Tag Archives: salvation

Rewards vs relationship

If our relationship with God is based on rewards, we’ll tend to focus on what “gets us saved” or “makes us lost.”

If our relationship is based on God himself, we’ll focus on what pleases God.

Saved and lost still exist, but they aren’t our focus. Because we love God, we’ll try to do what he wants. Not out of fear. Out of love.

Got God?

Sometimes I think we’re too focused on what we can get from God instead of focusing on getting God himself. The rewards stem from the relationship; a healthy relationship isn’t based on the rewards you get out of it.

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Individual responsibility before God.

In the last few years, Christian writers have been taking a look at the phrase “forgiveness of sins” and relating it to the community of Israel. That is, Israel considered itself to still be in exile, waiting for God’s redemption. They were under the oppression of Rome, living as captives in their own land. This, Jewish religious leaders taught, was God’s punishment on the nation that would only end when there came a time of true repentance.

So, modern writers say, when we read about forgiveness of sins in the New Testament, we should be thinking in terms of the nation’s sins (Israel’s sins), not an individual’s sins. Because of this, the atonement is not a personal atonement, with Jesus bearing each individual’s sins, but community atonement. These scholars reject statements like, “Jesus went to the cross to pay for my sins.”

There are many moments in the story of the New Testament where this concept not only fits, but seems to be the best explanation. Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 is focused on community guilt (and shame), not the individual. Few in the crowd would have played a direct role in the crucifixion of Jesus, yet the whole crowd reacted in horror when they realized what had been done. That’s community sin.

But there are other stories that focus on individual sin. When Jesus comes face to face with a paralytic and says, “Your sins are forgiven,” that’s not about Israel’s sins. He was addressing the man’s personal situation. The woman with a flow of blood. Zacchaeus. There are numerous instances where Jesus is seen to be focusing on an individual’s sin.

And when Ananias talks to Paul about being baptized to wash away his sins, those are Paul’s sins. He was blameless as regards the Law, he’d acted in good conscience throughout his life, yet he had sin that needed to be washed away.

If you want to get technical, I am closest to what is known as “covenantal substitutionary atonement.” (Don’t you love those theological terms?) As part of that, I believe that Jesus died for my sin, that I was separated from God by sin, and that my faith response allows me to be seen as holy. I also believe that individuals need to understand that they personally need a Savior, or they will not be able to live in God’s presence.

We need a better grasp of what it means to be part of the community of the saved. But we don’t get there by rejecting individual responsibility before God.



photo via Pixabay

Being made worthy to approach God

We see in numerous stories throughout the Bible that God’s people believed that being in his presence would destroy them. Stories like that of Gideon and the parents of Samson show us that. Isaiah thought he was doomed when he saw the Lord in the temple; he was “rescued” by an angel that touched him with a burning coal and took away his guilt. The stories of Uzzah and Aaron’s sons that perished remind us of the seriousness of the presence of God.

When Moses asked to God’s glory, God told him:

“I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:19–23)

“No one may see me and live.” I think this is a statement of fact, not a threat. That is, sinful humans cannot be in the full presence of God and not be destroyed. That’s why sin “disqualifies” us from being in his presence. That’s why sin must be removed for us to enjoy full fellowship with God.

Paul describes God in this way:

“God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.” (1 Timothy 6:15–16)

Unapproachable. There is certainly a way in which we can approach God, but I don’t think that anyone with sin can enter God’s full presence. The darkness in us cannot withstand the light. The sin in us cannot survive God’s holiness. Our only hope is to be made acceptable through Jesus:

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19–22)

Without the cleansing that we receive through Jesus, we cannot hope to draw near to God.

God’s presence can destroy

Let me continue exploring this idea of God’s holiness eventually destroying sin (and sinners). I see this illustrated in the exodus story. When the Israelites made and worshipped the golden calf, God was on the verge of killing everyone except Moses and beginning again with a new people. When Moses interceded for the people, God said:

“Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” (Exodus 33:3)

Eventually God relented and accompanied the people. But this is when the tabernacle was established, with a system for cleansing the people of sin and protecting them from destruction. I think that describing this destruction as “God’s anger” is a bit of an anthropomorphism. I don’t think it’s an uncontrollable emotion that God feared would break out at any given moment. I think it’s a description of the very real fact that if God remained in close proximity to these people, the contrast between his holiness and their sinfulness could lead to their description.

God’s full presence was limited to the Holy of Holies (where he sat enthroned on the ark of the covenant). And a system of sacrifices and offerings was set up in order that that Holy of Holies could remain in proximity with the people without bringing about their destruction.

One day, we will live in the full presence of God. If our sins have not been removed/forgiven/atoned for, we will not be able to survive in that presence.

I’ve more to say, but I’d like to hear from you. Are you tracking with me? Does this make sense? Am I off base somewhere?

Thanks for the feedback!