I was asked to make a confession; reveal something I internalize for fear of how people will react to it. I like to consider myself a very open person. I like to think there isn’t much I hide from others.
However, there is one thing I keep to myself mostly. Not because I am ashamed of it, but because most people do not agree with me. This topic is not some whim or personal opinion that can be talked around casually without ramifications. No, this point of contention stabs right at the heart of every religious person’s foundational theology and even got me fired from my job once: Salvation.
I believe the only people in hell are those who have chosen to be there.
Someone asked Larry King, “If you could interview anyone who ever lived, who would it be and what would you ask?” Larry King replied, “I would interview Jesus of Nazareth and I would ask him if he was God. That would have a profound implication on many things for me.”
While Mr. King is right, that Jesus being God is very important, I submit that it wasn’t who He was, but what He did that has the lasting effect on Christians today. Jesus died on the cross to save all who believe in Him from sin and eternal damnation, and today, anyone who has spent any amount of time with Christians has likely felt pressure to “get saved”.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t pray for people’s salvation, or even encourage people to accept Jesus as their savior. I am, however, suggesting the organized modern church no longer understands what salvation truly is and has replaced it with a manufactured controllable system.
Getting people saved has become the main focus of the American church. Initially, one may think this a great focus for the church. But salvation is biblically stated to be the job of the Holy Spirit, not the church. Both the great commandment and great commission are about being, not saving. When we focus on salvation, we miss the bigger story.
Allow me, if you will, to question three common beliefs about salvation that most Christians hold and defend with a vengeance.
- Salvation as an Event. First, we must understand that salvation is the belief in Jesus as your savior, and actions that demonstrate that inner belief. The bible says, “Believe in your heart and confess with your mouth and you’ll be saved,” right? So at what point is the event of salvation occurring? Some argue it’s at baptism, others say it’s when you receive the Holy Ghost. Christians can’t agree when it happens so they make up salvation prayers, have altar calls and commitment cards to fill out. If you do any of these things, the church pats itself on the back and looks for the next person to “get saved”. Further, my experience has been once you are identified as “saved” by your church, your job is to get more people saved and give money to the preachers. For me, when we make salvation about an event, it makes church feel more like Amway than a gathering of Christ followers.
- Salvation as a Badge. When I was young, my dad told me other people would make fun of me because they were unhappy with themselves. I get the feeling many Christians look down on non-Christians because they are unhappy with what they signed up for. But they put up with Christianity because being "chosen" comes with a big payoff one day. How do you react when someone thinks they are better than you? Chances are you didn’t say, “Ask to join them!” When we make salvation about status we insulate ourselves from the ones we should be reaching out to and isolate those who believe different.
- Salvation as a Must. This is where I’d likely get hate mail. In the letter to the Roman church, the apostle Paul writes he is convinced nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. Maybe you have even heard a pastor say there is nothing God can’t forgive, or there is no sin Jesus didn’t pay for. So why do we need to accept him as our savior before we die? If Paul, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote that not even death could separate us from the love of God, who is to say we cannot accept Him as our savior after death? I am not a Universalist. I do not believe everyone goes to heaven. I do, however, think the only people in hell are the people who want to be there. At no time, in all of scripture, does it say one must decide while alive and then all bets are off for eternity.
Call me crazy, but if the church would just be the church (do justly, love mercy and walk humbly) and not try to be a salvation factory, I believe we would see a lot more people join us.
Read more confessions from anonymous contributors.