Posts Tagged ‘rob bell’

Salvation is for All…But What Does That Mean

Today’s lectionary reading comes from Romans 10:5-10. This is a portion of what has been called the “Romans Road” in some circles. This title is based on the notion that Romans presents Paul’s strongest argument or message of the Gospel of Christ. While I question whether or not this is actually the case, I do agree that Romans is a great book. This portion is not exception. That being said, it does add fuel to the fire that rages in my own mind as I struggle with the idea of the universality of Christ’s sacrifice. More on that in a bit.

Within this portion of Romans, Paul is making a comparison between the law and faith in Christ. Moses comes into the argument, though briefly. In short, it is very apparent in these 5 verses (and particularly in about 2 of them) that Paul places all his eggs in the Jesus basket. As I go back and reread this section of scripture again, I notice that Paul seems to strike down the act of questioning within the realm of final judgement.Interestingly enough that relates to my question of universality, so maybe this is a beneficial road for me to go down as well. Let’s see where it takes us.

First Paul lays out the questions that all too often come to mind for us…”Who will go to heaven” and “who will go to hell” (verses 6-7). Speaking as a confirmation teacher to junior high students, I know that this is a common question. I think many people face this same question at many different times in their lives. Obviously I’m still dealing with it as well. In a nutshell, I think this question of “which direction will that person go?” falls into the category of judgement. The danger of asking ourselves this question (and worse yet trying to answer it) places us in the judgement seat…and that is a seat that none of us have any business sitting in. Christ himself will sit there at the proper time…for reference, remember the Apostles Creed, second article…He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

So that being said, I begin to see what Paul is saying when he tells us “righteousness that comes from faith says ‘Do not say in your heard who will ascend into heaven…or who will descend into the abyss…” Namely, he’s saying that if our faith is sincere, we don’t even need to consider these questions. We realize that our own salvation is found in faith and we are in no place to pass judgement on others. Now at this point, Paul goes on to explain faith a little closer. “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (verse 9). He goes on as well…hitting the point a little harder in verse 10. “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.”

Now, hiding here in these two verses, and specifically in verse 9 lies the key to why we cannot be the judge. First he says that we must confess Jesus as Lord…well yes, I agree, this is crucial…but anyone can say the words. In my opinion the “confession” is not the key because we have the ability to say anything….simply saying it doesn’t make it true.  But now the next part is a little harder…believe in your heart. Here’s the real key. Do you actually believe it? Only you know for sure…well you and the one that can actually look into your heart…God himself. Only God has the ability to judge what is truly in our hearts. We, as humans, do not have the ability to make that call for someone else…period…end of story.

Now Paul does go on with further explanation of this concept in the following verses, and so I invite you to read on for further clarification if this is still unclear.

I on the other hand am going to circle back around to the notion of universality. Now, you should note that I do this carefully. The idea earned Rob Bell a lot of criticism when he released his book Love Wins a year or so ago. But it is a question that I struggle with. If Christ came to save the world (John 1), but Romans tells us that we must believe in our heart and confess it, then is there a condition? I’ll clarify…by condition I don’t mean to indicate that we have anything to do with our salvation…I’m way too Lutheran in my thinking to go there. Rather, I go back to the idea that faith comes from the Holy Spirit. Specifically that it is the word of God within us that allows us to understand and thus have faith in Christ.

There’s the tricky part for me…or more so the question…If faith comes from God, then why do some have it and some don’t? If God wants all to be saved (John 1 again)…then why does the Spirit only “place” faith in certain people? Do we have the ability to resist? The whole notion of free will certainly plays into this personal mental argument that I find myself in.

In short, I don’t have the answer and that’s why I’m still wrestling with this topic.  Today, as I read Romans 10, I take a little bit of solace in the notion that I know the truth that’s in my own heart and is confessed on my lips. Jesus is Lord and he died for the salvation of my sins.  I can rest in that…and I can pray that when I confess it, the Holy Spirit will use it to stir the heart of someone else. I can’t make it happen, but I can hope for it. Today that’s enough.

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My take on Paul’s take on the resurrection

Today’s lectionary reading is found in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.

In this particular section of Paul’s writings, we see a brief discussion on how humanity joins with Jesus in the resurrection…at least in the end. Now, granted, there aren’t a lot of details here, but Paul does highlight what I consider to be important points about how this whole sin/humanity thing is connected.

And in a personal note, I find it personally uplifting today to read about the notion of personal resurrection following a lousy night’s sleep and an EARLY alarm to make it to town by 6:30 to join into the Men’s Bible study from my internship site. Good stuff, but a tired Scott.  Okay…personal note over.

As I read the opening verse of this particular passage, I’m left wondering just how Paul arrives at this statement. He’s talking to believers, so shouldn’t they know that Christ raised from the dead…oh and this is verse 20, just so we’re all on the same page. Though now as I think back to the class I took on Paul’s letter’s I remember that 1 Corinthians was written to dissuade the believers in Corinth away from some false teachers that have come through since Paul last visited. Perhaps some of them have presented the notion that there was no resurrection…that’s certainly a possibility and would make the presence of this verse make a little more sense in terms of context.

That being said, I find verse 21 to be key. Since death came through a human being…aka Adam and Eve in the garden… the resurrection of the dead also comes through a human being. Make no mistake, Paul fully buys into the humanity of Jesus. Verse 22, in which he names both Adam and Jesus is a key verse into the common (at least in theological circles) notion of calling Jesus “the second Adam.” This is an example of humanity going full circle. Sinfulness is a reality, but here we see that we join with Christ in his resurrection. This brings to mind a good point in what “eternity” might look like. We think of going to Heaven somewhere up in the clouds when we die, but here in this passage we see that we do, in fact, join in the resurrection. This is what we mean in the 3rd article of the Apostles Creed when we say “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” Not only do we profess that Christ rose again, but we also profess that through Him, we will rise as well.

Now that being said, this passage also raises yet another interesting debate. Verse 22. For as all die in Adam (due to the sinful nature…wages of sin is death and all that jazz), so all will be made alive in Christ. I just took a look at the Greek, which I am known to do from time to time for the purpose of clarification. The Greek does support the notion of “all.” Specifically the translation could read “all people live.”

Now, the debate in question refers to whether or not every single person is saved by Christ’s sacrifice. More specifically it raises the question of whether salvation is limited to professed believers or if, in fact, all of humanity is saved here. Though I didn’t read Rob Bell’s controversial book “Love Wins” it’s my understanding that this is the topic that he’s discussing in the book.

Now personally, I’m on the fence here. On one hand I think of the passage “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” To many, this passage indicates that Christ does a bit of sorting. Perhaps this idea is supported in the Creed when we hear “He will come in glory to judge the living and the dead.” On the other hand, I’m also reminded of the passage “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” By saying the world, I can see a definite sort of inclusive-ness…namely that Jesus was big enough for the whole world.

Now, to clarify my own gray area (if that is in fact possible), yes I think Jesus was big enough. His sacrifice was big enough to wipe out all sin of/for all time. But am I convinced that everyone goes to Heaven…well, I’m still hazy there. Still in the mental wrestling match on that one. All I will say is that I’m glad that the responsibility of being the final judge does not fall on me. God can keep that one because I know I’d mess it up.

All that being said, I’m going to come back around to the discussion of 1 Corinthians again. The last bit of good news that really jumps at me is in verse 26. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Death is an unknown that, admittedly, unnerves me. I’ve got questions about it. I’ve lost some people in my life and I wonder about their final fate…but I do take heart in knowing that Christ beats death…I don’t have to fear death, because whenever that day comes for me…I trust that Jesus has my back.

Today that’s enough.