Thursday, October 01, 2009

Doors And Gates

Salvation remains a struggle for many Christians.  We say that Jesus saves, that his sacrifice is the one that satisfies God, and that we can’t earn our salvation.  We repeat what we’ve heard from others, that we can’t earn our salvation.  We define grace as something that can’t be earned or deserved, so we discount a works-oriented salvation.  Mercy declares that the punishment we deserve is redirected away from ourselves.  In all of this we are correct, yet listen to Christians talk and despite what we say, we end up sounding very much like we believe salvation depends on what we do, how we behave, and the level of righteous life we attain.
Writer, Paul Thigpen, put it like this:
Often we feel, as Thomas did, that the Lord isn’t living up to our expectations. Perhaps the headlines carry disturbing news that makes us wonder what God is doing in history. Maybe a new movement in the Church puzzles us, or revival comes from some direction we would have thought most unlikely. Even in our private lives, we may find that God hasn’t directed events in the way we’ve been taught to believe He “ought” to.
In those times when we, too, feel confused about God’s intentions, we must listen carefully to how the Lord answered Thomas’s question. When the disciple asked for directions, Jesus replied, “I am the way” (Jn. 14:6).
“I am the way.” Not the law. Not an instructional manual. Not a neatly arranged framework of philosophical truth, or even of systematic doctrine. The way to the Father was not a dogma, but a Person.
Because we so frequently quote this verse in reference to salvation we often neglect its immediate significance. Jesus was answering Thomas’s request for guidance for this life in this time. And Jesus replied, “I am the way.”
Most of us aren’t comfortable with that arrangement. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, we’d rather have maps and traffic signs to show us the way. But Jesus came to tell us that we needed more than the map of the law; we needed a personal Guide.[1]
Maps and traffic signs.  Yes, we want something to show us the way.  Largely, we want rules and regulations, a list of specifics to utilize.  We’re comfortable so long as we have a tidy list.  Invite us to live based, not on rules and regulations, but principles and we’re immediately confused.  Called to follow a man, not a set of doctrines, and our eyes cloud over with helplessness.
Yet, this is the call of the gospel of Jesus.  “Go make disciples,” Jesus said.  “Follow me,” Jesus said.  “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master . . . .”
At some point, one must wrestle with the clear teaching of the Bible.  Jesus is the Savior, therefore, Jesus saves.  But we can’t just dash that one off carelessly.  Consider the truth of the statement in light of passages like Acts 4:12.  “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (NASB95). Focus a moment.  “No other name.”  Want to be saved?  Jesus is it.  In fact, what else can Jesus himself mean in John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me (NASB95).  That’s as exclusive as it can get.  Jesus makes no provision for any other means to the Father other than himself.  He is “the” way, “the” truth, and “the” life.  Not “a” way, truth and life, “the” way, truth, and life.
This is bigger than it might seem, for the potential “savior” immediately removed is us.  In other words, neither you nor I can possibly be a savior.  If either of us is saved, it will come at the hands of Jesus.  It is this idea that terrifies a lot a lot of otherwise good Bible students.
We invite people to have faith in Jesus, and immediately, there will be an addendum to the conversation.  “Well, yes, we must believe in Jesus, but remember, we must do something too!”  We say that as if we’re afraid that faith in Jesus won’t quite do the job.  Jesus will need a bit of help.  We don’t want to give the impression that we have fallen for a mere “mental assent” kind of salvation.  Real faith, we insist, must have some teeth, and that comes from our obedience.  So we run right past Jesus and focus on our obedience.  We “obey” the gospel, therefore we’re saved.  Too many say that as if it was their obedience, not Jesus’ sacrifice that saves.
I am not minimizing the role of obedience.  I am trying to maximize the role of Jesus.  Either Jesus is the “the” way, truth and life, or he’s not.  We can’t have it both ways.  It’s confusing to everyone, including those of us who claim to have been saved by Jesus.  We end up sounding as if we’re not really sure at all what saves or who saves.  In fact, it’s little wonder a lot of Christians are so unsure of being saved.  After all, if it depends on our performance level, who wants to really trust that?
A recent discussion about Mt. 7:13-14 brought this to light.  The passage reads: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it (NASB95).  The discussion turned “way” into “lifestyle,” or “obedience.”  But the passage is about entering a gate that everyone doesn’t find.  It’s about a gate that leads to life.  Life is found by entering a narrow gate.  I think it’s tempting to make it a lifestyle, and to suggest that finding life is discovering the way we ought to live.  Nobody is arguing against a godly, correct way to live.  But is that what Jesus meant?
John 10:7-10 is helpful to the discussion.  So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say  to you, I am the door of the sheep. “All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (NASB95).  In both passages, Jesus is represented by similar objects.  In one, a gate.  In the other, a door.  Both passages relate to finding life.  In both passages, Jesus is the means of passing from one place to another, and to finding life.  Both passages are consistent with the idea in John 6:14, that Jesus is “the” way, truth, and life.
Here are a few things we ought to get from all this:
  • There is only one Savior, Jesus, who is “the” way, truth and life.
  • Salvation (life) isn’t about your performance level.
  • Salvation (life) comes from faith in Jesus.
  • Salvation (life) isn’t about having achieved a certain lifestyle.
  • To find life (salvation), you have to enter a narrow gate (in fact, there is only one).
  • Salvation really is a free gift ( that’s grace).
  • Life is only possible when we don’t get what we really deserve (that’s mercy).
  • It would be better if we got the focus off ourselves and on Jesus.
  • Once you’re saved, now go about becoming like Jesus.
You’re not ever going to be perfect or completely righteous.  That’s no reason not to try, but you need to put it into perspective.  Once you enter the narrow gate, or go through the door, which is Jesus, you now have life.  You are saved.  All that, despite your continued imperfections.  Engage the continuing effort to live and become like your master.  This is the place to encourage holy living.  Sure, God cares how you live.  But he doesn’t depend on your efforts in order to save you.  That one he has put on Jesus.  He’s a narrow gate.  He’s a unique door.  There is only one way to the Father, and it’s through him.  Once inside the gate, live the life you find there.

[1]Paul Thigpen, The God of Surprises, Discipleship Journal : Issue 31., electronic ed. (Colorado Springs: The Navigators/NavPress, 1999).