In the last couple of posts,* I’ve outlined what I find scripture to say about salvation … and what it doesn’t say. I do not read it saying that everyone who does not hear the gospel of Jesus Christ is automatically lost and doomed to an eternity of torment – any more than it says that in the final judgment, everyone will be saved.
Those are extreme readings of scripture. Both require some rather torturous logic to reach them. The truth, I believe – as is almost always the case – lies between the extremes. But where?
Where scripture has led me is to a God who judges through His Son, and who judges the works of all. Those who have heard and believe in Jesus, the Christ and Son of God, have faith and the gift of His Spirit to inspire them to good works, which testify to their faith as surely as their words do. Those who have not heard still have a kind of built-in moral compass which should lead them to deduce the existence of God from the good works He has created, and to desire a life marked by good works as well.
Still, there will always be those who will turn their backs on everything good – whether they know the Name for it or not – and live a life full of self … which ultimately becomes self-destructive.
What do we as believers lose and what do we gain from adopting these conclusions, as opposed to more traditional extremes?
We do not lose conformity with scripture.
We do not lose the urgency of the great commission; the importance of the gospel.
We do not lose the sovereignty of God, nor His justice, nor His mercy, nor His desire that we choose the One who has chosen us.
We do lose a picture of a “God” who vengefully tortures – eternally – those who have never heard of Him, or do not fully understand him, even though they may have led very moral and generous lives marked by very few sins of a temporal nature and influence. This is a picture which sees only His justice, but little or none of His love and mercy.
We also lose a view of a “God” who capriciously says He was just kidding about justice for martyrs or victims or slaves; who yawns that it doesn’t really matter what you did or what you believed or how important you thought you were; who winks that you’re loved now and you have the right perspective about Who’s in charge and so you’re saved. This is a view which describes only His mercy, but little or none of his righteousness and justice.
We gain a glimpse of a God who perfectly balances justice and mercy; a God inarguably fair; a God who – even when meting punishment – does not over- or under-prosecute. (See Luke 12:35-48 regarding how unfaithful servants are to be treated. It does not speak of those who are not servants.) Nor does He over- or under-reward, since the work of salvation is His work. (See Matthew 20:1-16 regarding how servants working for short or long spans are to be treated.)
And, I believe, that glimpse is a much more balanced, realistic, accurate – and heart-winning – conception of God. Yet, the fact is, He has chosen to do that winning through us when He could have done it any way He desired.
So another thing we have to lose is our arrogance. (And I mean we have to lose it. We’ve got to.) We can no longer hold it over the heads of those who have not heard the truth of Christ that we have something they can’t have unless they do what we tell them to do. You see, it too often sounds like that to someone who has not yet heard the full Story. It sounds like a power play. It sounds judgmental. It sounds exclusive rather than inclusive. And it does not sound genuine. (No wonder. It’s not.)
At the same time, the other thing we have to lose is our own complacency. Not everyone is going to be saved. There are those who will themselves not to be saved, as well as those who are most willing if they only knew why and how and Who. And the Story of Jesus, the perfect example of selflessness and self-sacrifice, when humbly shared has great power to turn hearts toward God, toward good, toward belief and a life marked by good works that draw still more to Christ. It is important, because to those who have heard and believe, the promise of salvation is sure, written in blood.
So the final thing we should and must lose is self. We have to become the Story (Galatians 2:20). We have to learn to balance love/mercy with justice/righteousness in our own lives. All of our words alone will not do what must be done, nor are all of the good works we can do sufficient to communicate the Story. We must tell it. We must live it. If we who believe and act justly and love mercy will commit to walking humbly in this way with our God (Micah 6:8), we have something extraordinary to gain:
The fellowship of the souls around us whom we love – and whom God loves even more.
He has given us everything we need to live and speak the truth in love and win them, even the time in our days. Yet that time is a limited commodity:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. ~ 2 Peter 3:9
I believe they have a chance, even not knowing Him. But the odds of repentance and therefore salvation weigh so much more heavily in their favor when the possibility becomes a promise.