Monday, February 23, 2009

The Concept Of "Accepting Christ As One's Savior"

I believe Christians believe that one must accept Christ as one's savior in order to get into Heaven. I ask, what about the people that were born and died before Christ was born? Were they doomed???


prometheus33 said...

I hope it’s okay if I jump in here and take a stab at the question you posed.

Well, first of all, let me comment on the terminology that you mentioned. “Accept Jesus as your Savior”, or “into your heart” (as you may hear from time to time), is popular verbiage in American Christian circles. I prefer not to use it partly because it is often accompanied with a truncated or popularized version of what Christianity is all about. You may hear a formula of some sort on how to get saved, or perhaps some bumper sticker theology that’s geared more toward a clever rhyme or memorable maxim than communicating accurately the message. Also, the idea of “accepting him” smacks a bit more of an Enlightenment worldview than it does of a biblical one. The reason I say this is because the starting place of the “gospel” (which means “good news”; the New Testament writers used this term to indicate the core message and significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection) is that Jesus is Lord… not Caesar, and not you or I. So I think when it’s said “accept him into your heart” it tends to convey 1) an overly individualistic perspective 2) the stereotypical notion of Jesus as passive simply waiting to hear from us so he can make it all better. That’s simply not the perspective you get in the Scriptures. I don’t deny that there is a decision to make on the part of the individual and that there are benefits (both now and to come) that come with said decision, but if Jesus is Lord (King) then we’re choosing whether or not to side with him, whether or not to be loyal to his lordship. Faith in Jesus is not like confirming a friend request in facebook (as the word “acceptance” may tend to communicate). It’s more like deciding which army you’re going to be fighting with.

Anyway, I digress. To answer your question, I need to go back about 4000 years to the time of Abraham (actually I should probably go all the way back, but I do want to keep this somewhat succinct). Prior to his arrival we get a picture in Scripture of the world run amok in sin, chaos, and violence. This is important to note as we consider your question. Mankind is separated from the God who created it by way of its own sin and idolatry. It chose a life separate from the one true God and the fruit of this choice results in the bedlam that ensues. It’s also important to note that God has no obligation to do anything here. He could have allowed them to reap what was sown, and have the godless life (and death) that they’d chosen. But God doesn’t do that. Instead he begins the process of redemption (which means he began a plan intended to recover what was lost, namely mankind). He does this by initiating “talks” with Abraham where he tells him that he will bless him, make him a great nation, and that through him all the peoples of the earth will be blessed. One big problem with this promise is that Sarah, his wife, is barren. Nevertheless, Abraham decides that he and his family will follow this God and abandon their idols. God leads him to the land of Cana (modern day Israel), and tells him that his ancestors will inherit this entire land. Well, miraculously Sarah (age 99) does have a child named Isaac. But when he gets older, God asks Abraham to sacrifice him. Abraham obeys, but right before he brings down the knife, God stops him and says that he knows Abraham is faithful. At that moment, they find a ram stuck in the thistles and sacrifice it instead.

What’s important here to answer your question is the idea that sacrifice was already embedded into the religious worldview of these people. Gods of all kinds demanded restitution or, more often, payment for a good agricultural year. The idea was not new. Mankind has always felt the religious impulse to sacrifice something to his god(s). This is a worldwide religious phenomenon. I believe the reason for this is the deep seated understanding that something is askew. The relationship between man and his god(s) is not right. And, indeed, this impulse reveals the truth of the estrangement between God and mankind due to the universal sinfulness of us all. But in this story, we see the God of Abraham requiring him to perform a sacrifice that would put the promise he made in peril ( i.e. Abraham’s offspring as a nation and the blessing his seed would be to all the peoples on earth). This peril represents the fact that even God’s people, as represented by Isaac, were doomed because of their sin and rebellion against him. But the story points to a substitutionary sacrifice in the ram caught in the thicket of thorns. So the line of Abraham was spared and the nation of Israel would rise from his offspring which also instituted animal sacrifice as a means to atone for sins.

But Christians understand such sacrifices as emblematic of what was to come. The promise that Abraham’s seed would be a blessing to all peoples is understood to be Jesus who, through his substitutionary sacrifice (remember the ram), saved his people from judgment which would entail a godless existence both now and in the life to come.

So, we see that those who followed the one true God, the God of Abraham, looked forward in faith to the time of Jesus through sacrifices that exemplified the coming Savior – the ultimate sacrifice, and the only sacrifice which made a way for the wayward peoples of the earth to reconcile with God. On the other hand, those of us on this side of Jesus’ death and resurrection look back in time to these events as the basis for our salvation.

I hope that helps. It may have seemed long winded, but it was actually the shortest route I could think of without formulizing the answer or trivializing the question you posed, which, by the way, was a very good one.

Aufgeblassen said...

I also cannot fathom the idea of "trinity". So there are THREE gods instead of one (father, son, & holy spirit?)??? Makes no sense at all. However, if there are indeed THREE, then do all three occupy the exact same spatial coordinates of outer space, or do the all have their own territory which does not overlap? It is simply incomprehensible to me.

Aufgeblassen said...

BTW: Even though you were long winded, you did not answer my question at all!!!

What is up with that?

prometheus33 said...

The answer is a qualified no, those who existed before Jesus was born were not "doomed" per se because God provided a way (through the sacrificial system) to look forward in faith to their coming Savior. But the point of my extended version, in part at least, was to point out that everyone was "doomed" apart from God's initiative to rescue mankind.

prometheus33 said...

Christians see the Trinity as three persons, but one God. There are a number of illustrations that have been used throughout the centuries to demonstrate the concept. The egg, which consists of shell, white, and yoke, is. And then water being in the form of vapor, liquid and solid. These illustrations are helpful but fall short of completely describing the Trinity. The egg illustration doesn't completely capture it because these are parts of the whole, whereas the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not simply parts, but are each God. And the water illustration breaks down because these are forms of water, whereas the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not simply forms of God, again they each are God.

So, yes, in some ways the Trinity is inconceivable. But there are phenomena in nature that are still inconceivable to us (for example light as particle and wave). Would it then make sense for portions of God's creation to be unexplainable yet he himself completely conceivable? So, inconceivable sounds good to me. Anything less would not be very becoming of God, now would it?