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What Must I Do to be Saved?

7 April 2008

A young man interviewing for a youth-ministry position recently wrote to Dr. Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog and described an uncomfortable situation that occurred during his interview. One of the elders apparently asked this young man how he would respond if a 15-year-old asked him how to get to heaven.

You need to know that the aspiring youth minister is much like many of us who have questioned – well, not our faith so much as how we arrive at the doctrinal content of our faith. It’s uncomfortable to be asked doctrinal questions (especially ones that so clearly expect a concrete, cut-and-dried answer) when we’re having to recalibrate our ways of arriving at those answers. This is a fantastic example: what I was taught about “going to heaven” – pearly gates, streets of gold, and that whole dream sequence out of John’s Apocalypse – simply doesn’t hold up if we admit that exegeting poetry and imagery is different than exegeting legal opinions or historical narrative.

Still, the hypothetical question this young man was asked was not some arcane question about angels dancing on the head of a pin. It was, if formulated properly, THE question.

Peter didn’t flinch when asked what amounts to the same thing. We shouldn’t either.

Having had the luxury of time to think about it, I think I would take two swings at it. First, I would say this: May I rephrase the question modestly into, “What must I do to be saved?”

Assuming that such a rephrasing is acceptable, I would immediately and without hesitation follow Dallas Willard’s lead and say:

Apprentice yourself to Jesus, that’s what. Salvation – what you are calling “going to heaven” – has a number of different bearings to it, some immediate, some long-term, some beyond this life. But all of them are covered by discipleship to Jesus. If you give your soul to him, he can be trusted to save you from everything that threatens your soul: death, fear of death, eternal condemnation, worry, sin…all of it.

And then we can work out what it means to “apprentice yourself to Jesus” over time. (That’s what we’re all doing anyway, if we are honest: working out what it means.) It will end up in a baptistry or a river at some point, but the main thing is to sell out to Jesus and let him sort out all the details with us as we go.

I might also refer to The Karate Kid as a parable of this whole deal. Daniel-san does not follow Mr. Miagi perfectly when he starts out. He doesn’t even commit to him right away. But when he looks around at the fence-painting project as the starlit night falls and as Mr. Miagi heads out on the town, and then turns with a wistful sigh to resume painting, we know that he has become Mr. Miagi’s disciple. We know at that point that Daniel-san is “saved.” He has counted the cost, and he has decided that the benefits of voluntary obedience to his teacher (“rabbi?” “master?” “lord?”) exceed the cost of losing a night or two of running with his buddies.

Interestingly, the dialogue over at Jesus Creed focused almost entirely on eschatology and soteriology and ecclesiology and all of these other “-ologies” that command our attention when we let our cleverness get out ahead of our common sense. (Don’t get me wrong: I have grown to love that little band of bloggers. They have been great cyber-companions to me, even without knowing it. And McKnight always has a useful take on something…he’s well worth listening to.)

Sort of like the disciples walking with Jesus that day when they happened upon the man born blind. Instead of just healing him, which they could have urged Jesus to do – or perhaps done themselves? they certainly had some experience with that – they converted the blind man into a theological thought experiment. “Who sinned, that this man should be born blind?”

I have to chuckle. Bless our hearts, we mean well, but sometimes we just miss it.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan Smith permalink
    9 April 2008 11:07 am

    Great post. You stated:
    “It will end up in a baptistry or a river at some point, but the main thing is to sell out to Jesus and let him sort out all the details with us as we go.”

    Are you suggesting that “to sell out to Jesus” does/can happen prior to baptism? Seems to me that the analogy of salvation being a birth process means that while gestation is foundational, it is the birth itself that is the determing factor/event in salvation.

    I am enjoying your blog greatly. How are the ACU studies coming along?


  2. queueball permalink*
    11 April 2008 10:06 am

    Dan, I guess I just find it remarkable that one of the great conversion stories in Acts, in chapter 10, deals with a family who had obviously received the Holy Spirit prior to their baptism. I can’t help but think that God is telegraphing something to us: “The I AM does not do things by a formula.” His methods may have central tendency, but they also have variance – not random variance, but directed variance according to his will in a given circumstance.

    Baptism is an act of the (free) will. As such, the will must first be brought to the point at which it chooses to go ahead. So no, I’m not SUGGESTING that “to sell out to Jesus” can happen prior to baptism; I’m AFFIRMING it. Explicitly.


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