How To Be Saved (Possibly)

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Personal righteousness, that’s how. Who says so? Not Paul, that’s for sure; he thinks you get right with God by accepting the salvation made possible by Jesus death (Romans 1.16-17). Jesus on the other hand thinks it’s by being righteous. More than this, he says God will treat you in exactly the same way you treat others. He makes this point repeatedly; what the believer will receive from God will be in direct proportion to what the believer does.

So, according to Jesus, if you want God’s forgiveness, you must first forgive those who have wronged you:

For if you forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6.14)

He applies this principle to other areas too. You want to experience God’s riches and blessings? Then first be generous yourself:

Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back. (Luke 6.38)

You want to avoid God’s judgement? Then don’t judge others:

Judge not that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. (Matthew 7.1-2)

You want God to show you mercy? Then you must first show mercy yourself:

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5.7)

You want God to show you compassion? Then be compassionate yourself:

The King will say to those at his right hand… I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me… Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord when did we see the hungry and feed thee or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee?… And the King will answer them, Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’. (Matthew 25.34-46)

Do Christians believe that the degree to which they demonstrate mercy and forgiveness to others is the degree to which God will demonstrate it towards them, both in this life and the next?

It’s not that Christians don’t help the needy. Clearly many do, as do some atheists, Jews, Muslims and all manner of others. No, the point is that Christians have lost sight of the fact that for Jesus such behaviour directly equates with righteousness, which in turn determines one’s ultimate fate. There really is no getting away from the correlation that Jesus is at pains to underscore, particularly in Matthew and Luke’s gospels. The only recourse seems to be to disregard it, which most Christians are content to do. They are much happier with the self-centred faith that Paul offers in Romans 5.17, ‘the free gift of righteousness’. This makes far fewer demands, carrying only the minimal expectation that one’s treatment of others has any bearing on one’s own well-being.

Except this isn’t how it works, not according to Jesus; God’s forgiveness, blessing, compassion and removal of judgement are entirely conditional. To Jesus, a ‘measure for measure’ arrangement is how one attains righteousness, which is not God-given, but is worked at in the practicalities of daily life, in relation to others.

I dared to suggest this recently on a Christian blog and was berated for making a ‘Satanic’ suggestion. Not me, but the one Christians say is the Son of God, God himself even. Evidently this doesn’t extend to knowing what he actually says, taking notice of it and doing something about it.

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Judgement Day

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And the Lord said to them, ‘Let’s have a look how you got on. You fed the hungry, right?’

And they answered, ‘Well, we gave some money to charity a couple of times and we’re pretty sure the charity fed the hungry for us.’

‘Okay,’ he said, ‘I suppose I can give you some credit for that, though I have to say I was looking for something a little more… hands on. How about when people were naked – you know, needing their material needs met. How’d you get on then?’

‘The charities did that too, we think. Maybe.’

‘And the sick and imprisoned? You bother with them?’

‘Not so much,’ they answered. ‘Look, Lord, if people can’t take care of their own health needs or choose to live lawless lives, then that’s up to them. It’s really not up to us to help them out, now is it.’

‘I see. So how about the stranger, the homeless, the immigrant? You take any of them in? You cared for them?’

‘Well, no. I mean, if you’d said that’s what you wanted doing we would’ve done it, wouldn’t we. But you didn’t make it clear.’

‘I thought I had,’ he said. ‘Maybe it got lost somewhere in translation. Selling all you have to give to the poor, then? Surely some of you did that.’

‘One or two extremists maybe, but look where it got them. Obviously that daft instruction was meant only for the guy you were talking to – you know, the rich young ruler or whatever he was.’

‘Well, not exactly. I said it so many times in so many ways you’d have thought you’d have got the message.’

‘We’re not socialists, you know, even if you are,’ they said.

‘So how about turning the other cheek, then? Or going the extra mile? Giving to all who ask? Surely you managed those?’

‘Well, no. We felt you were speaking metaphorically when you said all that. You didn’t seriously expect us to do such ridiculous things, did you? I mean, we’re not doormats.’

‘So what is it you did in my name?’

‘Well, we accepted you as Lord and Savior. That’s all that’s required, isn’t it?’

‘Not really,’ he said. ‘Not if you didn’t do as I asked.’

‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, becoming exasperated. ‘We’re washed in the blood of the lamb. Sanctified and redeemed.’

‘You’re what?’ he said.

‘Sanctified and redeemed. Made spotless. You know, like Saint Paul explained.’

‘Saint who?’ the Lord said.

‘We worshipped you and praised your holy name,’ they went on. ‘Filled with your Holy Spirit we witnessed unto you and defended your Holy Word.’

‘But you didn’t actually do as I commanded?’ he said. ‘And you think that’s good enough?’

‘We stood up for you and for family life. We spoke out against unbelievers and sodomites and all those who were unholy, lest they bring down the Father’s wrath on all of us.’

‘You didn’t consider that to be judging, then?’ he asked. ‘Something else I told you not to do?’

‘Oh no, Lord, not really. We decided what you really meant was it was okay to judge so long as it was done righteously. We always judged righteously, so that was fine.’

‘Well,’ he said, ‘what can I say? You came up with a much better agenda than the one I left you with. Come in and dwell in the house of the Lord forever. You’re my kind of people.’

And, lo, the self-righteous stepped forward, ready to surge into heaven.

But he stopped them in their tracks. ‘Now you just hold on,’ he said, ‘I was being metaphorical there,’ and he stood up to his full height and cleared his throat. ‘Here’s the deal,’ he said, ‘Not everyone who keeps saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom from heaven, but only the person who keeps doing the will of my Father in heaven… So, get away from me, you who practise evil. I never knew you.’

‘What?’ they said. ‘We didn’t think you really meant that. We’re washed in the blood of the lamb, you know.’

 

Rejecting Jesus the Christian way

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I’m sometimes taken to task for pointing out that Christians don’t make much effort to live as their saviour says they should. The title of my first book, Why Christians Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead sums it up. Since the very beginning, believers have replaced the radical commands attributed to Jesus with mythology, mysticism and magic formulae, none of which he’d recognise and all of which are far less demanding than going the extra mile, turning the other cheek and loving enemies. So today, when confronted with what Jesus says is expected of his followers, believers are inclined to say, ‘what right have you to tell us how we should be living?’ to which the answer is, ‘it’s not I, nor any other commentator, who tells you how to live; it is your Lord and Saviour. All we do – all I do – is remind you of what that is.’

Christians don’t like this, primarily because they don’t like what Jesus commands – it’s too exacting, too radical, too impractical – and they want to go on disregarding it. It’s damned annoying being reminded of it and being challenged on how far they are from complying with it.

Have those of us who point out Christians’ failings any right to do so? Well, of course. Christians spend their time judging, castigating and condemning others and as Jesus himself points out, judging others leads to being judged in return (Matthew 7.1-5). He sees this as something of a natural consequence, a yin for a yang. But ‘judge not that ye be not judged’ is another of his commands his followers like to ignore. Even so, if Christians are going to insist on pointing out the speck in others’ eyes, they must expect others will have something to say about the plank in theirs. That’s the way it works – Jesus says so.

So, Christians, if you don’t like me and others challenging you on how far you fall short of your Lord’s expectations maybe you need to lay off atheists, LGBT people, those you consider to be sinners, those of other faiths and even fellow Christians you think haven’t got the right theology. Put your own house in order first and then maybe we’ll listen to you (or maybe not). But don’t say we’ve no right to look at how far you measure up to Jesus’ standards. We’ve every right to ask whether the so-called Salt of the Earth (Matthew 5.13) has any of its flavour left.

 

Christians ignore Jesus

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Christians are commanded to ‘take up their crosses’ to follow Jesus (Luke 9.23). That means, amongst other things, doing what he commands. Yet Christians don’t just fail to do as he tells them, they replace his agenda with their own and completely ignore him. Being a Christian, according to Jesus – and you’d think he’d know – is not about pointing out the failings of others, nor about defending God’s honour (as an omnipotent being he’s more than capable of doing that himself) and it isn’t about condemning those you don’t agree with. It’s about treating others as you’d like to be treated, loving your enemies… things like these, in fact –

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get (Matthew 7.1-2).

Yet Christians judge relentlessly and tell us they’re justified in doing so: ‘you’re a sinner’, ‘you’re going to hell’, ‘gay people are of the devil’, ‘you’ve got the wrong set of beliefs’. We can only suppose they’ve don’t have a problem with the judgement they themselves will face as a result (because they don’t really believe there’ll be any such judgement.)

But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5.44).

What Jesus really meant to say here, surely, was ‘criticise those you don’t like, claim they’re infringing your rights, sue them if need be’. Yes, that’s it.

Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you (Matthew 5.42).

Really? Let’s give it a go. Beg a Christian to pay off your mortgage or ask to borrow the cash for new car. See how far that gets you. The problem here, as with all of these commands, is that Jesus really has no idea. No wonder Christians ignore this one.

How can you say to your neighbour, ‘let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye’ (Luke 6.42).

Another ‘don’t judge’ command, to which Christians respond, ‘What log? Your speck is more of an eyesore than my log. My log doesn’t impede my vision at all. It’s you who can’t see.’

If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt (Luke 6.28).

Yeah, right.

Do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6.31).

From which we can only conclude that Christians really must want to be treated as shabbily as they treat others (see links above)  

So how about it Christians? Maybe if you were doing what Jesus commands instead of judging the rest of us, we might take you a little more seriously. And, assuming he’s up in Heaven watching you – though even you know he isn’t or else you’d be doing as he tells you – so would Jesus himself.

As he says in Luke 6.46: ‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and don’t do what I tell you?’

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For more on this topic – Christians’ failure to take any notice of Jesus’ commands – see my book Why Christian Don’t Do What Jesus Tells Them To …And What They Believe Instead, available from Amazon.