If no beginning, then no end.
One of the worst things that combats our walk with God is the continual questioning and wondering. Though certain ideologies are claimed to be clearly implanted within the words of Scripture, we tend to read past them and doubt our faith and salvation regardless. Our frail nature creates within us a whirlwind of uncertainty that, though answerable from the Book itself, we tend to relish and dwell on failings and shortcomings to the point of souring our very hope of salvation from eternal damnation. From the simplest to the most complex methodologies of the saving process derived from interpretations of the Holy Bible the Christian salvation and subsequent life afterward have often created a downfall to many due to the confusion associated with differing opinions. One has only to read through social media debates on any topic of Christianity to see that the different views can create such a contention between the claimed believers…even to the point of hostility. Unfortunately, many people see this and can often be turned off becoming followers by these contradictions and views. Others have either walked away from the faith all together or have settled into a non-orthodoxy religion that mixes Biblical teachings, accepted social constructs, and humanistic ideologies just to ease the tensions within their own soul.
I confess myself often a casualty of this war. From my non-religious and generic upbringings to deeply held reformed theological views to questioning the validity of all the claimed orthodoxies from every side, I have run a course of confusion and challenge that has hobbled my beliefs to the point where I’ve thrown my hands up in despair more often than I care to admit. And even though I have presented to you my gleaned understandings of Scriptural studies through various media these last few years, I find that everything is still in question, including my own “salvation”. For some this will come as a shock, yet for others this may be seen only as a season of challenge. And yet within still remains…no faith.
Before the mob begins lighting their torches and gathering in the square for a public hanging due to heresy or blasphemy, let me speak in my defense.
It is obvious to see that there are many “versions” of Christianity in the world today and each “version” claims they have the “gospel truth” at its own core. Within the walls of each religion lies their pre-ordained definitions of what is and what isn’t orthodoxy. Some churches have embraced a strict Biblical-only walk of faith and function while others have opened their doors accepting any and all definitions of Christian. Some would look at me as sinner destined to the gates of hell while others would claim my destination as heaven. Of course, the only true basis for what should be the definitive answer of how Christianity should truly be is based solely on the original source book…the Holy Bible.
But, now we are back to the questions brought on by the many perceived interpretations. You may read a particular set of passages to mean one thing and others may see them through a different lens, and thus, the contentious battles that rage, the casualties that increase, and the vitriolic attacks upon one another. With these matters flaring between groups, it is no wonder that many walk away or struggle with doubts and uncertainties as to what is the “right way” to believe and how they should walk through this life under the religious banner of “Christian”. When people see such infighting within the proclaimed “church”, it creates either a hesitant heart or a coldness that turns them away all together.
One of the main questions that has foundered my walk has been “am I truly saved”. Some will claim that once you say a prayer accepting Jesus as your savior, you are saved. Some add that baptism must accompany the prayer. Some say that all are saved no matter their lot in life. Then there is the repentance portion of the salvation process. Some will suggest if you repent (turn away) of sin and are baptized, that you will then walk in newness of life and have eternal salvation. Others will counter that repentance is a daily process that must be adhered to and that adding works is “un-Biblical”. Still others hold to “once saved, always saved”, no matter what you do after your admission into salvation. From terms such as “easy believism” to “works salvation” to “Lordship salvation”, the many views all state their case from the Bible and hold to the claims that “our way is right”. But is there only one right way?
Based on whatever style or path of salvation you may interpret as the correct one, there is the facet that some who come to saving grace and repent of their ways will display a “change” or newness of life. Examples would be the addict who finds Jesus and becomes clean from substances, or the violent person who finds compassion and is transformed, or the depraved whose life is converted into one of charity and love. These, and many more, are evidences that this newness of life has taken affect and turned the wayward lost to a new and directed path following Christ’s Biblical example. Yet most will agree, without evidence of change, without a turning away from the “old nature”, there remains the questions as to whether or not the conversion was genuine. Making bold declarations through words are just that…words.
Many people will make proclamations out of an emotional rush. Often times people can get caught up in the moment of exhilaration from their surroundings that they flow with the masses and align themselves with the crowd. Perhaps an emotional tent-meeting causes an unsaved person to be swept up in the moment and they make declarations of asking Jesus into their life. But then over the course of the next few days, life for them is back to normal. Or, perhaps, in an instance of heartfelt duress one should make promises to God that if He helps them that they will commit their lives. Yet afterward their life goes back to normal. You see, there are numerous situations where verbalizing something doesn’t necessarily cause someone to newness of life and salvation.
But, this is not to say that those moments can’t have the Biblical “happy ending”. There are many who make that commitment to Christ and walk boldly and succinctly from that moment onward. And though their life is still filled with ups and downs, many are clearly changed into a new creation and they live their lives afterward as a Biblical Christian. Though each life is different, many have a new heart that is desiring to serve the Lord, worship the Creator, and live their lives to the glory of God above through Jesus Christ. They passionately study the Bible and engage in a bible-believing church regularly. They are bold in their walk and don’t hide this new way from those around them. They are truly Christians. In these cases, the change is evident.
So, we can see that each person can have a variety of outcomes and walks. Many people have vast amounts of knowledge about the Bible and theology, yet without a heartfelt change in their day to day life. Many people have a true faith, yet though not desiring to deeply study the Bible, they live life with just their trust in God. Many are overwhelmed by the whole faith movement and shy away. And then there are others who just coldly reject the notion of an invisible supreme being.
There are also the people who have “chased” after God, seeking the salvation experience for themselves, and yet have felt nothing inside, no change. Oftentimes I can identify with them. They may approach the Bible with reverence, awe, and accept the Word as from God, yet might not feel or see any change within their life. Religious groups differ on the impact of the salvation process on a person and will either say that the truest religious experience is one of passion and emotion, or will claim it is only by strict adherence and obedience to the Scriptures that shows the fruit of the claim. No matter the view, approach, or process…we had best be certain that we get it right the first time through this short life of ours because there are no second chances.
One thing certain is that salvation defined should come from what God’s Word actually says. Since the criteria from which all of humanity will be judged is within the pages of Scripture, it would behove any who is pursuing the life-after in eternity to know what the Author of life and the Judge of creation has to say. One aspect it does clearly define comes from the very words of Jesus, Himself, who says “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt 7:21-23) Clearly, there is a definitive pass-fail based on these verses. It is imperative we know the right ways.
You can believe without truly believing. You can trust without truly trusting. And you can claim yourself to be something even though you may not be that something. Many go through the motions, carry on the facade, and display their life to some as they deem convenient. Yet in front of others they may come across as someone else. These “actors”, portrayers of characters, live a variety of lives depending upon who they interact with. This lifestyle is clearly represented by a vast majority of people who might attend church services on the Sabbath, yet live their life outside the church walls as “someone else”. These folks might be the type who claim themselves “holy” or “religious” under particular circumstances and yet not cast a single shadow in the doorway of a church. Essentially, these people are part-time Christians.
But, based on what is written within the covers of Scripture, living the Christian life part-time (or even 3/4 time) does not meet the high demands of God. We cannot expect to glory in God for eternity when we did not give Him our full attention on earth. Nor can we expect God’s decrees to be “suggestions” that we can pick and choose based on our feelings at the time. I’m not expert in anything, but can say with certainty that no matter what avenue of salvation you see is right, this God of the Bible is an “all-or-nothing” God. You cannot expect to just include God part of the time in your life when it’s convenient to you and also expect His full mercy and grace. Going through the motions or verbalizing yourself a Christian does not cut it based on what the Bible says. Sure, you can twist or re-interpret various verses in an attempt to fit your personal narratives, but in the end who are you fooling? Those around you might fall for it, but I’m sure the God that created all things knows the truth. Are you fooling Him?
Yet based on these things, if we really looked around at all those claiming themselves saved and yet who might be living that part-time life, we could surmise that there are truly a lot less people that have a ticket bound for heaven than would appear on the surface. If part-time or verbal declarations don’t meet the criteria of God, then what does that truly mean for many of us? Well, there are only two paths out of this life; heaven or hell. No middle ground. No participation trophies. No sneaking in by the “skin of our teeth” by last minute saves. Again…this is an all-or-nothing God of the Bible. If most of us were truly honest with ourselves, we would discover that we might not be in that “elected”, destined-for-heaven, group. Instead, what we might find is that we don’t quite measure up or meet the criteria. In fact, we might discover that though “many are called, few are chosen”. And that is not just a generalized verse, but that it is a reality many of us need to think over very hard.
Personal evaluation, and even re-evaluation, is a very important thing that might carry eternal consequences for us. We cannot afford to be so arrogant as to what we “think” our lot will be, or should be, in the future. Many may think themselves bound for heaven and yet after an honest and deep introspection of our life we may discover that salvation truly hasn’t come like we think. Though we are challenged by doubts and questions on a regular basis, these might be the important prompts for us to take a hard look at the real you and compare where you think you stand before God versus where God says you stand. The task can seem very daunting and overwhelming to most, but like anything that is truly important, we cannot afford to waver or even dismiss this matter and just rest on our self-designed laurels. Everyone has a view, an opinion regarding religion, but we cannot afford to just follow blindly. Many are led astray because they did not take the all-important time like the Bereans who “searched the scriptures daily to see whether those things were so.”
The time is short. What I thought was, might not be. What I thought I knew, I really didn’t. I am not alone in this. We cannot have an ending if we didn’t have a beginning.