Have you ever encountered an idea that appeared to be simple until you tried applying it to a real life situation?
Salvation is like that: simple in theory, but very complicated in practice. And I know that because of this kid, the one with the awesome disco shirt and butterfly collar and sweater vest. (He’s right there.) ⇒
Or at least it was me … forty years ago.
Back then I thought salvation was simple. All you needed to do was accept Jesus as your friend and reject the devil. Do that, and you’re in, saved.
So when I was five years old, I did just that: I asked Jesus to come into my heart and I told the devil to get lost. And with that, I was saved.
Or so I thought…
Not so simple after all…
Alas, things didn’t stay simple for long. As I grew, I soon realized that the Gospel was more complicated than I ever imagined. I learned that there were actually four spiritual laws of salvation.
Make that five: there were five spiritual laws which were all necessary for salvation.
Actually, there were six spiritual laws, or so I came to believe, anyway. By this time things were definitely starting to get complicated.
But it didn’t stop there. As time went on I also learned that if you wanted to be saved, you needed to do particular things … like street evangelism. In other words, you needed to go up to perfect strangers in the street with a message of sin and salvation.
And while you did all that you also needed to be bold in your faith. Because if you were ever ashamed of Jesus, then he’d be ashamed of you.
It gets more complicated yet. You also needed to avoid engaging in sinful behaviors … like murder … or gossip. The truth is that all sorts of sins could be fatal to your soul. Good luck trying to figure out which ones.
And you also had to make sure you didn’t hold any fatally errant doctrines like the ones that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses accept. (I believed that just one wacky Mormon doctrine would be enough to blow out your salvation.)
So it turns out that salvation wasn’t simply a matter of being friends with Jesus. You also needed to make sure that this friendship was under-girded by a complex and nuanced set of beliefs and practices.
Far from being simple, salvation was complicated indeed.
Fast-forward four decades. It’s now been forty years since I made that initial decision; forty years since I took that first step of friendship with Jesus; forty years journeying into a faith that, it turns out, is anything but simple.
When I was five years old I thought I had it all figured out. Now as a middle-aged seminary professor, I find that in key respects I have a lot more questions than answers.
But it isn’t all bad news. While I now see that grace and salvation are more complicated than I ever imagined, they are also more wondrous, interesting, challenging, and exciting.
Altogether not a bad trade-off.
Now that I’m a full forty years into this journey I thought it was about time to tell that story, a story of salvation becoming more complex even as it becomes more wondrous. It’s a story that combines the universal themes of sin and redemption, salvation and damnation, heaven and hell. It is a story that explores grand universal themes, enduring paradoxes, and unanswered questions, and all through the particular journey of one individual attempting to figure it all out.
I wrote the book What’s So Confusing About Grace? to chronicle a journey spanning four decades of attempting to understand the place of the individual in receiving God’s grace. And I launched this website www.confusedaboutgrace.com as a way to introduce the book and to host a blog in which I explore in more depth some of the topics and themes explored in the book.
Along the way I also seek to fill out my own journey of trying to understand the unfathomable love of God, the unspeakable mysteries of salvation, and what, after all, is so confusing about grace.