January 22, 2016
Today’s Link: Genesis 23; Matthew 22; Nehemiah 12; Acts 22
I have often struggled with the idea of the exclusivity of Christianity. The notion that salvation is available to all, but then somehow is limited to only the elect, or the chosen. This has often weighed heavily on my heart, and has been a central issue in many discussions with Christians and non-Christians alike.
When I refer to salvation, I mean the freedom that comes from being saved or delivered from sin, and its consequences. I often wonder; is this salvation truly available to all people or just special people? What is it about the “path to salvation,” that makes it difficult to get on, and to stay on? And when is it easy?
I think this path is both easy and difficult. Since salvation is offered “by grace, through faith……,” the path may be easier than it looks. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Salvation is also easy in the sense that it’s main requirement is the willingness to receive a precious gift. And it is also easy because Jesus did the really hard work, paying the price for our sins with his very life. It would have been hard, impossible really, for us to do what he did. It is impossible for us to live perfect holy lives on our own; lives which would allow us to be worthy of a relationship with the infinite, perfect, all powerful, all knowing creator of the universe. We cannot live perfect lives; but we can live lives blessed by the deliverance from our sin as if we had earned it ourselves, because of Jesus.
As one who wants to reduce things to their simplest purest form, I love this very powerful and incredibly simple proclamation that Jesus made. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40) These words shed a brilliant light on a narrow path leading to salvation. Finding and following this path however, while it seems easy in concept, is not so easy to do. This passage has often helped me realize that I needed to focus on God all the time, another easy idea to grasp, but much harder to do in practice, especially on my own.
What is especially challenging for me is to surrender my sense of self-importance, along with the desires of my flesh. These are the things that often stand between me and God. Between me and a God who knows me, and who I can know in a very powerful way, if I so choose.
Ironically, the difficulty of getting closer to God, is our “hard wired” genetic code to survive. This includes amazing God given ability: to reason, to justify anything, to learn and understand about everything, and to create really cool stuff. But as I compete to survive, I have this persistent urge to want more than, and to be better than others. When I compare myself to others, unhealthy competition is reinforced. When I think and behave this way, I can never find fulfillment of purpose. This foolishness of chasing after the wind also sets the trap of thinking I am better than others. Jesus explicitly stated, I am not to think of others as any less than myself. When I “love my neighbor as myself,” I am set free from the endless cycle of unfulfilled self seeking.
The problem with all this self focus is the need to be on “top” of something to be ok, to find peace or satisfaction. Since there is always something better, someone with something more; the rewards for this pursuit of supremacy are limited, and fleeting at best.
I am not saying that the pursuit of excellence is wrong, but we are called to excellence for the glory of God. And it is in this challenge of seeking constant improvement that we are forged to become something more than animals. We are encouraged to find fulfillment by following the example of Jesus who demonstrated a life of first seeking God’s will. Our spirits are made for unity with God. The path to salvation is the path away from the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” (Matthew 13: 22). This is our destiny! If we miss this, we become misdirected, and this misdirection, at least for me, never leads to lasting joy or fulfillment, despite all the contrary messages from our culture and the basic urges of my flesh. We were made for fellowship with God which is abundantly available through the life and death of Jesus.
The easy part of this path to salvation begins with the willingness to take it on faith that God exists. As Jennifer talked about yesterday, it all starts with faith, then acting upon that faith by trusting God to be God.
We must choose to enter into a relationship with a God who seeks us out, and who invites us into covenant through the sacrifice of Jesus. In accepting this we are made clean, we are made whole, and we are made worthy of a true kinship with God. Then, in the realization of this miraculous adoption into God’s family, in our deepest humility and abundant gratitude to His amazing grace, we bow down to worship — surrendering all that we desperately cling to in our brokenness and in our confusion. In this way we receive God’s spirit and we are changed forever. This is a process I have repeated many times, and each time I become more like the creature God has already made me to be. If I am to be chosen, I must choose to follow Christ, and only then am I given the power to do so. The invitation to salvation is universal, but it is by faith that we must choose to be chosen.
Yes the path to salvation is both easy and difficult. It is God who makes it easy for us, we are the ones that make it hard. Many are called but few are chosen. Thank God we are given the invitation and the will to answer the call.