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Some Guy Jumped Me At The Mall

A few weeks back, as the Christmas shopping season began, I was jumped by a guy at the mall.  The guy did not have a knife or a gun.  His weapons were a collection of Gospel tracts.  His desire was to make sure I was “SAVED.”

“If you were to die tonight, do you know whether or not you would go to heaven?” he asked.

“Hello, my name is Bill,” I replied.  “What’s your name?”  (I figure if you are going to proselytize somebody you ought to at least be on a first name basis).

“My name is (we’ll call him) Sam!”

It took a second or two for him to get the words out.  Perhaps he was so focused on the task at hand that he didn’t have the time or desire to actually get to know me.   He had a script in mind.  He had an agenda and it did not include friendship, relationship, or conversation.

“Well, Sam, I am the pastor at Patterson Avenue Baptist Church.  I am about to have lunch over at the food court.  You are certainly welcome to join me and we can talk about your question.”

By now Sam had recovered.  He was back on autopilot.  Declaring that I was a member of the clergy didn’t change his motivation.  My invitation to eat lunch and chat didn’t have any impact.  This 20-something young man was back in street evangelist (or shopping mall evangelist) mode.   He repeated his initial question:

“If you were to die tonight, do you know whether you would go to heaven?”

“Are you asking me if I have been SAVED?” I replied.

“Yes, that’s it.  Have you been SAVED?” Sam said.  He seemed almost relieved at the notion that he might be getting through to me!

“Why, yes, Sam.  I have been SAVED.  How about you?  Have you been SAVED?”

“Yes, I am SAVED!  I was SAVED about a year ago when I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.”

I should have smiled and left well enough alone.  The guy meant no harm.  In fact, he was zealously trying to do what he thought was the right thing to do.  I can appreciate that.  But there was something about his answer that just didn’t sit well with me.  It’s that notion that we can say, do, or believe something that obtains for us the gift of SALVATION.

The scriptures say, “It is by grace you are saved…” (See Ephesians 2:8)

Grace is the initiative of God to like, love, and accept us.   Grace is the work of God.  So, what exactly is salvation?  Salvation is being brought into relationship and fellowship with the Triune God – Father, Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  In Ephesians, the Apostle Paul describes this relationship as adoption.

In seminary, I had a close friend who bragged that her parents were the best parents in the world.  She was an adopted child.  “I was an outsider – a stranger.  I had not blood connection to my parents.  But they selected me and accepted me as if they had given birth to me.  Now I am an insider and I belong.  That’s why I think my parents are the best parents in the world.”

The Apostle Paul says that this is what God does with us in Ephesians 1:3-10.

God the Father blessed us in the heavenly realms IN CHRIST (vs 3)

God the Father chose us to be blameless in His sight (vs 4)

God the Father loved us before we were born and predestined us for adoption (vs 5)

God gave us God’s grace in the ONE he loves (vs 6)

The ONE the Father loves is Jesus – in whom we have redemption and more (vs 7)

That redemption comes from the riches of the Father’s grace (vs 7)

That grace is lavished on us (vs 8 )

That grace will eventually bring unity to all things on heaven and earth (vs 9-10)

The “Church Fathers” used the Greek word Perichoresis to describe the relationship within the Trinity.  The word means, roughly, “the Divine Dance.”  It describes the relationship of community, self-sufficiency, security, and self-giving love that exists within the Triune God.  It affirms the notion that God needs nothing.

Now, because the very core of God’s being (God’s DNA, if you will) is LOVE (1 John 4:7-8), the Godhead makes the choice to select, predestine, chose, or include the human race in His redemptive plan.  That makes God the best parent in the universe.

God comes to us as one of us.  “He shall be called him Immanuel, which means God with us!”

God takes our brokenness upon himself and to the cross to save us.  “You shall call his name Jesus, which means Savior, for he shall save his people from their sins.”

Through the incarnation and at the cross, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit identifies with fallen humanity.  Jesus takes all the pain, suffering, sorrow, rebellion, brokenness, alienation, and death of our humanity into his own identity as the Second Adam.  As the Incarnate One, he fulfilled the heart desire of the triune God that we be rescued.  The Old Adam was put to death and a New Adam was born.  This New Adam has been given the greatest of all gifts, which is fellowship with God and participation in the “Divine Dance” that exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

That’s what it means to say that we are adopted into the God’s family.  Salvation means to be “IN CHRIST.”

Theologian Baxter Kruger writes:

The gospel is not an invitation.  The gospel is a declaration of truth.  It declares to us that we have been recreated in Jesus, that we have been delivered from evil through Jesus Christ, that we have been given a new relationship with the Father in Jesus Christ.  The gospel declares to us that in the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God, we were taken down and cleansed of all alienation; we were refashioned, recreated, born again; and we were lifted up into the circle of life shared by the Father, Son, and Spirit, and there and then included in the great dance of the Triune God.

If there is invitation at all in the Christian life (and there most definitely is), it is not that we do something to get something.  Our triune God has already done all that needs to be done.  We are simply invited to “accept God’s acceptance of us.

That brings us back to Ephesians 2:8 and following.  The scriptures say, “It is by grace you are saved, through faith…”

Let’s talk about that word:  FAITH.

Every Sunday in the congregation I serve, people are invited to a life of faith.  Years ago, when I would offer such an invitation to faith, I would say something like:  “You need to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.”

Where does that place the responsibility for salvation?  Not on God, but on the person.

Just before Jesus’ death on the cross, he said three words that have come to means a great deal to me in recent days.  He said, “It is finished!”

If Jesus finished it – then it is finished.  It’s not some sort of “tit-for-tat” kind of deal.  Jesus does his part and then throw the ball in my court and expects me to do something.  It’s either finished, or not!  The Holy Spirit has brought me to a place where I am finally starting to understand the power of those words.  “It is finished!”

The Gospel is a message about “the finished work of Christ.”   The Gospel is that the Father accepts me in Jesus.  I am selected, chosen, adopted, included, and accepted in Christ.  So the invitation that I offer is not for people to accept Jesus – as if he were an object to be possessed.  Rather, I declare that Jesus is life itself.  I tell folks about what Jesus has accomplished for them.  Then, I invite them to trust themselves into Christ as their very source and live.  I don’t ask people to receive Jesus.  I invite them to “accept Father’s acceptance of you.”

That brings me back to my friend Sam at the shopping mall.  In our conversation, you will remember, Sam claimed he was saved about a year earlier when he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.

When is a person SAVED?  Is it when they do something, believe something, or confess something?  Are we saved when our doctrines are in line?   When we are baptized?  When we walk an aisle and shake hands with a preacher?  When we recite something called “the sinner’s prayer?”

In Ephesians 2:4-9, Paul writes:

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (TNIV)

Notice that this is all “past tense.”  God already accomplished all this a long time ago.  God “made” us alive.  God “raised” us up with Christ.  We “have been” saved.

“Sam, you were not saved a year ago when you believed,” I said.  “You were saved 2000 years ago at the cross.”

We sometimes have the silly notion that because of our faith, God has changed His mind towards us.  That’s not true to the biblical witness.  God has always loved us.  God loved us 2000 years ago at the cross, long before anyone reading this blog was even born.  God created us in love.  God redeemed us in love.  God will never stop loving us.  We are saved by grace because God loves us.

Paul even says that faith “is not of yourselves, it is a gift of God.”  In the context of the Gospel, I take that to mean that even my faith is a product of the Trinity’s love for me.  That faith, then, is not some intellectual ascent to a prescribe list of doctrines and dogmas.  It’s something else altogether.    Dr. Joseph Tkach says it like this:

When we believe, we are simply seeing for the first time the way things really are. We’re finding out the truth that God loves us, wants us and includes us in Jesus Christ. We’re finally walking in the Light, following the Author and Finisher of our faith, the Author of eternal salvation.

Sam listened to me for a few minutes.  “I’ve never thought about it like this before!”  Then I went my way and he went his.  About an hour later I was leaving the mall.  I walked by Sam, who was starting a conversation with a young woman who was entering the mall with a young child in a stroller.

“You have a beautiful child,” he told the mother.  She smiled.  “My name is Sam…”

I didn’t hear what he said after that, but I was praying for him.

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3 Responses to “Some Guy Jumped Me At The Mall”

  1. jack birdwhistell says:

    So, pastor Bill, we are SAVED whether or not we “accapt out acceptance” (a Tillichian phrase, btw). Sounds downright Barthian! 🙂

    • billnieporte says:

      Have learn to love Barth. His greatest interpretor and translator was Thomas Torrance. He has become a big influence (along with James Torrance) on my developing Trinitarian views. Additiionally, I love the writing of Baxter Kruger.

      To use the titled of one of my professors at Wesley Theological, I am saying that “God Does Not Foreclose.”

      I am not a unuiversalist, but affirm the universality of God’s grace.

      I hope to write about this very subject in the next blog or two.

  2. Andre says:

    Loved it Bill! What a difference it makes when we recognise the initiative of God … an initiative that did not only take the first step, but finished the journey.

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