Deus Ex Machina

"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan

More Dialogues with a Muslim; On Salvation, Forgiveness, Eternal Life and Good Works

Here is a continuation of our conversation, this one is more to do with salvation and good works.

Muslim Friend: hi Machina, i’ve read the verses, so from those verses you belive that our actions have no part in our salvation? what if lets say a christians believes in jesus and then he commits sins saying that, its not my actions which will save me. I have beleived and been baptized. only those who do not believed shall be damned. what about this kinda ppl? are they saved too?

Me: Hello,

Well, I think we have to understand correctly what “salvation” means before I can answer this question.

In Christianity, salvation isn’t just about “going to heaven”, “salvation” ultimately means “communion” or fellowship/friendship with God, and not only with God but with all of God’s people.

Thus, when Christians speak of “remissions of sins”, who don’t mean a mere movement in some divine account of merit and demerit points on a scale. To be “remitted” of our sins means that the sinful deeds which we have done in the past will no longer impact our future relationship with God, it is the “putting to death” of our sinful habits and attitudes by laying them upon the Cross, it is a literal “remittance” or sending away, removal, etc, of those things from our hearts, our minds and our soul so that we will no longer be bound to them but may be freed to live in communion with God and with God’s people as God has commanded in his commandments.

The flipside of “remission of sins” is receiving “eternal life”, and as should be clear, “eternal life” is not just some blanket life of “endless bliss” (although it is that!), but it has a definite shape and meaning, “eternal life” is life with God and God’s people, and the commandments are given to help us understand what it means to learn to live, and most importantly, live in love with God and God’s people.

Therefore a Christian who believes in what Jesus teaches about the nature and shape of salvation, remission of sins, eternal life, etc, will realise that committing sins is contradicts and destroys the gift of eternal life which he has been given in Christ through the sacraments. This gift of salvation, remission of sins and eternal life is a *gift*, in the sense that it is not something we do or earn to acquire, but it is given to us by grace on God’s initiative alone, but is is a gift of a eternal life *with God and God’s people*, and the gift which is given to us will become useless and to no effect if we do not live out this gift of life but instead destroy it in sinful living.

So the long and short of my answer will be that people are saved by receiving the gift of eternal life from God, but this gift is useless if they don’t live it.

And this is why the Christian faith teaches that repentance is not a single moment in time but is perpetual or is true of one’s whole life. Daily we are called to confess our sins to God and ask God to remove those sins from our lives and daily we pray and ask for God’s spirit to give us the gift of eternal life or life in faith and love for us to live out.

Muslim Friend: so in another words, just by being baptized and just by believing in christ is not enough? emphasis on the word ‘just’

Me: Well… that question is somewhat ambiguous. Is it just enough to be in communion with God and to be saved? Yes. The works which one does after that is “just” the fruits of the life which one has been given, but it does not make the tree or constitutes the life of the tree.

Muslim Friend: So if just by being baptized and believin u can be saved…so what happens to the guy in yhe story above?

Me: Well, here is another way of looking at it. Do we do good works and love and not sin, in order to be saved, or because we have been saved? Which direction does the motivation for good works flow? The Christian answer is simply that we do good works because we have been saved and we are now dwelling in Christ, we don’t work to be saved, because we already are by Christ through the sacraments, rather we work because that is who we are. A good tree produces good fruits because it is a good tree, it doesn’t produce good fruits in order to become a good tree. Thus we are “saved” because we have received eternal life and we live out that life because we are saved, but we don’t do good works or abstain from sin in order to earn or merit eternal life.

For the guy in your scenario, I would first try to correct his misunderstanding, and failing that, I would pray to God to have mercy upon him and to grant him grace to change his mind.

Muslim Friend: But for him…even though he is baptized and he believes..he is still not saved….

Me: Well, Christ has taught Christians not to pass the judgement of condemnation upon anyone. Only God can judge who is and is not saved, not us. We are instead commanded to pray and hope in Christ for the salvation of all.

Thus, whilst this person maybe living in a manner inconsistent with his baptismal profession and beliefs, but we Christians are not called to send him to hell or pass judgement or condemn him, but to pray for him and hope for his salvation and teach him the true meaning of salvation. We can only be certain where salvation is found, in Christ and his commandments and sacraments, and we point people towards it, but for those we don’t walk it in, we can only commend them to God’s mercy and pray for God’s grace for those people and hope for their salvation. But we Christians cannot be certain about other people’s damnation and we are commanded not to pass such judgements.

Muslim Friend: Well…im asking in a methodology poiny of view…so this person who is baptized and believes in christ but commits sins like what i mentioned…according to ur understanding of the christian doctorine…is he saved?

Me: According to my understanding of Christian doctrine, the answer has to be we can’t possibly know while we are on earth and it is a knowledge which only God has and we are commanded not to enquire into it.

Muslim Friend: in another words…it doesnt mean that you are baptized and you believe u are definitely saved….only when u leave this world then u will know?

Me: It means that if you are baptised and truly believe, you are definitely saved, i.e. believe in Christ’s words, commands and teachings about eternal life. But for those whose belief about Christ is mistaken, those I do not know and will only know at the resurrection.

Muslim Friend: So to believe u need to follow his commandments and teachings?

Me: Yup, but as I said, we need to follow them because they are commanded by God and we are his people, freed from sin and now live in Christ. But we don’t need to in order to be saved and attained forgiveness and become his people.

Muslim Friend: Ok..lets try this again..because i feel like we in circle…u do not need to follow his commandments or his teachings to be saved?

Me: Yup, that is correct. But we need to follow it because that it is commanded and because we are already in Christ and are God’s people.

Muslim Friend: Ok…so if u believe that without following his comandments and teachings we can be saved….how does that make u a christian? Because u do not need to follow what he teaches and what he ask and yet u can ne saved

Me: I didn’t say that we do not need to follow what he teaches (full stop), I only say that we do not need to follow it *in order to be saved*. But we need to follow it because they are commanded by God and we are God’s forgiven people and are no longer under sin.

Muslim Friend:  Ahh….so u follow it because it is a commandment….but if a christian who do not follow them, then their fate is up to god?

Me: In essence, yes.

Muslim Friend: But doesnt that mean that u need to follow commandments and the teachings to be guranteed saved?

Because from what u have replied, just by believing is not eniugh to gurantee u r saved

Me: Nope. The “guarantee” of salvation is found in Christ and his sacraments. For example, if one’s conscience should be burdened by some sin committed, then absolution removes that sin from our conscience and “remits it”, send it away by the promise of God and guarantees that our sin have in fact been forgiven. If one is uncertain about whether he is in communion with Christ or is in fellowship with him, then the holy communion guarantees it by giving the bread of eternal life to feed upon and receive. And if one is uncertain whether there is any hope of a future in Christ, we recall our baptism whereby we are marked as God’s people and that that promise of a future and reconciliation with God is for us for ever.

Muslim Friend: But u just mentioned that a christian who does not follow the commandment is not guranteed….so it can only mean that u need to follow the commandment in order to be saved

Me: Nope, I did not say that the christian who does not follow the commandment is not guaranteed, I said yes to your statement that “if a Christian does not follow them (the commandments), then their fate is up to god”, that is not the same thing as saying that their salvation is not guaranteed. If a Christian wilfully and intentionally lives outside of the life which he has received from Christ, going against his very own conscience, like the scenario which you sketched out, then they put themselves out of Christ and their “fate is up to god”. But yet whenever we abandon our such intentional and wilful sinning and return back to God in repentance and receive absolution, our salvation is guaranteed and that our past wilful sinning will not be counted against us but be remitted by absolution.

Muslim Friend: So they r still guranteed?

Me: who’s “they”?

Muslim Friend: But that is provided they repent right?

Me: Yup, it is guaranteed whenever they live in daily repentance.

Muslim Friend: So repentance is not an action which leads to salvation?

Me: In the Greek, repentance is μετανοέω, which means something like changing one’s mind or purpose. In some sense, it can call it an “action”, although they would be really stretching the term, but the fundamental point is the intentions and will and purpose, whether one intends to live the life which he has received from Christ. In the scenario which you sketched out earlier, he may intent to live in Christ, but he may be under the mistaken notion that live in Christ is compatible with sin. But let’s say we confront him with this correction and he goes something like, okay, if life in Christ means a life lived in love and hope and purity, then I don’t want to live in Christ, then he is wilfully and intentionally and purposefully denying Christ and no longer believes or trust in Christ, his words, commandments and his life.

But if he realises what the life which he has received from Christ means for him, and he changes his purpose or “repents”, and receives absolution, he would definitely be guaranteed salvation. Although I would say that he is guaranteed it even before he “repents” because if he does repent upon the receiving this knowledge and understanding as to what life in Christ means, then he is not wilfully or intentionally denying or disbelieving in Christ but is merely mistaken or confused, and we don’t judge people for being ignorant.

Muslim Friend: So lets say he does not repent but he believes in christ…is his salvation guranteed?

Me: Well, I would say he does not believe in Christ. Because Christ teaches what eternal life means, but if he acknowledges that this is what Christ teaches about eternal life but refuse to repent and believe that, then he does not believe Christ at all but merely a Christ of his own invention.

Muslim Friend: Ok…thats clear….so summarise…u need to believe in christ and be baptised and thats all that is required….repentance is part of believing in christ…am i right?

Me: Yup.

Muslim Friend: And repentance as an action….

Me: Well, you can call it an “action” if you like, hahaha, even Christ says that “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29). So if believing, changing one’s mind/purpose or repentance is considered an action, then sure.

Thank God for a Lutheran theology!

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This entry was posted on November 20, 2011 by in atonement, sacraments.
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