28 Dec 2014

What the Bible Says About Salvation

Religious 17 Comments

I want to keep this post relatively short to encourage more people to read it through. Let me offer only this preface, in case it helps some of you relate: When I was younger, I had this notion that your relationship with God was between Him and you, and ultimately when you died, you’d find out if you had lived a sufficiently good life to pass the bar and get into heaven.

At the time, it didn’t occur to me that someone might have a sound basis for arguing against my view; I thought spiritual things were very important, but ultimately not amenable to argument. This was even (shortly) after I had become a Christian after my long bout with atheism. I had accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and savior, but I didn’t realize the biblical significance of doing that.

In my case, it was the preacher who married my wife and me that set me straight, during the counseling sessions before the wedding. In the rest of this post, let me quote from some famous episodes in the New Testament to show why Bible-based Christians emphasize faith in Jesus, and think that yes indeed there is an objective answer to the crucial question of, “What must we do to be saved?”

==> In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are in prison. There is an earthquake and the prison breaks open.

27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.

==> In Acts 8 Phillip is led by the Holy Spirit to share the good news with someone reading the Old Testament:

And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”

30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this:

“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.”[b]

34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”

37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.”

And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.

==> However, lest you think the crucial thing is baptism, remember the thief hanging on the cross with Jesus (Luke 23):

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[d]”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

==> And of course, the most succinct statement, from the mouth of Jesus Himself, which you will see cited at sporting events (with signs touting “John 3:16”):

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

So there you have it. The above passages and others like it–especially Paul’s exposition in his epistles–are the foundation for the belief in salvation through faith in Christ. You may sometimes hear it expressed as power in the name of Jesus.

If you believe in God, but have a vague sense that as long as you’re not a really awful person and usually try to do the right thing you’ll make the cut…I empathize with that perspective because it’s a natural, earthly way to look at it. But it’s not what the New Testament says. I would encourage people who think Jesus was a wise teacher to read the above passages in context to understand this radical and initially counterintuitive perspective.

One last thing: If you’re a parent, you can at least understand the idea that no matter what your kid did, it wouldn’t make you stop loving him or her. Yet even so, you wouldn’t force your (grown) kid to spend time with you or accept gifts from you. I think this is one of the reasons God revealed Himself to us in the form of an earthly Son relating to His Heavenly Father.

17 Responses to “What the Bible Says About Salvation”

  1. Dave says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how someone like yourself, who is seemingly a devotee to reason and evidence in all other facets of life, fails to apply such thinking to matters of religious dogma.

    • Z says:

      That’s fine, but get off your high horse, dude. You self labeled ‘rationalists’ are the worst, not applying reason or logic to examine the underpinnings of secular humanism. Welcome to reality, man, and become a moral nihilist.

  2. jda2000 says:

    Death is such a commonplace occurrence, it’s odd that many adults haven’t worked out the implications.
    After you die, you don’t find anything out, do anything, think anything, feel one way or another or even exist.
    Death is pretty much what it appears to be. There isn’t a single shred of rationally acceptable evidence to the contrary.

    My personal opinion is that nobody would still believe mystical dogmas if some hucksters hadn’t figured out how to make money off the deal.

    Honestly, I am a bit irked that so many people lack the intellectual courage to reject all self-contradictory systems and just accept reality for what it is.

    Not that it’s really my business to arrange your mental furniture…..

    Thanks for the “good news” though, I’m sure you meant well.

  3. Joey Walsh says:

    It is very encouraging to see such an admirable economist and libertarian thinker make such a statement of faith. It is a relief to know that not all economists are hedonists and not all libertarians godless. Keep up the good work, sir. Maybe one day I can meet you at a conference/convention.

    • Z says:

      Because one is not religious does not make one a hedonist. I reject both religion and secular humanism. I see no intrinsic value in hedonism or any such thing other than one’s personal preference.

  4. Jim WK says:

    If we limited humans could come up with a brilliant observation that makes logical sense and is factually true, it could be assumed that God concurs with it. Of course, there’s always the chance that because of our limited minds we have got it wrong or been devoid of some vital information, but if we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt in being able to recognise logical sense and factual truths as a part of our worshipping God, then it may not be an outrage to credit us with ideas and observations that mirror the divine.

    That being the case, what happens, then, when we think up ideas that appear to us to be better than, or an improvement on, what we see in the New Testament? If we are smart, non-fundamentalist Christians, then one of two things happens; we either swallow a dose of humility and look for ways we are probably wrong, or we realise that the apparent improvement may actually be the case of the particular New Testament verse being broad and flexible enough to adjust to the adaptations of whichever age it is being assessed in.

    For example, verses about homosexuality or women being silent in church are easily adaptable to a more contemporary worldview because they are read as commentaries that belong in the context of St Paul’s time. Were he writing those epistles in the year 2015 he would surely phrase them very differently and capture modern considerations into the mix.

    There is one idea, however, about which I can’t say that applies – the idea of eternal hell. In my opinion it is possible for humans to conceive of a better alternative to the New Testament’s account of hell, which appears to consign some people to a dreadful end out of the company of God and the chosen ones. Even if there is a hell that exists as a temporary place of self-imposed torment where people need time to swallow their pride before finally coming of their own volition to embrace the love and grace of Jesus, the notion of everyone eventually being forgiven and being included in God’s eternal grace is a better idea than eternal hell for some of His created beings from which there is no hope of rescue.

    If God really is for eternal hell for some of His created beings then humans thought up the idea of everyone being forgiven and being included in God’s eternal grace. This means that, for me, that particular idea we’ve thought up is a system better than the one read about in the New Testament. However, Christians should concede that it’s not feasible for us to have a better idea than God, so it seems to me much more likely that what we perceive as the nastiness of eternal (stress ‘eternal) hell is, in actual fact, a human perversion of the real story of all eventually being forgiven and being included in God’s eternal grace.

    So what happens when the irresistible force of our seemingly better alternative comes up against the immovable object of the word of God? My guess is that such is the dynamic nature of the Bible that the seemingly better interpretation is either wide of the mark or powerful enough to be encapsulated in the dynamic nature of the verse.

  5. tomepats says:

    Not to say that most Catholics understand the subtlety in this or that your view necessarily corresponds with the Lutherans that co-authored this joint declaration. But I do think this declaration shows that, theologically, Catholics and protestants do not disagree as much as many may think:


    A relevant section:

    4.7 The Good Works of the Justified

    37.We confess together that good works – a Christian life lived in faith, hope and love – follow justification and are its fruits. When the justified live in Christ and act in the grace they receive, they bring forth, in biblical terms, good fruit. Since Christians struggle against sin their entire lives, this consequence of justification is also for them an obligation they must fulfill. Thus both Jesus and the apostolic Scriptures admonish Christians to bring forth the works of love.

    38.According to Catholic understanding, good works, made possible by grace and the working of the Holy Spirit, contribute to growth in grace, so that the righteousness that comes from God is preserved and communion with Christ is deepened. When Catholics affirm the “meritorious” character of good works, they wish to say that, according to the biblical witness, a reward in heaven is promised to these works. Their intention is to emphasize the responsibility of persons for their actions, not to contest the character of those works as gifts, or far less to deny that justification always remains the unmerited gift of grace.

    39.The concept of a preservation of grace and a growth in grace and faith is also held by Lutherans. They do emphasize that righteousness as acceptance by God and sharing in the righteousness of Christ is always complete. At the same time, they state that there can be growth in its effects in Christian living. When they view the good works of Christians as the fruits and signs of justification and not as one’s own “merits”, they nevertheless also understand eternal life in accord with the New Testament as unmerited “reward” in the sense of the fulfillment of God’s promise to the believer.

  6. Mary says:

    Thank you for your bold profession of faith! Stand firm and God bless.

  7. Brandon Harnish says:

    Bob, are you familiar with the Christian universalist readings of the NT?

  8. Guest says:

    My knowledge of theology is not as strong as it should be.

    Is not Luther’s point (if he’s right) that you really cannot do anything to be saved?

    It is based on God’s choice alone. Believing in Jesus might be a sign you are saved, but the act of believing itself is ultimately irrelevant. There is no (theological) “free will,” contra Catholics.

    Is that right? How do you look at this?

  9. khodge says:

    Sorry, you lost me at the point where you said “radical and initially counterintuitive.” For someone who has been studying both the Old Testament (Ecclesiastes Dec 14, among others) and the New Testament (this post, among others) I find it difficult to understand how you, or any Christian, can miss the obvious: God has always chosen to work with humanity through human agents. In the OT prophets spoke to Jews; in the NT apostles spoke to the whole world.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Khodge, what are you talking about? I was talking about the doctrine of salvation through faith not works, being radical and counterintuitive to people who haven’t studied the Bible.

      • khodge says:

        Sorry, I would never jump into a discussion of faith vs works because it is too fraught with misunderstanding to do justice in a forum like this.

        What I was responding to is in the second sentence of your post: “your relationship with God was between Him and you” followed very closely by accepting “Jesus as my personal lord and savior.”

        Given that I am now far deeper than I would have chosen had I understood your question as “faith vs works” I only have this to offer: “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I have heard some very strange sermons where the preacher tried to shoehorn love into being necessary for faith. It makes for good comedy but, sadly, very poor Christianity.

    • jda2000 says:

      I’d say what’s obvious, is that some people have claimed to speak for God. Other than extraordinary gall, it’s hard to discover what makes these individuals special. It’s also hard to see how a deity that theoretically can create a few billion star systems in a day would find mastering mass communication an insurmountable obstacle.

      • Andrew says:

        Please explain how the most popular book ever written does not count as mass communication.

  10. Enopoletus Harding says:

    According to the Pulpit Commentary on Acts 8:37:
    “Verse 37. – The whole of ver. 37 of the A.V. is omitted in the R.T., on the authority of the best existing manuscripts. But on the other hand, Irenaeus, in the third book against Heresies, Acts 12:8, distinctly quotes a portion of this verse. The eunuch, he says, when he asked to be baptized said, Πιστεύω τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ εἴναι τὸν Ιησοῦν Ξριστόν: and Cyprian, in his third book of Testimonies, 43, quotes the other part of the verse. In proof of the thesis that “whoever believes may be immediately baptized,” he says, “In the Acts of the Apostles [when the eunuch said], Behold water, what doth hinder me to be baptized? Philip answered, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” So that in the second and third centuries, long anterior to the oldest existing manuscripts, this entire verse must have been found in the codices both of the Greek and Latin Churches.”

  11. Ivan says:

    Bob I wonder if you consider the issue of the historical Jesus and the reliability of Gospels as historical documents to be important parts of a true Christian faith? Do you believe every single statement in the Bible had to be true in order for Christian faith to holds? My impression (apologize if I am wrong) is that you probably subscribe under the fundamentalist views of the literal historicity of the Bible, but I never saw you discussing historical literature.

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