Rules of salvation, part 1
I was a professing Christian for 32 years, and in all that time I could never quite get my head around the biblical rules of salvation.
The definition of salvation can be complex, so for now, let’s say it just means being allowed to enter heaven. I want to concentrate on what it takes to get salvation and keep it.
Here is a pretty extensive list of New Testament verses that present requirements for being “saved.” The stated requirements include:
- Be born of water and the spirit.
- Believe in the Lord Jesus.
- Endure to the end.
- Confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead.
- Call upon the name of the Lord.
- Have faith.
- Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus.
- Do the will of the Father who is in heaven.
- Have righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.
- Be converted and become as a little child.
- Eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood.
- Repent and be baptized.
Those are all do’s, and they all expressly refer to being “saved.”
The Bible also has some don’ts, including the ones identified in these verses:
- “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, wrath, factions, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, reveling, and the like; of which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19).
- “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9, 10).
Note that these verses don’t include the word “saved.” Instead, they refer to inheriting the kingdom of God.
OK, so let’s try a use case: I was a sinner from birth (that’s a whole ‘nother discussion — just allow that it’s true). I confessed, believed, repented, was baptized, etc., so I was saved. Then I hated, envied, got drunk, stole and coveted — maybe just one instance of each! In other words, I did things that guaranteed I would be “saved”; then I did things that guaranteed I would not “inherit the kingdom of God.” So what happened?
- Did I gain salvation and then lose it? If so, maybe the don’ts trump the do’s.
- Did I gain salvation and keep it? If so, maybe the do’s trump the don’ts.
- Was I never really saved (perhaps because I never truly believed)? If this is the case, then there is no conflict between rewarding the do’s and punishing the don’ts. But it also means that it is impossible for a truly saved person to do anything on the lists of don’ts. If that’s true, then I have never met anyone who is truly saved.
- Is being saved different from inheriting the kingdom of God? If so, it’s possible that I gained salvation by doing the do’s but still failed to inherit the kingdom of God because I did the don’ts. But if salvation does not equate to inheriting the kingdom of God, then what is it?