Tuesday, April 10, 2007
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.