salvation

i’ve received two emails in the last two days asking (rather familiar) questions of our Toronto trip:

how many did you talk to about Jesus? 
how many were saved?
what kind of ministry did you do?

i appreciate the curiousity behind these questions.  they are questions from a past life and, if i were still in that past life frame of reference, i would be asking them myself. 

so, how did i answer, then, if i have this new “frame of reference?”  before i go into that,  i’d like to explore something that seems to be pretty prevalent in our church culture: God management.

this has been a big topic over the last week in our classes–how we as a people tend to put God “in the box,” create rules to keep God tame, narrow the Gospel so that it fits the God we know.  we want to decide what “salvation” looks like and how it can be attained (praying the prayer, and such).  we want a God who has grace for us and vengeance for those who hurt us.  we have to believe that “real followers” fit a certain list of characteristics: clean, hard-working, upstanding citizens with no addictions, no tattoos, no problems…because God only helps those who help themselves.

it’s much harder to accept the mystery of God. 

one thing I can be sure of is that Jesus had a special place in His heart for the poor.  He walked with them, shared meals, washed their feet.  He let them serve Him, feed Him, bathe Him in purfume.  He loved them. 

we set out on the streets of Toronto with the very same desire, to find “the least of these” as Scripture calls them, and learn the secrets of the Kingdom.  no other agenda.  no other plan.  ok, that’s not completely true.  we had direction from Larry, but it never included being the sole providers of ministering.

this does not mean that ministry didn’t happen.  God was faithful in putting people in our paths who both loved on us and needed our love.  some in our group shared scriptures, some were welcome by homeless alcoholics, some were able to provide comfort, some just friendship.  to each other we gave the gift of listening and wrestling, a welcome place for the sharing of stories.  our time was rich and full and we were so aware of Jesus’s face in those around us, and even in that which we saw in the mirror.  God was present…was He ever present.  and free to move in ways that only He can.

as the church, we have a unique gift to offer: hope.  we can approach the world in all it’s brokenness and show them another way, a way that leads to Life.  the danger in that becomes in thinking that we are the only ones, then, with something to offer.  that we are not like “them”…we are not broken.  that those who live on the fringes of society, are not productive or do drugs, could not possibly know God better than we do.  we have hope, but we certainly don’t have all the answers.  Toronto helped me to see that.

so, when someone asks me if anyone was “saved” on this trip, i simply answer:

there were seven of us, so seven were saved.  we were saved from ourselves.

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9 thoughts on “salvation

  1. Well said. I think the questions you were asked are part of a dying culture in America, the Christendom Culture. We are quickly moving into an age of post-Christendom though. And a lot of the way that we did things in the past as a Church simply will not work anymore. It’s going to be hard for a lot of people to accept that, but if we do not, then the Church will flounder here just as much as it did in Europe, if not more.

  2. Loving people and being a good role model is not enough, although it is essential. The message of the gospel must be added to the mix, in order to give your actions meaning. Being friendly with someone and having a nice conversation is not evangelism. Evangelism is an explicit confession with the mouth of who God is, and why Jesus died on the cross. But of course, if this is not backed up by actions, your audience will immediately see the message as being a hollow lie.

  3. And one more thought: if the church flounders it will be because people are too scared to preach the gospel anymore. Trust me: a church without a message will always flounder because it has no purpose: it is just an unnecessary social club.

  4. i appreciate your response, Daniel, and i don’t think there is any dispute about the nature of evangelism. i think the question is whether or not evangelism, as it exists, is really the way to go about bringing/being the Kingdom.

    the reality is, many people “know” who Jesus is…but do they know love? do they understand the immenseness of love that God has for them? do i? do you? the Kingdom is so much bigger than just proclaiming the Gospel. and sure, there is a time and a place for a message….but it’s not the only point.

    the poor and marginalized have just as much to offer us as we do them….

  5. My answer to your question is yes: evangelism is really the way to go about bringing/being the kingdom. In fact it’s the only way.

    Consider two possibilities. The first is that you go out to the streets and meet a starving, homeless, nonbeliever who is on his way to hell. You give him food and shelter. In the meantime he learns that you are a Christian, he learns what it means to be a Christian, and at the end of the night he believes in the gospel and becomes a true Christian. After you die you meet this person in heaven.

    Or.. consider possibilty number two. You meet the same unbeliever and treat him with the same kindness, but he doesn’t know that you are a Christian, or at least, he doesn’t learn that you believe the gospel. He is made warm and fed, and goes away slightly happier, but in the end he still goes to hell when he dies. How can that ministry towards him qualify as “bringing in/being the kingdom?”

  6. One final addendum: I am not trying to say bad things about helping the poor and starving, etc. This is a very good thing to do, even if one does not end up sharing the gospel with the person that they are helping. But this does not really qualify as “bringing the kingdom.” That is something that is even more glorious (and difficult) yet.

  7. then, Daniel, i would ask you….what is the Kingdom? is it merely about eternal value? or is it for here and now?

    i appreciate the discussion you are arousing; please keep in mind that listening is just as important as speaking.

  8. Romans 14:17 “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

    Based on this verse I would say the kingdom of God looks like living a life inspired by God in full assurance of salvation. And there are others that give us the same picture: Matthew 25:1-13, John 18:36.

    Again, I am not criticizing what you did on your trip. That kind of stuff is necessary for a true Christian to do (James 1:27). But the message of the gospel is the extra ingredient that takes our good works and turn them into a real, tangible, testimony that can point a sinner to God. And that, of course, is where we want all sinners to go. If we appreciate that God literally died for us, we will want others to have that gift to. Without the gospel all else is meaningless, we are just like the world, trying to do our best with what we have. But with the gospel our testimony becomes God working through us, the weak, but obedient servants.

    Keep serving the Lord, but also, keep reading the “meatier” portions of the new Testament (I Corinthians 3:1-2) so that you grow in understanding the gospel. I recommend the book of Ephesians.

    God bless,

    Daniel

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