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. Josh,
    So all Muslims are given faith in Christianity that they must accept or reject?

    Also, Hebrews 10 has a bit more nuance than that one verse might suggest. Remember that the writer is contrasting the sacrifice that Christ made once to the repeated sacrifices the Levitical priests had to perform over and over again ad infinitum. So the passage is not necessarily saying that Jesus’ one sacrifice fixed everything and people have to do nothing to be saved. The NT still contains many passages (some of which I referenced earlier) that list a number of things that lead to salvation. I would assume that all are necessary.

    To help illustrate this even further, the same chapter, Hebrews 10, shows us that salvation through Christ’s sacrifice is not unconditional. And notice that it’s addressed to Christians, since it talks about one who has already been sanctified by Jesus’ sacrifice.

    For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
    — vs 26-31

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  2. Thanks unkleE. I agree with Ark that it would be nice to hear a bit more about exactly what Christians are being saved from.

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  3. Josh,

    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.

    If a lack of works shows a lack of faith, then aren’t works still important? Previously, you’ve seemed to stress that there’s nothing you have to do or can do about your salvation because Jesus has done it all. But if a Christian truly had that opinion, wouldn’t it be a sign that there salvation may not really be genuine?

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  4. “So all Muslims are given faith in Christianity that they must accept or reject?”

    Yes. Though, I’d change it slightly to read “all people are given faith and the choice to accept or reject it.”

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  5. “If a lack of works shows a lack of faith, then aren’t works still important?”

    I didn’t say works aren’t important. I said they are not the vehicle through which we are saved.

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  6. “The NT still contains many passages (some of which I referenced earlier) that list a number of things that lead to salvation. I would assume that all are necessary.”

    I’m aware, I think, of most of the passages to which you’re referring. As I said when I quoted the article yesterday, there is a lot of discussion and debate even among Christians regarding the precise meaning of the passages. I do think that, if pressed most, virtually all Christians would tell you that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus accomplished what was necessary for salvation. The more nuanced discussions are about how that salvation is worked out in a person. If someone is doing no works, are they really saved? But, that doesn’t imply that the works save them. The works flow from salvation. Works are important. Living rightly is important. God does expect us to follow his Word and Jesus’ example. However, it is not the living rightly or the works that earn us salvation. If we begin to tell people that they must perform works IN ORDER TO BE SAVED, then we are negating the work Jesus did on the cross. Jesus’ work makes our work acceptable. Without his work our work is not acceptable (acceptable here meaning sufficient for salvation), and does not earn us salvation.

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  7. I didn’t say works aren’t important. I said they are not the vehicle through which we are saved.

    But that’s not entirely correct. That’s like trying to say it’s the engine, not the wheels, that makes your car go. In fact, it’s both working together (along with some other things). The engine might be the primary instigator of the whole vehicle (just as faith is the instigator to action), but the entire thing must be in place to function.

    Therefore, Christianity is not quite as unique as you’ve been saying. You’ve said a number of times that you think Christianity is the one true religion because it’s the only one that says God’s done it all — your actions are unimportant. But it seems that’s not really the kind of Christianity you believe in.

    “So all Muslims are given faith in Christianity that they must accept or reject?”

    Yes. Though, I’d change it slightly to read “all people are given faith and the choice to accept or reject it.”

    I wonder how many Muslims would agree?

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  8. If we begin to tell people that they must perform works IN ORDER TO BE SAVED, then we are negating the work Jesus did on the cross

    So if a child must carry his lunch tray from the cafeteria, is he negating the work the cafeteria workers performed?

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  9. “I wonder how many Muslims would agree?”

    I believe it’s the truth. If it is, in fact, the truth, then it doesn’t matter how many Muslims agree. It would still be true.

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  10. “So if a child must carry his lunch tray from the cafeteria, is he negating the work the cafeteria workers performed?”

    If you’re saying the child must carry his lunch tray to the cafeteria in order for the food to be prepared and served, then you are negating the work performed by the workers. It would all rest on whether the child carried the tray to the cafeteria. The child carrying the tray has nothing to do with the food being prepared and available. If it does, then the workers don’t matter.

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  11. “But that’s not entirely correct. That’s like trying to say it’s the engine, not the wheels, that makes your car go. In fact, it’s both working together (along with some other things). The engine might be the primary instigator of the whole vehicle (just as faith is the instigator to action), but the entire thing must be in place to function.”

    It’s not the engine or the wheels or anything in itself that makes the car go. It’s the fact that it was built by the factory before you sat in it. The car is built and ready to go, it’s up to either drive it or get out. If you choose not to start it and drive, the car won’t go anywhere despite the fact that it’s built and ready to go. However, just because you sat down, started the car, and drove doesn’t make you the “engine”. It was done before you got there. We can’t get in and drive a car that’s not there.

    “Therefore, Christianity is not quite as unique as you’ve been saying. You’ve said a number of times that you think Christianity is the one true religion because it’s the only one that says God’s done it all — your actions are unimportant. But it seems that’s not really the kind of Christianity you believe in.”

    Yes, it is the kind of Christianity I believe in. Works flow from salvation. I do works because I’m saved. If I did works and Jesus had not died on the cross I would not be saved. If I do works out of faith that Jesus died on the cross for my sins I am saved. If I do no works (only God can judge whether I do, by the way), then I am not saved in the first place. I’m not getting through because no part of that implies that the works are necessary for salvation.

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  12. If you’re saying the child must carry his lunch tray to the cafeteria in order for the food to be prepared and served, then you are negating the work performed by the workers. It would all rest on whether the child carried the tray to the cafeteria. The child carrying the tray has nothing to do with the food being prepared and available. If it does, then the workers don’t matter.

    No, not for the food to be prepared, but for the child to get to eat. Jesus performed the sacrifice, right? But people still have to respond to get the benefit. Whatever that “response” consists of, Jesus still did the work to make salvation possible (sic).

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  13. “No, not for the food to be prepared, but for the child to get to eat.”

    I was going along with your analogy, but probably should have tweaked it to be more what I feel is an accurate portrayal. The child doesn’t “need to carry the lunch tray” in order to get to eat. My view of Christianity is that the food is prepared, available, and already on the tray at the child’s seat. There is no barrier between the child and the food. Can the child walk away without eating? Yes. But, that doesn’t mean the child’s choosing to eat the food was a necessary part of the food’s availability. I’m not saying we cannot refuse God’s gift. I’m saying our acceptance of it doesn’t put it in our possession or create it’s availability. It is readily available and in our possession.

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  14. If you’re saying my refusal of God’s gift somehow makes his gift insufficient I just plain disagree with that.

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  15. ^^ That would be like saying because I sold the PS3 you gave me, you didn’t go to the store, pick it out, pay for it with your own money, take it home, wrap it, drive it to my house, and place it in my hands. That’s silly, I think.

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  16. Great questions, Nate.

    Language is often an inadequate vehicle when trying to navigate the mystery of faith. Words are…too small, too vague, too confining.

    For me, looking for solid and permanent answers to these questions is an exercise in futility. Sometimes, we need to be saved from our own theology.

    Faith, to use Christian Wiman’s watery definition, is movement toward God. Oddly enough, I think people like yourself illustrate a beautiful faith, one Wiman describes so eloquently in his book, _My Bright Abyss_:

    “Sometimes God calls a person to unbelief so faith can take new forms.”

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  17. rodalena-
    Beautiful sentiments. God is so much more than what we can explain. Sometimes it does seem futile to put it into words 🙂
    Thanks for the reminder!

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  18. I was going along with your analogy, but probably should have tweaked it to be more what I feel is an accurate portrayal. The child doesn’t “need to carry the lunch tray” in order to get to eat. My view of Christianity is that the food is prepared, available, and already on the tray at the child’s seat. There is no barrier between the child and the food. Can the child walk away without eating? Yes. But, that doesn’t mean the child’s choosing to eat the food was a necessary part of the food’s availability. I’m not saying we cannot refuse God’s gift. I’m saying our acceptance of it doesn’t put it in our possession or create it’s availability. It is readily available and in our possession.

    I think you’re missing my point. I may not have been clear enough — sorry about that.

    Ignore the kid in the cafeteria analogy. Do you agree that even though Jesus paid the full price of salvation, a response of some kind is necessary from those who would be saved?

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  19. @Josh
    ”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.”

    Sorry , mate, my warped and jaded view of Christianity is based solely on those that practice it and the manual they genuflect to.
    The god you believe in is the same as every other christian.
    The interpretation of the dogma is all that varies. You will find this in the 40,000 plus cults.
    Be at peace…no harm has ever been done to me, thank the gods , I am more concerned with the children.

    If you pop over to my blog you can follow this link. Read the comments before you do though, then you might get a better understanding of what your religion does to people.
    http://attaleuntold.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/why-kids-prayers-work/

    ”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.”

    I am not mistaken. Christianity’s legacy is my witness.And that legacy continues. Would you like a list?
    Let’s start with Nate….ask him

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  20. “Ignore the kid in the cafeteria analogy.”

    Ha! That’s too funny!

    ” Do you agree that even though Jesus paid the full price of salvation, a response of some kind is necessary from those who would be saved?”

    No. A response is not necessary in order for salvation to be ours. Let me try another analogy :-). Imagine I walked into your house and gave you a briefcase with $1 million and said “That’s yours.” Now, you have the option to either accept that money or reject it. But, only rejecting the money changes the situation. Between the time I give you the money and you make a decision the money is already yours. So, your acceptance of it does nothing to change the fact that you already have the money in your possession. Only by rejecting the money does anything you do impact your standing with regard to the money.

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  21. Are you saying there’s a position between accept and reject?

    If not, then “not rejecting” is a response of “accept.” Either way, a response is still necessary.

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  22. Besides, the NT doesn’t seem to teach what you’re saying. The analogy of Jesus knocking at the door is given to illustrate that it’s still up to the individual to “let him in.” Active acceptance is required.

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  23. Nate-
    I appreciate the question you’re asking, honestly I do. I think you’re missing some of my answer here. At the point where I have given you the money, it is yours and in your possession. At that point, you make a decision to accept the money or reject it. So, is a decision made? Yes. But, your decision to accept the money does NOTHING to GET you the money. Before you even know a decision is to be made the money is yours, in your possession. So, your decision to accept the money is NOT required for you to GET the money – you already have it!

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  24. I think Jesus standing at the door knocking is virtually the same as my analogy. He’s on your property, at your door. Salvation is at your house! My understanding of the Jewish culture at the time is that they welcomed those who showed up at their door. I believe it would have been unexpected and a gross insult to turn that person away.

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