The Mechanics of Salvation
‘God will bring all things (to view), whether they are as
small as a mustard seed or (high) in the heavens or (buried deep) in the earth.
God is well aware of all things, to their tiniest details.’ (Qur’an 31:16)
In the Bible I bought for myself when I decided to accept
Jesus Christ as my personal savior back in 1974 (I was thirteen), there is
written, in my young hand, a slogan I may have heard from a pulpit in those
days, or read in a tract somewhere. It reads:
‘Jesus didn’t come to help you get it
together. He came to get it together for you.’
Whoever came up with it, the basic idea
is still valid for most Christians, even if the tone feels a bit dated now.
This saying is, in fact, the essence of mainstream Christianity. Certainly it
is the essence of Lewis’ Christianity.
The basic idea
behind the saying is that the mechanics of salvation are extremely simple,
featuring only one ‘moving part’, acceptance of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
as savior. This is what I believed as an adolescent, and this is what the
majority in contemporary Christianity believe today.
Here are just a
few examples of prominent Christians through the centuries who have said
precisely the same thing, using different words:
God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners,
Christ died for us.’
—St. Paul (Romans
whom I know as my Redeemer, cannot be less than God.’
Man alone, Jesus could not have saved us; as God alone, he would not; Incarnate,
he could and did.’
have a great need for Christ; I have a great Christ for my need.’
These are just a few of the hundreds of
examples one could supply of this type of teaching. It is the core of contemporary
salvation really is this simple—if it really does have
only one moving part—then there is certainly a huge advantage
for the Christians who are saved in this way. They can leave (as it were) all
the driving to Jesus.
The thoughtful Christian, however, is
entitled to ask a question about all this. This person is entitled to ask whether Jesus himself embraced the view
that he did not come to help us ‘get it together,’ but rather to ‘get it together
It can be quite difficult to ask such a question, either privately
or in public. Force of habit and social conformity can be such very strong
forces! Most Christians have been conditioned—perhaps from
their parents, perhaps from years of observing how churchgoing people behave,
perhaps from a combination of the two—not to ask such questions.
We may even have been conditioned to
believe that posing such questions would make us ‘bad Christians’.
Yet we have to ask these questions. And
here is why:
If we withdraw obediently when someone discourages us from
exploring what Jesus actually taught about human salvation—and
if we then live our lives under this code of obedient withdrawal, then I am
afraid Christianity as a creed is pretty much meaningless for us. This variety
of ‘Christianity’ asks us to accept Jesus as a Savior, as a Son of the
Omnipotent, All-Knowing God, but
forbids us to compare his actual teachings with those of the religion that
bears his name.
Now, if this is
not a perversion of Jesus’ mission, then nothing is a perversion of that mission.
After all, these are teachings that must,
by the faith’s own definition, be divine in nature! Surely we are entitled, and
obliged, to study them very closely indeed.
So please … if
you consider nothing else that I have suggested in this book, please … please
do take a moment to consider the following two sentences closely before proceeding
any further. What we are about to
discuss here are the preserved teachings
of Jesus Christ on the subject of human salvation—not the teachings of St. Paul, or St. Thomas Aquinas,
or Thomas à Kempis, or Malcolm Muggeridge, or the Pope, or
Franklin Graham. The teachings of Jesus, by definition, must matter to Christians.
Consider. What if we were to find something in the earliest,
most historically relevant teachings of Jesus that showed us clearly how he envisioned the mechanics of salvation?
If we were to encounter such information, what would our attitude toward the
opinions of St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, Thomas à Kempis, the Pope, Malcolm Muggeridge, or
Franklin Graham have to be? For a true Christian, the answer is obvious. What
those men all had to say about salvation would
simply have to wait for a moment.
of them, every single one, would have to wait while we listened
Anyone who believes otherwise simply cannot
claim to be a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word.
Jesus embrace the view that he did not come to ‘help us get it together,’
but rather to ‘get it together for us’?
Or did he leave us other instructions?
ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that
leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Because strait
is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be
that find it.’ (Matthew 7:13-14)
If Jesus did advocate what I wrote in the
front of my Bible, the view that he came to ‘get it together for us,’ it is odd
that he should place such heavy emphasis, as Islam does, on the fateful
consequences of the choices we make as
individuals as we travel the road of our life. It is these choices, he assures
us, which will determine our salvation. It is
simply not possible for any intelligent person to misinterpret his meaning
After we read these words, a question
appears. What, specifically, is ‘narrow’
about the act of accepting Jesus Christ as one’s personal savior?
Isn’t the act of accepting Jesus Christ
as savior a comparatively simple, straightforward decision, one that has been
engaged in by hundreds upon hundreds of
millions of people down the centuries? What is difficult or rare about
Why does Jesus agree with the doctrines of Islam by telling us that the
path to destruction is wide and easy to travel, but the path to salvation is
much more challenging? Once Jesus has ‘gotten it together’ for us, and we have
accepted him as our savior, is the traveling of this narrow path he speaks of
still a requirement for salvation?
If so, doesn’t
that mean the mechanics of salvation may be different than we might at first
have believed, that it may have more than one moving part?
If not, why does Jesus mention this path at all?
the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking
rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence
I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than
himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is
worse than the first.’ (Matthew 12:43-45)
If Jesus did embrace the view that he came to ‘get it together
for us,’ it is hard to understand why he is so keen for us to grasp, as Islam
is keen for us to grasp, the vital importance of our maintaining a constant
guard against negative forces. These, it is clear, are forces that may rush
into the mind and soul of even someone
who has sincerely repented and believed.
Once Jesus has ‘gotten it together for
us,’ and we have accepted him as our savior,
we are, apparently, still subject to being defiled by these forces—in
a way that leaves our last state worst than our first, and our very souls in
If our ‘last
state’ is worse than our ‘first,’ we are clearly headed for Hell.
mean that the mechanics of salvation may be different than we might at first
have believed, and may have more than one moving part?
If salvation has only
one moving part, why does Jesus mention
this danger at all?
everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.’ (Matthew 7:21)
This is an odd teaching indeed for a religion built around
the principle of acknowledging that Jesus Christ is Lord.
If Jesus did
embrace the view that his role was to ‘get it together for us,’ it is hard to
see why he would tell us, in the plainest possible words, that simply appealing
to him as lord is, on its own, not enough to win us salvation. And exactly how
different is this kind of appeal, which Jesus
clearly regards as insufficient, from the act of proclaiming him one’s
Once Jesus has
gotten it together for us, and we have accepted him as our savior, is his command
to perform the will of God in order to attain salvation still binding upon us?
If we fail to
do the will of his Father in heaven, is our salvation imperiled?
If it is,
doesn’t that mean that the mechanics of salvation may be different than we
might at first have believed, and have more than one moving part?
If it isn’t, why does Jesus mention this
requirement, and not mention, at a
time when it would be perfectly appropriate to do so, his own soul-saving role
as the only begotten Son of God? Why does he choose instead to emphasize so
very strongly the necessity of obeying the will of Almighty God?
The central reality of Christianity, we are told, is that Jesus
Christ died to redeem humanity, thereby giving those who believe in him a fresh
start with the Almighty.
Suppose we were
to ask: Why should we need a fresh start in the first place? C.S. Lewis, and a
great many who agree with him, would offer this answer: ‘Humanity has fallen
from grace and is, as a result, inherently
sinful. The only thing that can reverse such a fall is the blood of
If they are right, then we have found the
answer to the all-important question of eternal salvation.
If they are right,
we have encountered a momentous and important piece of information,
certainly a piece of information that should be of interest to every human being
If they are right, we have a responsibility
to try to share this information, this Good News, with every member of the
Before we accept such a responsibility,
however, we have the right, and the duty, to ask the question that is somehow always
neglected: Do the words that the Gospels attribute to Jesus support this theory?
with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any
time the ad-versary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge de-liver thee to
the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt
by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the ut-termost farthing.’ (Matthew 5:25-26)
Can this parable of Jesus, so rarely taught or analyzed in
church congregations, be understood as anything other than a parable of
salvation and damnation?
Can ‘prison’ represent anything other
Can the ‘judge’ represent anyone other
Can the ‘adversary’ who may hand us over
to the judge ‘at any moment’ be anything other than our own inevitable death?
Is it really the blood of the crucified
Jesus that saves us while we are on our way to court?
Or … is what saves us our own choice to come to terms with the
In this parable
of Jesus, salvation lies in our decision to acknowledge the reality of our own
impending death, our willingness to ‘settle’ our case before the judge renders
a binding decision that we know we will not enjoy. What saves us is our own eagerness
to ‘pay up’ by repenting and doing good deeds in this life, thus avoiding punishment
in the next. What saves us is our own conclusion that we had better accept the
‘terms’ we are being offered, submit to the hard facts of the situation, and
strike the best deal we can before we get
This pragmatic submission to the Reality
of the situation we all face is, as it turns out, the guiding theological
principle of Islam. And it is, to the careful reader of Q, Jesus’ guiding
theological principle, as well.
We have a right, and a duty, to ask: Where, within this parable, are we told of
the atoning action of the blood of the Son of God?
We have a right, and a duty, to ask: If Jesus shared a parable of salvation with
us, and left out the part about his own sacrifice for mankind, is the problem
with Jesus … or is the problem with our theory of his sacrifice for mankind?
We cannot seriously
maintain that it is simple ‘coincidence’ that Jesus fails to
mention the atoning action of the blood of the Son of God in any of these
Nor can we regard as ‘coincidence’ the
stark and disorienting fact that not a
single word promoting the theology of redemption in Christ’s sacrifice appears
in any of the most ancient Gospel verses.
Instead, in Q, we hear Jesus rebuking Satan when Satan tests him by
referring to him as God’s son.
In Q, we hear Jesus forecasting the doom
of people who listen to his instructions for living and fail to take action on
them. If he meant to forecast the doom of those who fail to accept his sacrifice
for mankind, surely he would have done so!
In Q, we hear Jesus refer to himself as
the Son of Adam—not at all the same thing as being the only begotten
Son of God.
These facts cannot be
accidents. They cannot be coincidences. They cannot be happenstance.
The early evidence is quite clear.
Notions of Jesus’ sacrifice and his ransom for all mankind of a human being who
was God Incarnate simply were not part of
the earliest Gospel. These concepts were added later, long after the
conclusion of Jesus’ ministry.
If we read the earliest Gospel verses
with both a functioning heart and a functioning mind, we cannot honestly say to
ourselves that Jesus really saw his own mission as that of ‘getting it together
We must instead conclude that he was much
more interested in finding ways to get us
to guard against evil—to get us to choose to turn over and over again to God—to
get us to commit ourselves to discerning
and submitting to God’s will—to get us to listen to our own soul’s advice—to
get us to purify ourselves under the guidance of Almighty God—to
get us to repent our sins before we
are brought before the Judge.
‘Without Jesus’ sacrificial death,’ a
contemporary American pastor preached recently, ‘there would be no Christianity.’
His words echo the sentiments of C.S.
Lewis and the vast majority of Christian clergy and theologians. If Chadwell
and all the rest of these people are correct, then the clear Gospel instructions
for salvation that you have read in this chapter—instructions
have nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus’ sacrificial death—presumably
belong to some other faith. If the experts insist that these teachings have no
place in Christianity, then they may be sure that these teachings are entirely
in keeping with Islam.
If we are true Christians, we must accept as authoritative what Jesus
actually taught about salvation.
And if we are truly interested in what Jesus actually taught on this
subject, we cannot escape noticing that his message is a great deal like—is, in fact, identical to—what Islam teaches.
Eventually I found it necessary to immerse myself in
a faith community. I joined, and became active in the local Protestant
denomination, a Congregational Church.
I led Sunday School classes for children, and briefly taught a
Gospel class on the Parables for the adults. In the Sunday School classes for
the kids, I stayed right with the curriculum I had been given; but in the adult
class, I tried to challenge the participants to confront certain parables directly,
without filtering everything through the Apostle Paul. We had interesting
discussions, but I sensed some resistance, and I didn’t try to teach an adult
class again. My wife eventually joined my church.
(She is a member there today.)