Thursday, December 6, 2012

On Knowledge of Salvation

How much must one know about Jesus Christ in order to be saved? In other words, what is the limit of knowledge that God requires in order to confer salvific grace?

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (NASB John 3:16).

The Agent

In the book of John, chapter three, verse sixteen, one can find a passage of scripture that has been used for many years as a summary for what Christians today call the Bible. With an analysis of this verse, one can plainly see that there is a goal that should be sought out by everyone. “For God so loved the world” allows the readers to see who this message is directed towards, aside from Nicodemus. With that in mind, one can see that the word “whoever” can address every reader and every “believer” as well.

One of the goals readers should seek from this verse is very simple: That we as humans should desire eternal life. The real question is how does one obtain eternal life? Or better yet, how does one become saved from eternal death? The answer to this question can be found in the very same verse which is, through belief in the Son of God.

Jesus is called the agent that God used to find a way to save sinful humans from death. “Verse 16 serves as a statement of fact involving the agency (the Son) God used to bring salvation to the world” (Borchert 183). Christ is the answer to the problem of a perfect God having the company of imperfect humans. Jesus is the agent, answer or instrument by which we become saved.

The Insufficient Jesus

Is there anyway that Jesus could possibly be insufficient, as in, incapable as fully saving us from death? The answer to this question totally and completely depends on which Jesus, one is talking about. The Jesus spoken of in the New World Translation, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was a god” (NWT John 1:1; underlining mine), is a totally different person altogether. With this verse out of the Book that the Jehovah’s Witnesses call the Bible, the word “a” is added to the original scriptures and “god” is not capitalized. To them, Jesus is not God. He cannot claim deity, and the Trinity is something that man conjured up.

One problem with their interpretation of John 1:1 is that in the shadow of the first of the Ten Commandments found in Exodus chapter twenty, verse three, “You shall have no other gods before me” (NASB Exo. 20:3), and in their “Bible,” “You must not have any other gods against my face” (NWT Exo. 20:3; See the reference to Hebrews 12:19, they point to the word “added”). If one were to ask a Jehovah’s Witness “Are there any other gods beside God the Father?” They would simply say no, and point the person in the direction of Exodus chapter twenty verse three. This creates a problem, then, with their doctrine. Exodus says have no other gods, but John 1:1 says that Jesus was “a” god.

In the New World Translation we can also see in the same book, John chapter twenty, verse twenty eight, Thomas says to Jesus, “My Lord, and my God” indicating that Thomas believed in Jesus’ deity. Pointing this scriptural path out to Jehovah’s Witnesses can be devastating to their beliefs.

Jehovah’s Witnesses try to use other scriptures in the Bible to show a person that Jesus was not God. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (ESV Col. 1:15-16; underline mine).

Why Is Jesus called the “firstborn?” Does it mean that God created Him first? If this were true, it would completely shake the foundations of Christianity! Believers hold to the doctrine that Jesus is the creator of the world and its systems (See John 1:10 and Col. 1:17). Again though, the answer is simple. The reason Jesus is called the firstborn can be seen in verse sixteen: “all things were created through him and for him.” In other words, at the first glance, the definition of “firstborn” might easily be misinterpreted. In this instance however, “firstborn” shows a place of rank. “Firstborn sometimes does mean the first one born. For example, ‘Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh. … The second son he named Ephraim’ (Genesis 41:51-52). At other times firstborn means the first in rank, position, or privilege—the heir, as in Jeremiah 31:9: ‘I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.” Although David was the youngest son of Jesse, God says of David, “I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth’ (Psalm 89:27)” (Kern 28).

The point is this: the Jesus spoken of in the Christian Bible, not the Jesus the brother of Michael the arch angel according to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, is completely sufficient for the salvation of one’s soul, because of who He is, and because of what His works have accomplished.

The Deity of Christ

Why is it important that we believe that Christ is in the Godhead? As one can observe from above, the question may arise if Christ isn’t deity, is it enough to save mankind from their sins. To rephrase, what made the earthly life of Christ (dying on the cross in our place, for a way to cleanse us from our sins) a perfect propitiation for our sins?

If Christ was a mere man, how could He save us from our sins? One could spend a few moments with another person and be able to recognize that they aren’t perfect. Not only that, one could also eventually see the sin that is present, and examine himself or herself and see sin present in their life as well.

One can observe many passages of scripture that show the divine nature of Christ. Let’s look at a few: In Matthew 28:20 Jesus commands us to baptize in the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit, equating the three. In the verse mentioned above where Thomas called Him “Lord and God,” Jesus would have sharply corrected him if he was off in his mode of labeling. Also in Philippians chapter two, Paul shows us how Jesus made himself nothing. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (NIV Phil. 2:5-7).

The importance of Christ’s deity is crucial to the Christian beliefs. “At the heart of orthodox belief is the recognition that Christ died a substitutionary death to provide salvation for a lost humanity. If Jesus were only a man He could not have died to save the world, but because of His deity, His death had infinite value whereby He could die for the entire world” (Enns 225). Clearly, one can see the value of Christ being divine.

The Humanity of Christ

If the nature of Christ were only that of deity, then death on the cross wouldn’t have meant anything because He wouldn’t have really died, the swoon theory wouldn’t be too far from the truth, and He wouldn’t have suffered like a human would have. “The doctrine of the humanity of Christ is equally important as the doctrine of the deity of Christ. Jesus had to be a man if He was to represent fallen humanity. First John was written to dispel the doctrinal error that denies the true humanity of Christ (cf. 1 John 4:2). If Jesus was not a real man, then the death on the cross was an illusion; He had to be a real man to die for humanity” (Enns 222).

Scripturally speaking, there are many passages that document Christ’s human nature as well. In Matthew 4:2, the Bible tells us that Jesus was hungry after fasting. Would a ghost or a god be hungry? Or tired (see Mark 4:37-38)? Would a ghost or a god grow in stature as a human would (see Luke 2:52)? Or again, would a spirit become weary after a long journey (see John 4:5-6). One more question. What kind of god would cry (see John 11:35)? The point is, while He was completely divine, He was completely human in nature as well.

What One Should Know

One can look at the map of the “Roman road” for guidelines to what he or she should know. In Romans: 1:20-21, Men are without excuse in that they can’t deny the fact that God exists because they observe His creation everyday through the five senses, and since there is an all powerful God, maybe there is more to it, such as God having a Son (Implying that one shouldn’t stop at simply understanding God exists); 3:23, all have sinned. We all fall short of God’s glory; 5:8, in the midst of our sins, Christ died for us; 6:23 the payment for sin is death, but God’s gift is eternal life; 10:9-10, confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in that God has raised Him from the dead, then you will be saved; 10:13, call on His name and you will be saved (see also Matthew chapter seven verses seven through eleven)(see also Romans 11:36; See web link in Works Cited).

Minimum Requirements

These passages of Scripture definitely put one on the right track as far as heading in the direction of salvation. From these passages the basics would seem to be that the absolute minimum one could know for salvation would be that A) there is a God, B) everyone sins and sin keeps us from being with God (see Psalms 66:18), C) Christ Died so that we can be with God, D) Believe and confess that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God raised Him from the dead.

One would have to know that there is a God in order to be saved, and they would also have to know that they are at fault and that Jesus took that fault away from them. With that being done, 1) they aren’t required to pay for their sins beyond the death of their earthly body, and 2) they now have eternal life, which is God’s gift to us through Jesus. A gift, meaning, no one can bribe God, or work for their salvation in order to receive it. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (ESV Eph. 2:8-9).

Conclusion

How much must one know about Jesus in order to be saved is like asking the question, “Who is God?” The answers to both questions are not simple, nor do they stop. When one comes to the question in their mind of whether or not they are saved helps them discover where they are spiritually. Once one understands that there is a God (Romans 1:20) what becomes the next step? Clearly the next step would be to seek this idea of an existing God. With that in mind, down the road when one has a stronger relationship with God, he or she will realize that God has promised if one seeks, they will find; if one were to ask, it will be given; and finally, if one were to knock, the door would be opened for them.

In light of Luke 12:48, “But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. ” (ESV Luke 12:48a), a person can get the idea that God will Judge righteously and despite their ignorance “God’s judgment will be fair. It will be based on what the servants know of God’s will. This is not to suggest that the more ignorant we are, the easier time we will have at the Judgment Seat of Christ! We are admonished to know God’s will (Rom. 12:2; Col. 1:9) and to grow in our knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18)” (Wiersbe). In other words, it only begins at salvation.


Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus


Works Cited
            New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).
            Gerald L. Borchert, John 1-11, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001, c1996).
            New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures: (Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. Copyright 1984).
            The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).
            Kern, Herbert: How to respond: Jehovah’s Witnesses (Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO; Copyright 1977, 1995).
            Paul P. Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1997, c1989).
            The Holy Bible: New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984).
            Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989).

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