In Which Lindsey Rants about the “Free Gift” of Salvation.

So, we’ve all heard it said that “Salvation is a free gift.”

I hate that phrase.  It’s dishonest at best and a flat out lie at the worst.  I know what people are saying, what they are basically saying is that all you need to do to get to heaven is say a simple prayer, it’s the easiest thing in the world, everyone should do it just in case. Ugh.  I’m a gentle person, but that makes me want to smack someone.  First; if one says “Jesus I’m so sorry forgive me of all my sins” but they don’t mean it, it’s only fire insurance, do you think Jesus is going to see that as honoring his sacrifice?  If we bully and nag and break people into saying a simple prayer just in case do you really think that is honoring God or that God will honor us in turn?

Oh, but someone might say, it’s still a free gift, even if it’s not meant that way.  If we wish to follow Jesus, he asks for nothing more.  Oh, really?  Really?  Please, explain to me in the Bible where someone told Jesus “I want to follow you”, and Jesus responded, “I ask nothing of you but your desire to follow me.”

I call bullshit.

The statement that Jesus asks nothing more than that we follow him is semantically sound.  Yes, all Jesus wants is our obedience in following him, but that obedience to actually follow him leads to all sorts of things like us having to treat our family like they are dead (Matthew 8), selling all of our possessions to give to the poor (Matthew 10), denying our own selves (Mark 8).  Not only does this call to sacrifice for Jesus’ sake come in those three places, but it is reiterated throughout every single gospel.  There is a cost.  The disciples did not walk beside Jesus down roads lined with flowers and people cheering (okay, they did that once, but Jesus was crucified shortly thereafter so I’d still argue that it’s not entirely a pleasant affair), it was a long hard slog through many trying, sometimes treacherous, and sometimes terrifying affairs.  In Jesus’ scant two years of ministry he still somehow managed to change the world.  Not because of hearts and roses and come on everybody let’s love one another- there was that, one cannot deny that- but there was also work.

There was sacrifice.

There were tears shed, long and hard prayers, countless miles logged and nights that dwindled into morning.

There was blood shed.

Ask the disciples, that last night in the garden, if they felt that their salvation was something free.  As Peter, as the rooster crowed, if he counted any cost.  Ask Paul, as he lay suffering blind, if he felt that Jesus’ call was a joyous thing.

It’s not free.

It’s worth the price, but it is not free.

I hear the words “Salvation’s Free Gift” with the same jaded ear that hears a salesperson in the mall asking if I want a free bottle of perfume.  Sure, it’s free, after I finish paying out all the contingencies.  Now, at this point I’m sure someone is thinking about the fact that we pray the Sinner’s Prayer and are guaranteed entrance into Heaven and all those nasty bits are about the reality of pursuing a holy life here on earth.  I could argue the theology that backs that realm of thought, but instead I’ll ask a practical question:

What use is it to be saved, if one does not actually desire to live out that salvation?  What use is my own salvation, if I have no desire to live in God’s light and offer up love for my fellow man?

If the only reason I gave my life to Christ was for my own selfishness, I don’t want him to let me into heaven.

And any Christian that would trap someone in selfishness in order to get them to follow God is as foul as the salesperson who claims that the bottle of perfume is free.  That’s no way to run a Kingdom, especially in the name of God.

/end rant

Don’t worry about tomorrow

As I’ve written about on this blog before (to the consternation of some fellow Christians who fear for my salvation, I’m afraid) I’m not sure I believe in Hell.  When reading through the Bible I see a lot of allusions to torment, but the only concrete references to a place of eternal darkness are in reference to angels that have disobeyed, not humans.

But I don’t want to get into another discussion about that.  Trust me, I’ve studied the theology, I’m not sure what I believe.  What I want to talk about right now is how that fact has absolutely no affect on my own desire to obey God and to convince others of God’s goodness.  This is how it works:  Jesus himself said not to concern yourself with tomorrow.  I feel the same thing extends to the afterlife as well.  I trust in God’s love for me, I trust in my love for him, eternity holds no fear for me.  And as for others, My fear for their salvation is based not around eternal torment but in their satisfaction with this life.

I am sure of the fact that the greatest joy and satisfaction, the deepest pleasure and the most profound peace is found in sensing God’s love for you.  Daily I am surrounded by people who are facing difficult financial times and life crisis of all kinds.  They talk about the lack of security they feel.  They talk about the fear, the mundaneness of each day fading into the next with no hope of relief.  These people don’t need to be spared the hell of eternity- they need to be spared the hell of today.  They need to feel God’s love, the love of the Christian brethren.  They need to feel the hope that comes from learning to trust God, learning to put their lives in his hands, learning obedience, learning to grow and mature and see their own lives uplift those of others.

I think that Christianity has as a whole sold itself painfully short by making the Salvation message one solely about eternity and a canned sinner’s prayer.  Salvation is not only about tomorrow- it’s about today.  It’s about saving ourselves from our present circumstances and saving those around us.  The Jews of Jesus time weren’t expecting a Messiah to get them into heaven, they were expecting a Messiah to deliver the Israelites out of political oppression.  Jesus just had something else in mind- delivering them from the oppression of a religious caste that had turned it’s back on God’s love for his people.

Sometimes I fear that modern Christianity has done much the same.  We’ve surrounded ourselves with twelve steps to discipleship and forty days to community and seven rules of prophetic prayer and ten ways to worship God and this and that and the other thing, and somehow in the midst of all of these “simple solutions” for the modern Christian we’ve lost sight of what Christianity was meant to be.

Us, loving each other.  Us, delivering each other from oppression.  Us, feeling the love of our eternal Father.

Now, today.

Not just for eternity, but for now and always.

Why sin matters

As soon as I typed in the title of this post I felt the muscles on the back of my neck clench and I could very nearly hear an audible voice say “step carefully.”

It’s not a very pleasant topic, is it?  But rest assured- I’m not here to tell anyone they are going to Hell or they are a bad person.  All I want to talk about is why the topic of sin should matter to anyone at all- why it matters to me, why it matters to you even if you don’t know it, and why a lot of the times we think it matters but we are wrong.

So what is sin, anyway?  To put it simply, it is an act against God.  Against goodness, holiness, conscience, righteousness, nature- whatever ideal you pursue, when you act in a way that is contrary to your beliefs, you are sinning.  But why does it matter?  One may very easily say that the choice to (or not to) adhere to one’s ideals is a personal one, and it only matters to the person.  In a way that is true.  I believe in God and Jesus and because of that I naturally have a certain standard for myself- most of the time when I fall short I harm no one but myself.  Yet, even so, sin matters.

One reason it matters is that other people are affected by how we act.  So if my sin is one of anger, it matters because I could choose to adhere to my standards and by doing so become a better person- but instead I choose my own weakness and in doing so offer the people around me a cheap imitation of the person I know I could be.  Sin matters because sin makes us less than who we really are.  If we are children of God and we behave like the pocket-pinching orphans in a Dickens tale, it affects not only our internal balance but the perceptions and lives of all others we interact with.  To put it simply: sin matters because it gives ourselves and others a bad name.

This is probably familiar logic for most of the people reading this post.  We’ve all heard it.  “Avoid even the appearance of evil.”  We’re told to watch the way we talk, walk, dress, and with whom we interact to run from even the thought of the appearance of evil.  We’re reminded again and again that the world will judge God based on our actions.  And we miss the point.  Why?  Because while sin does matter for that reason, it also doesn’t matter for that reason.  While the world will judge God based off of our actions, we won’t prove God to it based off of wearing coverings and simple clothing and never fighting back and strictly aligning ourselves with communities of like believers, or everyone would be Amish by now.  Right?  Because we have within the church communities of believers who flee even the appearance of evil…

And yet, there is sin.  And sin still matters.  Has anyone here sung that old song, “Create in me a clean heart, Oh God- and renew a right spirit within me”?  It comes from Psalm 51:

9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Now we get to the heart of the matter, literally speaking.  Because sin is not about our actions, but about our spirit.  It’s about the internal alignment of all our energy.  Does our energy go to sinning, or go to holiness?  Are we lined up rightly with God, or our own desires?  If we are stripped down to our very essence, appearances lost, contrivances cast aside- if we were to stand in total judgment, what would be found?

Do we stop sinning because we hate sin, or love God?  Do we stop sinning out of fear, or desire for holiness?  Are we removed from even the appearance of evil because everything about us seeks after holiness, or because we are running?  So often it is because we are running.  Because we are scared.  Because we know what we want, and what we want isn’t good.  A boy can’t so much as hug a girl, and he says it’s because of propriety- that’s what he says, but what he knows is that his mind wouldn’t be on comfort, it would be on flesh.

And that is the problem.  The problem is that our sin isn’t born in our actions, it’s born in our hearts and minds.  It’s born in our needs and desires, it’s born in our souls.  It’s born in the fact that we make ourselves a priority, we make excuses for ourselves, we judge ourselves in comparison to others.  Sin matters because the fact that we sin so often and so badly means we are still missing the point.

The point isn’t salvation- not salvation alone.  Christ DID THAT.  It’s OVER.  The point, the fine tip on the Sword that is the Word- is love.  Love for God, for ourselves, for the world around us.  The point is who we are.

We are the Kingdom.  We should act like it.  We should want to act like it.  We should have to act like it.  We shouldn’t be scared of judgment- we should be ashamed of who we’ve allowed ourselves to become.  We shouldn’t just act differently.

We should change.

I love you. You’re going to BURN IN HELL.

“I’m telling you that you’re going to burn in hell because I care about you.”

“You feel conflicted because Satan is fighting for your mind.”
“You are depressed because you are living in sin and God is convicting you.”

Those are all lines that might be believable if uttered by a close and trusted friend.  But all too often I see language like that being hurled not by friends and close family, but by total strangers in blog comments.  I see people callously judging the choices of total strangers, saying that they do so not out of distaste or hatred but motivated by God and God’s love.

Perhaps on some level that is true.  But the picture it paints for the world is not one of a vibrant bride of Christ wooing the world, but of a hard-hearted people offering up cups full of bitter condemnation.  There is a very simple truth here:  You have to have people’s trust if you want them to believe you.  A horrible truth uttered by a stranger is immediately mistrusted.  You know in those movies, where the big muscled man tells the frail scared woman that she has to trust him?  You know how she always does?  That’s not reality.  People don’t trust strangers, no matter how frightened those people are and how right the stranger is.

People trust friends.

The backhand to that truth is that friends don’t tell friends they are going to burn in Hell.  You may tell a friend you are concerned for them, you may tell them you think they are making bad choices, you may tell them that you think they are hurting themselves…  But the callous language generally used by Christians with strangers is not the kind of language you use with people you care about.

Christians:  ask yourself this question-

When was the last time you heard someone in the Church tell someone else in the Church that Satan was messing with their head?  That they would burn in Hell?  That they were flouting God’s salvation?

You may have heard it, from time to time, especially in Bible Belt land…  But that isn’t the normative language because it is hurtful. That…  and if someone is in the church, we don’t use the “us and them” language.  Saying you are going to burn in hell, you need salvation, you are in a war for your soul implicitly implies that I am not, thus drawing a line between speaker and hearer.

That line, that thin black line, makes it almost impossible to truly win people over to love.  Why?  Because it destroys trust, it creates a deep division between hearts.  The true way to show people love is not by drawing lines but by crossing borders, sitting with them, listening to them, offering them the same trust that we hope they will offer us.

Someone has to trust first, love first, offer forgiveness first.  So often Christians seem to think that it’s the “unsaved masses” that need to do so.  Why?  There is no prerequisite to salvation.

Thoughts, additions, disagreement?  Log it in the comments, please.  😀