If heaven is real and Jesus is the way, wouldn’t you want to make sure you know how to get there!?
Note to Reader: As a former evangelical, I undertake this exercise purely as an hypothetical. The reason being, if evangelicals are going to make the unwarranted claims about the Bible they do, I will be the first to challenge them on their biblical accuracy.
Five salvation myths:
- Salvation is free
- Salvation is easy
- Salvation is future
- Salvation is permanent
- Salvation is a choice
The issue: A gospel give-away
What makes evangelicalism so attractive is the offer of free and instant salvation, no strings attached and guaranteed forever. It is like winning the divine lottery. The triad of cheap grace, easy believeism and eternal security breed a noxious style of evangelicalism that manifests itself in complacency and hypocrisy. Lack of repentance opens the door to tepidness. The promise of salvation with no commitment and a lifetime guarantee results in shallow devotion.
For a faith group that boasts a slavish devotion to a literal, contextual interpretation of the Bible, evangelical’s view of salvation is deeply flawed and unbiblical.
Are you certain you want to be, or are, a real Christian?
It was not easy becoming a Christian in those first centuries. The Roman world of state and mystery religions was inhospitable to this fledgling faith. Once Christianity broke free of its Judaistic parentage, it was on its own to survive and there were no shortage of ideological predators looking to devour it. When one decided to become a Christian, it was done soberly and thoughtfully. You had to be willing to give up your previous life and embrace the Christian lifestyle.
Despite the self induced paranoia evangelicals traffic in when it comes to their faith, becoming an evangelical, born-again or biblical Christian in America is as easy as apple pie. In fact, you can do it in the privacy of your own home, not tell anyone, not have to change your lifestyle, not give up your time, energy or money if you don’t want. You simply accept the gift of salvation and wait for your heavenly reward.
Such a view of salvation may have been popularized by evangelical luminaries like Billy Graham but it is far from the traditional biblical model. It is instant salvation based on cheap grace and easy believeism.
In the next five posts, we will examine the five myths evangelicals promote to attract converts. What they all have in common, like any good myth, is a modicum of truth enveloped with falsehoods.
(I am reluctant to use the world “lies” because most evangelicals are sincerely wrong in what they believe. They do not intentionally deceive. Evangelicalism is NOT a faith that encourages free or critical thinking about itself. Evangelicals tend to inherit the same teachings from generation to generation. I still hear and read the same tired cliches I first heard decades ago when I converted.)
If you’re a Christian who is hoping to get to heaven, I would think the one think you would want to be most certain of is — How do I get there?
If there was no heaven and Christianity was about simply loving God and living righteous lives, churches would be empty. The primary motivation of most Christians or evangelicals is the prize at the end. The problem with modern day American evangelicals is the absence of any real incentive to live up to New Testament standards. They have a guaranteed ticket to heaven which cannot be taken away from them. Mere verbal ascent to Christianity without a robust lifestyle to back it up, passes for sufficient faith to garner salvation.
Myth # 1: Salvation is FREE
Salvation cost God his son. God’s was willing to surrender Jesus to the world so he could die for their sin. The imagery of a father sacrificing his son to save the lives of other is commonly employed by evangelicals to illustrate this theological truth (see addendum).
16”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.”(John 3:16)
Salvation also came at a high cost to Jesus. He paid the ultimate price with his life.
Most Christians would whole heartedly assert Jesus sacrificial death paid sins debt so mankind through faith could obtain eternal life. In this respect, it cost him everything and mankind nothing. The thinking goes, by Jesus’ dying on the cross, the penalty for sin — death — was cancelled so humans could escape physical (separation from the body) and spiritual (separation from God) death. All one had to do was accept God’s free offer of forgiveness and salvation was secured. “Jesus paid a debt he did not owe, and man owed a debt he could not pay.”
Paul writing about Jesus “emptying” (‘kenosis’) in Philippians said this:
6”Who, being in very nature a God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very form of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”(Philippians 2:6-8)
By becoming man Jesus was able to experience physical death and pain for the first time. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is thought to have battled with his own sense of dread at the prospect of his crucifixion.
38Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”(Matthew 26:38,39)
Then Jesus is said to have famously cried out in agony moments before his death.
46About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)”[Psalm 22:1](Matthew 27:46)
These passages are said to reveal the human side of Jesus as a man fully aware of the gravity of his mission. While this makes for poignantly emotional material for Easter sermons, it is nevertheless fiction created to bolster the idea Jesus death was pre-planned and expected. However, the last passage above (Mt. 27:46) undoubtedly records some of the most authentic and honest words of Jesus. Here we come face to face with the historical human Jesus who for the first time realizes his life is about to end and with it his messianic dreams.
From a biblical perspective, salvation was anything but free. God gave up his son who in turn gave up his life.
ADDENDUM: Did Jesus really “die?”
Years ago the absurdity of the entire Christian doctrine of atonement became obvious to me once I saw the Bible in the light of reason and not through the cloudy lens of faith.
I was taught in seminary “death” means separation, either the soul from the body, or man from God. The first death is “spiritual” death (Ephesians 2:1,2, Colossians 2:13) which every human experiences at the moment of birth or conception depending on your views. It marks a person as dead to God and alive to sin. The second death is “physical” (Genesis 2:17, Romans 6:23) separation of one’s body and soul. Everybody who has ever died or will die experiences this second death. The third death is “eternal” (Revelation 20:6). It is the separation of a person and their soul form God for all eternity.
Okay, so exactly how did Jesus die then?
Hypothetically, if we take the Bible at its literal word, then…
Jesus did not really “die.” According to the Bible, the moment he took his last breath on the cross he began a secondary ministry to the souls in Hades (1 Peter 3:19 ?). Nobody believes he was unconscious for three days which would be “soul sleep.” Therefore, he had no fear of an unknown afterlife or eternal torment. He was simply transitioning to another place in a disembodied state. He had to have been separated from his body to fulfill the “Sign of Jonah.” Did he then return to his body three days later to be resurrected?
Christians believe the souls of departed loved ones who are “saved” currently reside in heaven without their bodies, obviously. If this is death, it can’t be that bad since heaven is described as a wonderful place, right now! What about “spiritual death?” Christians teach ultimate death is the separation men and women will experience from God for eternity.
Did Jesus die as man or God? Since God can’t die, he died as a man. But if death means the souls separation from God, Jesus could never break his eternal union with God as God only as man. And as man, he never seemed to loose “soul” contact with God except perhaps for a second when he judged sin. Nothing in the corpus of New Testament writings supports this conjecture but this twisted interpretation of a passage which in its original context (Ps. 22) referred to physical deliverance. The same kind of deliverance Jesus longed for.
If the idea of Jesus’ “separation” from God was as critical as Christians suggest, why is it not explicitly taught anywhere else? Remember, most of Christian teaching hinges on the death of Jesus as being of immense import. While it is theologically permissible to argue the significance of his death, it was not “death” in the strictest definition of the term. Jesus was never truly separated from God since he always was God. It may make for impassioned sermon material for Easter but it is empty conjecture from a biblical point of view.
46″About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, [Psalm 22:1] lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)”(Matthew 27:46, also Mark 15:34)
Christians have invented this existential suffering Jesus endured based on their desperate need to explain an otherwise difficult verse. When Jesus cried, “My God, my God. Why have you abandoned me?” He was being human. He was not suffering under the weight of humankind’s sins past, present and future as is fictitiously taught. Nor was he experiencing a breach in the unity of the Godhead. It would tear at the very fabric of the ontological oneness of the Godhead if this were the case. Jesus would have been fully aware of what to expect given it was determined before the foundation of the world (Ephesians. 1:5).
Second, if the story of the resurrection was true and I was Jesus, death would be exactly what I would want to escape the limitations of my physical body (see Philippians above). Being trapped in a human body, estranged from God and subject to pain and suffering is hardly something to be “held onto.”
Third, while Jesus physical suffering was indeed severe, thousands of other Israelites endured equal or even greater pain during future revolts and reprisals from Rome. And as previously mentioned, knowing with certainty death would bring glorification would make it more endurable for Jesus than anyone else.
Fourth, as discussed earlier, the giving of His son to die by the Father is hardly an accurate representation of the suffering a human father would experience at the death of his son at his request. The Father was never out of touch with Jesus. The Father knew Jesus was returning to Him shortly after Jesus death. Even if there was a brief moment of intimate disconnection when Jesus took upon himself the sins of the world (1 John 2:2), it could hardly be considered on par with the pain of human loss.
So much of what surrounds the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is entirely absurd from a post Nicene doctrinal standpoint. Reading trinitarianism back into the crucifixion and attempting to reconcile it with the gospel narratives is an exercise in theological futility.
To begin with, imagine the entire Christian faith is built on the mistaken belief Jesus literally rose from the dead. Therefore, Jesus did not expect his death. He did not rise from the dead. His followers “created” the various writings we call the New Testament with the hindsight of their newly developing Christian faith. In other words, it was ever changing and evolving to meet its current challenges, i.e., disciples who act as if they have never heard of the promised resurrection, a king who never rules, a kingdom that never comes, a messiah who is un-messiah like, an elusive resurrected Jesus only a few see, a messiah who promises to return but never does, a complete rejection by Israel of their promised messiah, the adoption of Jesus by Gentiles, etc…
In other words, treat the entire story of Jesus contained in the New Testament as if it were an ancient superstition that never made it past the first century. It was a small offshoot of Judaism. It was a religious sect that began with John the Baptist, a prophet of the End of Days, and Jesus who took over that role and later that of messiah. Belief in Jesus resurrection sparked hope in the coming messianic kingdom but it soon died out when he failed to return as messiah. It flared up again briefly during the apocalyptic fervor generated by the Jewish Revolt and subsequent Fall of Jerusalem (66-70AD). Despite strong assurances from its leaders, as recorded in the gospels, Jesus’ did not return. The death knell had sounded for Christianity. Were it not for the self proclaimed “apostle” Paul, this would have been Christianity’s final chapter.