Salvation is a mystery that can’t be faked

November 17, 2014

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(The UCU Standard – Monday, November 17, 2014)

MUKONO, UGANDA ✦ It’s a risky move, of course, to open up your Sunday morning message to questions. You never know who might ask what.

But this is what happened last Sunday. The minister who I listened to had a post-sermon question-and-answer session and a woman stepped forward with what they call a show-stopper.

Her voice quivering, she asked rather plainly and desperately, “So just how do you get saved?”

It was a striking taste of what it must have been like when some people – Nicodemus comes to mind – asked Jesus just what in the world He was getting at with all this talk about being “born again.”

Two thousand years later, if that minister had followed what has become the unimaginative convention of our time, he might have said, “Well, let me share with you the sinner’s prayer, and, if you wish, you can even repeat it after me right now.”

In some church subcultures, this has become the clichéd and standard response.

Some extra religious prohibitions might then also be added, usually relating to activities like drinking or dancing or Sunday recreation, injunctions that have embarrassingly little to do with the irreligious example that Jesus actually left for us.

This is what the Scriptures reveal, that the God who offers such wild promises and relationship is less interested in hearing any prayers by formula or route as much as honest expressions. And this is why, I suspect, this minister then answered this woman by sharing the story of the thief on the cross.

There he is, this career criminal, looking death in the eye, looking over his sorry existence, mustering at least a dying moment of truth. And what does he say? Simply, “Jesus, when you enter your kingdom, will you remember me?”

It wasn’t much. But it wasn’t concocted either. It was from his own deep place, a place of unconditional surrender.

And that was enough for Jesus to give the remarkable revelation that this man was somehow not only forgiven, but about to have a cool drink, so to speak, with God himself on the seaside of eternity.

The tongues, even at the cross, must have wagged all the more. Are you kidding me? That hustler? That old rogue? Saved?  Now? And isn’t this is the real rub of it? That God’s ways are not our ways?

Yes, it may be true that God’s followers have always been called to live holy lives, but this is not the heart of salvation. It’s not the core. Mystery is. Mystery, like the wind, said Jesus. Where it comes from and where it goes next is anybody’s guess. You can’t make or fake it.

Too often, though, salvation is now reduced to this other step-by-step instruction on how to, say, bake a cake: just do this and add this and mix this and how sweet it all is. And, in our time, skeptics, of course, have a heyday with such weak professions of so-called faith.

But now there is you, here at this university where the target before you is real faith, the substance and evidence of things that may be unseen, but a target with substance and evidence, nonetheless.

And if this is true, then this university, at its best, is a place not unlike that minister, not just giving didactic one-way messages, but one that opens itself to questions and critical thinking to test ideas and ensure they’re not just being passed around like cheap currency unbacked by a gold standard.

Yes, you’re big enough to not just sit and listen idly, but to look into these important matters for yourself and ask your own questions to come to your own conclusions, and, by God’s grace, your own place of spiritual reality and surrender.

And as you’re changed and later leave this university, you’ll, even in a small way, be able to change your own world.

Won’t you?


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November 17, 2014 • Posted in ,
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2 thoughts on “Salvation is a mystery that can’t be faked”

  1. Reading you article raises old memories of questions I had as a young man. My question for jesus was what to do with this faith I found inside my heart that jesus existed and loved me? You see I did not believe I could be loved. At the the time it seemed simple to me. Today it is not so simple. I am struck by the fact that I pursue truth despite and because of the layers of deceit i encounter in my own heart. And yet despite many years of life, I still pursue truth, yes even about my own spiritual condition, as if it were the breath and substance of life. I hope this woman’s question expressed a yearning to hear the truth from as close to Jesus’ lips as she could get this time and the next, until she gets to look into his eyes to find his answer there. I suspect if she yearns for truth then she will find it then along with the compassion to face it, hold it, sorrow and rejoice over it. I think this might prove to be the beginning of salvation. I think it will be for me. What do you think?

  2. Roger, thank you. I don’t know what to say, except that we do live in a world of delusions, one of them being that we’re not lovable. It is really something that you have worked through that in your own life, something we’re all still, in one way or another, working through. But the reason I’m a little lost for words is that I think you’ve said plenty yourself, and in such a transparent way, such a deeply touching way. I can’t really add much more. From the most ancient of days through those Old Testament prophets (If you seek Me with all your heart, you will find Me) to later times when Jesus walked among us (Ask and it will given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you), to now, this very moment, God is, in His mysterious way, making Himself available to us. Salvation is something to be worked out with fear and trembling, both a moment in time (sometimes) and also a process of living with this God who is both so intimate and mysterious at the same time. Thank you for sharing your heart. You are loved, I know, more than either of us can imagine. Someday we’ll experience just how much that is.

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