There is much confusion among Christians about grace and salvation. There are the extremes, of course – one being that you were predestined and you can do nothing to be saved, the other being that mental assent (which is then labeled saving faith) is enough to satisfy the requirements for eternal life. The problem with both of these approaches is that lifestyle is almost irrelevant. But I would suggest that salt and light are visible and tasteful, therefore tangible expressions of a true encounter with God.
Mimicking natural life at its beginning in which we are born and commence existence, our eternal life also has a beginning. “And this is eternal life, to know you, the only true God, and him whom you have sent—Jesus Christ.” (Jn 17:3) Jesus explains it in another way to a timid but inquisitive follower who is confused by religion and eternity: “Believe me,” returned Jesus, “a man cannot even see the kingdom of God without being born again (from above).” (Jn 3:3) Elsewhere He says “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24) 1 Peter 1:21 says “for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God”.
Our spirits will have perpetual essence without such an experience, but it will not be “life”. Eternal existence does not equal eternal life! Jesus mentions hell, the place of torment and ceaseless deterioration, more often than He speaks of heaven. We have minimized salvation to mean a gate ticket to heaven, with little emphasis on what we will experience when we arrive. Many of us aren’t even convinced that we will like it there! But we do want to escape the alternative! “It is better for you to go one-eyed (or one-handed or lame) into the kingdom of God than to keep both eyes and be thrown on to the rubbish-heap, where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’.” (Mark 9:47) No thank you!! So salvation has diminished into an insurance policy, so to speak, rather than the long awaited deliverance from sin and its devastation.
The kingdom is entered into not by drifting but by decision. The first followers of Jesus asked Him “Lord, are there only a few men to be saved?” And Jesus told them, ‘You must do your utmost to get in through the narrow door, for many, I assure you, will try to do so and will not succeed, once the master of the house has got up and shut the door. Then you may find yourselves standing outside and knocking at the door crying, ‘Lord, please open the door for us.’ He will reply to you, ‘I don’t know who you are or where you come from.’ ‘But…’ you will protest, ‘we have had meals with you, and you taught in our streets!’ Yet He will say to you, ‘ I tell you, I do not know where you have come from. Be off, you scoundrels!’ At that time there will be bitter regret…”. (Luke 13:23-28 jbp) That doesn’t seem right! It certainly raises a few questions!
So is it faith or effort???? A seeming contradiction makes perfect sense if relationship is central. We are introduced to a Person and then given an option – to believe and connect with Him or not. Faith enlivens our previously dead spirit. It is dead because it is separated from God by our choice of self-willed sin. Jesus described some of the religious men of the day who knew about and professed God as whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones. Zombies!! They had chosen self righteous religious achievement instead of choosing to trust the righteousness of Another. The results of choosing to believe (in itself a gift), as well as the ensuing decisions we are constantly making either to persist or resist believing, indicate the reality of our relationship with Him. Knowledge divorced from works and works without relationship are equally useless. We make choices every day whether or not to keep trusting the reality of an unseen kingdom and its King. There is a fight of faith. Salvation is not a static experience, but ongoing from a beginning point, much like a ray in mathematics.
Here is how the inimitable CS Lewis describes it:
“Though freedom is real it is not infinite. Every choice reduces a little one’s freedom to choose the next time. There therefore comes a time when the creature is fully built, irrevocably attached either to God or to itself. This irrevocableness is what we call Heaven or Hell. Every conscious agent is finally committed in the long run: i.e., it rises above freedom into willed, but henceforth unalterable, union with God, or else sinks below freedom into the black fire of self-imprisonment…”
From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume II
How shall we then live?