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Christianity 101

Spare Tires and Salvation

It will eventually happen. You’re driving down the freeway, confident in your vehicle and you hear, “BLAM!” You pull over to the side of the road and examine the pathetic, shredded remains of what used to be a rather expensive tire. Looking about, you see no sign of the Highway Patrol (where are these people when you need them?) or the Auto Club.

Not to fear; you have a spare in the trunk. You excavate the trunk, carefully keeping all those aluminum cans you’re going to recycle some day, until you get down to the flat bottom surface. Under there, the dealer promised, is your spare tire.

You lift the felt liner, pull up the hardboard flooring and see. What is that anemic black doughnut staring back at you? Surely not a spare for your high performance driving style! No, this thing comes with clear instructions like, “Do not go over 50 miles per hour,” and “Not valid for more than 50 miles.” In other words, just enough to limp into the nearest tire store—and no more.

Some folks ask about salvation in the same way. They’ve heard the word and decided that they ought to get saved. But they don’t want to invest a nickel more than necessary! Those are the folks who would ask, “What’s the bare minimum I need to do to be saved?” These are the same people who designed your spare “tire.”

Fortunately there are those who ask, “What do I need to do now?” They’ve heard the word, they believe, and they want to know what to do next. Isn’t it typical of those who are sincere that they ask for directions rather than explanations? So in this lesson we’re going to lay out what’s the right answer to “What do I do next?” To understand this, we are going to spend some time describing the personal relationship known as “faith.” Faith is what gives the full life of the Christian.

The Faith Relationship

The deepest of human relationships revolve around the concept of trust. Should you have the privilege of a successful marriage, you will find that trust in your spouse is an absolute essential. This mutual trust relationship is called faith. The word is used in many different ways, but in this lesson we will focus on the relationship aspect.

Trust relationships are often made between equals—for example, you and your spouse, you and your friend or even you and your business partner. The faith relationship, however, is not a relationship between equals. It’s a relationship between you and God. Because it’s not between equals, your role and his role are not the same.

For example, this is not a “mutual benefit” relationship. God doesn’t need anything his creation can provide. So we can’t approach this relationship from a “you scratch my back, God, and I’ll scratch yours” point of view. God defines the terms.

It also means that the relationship won’t work if you’re a skeptic or a cynic. Indeed, God is quite specific about the fact that unless you trust Him completely, this relationship is very weak at best. But if you will trust him completely, it will grow in power and strength. The cynic who sneers or the skeptic who demands proof will get nothing out of the relationship—because they put nothing into it.

That causes some a little difficulty. After all, if he’s God, what’s wrong with a few miracles just to convince me? Remember: this is not a relationship between equals. You are asking the Almighty to perform tricks like a dog at the end of a leash. He just might refuse.

What, specifically, does he want you to have faith in? Simply this: that Jesus is indeed who he claimed to be—the Christ, or Messiah. That he died on a cross for our sins, and that believing this to be the truth (and acting on it) is both necessary and sufficient for eternal life.

Salvation by Grace

Of course, God is not asking you to do this just because He’s a nice guy. He offers salvation to you. We say that this is salvation “by grace.” You’ll hear that phrase a lot; It is God’s way of saying that he’s taken all the risk out of this for you.

Grace, you see, is God’s gift to those who will accept it. It is his “unmerited favor.” We call God our Heavenly Father, and like earthly fathers he gives without asking anything in return. Anyone who has a two year old can give you a working definition of grace. Trust this father of three—it really is unmerited favor, driven by love.

That doesn’t mean that grace is cheap, or thrown at everyone no matter whom. Indeed, this grace cost the life of Jesus on the cross. Therefore, it is extremely precious, and we should treat it with the utmost of respect and gratitude.

What should our reaction to grace be?

·         First, there is gratitude. Your mother taught you to say “thank you” and now you have all of eternity to say it.

·         More than that, there is praise. Salvation is an extraordinary gift, and could only be given by the Heavenly Giver. He is worthy of our praise; he’s earned it.

·         Finally, there is a sense of awe. Ever have a narrow escape from a traffic accident? Did you ever say, “God was really looking out for me that time?” Consider that without his grace you were headed straight for hell—but he rescued you.

You may find it strange, but God makes no attempt to sort out the “worthy” sinners (such as you and I) from the “unworthy” sinners (well, you know who). He offers this grace to all who will apply to him for it. We have the choice to accept it or reject it. We call that ability to choose “free will.”

·         Notice that he does not use force in this. It is a trust relationship; in such a relationship, force has no place. The Omnipotent One has voluntarily limited himself in this.

·         Though some Christians disagree, it means that we ultimately decide. God does not predestine us to become Christians or not. (If you think not, then perhaps you’re predestined to believe in predestination, and I’m not).

·         Because of that free will, some will say no. Some of those who say no will be people whom we love. This can be very frustrating. But our Lord used no force to convince others, neither should we.

Steps in the plan

All this chatter about faith and trust must ultimately come down to action. Your wife may love you deeply, but one of the two of you is going to have to take out the garbage. But even taking out the garbage can be an act of love.

So what is it that God wants me to do? Not the bare minimum to get by, not the exercise routine for SuperChristian, but just the ordinary human being; what’s he supposed to do?

Repent

He first tells you to repent. “Repent” is now such a church word that most people really have no idea what it means. It means (in simple English) to make a U-turn in your life. Whatever it is in your life that you know has been wrong, renounce it, keep away from it and ask God to help you do that. This is the start of the new life.

Confession

This sounds a little odd at first, but think of it this way: if you’re really turning your life around, it sure helps to announce the fact. That way the rest of us know just whose side you’re on.

Obedience

If repentance is the U-turn, obedience is continuing to go in the right direction. This is how we keep in touch with God in our new lives.

·         Obedience removes the barrier of sin between us and God. If you have small children, you know that disobedience must be punished before you can go back to being Mr. Nice Dad (or Mom, or whatever).

·         Obedience also sharpens our spiritual sight. This is really pretty easy to understand; you are practicing the Christian life and therefore you get better at it.

·         Finally, there is the question of reward. God knows that we need to be rewarded. He promises that reward at Judgment Day—to all those who have been obedient.

Baptism

God commands that all new Christians be baptized. There are many forms of baptism practiced by various church bodies. In our congregation, we’ve reduced the problem to simply this: what did Jesus’ disciples do? If they did it, we’re safe in imitating it.

They performed baptism, as far as we know, in this way:

·         They baptized by immersion. The word in the original meant “to submerge.” It symbolically represents death, burial (in a watery grave) and resurrection.

·         They did not baptize infants. Some churches recognize this as valid; in general, we do not.

It should be acknowledged that good, sincere Christians disagree on this. But it’s really tough to go wrong in doing what Christ and the Apostles did.

We’ve spent a fair amount of time on some of the most argued-over sections of Christianity. It can be confusing. One church believes in predestination; another does not. One church pours water over you; another sprinkles it on you; we immerse. How are you supposed to decide?

May I give you a test that has been helpful over many, many years? It comes from a Medieval monk named Thomas a Kempis. It is simply this: Suppose you really knew the right answer. What would you do differently?

Suppose we really are predestined; would we do anything different? Suppose God thinks sprinkling is OK, but you’ve been immersed. He’ll take that too.

If you can’t come up with a practical difference in your daily life, then maybe it’s nothing but theological hairsplitting. Which may explain why monks were bald.

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