Living in the Church of Jesus Christ
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
1 Corinthians 12:12-13
I started writing this commentary two days ago when the topic was “What does it mean to be saved?” I struggled in my writing and failed to say anything coherent, probably, because I had more to learn about the subject. I put away my previous writing, with the assumption that I would pick the thread up again in a month or two when something about baptism and salvation came around again. God showed me the missing pieces in my thinking through my very recent study of John Howard Yoder’s book, The Politics of Jesus. His work offers a timely contribution to my commentary on the scriptures for both March 11, and March 13.
I think I was 18-years old when I was invited to attend the first day of a three-day seminar being conducted by a nationally known Christian leader. We prayed, sang, and listened to him teach biblical legalism in all forms of relationships. Knowing my negative feeling about religion at that point in my life, I still wonder how I became willing to attend the event that was held in a professional basketball arena in Detroit. Nevertheless there I was exposed like a clam on the seashore waiting for the tide to cover me with sand and water again. During our lunch break, I was asked by one of the guys I was with, “When were you saved?” It seemed like such a bizarre question at that point in my life. I stammered and stuttered for a few minutes and then said, “I don’t know.” This led to a brief series of questions; after which it was determined that I had not been saved. I was OK with the conclusion, because the appearance of those who were “saved” wasn’t very appealing to me. The guys with whom I was talking were hopeful that I would get saved that evening. I guess I disappointed them, because I didn’t leave my seat during the altar call. I was raised Roman Catholic, and didn’t feel unsaved. I didn’t think I needed saving even though I was living in habitual sexual sin and desiring to escalate my sinful behavior.
What Does It Mean To Be Saved?
In my life journey through many different denominations, I have pondered this with more and more earnestness. In my conversation with Christian brothers and sisters, I have witnessed many different points of view. Some think that a simple one-time confession of faith in Jesus fixes everything: past, present, and future. It’s a ticket to heaven that any intelligent person should acquire by saying “Jesus I believe that you are the son of God. Jesus I am a sinner. Please forgive me.” Others think that infant baptism is all that is needed for salvation, and still others suggest that we must earn our way to heaven and we won’t know we are saved until the great Day of Judgment.
How far do we have to go in order to be “saved?”
I was in a Bible study group about a year ago, which was studying Romans. I remember one of the members painfully questioning whether she had really been saved. I think we were all shocked by her honesty and couldn’t engage with her. We had been using inductive Bible study methods to help us understand Roman’s Chapter 12. My fellow student was questioning her salvation in reaction to Paul’s description of love and Christian living in that chapter. As I reflect back on that conversation, it is interesting that no one told her she was saved or helped her examine her concerns.
I know that my life didn’t begin to get straitened out until I got off the fence and could honestly say “Jesus is the son of God and I give my life to Him as my Lord and savior.” Even then, my life was filled with turmoil, because of the immense amount of sin that needed to be confessed. Even after many months of soul searching inspection by the Holy Spirit and hours of confession before a brother and sister in Christ, I still wasn’t ready to follow Christ. Technically, I had been saved from hell, but I was still being prepared for life in Heaven. God wasn’t done with me, because of my confession of faith; He was just beginning to build a relationship with a very broken man.
In the protestant evangelical circles, which I used to frequent, I saw Jesus as the great train conductor. He was calling people to get on board the glory train to heaven. The cost of passage was a confession of faith in Jesus. I was on that train with people who were mostly strangers. It was very confusing, because life on the train just didn’t seem very different than life had been at the train station. There was a lot of talk about Jesus and love, but minimal evidence of Christian living. Life in the church often seemed indistinguishable from life in the world that Satan Rules.
I knew there was much more to Jesus than His serving as a holy ticket taker, and from time to time I would experience his Glory in the church, but why was it so in frequent?
Today I don’t think about being saved or rest in the completed work that Jesus has done in my life, because I am living in a new world. John Howard Yoder’s images of this new world speak strongly to me, and they lie just beneath the surface of what follows. John Howard Yoder describes salvation as the opening of a door. When I think about this image, I experience salvation as an open door to a new world, which is the Kingdom of God. Once we step through that door, which is Christ, we behold the new creation that we could not see before. This new world invites us to live a new life in a covenant of love. We are free to live that life or to continue living the old life. Sadly, the teaching in many churches is that it is OK to go on living the old life of selfishness even though we have stepped through the door of salvation and have begun to view God’s Kingdom. Church becomes a kind of weekly visit where we try to jump across the threshold and grab a glimpse of the Kingdom of God before we go on with another week of self centered living. I have observed this behavior and have been perplexed by it. Am I just trying to be too holy, or is “salvation” really the radical call of God to completely change my life style? I keep hearing Jesus saying “Follow me,” but where is He calling me?
In my heart I feel the powerful call to live in the Kingdom of God. It is not an obsession to do good or follow the rules, rather it is about love. Salvation is about the covenant we make with brothers and sisters in Christ. Salvation is about serving and forgiving. Salvation is about lovingly laying down one’s life and ones money for the Kingdom of God. It is about accepting the fact that we are full-time residents of God’s Kingdom even though we live among worldly people and worldly institutions. Servanthood and forgiveness of others are the two ways that express the covenant we make with God and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is through these actions of daily living in loving covenant that we live out our salvation and truly live in the Church of Jesus Christ.
As I pray and write these commentaries, God reveals pictures for me to describe to you. Today, He asked me to reveal a fact about myself. — I am completely blind. — I have not previously discussed my absence of physical sight, because it seemed irrelevant to my comments about my relationship with God. But today, God asked me to share this fact with you for His purposes. Perhaps the reason lies in the nature of His Church, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1Corinthians 12:12-13)
I pray Lord Jesus that the entirety of my life be useful to You and to the plans that you have made for Your Kingdom. I pray that I listen more thoroughly to Your call and live in the covenant of Love that marks true Christian living. Lord, strengthen me that I be willing to be a faithful and fulltime resident in Your Kingdom. Lead me into greater truth and expanded fellowship so that you will be glorified. Help me patiently follow Your time schedule. Amen.