5 — What We Believe About Salvation

The wickedness of the ancient city of Nineveh got God’s attention – so much so that He determined to destroy it and everything that breathed within her walls.  What she needed was forgiveness – salvation.  But God did not offer her that.  Instead, if she repented, He offered her a stay of execution.  Nineveh was not the community of God.  Salvation was not a blessing open to her.[1]

The idea of salvation involves three things: First, the forgiveness of sins that are past.[2] Second, citizenship in the community where God’s forgiveness, protection, guidance and strength are provided in the present.[3]  Third, salvation involves hope for the future.  All three blessings become ours at once when we are “saved.”

Salvation comes by God’s grace.[5]  We could never be worthy of rescue in the eyes of God. Nor is there any way we could pay the price for our own sinfulness.  So in Christ, God became human, and offered Himself as the sacrifice for our sins once for all.[6]

When we trust that what Jesus has done for us provides that salvation, we move toward Him, turning from the past life of sin[7] that separated us from God in the first place, entering his death that provides the payment price, and clothing ourselves with his life so that when people look at us they see Jesus.[8] This response is called “faith” and it is expressed in repentance and baptism and a different way of living.

The result of this move is that God forgives us of our sins and places us in Christ, making us a part of His body, His family, the community of the redeemed, the Church.  Here, we have hope for the future, an inheritance from God reserved by Him for us in heaven.

Can we lose our salvation?  Certainly not the forgiveness of sins that are past – God no longer remembers those sins.  Certainly not our place in the family of God.  But the future inheritance?  Yes.  Behaving badly is cause for loss of inheritance.

Can we regain our inheritance?  Yes.  When a wayward child of God returns in penitence and requests forgiveness, God’s love does not bear a grudge.  Forgiveness is assured, and the inheritance is restored.[9]

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Footnotes:
[1] This is the story of Jonah in the Old Testament. Nineveh is not promised an inheritance. She is not offered a chance to become God’s people. Her choices are two: change or die. Forgiveness is offered only within Israel in the Old Testament. It is exclusively the blessing of the people of God.

[2] 1 Peter 1:5-9 – 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

[3] Note the following from Ephesians 2 – 1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

[4] 1 Peter 1:3-9 – 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

[5] Ephesians 2:8-9

[6] Jesus is called the “atoning sacrifice” (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10)

[7] This is called “repentance” in the New Testament.

[8] Note these passages that speak of baptism – Romans 6:3-4 – 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. Galatians 3:26-27 – 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

[9] So John writes: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

4 — What We Believe About the Holy Spirit

As the Bible opens, God’s presence is emphasized with these words: “The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” From that point forward, the “Spirit of God” (sometimes called “the Spirit of the Lord” or the “Holy Spirit”) most often simply points to God’s presence.[1]

The presence of God’s Spirit within us designates us as special to God, separating us in the eyes of God from all other people, making us His children[2] and a temple for His dwelling.[3] The Spirit, however, is not just a mark proclaiming us as different. He is real divine help to make us different. The Spirit is the power by which we put to death our sinfulness[4] and become the kind of people God has called us to be. Those led by the Spirit of God, who endeavor to match the pace he sets for us, will find Him producing within us the kind of traits we find so difficult: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.[5] The strength of the Spirit empowers us to become like Christ.[6] This is the real work of the Spirit. He even helps our prayer life (Romans 8:26-27)! Unfortunately, because we so often forget who we are, and the power at our disposal, we miss out on being who we could be because we depend on ourselves and ignore God’s very real and close presence.

Too often the subject of the Spirit of God gets hijacked with the discussion of miracles. While the Bible certainly teaches the Spirit’s ability to empower people to do amazing – even miraculous – things, we should remember this is not the Spirit’s main work. The main work is to make us mature children of God. In fact, the Bible teaches that as we mature, the need for the miraculous, and the miraculous itself, disappears.[7] There is no text that teaches God cannot do miracles now, but miracles are not the focus of the Spirit.

How do we receive the Holy Spirit?

In discussing this very issue Peter called on people of faith to “Repent and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ and thus receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
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Footnotes:
[1] Notice David’s words in Psalm 139, paralleling God’s presence with His Spirit: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. The prophet Ezekiel wrote to Babylonian captives who believed they were less righteous than those who were not captive. Ezekiel shows that those left behind were not more righteous, but were in danger of losing the presence of God. Slowly, in chapters 9 -11, God moves from the Holy Place to the threshold of the temple to the east gate of the Lord’s house, to the mountain east of the city. There is, however, the promise that God’s presence will return to His people and that presence is to be found in His Spirit (compare Ezekiel 11:17-21 and 36:24-27).

[2] The presence of God among Israel, separating them from all other nations is a prominent feature of Isaiah 63. This presence is discussed in terms of the presence of His Spirit. God’s Spirit on or within certain people made them special to God and for His purposes (note Bezalel in Exodus 31, Moses and the Elders of Israel in Numbers 11, a number of the Judges, and kings Saul – 1 Samuel 10:6 – and David in Psalm 51. In the New Testament, it is the indwelling of God’s Spirit that makes us God’s family, his children. Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-7 “4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. 6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”

[3] Ephesians 2:21-22

[4] Romans 8:13

[5] Galatians 5:22-25

[6] Ephesians 3:16-19 – I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

[7] Prophecies and tongues and miraculous knowledge are examples of the miraculous in 1 Corinthians 13. Paul says these will pass away when “perfection” comes. The word translated “perfection” occurs three times in 1 Corinthians. In 2:6 it is translated “maturity” and in 14:20 it is translated “adult.” The book itself focuses on the business of the maturing disciple – contrasted with those disciples who act like children. It seems better to maintain the notion of “mature” in 1 Corinthians 13. Those who claim it refers to the return of the “perfect” one (i.e. Jesus) or to the closing of the biblical canon (often referred to as the “perfect law of liberty”) will find themselves hard-pressed to justify such interpretation from the context of 1 Corinthians itself.

3 — What We Believe About Jesus

I believe that Jesus was God, come in the flesh. It is the express statement of Jesus’ close friend John (John 1:1-2, 14). Paul wrote that in Christ, the fullness of God lives in bodily form (Colossians 2:9). The gospel writers tell us Jesus affirmed this idea repeatedly.

Recently, in conversation with a friend who takes great delight in ridiculing Christianity, he said: “What’s this big deal about a god giving himself for me? He dies on a cross. But he comes back to life. What’s so sacrificial about that? If I give something away, and take it back, what really did I give?”

But my friend missed the point. God became a man. If there really is a god, for him to do such a thing is astonishing. Why would he do that? It is a unique teaching of Christianity.

God became human to show us it’s possible for humans to live as God expects. He did it to show us what that kind of life looks like, and to restore a relationship with Him through the forgiveness of sins. He did it to assure us that He knows how we feel and how we struggle so that we will be confident He can and will help us. In the sacrifice of Himself, he created a covenant relationship humans would enter of their own free will, secure in the fact that this life is not all there is and that there is hope beyond it for the covenant people.

Yes, God gave his life, then took it back. But you see, the point is, He gave it in the first place.

Interestingly, in coming to earth, God gave up something He never seems to get totally back. He is born in a human body, dies with a human body and is raised with a human body (flesh and bones). He ascends with a human body.

Changed?

Yes, but seemingly never back to the same as it was before He came. The sacrifice began long before the cross and continues to this present day.

Why? Because He loves us so and in that huge sacrifice, he sets the example for our dealings with one another.

2 — What We Believe About the Bible

Every religion has its holy literature.  Confucianism has its “Analects.” Hinduism has its “Bhagavad Gita.”  Islam has its “Koran” and, of course, Christianity has its “Bible.”  Of them all, only the Bible claims to be the history of God’s dealings with mankind from the beginning, and of all religions, only Christianity and Judaism count on the truthfulness of that story as the total foundation of their faith.

As God interacted with humanity, His people began writing about what He did and what He said.  Along the way, a body of literature, divided by centuries, verified by history and united by a common theme began to form.  Present in every book, that common theme was: “God loves His people and wants the world to be those people and love Him back through trust, obedience, and love for each other.”  That body of literature was called by a variety of names.  Jesus knew its content and the Jewish people of His day knew it to be well defined.  Throughout, that literature claimed by its content to be the story of God and mankind.  By its vocabulary, it claimed to be the word of God – a claim that appears nearly 6000 times (similar claims appear only 8 times in the Koran and only 175 times in the Book of Mormon).

In the Christian faith, the Bible is our supreme authority, but that doesn’t mean we should be guilty of worshiping it.  The Bible is neither God nor Jesus.

On the other hand, without it, while we might conclude there is a God of some kind, but we would know little of Him. We wouldn’t know He cares for us.  We wouldn’t know what He wanted of us, and we wouldn’t know if He had hope for us.

Though written over a period of 1600 years, its youngest part being now 2000 years old, the Bible is the best attested document of antiquity.  No other book comes close to it.  Were we to dismiss it on textual grounds, we would also have to dismiss the writings of Plato, Caesar, Suetonius, Tacitus, and (more near our time) Shakespeare.  Without it, the Christian faith is but a straw in the wind, unworthy of notice.