22-2 Believing In Salvation
The people had walked all round the lake to see Jesus and get some food
from Him. In typical style, He responded: “Labour not for the meat which
perisheth but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life” (Jn.
6:27). They ask what they can do that they might work / labour
[same Greek word] the works of God; and they are told that the real work
/ labour which God requires is to believe (Jn. 6:28). To truly believe,
to the extent of being sure that we will surely have the eternal life
promised, is the equivalent of walking round the lake. We like those crowds
want to concretely do something. The young man likewise had asked
what good thing he must do in order to get eternal life (Mt.
19:16). But the real work is to believe. To really make that
enormous mental effort to accept that what God has promised in Christ
will surely come true for us. The proof that this is so is because Jesus
really said these words, and “him hath God the Father sealed”, i.e. shown
His confirmation and acceptance of. So again we come down to the implications
of real basics. Do we believe Jesus existed and said those words? Yes.
Do we believe the Biblical record is true and inspired? Yes. Well, this
Jesus who made these promises and statements about eternal life was “sealed”
/ validated by God. Do we believe this? Yes. So, what He said is utterly
The Gospel is ‘good news’. If we perceive it as information about the
coming Kingdom which we have a chance to enter, but we won’t know for
sure till judgment day…then I would say it is worrying news, a great idea,
a daunting prospect, a thrilling possibility…but not all round good
news. Surely the good news is that it is coming and by God’s grace,
we will be there. It is well nigh impossible to eagerly look forward to
the Lord’s return to establish the Kingdom if we are totally unassured
that we will be there. Probably the most common thing we all repeatedly
request in prayer is that we will in fact be in the Kingdom. But the Lord’s
model prayer doesn’t include that request- instead, the main petition
is for the Kingdom to come. This can surely only be the truly
dominant desire in a person if they are assured that their Lord comes
to redeem them and not to reject them.
May I place two well known Scriptures together in your minds. “Thine
[God’s] is the Kingdom”. And “Blessed are you poor, for yours
is the Kingdom of God” (Lk. 6:20). The Lord assures
us that the Father wants to give His Kingdom to those who are
poor in spirit, to the broken, to the self-doubters, the uncertain, those
uncomfortable with themselves, the unbearably and desperately lonely,
the awkwardly spoken…the poor in spirit. Those who would be the very last
to believe that God would give them what is evidently His
Kingdom. But not only will the Father do this, but Jesus stresses
that it is ours right now. The certainty of the glory that will
be revealed for us means that we cope better with suffering; as Paul writes,
they “are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed
in us” (Rom.8:18).
Coping With Spiritual Failure
The fact we sin and fail inevitably militates against a robust faith
that “we will be there”. The Lord predicted how Peter would deny him;
but went straight on to assure the shocked and worried disciples: “Let
not your heart be troubled [because some of you will fail me]: ye believe
in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many mansions: if
it were not so, I would have told you…if I go and prepare a place for
you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am,
there ye may be also” (Jn. 13:36-14:3). These wonderful words of assurance
were in the very context of predicting the disciples’ failure. It’s as
if the Lord is saying: ‘Don’t let the fact that you will fail me shake
your faith that I will never fail you, and I will save you in
The Breaking Of Bread
This wasn’t all words, mere theory. Jesus showed by His fellowship with
“the poor in spirit” that He meant what He said. He, as God’s Son, extended
His Father’s fellowship to them in the here and now of this life. Luke
seems to have been especially perceptive of the fact that Jesus often
accepted invitations to eat with those whom others despised (Lk. 5:29;
7:36; 10:38; 11:37; 14:1). In 1st century Palestine, to eat
with someone was a religious act. The host blessed and broke the
bread and then broke off a piece for each guest, thus binding together
all present. This was why the many sects of Judaism carefully limited
their table fellowship (notably the Pharisees and Essenes). Thus it was
the Lord’s desire to share table fellowship with the very lowest (apparently)
within the community of God that brought Him such criticism (Mt. 11:19;
Mk. 2:16). His teaching also made it plain that He saw table fellowship
with Him at a meal as a type of the future Messianic banquet, to be enjoyed
in His Kingdom at His return, when redeemed sinners will again sit and
eat with Him (Lk. 22:29,30). To accept the gift of the bread of life at
the breaking of bread is to symbolize our acceptance of the life that
is in Him. If we believe what we are doing at the memorial meeting, we
are showing our acceptance of the fact that we will be there, and that
what we are doing in our humble breakings of bread is in fact a true foretaste
of the Kingdom experience which awaits us.
I read through the New Testament, looking out for point
blank assurances that we will be there. They are listed as an appendix
to this study. I was amazed to find them on average about twice
on every page. Now that’s really quite something. So what I write
is no mere positivism. In all intellectual and expositional integrity
I can say that the Bible teaches, as a major theme, that we will
be there. The Apostolic writers fill their epistles with an air
of certainty and assurance that they and their readers will be there.
Their readers are not “foolish virgins” - the writers are
labouring to the utmost that Christ might be formed in those who
are presently “foolish” (Gal. 4:19). There was to be no room
for half belief in their hearts. A lukewarm spirit and all
double mindedness (Jas.1:8) were to be banished. The urgency of
the power of positive thinking was in every breath that they uttered
and every word that they wrote.
Somehow human beings struggle to believe that something so very
good can be personally true for them. There's something in us which
wants to have to pay the full price even if we can't, or even decline
the wonderful free gift. Franz Kafka, one of Eastern European Jewry's
finest writers, was fascinated by this theme. In The Watchman
he presents a fictional representation of it, which many of us can
relate our real life experiences to:
"I ran past the first guard. Then I was horrified, I ran back
and said to the guard: "I just ran through here while you were
looking the other way". The guard looked straight ahead and
said nothing. "I suppose I shouldn't have done it", I
said. The guard still said nothing. "Does your silence mean
I have permission to enter?" (1).
By God's grace, we have in prospect 'made it' through. If our whole
lives are a struggle to finally come to believe that, well so be
it. It's just the quicker we grasp it, the sooner we can begin living
the life of joy and peace which true Christian faith really offers.
What About The Conditions?
And yet we know so well that a place in God’s Kingdom is conditional.
Many of the above passages seem not to mention those conditions. Why not?
Surely because although the conditions are there, God wishes us to order
our lives in such a way that we live as though we believe we will be there.
We are to reckon / count ourselves as if we are dead to sin (Rom. 6),
even though we are very much aware of its living power within us at times.
We are to have a positive self-perception. The teaching of Jesus included
frequent quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. When we go
back and read around the contexts of the passages He quoted, it becomes
apparent that He very often omits to quote the negative, judgmental, or
conditional aspects of the blessings which He quotes. Consider the way
He quotes Is. 29:18; 35:5,6 and 61:1 in Mt. 11:4,5. These are all talking
about Messianic blessings. But they are embedded amidst warnings of judgment
and the conditionality of God’s grace. Likewise Luke records how Jesus
read from Is. 61:1,2, but He stopped at the very point where Isaiah’s
message turns from promise to threat. None of this takes away from the
terrible reality that future failure is a real possibility, even tomorrow.
We can throw it all away. We may do. We have the possibility. And some
do. There is an eternity ahead which we may miss. And each one who enters
the Kingdom will, humanly speaking, have come pretty close to losing it
at various points in his or her mortal life. We know that some who expect
to be in the Kingdom will be shocked to find they are not (Mt.7:21-23).
But they will have mistaken the will of the Father, having never known
the real Christ. But the focus Jesus wishes us to have is essentially
positive. Of this there can be no real doubt. I would claim that true
Christianity is the only religion which inspires true self-value and positive
self-perception, thanks alone to God’s grace. Yet we are suspicious
by nature; we think that there must be a catch to anything free, to any
apparent good news. With the good news of the Kingdom, there is no catch.
We will be there. The grace is pure and total.
Whilst there are of course conditions for entry into the Kingdom,
it must ever be remembered that it is not right to therefore reason
that if we do certain things, then we will be in the Kingdom.
For this would be justification by works and not by faith. However,
because we believe we will be in the Kingdom, we will therefore
naturally respond by living according to God’s precepts. Moses encouraged
Israel to keep the Law exactly because God would surely give them
the promised land- not so that they would enter the land
but because He would give them the land: “Thou shalt keep the commandmentsof
the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways,and to fear him. For the LORD
thy God bringeth thee into a good land...” (Dt. 8:6,7).
David’s example helps us understand something of how this paradox works
out in practice. He of all people appeared confident in his relationship
with God and his personal hope of salvation. And yet he frequently
felt at times “cast off” (Ps. 43:2; 44:9; 60:1; 74:1; 77:7; 88:14;
89:38; 108:11), using a Hebrew word elsewhere commonly used about
God’s final rejection of sinners. David genuinely felt a condemned
man- and yet he rejoiced in God’s salvation. Few of us get the balance
Our assurance of salvation grows as we grow in faith and understanding
of God's grace. It was so with Paul. In his earlier Christian experience,
Paul spoke of running the race towards salvation (Acts 20:24; 1
Cor. 9:24-26; 1 Tim. 6:12). But by 2 Tim. 4:7 he can say that he
has actually finished the race. He uses the same word there [translated
"finished"] as in Phil. 3:12, where he says that he had
"not yet reached perfection". No longer was he 'aiming
to win the prize' (Phil. 3:14)- he was now certain that it awaited
him ( 2 Tim. 4:8). Indeed we can take 2 Tim. 4:6-8 as a conscious
commentary by Paul upon his earlier sense of still striving towards
||2 Tim. 4:6-8
|I would like to depart (Phil. 1:23)
||The hour of my departure is now upon me (2 Tim. 4:6)
|If my life blood is to crown the sacrifice (Phil. 2:17)
||My life blood is being poured out on the altar (2 Tim. 4:6)
|I have not yet reached "perfection" but I press
on (Phil. 3:12)
||I have run the great race, I have finished [s.w. "perfect"]
the course (2 Tim. 4:7)
|I press toward the goal to win the prize (Phil. 3:14)
||Now the prize awaits me (2 Tim. 4:8)
These parallels and Paul's commentary becomes all the more poignant
if we accept the view that actually, Paul did not die soon after
2 Tim. 4 was written- rather was he released, did much work for
the Lord, and died under Nero at a later date. In this case his
commentary in 2 Tim. 4 is a reflection not so much of a dying man's
last words and hopes, but of a mature, reasoned conviction that
in fact he had arrived at a point of believing in salvation.
The Return Of Jesus
It is pretty hard to be enthusiastic about the Lord’s return if we are
not certain whether we will be saved. Yet the Spirit sees the return of
Jesus as being our salvation, our meeting with our bridegroom for marriage.
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which
the Lord…shall give me…and not to me only, but unto all them also that
love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8)
“…knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep:
for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is
far spent, the day is at hand” (Rom. 13:11,12).
“Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of …our Saviour
Jesus, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us” (Tit. 2:13,14).
“So Christ also, having been once offered to bear the sins of many,
shall appear a second time…unto salvation” (Heb. 9:28).
“Thy kingdom come” (Mt. 6:10).
“We according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth”
(2 Pet. 3:13).
“Them that are sanctified in Christ…waiting for the coming of our Lord
Jesus Christ: Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be
blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7,8).
“As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing,
even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus” (2 Cor. 1:14).
“We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the
body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).
“We through the spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith”
(1) Franz Kafka, Parables And Paradoxes (New York: Shocken
Books, 1961) p. 81.