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The Gray Areas of Salvation: Alternate Ways to Achieve or Forfeit Salvation

This post is a continuing discussion on salvation to read the other parts click here and here.

Alternate Ways of Achieving Salvation: Imagine for a minute that you are a Bible newbie. You are reading through and hearing these ideas for the first time. Don’t bring what your church told you these ideas meant, but try to look at them with fresh eyes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Matthew 5:3

What if the poor in spirit do not believe accept that Jesus died, was buried and rose again? Will they then not inherit the kingdom of God? Or what about the reverse? If someone is not poor in spirit but believes, will they not inherit the kingdom, or is this simply one way that you could get there and you’ve got it covered another way so no worries? Remember, in this long sermon Christ was talking to the crowds; not the church, not simply the believers or disciples, but to the crowds.

Wherefore he saith, God resists the proud, but gives grace unto the humble. James 4:6

To what extent will God give grace to the humble and unsaved? Does this mean they will be in a less torturous ring of hell? Or does this mean that God will allow them into Heaven?

  Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Matthew 25:34-36 Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me. Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me. Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. Matthew 25:41-43; 45-46.

To me this passage is one that brings up this question in my mind all the time. I think the passage is quite clear. If you don’t help one of the least you go to eternal punishment. If you help the least you go to the kingdom of God. There’s really no gray in the verses. So what does that mean for my faith? If the only thing that matters is faith alone and you have faith, but refuse to help the poor and needy will God turn you out? And if you have no faith, but help the poor and dejected, will God welcome you in? Or do we really return back to the idea that no one is capable of this kind of compassion without the love of God being in them? Is salvation really about doctrine or about our fruit???

What does this mean to our politics? Many on the Right say that those who take advantage of the system are ruining it for everyone else, but what if by taking it away we are turning away even one of the least? Would you be willing to take that chance? And if you give your money to help in God’s name and someone misuses it; isn’t God big enough to take care of it? Whose money are we fighting over here?

You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Matthew 7:16-19

This passage fuels my discussion on the above mentioned Matthew passage. Can only the saved do good/ bear good fruit? Or the reverse will you be saved if you do good/ bear good fruit? Christianity (protestant-kind) teaches that good works get you rewards, but don’t get you to Heaven, but it’s also implied that if you are saved then you are doing good things. So if that is true, what is there to be said for the righteous atheists? Are they saved and the good works manifest from their salvation? Or are they not really good works? Any other ideas?

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Matthew 5:10

To me, this indicates people like Gandhi. he was persecuted, but he was not a Christian. What about those who fight for righteous causes, but are not believers? Does the kingdom of Heaven belong to them or should there be a “but”?  Ie.  But only if they are saved. You know that’s the funny thing about these verses, not a lot of buts.

Whoever says ‘Fool’  will be sent to fiery hell. Matthew 5:22

I threw this one in for fun. But honestly, do we believe that anyone who says ‘fool’ will go to Hell?

What do you think about some of these passages? Do you think they contradict the idea that Christ alone/ faith alone saves put forth through Protestant churches? Do you think they apply only to people who have limited revelations? How do you reconcile them with that idea? Have you ever examined these passages this way before or thought of them as salvation verses beyond the Romans road and John 3:16? Is it getting any greyer?

Next post is on the idea of universal salvation/ reconciliation. I hope you stick around.

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20 thoughts on “The Gray Areas of Salvation: Alternate Ways to Achieve or Forfeit Salvation

  1. Is salvation really about doctrine or about our fruit???

    “Doctrine,” you know, is just a fancy word for “teaching.” And Jesus, among all the many other things he was, was a Teacher. And “fruit” was only one of the things he taught about.

    You’re facing the problem that many, many Christians face — in fact, I think it’s probably the main problem facing Christianity today, and probably the main reason why you’re disillusioned: Many Christians read some of Scripture and then ignore the rest. They take some verses out of context and pretend the rest — sometimes even the rest of the same statement — doesn’t exist.

    If we believe that Scripture is the Word of God, then we have to take it a whole. We can’t pick the parts we like and then edit out the rest. Jesus spoke a lot about the poor, about caring for those lost and wounded — just as God in the Old Testament spoke so much about caring for “the widow and the orphan.” When Jesus went to dinner, he didn’t go to the wealthiest, flashiest house in the city, but to the poorest hovel, to hang out with the poor and the lost.

    If you don’t know it (I only recently discovered it), I think you would really appreciate the song Jesusland” by Ben Folds.

    “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus wasn’t kidding. The rich young man asked, how do I enter the kingdom of Heaven? “Sell all that you have and give the proceeds to the poor.” Jesus’s heart burns for the poor. This is a radical message of self-giving until there’s nothing left to give. That’s what Jesus is about; and that’s what every one of us is called to be. And so many Christians are content to drive their fancy cars and sit in their cooshy churches and listen to sermons and never do anything about it. And yes, Jesus says they will be judged.

    Another song (and man) I love: “You Did Not Have a Home” by Rich Mullins. (lyrics)

    Yes, the poor, the lost, the hurting are the heart of Jesus. But don’t take these verses out of context. He came to save sinners. He came preaching repentance and turning back to God. There is a moral message there, too — but it’s not a set of rules and regulations: it boils down to this: Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, all your mind, all your heart, and all your strength, and love thy neighbor as thyself. Especially the neighbor who needs your love most. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10).

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    • Absolutely!
      I don’t know that I am being disillusioned. These questions have burned in my brain for years and years. I just really enjoy getting the ideas of other Christians. When I attend church I feel like I am the only one who thinks these things though. It’s nice to know that you are not alone.
      About cherry picking: Ezekial 16:49 is one of my favorites for that. “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” Huh the way the church teaches it, it was the homosexuality. I never heard this one preached. 🙂

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      • Well, maybe “disgusted” is a better word than “disillusioned” — disillusioned with the modern church and with many Christians-in-name around you. 😉

        I have heard that one mentioned — never a full sermon on it, but our pastor brought it up last year when the passage in Genesis about Sodom and Gomorrah came up in our Scripture readings. But, speaking of cherry-picking — homosexual advocates and queer theologians like to take that verse and say, “Well, look! Sodom’s sin was pride and inhospitality! Homosexuality must be okay after all!” Eh, no, it doesn’t say that. I’m sure there were a lot of reasons why Sodom and Gomorrah were so wicked that not ten righteous people could be found in them, not least among the reasons the nastiness about “all the men from every part of the city of Sodom” coming together intent to rape the two angelic visitors (which, besides being inhospitable, is undeniably evil).

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        • Quite true indeed. As you have journeyed with me thus far, you know I’m still muddling through my thoughts on what the Bible says about homosexuality. And yes, why in the world would you point to that passage and take only homosexuality not intent to rape or even the man who offers his daughters up to rape. There was A lot going on there. Come on.

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  2. These are good questions, SS. I believe modern western evangelical christianity is mostly based on Paul’s teachings, not Jesus’. I think we need to base our understanding on both. My brief answer to all you have written is to say:

    1. Some of your questions, and much of evangelical christianity, is based on getting to heaven and avoiding hell. But Jesus was more concerned about this life than that, and we should reflect that.

    2. The kingdom of God/heaven in Jesus’ teaching is on earth, so the sayings like blessed are the poor in spirit relate to this life and how we live it. Of course they have some application to the age to come, but I don’t think that is primary in Jesus’ teaching.

    3. Jesus used paradox, cryptic sayings, parables, exaggeration and other methods to make his teachings memorable. We need to take notice without necessarily applying everything literally. e.g. “If you right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out” and “FIrst remove the log from your own eye before you remove the speck of sawdust from your brother’s eye.” We can easily understand the teachings here, but it would be foolish to take them absolutely literally.

    4. Yes, I do think the parable in Matthew 25 contradicts a lot of evangelical teaching on salvation. Like many things in life, acceptance with God is not as one dimensional as we sometimes make out. Yes, we can only be saved through Jesus and by God’s grace, but it is clear from James and Jesus that receiving that salvation requires a response from us, and the response is both obedience and faith. Or put it another way, we need to have an attitude of faith and a love for people and God to please God.

    5. The question about Gandhi is a good one, and I think turns on whether you think Gandhi was persecuted for righteousness. Righteousness in Jesus’ thinking is not (I believe) simply conformity to some law or standard, but behaving justly as required by a covenant. So righteousness involves both behaviour and relationship. I can easily believe that Gandhi may have fulfilled these requirements, but I can also see that he might not.

    Thanks again, and best wishes.

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    • I think with numbers 2 and 4 you’ve got what I believe. This earth is extremely important to Jesus. Too often the church disregards it’s responsibility here to focus on the future there. I find this very un-Christ like. And the other, though not your point, alludes to the idea that salvation couldn’t occur without Jesus sacrifice, not necessarily that believing in the details is the only way to have salvation. But I wasn’t going to talk about what I really thought. Dang it. 🙂

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  3. I looked at both of the Matthew passages and in both cases, he isn’t talking about the whole world; he’s talking about true/fake Christians. In the first one, he separates the sheep and the goats, the true followers and the ones that just look like it. The goats claimed to follow, but Jesus rejected them. The sheep really did. And the second on, knowing by their fruits, the verse right before it introduces the paragraph and says Jesus is talking about false prophets. They both mean Christians should bear a certain kind of fruit (love, concern for the poor/needy, compassion, etc). I don’t think he’s talking about salvation at all, but like AFTER salvation, and how it should be lived.
    The “persecuted for righteousness” verse is kind of simple for me. What is “righteousness?” We may say “one who does the right thing,” but Jesus is the one who said it. How does HE define righteousness?
    I take that and I apply it to the first verse, too about blesses are the poor in spirit, etc. What we read into the verse, whether we have just read the Bible the first time or have years of experience, doesn’t necessarily matter. The Bible means something whether we figure it out or not. The reader doesn’t determine meaning, he/she only FINDS the meaning. That’s why we say you can’t take a verse out of context: you can’t apply your own meaning because it already means something. God wrote his word with a purpose. Your thoughts?

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    • What I got from it:
      The first verse of Matthew 5 says pretty clearly that He was preaching to the crowds and the disciples. There is no distinction made for the saved or lost. The church has always taught that it is to the believers, but the Bible makes no such distinction. It simply says the multitudes or the crowds and the disciples.

      Matthew 7 is using the sheeps/wolves thing not for believers/non-believers but for prophets. There is a separate distinction made for true/fake Christians in 21&22. And as far as who is Jesus talking to in this one. He is still speaking to the same multitudes/crowds as in Matthew 5. The chapters continues the same sermon.

      In 25, the sheep/goat thing is in the middle of the parable. To get the context of who He is talking about you should go back further. The whole thing begins in chap 24. The disciples ask Jesus to tell them what the end times will look like. When we get to 25 he is talking about how the people will be judged. It’s my contextual opinion, that Jesus isn’t saying I’ll separate them first then judge their works (but there’s a point to be made about that too); but that He is saying: I will separate them and I will do it like this. But if Jesus is saying I will separate them first and then judge them, the passage then says that some believers will go to hell because they didn’t help the poor. What’s there to be said for that? I would assume Jesus would separate them rightly.

      As far as Gandhi, there are many passages saying that whoever does the will of the Father by doing the the things Jesus teaches will be wise, blessed, or otherwise awesome. I simply took the one with the same context set up.
      I agree with you most definitely that the Bible was written with purpose, but we do define it’s meaning. Whether that’s the way it should be or not is a different matter. We can’t forget the cultural context that we live in today and how that defines what we take from these passages. Every sermon we’ve heard has built a certain way of thinking into the text. What if the church is wrong today? I think the American church is wrong on many many things that they take out of context and justify them. Reexamining these passages that we were told the meaning of as a child is, I think, very important.
      What do you think some implications of these thoughts would be?

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      • Lot going on here, let me try to break it up.
        If Jesus is saying on the Sermon on the Mount (or in many places), “this is what saves you,” then the Gospel really isn’t good news–it’s a harder law. Adultery is now defined by even thinking lustfully. Murder is now defined as even thinking “what an idiot.” And it’s true, he is saying that, but nobody can do these things. That was the point: “Here’s the standard of perfection. You can’t do it. That’s why I’m here.”

        With the sheep and goats thing (Ch 25), it says he’ll bring the whole world (all the nations) together and issue the final judgement. We’ve already established that works can’t save, so not serving the poor is not the ultimate issue. If it were, Jesus contradicts himself. God cares also about the widows, about seeking Godly wisdom, about integrity, about proper doctrine, yet none of these things are addressed at this vision of the final judgment. I think this is only one piece of the puzzle that Jesus gives, a telling that compassion is a sign of the believer; you can’t be a Christian if you don’t have even a drop of compassion for the needy. But it doesn’t match up with the rest of the Bible is concern for the poor is the only thing that gets you in or out.

        I’ll reiterate my first point with Gandhi. He did good, great works, but once again, works are never enough. Did Gandhi’s heart follow God? I don’t know him enough to make a proper judgment, and only God knows anyway, so I can’t really say yes or no. But from what I know about Gandhi, he seemed to follow a path similar to God’s, but not God’s. He did things God liked, but not for the sake of God; rather, he did them because they felt good and right to him. That doesn’t sound like someone following God. Again, I do not know and could be disastrously wrong, I’m simply making an analysis from what I know and I admit it’s incomplete.

        And for the last part, I think we agree, we just said it differently. Yeah, we all bring our own “stuff” into our interpretations, but my point is we shouldn’t, and I think that’s your point, too. The Bible had a meaning, we just have to dig it out and sometimes that means dropping our biases and such. And yes, that means constantly reexamining what we believe, especially what we were taught as a child. I agree very much.

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        • Don’t misunderstand me. I think the only way that anyone can receive salvation is because Jesus died. But that doesn’t have to mean that just believing on Jesus alone will save you, nor do these verses necessarily say that the only way to get saved is through works. To me, it is showing you that you weren’t enough on your own, so Jesus came to fill the gap, but that doesn’t mean that now you can’t reach favor with God in different ways.

          I’m not saying Jesus says this is what saves every person who will be saved. That’s not what I think these verses mean either. I am however asking if these things are present in one’s life are they saved regardless of their other beliefs and or actions. I still think that the Mt 25 passage is quite clear that if you forsake the least you aren’t getting in. And if you help, you will. The context is quite clear for that one too.

          Okay, this is how I am thinking of it. imagine there’s a lizard on the table. We have a book that says this is what a lizard does and that’s how we identify that it’s a lizard. But is it a lizard prior to our ability to detect the qualities of a lizard or is it a lizard after we find it’s qualities? The truth is, whether we can recognize it or not, it’s always been a lizard. Right? That’s the fruit discussion. You’ll know them by their fruit, and they’ll have fruit if God knows them. So what of those with different beliefs who bear the same fruit?

          What do you think of it in reverse? Do you think that Christians without a shed of compassion will go to Heaven after that verse? Or are you perhaps in the “they never really were Christians” camp. This is kind of where I understand predestination being quite helpful. I think I’m not explaining well anymore. Not sure if this will be productive, sorry.

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          • Yes, a lizard is a lizard regardless of what we think it is. But a chameleon does a lot of the exact same things as a lizard. Is the chameleon a lizard? No, it is a chameleon.

            For the Christians without compassion, I;ll stick my neck out there and say I’d see them in the “never-really-were-Christian camp.” I believe you can encounter God and not be changed (we’re ignorant like that), but salvation is a transformation, a 180 of the soul, if I may. To accept salvation, something has to break and give way for Jesus. You’re never perfect, that’s why Jesus gives the leeway of saying “even the least of these.” If your compassion is tiny, it’s still there. We still have to “tune in” to God, but if your heart is stony, then Jesus clearly wasn’t allowed to break it.

            You say at the top that “the only way one can receive salvation is that Jesus died. But that doesn’t have to mean that just believing on Jesus alone will save you.” Are you going the James route, the faith without work is dead verse? If so, I agree.

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            • Even the least of these to me, is the supreme lack of leeway. Jesus said even as you have not done it to One of the least of these you’ve done it to me. So if you’ve missed even one, you’re in trouble.

              It’s kind of the James route and it’s also the general and partial revelation. I think that if Jesus had not made that sacrifice there is no way even the Jews could go to Heaven. No one, faith no faith. Works, no works. Regardless. But it’s also kind of wondering that if you are serving God to the best of your ability with the whole of the revelation you’ve received, Jesus death will cover the difference. His grace is overwhelmingly sufficient.

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              • I think “the least of these” gives a ton of leeway! It’s not saying “up to the very last one,” it’s saying, “even just this little one.” No one can do everyone, yet Jesus seemed to hold us somewhat accountable for this, so I think it means that even if you do good for “the least” perhaps meaning the lowest, vilest scum on Earth (love your enemy and all) or perhaps just one measly person who doesn’t SEEM significant, then it’s a sign of your heart’s change.

                Yeah, salvation depends on God (or Jesus, specifically). His work not ours, we agree there. As for the partial revelation, as I’ve said, I do not know for sure what I believe. On one hand, I believe you are accountable for what you know. On the other hand, not so sure. Can’t argue with you on that one because I just don’t know 😛

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                • Huh. Interesting. It’s just one passage and we can get such different things from it. It’s amazing really.

                  Yeah, I don’t know either. I have what I think my God would do/be, but knowing won’t happen in this life. Sure is fun to talk about though. 🙂

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  5. Weighing in with this: In my opinion everything that Jesus taught was reflective of his understanding of the great commandments…love God and love others. Easier said than done, but the fruits of the spirit which has truly surrendered to these commandments are consistent with all the scriptures that you have cited. All scriptures on salvation when drilled down come back to the simple premise of unconditional love, even scriptures that relate to salvation through grace.

    Many christians define grace as a gift of God bestowed to allow us to accept God’s salvation. But what if it is the attribute of the spirit of God revealed in us? Such as the definition of “A disposition to be generous or helpful; goodwill; Mercy; clemency”. This is what defines grace for me and how we are saved by grace. It is a gift (favor) from God in that it exists when we live from the spirit of God within us. The fruits of the spirit are the manifestation of grace.
    As a side note, in the Septuagint grace translates from Hebrew “favor” and throughout the Old Testament the meaning of grace is represented by showing favor in doing gracious deeds such as being kind and generous to the poor. I think this is the meaning of grace that Jesus would have known and taught and it is consistent, as with his teachings and actions, with the commandments he gave…love God by seeking the kingdom within you and love one another as you love yourself and as I in the father have loved you.

    I’m looking forward to your post on universal salvation/reconcilliation.

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    • That is a very interesting distinction. I like that idea of grace being used as acquiring favor. Wow. The more I think about that, the more insightful it is. We are saved simply because God is gracious. I feel like this must be where Calvinism really came in. Irresistible grace. And your comment was perfectly timed as it really took me deeper in after supashmo’s comment.

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  6. Pingback: The Gray Areas of Salvation: Universal Salvation | Sacred Struggler

  7. Pingback: The Gray Areas of Being Saved: Accountability & Revelation | Sacred Struggler

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