s words in John 14:6, where Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
“If you have any spare time over the next several days/weeks,” my friend wrote, “I’d love to hear what you think of this verse. Must we be Christians to be ‘saved’? Are non-Christians automatically ‘wrong’? How (if at all) has your opinion changed since becoming a Presbyterian? No pressure if you are swamped, just trying to get as many views as possible on it. I’ve been struggling with the question for 15-20 years!”
Well, I thought, why not? It’s a good question, and my work at the moment is pretty much that of a “Christian thinker.” So I’m thinking…
Stream of Consciousness…
Okay, I can either make this a research paper, or I can answer “stream of consciousness.” I think I’ll go with stream because it’s usually more readable. So this is my conversational answer to my friend, cut and pasted here into my blog:
CONTEXT: The context of this particular quote is a conversation Jesus is having with his friends at “The Last Supper.”
“Don’t be worried,” Jesus said; “believe in God, and believe in me. There’s more than enough space in my Father’s home, and room to spare. Didn’t I say I’m preparing a place for you there? You know what they say, ‘mi casa es su casa’ – besides, you already know the way there!” But Thomas was still nervous: “What are you talking about? We have no clue where you’re going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus pauses for just a moment, making sure he catches everyone’s attention: “The way, Thomas? That would be me… I am the way, the truth, and the life….” – (John 14:1-7, author paraphrase)
That moment! Oh how I wish I could have been there, part of the conversation, leaning in toward Jesus, participating in that instant of complete intimacy, where the Master speaks hope, and grace, and truth, and love all in the same breath.
Jesus had already talked about being “the gate,” back in John 10. “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved. They will be able to come in and go out. They will find everything they need. A thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. But I came to give life—life that is full and good” (9-10, ERV).
SALVATION: The idea of being “saved” – and this is the most common way salvation reads throughout both testaments – means to participate in the work God is up to. Or, to join God in God’s work, God’s initiatives of Grace. Salvation is an invitation – as Christ put it – to a quality of life that is full and good, abundant; “more and better life that [we] ever dreamed of” (Peterson).
This is something that begins now, then continues in life after life. Salvation is not punching a ticket to heaven, but accepting an invitation to live.
I believe, I understand, that Jesus forged a pathway back to God that I – none of us – could ever have fashioned on our own. Jesus is my introduction to the Father. Where this fails to ring true – in my opinion – is where it becomes formulaic, dare I say “proprietary.” Jesus has already opened the gate; we don’t have to pass someone else’s litmus test, or say the right magic words, to make it any more real. But I do believe that – at some point – we’re going to have to acknowledge Jesus.
“EXCEPT THROUGH ME…” But does that have to be now – during this life? Are we required to meet all the “entrance requirements” this side of death? And does “except through me” have to be in the exclusive context of the Christian religion?
Personally, I invite people to know Jesus because this is the best possible life that there is! Christ’s invitation to know God is beautiful, compelling, trustworthy, and complete! As I grow in faith I find this to be more transformational and more wonderful.
I can well imagine a faithful Muslim (or Hindu) who loves and serves God running into Jesus in the life to come, and saying, “There you are! I’ve been looking for you all my life; but none of the Christians I ever met looked or sounded anything like this!!!”
However, as a flawed but redeemed follower of Jesus, I would certainly encourage any Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or Hindu to follow Jesus now! Jesus is just too wonderful, and I want them to know him. And I suspect that following Jesus would likely make them better Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus.
RELIGION: So, no, I don’t think it’s Christianity per se that saves people (“saved” meaning responding positively to the invitation to join God in what God is up to). I think it’s Jesus.
I really do believe Christianity is the best religious structure in which to find, love, worship, serve, and grow in Jesus. But I don’t think non-Christians are automatically “wrong.” I think we’re all wrong to some extent, and the more we try to build a religion – any religion – as our scaffolding to climb to consciousness of God, the more we’re going to focus on the structure, and the less we’re going to rely on the grace and the mercy of God in Christ.
This is one reason I often tend to tell people “I’m a follower of The Way,” or “I’m a disciple of Jesus,” instead of “I’m a Christian.” I think Christianity has too much religion about it, and not enough Jesus.
PRESBYTERIAN? My experience of Presbyterian Christianity has been one in which I have come to see a clear cut difference between church members who join a religion, and people who become disciples of Jesus – learning to see him more clearly, love him more dearly, follow him more nearly, day by day.
Being a Presbyterian has encouraged me to think more about what I believe, and it has provided me with a helpful framework in which to ask challenging questions without losing my bearing. So being a Presbyterian hasn’t changed my opinion about salvation, but it has changed the way I form my opinions. My opinions now emerge out of my relationship to the word, my relationship with Jesus, and my struggle to live as a disciple – whereas, before, my opinion on things like salvation emerged out of what I was told I should believe.
Being a Presbyterian hasn’t changed my opinion about salvation, but it has changed the way I form my opinions.
- Presbyterianism is at its best when it invites people to know Jesus, to love Jesus, to learn more about Jesus, and to serve God in the context of intentional discipleship.
- The church – any church – is at its worst when it leaves Jesus out of the conversation, when it acts like a religion more than a gathering of the Body of Christ, and when its actions tell the world that doctrine is more important than faith, that doing good is more consequential than knowing God, that judgement carries more weight than love, and that – and this is what drives me bonkers about too many congregations – there’s really nothing about faith that’s exciting enough for us to demonstrate any enthusiasm and passion….
OOOPS! Okay, so that’s the longest post I’ve written in a while. Maybe stream of consciousness isn’t the way to go after all. But there’s no way I’m rewriting this morning!
Peace, and blessings – DEREK
Really good one, Derek.
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Good take, Derek. Another place that helps me on questions like the ones your friend asked is the radical claim of Jesus to be God. (i.e just a few verses later he says to Phillip, “… if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the Father.”) Jesus was not a prophet showing the way to God. He was/is God who shows us the way to walk with himself! Furthermore, if I accept that eternal life is a gift from God, then it is logically a gift from Jesus. Who am I to spell out the limits of his gift?
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Knowing Jesus. Then shall we know the best life, better and more than we have ever lived. I like the place of religion affecting opinion. It happens