Early on we were taught that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross satisfied the demands of the Law, thus releasing us from …
Early on we were taught that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross satisfied the demands of the Law, thus releasing us from the obligation of religion and ritual. Prior to this were certain steps, certain ceremonial acts that the people of God had to accomplish in order for their sins to be forgiven. The problem is that this became a form of oppression towards many at the time. The ceremonies took priority over people and there developed the infamous in-out mentality: we’re in and you’re out.
Again, early on–very early on–we learned that Jesus came to set us free from this oppression. His sacrifice fulfilled all the requirements of the Law thus making a way for each and every one of us to come to God through him. Done deal, right?
Or is it?
For many believers, Jesus’ atoning death on the cross is simply not enough for salvation. Of course, they would never say it this way, but if you really examine the way they talk about some things, this is true for them. And I’ve noticed it in one particular area: right belief. Correct, sound doctrine. Right belief has become the new law by which we must abide … or else. It leads to that ever popular mentality of one group of people being in, and all the rest being out. And, most conveniently, it is incredibly easy to measure. If all I have to do is evaluate your response to a series of theological questions, I can easily tell whether you’re in (saved) or whether you’re out (damned).
The problem is not right belief, in and of itself, the problem is that for many Christians if you do not believe correctly on the issues that they decide are important enough, you cannot be a Christian. The issues range from a literal six-day creation to the method of baptism to the Trinity to women in ministry to speaking in tongues to the rapture to which sins are an abomination to which political party is more “Christian” and so on and so forth. Intellectual assent, as opposed to relationship with Christ, has become for many Christians the true path to salvation and the door is narrow indeed. Too narrow.
“But Jesse,” you say, “isn’t right belief important?” Absolutely! Read that again: absolutely. It is important. It affects our lives in more ways than we know. But … it cannot be required for salvation. If it is right belief that saves us, then we are all in danger of being damned. The Bible is not a book on systematic theology or a list of items to be believed in or agreed with, despite the fact that it is often treated as such. Primarily, the Bible is the history of a specific people group; a history that documents their interactions with God. It is full of stories, and poetry, and songs, and practical wisdom, and parables, and prophecy, and more stories. So while it is correct to say that the Bible contains and is even full of truth, we need to recognize that we are not the primary audience, though we certainly benefit from reading and studying it as a third party.
Consequently, we must always hold our convictions with humility, realizing that amidst all the resources we have, there is always the possibility that we may, in fact, be missing out on something that could illuminate the meaning of the text. If it is right belief that our salvation is contingent upon, then we might as well believe that salvation is a matter of chance since we cannot be sure that we understand the entirety of what we’re reading!
I want to dispel a thought that I know you’re having at this point. No, I’m not saying that we can’t know anything. I’m not saying that we might as well give up our quest for truth. I’m not saying that you should be a relativist or never state what you believe. I’m not saying you can’t disagree with others’ beliefs. I am saying that in our quest for truth, we need to hold our beliefs with humility and allow others to disagree with us without demonizing them or questioning their salvation. Our salvation is not dependent upon our theological views, it is dependent upon whether we have come into relationship with Jesus Christ and are being transformed into his likeness. And if that is true for a person, regardless of their theological views, we must embrace them as a brother or sister in Christ.
Jesus is not looking for people who agree with all the right things. He is looking for those who are willing to trust him. One can believe all the right things, but still lack relationship. However, if one has relationship, even those things that they may be incorrect on can be easily fixed.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. No, not even incorrect theology.