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:
- The New Testament speaks a lot about salvation. What exactly are Christians being saved from?
- In a similar vein, are non-Christians bound for a different fate than Christians? What will the afterlife be like for each?
- What does God/Jesus expect from us? Anything?
- Of what value are works? Is baptism a work? If so, then is faith also a work?
- 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?”
Sure Nate. I tried to be brief the first time, and wait to see if there was any particular thing you were interested in.
My answer was comprehensive and general because that is what I believe, and the quote from Jesus sums it up.
God’s wish and plan for us is for us to be made whole (“shalom”), and for this to be our free choice. Being made in “the image of God” involves being rational, ethical, autonomous, choosing, loving beings, but also physical and limited.
Being less than God, we are inevitably less than perfectly able to live in the way we need to if we are going to have a harmonious everlasting life. We act irrationally, unethically, unlovingly and irresponsibly on occasions (or more!), and we inherit bad genes, sickness, etc. Many of us long for things to be better, in all sorts of ways – my own rational, ethical, loving shortcomings; those of other people; sickness (mine and others’); political and social injustice, etc.
We seem unable to fix things ourselves. Certainly at age 67 I am a better person that I was at 17, but there are many faults that I still find difficult to eradicate, and harm me or those I love. And our world seems to be the same. We make progress in some areas of life in some parts of the world (e.g. reducing sexism, racism and environmental harm in the west) but at the same time we go backwards in other areas (terrorism, suicide, anxiety, mental illness, etc).
The twentieth century was the best of all centuries in some respects, but also saw the worst inhumanity on the largest scale ever seen (in my view).
So we need a game-breaker, and history tells us that we won’t do it ourselves. We’ll elect politicians but they’ll let us down or become corrupted. Individuals will not be able to fully break out of their mental and physical illnesses, bad habits, greed and selfishness.
Now if you disagree with the general tenor of all that, then we are clearly on a different page.
But all that is what Jesus came to save us from, and what the kingdom of God is all about. It happens slowly, like Jesus’ parable for the seed growing secretly, but it happens, and millions of people testify happily to it happening. Lives changed and given meaning and hope, healing and forgiveness. Families changed for the good, people living lives dedicated to serving others, that wouldn’t have happened without Jesus.
Now I know there are aspects of institutional christianity that have worked out very badly (just as institutional atheism, institutional socialism and institutional capitalism have all worked out badly often as not). But people don’t do badly if they follow Jesus, the problem comes when they use the name but don’t follow the teachings. That is why I follow Jesus (not just believe) and am very wary of organised religion.
So that’s what I think.I’d be interested to know what you are hoping to get from this discussion. Thanks.
Families changed for the good, people living lives dedicated to serving others, that wouldn’t have happened without Jesus.
Are you serious?!!? Do you truly believe these things would not have happened without Jesus????
Maybe he means for those particular people — if so, then I think he could be right about that.
On that same point, unkleE, other people have been able to find those same things through other avenues — whether it’s another religion, a philosophy, or none of the above.
I agree with pretty much all of this:
But while I’d like for things to be perfect, I don’t believe they can be. We should always strive for it, but we’re not going to make it. I guess it’s like the idea of a perfect circle. We can all visualize what that would look like, but a truly perfect circle does not actually exist. In the same way, just because we can conceptualize of how our world could be better doesn’t mean it will be.
Also, a quick question:
Do you believe it’s possible to freely choose God if we can’t be certain he exists? And keep in mind that plenty of people in the Bible had direct dealings with God, but that didn’t seem to take away their free choice. Solomon is a good example…
unkleE, you addressed this to Nate, but I would like to make a short (short for me) comment. Archaeologists have dated cave drawings in Europe as old as 40,000 years ago. Not just stick drawings but pretty good artistic drawings. So there were people not much unlike us today. Why did God wait 38,000 years to introduce his Son Jesus to the world to save their sins ? Think of the billions of people who have lived on the planet that Jesus didn’t save . Couldn’t God have devised a better plan than this ? And to add insult to injury , God’s biggest failure was he couldn’t even reach the people he called His Chosen. And they rejected Jesus his son even more.
Josh, no matter which way you cut it, there’s still a choice going on. One has to either accept Jesus’ sacrifice or reject it. That (in my mind) doesn’t mean the person has earned it. Jesus still did the work.
Why is that a problem for you?
“Why is that a problem for you?”
Just trying to communicate what I think is actually going on. I believe the scriptures teach there is nothing we can do, and nothing we have to do, to earn salvation, and I think, as humans, that is hard for us to accept. So, we read it every other way possible before getting to that. It’s important to me to try to communicate it accurately. That’s all.
I agree, Nate, there is a choice going on. What I’m trying to point out is that making the choice to “accept” gets you nothing you didn’t already have.
Maybe… but it’s still a choice. So the real question is “how do we make that choice?” In other words, if we leave out repentance, confessing the name of Jesus, baptism, good works, etc, have we still accepted it, or have we rejected it?
I think trying to get a definitive answer to “how” you make the choice misses the point. It’s not about doing the right things. You’re on a path searching for truth. I think the best thing I can do is encourage you to continue on that path, and engage you the best I can.
See, I feel that de-emphasizing everything but grace misses the point of a lot of scripture. All of it should carry the same weight, and I just don’t see it describing things the way that you do.
If I can be frank, I think that your view of Christianity helps you put aside the difficulties — why worry about those, because Jesus has done all the work, right? But if you could step back a little and not be so okay with letting things go that you don’t understand, you might see that Christianity has a few too many holes. Maybe I’m wrong… but I still wonder about that.
I have to say that I feel a little like you’re being disingenuous. Not just in this conversation, but a few we have had to this point. You make rather broad, sweeping points, or, in this case, ask questions about an entire worldview spanning virtually the entirety of human history. Then, when I, or unkleE, or someone else answer your points or questions, you begin to ask specific questions. Those questions then whiddle the conversation further and further to a finer point. Take this discussion. Our most recent posts are addressing specifically the mode of salvation. You then take my specific answers to your specific questions, and make them out to be the only things I hold to in my worldview. I feel that’s unfair, and it almost seems to be by design at this point.
Sorry Josh — that’s definitely not my intent.
It’s been my experience that people sometimes (not excluding myself here) hold views that may be a bit contradictory. When left at a high level, the inconsistencies are hard to see. I guess that’s why I try to drill down to specifics as much as possible. I think the entire Christian doctrine is badly inconsistent. People often get by this by saying something like “God’s ways are higher than our ways,” which lets them skirt the difficult issues. But for something as important as eternal destiny — while there may be some things we can’t understand — there shouldn’t be inconsistencies and contradictions. That’s all I’m trying to point out.
But I’ll try to lay off. You’re right that I started this post with questions, and you and unkleE were good enough to provide your thoughts. I don’t agree with them, but I don’t guess that surprises anyone. 🙂
Thanks for the discussion
Nate, before I get into answer to many questions asked of me, I wanted to ask you about this.
“All of it [scripture] should carry the same weight”
How would you justify this statement?
Isn’t it all inspired? If not, how do you know which is which?
Are you then assuming inspired = carries the same weight??
For the ones I am talking about, no, it probably wouldn’t have happened. That is what the people say themselves.
I guess it depends on what each statement is talking about. But generally speaking, yes, the same weight. If God inspired it all, then all is important. If it all fits together somehow, then none of it can be thrown out. So if one passage says people are saved by grace, and another says people are saved through faith, and another says people are saved through baptism, then all three have to fit together somehow. It’s not consistent to pick one or two of those statements and dismiss the third.
Would you agree?
Yes they have, and I didn’t say otherwise (as you have already perceptively noted). But there are many more in your country and mine finding them with Jesus than without him.
(1) They will be perfect one day (I believe), and this age is preparation for the age to come.
(2) Your comment doesn’t negate the fact that things are intolerable for many people, and not what they’d prefer for many others – and that Jesus helps many of these people make a difference.
All this is in answer to your question about what people need saving from. If you don’t feel you need any forgiveness or help in this life, or life in the age to come, then I guess you won’t feel you need saving. But if you do, you can at least understand what Jesus offers, the remaining question is then whether you can believe it. (Which of course, at the moment, you can’t – but that is a different question. One thing at a time. 🙂 )
Yes, who has certainty about anything? Yet we make important choices all the time – to disbelieve, to marry, to divorce, to have children, a career, our ethics, our vote, etc. Why should believing in God be any different?
In some cases in the OT (e.g. Moses and the burning bush) it is made clear that God had to keep himself hidden otherwise the people he was relating to would be overwhelmed. In other cases it is implicit. Just as a baby is helpless in the hands of an adult, even more so are we helpless in God’s full presence. God is very veiled in this world, that’s one reason why (I believe) we have a physical world.
We don’t know how God deals with Neanderthals and others, and I certainly don’t believe that Jesus “didn’t save” any of them. After all, the OT Jews lived before Jesus yet the Bible reports that God saved many of them.
As for God devising a “better plan”, how would we know? Even assuming we have any understanding of his purposes, does it make any sense to send Jesus when there was no writing or recorded history?
I think you are responding to a version of christianity that I don’t hold, and which I think people are moving away from. It is, I presume, what you are most familiar with, but it is not a good reason to reject other forms.
True. But when it comes to something we don’t eve know for sure exists, I don’t view that as a truly free choice. To me, it’s like making a 7 year old decide right now what he/she is going to do for a living when they grow up. Sure, they could pick something. But it’s not really a free choice, because they can’t possibly know their real options.
If God’s going to hold people accountable for whether or not they choose him, he’s going to punish a whole lot of people who never really thought he was a genuine option in the first place. Since he knows this and could change it, it makes him out to be pretty heartless.
I, for one, would be quite happy with a burning bush over the nothing I currently receive. 🙂
Why would that be?
(1) Knowing the location of the emergency exit in a building is very important if you are in there when a fire breaks out, but not very important for me on the other side of the world. Some things are very important for some people, some times, and some situations, some are not.
(2) Could you honestly say that “Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brethren who are with them.” (Romans 16:14) is as important as “For I passed on to you first of all what I also had received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He arose on the third day as the Scriptures foretold”?
(3) Sometimes truth can be neatly described and encapsulated (e.g. 1+1 = 2), but sometimes it cannot (e.g. quantum physics). Surely truths about God’s dealings with us must be on the complex end of the scale? So it will take many statements to show even an approximation to the full truth.
I have said before that I think you approach the Bible more as an accountant would a spreadsheet or a lawyer would a legal judgment, rather than as a historian would. You seem to expect it to be a 21st century statement of scientific truth (which would then be irrelevant for the ages past, and out-of-date in 50 years) rather than as a revelation of relational truths.
So I think you misunderstand a lot of christianity (at least as I see it) because you find statements that together add up to a complex picture, and demand they be treated as rigorous maths-like statements. At least, that’s how it seems to me (and I apologise if I have been rude in any way).
I agree with you that the situation isn’t simply describable in formulaic terms, and I certainly agree we shouldn’t discard those statements that we don’t like or can’t fit with our theology. That indicates to me that all these things are important, but in different ways – after all, being saved “through” something is different to being saved “by” something.
Oh boy, Nate. I wish I had not read this. I am planning on doing away with blogging and emails for the weekend so this will be it for me on this discussion. I want to spend uninterrupted time with Mr Amazing, Intellectual, and Nature Lover.
Faith. Let’s talk about the guy we all think of when we hear this word, Abraham.
If I were to go by his example throughout Genesis, Hebrews and other areas of the New Testament/New Covenant I am left to believe 1) Faith isn’t so much about our trust and hope in God as it is about God’s trust and hope (or favor) in us/Abraham. and/or (2) Faith is simply not that mysterious, it’s just “being at the right place at the right time”.
The founding father of faith, formerly known as Abram, was not looking for the Judeo-Christian God when he was “called out” from his idol worshipping family, he was the one pursued. It also seemed as though he could do whatever he wanted and God would bless him no matter what he did: Lie to two different kings by just telling them (deception) that his wife Sarai/ Sarah was just his sister (incest), which she was his half sister. The first time was when she was at least in her 40s and the second time was in her 60s or older. Still both desired her sexually and God punished them both for it. Abraham lies and those kings are the ones who get into trouble. Abraham receives gifts from both royals because their punishments from God caused them to fear God. If I’m not mistaken, didn’t Sarah get her maid servant Hagar (slavery) from the second King as a “you better get out of here now before God kills me” going away present?
So, the couple couldn’t have a baby, but the aging, yet hot, wife wants one as promised by God. Time goes by and it’s clearly not on their side. Sarah insists upon Abraham making a baby with her slave and he does.(People can call that whatever they want, but I believe that incident’s rape!) Ishmael’s born.
Abraham was incredibly wealthy. He and Sarah finally have Isaac a decade later, due to conflict the married, incestuous couple kick out Hagar and her boy into the desert. (abandonment) All they are given is bread and water.
Maybe the famous scripture we all know should read “Without ‘favor’ it is impossible to please God” instead of ‘faith’.
Thanks. I just find it difficult, sometimes, to make things fit the way you feel they need to. I’m not necessarily saying that the things “other” than grace are not important. Scripture mentions them for a reason. One last thing I’ll add in response to our conversation. Something I think you should try to keep in mind when reading scripture is that it wasn’t written “to you” in the sense that you are the immediate intended audience. You seem to think that every sentence written in scripture is equally weighty when it comes to application in Nate’s life in 2013. That’s not the case. Scripture was written to and about specific groups of people centuries ago. God revealed himself to those people in ways that were necessary for them to understand. I think this principle also applies to statements about how people “get saved”. I believe, from God’s perspective it is all a “one way” system – grace. However, I believe we have imperfect understanding of this, and we all need to be approached on an individual level. For some, the act of baptism will be “how” they are saved. For others, it will be a sincere realization of their need to repent and confess sins. That’s not to say we all (Christians) don’t do these things in one form or another. It’s just that each person’s perception of their necessity in salvation is different. From God’s view I don’t believe any of those things are necessary in the sense that, if I didn’t do them I couldn’t be saved. But, they may be necessary for my sake if I truly believe that if I am not baptized I won’t be saved. I believe that we still would be saved if not baptized, but the person who believes it necessary will have no confidence in their salvation without being baptized. So, I think God uses these “human” things as representations for our benefit that we are saved. They are rituals that some need to trust. Just as Thomas needed to physically see and touch Jesus. He wasn’t excluded because he needed that, he just wouldn’t have had his own confidence without it. The scriptures record specific ways people were “initiated” into the faith. Those things aren’t strictly necessary, but they serve symbolically to us that we have entered into faith. Hope that makes some sense in tying up our discussion. And, sorry in advance for typos. I’m commenting via my phone :-). Cheers, Nate