What’s a “Salvation Issue”?

Denominational theologians use the phrase in the religious world to try to smooth over the deep doctrinal divides between religious groups. Sometimes even leaders in the Lord’s church have used the phrase in an attempt to avoid splits and divisions. But what is it?

The phrase “salvation issue” (never used in Scripture) refers to teachings about how to become a Christian. In the denominational world “salvation issue” usually refers to “believing in God the Father and Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God”. All other teachings get demoted to the “they don’t matter” category, because they’re not “salvation issues”.

In the Lord’s church there are those who will sometimes defend a controversial teaching by suggesting to everyone that it is not a “salvation issue”. And this is precisely where faithful disciples need to ask the question, “How would the Lord define a ‘salvation issue’?”

There are three categories into which most Christian teachings will fall: traditions, opinions, and commands.

Traditions are a set of teachings that leaders pass on to their students to help them keep God’s law, and they can be very helpful (1 Cor. 11:2 / 2 Thess. 2:15 / 2 Thess. 3:6) as long as they aren’t being taught as God’s commands (Matt. 15:1-9).

Opinions (aka, judgments, liberties, or even conscience) include a wide range of persuasions that we humans hold about how to obey the Lord; they can include tastes, cultural norms, human “think-so”, scruples, or someone’s experience-informed conclusions.

We are allowed by God’s word to hold traditions and opinions as long as they lie within the boundaries of God’s pattern and don’t become divisive. But as we hold them we must remember that traditions and opinions—according to the Lord (e.g., Matt. 15:1-9 / 1 Cor. 8-10)—are not binding and can be altered or changed.

To illustrate, we are commanded to meet on the first day of the week, but each congregation has its own traditions about meeting times and meeting places. Some congregations (for example, Italians) hold to a tradition that uses fermented wine for the Lord’s supper, while others (for example, the U.S.) hold to a tradition of unfermented “new wine”. And some hold the opinion Christmas shouldn’t be celebrated, while others do celebrate. These traditions and opinions are not matters upon which our salvation might be endangered—“salvation issues”.

Commands, on the other hand, are a different category. A command can be recognized through direct command, necessary inference, or approved example; and once a command is given through God’s word, it is neither changeable nor optional. It simply needs to be obeyed. And obedience is important (Matt. 7:21ff). The very definition of sin is disobedience to the Lord’s command (e.g., Lev. 26:21; Isa. 42:24; Rom. 6:16).

And obedience to the Lord’s commands is why the meaning of “salvation issue” needs to be reexamined by those who use it. The Scripture teaches us: “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” Hebrews 10:26. Willful, deliberate disobedience in a Christian, according to this very clear, inspired verse, will result in no further forgiveness for sins. This makes the many Biblical teachings beyond “faith, repentance, confession, and baptism” into “salvation issues”, too—including some of the hotter worship topics of our day, a cappella singing and male leadership.

While some might want to limit “salvation issues” to only what one must initially do to be saved, the rest of God’s will cannot be demoted and dismissed so quickly. The truth is that obedience is a salvation issue.

Park Linscomb

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Who Has the Words of Eternal Life?

Jesus had been teaching, healing, and feeding the people. His fame had spread all over Galilee, and tremendous crowds were following Him. But many were following for the wrong reasons; they wanted to make Him a political king, because He fed them. So Jesus found it necessary to winnow out those with the wrong motivations by teaching “hard” things. And it had the desired effect; for this reason, the Scriptures say, many stopped following Him (John 6:66). And then Jesus asks His closest disciples (the twelve) a curious, but necessary question, “…You do not want to go away also, do you?” John 6:67.

I can’t help but wonder about the specific reason that Jesus said this. The fact that Jesus asked this question in response to so many walking away makes me suspect that Jesus realized the social impact that this mass exodus was having on the apostles. Maybe it was the look of disappointment on the faces of the apostles that so many were leaving. Maybe the apostles were getting too excited about the numbers, the size of Jesus’ movement, the prospects of a physical kingdom—and then watched as Jesus deliberately said shocking things that sent lots of them home. Perhaps Jesus’ words had shocked even some of the apostles enough that, especially combined with the crowds leaving, they had begun to wonder if they hadn’t made a mistake about Jesus being Messiah.

Thank God for Peter, who gave the right answer, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.” John 6:68.

Relationships are powerful things in our lives. Whether marriage, children, family, friends, colleagues, peers, neighbors, or society at large; our relationships are all powerful influences in what we think, how we feel, what we do, what we accept, and what we reject. Consequently, they can either have an influence for good in our lives or be a stumbling block for evil.

In 40 plus years of ministry I’ve observed with heartbreak as husbands and wives were being led away from the Lord because of an unbelieving spouse; as parents deserted the Lord, because their children left Him; as children followed a worldly path, because parents were weak and uncommitted in their discipleship; as Christians left the faith, because friends or colleagues tempted them and scorned them when they resisted; and even as church leaders have strayed off course, because society doesn’t accept Jesus’ teachings as they are given to us in the Bible. Satan has many proxies in this world, who he uses to great effect in his war against the Lord’s people.

It is the reason why the Lord forbade marriage to foreigners (Deuteronomy 7:3). Why Israel was forbidden to make any covenant with the Gentiles (Exodus 23:32,33). And why Paul warned the Corinthian Christians about being bound together with an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Those with whom we associate can strongly influence us.

This is, of course, not to say that we shouldn’t have any association with unbelievers at all; how else how could we share the Good News with the lost?

But it is to say that we as Christians need to steel ourselves against the influences of the world around us, and we must be the stronger influences. We need to stand convinced that the Bible is right and that what the world proclaims is not. We need to remind ourselves that our loyalty must be to the Lord first and foremost, far above all other ties. We need to remember the words of the Peter not only when he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life,” but also when he said, “…We must obey God rather than men,” Acts 5:29.

It’s a common parent / child scenario:

Child: “But mom/dad everybody’s doing it!”

Parent: “If everybody jumped off the bridge, would you want to do that, too?”

It’s an answer that should ring in our ears especially, when it comes to spiritual matters: “If everybody jumped off a spiritual bridge, would you want to do that, too?” Hopefully, not.

Jesus may not have the key to popularity, but He does have the words of eternal life. Follow Him!

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Waive the Hearing?

A southern fellow was brought before a judge on the charge of beating his wife.

“Sam,” the judge started, “you are accused of beating your wife; do you have anything to say?”

Sam replied, “Well, I guess I plead guilty, and I wanna waive th’ hearin’.”

“What do you mean, you waive the hearing?” the judge asked puzzled.

“Well, judge, I mean I done it and I jus’ don’t wanna hear any more about it, that’s all!”

Acts 24:25 tells the story of Paul speaking to the Roman governor Felix…“But as [Paul] was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, ‘Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you.’” The subjects Paul spoke on hit a little to close to pained conscience of even this pagan Roman governor, and he, too, just didn’t want to hear any more about it.

Too many times we’re like poor old Sam and governor Felix, when it comes to our sin; we did it and we don’t want to hear any more about it. A bad conscience will do that to us. Men’s guilty hearts feel the weight and seek to escape it by shoving it to the back of their minds, telling themselves its all OK, and “You just need to stop judging me”.

The truth is this: silencing the sources of correction doesn’t solve our sin problem any more than plugging our ears, when a doctor comes in to the examination room and says, “We found something.”

What does solve our sin problem? Confronting our guilt, confessing our sin, and coming humbly and obediently to Jesus for forgiveness.

Are you trying “waive the hearing” of Biblical teaching about sexual morality? Honesty? Marital obligations? Attitudes? God’s way of salvation? Or even in the category of religion, baptism, attendance, Biblical worship, or church leadership?

We may waive the hearing here and now in this world, but there’s coming a day when we will stand before the great Judge, Jesus, and we will not be able to waive the hearing anymore—nor the consequences. Listen now and correct now; you’ll be glad you did.

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“Watch Over Your Heart”

As Christians we often find ourselves like Paul in Romans 7—wanting to do right and finding it sometimes difficult to do. We struggle and struggle, but it often feels like “3 steps forward, 2 steps back”. Despite our earnest desire to do right, we don’t; and as we go to the Lord in repentance for forgiveness, we can’t help but wonder what’s wrong with us.

The Scriptures teach us that it is a matter of what’s going on inside: our thoughts, our ideas, our fears, our urges, our pride, our anger—all the stuff going on inside of us that we often don’t pay close enough attention to.

And it is the very reason why Jesus spends so much time in the Sermon on the Mount talking about the internal issues of anger, lust, intentions, love, greed, revenge, pride, materialism, and worry. They are all internal, heart issues that are at the root of our sin.

And it’s why the book of Proverbs tell us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” Proverbs 4:23, NAS95. Watch over your heart with all diligence—pay steady, unwavering attention; because these thoughts—good or bad—will become actions.

A deacon called on frequently to pray at prayer meeting always concluded his prayer, “And now, Lord, clean all the cobwebs out of our lives.”

Everyone knew what he was talking about, a request for the Lord to forgive all the little sinful words, attitudes, and deeds, that we all let accumulate in our lives.

But finally, it got to be too much for one of the brethren, who had heard him say that prayer so often. And one Wednesday night, just after hearing those words again, he jumped to his feet and shouted, “Don’t do it, Lord. Kill the spider!”

The brother had a point. If we kill the spider, the cobwebs go away. If we kill the sinful thoughts, the sinful words, attitudes, and deeds won’t come back, either.

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Giving Glory to God

Glorifying God is  not something that ends at the conclusion of a worship assembly. Giving glory to God for a Christians is a 7 day a week, 24 hour a day endeavor.  But how do we do this? Some believe that it is done by peppering our speech with a lot “hallelujah” and “praise the Lord”. I’d like to suggest that there are other even more effective ways of doing this.

Evangelism—This is the most obvious way in which we may glorify God, by talking to others about how much He has done for us and all of mankind through the cross. How He has saved us and how He can save others, too. Glorify God through the telling of the Gospel.

Speech—But there are also other kinds of words that can give glory to God: kind words, gentle speech, clean expressions, and wholesome exclamations. The kind of words that are devoid of using the Lord’s name in vain, or of vulgarity, or of gossip, or lying, or dirty jokes (Eph. 5:4). People can tell a Texan by his speech (I know), and so also one’s Christian speech will give away one’s belief in God. When people notice, tell them it is because of the Lord.

Attitudes—God will not be glorified by grumpiness, vengefulness, snootiness, impatience, curtness, or judgmental attitudes. Such attitudes have given Christianity and the Lord a bad name. Especially when worldly people are jovial, friendly, understanding, patient, loving, and pleasant to be around. When people wonder how you could be so upbeat on a cold, rainy day, tell them that it’s the Lord in your heart—glorify God. (Php. 2:5ff)

How We Dress—I’ve seen a lot of dress that glorifies a lot of bad stuff: sensuality, anarchy, obscenity, liquor, pride, and worse. But the Lord can also be glorified by what we wear and how we wear it. Modesty, appropriateness, and righteousness (if you’re wearing a t-shirt with a message on it) all give glory to God (1 Tim. 2:9,10). When people ask why you dress this way, let them know that the Lord is your fashion consultant.

Possessions—Paul told the Corinthians (2 Cor. 9:13) that their use of their monies for support of the poor in Judea would glorify God, and the way that we use our money and other possessions today still can glorify God or embarrass Him.

Entertainment—What would you deduct about a person who often views “adult” movies, listens to “gangsta rap” without conscience, and wouldn’t think twice about skipping church for something fun? Worldly? Fitting in? What would you deduct about a person avoids “adult” movie ratings, prefers wholesome entertainment, and refuses to skip church for a sports event or special concert? Different? A prude? Get the point? Even your entertainment can give glory to or dishonor God. If your entertainment choices are wholesome, people are likely to ask you, “Why?” Because of the Lord, of course.

Secular Job—The New Testament commands a good work performance of disciples, because it reflects well on the Lord. “Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect.” (Titus 2:9, 10).

Neighborhood Relations— What image do unbelieving neighbors have of the Lord and His church? They get one from you, you know. What have they seen? Neighborliness, friendliness, faithful attendance, sound morals, Bible respect and knowledge? Is God glorified in your neighborhood?

Home—Here we sometimes let our light go dim, we become “ourselves” and God fails to be glorified in front of our children, parents, and spouses. Even here we should glorify God with a civil tongue, right behavior, integrity, and love (Eph. 5:22ff).

Are you glorifying God in your everyday living?

Park LInscomb

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It Works Both Ways

The newly appointed manager of a chain of hotels was on his first inspection trip. In the kitchen of one of the  hotels observed a particularly unhappy looking dishwasher.

“Cheer up, my good man,” the new manager said, giving the gloomy fellow a friendly pat on the shoulder, “I started as a dishwasher, and now I am the general manager.”

“I know,” came the startling reply,  “but I started as general manager and now I’m the dishwasher.”

In Romans 11:19-23 Paul teaches this important spiritual point for all to hear and heed: it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. The Jews mistakenly thought that being born (starting off) Jewish was enough to save, but God’s salvation was through faith in Jesus; they needed to believe in Him. Gentiles had lived abominable, shameful lives as pagans, but their sinful start didn’t have to determine their spiritual destination; faith and obedience to Jesus had the power to change everything. And some Gentiles who had just been saved seemed to have mistakenly thought that once that they had believed in Jesus that they could live as they pleased; but God expected newness of life, led by the Spirit.

Starting poorly doesn’t mean that we have to finish poorly. Hell is not a foregone conclusion for even the worst of sinners; faith and obedience to Jesus still has the power to change everything. And just as true, starting well doesn’t mean that we will finish well. It’s not enough to have simply been baptized, we must live as and remain a faithful disciple.

Our eternity is not based on how we start, but on how we finish.

Jesus’ promise to the church in Smyrna was “‘…Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” Revelation 2:10, NAS95. Are you growing toward a strong finish, or are you slouching toward a weak one?

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Rethinking This Thing About Being Your Authentic Self

There is a lot of buzz today about being our “authentic selves”. It is often used as rationalization for sinful behaviors, and can be heard in the memes of popular culture: ”I gotta be me”, “this is just who I am”, and sometimes even a misunderstanding and misapplication of the Shakespearean quote, “To thine own self be true…”. As one blogger I read recently put it…

The phrase [“To thine own self be true”] echoes something which I have heard subscribers to a particular brand of therapy repeat as a sort of mantra: “I just really need to focus on me right now.” In fact, the phrase appeals to our complacency, not to our resilience. Its function is to swell our laziness, not to stoke our resolve. It’s use is to excuse our disagreements with society, not to force us to reconcile them with fact. We are all victims, suffering in vain, alone in our wisdom, against an unfair society that condemns iconoclasts. (http://bigthink.com/the-proverbial-skeptic/to-thine-own-self-be-true-really)

I’m not only in agreement, I’d go a step further and say that from a Christian standpoint—I hope you’re not too shocked—God isn’t really interested in us being our “authentic selves”. Interestingly enough, He’d prefer we not be our authentic selves. Isn’t that the whole point of baptism: dying to our “authentic selves” and letting Christ live in us?

Our “authentic selves” are inclined to sin, have sinned, and (given the opportunity) will continue to be willful, rebellious, and self-seeking. It is the “natural man”. Our “authentic selves” have given us this fallen world, the wars, the atrocities, the broken homes, the broken hearts, the abuses, the hatreds, the violence, death, and all the evil this world has to offer. Yes, that was us, our “authentic selves”—not God, not chance, not randomness—starting with Adam and running down to the present moment. God made the world “very good”, and we made a mess of things.

What the Lord wants of us, what discipleship to Jesus is, what He sacrificed Himself for is a “new creation” (Gal. 6:15), to be “born again” of water and the Spirit (John 3:5), to put on the “new self” in the likeness of God (Eph. 4:22-24), and to be a “new creature” with old things passed away (2 Cor. 5:17). Jesus describes as denying self (Matt. 16:24), taking up one’s cross daily (Luke 9:23), and following Jesus (Matt. 4:19). There’s not a hint of the “old me” or the “authentic self” present in discipleship to Jesus.

What the authentic self wants is to be saved by Jesus without having to change anything, what is sometimes called “cheap discipleship”. It wants forgiveness without repentance, salvation without dying to self, and Heaven without obedience. It believes that its “authentic self” is more important than Jesus’ holiness. “Authentic self” seeks to be the center of the universe around which all others (including God) revolve; discipleship to Jesus recognizes the real center of the universe.

Now, don’t misunderstand. The old personality still exists; but now it’s been redeemed, transformed, and put under the authority of Christ. And likewise, growth and maturity are a part of this “equation” and will take some time and effort; the old habits and attitudes will continue to crop up and will sometimes take time to “crucify”. We will continue to sin; but now we repent, accept correction, and seek to change—quite unlike the “authentic self”.

Follow Jesus wholeheartedly and unreservedly all the way to Heaven. Being your “authentic self” is terribly overrated and will lead you unswervingly to Hell.

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