Our understanding of salvation—what we are saved for and saved from—has a tremendous impact on how we live in the world. It’s about being delivered from evil. If we view salvation wrongly as “making the cut,” it violates the great commandment to love God because it makes God look unlovable and exclusive. It leads people to wonder, Why doesn’t God let more people into heaven?
If we view salvation wrongly as “making the cut,” we end up inadvertently violating the great commission. Jesus told us to make disciples. But if we essentially reduce salvation to getting into heaven, we are proclaiming a salvation that is disconnected from actually becoming disciples of Jesus. And the tragic result is millions of people who live needlessly untouched by the presence of God.
If we view salvation wrongly, people inside the church feel victimized by a bait-and-switch approach to the spiritual life. First, they’re told that in order to become a Christian or to get “saved,” they have to do absolutely nothing. Then, once they’re in, they’re told they’re supposed to give to the poor, care for the sick and the elderly, and give their time, their money, and their possessions freely and without hesitation. Sometimes they’re told they should do this out of gratitude for being forgiven, which creates the deadly illusion that obedience is something we do for God’s sake rather than because it is the natural way of life for Jesus’ disciples.
If we view salvation wrongly, it inevitably creates a warped sense of us versus them with those who haven’t made the cut. It keeps people outside from coming in. It keeps people inside from changing.
The salvation that Jesus came to offer is bigger and grander and more vital than simply making the cut. It is the hope of the world. It is the reclamation of human life. It is the promise of meaning. It alone provides the security to live at peace each day, to face the past without guilt and the future without fear.
The reason we must understand Jesus’ gospel aright is not just to be theologically correct. The reason is that the message we proclaim determines the kind of people we will produce.
If you proclaim, “The mall is at hand,” you will tend to produce consumers.
If you proclaim, “TV is at hand,” you will tend to produce spectators.
If you proclaim, “The revolution is at hand,” you will tend to produce warriors.
If the church proclaims, “The gospel is how to get to heaven by doing nothing,” it will tend to produce people who do nothing.
Much has been written in recent years about the problem of “consumer Christianity.” But it is not often noted that the reason we have a tendency to produce consumer Christians is that we proclaim a gospel of consuming Jesus’ merits to make sure we get to heaven when we die.
That’s not what Jesus preached.
Jesus’ gospel had a tendency to produce disciples.
John Ortberg, Eternity Is Now in Session: A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught about Salvation, Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2018).
I have just completed a series of lessons on the theme of Eternity Is Now In Session. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year.