(All verses taken from the New International Version unless indicated otherwise)
Keith G. Morehead
What must a person do to be saved? Everyone sets standards for salvation, and we judge others according to our own personal and denominational standard. One individual may believe they have to earn their way to heaven by working for God. They attempt to compile good works to show they deserve it: living a good life, feeding the poor, going door to door, becoming a missionary. Another believes they must accept Jesus as their personal savior to be "Born again," while still others believe you must be baptized in Jesus name, and show evidence of receiving the Holy Ghost by speaking in another language. Everyone draws a line in the sand, and anyone on the other side of the line is lost. We have spent our time judging each other because we all know there is only one way to God. Jesus told his disciples, "I am the way " (John 14:6). Ephesians tells us "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6 NKJ). If there is only one way to God, and we have the right way, then everyone else must be wrong. If they are wrong, then they are lost. What is the answer? I believe we must walk through doors to be saved.
Salvation is not a single event experience. We dont walk through one door and find heaven on the other side. Salvation is an ongoing experience totally dependent on a relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus told the Jews they must "abide" (hold or continue) in his word to be his disciples (John 8:31 NKJV, NIV, KJV). Romans 8:23, Hebrews 3:6, 14, I John 2:19, Revelation 2:26, 3:21 all refer to remaining in Christ to the end in order to be called his disciples. A single event salvation experience is similar to a marriage when one member of the couple is unfaithful, the relationship is doomed to failure without reconciliation. Without communication and fellowship in the relationship, it cannot succeed. Unlike a marriage, Jesus part in the relationship finds him always faithful, always forgiving, always giving, always there. Salvation was purchased for us with a single paymentthe sacrifice of Jesus on the crossbut we are not able to complete one act and say we are saved. One cannot do one good deed, or have one profession of faith and consider themselves saved anymore than a dip in the water and vocalizing some foreign language can ensure fellowship with God. I am confident everyones goal is to be saved ultimately, permanently, and eternally. To attain eternal salvation, we must remain actively involved in a relationship with Jesusa momentary experience cannot accomplish the permanence we all seek. We must continue to walk through doors our entire lives.
Must we meet certain criteria to establish our relationship with Jesus? Absolutely, but what are they? That is where differences come into play. There is no real difference found in the Word of Godonly differences in perception and understanding. I believe the ultimate criteria to finding "the way" is to "Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength." Moses introduced this precept in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Jesus endorsement is recorded in Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27.
Differing denominations place great emphasis on Deuteronomy 6:4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD" as an emphasis on the Oneness of God. In Hebrew: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohim, Adonai echad. This verse is known as the "Shema." The word Shema is translated, "Hear" but the definition shows that it means, "to listen intently." The Shema definitely emphasizes Gods Oneness. In fact, Spiros Zodhiates calls it "the main tenet of monotheism" (Reference Bible footnote of Dt 6:4). I believe the intent of verse 4 is to gain the attention of, and prepare the reader and listener for verse 5. As an analogy, I would like to refer to one of Bill Cosbys standup comedy routines. While admonishing a misbehaving offspring, he would say, "Now listen up! Im your father; Im the only father youve got; I brought you into this world, and I can take you out. Now get to bed and go to sleep. If I hear one more peep out of you you dont want to know what will happen." The true message was that the child best get to sleep pronto. The first portion was an introduction to the fact that the father had the prerogative, power, and plan to take the appropriate action to illicit a response of obedience. My paraphrase of Moses words in the Shema is very similar to Mr. Cosbys: "Listen up Israel, Jehovah is our God, Jehovah is the God of all gods, He is the only God well ever have because he is the only God there is. And if we know whats good for us, we will love Him with all our hearts, souls, mind and strength.
This understanding is supported in the quotations of this text found in the Gospels. Matthew avoids quoting Deuteronomy 6:4 and goes right to verse 5 telling us to
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind love your neighbor all the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-40). Mark recreates an encounter Jesus had with a scribe asking a question. The question was "What is the most important commandment?" Jesus quotes the entire passage of Deuteronomy 6:4, 5, and then goes on to say, the second most important command is similar to the first: Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself (my paraphrase Mark 12:28-32). Luke follows Matthew by quoting the command to "Love the Lord love your neighbor," without the introduction (10:27). The common thread in all these texts is the focus on loving God. Therefore, I believe the most important command is "Love the Lord ." Jesus intention is clearly to teach us to love God and love our neighbor.
Jesus is the only man who ever loved God with his whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. How do we demonstrate our love for God? We obey him. Jesus, said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command" (John 14:15). How do we know this to be true? We have an example in Jesusa perfect example. He said "but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me" (John 14:31).
Life is a series of opportunities to demonstrate our love for God through obedience. I would like to portray those opportunities as a hallway filled with doorways. We must pass through these doorways on our "Pilgrims Progress" toward God. ( Pilgrims Progress was a allegorical book written by John Bunyan from an English prison (1673-1678) describing the process of his Christian life.) Every doorway is an opportunity to improve our relationship with God, which in turn leads to another opportunity. Those who pass by an opportunity to come closer to God will encounter additional doorways down the hallway; but we walk away from God every time we refuse to open a door. One must continually walk through doors to nurture and enhance a relationship with God.
Jesus walked through every door set before him, never passing up one opportunity to obey God. Jesus had an attitude, but it was an attitude of obedience. He was willing to do anything God requested of him. He hesitated one time: in the Garden of Gethsemane when he knew what was beyondhis own pain, torture, and agonizing death. Ultimately, his attitude prevailed, and he obeyed. He walked through the door, which led him to the cross. Man has an attitude also, but cannot match the attitude of Jesuswe are frequent failures where obedience is concerned. Jesus is our perfect example. I excuse my weakness when compared to Jesus by saying, " I can never be as perfect as Jesushe had the spirit of God without measure, he was God incarnate, Almighty God in Flesh. I am not Jesus ."
Since we are uncomfortable with a comparison to Jesus, let us examine the life of someone who offers a more realistic example, Abraham. The first documented command of God to Abram was to leave his home and his family (Genesis 12:1). Hows that for starting a relationship? Terah, Abrams father, had brought Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees. Terah established a new home for the family and died. Shortly thereafter, God told Abram to leave his home, his brothers and sisters. Abram had an attitude of obedience also.
I remember the times before I walked through my first door with God. I had an attitude, but it was not an attitude of obedience. My wife, then girlfriend, would tell me I needed Jesus in my life. It was not that I didnt like Jesus, as much as I was afraid of what he would do to me, or what he would make me do to myself. I knew then, that loving God meant obeying Him; which meant my life was going to change, and I was having too much fun to change. Another concern was my familys reaction to me becoming a ChristianI figured they wouldnt like me any more. You know what, Jesus did change my life. My relationship with my family did change. Thank God he changed my lifeit needed changing. God gave me a new lifeand he gave me new family, a spiritual family. I did not lose my blood family; our relationship changed, but I believe the changes were improvements.
Abram continued to walk through the doorways that God placed in front of him. He got a slightly negative attitude after God told him he would give him a great reward. Abram said, "What do I need riches for, I dont even have a son to leave them to." So God promised Abram, not only a son, but also that Abrams offspring would be more numerous than the stars in the sky. This encounter with God occurred when Abram was around 76 years old. But Abram walked through that door too. The Bible says, "Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).
This is an extremely significant statement. This is the introduction and establishment of the concept of "justification through faith." God declares Abram justified or "Not guilty." Not because of anything he did, but totally because he believed God.
The United Bible Societys Translator Handbook describes Abrams belief:
Abrams belief is not to be taken lightly.
Genesis 15:6 is the first time the word "righteousness" is used in the Bible. The Hebrew word for righteousness is tsedaqah (tsed-aw-kaw') (as vindicated), justice, justification, salvation. The Greek word for righteousness is dikaiosune (dik-ah-yos-oo'-nay) which is defined by Thayer to be the "state of him who is as he ought to be the condition acceptable to God a state approved of God."
The UBS Translator Handbook interprets righteousness as:
Genesis 15:6 is quoted three times in the New Testament: Paul mentions Abraham in Romans and Galatians. James refers to it in chapter 2, verses 17-26.
Paul recounts Abrams act in Romans 4:9-12. He asks: "Under what circumstances was Abrahams faith credited to him as righteousness? Was it after he was circumcised? No, God credited his faith to him as righteousness before he was circumcised." I believe Paul is telling us that if lightning struck Abraham before the flint stone did, he would have been blameless before God. Had he passed up his opportunity to obey, he would have been lost, but we will see that this was not the case. Paul describes Abraham as the father of all those who believe but have not been circumcised (verse 11).
In Galatians 3, Paul chastises the church for returning to a vain attempt to being justified by observing the law. He asks them, "Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?" (Verse 2). In verse 5, he follows the same line of questioning when he asks, "Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?" God does not consider you righteous because you do something to please him. He considers you righteous when you believe. God blesses without condition when we believe and expects us to act later.
James 2:17-26 also quotes Genesis 15:6 and teaches about the connection between faith (belief) and works. James takes Abrams justification by his belief a step further and affirms that his faith and his actions justified him. In other words, Abram was justified by his faith initially, but had he failed to obey Gods commands, his faith would have been useless. If our faith does not promote works of obedience, the faith would be discounted as though it never existed. Works did not justify Abram, but his works validated his faith. One cannot have one without the other.
How does this apply to us? We are judged to be pure and sinless, not because of anything we do or refrain from doing, but because we believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus death, burial, resurrection, and the indwelling of his spirit. We receive this justification when we believe Gods promises. We are justified by our willingness to believe Gods promises, but our belief becomes valid only if we follow through with action. Or can I say, "We must walk through the door."
Imagine walking down a long hallway filled with doors. You find yourself standing before a door with a sign that reads, "If you believe in God, walk through the doorotherwise, continue down the hallway." Those who believe pass through the door and continue their journey to the next opportunity. According to Genesis 15:6 they were justified because they believed God, even before they walked through the door. Had they refused to pass through the door, they showed they had no faith. If their mortal life ended before reaching the next door of opportunity, Gods judgment is delivered. Be sure of one thing, God will judge each "Pilgrims Progress"pilgrims wont judge each other.
Meanwhile in Genesis, Abram has aged twenty-three years and is now 99 years old. No son has arrived, except Ishmael, born to the servant girl Hagar. Abram is acting totally on faith that God will deliver; he has little to trust in other than Gods promise. The judgment miracles of Sodom and Gomorrah dont occur for several more months so Abram has had no PROOF that God can deliver on what he says. "When Abraham died, Gods promises were far from realized. Abraham had only that one son to cling to. His only land was a burial plot. He still lived in a tent: his only structures were altars erected to worship God who had made all these promises" (New Student Bible, p. 43). God arrives back on the scene. He changed Abrams name to Abraham, confirmed his previous promise to make him a father of nations, and then placed Abraham in front of another door. This time the door is labeled "Circumcision."
There is very little humor in considering the circumcision of a 99-year-old man. I think I know what I would have done had it been me: " OK God, Ill do whatever you say because I really want to make a covenant with you. But how about I wait until after you deliver on your first promise before I go ahead with this? Just so I have a little proof that youll keep your side of the bargain. " What was Abrahams response? Genesis 17:23 tells us Abraham walked through the door without hesitation: "So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him" (NKJ).
When Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah was 90, she gave birth to Isaac, their first child (Genesis 21:5). God fulfilled Abrahams own cynical, prophetic thought from Genesis 17:17 when Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?"
The next door to cross Abrahams path was a test. He was commanded to offer his long awaited, promised son, as a sacrifice. What was his response? He walked through the door without hesitationhe obeyed.
I submit to you that anyone who passes through every doorway which crosses his/her path during their pilgrimage, and dies before measuring up to any established standard, is not eternally lost. They are no more eternally lost, than the individual who ends their pilgrimage after a single spiritual experience is eternally saved. Whether this single experience is crying at an altar, believing in Jesus, accepting Him as Savior, repenting of your sins, being baptized in water or with the spirit, or spending a term as a missionaryone experience is not enough. Take for example, someone who lives by all the truth they have been exposed to. They trust in the blood of Jesus Christ to wash their sins, and are willing to die for the Good News of the Gospel. But they dont meet up to a denominational salvation standard. They believe and seek God with all their heart but they die before they achieve expectations. Are they lost? Like I mentioned earlier and Im glad of it, God alone is our judge.
There are two stages of doors to pass through. The first doors are those that lead to spiritual birth, e.g. believing in God, believing in the atonement of Jesus, repentance, baptism in Jesus name, and the gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost is the spirit of the risen Christ, living in us, leading us to, and helping us through future doorways during our journey. I relate the baptism of the Holy Spirit to our birth delivery after spending nine months in our mothers womb. It is not the beginning of the journey, or the end of the journey; it is the end of the first stage of the journey. I believe the Bible is clear that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, or the the baptism of the Holy Spirit by faith in the same way we receive forgiveness for our sins. Spirit baptism is a gift, promised to be poured out on all flesh, to all those who arefar off (Joel 2:28, Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4, Acts 2:38). There is no initiation phase or activity required before God gives us his spirit into our lives besides believing and receiving it as our own. God will not withhold his spirit anymore than an earthly father will withhold bread from his child (Matthew 7:9-11).The second stage involves doors regarding spiritual health, development, and productivity. Here the emphasis of the doors moves towards growth, spiritual maturity, and the needs of others, with a special concentration on obeying the second command of Jesus: Love your neighbor.
Jesus told his disciples, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35). James taught that believers would be doing right if they kept the "royal law found in the scriptures" and " Loved their neighbor as themselves " (James 2:8). John goes so far as to say "Anyone that does not love, does not know God, because God is love" (I John 4:8). If we love God, he will lead us down the hallway of life to the door designed specifically to our needs. If we obey and walk through the open door, we will never be out of Gods will or far from his blessings. If we love each other, God will catapult us beyond our differences, regardless of their origin, and bring us into his presence as one body. A picture of a multitude of people walking together down a hallway filled with opportunities, joys, and victories comes to mind. It is the only way we will experience the "unity of the spirit until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ" (Ephesians 4:3, 13-15).
The question requiring an answer today is not "What must a man do to be saved?" It is "Will I walk through the door that stands before me?" Every believer, regardless of their level of spiritual maturity, has a door in front of them challenging him or her to obey. What door stands before you? Does it ask that you believe God exists? Walk through the door. Does it ask you to believe God loves you more than anyone else can? Walk through. Does it ask you to believe God can take your life and make it something better than you ever could? Walk through. No matter where you are in your relationship with God, no matter how long you have walked with God, he has a door for you to walk through right now. What does your door ask you to do? Dont walk by. Dont wander down the hall?" Open the door; walk through.