Friday, September 21, 2007

"Salvation Issues"

All is well in the world.

My wife arrived safely from the East Coast - 14 hours late (see my previous post below) - and she is sleeping soundly in the bed in our hotel room with her mouth approximately a half-inch open. I wish that I could take a picture and post it on here to accompany this entry, but I fear that that would be an abuse of my marital privileges.

I have an itch to write, however. It's been a while since I've really written anything and I feel that I owe the world some of my thoughts (though I'm probably mistaken). Plus, I'm not that tired right now.

So I may as well go ahead and quickly write about something that I've been thinking about for a while. Why not? It's nothing profound, but something that has been on my mind for sometime.

That is: what, exactly, is a "salvation issue"? I've heard this term thrown around a lot. Some people may say, "Well . . . jewelry is not a salvation issue," while others may say, "What you believe is not a salvation issue."

The idea really hit home with me a few months ago when I came across another Adventist blog (one that seems to be fairly frequented) and they seemed to be congratulating themselves by writing that they believed in the Sabbath, not as a "condition or a salvation issue, but . . . a gift of the eternal rest we have in Christ."

Don't get me wrong. I applaud them. The Sabbath truly is a wonderful blessing from Christ, a reflection of the fellowship we have with Him. But do they really know what they are saying when they write that the Sabbath is not a "salvation issue"? It's a term that is thrown around a lot, and I'm not sure that too many people really stop and think about what they mean by it.

Again, I pose the question: what, exactly, is a "salvation issue"? I was talking about this with one of my pastor friends a few nights ago - "colleagues," we're supposed to say - and he agreed with me when I told him that, on the one hand, nothing is a "salvation issue," and on the other hand, everything is a "salvation issue."

Question: is murder a "salvation issue"? What about lying or committing adultery? What about cheating on your taxes? What about paying tithe? Or - heaven forbid - what about drinking coffee?

The truth is, if the Sabbath is not a "salvation issue" then murder can't be a "salvation issue" either. And if murder isn't a "salvation issue" then we may as well throw the whole thing out because you can't really get any worse than murder (I'm sure some could argue that there are worse things).

Reflecting on the whole issue of "salvation issues," I wonder if people are trying to say that you are not saved by doing or not doing the said thing. Thus, keeping the Sabbath doesn't save you. Abstaining from alcohol doesn't save you.

But this is a purely artificial distinction and reveals the fact that those who are trying to distance themselves from legalistic thinking are, themselves, legalistic. Presumably, they believe that certain things are "salvation issues" (i.e., murder, treating others with love, feeding the hungry, promoting world peace). What makes them so?

Last I checked, what we do does not contribute one iota to our salvation (though some well-intentioned folks may disagree). Clothing the naked or fighting for the poor does not earn me any brownie points in heaven, no more than keeping the Sabbath or avoiding harmful substances does. None of these things contribute to Christ's atoning work on the cross. To pick and choose which issues become "salvation issues" is to play the part that God can only play, and make Him into our image.

Yet at the same time, all the aforementioned things can be salvation issues, in some senses. Though salvation is a free gift from God (which is not even based on my faith), how I respond to God's convicting Spirit reflects the reality of my salvation relationship with Him. If His Spirit convicts me of a certain area in my life - pornography, hatred, Sabbath, and, yes, even coffee and other health-related issues - that needs to be surrendered over to Him, then that specific thing very much becomes a "salvation issue." It doesn't matter how grandiose or how minute the issue is, when the Holy Spirit presses it upon my conscience, my salvation, in many senses, hangs in the balance.

I believe this is part of the great tension that Paul and James both present. On the one hand, Paul makes it abundantly clear that we are saved by grace, and not of works. On the other hand, however, James says that we are not simply saved by faith, but by works also.

In the end, when some people claim that certain things are not "salvation issues," I believe that many of them are simply trying to excuse their own behavior that they know to be wrong. Yes, some of it is purely semantical, but this world - indeed, this universe - hinges on semantics. What we say and how we say it is incredibly important. Christ is, after all, the Word incarnate. We need to be very careful how we say things.

Let's not make artificial distinctions. Let's make it crystal clear that nothing we do contributes to our salvation in an objective sense - not even our faith. Yet, on the subjective level, our behavior is a reflection of that objective reality and whether or not we have truly surrendered to the Almighty. This does not mean we should go around and say that "everyone" needs to do this or that (yes, there are issues that we can make such bold proclamations about, including the Sabbath), but neither does it mean that we should avoid bringing these issues to the forefront of people's consciences - as the Holy Spirit leads - and encourage them to experience a deeper union with Christ.

We need not apologize for some of these more "peripheral" issues that Adventists are peculiar for. Of course, we shouldn't bang people over the head with them, either. But we should be eager to show them that there is a better way. God wants to not only give them life, but life more abundantly.

And now, I must go. But first, a picture for you of the Oregon coast that I took last week. Not a great photo. Nice place, though (Cannon Beach).

1 comment:

holamickey said...

Another nice post - I'll try to come back to this.