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Q&A #150 - What is salvation, and how does someone become a Christian?
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
This BibleTexts website administrator has very much enjoyed questions and insights that have been emailed to him ever since this site was launched in September of 1996. On this page I share with BibleTexts browsers a few of the questions, insights, and responses, so that we all can further learn from and with each other.
I am overwhelmed and overjoyed from having discovered your website!!! I respect and appreciate your hard work and commitment to the truth. I was wondering if I missed it or not, but what do you teach in the area of:
These days there are so many denominations teaching so many things that I am lost to understand what the Bible teaches about becoming a Christian.
Thank you so much for your very important questions:
Salvation, as described in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, is not a single event in the life of individual Jews and/or Christians. It corresponds with a way of life -- THE real life, whereby our every thought, word, and action bears witness to our relationship with God and to his deliverance of us from our adversity. The power of such salvation was epitomized in the saving and healing ministry of Jesus and in the eternal life that he announced, described, and exemplified.
Paul wrote (2Co 6:2):
For he [God] says, "In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you" (Isa 49:8). Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
We today have the opportunity to welcome and to celebrate a life of salvation every time we pray the phrase of the Lord's Prayer, "Your kingdom come." (Mat 6:10, Luk 11:2) In Luke, in Thomas, and in other early Christian writings, Jesus says, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is within you." (Luk 17:20-21. See also very similar sayings in Tho 3:1-3, Tho 113, Dialog of the Savior 9:3, and Gospel of Mary 4:4-5. See also more on "Your kingdom come" at http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/prayer2.htm.)
Such salvation was also articulated during Jesus' commendation of a scribe, an authority on Jewish law. The writer of the earliest New Testament gospel, now known as the Gospel According to Mark, wrote (Mar 12:28-34):
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he [Jesus] answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the most important of all?" 29 Jesus answered, "The most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31 The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." 32 And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. 33 And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34 And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
What was it that made that Jewish scribe "not far from the kingdom of God?" Had he already proclaimed Jesus' messiahship? Had he proclaimed that he believed? Had he been baptized by Jesus or one of his disciples or one of their line of successors? Had he partaken of the the communion meal with bread and wine? Had it been certified that he had complied with the law of tithing? Had he correctly answered all of the questions on the church membership application?
No, but the scribe's thoughts, words, and life already were bearing witness to the great laws of salvation that Jesus preached:
The most important [commandment] is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these.
The writer of Colossians certainly understood salvation when he wrote (Col 3:1-14, TEV):
1 You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right-hand side of God. 2 Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 Your real life is Christ and when he appears, then you too will appear with him and share his glory! 5 You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you, such as sexual immorality, indecency, lust, evil passions, and greed (for greed is a form of idolatry). 6 Because of such things Gods anger will come upon those who do not obey him. 7 At one time you yourselves used to live according to such desires, when your life was dominated by them. 8 But now you must get rid of all these things: anger, passion, and hateful feelings. No insults or obscene talk must ever come from your lips. 9 Do not lie to one another, for you have taken off the old self with its habits 10 and have put on the new self. This is the new being which God, its Creator, is constantly renewing in his own image, in order to bring you to a full knowledge of himself. 11 As a result, there is no longer any distinction between Gentiles and Jews, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarians, savages, slaves, and free, but Christ is all, Christ is in all. 12 You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you. 14 And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity.
Every parable Jesus taught provided further hints of the meaning of salvation and the kingdom of God. (See http://www.bibletexts.com/texts/parables.htm.) The Sermon on the Mount (see http://www.bibletexts.com/texts/som.htm) and the Sermon on the Plain (see http://www.bibletexts.com/texts/sop.htm) also teach such salvation.
This naturally leads to an answer to how one becomes a Christian. Differences over the answer to that question have led to deep divisions -- even to severe persecution, killings, and wars -- between Christian groups, sects, and denominations, since at least the beginning of the second century A.D. Yet, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus provided the simplest and most authentic answer: genuine discipleship. According to that gospel (Joh 8:31-32; 13:34-45, 14:12, TEV):
Jesus said to those who believed in him, If you obey my teaching, you are really my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.
Those who believe in me will do what I do yes, they will do even greater things, because I am going to the Father.
To become a Christian is to be a disciple, a follower, of Jesus and his teachings -- in our thoughts, our words, and our lives. To the scribe mentioned above, to the crowds who came to hear Jesus and to be healed, to his inner circle of men and women disciples, to the scribes, pharisees, and sadducees whom he rebuked, Jesus did not say that the way to salvation was through ceremony and ritual. He emphasized it was through following him in loving and obeying God and loving others as one loves oneself.
For a brief history of the use of the Hebrew and Greek words translated as "salvation," see http://www.bibletexts.com/glossary/salvation.htm.
To explore a real-life illustration of denying and affirming salvation and one's Christianity, see http://www.bibletexts.com/qa/qa068.htm.
Copyright 1996-2004 Robert Nguyen Cramer