One discussion I’ve done fairly well at avoiding lately is about salvation. First off, I personally believe one has to truly know and be revealed to Jesus. What does that say about Muslims growing up in the Middle East who have never heard about Jesus or about Christianity? Or if they have, what if they’ve only seen the disgusting, organized religious side of it and not the raw faith? What about them? Are they still held accountable for either accepting or denying Christ? In short, my answer is this: It’s God’s decision, not mine.
Truth be told many will have problems with this, particularly because in Romans, Paul indicates that no one is without excuse. And that is a very valid point. But I’m not sure if it explains everything away. For starters, how clear are we that Paul wrote those words and not some scribe a few hundred years later trying to promote his own religious agenda? Also, how sure are we that it was Paul who wrote those words even if they were in the originals? It was very common for people sending letters to have a scribe write down their oral words, so who’s to say the scribe didn’t take his own initiative to include his own beliefs instead of Paul’s?
My whole point in bringing this issue up is not to start some long argument that’s been going on for centuries, but to highlight where you and I can move forward. For those of us who have believed, it is not our duty to defend our doctrines and beliefs and make sure everyone else aligns to them. It is our duty to share and reflect Jesus’ light in all that we do. If we want others to change, perhaps we should change ourselves first to give them a physical example – and not some hypothetical one – to learn from. What I mean is, if we want others to know Jesus, then maybe we should seek to know Him ourselves. A major element in knowing Jesus is something we Christians call repentance.
Depending upon who you talk to, repentance is defined generally as a complete, 180 degree change of lifestyle. For me, there are basically two aspects within repentance. The first is the big change: seeing Christ for who He truly is and wanting to surrender it all right then and there. The second is much harder: the little, gradual changes in lifestyle; breaking the bad habits, essentially. Francis Bacon once said, “Great changes are easier than small ones,” and this is exactly what I have in mind when it comes to defining repentance. In the first stage, you turn around and embrace Christ and His ways. In the second, you strain and struggle to fight off all the little, bad habits you used to embrace before you saw Christ.
I feel that repentance is closely related to salvation in the sense that it displays our faithful reaction to seeing and feeling Christ’s presence within our lives. What I mean is, we may believe in our hearts and profess with our mouths that Christ is Lord, but people may not truly know it or believe it until they see the change in our lifestyle. No matter how many words I may be able to write or say about how much I love Christ, there is not a better way to show this than to love like Christ loved. It is an active sign that something powerful has enveloped my heart and transformed the way I see the world entirely.
In my study through the Proverbs, I was struck by 29:1; “A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed – without remedy.” This casts salvation into a slightly different light than what the mainstream of Christianity seems to project. We are very good at simplifying things, especially subjects like salvation, by saying, “Profess Jesus and you’re saved.” But yet here in the Proverbs, a highly-revered book by both Christian and non-Christian alike, there’s something more indicated. Granted it doesn’t explicitly say that one will be “saved” from the depths of hell, but it does give the opposite result. If one does not accept and embrace and submit to rebuke after rebuke after rebuke (basically if one constantly rejects correction of lifestyle), then eventually there’ll be no cure, no “remedy” for that person. God may or may not reject someone who never knew Christ, but He definitely will reject someone who kept their heart hardened to all correction and instruction.
Hypothetically speaking, even a nominal Christian could be in this category of the “cureless.” Merely saying you believe in Jesus isn’t enough; there must be a distinguishable point of change in someone’s lifestyle. The drug addict has to come clean; the alcoholic has to throw away their bottles; the adulterer has to show fidelity; the liar must speak honestly; the sinner must repent. It is not an easy life; I will say that from experience. There are countless times where I have committed the same sin over and over again. But what Christ’s grace enables is not the self-deprecating attitude, but rather the ability and breathing room to make the change. It takes more than ourselves to do it; Christ must be allowed in as well as brothers and sisters in Christ. But one has to come forward wanting to change.
I have no idea who will be in heaven and who will be in hell. I have my own beliefs, but God will probably prove them wrong in some way or another. But I do know that no matter what, I don’t want to come to the last day of my life and realize that I needed to change ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years earlier. I don’t want to wait until the final day comes to find out that I was supposed to make a change today, but didn’t. I don’t want to wait until the game is over to find out that I could have been on the winning side, but stubbornly chose not to. That will be a regret that will have no remedy.