Skip to main content

with fear and trembling


at the risk of stirring up some controversy, i want to bring up something that i haven't been able to get off my mind the last two days.

before i begin, can i just say that i love Jesus and consider myself a follower of his, meaning that i have asked him to come into my life, i have been born again, and i have been saved from slavery to sin and death? thank you.

having said that, i just need to say that i have some issues with the word 'saved' when it refers to a person. i mean, i'm alright saying that jim's seatbelt saved him from suffering even worse injuries. or that mariano rivera saved the game for the yankees. but i am not so ok with using the same word in a sentence like this: jim got saved this weekend. or, worse (for me), a sentence like this: are you saved?

now, don't get me wrong. i believe in salvation. its not that i don't believe that Christ saves us (see my disclaimer above), but i don't like it when the word becomes a category. i mean, i'm all for giving testimony about how the grace of God in Jesus Christ saves us from slavery to sin and death. and i think some people's experience of conversion warrants the use of the word 'saved' more than others.

so its not that i don't think Christ saves us. i guess its just that i don't think Christ intended for us to use the word as a category or a label. i would love to tell you how Jesus saved me from myself and from sin and from death. but i'd rather not tell you that "i am saved." it seems so final and categorical.

in terms of its finality, i just keep coming back to philippians 2:12 where paul urges to continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. our salvation is not once and for all. our justification is. but salvation continues long after justification. our salvation is a process, because, as james reminds us, faith without works is corpse-faith. i have seen too many people who have been 'saved' who were living a corpse-like faith. which is no faith at all.

in terms of using the word as a category, i think it has caused some real damage in our witness to others in the world. the word implies that you've either been saved or you haven't. it is very clear and divisive. i remember someone asking me once if i was saved. he had been questioning me on my beliefs about the gifts of the spirit, and, not satisfied with my answers, he just came out and asked me, "well, you are saved, aren't you?"

i wasn't sure how to reply. i wanted to say, "well, from what? i've been saved time and time again. i think i may need saved from myself in this very conversation. i keep getting saved. from myself. from my sinfulness. from my bad habits. from my propensity to lie and stay in my shell. yeah, i've been saved. but sometimes i don't live it. sometimes i hide it. sometimes i fail horribly at it. i am saved, man, because Jesus saved me. and that is awesome. but he didn't save me from you and your judgment. he didn't save me from having to deal with those who would make me believe only one thing or else be labeled as an outsider. he didn't save me into a category. he saved me into life and love. he didn't tattoo 'saved' on my head so that i could lose all relevance in the world. in fact, i look much the same as i did before i was 'saved.' i am a new creation in Christ, born anew, born again, a new man. but i don't want to be in your club. i don't want to put a fish on my car. i don't want to listen to carman and pray for a new SUV. i don't want to wear big theological words around my neck like bling in a religious ghetto. i want to continue to work out my salvation with FEAR. and with TREMBLING. so, my friend, i would say yeah, i am saved. i didn't have much to do with that. but i am also working on it now, and will be until i'm a corpse."

i don't think he would have got it. i probably would have just made him angry. i said, "yes."
but i don't think he believed me. i think he walked away thinking, "those methodists will let anybody be pastors."

oh well. its just, for me, 'saved' and 'not saved' are categories that aren't very helpful. when i meet you i don't need to know if you are saved or not. i want to know you, who you are and whose you are. i don't want to label you and put you in the appropriate file drawer in my head. i don't want to tattoo your forehead with "saved" or "lost" or "in" or "out." that's just not how i see things. maybe i see things upside down (derek webb reference), but whether you are jew or greek, male or female, conservative or liberal, baptist or catholic, yankee or red sock, i don't want to cheapen you by labeling you.

in the end, its not my business who is saved and who is not. i always think of the story jesus told about the sheep and the goats (matthew 25). the sheep, those who are getting into the Kingdom of God, are the ones who least expect it. "when did we do these things?" they ask the Son of Man.

others are goats. Jesus tells them that they didn't really live out their faith and all they can say is, "wait, when did we not do this? we were saved!" but the Son of Man says to them, "away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire..."

so, the bottom line for me is that i don't want the responsiblity of deciding, or even guessing, who is a sheep and who is a goat. i just want to continue to work out my salvation (which, for me means loving God with all my heart soul mind and strength and loving others as passionately) with fear and trembling.

greg.

Comments

edrew85 said…
Hey!

Thanks for stopping by, and especially for your kind words. I do really enjoy to think and write about what I'm thinking, so I'm glad they can be meaningful to others.

I just wanted to say I really enjoyed your post from today. Maybe it'll stir up mixed emotions people, but I think it's so valuable. The "saved" and "in vs. out" thing is something I struggle not to be frustrated with.

The past few days I've been thinking more about our last conversation over lunch, and you addressed a couple questions I meant to call and ask you about.

Thank you for your continued encouragement and support, you are an important friend and mentor.

See you soon.

Eric
Kerri said…
interesting. we're actually talking about this very thing at church. the definition of a "Christian" has gotten so watered down that most Americans are "Christians" but that doesn't mean a thing. we're working through the definition of a Christian right now - or what it means to really be saved. A Christian has a story - a miraculous, i was this way, now i'm this way story (and many stories after that one from experiencing God) everything the Bible says about us - signs and wonders follow us, we're walking miracles. it's been eye opening to really dig in and think about this for the first time in a LONG time.
greg. said…
actually, in the emergent church, the word 'Christian' is basically obsolete. when we have begun to say things like:
Christian cable channel
Christian t-shirt
Christian snack bar
Christian breath mints
Christian music
Christian radio
etc.,

then we have completely misunderstood. the term being used to describe a life of discipleship to Jesus is "Christ follower."

is it semantics? maybe. i guess it is an effort on behalf of some to divorce themselves from what the word Christian has come to mean.

i am not ashamed of Christ. but i am very often deeply ashamed of Christians, particularly fundamentalists.

but that's just me.

greg.
julid said…
i'd love to talk to you about this posting. but i need at least a pot of coffee and more time. i will call you can we can get together to discuss this. it's very interesting and of course i have more questions for you. no answers but more questions. i love that god gave us minds to think and love to reason together.
greg. said…
i welcome conversation. and the exchange of ideas. and iron sharpening iron. and questions that pull back the curtain a bit and cause us to recognize how awesome God is.

i want to be saved from my own pride which would lie to me and tell me that i have things pretty much figured out. i want to be saved from a religion that excludes and is afraid and leads to hate. i want to be saved...

greg.
Crafty P said…
bravo.
I think you know where I stand on this- but I'll just say that I'm totally with you (and Paul) in that I'm, daily, working out my salvation with fear and trembling. And as I continue to do this, I live in the hope that one day I'll be in heaven, with Jesus, to enjoy life everlasting. Amen.

I've long been a believer in that the problem a lot of Christians have is totally about semantics and how they define words like "saved", "justified", etc.

Christina
ps. really enjoying my cd. thank you so much. so good to hear orphan girl anytime I want to (sung by Karin)
cathyq said…
I think this might be hereditary! I have always had a problem with "saved." I have been saved from sin and life of destruction and damnation, I am being saved from myself and the temptations of the world, and I will be saved from the fate I deserve if I continue to be a believer/follower of the Christ, the son of the living God. I have never been comfortable with saying I am saved. It reminds me of the pentecostal trilogy "I thank God that I am saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost." Man, I have arrived; look at me. I am awesome. I am holy and should be admired, modeled, and perhaps even worshipped. It smacks of hubris in the worst sense. All the old stories warn about humans who set themselves up as mini gods. When will we ever learn? Jesus saved me. I am his. I love and trust in him. I work at doing what He wants me to. I AM not saved; He has saved me. Maybe it's all a matter of the pronoun. Those pronouns are so important! The Lord of Moses "I am the I am." Now that's an I am that I can believe in.

Popular posts from this blog

#thoughtsandprayers

i made these comments and prayed the following prayer at one of our worship services at SPWF yesterday, and had a few folks asked if i would post them, so there they are: 
It has been a season of terrible tragedy.  And I have noticed in the news a trending phrase: thoughts and prayers.  It even has its own hashtag on twitter and other social media, but net necessarily in a good way.  People are understandably tired of hearing about others’ thoughts and prayers, when that is only a thinly-veiled way of saying that our only obligation to those who suffer is a brief moment of silence, or nothing more than a tweet or public statement.  The truth is that, for those of us who follow Jesus, much is required when our neighbors suffer.  We are called to do justice where we can, to love kindness and mercy, and to walk with God through it all.  But let us be careful not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.  We are, as people of faith, those who know that prayer is not simply an em…

a divided tree

there is a tree in my back yard.  i'm pretty sure it's an oak tree.  at least that's what i think Shannon told me.  i don't know my oaks from my maples, my elms from my locusts.  to me, it's a tree: a corinthian column bursting up into life and glory.  full of sap and pulp and rings and bugs and cells pulsing with water and always reaching for something.  it is full of rhythm, reach and flourish then fall and die, and repeat. 

this particular tree, though, isn't of one mind. 

half of it's rusted orange leaves have given up their grip and surrendered -gracefully or not - to the pull of gravity and the threat of winter.  the north side of this inauspicious oak is just about bare naked, all sticks and straight lines, a skeleton of itself.  but the side that looks south is stubbornly resisting change.  no longer green, the leaves have compromised their summer vibrancy, but they are clearly not ready to concede death just yet. 

i feel like i can relate to this …

vote. and pray. but do not be afraid (the King is alive).

i'm not sure how many americans right now are feeling optimistic about the government.  i know i'm not.  in fact, while i didn't live through the civil war or anything, i have to think that faith in our elected leaders - indeed the whole system of electing them in the first place - is at one of its lowest points.  i just don't have a great deal of confidence in those individuals who have been elected, or in those who want to be.  i find myself slipping at times into what feels like a swamp of apathy: sinking, to be sure, but not sure that i care enough anymore to do much about it.  i see this attitude all around me: in conversations, on social media, and in popular culture.  perhaps there is no more clear indication of our nation's view of the government than this current election season, when we would teeter on electing liars and thieves, crooks and clowns. 

which is why i was so startled as i sat down to read psalm 72 this morning. as i read the ancient song, i…