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Salvation from a Christian perspective

Introduction

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Some diverse, conflicting statements on salvation from the Bible:

bulletSalvation is by faith only: Romans 3:28: "... man is justified by faith without the [necessity of] deeds of the law." 1

bulletSalvation is by works and faith: James 2:24: "Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only."

bullet

Salvation is by works only: Matthew 25:34-45: "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me...Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels..."

In addition, Revelation 20:11-15 refers in two places to how everyone is judged according to their works -- their deeds performed while alive on Earth.

bulletSalvation by faith motivated by love: Galatians 5:6: "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love."

Statements on salvation from other Christian sources:

bulletSalvation is pre-determined; we cannot influence our own salvation: John Calvin: "God preordained...a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation."

bullet Salvation is by baptism: Nicene Creed: "We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." Many early Christians believed that baptism wiped out only previous sins. Unfortunately, here was no general understanding of whether or how sins conducted after one was baptised could be forgiven. However, it was generally believed that all martyrs attained Heaven. This led to many Christians being quite willing to be martyred because of their faith.

bullet Salvation by special case: The Westminster Confession of Faith: "Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how He pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are uncapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word." 2 [The document provides salvation for certain selected infants who die young, and for persons who are sufficiently mentally challenged to not be able to understand the Gospel. Other infants, who are not elected, apparently spend eternity in Hell.]

Statements from skeptics of the traditional Christian view:

bulletAll will be saved: "The idea that Jesus is the only way to God or that only those who have been washed in the blood of Christ are ever to be listed among the saved, has become anathema and even dangerous in our shrinking world." Episcopal Bishop John S. Spong. 3

bullet Original Sin: "Each and every one has this contamination according to the Christians. ... [God] blames you for something that you didn't do and he blesses you for what someone else did."  Ahamed Deedat. 4 [That is, God blames every human for the sins of Adam and Eve, and blesses believers because of the torture-execution of Jesus on the cross in Judea by the occupying Roman army.]

bullet "Forget Jesus. The stars died so you could be born." Lawrence M. Krauss. [This is a reference to the fact that heavy elements, required for humans to live, are generated in supernovae. Humans are, in effect, made of stardust.]

bullet "Evangelicals teach that dictators on Earth who throw people into jail for thought crimes, and torture them there, are the lowest dregs of humanity. They are guilty of crimes against humanity, and are to be despised. But God who throws people into Hell for thought crimes -- believing in the wrong God or in no God -- and torturing them there, is pure love. Go figure" Anon.

See other quotes in our quotes section.

Overview:

Down through millennia of history, Christian theologians have based many foundational Christian beliefs on their interpretation of biblical passages. Some historical beliefs are:

bulletWhen Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, it caused their downfall.

bullet This sin was transferred to their children, grandchildren etc. even to the present generation. The concept of transferring sin from the innocent to the guilty is seen in many places in the Bible, although the principle appears profoundly immoral to many people today.

bulletBecause of humanity's downfall, most people's destination after death is Hell, where they will be tortured for all eternity without any hope of cessation of the pain.

bulletWhile living on Earth, through personal salvation, a person can avoid Hell and attain Heaven after death.

Unfortunately, biblical passages which describe how salvation is achieved are ambiguous:

bulletPaul generally wrote that people are saved as a result of believing in the resurrection of Jesus.

bulletThe author(s) of the Gospel of John said that one must believe that Jesus is the Son of God in order to be saved.

bulletJesus, as reported in the synoptic Gospels, appears to have given two main paths to salvation:

bullet One can be saved by performing good works, as in the "sheep and goats" description of the final judgment in Matthew 25.

bulletYou can be saved by adopting a simple life of poverty and following Jesus' example.

bullet Other passages scattered through the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) say that a person is saved, and her/his sins forgiven, through baptism. This caused great fear among the early Christians because there was no clear indication on how one could be forgiven for sins committed after baptism, except via martyrdom. This may be one reason why so many Christians willingly embraced martyrdom in the early church, and why Constantine delayed his baptism until he was on his deathbed.

And so we have a chaotic situation today where some denominations say that salvation is attained by:

bullet Church rituals (particularly baptism and -- in the Catholic Church -- confession of sins whereby one's salvation can be restored),

bulletGood works, including repentance of their past sins.

bulletBelief in:
bulletJesus' resurrection,

bulletJesus status as the only begotten Son of God,

bulletJesus as their personal Lord and Savior,

bulletOr by some combination of the above.

One might argue that different faith groups are all equally correct. What they have done is to concentrate on some salvation passages in the Bible, interpreting them as true. Then they either ignore other passages, interpret them symbolically, or attributing unusual meanings to them. And so, diverse faith groups end up with entirely different criteria for salvation. Yet most denominations expect their members to wholeheartedly embrace her or his church's teachings without a scintilla of doubt.

In addition, Christian faith groups differ on:

bulletWhether a person, once saved, can lose their salvation, and

bulletWhether a non-Christian can be saved.

Summary about salvation: The Bible is ambiguous. Different faith groups teach entirely different criteria for salvation. Nobody can be certain that their faith group is correct. Nobody can be certain that they will personally be saved.

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References:

  1. From the King James Version of the Bible.
  2. "Westminster Confession of Faith: Chapter 10, Section 3," 3rd edition, at: http://www.pcanet.org/
  3. J.S. Spong, "A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying and How a New Faith is Being Born,"  HarperSanFrancisco, (2001), Page 179. Read reviews or order this book
  4. Excerpted from a speech by Ahamed Deedat at: http://www.youtube.com/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-AUG-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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