What The Bible Actually Says About Salvation, or, The Logic Behind Jesus As The Only Way To God

As an aside, I think this could become a useful post series (What The Bible Actually Says About…), because I often find myself running into difficulty in arguments based on differing interpretations of the Bible. Two of TWIM's five seven post series are effectively stalled right now: Rebutting Atheist Universe, and eBates. The former is stalled mostly for lack of motivation, really. I tend to write spontaneously and follow arguments wherever they might interestingly lead, which is why I'll never whine a lick about what those who lack pertinent arguments often demonize as "thread derailment." Freethought has no boundaries, folks.

This spontaneity also means it's hard for me to force myself to respond to David Mills once a week when I'm not particularly feeling it — which I haven't been for a while. eBates and the whole "Power Commenter" ideas we've experimented with haven't gotten off the ground  yet, mostly for lagging on my own part I suppose. The first person I invited to an eBate declined, and I just haven't asked anyone else yet. I've expressed interest in having one with Ebonmuse regarding his essay A Ghost In The Machine, but he declined to respond. But let's not digress too much here.

Today, I just wanted to restate that the Bible doesn't say the unrepentant sinner is cast into Sheol for doing bad things. Now, before you say, "Wait a minute cl, the Bible clearly teaches that all sinners go to hell," let me explain. We're all familiar with the common trope: the good people go to heaven, and the bad people go to hell. Not that all religions teach afterlife concepts, but the vast majority do and the formula is the same in every one of them I've come across but one. Then again, this makes perfect sense, as I've always maintained that if the Gospel is real, Christianity is actually a relationship and not a religion. My point is, Sheol is the punishment for unrepentant sinners, and to frame salvation without that key word in mind is to understate the scope of the problem, which encourages misunderstanding of the uniqueness of the solution.

We do wrong to think of the problem of sin as one of quantity. People tend to imagine some sort of "critical mass" regarding sin, meaning that they imagine the number of sins vs. the number of good deeds is the deciding factor. I've even seen people who don't necessarily adhere to this position argue from it, which suggests that its a very powerful presupposition we all need to be aware of. For, awareness of this proposition would immediately reveal the strawman nature of such questions as, "Do you really believe in a God that would send you to Hell for eternity all because you did X (where X = some sin)." As we'll see in a moment here, the problem of sin is an issue of quality, not quantity.

Acknowledgment of the spiritual realm is a prerequisite to an accurate understanding of the Gospel. According to Scripture, the true reality of life is spiritual and unseen. Man is a tripartite being, an entity consisting of body, soul and spirit. Everyone acknowledges that they possess a physical body. Also, we acknowledge that we have intangible faculties such as thought, will, sensation and emotions. These are commonly referred to as functions of man’s mind. Biblically speaking, the words "soul" and "mind" are roughly interchangeable. The aspect of man’s being that arouses the most controversy is the spirit. I realize many doubt; but for the sake of understanding my argument, let's grant for a moment that this spiritual realm is in fact real.

When it comes to articulating the Bible in a way that rings true far more often than not in my experience, Watchman Nee delivers time and time again:

Why must a sinner be born anew? Why must he be born from above? Why must there be a regeneration of the spirit? Because man is a fallen spirit. A fallen spirit needs to be reborn that it may become a new one. Just as Satan is a fallen spirit, so is man; only he has a body. Satan’s fall came before man’s; we therefore can learn about our fallen state from Satan’s plunge. Satan was created as a spirit that he might have direct communion with God. But he fell away and became the head of the powers of darkness. He is now separated from God and every godly virtue… his fall took away his right relationship with God.

Similarly, man in his fall also sank into darkness and separation from God. Man’s spirit still exists but is separated from God, powerless to commune with Him and incapable of ruling. Spiritually speaking, man’s spirit is dead… No religion of this world, no ethics, culture or law can improve this fallen human spirit. Man has degenerated into a fleshly position; nothing from himself can return him to a spiritual state… regeneration of the spirit is absolutely necessary. The Son of God alone can restore us to God, for He shed his blood to cleanse our sins and give us a new life. —Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man, p.8,9

This is why man is unable to reach God. This is the basis for the one way-to-God theory: we don't choose the method; God does. It is not an issue of favoritism or religious bias. Religion won’t work because no matter how many good deeds we perform, our spirits, if not regenerated from above, remain dead. It's not that we attain God’s favor by being good people. The concept is that we are already fallen, and under our own lordship we can never get back up. When one lies in cardiac arrest in the emergency room, the only hope is that they can be resuscitated from some external force. on the operating table. Once you are dead, you are dead. Unless an external source intervenes, you will die, regardless of your own will, actions, ideas or choices. The question is not “do you go to hell if you believe Y (where Y = some religion)” – the question is, "How can our spirits enter into heaven?" It's as much of an empirical problem as it is spiritual. You simply can't get into a building if you do not possess the means.

Man is not the author of even a single granule of truth, and there are some chasms in life humans simply can't cross on their own.


Related posts:

False Argument#17: Bible Claims Those Who've Never Heard Of Jesus Go To Hell

False Argument #16: Bible Offers Contradictory Criteria For Salvation

11 Comments

  1. Lifeguard says:

    Methinks a lot of the confusion you’re describing comes from the schizophrenic way some (dare I say many?) Christian’s have used the word “sin” over the centuries. Certainly, I understand what you mean by quality over quantity– that sin is a state of being rather than an act–, but it’s undeniable that many Christian denominations expect member of the flock to confess “their sins” in one form or another, which suggests keeping a tally of sorts. Christians also talk of Original Sin which happened because of a specific set of actions. Both meanings are there, and I think that’s the source of the misunderstanding.
    In my waning years as a Catholic, I was interested in some ways that the Sacrament of Reconciliation took on a much more “transactional sin” mentality. There was less emphasis on reciting the items on your personal dirty laundry list and a little more encouragement to talk about yourself, your relationships, and broader themes about the development of your conscience. Admittedly, it differed from priest to priest and parish to parish, but this model was certainly out there.

  2. ….as I’ve always maintained that if the Gospel is real, Christianity is actually a relationship and not a religion.

    Preach on brother!

    Acknowledgment of the spiritual realm is a prerequisite to an accurate understanding of the Gospel.

    Preach on brother!

    Watchman Nee delivers time and time again

    He’s the man!
    ————————-
    I thought it would be the most effective way to show that in effect, this post is an theist sermon, not a reasoned argument. The core questions about sin and salvation are interesting, don’t get me wrong, but we already know you’re an theist and all your opinions on God and blah blah blah. They’re just opinions and not suitable as support for arguments.
    [Now wasn’t that a helpful comment? And I take it back. The core question of sin and salvation are not interesting since neither sin not salvation exist in any relevant way to human life.]

  3. Gideon says:

    I’ve never been in doubt of your satisfaction with your beliefs, SI, nor have I ever been in doubt of your inability to prove them, either. Someone with your mindset isn’t interested in learning, only pasting up derogatory pictures of God and Christ in an attempt to rile believers, and bantering innuendo and false information back and forth with other infidels. That’s why I never got into any time-consuming debates with you, because of what I know about you and your goofy entourage.
    Of course you know that I really don’t care about your religion of apostasy, it doesn’t keep me awake at night knowing you’re headed straight for a 6X6 on some forlorn patch of real estate, somewhere. I just marvel at your stubborn insistence on believing fairy tales. It’s like studying bugs in a jar, how they keep crawling around and around over the same territory, until they’ve exhausted themselves looking for an opening that they should have realized long before isn’t there.
    cl, regarding your description of a human being comprised of three elements: body, soul & spirit, I would point out that Genesis 2:7 offers a different analysis. This where all of the pagan notions of immortality stem from. That man BECAME a living soul, as opposed to POSSESSING a living soul, is more in harmony with the overall context of scripture. I might point out to you the very reason for man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden was to remove him from access to the Tree of Life, apparently a source of rejuvenation for him to sustain his existence, as God strove to eliminate any chance of an immortal SINNER from the equation.
    The concept of eternal hellfire, i.e. someone living forever in constant torment is one of the greatest points of ridicule and contention that atheists have with “Christianity.” They are far more intelligent than we are on this, and are ever willing to point out the flawed logic of a ‘merciful and benevolent’ God consigning lost beings forever to a fiery inferno! The immortal soul concept has spawned the pagan belief (NOT Christian!) of eternal torment awaiting the unrepentant, and it’s stuck with so-called Christianity like ugly on an ape.
    If we were all either in Heaven or “hell” (Greek meaning; “Sheol” or “grave”, a simple hole in the ground) what would be the reason for Christ returning to bestow eternal life to those who supposedly had it already, or to consign rebels to a torment they’re already experiencing? And, what gratification is there for the redeemed to have to watch their unsaved relative and friends writhing in flames, FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER AND EVER AND… well, you get the picture? This view, alone, annihilates Christianity, and Christians go around blithely preaching a contradiction in terms. Our ridicule and disdain is deserved, methinks.
    Some matters for you to consider, I have other fish to ‘fry’, today… and the flame isn’t an eternal one, either, only the outcome!

  4. Gideon says:

    I’ll try this again… (I don’t know why people don’t use Blogger!) see if it posts…
    Other reading on this: (Copy and paste)
    Jesus Is Eternal Life (PDF)
    I tried an html link, but, good ol’ WordPress-type formats always screw things up!

  5. Gideon says:

    Great… NOW it works!
    Sheesh!

  6. Gideon

    I just marvel at your stubborn insistence on believing fairy tales.

    Of course you understand exactly how ironic I find this statement. But, aside from that, because I doubt we’ll agree, the rest of your comment is actually one of the most intelligent things I’ve seen come from your typing fingers. I honestly didn’t think you had it in you. I knew you could write well, but thought you were wasting your abilities on snarky scatological drivel.
    Nice job.

  7. Gideon says:

    Gee, thanx, SI!
    I guess it’s the Highwayman in me.
    ;-)

  8. Karla says:

    Lifeguard said: “but it’s undeniable that many Christian denominations expect member of the flock to confess “their sins” in one form or another, which suggests keeping a tally of sorts.”
    Actually the reason, Biblically speaking, for that “confessing” isn’t to earn salvation, or points with God, but to to remove the hidden factor of a sin that one struggles with. Once it has been brought to light so to speak, brought out in the open, the enemy’s power to keep you bound by that sin is broken. So this is a matter of sanctification and not a matter of finding salvation.
    Now some will speak of “confessing that you are a sinner” to the person who has not yet accepted Jesus and part of acknowledging our need for a Savior. This is different still from salvation being about a tally of sin versus a tally of good acts etc.
    Jesus Himself is Eternal Life and so for us to gain Eternal Life (abundant — full — life: not just going to heaven when we die) we must be united with Him our spirit with His Spirit as CL explains.
    Sometimes people have experienced even Christianity as an empty religion full of religious practices to earn favor or right standing with God. This is not the way of Christ, for He came not to give us such a religion, but to give us Himself at the sacrifice of His own life.

  9. cl says:

    Gideon,

    That man BECAME a living soul, as opposed to POSSESSING a living soul, is more in harmony with the overall context of scripture.

    I agree. I do not argue that man possesses a soul; I argue that man possesses a spirit. I use three distinct concepts: body, soul, spirit – but only two of them exist objectively. If my ideas on the soul are correct, it exists only as an abstraction, or mere interface.

    The immortal soul concept has spawned the pagan belief (NOT Christian!) of eternal torment awaiting the unrepentant, and it’s stuck with so-called Christianity like ugly on an ape.

    So, you don’t hold that hell is eternal? I’m not disagreeing, but I would like to hear your argument from the Bible.

  10. Gideon says:

    Initially, I couldn’t find your comment box, but, I see it’s back, now, so I’ll paste in what I wrote to you on my blog.
    The scripture I gave you there is probably the weightiest example, and, certainly the FIRST example, of evidence that traditional Christianity is wrong on the subject of eternal damnation and the resurrection. If you’ll notice, the entire context of Satan’s sophistry is bound up around the idea of an eternal soul, when his argument is against the honesty of God, particularly God’s warning to man that he will die if disobedient.
    The overall context of scripture, by various texts such as those and:
    Job 7:9,10
    Job 14:12
    Ecclesiastes 9:5,6 & 10
    Psalm 115:17
    Psalm 146:4
    John 5:28,29
    Acts 2:34
    To name a few…
    There are ALLEGORICAL statements by Christ employed as parables that seem to suggest there is a place of eternal torment, such as where Lazarus is supposedly asking for water to quench his thirst while being fricasseed in Hades, but, parables cannot always be used in defense of doctrine. They tend to be in the minority of the true context of scripture, that being determined by the weight of the other texts.
    Even in Revelation where it talks about the “smoke of their torment rising forever and ever”, well, as we all know, smoke is a product of combustion… in other words, complete annihilation. The RESULTS of ‘eternal’ hellfire, the instrument God will use to destroy the unrepentant, are, of course, eternal, but, the suggestion that sinners will be consciously burning forever doesn’t stand up to proper hermeneutical analysis, and it also flies in the face of logic, for the reasons I outlined in my first comment. God couldn’t be considered fair and merciful by any standard of interpretation if He fried people forever in fire… and, I don’t know about you, but, I wouldn’t serve a god like that! I’d sooner join my unrepentant friends and loved ones in the flames than have to watch them burn for eternity! Think about it.
    Paganism has always misconstrued and perverted Christian beliefs. There has always been, from Babylonian times, a pagan doctrine of eternal torture for non-adherents. Believers have been pestered by paganism all throughout time, frequently succumbing to it’s influences. Israel was always being reprimanded by God for falling under it’s sway, with the people adopting pagan practices in place of God’s. But, up till Roman times, the two had always been distinguishable, then Christianity amalgamated with paganism through the pagan king Constantine in the Fourth Century, and it was then that the ‘popular’ notions of eternal damnation really took off.
    Revelation also speaks of a time when death and hell shall be cast into the flames to be destroyed. (The last part of Rev. 20) As you know, death and hell are not persons, so, they cannot die, but, they are done away with – in the same way that sinners are – destroyed, “root and branch”, the root being Satan and the branches his dupes.
    There is a dangerous affiliation made with paganism and Christianity, out there, in secularism, and there has to be a clear distinction made between the two by the unwashed, or they will never have a clear perception of God or salvation.
    It will help greatly when God’s supposed servants can make that distinction, also.

  11. Gideon says:

    One thing I should clarify after re-reading my own comment is that smoke isn’t always a result of COMPLETE combustion, but, anything that’s burned leaves a residue, and that usually signifies the destruction of whatever been burned.
    Like Ezekiel 28:18, referring to God telling Lucifer he will eventually be destroyed and reduced to ashes. Well, that kind of flies in the face of a devil existing for eternity, poking the unrepentant up the ass while they’re basting like turkeys! Ashes are definitely a result of combustion.
    There is a place in scripture that talks about Sodom and Gomorrah being the victims of “eternal fire”, but, as we know, there is no fire yet burning in the spot where they once stood. The fire was eternal in the respect that those places are gone, and gone for good.
    That’s the poetic language of the ancients for you. It doesn’t hold well with our modern and more technical mentality that demands cold precision and literalism.

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