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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Got Saved?

"The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day. Our salvation is 'external to us'. I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ."
-- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
In The Thinklings weblog, Jared notes a question often asked amongst evangelical fundamentalists, "When did you get saved?" Aside from the context of the question itself, it is worth noting that the answer given to this question is nearly always some date within the person's lifetime—e.g. "About fifteen years ago, in college."—possibly followed by a personal testimony if the setting is appropriate. Perhaps it is always a date within the person's lifetime but I am saying "nearly always" so as to acknowledge any possible exceptions (should there be any). Why is the answer to this question worth noting?

Because it reveals a tremendous amount about the person—what sort of relationship with God they have, their soteriological perspective, their theology and what sort of harmony their beliefs have with Scriptures. When a person answers with a date that falls within his lifetime, he is telling you something about himself—his personal desire, his needs, how he reached out to God—and probably something about his conversion environment—his pastor, the church, the friend that ministered to him, et cetera. Maybe a friend of his invited and encouraged him to attend a special event being hosted by his church—for example, the Journey to the Cross performance hosted by Willow Park Church here in Kelowna every Easter weekend, which the church actively encourages its members to invite 'unchurched' friends or acquaintances to—and he was particularly moved by the experience and responded to the altar call. If someone were to later ask him, "When did you get saved?", he will recount this date and his experience, telling that person about the desire he felt, how he reached out to God, how the music and message spoke to him, about the sincerity of the pastor, how this all was made possible because that friend invited him to the church, et cetera.

What is so wrong with all this? One very central and key element is missing entirely from the typical answer to that question: any glory to God. The answer in its complete form is consistently anthropocentric, or man-centered. From start to finish and in all areas between, from the initial answer to the personal testimony which elaborates upon it, all consideration of the experience is given in terms centered upon the creatures involved and the environment in which it occurs.

Do you suppose this is acceptable, or do you suppose—as I do—that this should give cause for concern and reflection? Is not the chief end of man to glorify God? Surely it is written in Scriptures that "whatever you do, do all to the glory of God," so that "in all things God may be glorified" because "from him and through him and to him are all things; to him be the glory forever!" While the Catholic Church has influenced, by its own teachings, the popular perception of dividing life into 'sacred' versus 'secular', do not Scriptures declare that all of life is under the Lordship of Christ and that every activity of the Christian life is to be sanctified unto the glory of God? In Jesus Christ and the Essence of Christianity, Bonhoeffer notes with acute dismay, "We all know that Christ has, in effect, been eliminated from our lives. Of course, we build him a temple, but we live in our own houses. Christ has become a matter of the church or, rather, of the churchiness of a group, not a matter of life."

When asked the question, "When did you get saved?", why does the answer give consideration to the creatures and not the Creator? When Jared offered his answer he said, "Oh, about 2000 years ago, give or take." Is this not a far more accurate answer, and one which gives all glory to God? I should think this is an answer that Bonhoeffer might find more acceptable and in keeping with his passionate focus on Christ as the very core of his existence; it surely reflects the perspective and teachings of the apostles. But even with this answer I take issue and would suggest an answer even more correspondent with Scripture:
Q: When did you get saved?
A: Before the foundation of the world, before the beginning of time, so that God's purpose in election might stand.
Scriptures declare that God "chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves"; it is written that our salvation and calling to a holy life was on account of God's own purpose and grace alone, not on any merit of our own whatsoever, this grace being given to us in Christ before the beginning of time; we know Scriptures proclaim that "those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified" and that this election by God was before the foundation of the world, before the beginning of time, before anyone existed or had done anything good or bad, in order that his purpose in election might stand—"not by works but by him who calls"—to show that "it does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy". Scriptures tell us that to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—"who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." It is by grace we have been saved, through faith—"and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast."

If we are ever asked, "When did you get saved?", let not our answer reflect a man-centered perspective, let not our answer talk about the creature to the exclusion of the Creator. Let our answer give all glory to God.
"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?' For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen."
-- Romans 11:33-36