Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Culture, Faith, God, Religion, Salvation, Truth

Discussion: What Did Jesus Teach?

This post is not going to be in the standard format. Instead of laying out what I think about a particular issue and then possibly getting into a discussion afterward, I really just want to ask a series of questions that I hope readers will answer in the comment section.

My background with Christianity is with a very fundamentalist variety that believes faith, grace, and works are all tightly woven together — each plays a necessary part in salvation. I’m much less familiar with more liberal versions of Christianity, and that’s what I’m hoping to learn more about in this discussion. So here are my questions:

  1. The New Testament speaks a lot about salvation. What exactly are Christians being saved from?
  2. In a similar vein, are non-Christians bound for a different fate than Christians? What will the afterlife be like for each?
  3. What does God/Jesus expect from us? Anything?
  4. Of what value are works? Is baptism a work? If so, then is faith also a work?
  5. What’s the relationship between faith, grace, and works?

I’ve numbered these for ease of reference, but please answer any or all of them in whatever way you like. Or if some of them are bad questions, let me know that too. It’s time to witness, folks! 🙂

287 thoughts on “Discussion: What Did Jesus Teach?”

  1. Nate, my background is much the same as yours. Over the years I have been reading lots of books about more liberal versions . For now, I think I will withhold my comments until we get feedback from others. Believe it or not, I do enjoy reading comments more than posting them. 🙂

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  2. ”1. The New Testament speaks a lot about salvation. What exactly are Christians being saved from?”

    Atheists, Communists, Manchester United, New York Yankees, Jews, Punk Rock Music, Democrats, Liberals, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber’s Pet Monkey, Muslims,Catholics, Colombian Coffee, Glow in the Dark Condoms, Pushy Women, Lesbians, Gays, Lewis Black, Low Fat milk, and Nate’s Blog.
    To name but a few things…..

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  3. I was going to have a stab at No. 3 but that juicy morsel i shall leave for the regulars. 🙂
    This looks like a cracking post…I am waiting with baited breath…

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  4. Nate-
    I do plan on commenting (does this surprise anyone?). I may not have the opportunity until later in the day. I do want to try to be thorough and respect the gravity of the questions 🙂

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  5. 3. What does God/Jesus expect from us? Anything?

    Jesus, apparently, wants everyone to obey the Old Testament. “The Pharisees and the teachers of the Law are experts in the Law of Moses. So obey everything they teach you, but don’t do as they do. After all, they say one thing and do something else.” (Matthew 23:1-3).

    So, that basically breaks down to:

    Eating shrimp = Bad.
    Genocide and rape = Good.

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  6. Great questions! But first, what IS salvation? What did the Average Jew at the time understand it to mean? What does salvation mean in the O.T.?

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  7. john zande, do you really think they knew shrimp was high in cholesterol but not lobster or crab ? 🙂

    All joking aside, your blog “Well, this is a little embarrassing isn’t it” did cause me to purchase the Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary and many of the Jewish Scholars who wrote essays in the back did elude to the fact there is no evidence that any of the Torah Stories ever happened. And several of them admitted that some of the stories were borrowed from other cultures.

    Regardless, I think most of us would admit they were meant for Jewish ears only and should not have influenced Western Culture like they have.

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  8. tutkingtut, I believe salvation is another form of control. I accuse you of something you really had no control over. I then tell you that if you follow the instructions I give to you , I will forgive you , but not forever unless you’re Baptist or a New Progressive (Liberal) Christian. Oh and did I mention, you can only obtain this forgiveness from me. No one else ! One last thing. I created you the way you are. But if you behave badly it’s your fault not mine and we will need to start this process all over again. (Unless you’re Baptist or Progressive) 🙂

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  9. 5.) What’s the relationship between faith, grace, and works?
    Faith is what I have at Christmas time while watching, “Miracle on 34th Street” but deep inside I know it’s not true.

    Grace is at the sole discretion of the one giving it. It’s something I sometimes reluctantly give until I am reminded of the times it has been bestowed to me.

    Works is what I was trying to convey to Josh earlier when I quoted James 1:27. I have been greatly blessed in my life and my heart reminds me I need to assist the widows and orphans in their times of need .

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  10. 1. The New Testament speaks a lot about salvation. What exactly are Christians being saved from?

    -Christians are saved from death, and restored for life in the age to come.

    2. In a similar vein, are non-Christians bound for a different fate than Christians? What will the afterlife be like for each?

    -The answer to the first question is ‘Yes’. I think an especially detailed answer to the second, what the “afterlife” will be like, is unknown to us. Christians will be raised bodily, as Jesus was, to share the age of life promised to those who trust in Jesus’ restoration (see John 3:16). Non-Christians will not be raised – they will continue in death for “eternity”. I tend to think this means they will simply not be raised to life, and not exist at all.

    3. What does God/Jesus expect from us? Anything?

    -To be sure, there are guidelines given throughout scripture in terms of “living rightly”. However, no amount of “living rightly” will provide for us a successful intervention or cure for the death we have been born into as a result of sin (see Romans 3). Jesus is the restoration, given for our justification (again, see Romans 3). His taking on of humanity and the work of his life, death and resurrection “cure” death and initiate the restoration for “many” into life in the age to come. God expects nothing from us toward salvation. Jesus’ work makes this complete and finished.

    4. Of what value are works? Is baptism a work? If so, then is faith also a work?

    -Works are of no value, if you’re asking whether works are required of us in order to be saved. Works are what we do in response to already being saved. Baptism, then, is a work – it is done in response to salvation that is already given, not to earn it. Baptism is a picture of what happens as a result of salvation – Jesus raising us from death into life. Faith is not a work. Faith is a gift. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8).

    5. What’s the relationship between faith, grace, and works?

    -We are saved by grace, through faith. God, in his grace, gives the gift of faith. Works are what we do as a grateful response.

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  11. ”1. The New Testament speaks a lot about salvation. What exactly are Christians being saved from?

    -Christians are saved from death, and restored for life in the age to come.”

    That ‘age’ came and went after Jesus failed to turn up after the parousia. The church just put the world on ‘Hold’, (“please be patient your call will be answered”) hadn’t you realised this , Josh?
    You’ve been lied to my old son. Time you asked your Pastor a few pertinent questions.

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  12. Thanks Josh. I really appreciate your taking the time to answer these.

    So, a couple of questions:

    When Eph 2:8 says “and this not from yourselves — it is the gift of God…” how do you know it’s talking about faith there and not salvation? Because if faith is a gift from God, why doesn’t everyone have it? Does he not want some people to be saved?

    Secondly, if works are of no use toward salvation, can you please explain these passages:

    What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

    But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
    — James 2:14-26

    By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
    — 1 John 5:2-3

    Matt 25 illustrates that those who will be saved are those who have cared for people in need.

    Romans 10:9-10 says that confession is also a necessary part of salvation.

    The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
    — 2 Peter 3:9

    There are several that reference baptism’s importance:

    Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
    — Acts 2:38

    Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
    — Romans 6:3-4

    There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
    — 1 Pet 3:21

    Finally, even Ephesians 2, the passage you referenced, talks about the importance of works:

    For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
    — Eph 2:10

    Is it not possible that this “free gift” of salvation still has some stipulations? That might sound confusing, but just think of it like a game show. On Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? whatever amount of money a contestant walks away with is still a gift from the game show, even though they had to play by the rules to get it. No one would claim that answering some trivia questions earns a million dollars.

    So if the gift of salvation is far more valuable than a million dollars, could any amount of works in this life merit it? Seems to me that when you look at the NT as a whole, grace, faith, and works are all integral parts of salvation.

    Thoughts? (and sorry for the length of this reply)

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  13. The NT is all over the place when determining what one must do to have Eternal Life. It seems that every author had one or more ways to obtain this. John had at least 2. Josh mentioned John 3:16 but I would prefer John 5:24 . It’s the Deist way to Eternal Life. All I have to do is believe in God. Period.
    John 5:24

    New International Version (NIV)
    24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.

    There ya have it. Believe in God and you can put all the other hoops away ! No more jumping !

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  14. Nate-
    There’s been so much back and forth on the questions you raise by both scholars and theologians. So, rather than re-invent the wheel, I’m going to paste one article that I find extremely helpful in this regard. First, is a good quote from the article, summarizing a response to your questions. Second, the URL for the full article is below the quote.

    “I think the best way to move this conversation forward is to introduce what was, in my opinion, one of Martin Luther’s most helpful contributions: his distinction between passive righteousness and active righteousness. This distinction was Luther’s way to describe the two relationships in which Christians live: before God vertically and before one another horizontally.

    Luther asserted that our righteousness before God (coram Deo) is received and defined by faith. Our righteousness before one another (coram mundo), on the other hand, is active and defined by service. The reason this distinction is so helpful is because one of the insinuations whenever the doctrine of sanctification is discussed is that my effort, my works, my pursuit of holiness, my faith, my response, my obedience, and my practice of godliness keep me in God’s good graces. This, however, undermines the clear Biblical teaching that things between Christians and God are forever settled because of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross (Romans 8:1; 31-39, Colossians 2:13-14). When we imply that our works are for God and not our neighbor, we perpetuate the idea that God’s love for us is dependent on what we do instead of on what Christ has done.”

    http://liberatenet.org/2012/12/10/god-doesnt-need-your-good-works-but-your-neighbor-does/

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  15. That’s an interesting concept, Josh — thanks for sharing. I’ll definitely read the article you linked to.

    I’d still be interested to hear your thoughts on the question I asked about what it means if our faith is a gift from God. If it is, why doesn’t everyone have faith? And is it right to punish those who don’t have it?

    Also, it seems to me that the NT (especially Paul’s letters) emphasize that the Mosaic Law’s purpose has been fulfilled and has passed. That’s definitely what it’s talking about in Colossians 2 — Galatians, Romans, Hebrews, etc, all carry the same theme. That does not necessarily mean that God requires no “works” from Christians. As James 2 points out, even the demons believe and tremble — will they be saved?

    I’d really be interested to hear the full reasoning behind this statement:

    the clear Biblical teaching that things between Christians and God are forever settled because of what Jesus has accomplished on the cross

    I don’t feel like the two passages you referenced make that point, so I’d be curious to see what other scriptures you rely on.

    Thanks

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  16. By the way, an important parable to keep in mind is the Parable of the Talents. The man with 1 talent was not accepted because he never used his talent. If you’re right that works only relate to those around us and have no bearing on the Christian’s relationship with God, then the 1 talent man should have been accepted as well.

    And again, that same chapter (Matt 25) says this:

    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
    — vs 41-46

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  17. Hi Nate. Here’s my brief answers….

    1. Salvation = deliverance or rescue. So we are rescued from everything that we need to be rescued from – though some of this takes a lifetime and some happens immediately. Like Jesus said in Luke 4:18-19:

    The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
    to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

    2. I agree with Josh. Those who receive God’s grace get life in the age to come, those who don’t receive it apparently don’t (sadly) – though we can never know how far God’s grace will extend.

    3. A response. This should involve things like faith, obedience, loving God & our neighbour, and changing where we need to. What he expects of us is not necessarily what gains us salvation.

    4. Works are helpful and necessary in different ways. If we’re on the team, following Jesus, that’s what we’ll try to do. I think calling faith and baptism “works” is a matter of definition. Both are helpful.

    5. Complex. God’s grace is the only source of salvation for us. Faith and works are part of receiving and passing on grace to others. Neither “earn” grace, but both may be means of grace.

    I could give NT passages in support of all of that, but won’t just now. I also think that we need not to take ourselves too seriously when we try to distil down to a few statements how an amazing God relates to us (whether me on this blog or the doctrinal statements of theologians).

    Hope that is of interest to what you’re thinking of here.

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  18. Nate-
    Faith is a gift. Say I were to give you something as a gift. You later decide that you don’t want it or want to sell it for some reason. Now, you no longer have this gift, but it was given to you and it was yours to keep or discard. I believe that God gives us this freedom to choose to accept his gift or not. Acceptance of the gift is not a work, either – you had the gift and chose to discard it. This is also what is going on in the talents parable. Notice all three were given the gift – none were excluded at the beginning. The one who did nothing is representative of someone who has been given faith and chosen not to keep it (by doing nothing with it he is showing it is of no value to him). Not everyone one who is given the gift will appreciate what is given.

    Hebrews 10 teaches clearly the sufficiency of the cross: “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

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  19. Another point about works, Nate. None of this to say is that non-Chrsitians cannot do things that, were they Christian, would be considered “works”. Jesus teaches that he is the vine, and we must be connected to him. If we are not connected to him, he teaches we can “do nothing”. This doesn’t mean that non-Christians cannot care for the widows and the orphans. Just that caring for widows and orphans isn’t what “gets people saved”. Same with baptism. You could be baptized (here I mean the water-dunking, not spiritual baptism), Nate, and it would mean nothing other than you went under water and came back up. On the other hand, for me, baptism is a work of faith – it is a sign that I am already saved. So, the non-Christian who performs good deeds will not be saved because of the good deeds. We are saved by grace through faith. Similarly, the person who claims he is Christian and cares for himself and nothing for others shows that his faith is dead (he has no faith). In both cases salvation is a result of faith, not works. But, true “works” can only be accomplished through a faith “connection” with Jesus.

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  20. @ Unklee
    ”1. Salvation = deliverance or rescue. So we are rescued from everything that we need to be rescued from – though some of this takes a lifetime and some happens immediately. Like Jesus said in Luke 4:18-19:

    The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
    to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.””

    Well, this explains nothing. Merely couched polemic -and to quote scripture. Really, Unklee. Why do you allow yourself to stoop so low? It does nothing to strengthen any argument you may have. Truly.

    This line is especially meaningful while meaning absolutely nothing at all, in fact.

    ”So we are rescued from everything that we need to be rescued from”

    No doubt you, along with the hordes of Christians just waiting to ‘Top’ themselves and scoot off to heaven, are so wracked with inculcated guilt that this salvation cannot come quick enough.

    Based on this one might as well do oneself in, as the after-life is definitely the place to be; the joint where all the cool kids are, right?
    Good grief! This is pitiable.

    And yet you reveal nothing of what you, in particular need to be rescued from. I don’t require rescuing from anything, for what it’s worth. Although a tax rebate would be nice.
    Have you a short list of sins you might like to share ?
    And to think that death is the only answer for you and yours. Don’t you consider this just a little sad?
    A glorious life bestowed upon you by your omniscient Creator and you can only make this life worthwhile by living it wracked by guilt, ”Fear of the lord (sic)” and waiting to die?
    And based on Scripture there is STILL no guarantee you are going to get ‘in’.

    You must spend your life almost peeing your pants with nerves.
    That’s a god you want to work for, right? Nice bloke he is, eh?
    Why did he bother making you in the first place?

    Based on Christian evidence this god is a bit of a tit, to be quite frank. and sadly this is reflected in the attitude and behaviour of those he demands worship from.

    Sigh….I suppose if its all right for a ding bat Muslim with a pilot’s licence and a death wish it must be okay for the average Christian. ”Come Lord…come quick.”

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  21. Ark-
    You have a warped and jaded view of Christian teaching, full of misunderstandings. I do not believe in the “god” or “christian” faith which you describe, either. I, along with you, pity anyone who lives “a life wracked by guilt, wishing to die”. I wish this were not the case, and I pray that whatever harm has been done you by the unfortunate misrepresentation of Christianity would some day be overcome by the Spirit. I also wish you didn’t feel you had to hurl seething words at those who believe differently than you simply because you believe they are mistaken.

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