Yes, Them Too

I read an interesting quote today by a Facebook friend:

Notice the difference of these two translations of Galatians 2:20: “The life I now live” –
by FAITH IN the Son of God.”
within the FAITHFULNESS OF the Son of God.”

One is about what I have to do and keep doing. One is about what is already done and being done for me. One of these is actually an announcement of good news.

Friends, this analysis is a VERY interesting observation. As a young evangelical, I was taught to understand that our salvation depends upon our state of mind: a right belief, mentally placing our faith in the right thing. That, more than anything, more even than our works, determined where we spent eternity.

Here’s the problem with this thinking that I now recognize: This places our salvation in our own hands: if we fail to believe the right thing (thus, also with the proper mental understanding of that thing), then we will not be saved. But unfortunately, this clashes with so many verses that place the salvation of ALL mankind squarely in God’s great and merciful hands, without condition. In some sense, it seems to me that believing that our salvation depends on us effectively makes us mightier than God’s salvation. We have the power to thwart God’s great plan, if that is true, either by our ignorance or our willful resistance.

Now, we could argue for the rest of eternity about which view is better supported by scripture – whether it depends on us, or it doesn’t – and both sides of this debate should acknowledge that both sides have verses to back up their view. So it really comes down, ironically, to what we believe about whether what we believe can separate us from the love of God.

Well, as for me, these days I choose to believe that God’s salvific power is far, far greater than me or anything I might choose or even be able to believe. As 1 Cor 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” All. Not some. Not just those who believe or do the right things. All. Period. ALL.

And to me, THIS IS “the gospel” – the good news – that I can preach joyously to all who will listen: that they ARE saved by Christ’s sacrifice. Now they need to live into that salvation, and I’m happy to introduce them to Jesus so that they can come into fullness of life right now, not merely in eternity.

And in view of 1 John 4:18, this perfect love – God’s perfect love, not mine – utterly casts out fear as a motivating factor in my witness. I no longer am bound to a message of hell and condemnation, trying to scare people into faith. No. Instead, I am released to share with them that God loves them, period, full stop, no conditions. And God deeply desires relationship with them.

Doesn’t matter about their condition.

Doesn’t matter about their beliefs.

Doesn’t matter about their actions.

Doesn’t matter about their sins. No, really.

Doesn’t matter whether they formerly rejected God.

The only thing that matters: literally, the one and only thing: is Jesus’ perfect life, his unjust death, and the resurrection that demonstrates God’s salvation.

And beyond that good news, what else do I need to do? Shame them into good behavior or good works? No. Nothing they do now or have done or will do can separate them from the love of God. Romans 8:35-39 says it all: NOTHING. Not anything external. And not anything internal. No wrong belief. No sin. Not even rejection of God. Nothing.

Does that mean I don’t care about sin? No. But this understanding releases it from being MY problem. Their behavior is a matter between them and God. The only possible thing left to me is to model a relationship with God in my own life, so that my witness calls them to a deeper relationship with God. If God wants to change them, God will have an infinitely better chance of that as their relationship with God deepens. But no amount of fear or nagging or preaching from me will ever change their heart or behavior. So all I CAN do – and in my view, all I SHOULD do – is help them deepen that relationship.

And in fact, it means I have to hold my own definitions of sin very very lightly. Because I’ve been wrong before, and I’ll be wrong again, and I refuse to let my definition or understanding of sin factor into this even slightly.

What’s that I hear you protest? That their sin keeps them from God? Sure, that’s what I was taught from many pulpits and in many sermons and hymns and gospel tracts.

But go back and read Romans 8:35-39 again. NOTHING can separate them from the love of God. NOTHING can separate US from the love of God.

I really do think that when we preach to people that their sin keeps them from God, what we’re actually trying to do is to use shame and fear to motivate them to conform to OUR standards of behavior. We don’t really truly trust that God will motivate them. Or – I think more likely – we don’t trust that God agrees with our standards and they won’t reach the same conclusions that we have about what constitutes acceptable behavior. That’s a risk we’re unwilling to take, so we start trying to shame people into our concept of righteousness.

Which is always going to be filthy rags, as it says in Isaiah 64:6.

In the last few years, I’ve found that when I began to release other people from my own personal standards, I was suddenly free to see the amazing light of God in those people that I’d been taught to either shun, or even to actively hate. I’ve seen amazing things that challenged me to grow in my own relationship with God, coming from people I was taught couldn’t possibly be Christian. I’ve even directly observed God’s love being richly expressed by people who actively maintain that they don’t even believe in God – at least, in the Christian or evangelical ideas of what God is.

Just so I’m being clear here, and not leaving you guessing just what I mean, I’ll be explicit.

I’ve seen God’s love being richly expressed and modeled by gay people – sometimes with much richer and deeper faith than many of the most pious Christians I know. From how they’ve been treated by Christians, and yet cling to faith, I think they understand God and Jesus and faith and determination and perseverance and humility at a level I can only dream of understanding.

I’ve seen many queer and trans people with rich spiritual lives and love for Jesus, treating others in Jesus-like ways that would shame quite a few Christians by comparison. It has certainly shamed me as I think back to how I treated people like them for decades.

I’ve seen God dwelling richly in the righteous actions of many Muslims, as they worship Allah with dignity and peace.

I’ve seen some amazing theology and love of God and Jesus from Mormons, who I was always taught to fear for their doctrinal error, and I’ve seen how they draw people into relationship with God so graciously.

I’ve often seen the joy on the faces of mentally-ill homeless people, who sometimes don’t have a clue about doctrine or right beliefs, yet love Jesus and are at peace with God in whatever way their mind can bear.

I’ve even seen God in the hearts and actions of my atheist friends. Even without naming it as such, they model many aspects of Christ’s love and peace in so many ways, that constantly motivate me to assess whether I truly understand Jesus’ teachings as well as they do, and force me to rethink my understanding of what it means to have Christ in our hearts.

So you can argue with me all you wish about “saved by faith in Jesus” versus “saved by Jesus’ faithfulness,” but I won’t be convinced even by any well-cherry-picked Bible verses about the importance of right doctrine and mental assent to salvation. And I’m not sorry about it; I’m only sorry that we disagree. But in the end not even that bothers me, because I’m also fully convinced that both of us will stand together in the presence of God and literally every other human some day, rejoicing in God’s infinite and perfect love and mercy. But I’m convinced that I won’t be surprised by who I find there with us, because I already expect it to be ALL, not just the self-professed remnant who believed the right things.

And even if, in that day, I don’t see every other human with us, those Muslims or atheists or anyone else, that also won’t really surprise me, because I fully expect to look and see God’s face turned to the horizon, to the gates of that new Jerusalem, watching and longing for the day when each of God’s children will come home. Because I truly do believe that God IS that patient, and that they WILL come home in time.

So let’s bring this full circle: I believe that the life I now live in the body, and the life I will live for eternity, and the life of every other human both now and forever, we live and will live within the FAITHFULNESS OF the Son of God. And we can rejoice in that rich, rich mercy, and stop fretting so hard about who gets to go to heaven. Because the only right answer is “Yes, them too.”

If you’d like more of my thinking about salvation, along these lines, these posts might help.

Every Created Thing
New Series: A Discussion of Individual Eschatology
For Two Billion years…
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2 thoughts on “Yes, Them Too”

  1. samuel Etheridge

    HI Brandon,
    I have enjoyed reading/ listening your posts/podcasts for the last month. I particularly enjoyed the two recent interviews with Dr. Miche and Rev. Zach. You are a good interviewer, and the conversations really display the work you have done since 2020.

    I would like to hear more from the people you have met on your journey.

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