God's Champion Lifesaver

Chapter Four of "The Really Good News About God" discusses the role that Jesus Christ, God's Son, plays in achieving God's purpose for his creation.

Snippets from the BOOK

From Page 124

What is Life?
Stating the obvious, life is the opposite of death.
To have life, to be fully alive, has two aspects that match the two aspects of death.

The first is to be restored to our original position, living in harmony with our Creator, and the second is to be restored to our original condition of God-likeness.
And just as there are two aspects to life, position and condition, so there are two stages of receiving this life, one for each aspect.

From Page 126

Jesus solves the position problem and God’s judgement and rehabilitation program solves the condition problem.

from Page 131

We will all meet the resurrected Jesus at some point in our journey towards eternity.
It may be early in our lifetime here, some time later, or even after this life has concluded.
But it will happen.

And meeting Jesus is a life-changing experience.
It certainly was for me and for every genuine follower of Jesus I know.

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"The Really Good News About God" has been published in various formats. You can purchase a copy, or download a pdf version, using the "Book" link.

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Let's Dig a Bit Deeper ... ...

A Familiar Question Jesus' Faithfulness The Santa Deception What is Salvation? Which Comes First? Salvation Language Eternal Life Not on Offer

A Familiar Question

Salvation is a word used in some Christian circles to describe an event in a person's life that saves him/her from an eternity of separation from God while being tormented in a place usually called hell.

"Have you been saved?" is a question often asked of a new acquaintance when inquiring if that person has made the vital decision to avoid this nasty future.

In summary, in these circles, salvation is a singular decision-making moment that provides a get-out-of-jail-free card to avoid spending an eternity in this horrible place.

This page explores salvation from a Biblical standpoint and discovers some refreshing, and maybe surprising, features of God's plan of salvation for humankind.

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The Faithfulness of Jesus Christ

Have you ever wondered what our future would be like if Jesus never came to our planet 2000 years ago, or if Jesus did come but found his mission too difficult to complete?

He certainly found it difficult.
"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me." (Matthew 26 : 38, 39 NIV)

But He did see it through - he was faithful to the plan the Father had assigned to him. And, as a result, we have been saved and will live beyond the grave.

In this sense, Christ's faithfulness has saved us and given us life. Yet, most of our popular translations of the Bible credit our salvation to our faith rather than Christ's.

Popular, dynamic equivalence translations and paraphrases usually give the false impression that we are the active participants in achieving salvation rather than Jesus by translating "the faith or faithfulness of Jesus" as "faith in Jesus".

Here are three examples just from Galatians.

Chapter 2 Verse 16

... know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, ... (NIV and similar in most modern translations and paraphrases)

Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law ... (KJV and similar in most literal translations)

Chapter 2 Verse 20

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (NIV et al)

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (KJV et al)

Chapter 3 Verse 22

But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (NIV et al)

But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. (KJV et al)

Clearly we are not justified by works of the law, and not even by the "work" of faith, as the modern popular translations infer.

Grace is grace; we are freely given justification, salvation, life, and so much more. We are even given the ability to believe so that we can receive them now and so become the firstfruits of the eventual harvest.
Because of Jesus' faith/faithfulness, he guaranteed reconciliation for his whole creation, ensuring the complete harvest (after the kingdom age during the millennium).

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The Santa Deception

I have been concerned (annoyed) for many years that Santa has almost totally replaced Jesus at Christmas time.

The real meaning of Christmas is drowned out under the feasting, drinking, parties, dinners, holidays, extravagant shopping and excessive gift-giving, and the stresses and crime often associated with them.
For example, how often do we hear Jesus mentioned (compared to Santa) in the lead up to Christmas, on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day in the media, in shopping centres, in general conversation, especially with children, even in many Christian homes?

Surely Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the "God With Us", the Saviour of the World, is the reason for the season and, with His name clearly embedded in the season's title, why is He now almost totally ignored when this season is mentioned and celebrated?

I remember when we moved to a new city a few years ago, we bought a house in a street which had Christmas decorations displayed on the roof tops and in the front gardens of nearly every house. Although we were not in the habit of decorating our previous houses in this way, it didn't seem possible to live in this street and not do so.

Interestingly, all the decorations displayed were of Santa, reindeer, sleighs, soldiers, christmas trees, gnomes, and the like. Nothing even closely resembled the real story of Christmas in a whole street full of striking illuminated decorations.

So, as well as being "shamed" into installing Christmas decorations for the first time, here was my big chance to introduce something that told the real story of Christmas, and to do it in a way that outshone those secular displays.

Our "out-of-character" display, showing Mary and Joseph with Jesus in the manger, shepherds, angels and a very large bright star overhead, gained a lot of attention and discussion in the neighbourhood and gave us an excellent opportunity to share the real meaning of Christmas with our neighbours as we competed with them for the most eye-catching display.

I continue to marvel at why people are more intent on telling the fairy tale about Santa from the North Pole rather than sharing the facts about Jesus from heaven.

Although both Santa and Jesus come bearing gifts, they are hardly worth comparing. Things that are of benefit only on earth from a fictional character like the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny versus a gift that benefits this life and the next from the Creator of the universe.
No competition there!

Another important difference appears when we consider to whom these gifts are given.

Kids are told by parents and others that they must be good to receive their gifts from Santa and are often bribed into acceptable behaviour or performance with the threat that Santa won't even visit them unless they do.

Just to illustrate, here's a chorus from "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", often sung at Christmas time.

He sees you when you're sleeping,
He knows when you're a awake;
He knows if you've been bad or good,
So be good, for goodness' sake!
Oh, you better watch out, you better not cry,
Better not pout, I'm telling you why:
Santa Claus is comin' to town."

How contrary to the real message of Christmas is that?
Being good to receive gifts from Santa is the antithesis of what Christmas is all about and totally turns on its head the reason for the season.

Compare the Santa song with the Bible's description of Jesus' mission and conditions for receiving gifts from him.

I didn't come to invite good people to turn to God. I came to invite sinners.
(Jesus own words recorded in Luke 5 : 32 CEV)

St Paul affirmed this when he wrote to Timothy:

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
[1 Timothy 1 : 15 CEV]

How about we Christians consider restoring Jesus to prime place in our Christmas conversations and celebrations?
We have lost enough ground to the secular western world already without losing out in the proper celebration of the Christian seasons themselves.

I can handle parties and celebrations as long as we remember what we are celebrating. I can handle trees and lights and tinsel as long as Jesus gets a look in and his true worth is recognised.
After all, the message that Christians have been given to tell the world is that

God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them.
[2 Corinthians 5 : 19 NLT]

Surely we can do that at Easter and Christmas - at the very least.

Now let me be bold and show how closely Santa resembles the diminished god of mainstream Christianity (dGod) which gives a false understanding of the God of the Bible.

Consider these two parallels ...
Firstly, both Santa and the dGod are mysterious characters from a long way away who make occasional, but regular, visits.
Santa arrives on a date each year that we have chosen and the dGod arrives when invited, often on a Sunday morning and occasionally when we need help.

Not sure about that?
How often do church leaders invite dGod (usually the Holy Spirit) in their opening prayers to join them for worship on Sunday mornings giving the strong impression that he only visits when invited rather than being present with us at all times?
How often do church-goers ask dGod to be with them in a trying or dangerous situation or to provide for them when in need, again indicating he only walks with them when invited and withholds his presence or help unless specifically asked to be involved?

Even King David of Old Testament times knew God was with him regardless of his circumstances ...

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
[Psalm 23 : 4 NIV]

So how much more should New Testament followers of Jesus know that he is always with them, no matter where they are or what they are doing.

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel - which means, "God with us".
[Matthew 1 : 23 NIV - quoting Isaiah 7 : 14 written about 700 years earlier.]

Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in your midst?
[1 Corinthians 3 : 16 NIV]

The God of the Bible is a totally different person to the dGod. We should be continually thanking Him for being with us rather than inviting him to be with us.
This gives us a better attitude toward Him and His promises, and gives us a far better understanding of being in the kingdom and always in the presence of the king.

Secondly, as mentioned above, Santa and dGod keep lists of our good and bad deeds and then deliver appropriate consequences.

A more complete quote from "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" shows us

You better watch out, you better not cry,
You better not pout, I’m telling you why:
Santa Claus is comin’ to town.
He’s making a list and checking it twice,
He’s gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.

Santa Claus is comin’ to town.
He sees you when you’re sleepin’,
He knows when you’re awake,
He knows if you’ve been bad or good:
So be good for goodness sake.
You better watch out, you better not cry,
You better not pout, I’m telling you why:
Santa Claus is comin’ to town.

KIds look forward to Santa's arrival, although with some trepidation. Eager for the presents he might bring on the one hand, but fearful of the possible judgement on their behaviour on the other.

How similar is this to the reputation of the dGod?
It is almost universally thought, both in mainstream Christianity and the world in general, that dGod does much the same as Santa.
dGod keeps a list of each person's deeds, indeed each person's thoughts, to assess their future rewards. The good go to heaven: the bad miss out on that reward and go to eternal torment in a place they call "hell" instead.

And of course the big question on each person's mind in both settings is, "How do I know if I have been good enough?"

The God of the Bible again is totally different to the dGod.
He is the Saviour of everyone, whether they have been good or not; whether they believe it or not. However believers of this good news have the joy and security of appreciating and experiencing its realisation in the present.

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
[1 Timothy 4 : 10 ESV]

And another thought.
Because the concept of Santa is usually introduced to children before they encounter the concept of God, the mysterious, white-bearded, occasionally-visiting, gift-bearing, judgemental Santa can easily become a template for a child's first impressions of God, especially when those impressions are reinforced by the image portrayed by the dGod they meet in church or Sunday School.

We need to get a good grasp of God's nature as love, God's role as the Saviour of the world, and Jesus' work on the cross as completely reversing the work of Adam so that we can correctly convey the really good news of salvation to our children.

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all. [Romans 5 : 18 NIV]

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What is Salvation?

Salvation has two major aspects which cater for the two major features of our creation.

When God made mankind, he created us in his image

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
[Genesis 1 : 27 NIV]

and breathed his life into us.

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
[Genesis 2 : 7 NIV]

When sin entered the picture, we lost both - his life in us (we became mortal) and his image (we no longer reflected a true image of God).
So to save us from this situation, salvation needs to restore both features of our original making - immortality and Christ-likeness.

Let me illustrate with a little "Barry story" that I told in Chapter 4 of "The Really Good News About God".

Suppose you have a friend who dies of a serious illness.
And you have the power to do absolutely anything for your friend.
What would you do?

Suppose you choose to raise your friend to life.
What would be the result?
Your friend would be alive, but still seriously ill, and so would die again.
Not the best outcome.

Let’s start again.
Suppose this time you choose to heal your dead friend.
What would be the result this time?
Your friend would be well, but still dead.
You’d have a healthy dead person on your hands.

Clearly the best choice would be to heal your friend and bring your friend back to life.
Only then would you have a living, healthy friend again - only then would you have saved your friend.
Two things need to be done for your friend, not one, for your friend to be completely saved.

We too are dead and have a serious illness.
We need to be brought back to life (re-gain immortality) and be healed of our disease (have the image of God re-formed in us).

In a nutshell ...
Salvation is a journey of restoration that starts with re-gaining life and is completed when we return to being God's true image bearers, as was Jesus.
And this is definitely not a one-moment event of accepting a get-out-of-jail-free card.

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Which Comes First - Salvation or Faith?

"When were you saved?" is a question Christians are frequently asked, especially in evangelical circles. In response, many give a date when they "raised their hand" or "walked to the front" in response to an invitation to be saved in a Christian meeting, or had a life-changing experience in some other setting.
For me, that happened when I was a 12 year old.
But was I saved then?
This raises the question, "What comes first - salvation or faith?"

I think Paul answers that clearly when he tells us that Christ died for sinners, not believers.

But God has shown us how much he loves us---it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! [Romans 5 : 8 GNB]

Jesus paid the price for our sin and therefore we have been declared righteous (in right standing) before God. We have been declared not guilty since the death of Christ.
Paul states this also in 2 Corinthians 5 : 19 ...

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. [NIV]

So our salvation came long before many of us were even born into this world, and well before we believed or had faith.

Many times I have heard an illustration that is meant to show that we are not saved until we have faith, until we believe and confess Jesus as Lord.
I use the same illustration, but in a different way.
Here is the illustration.

Suppose someone puts $1 million into my bank account without my knowledge. I have the potential or opportunity to be rich, but since I don't know the money is there and don't access it, I am still poor. Even if I am told the money is there for me, if I don't believe this news I remain poor. However, when I do believe the news and withdraw the money I become rich, then and only then.

Most users of the illustration conclude that I need to believe that the money is in my account, and there for me to use, and I need to withdraw it, before I can become rich. I need to do something (or some things) in order to be rich.

However, my interpretation is different.
I am rich the moment the money hits my account. The depositor, the bank manager and any court in the land would confirm that. And when I discover it, and withdraw and use it, I begin to experience the benefits of my newly acquired wealth.

Salvation is just like this.
I was saved when Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead 2000 years ago. I wasn't even born then so had no chance of knowing that fact. But when I became aware of it, and was given the faith to believe it, I began to experience the benefits of my salvation.

Salvation is a fact established by Jesus many years ago. It was deposited into my account long before I was born. My experience of it, its benefits and responsibilities, has been growing from the time I was given the faith to believe it and walk in it.

God gives me the faith to believe the fact of salvation, what Jesus did for me years ago. He would not give me the faith to believe something that did not yet exist. So salvation must come before faith.

This fact helps me see how God will fulfil his plan to save all, as all have already been saved even though only relatively few have been given the faith to believe it and walk in it at this stage.

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The Language of Salvation

I think some of the language relating to salvation needs some fine tuning, and the date when we were saved needs a major correction.

Many a person will say something like "It was on the 3rd December 2009 when I decided to invite Jesus into my heart and become a Christian".
And we praise God for such a person's experience and their inclusion in the Body of Christ, becoming part of the first fruits of God's great harvest.

Let's assume this person's name is Shirley.
Then may I suggest we rewrite this description of Shirley's experience in more Biblical terms, not to be petty, but to help us understand God's ways a little better.

Firstly, we were all saved about 2000 years ago when Jesus died, was entombed and rose again in about 30AD. (Notice I didn't say Jesus was buried because he wasn't, he was placed in a tomb.)
Shirley was saved at that time - she just didn't realise it or had been given the faith to believe it until 2009.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died." [2 Corinthians 5 : 14 ESV]

And

one who has died has been set free from sin". [Romans 6 : 7 ESV]

Sometimes an enthusiastic evangelical Christian will ask a new acquaintance, "Are you saved?", which demonstrates a limited understanding of what happened on the cross.
If Jesus was successful when he died for the sins of the world then it should be obvious that the new friend is saved, even if they are not aware of it.

God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them, and entrusting to us this message of reconciliation. [2 Corinthians 5 : 19 BV]

Jesus praying to his Father:

I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do." [John 17: 4 NIV]

And on the cross, just before he died, Jesus said,

It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. [John 19 : 30 NIV]

So Shirley was saved when Jesus finished his work on the cross about 2000 years ago.

Secondly, Shirley did not choose God, but God chose Shirley, just as he chose his first disciples. (see John 15 : 16)
He chose her to be one of His first fruits, by drawing her to Him and giving her the faith to believe the good news on that December day.

People cannot come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me. [John 6 : 44 GNB]

(And Jesus promised that all would eventually be drawn, see John 12 : 32)

So here's the rewrite.
It was on the 3rd December that God gave me the faith to believe that Jesus died on the cross to deal with my sins and has chosen me to serve him in the Body of Christ.
And she may well add, "What a joy and privilege that was, and still is."

So is this being petty? I don't think so. It recognises the full value of what Jesus accomplished on the cross and corrects our theology by putting God in control, not us.
I am more persuaded by the Biblical doctrine of God's sovereignty than the mainstream church's doctrine of mankind's free will.
However, I know I am in a fairly small minority as we have been indoctrinated with the "free will" message for so long, both inside and outside the church.

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Eternal Life is Not on Offer

At the beginning of Chapter 5 in "The Really Good News About God" I mention preachers who ask their congregations, "Where will you spend eternity?"- a question designed to soften up the audience for a fake news promotion.

If those preachers understood that Jesus died for the sins of the world (1 John 2 : 2),
that God is the Saviour of the world (1 Timothy 4 : 10),
that Jesus came to save the world (John 3 : 17) and
that God no longer holds people's sins against them (2 Corinthians 5 : 19),
then they would not ask such a silly question.

They should all just know the answer: we'll all be together with God.
Eternal life is a given for everyone because of what Jesus achieved on the cross.

An interesting way of saying this is : If you are a descendant of Adam, then you have eternal life.
Really?
Yes, 1 Corinthians 15 : 22 (NIV) says,

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

(Beware of people, including some translators, who change the order of the words in this verse to support their claim that not all who die because of Adam will be made alive because of Christ.)
I like using the CEV version of this verse, because it makes the order of the words harder to change,

Adam brought death to all of us, and Christ will bring life to all of us.

For many people this will not happen until the conclusion of the ages.
They will live their lives on this planet giving God no consideration at all, will die, will remain asleep until the resurrection at the end of the realm of time, when, among other things, death is abolished and only life remains - eternal life with God.

Now, about this fake news or fake sales promotion.
Preachers who are trying to sell "eternal life" are trying to promote something to people they already have.
"You need to confess your sins, you need to repent, you need to be baptised, you need to join our church, you need to ... and you will be saved, get eternal life," is a frequent line of approach.

But the fact is: we don't need to do anything now to get eternal life - it's a done deal, for all descendants of Adam.

So what justification is there for preachers to offer eternal life to people?
Unfortunately, poor translation of our English Bibles.
Most of our popular translations of the New Testament mention eternal life 42 times which gives preachers the Biblical backing for asking their question.
However in all of those 42 occasions, the underlying Greek word is aionian, which means "belonging to/during the eon or age", not "eternal".**

For example, look at 2 Peter 1 : 11 from two popular translations (ESV and NIV) and two literal translations (YLT and CLV).

For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (ESV)

and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (NIV)

for so, richly shall be superadded to you the entrance into the age-during reign of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (YLT)

For thus will be richly supplied to you the entrance into the eonian kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. (CLV)

Given that Jesus is going to hand over His kingdom to the Father at the end of the ages (1 Cor 15 : 24), it is impossible for His kingdom to be eternal, just age-during or eonian, showing how obvious is the translation error in our popular translations.

So the offer really being made is for eonian life, life during the ages, life in the kingdom of Christ, life in the Body of Christ during the remaining eons, so not having to wait till the end of the ages when all will receive eternal life.

So what about those verses that say you have to be a believer to have eternal life?
Correctly translated, they are saying you have to be a believer to be in the Body of Christ, to have live and rule with Christ through the coming ages.
And what a blessing that will be!

** To read more about this wrongly translated word use the Questions link and read "Why Re-translate 'eternal'?".

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