Taking A Second Look At Salvation

Salvation Is Much More Than You Think, Assume, or Imagine

When you practice spiritual disciplines, follow a prayer rule, or engage in liturgy are you pursuing a “works-righteousness?”  Some people think so. Therefore, they dismiss any kind of efforts to become more Christlike. That this thinking even enters the conversation indicates a warped understanding of salvation. 

Salvation is not merely a ticket to heaven or a system of beliefs that make a person right with God. Salvation is more like entering a flowing river (of God’s life) to be carried to where you need to go rather than trying (apart from God) to get there on your own. 

In my last post, I emphasized that the concept of salvation by “faith alone” is not a biblical reality. This post clarifies a few realities related to salvation. 

A few truths for clarity 

  • Salvation is by faith. 
  • Salvation is not by works. Nothing a person does merits/earns salvation; obligates God to save. 
  • Salvation is initiated and made available by the purposes and grace (love, goodness, kindness) of God. It is always the free gift of God. 
  • Salvation is the work of God you enter into, participate in or receive in some manner. 
  • Salvation is Jesus Christ the Savior not a theory or ideology. 

A deeper look at “salvation”

  1. Salvation is much more than most of us realize. Salvation is actually being in union with the Holy Trinity through Jesus Christ. It is the life of God completely filling our lives. It is oneness with God. Nothing less. Reducing salvation to getting us into heaven when we die is like saying the Apollo 11 spacecraft is only a firecracker. 
  2. A person is saved, is being saved, and will be saved only by participating in God. Actually, God, from whom salvation comes, is outside time. Could it be that God actually provides salvation only in the present? We experience salvation in time. However to God, salvation just is. 
  3. The word “salvation” includes justification, reconciliation, sanctification, and glorification. Salvation is the word used to describe the whole package. It is the whole package. (1 Corinthians 6.11)
  4. Above all, salvation is a mystery. How is it possible for an infinitely holy God and a finite sinful human to become one? 

Much of this may challenge your understanding of salvation. I invite you to let your understanding be challenged. You’ve probably made some life-long assumptions about salvation that need a second look. 

I say all this to say, it’s clear that I am not talking about “works-righteousness” when it comes to salvation or Christian practices. How you enter and live out salvation is always a work of God’s divine grace and mercy in which you participate. You cannot make yourself righteous. 

There is more to come…

Dr. K 

Is “Faith Alone” Biblical? Let’s Take A Look

Salvation Is Always By Faith

One of the most frustrating “push backs” to the necessity of spiritual practices, liturgy, and “disciplines” in Christian living comes from anti-“works-righteousness” individuals. They think since salvation is by faith alone, there is no need for spiritual efforts. Believing is enough. However, is that understanding true to scripture and real life? 

Since the Protestant Reformation, a new doctrine has become a part of most evangelicals’ thinking. It is the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Though the bible nowhere mentions that salvation is by faith alone, 500+ years of saying it is so makes it very difficult to refute. There is no doubt scripture teaches that salvation is by grace through faith. Salvation is initiated by God’s gracious, loving mercy and responded to by human beings in faith. What I’m addressing here is the notion that salvation is by faith alone

Why Important?

Among many reasons, believing that salvation is by faith alone surprisingly diminishes one’s motivation and ability to live as a Christian. If I am saved by faith alone I need not put forth any effort related to being a Christian. I only need to believe. When someone challenges me to “work” at my salvation, I immediately respond that “I am saved by faith alone and what you’re proposing is “works-righteousness” which I whole-heartedly reject.” 

This is a perilous doctrine. It throws the serious follower of Christ into a quandary. Faith itself is misunderstood. Salvation is made out to be something it is not. It belies scriptural teaching. It’s effects are so stealthily embedded in minds that many “Christians” can’t truly live as their heart begs them to live. This is one example of one’s theology impeding one’s authentic Christian living.

No wonder so many Christians are frustrated with Christianity as they know it. Truth is, they’ve not known the real thing due to doctrines such as “faith alone.” 

One Reality – James

Though the relationship of faith and works has been debated for over 500 years, there is no doubt about one reality. You cannot find “faith alone” taught in the bible. The only place it is mentioned is James 2.24 where St. James presents faith alone as something NOT to believe. “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only [alone].” I am not misquoting the verse. It’s as plain as it gets.

Earlier, St. James writes, “faith by itself [alone], if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2.17). No wonder Martin Luther described the book of James as “the epistle of straw.” For him it lacked theological substance and significance. He couldn’t get his mind around the reality that faith and works were somehow in synthesis or union for real justification to take place. On a mission to destroy the Roman Catholic doctrine of works-righteousness he “discovered” something in scripture no one had ever seen before. He invented a new doctrine – in essence, making all scriptural references about faith into scriptural references about faith alone.    

So a firestorm of debate has spread for centuries over a teaching not present in the Church for 1500 years. “Professional” and amateur theologians make arguments that don’t solve much. How God saves, justifies, and sanctifies seems absolutely clear to many. The rest of us come to this mystery in wonder and naivete’, allowing God to enlighten or veil as He sees fit.

One reality is certain. Nowhere in scripture is “faith alone” mentioned.  

Other Scriptures

What about Ephesians 2.8-9? “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Look closely. Salvation is said to come by faith. However, no mention is made that salvation comes by faith alone

How about Abraham? “He believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4.3). “For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness” (Romans 4.9). “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5.1). See it? Justification and the imputation of righteousness is always by faith. But not once does St. Paul say these occur through faith alone.  

Romans 3.28: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.

Galatians 3.2, 6, 8: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?…just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’…And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham…” 

Always by faith. Never by faith alone

My Purpose

I bring this up today to challenge the notion that Christians need not put forth effort to experience the fullness of salvation because “salvation is by faith alone.” As you can see, this is not a biblical teaching. 

You are not saved by faith alone. If you are saved, you have not been saved by faith alone. You are not being saved by faith alone. You will not be saved by faith alone

You are saved by faith. If you are saved, you have been saved by faith. You are being saved by faith. You will be saved by faith.

Salvation/justification is always by faith. Salvation/justification is never by faith alone

As far as my finite mind can tell, that’s the truth.

Luther got it wrong it seems. Experiencing salvation fully involves more than faith alone

“Faith alone” is no excuse for lack of effort related to all salvation has to offer. 

I hope you’ll think about this for a while. 

Dr. K 

A Reminder To Struggle In Giving Thanks Today In Order To Become A Thankful Person

Here is my take on I Thessalonians 5:18 – “give thanks in all circumstances” or “in everything give thanks.” 

 

 

The word “eucharist” means thanksgiving. It is used in 1 Corinthians 11.23-24 related to the Lord’s Supper. It is as we are in union with Christ, receiving his body and blood and living out that union in thankfulness, that we become a eucharistic/thanksgiving person. It is a major element of being a Christian. 

Be a Christian. Be eucharistic. 

Dr. K 

When All Is Said And Done…

I meandered through LifeWay Christian Store yesterday and felt an odd sadness. There were thousands of books on every Christian-related subject imaginable. It was like each book was screaming at me with information that every writer thought I needed to know. And, I wasn’t even in the music section where these same kinds of messages are drummed into the ears of an unsuspecting audience. People who think they know God, think about God and then tell me what they think about God. Literally, I’m not buying it anymore. 

I wanted to run away and be with God that I might truly know Him in quiet stillness. “Stop telling me stuff about God. Stop talking to me about prayer, about the bible, about theology, about how to live the Christian life, about church, or about studying the bible.” BS might stand for bible study; then again it might stand for something else.  

There is a quote that sums up us modern Christians more than any quote I’ve heard in a while. 

 When all is said and done, there is more said than done. 

What you need are companions who actually, experientially know God. You need help to have a relationship with God that transforms your heart and soul, that challenges your ego and passions, that helps you die to your self, that helps you repent of self-righteousness, that connects you with His church in which you actually experience union with the Holy Trinity, and that helps you love others humbly and graciously. 

You don’t need more information. You need more transformation. 

Books can only take you so far. They may give you good information about God. But, only in an intimate relationship of union with God can you truly know God.

This relationship is not something you get from books, sermons, or contemporary music. This relationship can not be satisfied by the intellect or the emotions. 

Song writers…Authors…Preachers…Teachers…Parents…Verse quoters …Christian celebrities…

…instead of writing, talking, singing, and quoting things about God why don’t you actually live it for 5 – 6 decades? Then you just might (maybe, perhaps) have a little to say. 

A better approach to the things of God is silence. Until you sincerely struggle to live what you say, be quiet. 

But, that doesn’t sell books or CDs, does it.

It’s true, more is said than done. 

I’ve said enough. 

Dr. K 

Seeing In The Dark – A True Story

How To Perceive When You Can't

Let’s be honest. It is difficult to acknowledge when we are mistaken. Sometimes we don’t even recognize it. We don’t see in ourselves what others see. We work so hard at propping up our fragile ego that little time is left for true self-examination. Let me tell you a story from a recent event that illustrates this. 

Last Friday night, on my birthday, Rhonda and I decide to see the movie Wonder Woman. We arrive at our favorite theater, pay for our (senior’s) tickets, get our popcorn and drink, climb to our seats, and settle in. I turn off my cell phone and give it to Rhonda to put in her purse. She places her purse under the seat next to her as we begin to enjoy the popcorn, enduring the pre-movie commercials. 

It was then that we begin to notice someone’s cell phone going off in the semi-darkness. It’s playing some kind of podcast or show. Soon people start looking around trying to locate the culprit. Rhonda and I think it’s coming from a family of four seated in the row in front of us about three seats down. A teen-age girl keeps looking back at us while the talk continues. I theorize that she is baiting us to say something. I wonder if this is some kind of experiment testing how long it takes before people say something to her. Maybe she’s documenting the manner in which they approach her. 

Most strange is that I recognize what is being said. On my cell phone, I have a comedy station with Pandora that plays some comedy routines of people like Jeff Foxworthy, Brian Regan, John Pinette, Henry Cho, Jerry Seinfeld, and Frank Caliendo. I am hearing familiar routine after familiar routine. They are playing the same station I have. Fascinating!  

Rhonda and I wonder if we should talk to them but decide to wait it out. Surely they will shut it off before the movie begins. Rhonda wonders why the parents won’t get their kid to shut off the phone. Another couple lands in seats behind us. When notice comes on the screen to shut off cell phones, he shouts, “Yah! Turn off your cell phones!” so everyone could hear. Still no silencing of the phone.

Everyone is looking at everyone else wanting something to be done. The comedy routines keep playing. Everyone is annoyed. We all are frustrated since no one is taking care of the problem. 

Another couple pass in front of us and sit one seat down to the right of Rhonda. They soon join the rest of us looking around trying to figure out how to stop the noise. It is only then that the man of this new couple lets Rhonda know that the talk-noise is coming from her purse.

Like a revelation from on high, it now all makes sense. With embarrassing amusement, she grabs her purse, pulls out my cell phone, and thrusts it at me. The annoying, bewildering talk-noise is now in my hands. I quickly tap my Pandora app and pause the comedy station. Silence.

Within a few seconds, 10 minutes of vexing irritation is dismissed. With awkward laughter Rhonda and I offer fervent apologies to all around. “Sorry!” “We didn’t know.” “Our bad!” 

All this time, it had been us.   

All this time, we thought it was someone else. 

All this time, we were oblivious to our own fault. 

It took another person who could perceive what we could not to make us aware of the problem. 

This is how it usually works. You are blinded by your own judgments and opinions. You are too proud or preoccupied to notice your own faults. You don’t allow someone else to speak into your blindness lest your eyes are opened and you see what you don’t want to see. You’d rather be ignorant and frustrated than honest and enlightened. 

“Nathan said to David, You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12.7)

It takes someone other than yourself to help you see who you really are. Do you have that “someone else” in your life? Who speaks honestly with you? Who do you trust to help open your eyes to the truth about yourself? 

Don’t be like Rhonda and me, assuming the problem is with someone else. Don’t assume you are keenly self-aware. 

You have blind spots preventing you from seeing. You have hearing loss preventing you from hearing. 

It doesn’t need to be like this. 

Allow someone to speak truth into your life and really listen. Deal intentionally with your own faults and get rid of noisy irritations. 

You’ll relate better to others around you. You’ll become a wiser and better person. 

Dr. K 

Today Is My Birthday – See My Wish List Below (This is not quite the same post as yesterday)

Let Me Know How This Blog Has Made A Difference In Your Life

For many years, while living in Southern California, I listened to the Dennis Prager call-in radio show. Dennis is a conservative Jewish commentator on life. He had well-articulated, substantive thoughts that attracted me to listen. 

Every year on his birthday, he invited listeners to call in and share with him how much his program made a difference in their lives. He was not being egotistical. Rather, he was allowing listeners the opportunity to do what they innately wanted to do but just didn’t take the time to do unless given the opportunity. 

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to do the same thing for my birthday.

Today I turn 62. Each person and each event of my life has moved me towards Christlikeness. I wish I had known this 50 years ago. I would not have complained and chaffed as much. However, I have a very long way to go. That’s the uncommon journey I am on. Thank you for being a companion with me. 

Here’s the one item on my wish list:

Since many of you have benefitted from The UnCommon Journey blog posts, I’d like to hear how it’s helped you. 

As your gift to me…share one way this blog has made a difference in your life. 

Click on “comments” below and share your heart-thoughts with me. 

I invite you to read the comments, too. They will encourage you on your journey. 

Thank you! 

Dr. K/Keith 

One Effective Way To Triumph During Intense Struggle

A Prayer is Your Key To Victory

Recently, a young man that I mentor told me a story about his use of the Jesus prayer during a recent struggle. It illustrates the effectiveness of prayer and the Jesus prayer in particular.  

I had a very disturbing dream, in the vein of an ongoing struggle I’ve had for years. In the dream, filled with alarming distress, I began praying the Jesus prayer (while still asleep). At that point, I awoke praying the prayer audibly, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It was then that God’s peace and a deep experience of His mercy quietly filled me. I was able to fall back to sleep. For the rest of the night I slept soundly.

The Jesus prayer is a spiritual weapon that can be used against any temptation and in any situation calling for an immediate, powerful cry for help. 

One of the advantages of the Jesus prayer is that you do not have to try to remember it once you’ve been using it for a time. For many years, I tried to memorize verses that would help me overcome sins and faults in my life. As effective as these were, I struggled with instantly recalling them to mind when I needed them. After many frustrating and failed experiences, I realized that I was trying to deal with temptation and my own fleshly passions with an intellectual weapon – my thoughts. Even though these thoughts contained scripture, I still fumbled when pulling the bible gun from my holster. I needed something more readily available; something from the heart. 

What makes the Jesus Prayer effective?

  1. When used properly, this prayer aligns the heart and mind forming a “double-barrel” shotgun that can kill the most ardent temptation. It’s more than merely thinking about what to do or exerting will power to overcome the struggle, neither of which are effective. When spoken frequently (silently or audibly), the prayer begins to flow from the heart and is readily available to be used when needed. 
  2. It aligns your heart with God’s heart since, in this moment, you are acknowledging Jesus Christ, inviting Him into your struggle. It’s like the disciples going to Jesus asleep on the boat and asking for His help during a storm.This simple prayer does all of this when you need assistance the most. 

Can’t I just quote scripture like Jesus did when He was tempted? Let’s not forget that when Jesus directly faced Satan’s temptations, He was in total communion with the Father and Spirit. His use of scripture was in the context of a complete participation in the Trinity. He was also prepared through prayer and fasting. He didn’t just hit Satan over the head with Bible verses out of the blue. There’s a whole lot more going on here than just quoting verses. 

Besides, you and I are not Jesus. We struggle mightily to be in communion with God. We need help. The Jesus prayer allows you to commune with God while crying out for His mercy. It’s the perfect tool for what you need during intense struggle.  

St. Paul exhorts us to wear “the whole armor of God” praying always with all prayer and supplication in [spirit], being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication [concerning] all the saints (Ephesians 6.18). In praying the Jesus prayer, you obey St. Paul’s instructions and enter the sphere of the saints who know the beneficial leverage of prayer during struggle.

From your spirit comes the necessary and effective cry for mercy that helps defeat temptation and passions. 

Practice the prayer often during your day’s activities. Then use it in those moments of intense struggle. See how God’s mercy sustains you in every situation. 

Dr. K 

Perpetual Motion & Being With God

Prayer In The Midst Of Much Activity

How do you function in this world while seeking to live in God’s presence? Practically speaking, how can you do what must be done while actually communing with God? 

If you’ll indulge me a bit, I’d like to share an example – 

This past weekend, we are in perpetual motion. Friday, we prepare for a family of guests arriving around 7 PM. We just had our most upper room painted and it had to be put back together – two beds, pictures, decorations, furniture. It’s also our hottest room. So we purchase a portable air conditioner and set that up. Our guests arrive on time. We orient them. They leave for dinner. We grab a dinner ourselves, return to welcome our guests again who want to chat over some wine. So we chit-chat on our back porch until after 11:00 PM. 

After a few hours of sleep, we awake and start preparing breakfast – two new recipes (always makes us a bit nervous), coffee, juice, table settings, ambiance, etc. Our guests come down on time, eat, talk a bit and leave around 9:15 AM. Then it’s clean up – bedding to wash and room clean up. During this time we make arrangements to pick up a buffet from an estate sale. We arrange to borrow a truck, pay for the item over the phone, and get ready to go. Once the breakfast cleanup is done, we head out the door for the 30 minute trip to Soddy-Daisy, TN to get the buffet. 

We arrive at a beautiful farm, chat with the estate owners (friends of ours) for a while, set up a dinner date with them, walk the house, get the buffet loaded and secured on the truck, and head home stopping for lunch on the way. 

We get home, unload the buffet with the help of Doug, our neighbor, and return the borrowed truck. We return home to put together my (Keith’s) new (yippee!) Webber Mountain Smoker since we are having a group gathering Sunday night with ribs on the menu. I spend about 1.5 hours putting it together and get it working to burn off any residual stuff from the manufacturer while Rhonda continues to clean up from our Friday night group.  

While it smokes, we head for N. Georgia to help our brother and sis-in-law look over a house for a potential Airbnb property. On our way home, two hours later, we stop at Wal-Mart to pick up fruit to make a salad for church tomorrow.

Now we’re back home in time to care for some items around the house. We crash on our recliners around 9:00 PM to watch a little Father Brown. Around 10:00 we receive an Airbnb request from a young man who wants to stay tonight. We reply yes. That sets in motion some preparation for his arrival since we are still cleaning up from the group that left that morning. He arrives just after midnight. We talk a bit – he’s a businessman from Columbia, South America who manufactures clothing designed for Latino women. He settles in. We go to bed. 

Sunday morning we are up early and get the fruit salad made. We prepare breakfast for Andres, our guest. Since a single guy is in our home for the morning, we decide that Rhonda will take the fruit salad for church and I’ll stay home to care for our guest. It works out very well. 

As I’m able, between caring for Andres, I begin preparing the ribs – rub, sauce, etc. – and cleaning up breakfast dishes. Andres hangs around until a little after noon. Rhonda returns and we catch a quick lunch, shop for some items for our group dinner, and return home. Now it’s time to get many things ready for the rib dinner and gathering at the pool. 

People start arriving around 5:30 PM. Ribs are smoking. Food is being prepared. We’re talking with people. Music is playing. We’re humming along at a good pace. 

We eat and relax a bit. Then it’s clean-up time and good-byes are said. Around 9:00 PM we sit down to watch the rest of Father Brown (from Friday night). We both go to bed an hour later fairly exhausted and thankful for a full weekend. 

I say all that to say this, the ONLY way I could have communed with God this weekend was to do it while in the midst of all this activity. There was no time for solitude and silence (which I advocate and experience regularly). Yet, there was more than ample time for communion with God in the midst of all this activity. You could say I wasn’t busy: I was praying. 

While dicing bell peppers, tightening screws, driving, skimming the pool, preparing a dry rub and sauce, putting dishes in the dishwasher, cutting grapes in half, setting the table, grinding coffee beans, walking through an estate sale, nodding off to sleep, moving furniture around, and hanging pictures, communion with God can take place.

For me, the best way to commune with God in the midst of activity is to say the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It’s short. It’s memorable. It’s doable. It, over time, connects the heart to God. Without a doubt, it’s my “go-to” prayer allowing me to commune with God all day long, no matter what I’m doing. 

As I reflect back over these 48 hours, my heart is full – not because so much was accomplished, but because God was there and I experienced Him there – wherever and whatever “there” was. 

I am not boasting. I’m thankful. I am thankful that this is where God has me. I am truly happy in the weariness and constant motion because I get to struggle to commune with God in all of it. 

If you’re interested in learning to commune with God throughout your day, learn the Jesus Prayer. Say it as often as you can. It is an effective way to experience God’s presence no matter your level of activity. 

Thanks be to God! 

Dr. K

Pause To Reflect On A Picture That Speaks To You

What do you see here? What speaks to your heart as you look at this picture? 

 

Many thoughts come to my mind. I’ll share this one: 

Not that I have already attained or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me…I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4.12-14)

Today, one more step. Struggle forward to what is more glorious, good, and beautiful. 

Share your reflections below. 

Dr. K 

One Hymn That Can Help Turn Sorrow Into Joy

Practice Thanksgiving And Become Thankful

How is it possible to always be thankful? How can tears of sorrow be turned into tears of joy? How do you lift your spirit from despair to hope? The answer? Thankful prayer. 

You know it’s “biblical” but does that mean it’s automatically going to happen in your life? Not at all. Memorizing and quoting verses on thankfulness will not produce thankfulness. You need to practice, practice, practice! 

I introduced a practice yesterday – saying The Akathist of Thanksgiving. I’ve been saying a “stanza” a day this week and am finding it powerful in bringing my heart and mind in sync with the Triune God. There are some unique phrases that will catch your attention and warm your heart. 

After yesterday’s post advocating the use of The Akathist of Thanksgiving, I have two reflections: 

 1. We are to be thankful IN everything not necessarily for everything. My friend, facing a grave illness, can still praise God, offer thanks, and rejoice not because he’s happy about his illness but because God is still God. Focusing his heart and thoughts on God by using this hymn, helps transform his ability to deal with his situation. 

No matter what you’re facing – pain, trial, overwhelming circumstances – you can lift your voice in praise. Using a Psalm or, in particular, The Akathist of Thanksgiving will enhance your ability to be thankful. 

 2. Prayer and Thanks are complementary in communion with God. They are a powerfully interconnected duo for all of life including the hardest of times. The Akathist of Thanksgiving is phenomenal in bringing prayer and thanks together as one (as are many of the Psalms). 

I’ve grown up using the ACTS method of prayer. Prayer includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. In each prayer I’d try to go from “A” to “S.” As good as that was, now I’m experiencing communion with God more deeply by simply focusing on prayer and thanksgiving as one unified activity. The Akathist of Thanksgiving is an effective tool for this. The Psalms provide words like this as well. 

In overwhelming circumstances, prayer must be simple. Too many “steps” will prove ineffective. Hear what St. Paul writes: 

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything in prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God. (Philippians 4.6) 

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. (Colossians 4.2) 

Pray with thanks as you commune with God in everything and always. 

Dr. K