Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, September 24, 2023
Salvation– Childlike Faith or Something More Involved? Part 1 of 3
by Dr. Raymond Finney
INTRODUCTION: It is commonly taught that salvation– God’s gracious gift of eternal life to a Believer– is obtained by faith alone. << See Ephesians 2:8-10: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not from yourselves– it is the gift of God. It is not based on deeds, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship– created in Messiah Yeshua for good deeds, which God prepared beforehand so we might walk in them. >>
The Apostle Paul simplified salvation. << See Romans 10:8-13: But what does [the Torah] say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” – that is, the word of faith that we are proclaiming: For if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart it is believed for righteousness, and with the mouth it is confessed for salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever trusts in Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all– richly generous to all who call on Him. For “Everyone who calls upon the name of Adonai shall be saved.” >>
In many Protestant denominations, a person is thought to be saved to eternal life in Heaven by acknowledging publicly the Ruach ha-Kodesh’s invitation (often by walking to the altar of the church), verbally stating a desire to follow Yeshua as Lord and Savior, and repeating a sinner’s prayer. This salvation act is usually followed by baptism (in most denominations, baptism by water immersion). Once received, this salvation lasts for the person’s lifetime, under the doctrine of the Eternal Security of the Believer (“once saved, always saved”).
Arguments both favoring and challenging the eternal security doctrine have been made. In a future RR, I may summarize these contentious arguments (when I get braver or stupider than I presently am– it gets complicated).
All persons who have repeated a sinner’s prayer hope the Eternal Security of the Believer doctrine is correct. I begin a three-part series in which I ask a few questions to test the validity of the process just described. I ask questions for which I do not necessarily know the answers. The Bible is not always easily understood. Even the Apostle Paul bemoaned his uncertainties in understanding the “mysteries” of God. Perhaps in these RRs, we may learn a little together.
Important questions about salvation include:
● Is salvation a one-time act, or is a lifetime commitment to God required? That is, does God demand a lifelong commitment to Him or a one-time repeating of a sinner’s prayer? I have asked Baptist pastors (the eternal security doctrine is a cornerstone of Southern Baptist faith) about people known to me and to these pastors who did all the “right things” (confession, prayer for forgiveness, baptism, etc,) but, then, lived a life of sin and debauchery. What happened? Are they still saved? A common answer is, “Well, they probably weren’t saved in the first place.” Perhaps so, but my question is not satisfactorily answered.
● Is salvation permanent, or can it be lost? That is, if a Believer’s name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, is the name written with an indelible ink pen or an eraser-tipped pencil?
Concerning the ink pen versus pencil comment, Yeshua made a disconcerting statement in His letter to the faithful in Sardis. << See Revelation 3:5: [Yeshua said] “The one who overcomes thus will be dressed in white clothes; I will never blot his name out of the Book of Life, and will confess his name before My Father and His angels.” >> Apparently having one’s name inscribed in the Lamb’s Book of Life is the”ticket” to enter Heaven. If Yeshua promised not to blot out certain names from this Book of Life, does that mean He can (He will) blot out other names?
The purpose of this RR series is to try to inspire each of us to determine how secure our salvation is– that is, how closely we follow Yeshua. All human systems are commonly tested to determine if they operate correctly (quality control, stress challenges, inspections, etc.). An example is a fire drill to determine if all persons in a building know how to contain and report a fire and evacuate the building safely. Every Believer should test his/ her walk with Yeshua to determine whether he/ she follows Yeshua, as He would wish. You should ask yourself: Can improvements be made, as I “deny self, take up my cross, and follow [Him]?”
Important note: Salvation, the saving of a person’s soul from eternal life in Hell to eternal life in Heaven, has multiple viewpoints (doctrines). Denominational doctrines (teachings) vary widely on the ways in which the gift of salvation may be received. Key passages of the Bible may be interpreted differently by different students. We all struggle to find truth. You may share my confusion. It is not wrong to question one’s beliefs in order to fine tune those beliefs that we may follow Yeshua more perfectly. As Shomair Yisrael is a Messiah’s community, we need to help one another to better find truth. << See Proverbs 27:17: As iron sharpens iron, so a person sharpens the countenance of his friend. >>
In this RR series, I briefly present a few topics (questions) for your consideration. These topics are intended to invoke thought, rather than present THE answer. I do not have the indisputable answer to what salvation is. I am trying to understand Scriptures, just as you are.
Please think about this crucial subject and form your own conclusions. Even the Apostle Paul recommended that each person examine his/ her own beliefs to come to a conclusion about salvation. << See Philippians 2:12-13: Therefore, my loved ones, just as you have always obeyed– not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence– work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For the One working in you is God– both to will and to work for His good pleasure. >>
Please consider the following questions about salvation, presented in this RR in no particular order of importance. You may think of other questions.
WHAT IS YESHUA’S SIMPLE, BUT DIFFICULT SALVATION INVITATION? During Yeshua’s ministry, He called people to be His disciples with a brief invitation. << See Luke 9:23-24: Then Yeshua was saying to everyone, “If anyone wants to follow Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross every day, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” >>
□ Application: Yeshua’s invitation seems simple, but it may be the most difficult task any person may undertake. Consider these elements of Yeshua’s invitation, slightly paraphrased to fit grammatically in this list:
● ”Let the person deny him-/ her-self:” It is human to try to preserve life and well-being. We all are self-centered to some degree. In ranking priorities, a Believer should have allegiance to and love for these entities, in order: (1) God the Father, the Son Yeshua, and the Ruach ha-Kodesh; (2) Neighbors (other persons), including family; and (3) Lastly, self. America has become populated with highly self-centered and selfish people. Order your life so that God is first, others are second, and you are last. (Read Matthew 22:35-40 and John 13:34-35 for clarification.)
● ”Take up his/ her cross daily:” Yeshua came to Earth for one main reason– to die for our sins. I remember the birth of my four children. I looked with pride at the little pink “bundles of joy.” My wish was that I could protect them and give them good, long lives. I never looked at them, thinking, “Ah. This baby of mine is born to die.” On the other hand, Father God must have looked at Baby Yeshua, and thought, “This Baby, My Son, is born to die for the sins of the world.”
Yeshua became our one-time and only acceptable blood sacrifice– our perfect Passover Lamb– to atone for human sins. Looking ahead to that day He would be nailed to a cross, He told us that we must be willing to die for Him and others, if necessary. Millions of Believers have been martyred solely because they professed Yeshua as their Lord and Master. Will you ever be martyred or suffer severe persecution because of your faith? Would you be willing to follow the Messiah to this extreme act of devotion? Or, would you recant (deny) your faith?
“The cross” may not indicate only death, but may include any anti-Believer persecution you may face. Note Yeshua’s qualification about taking up your cross “daily.” Does this qualification indicate that a lifelong, daily commitment to Yeshua is necessary, as opposed to a one-time act? If you live a safe, comfortable life and are never required to “take up your cross,” are you living for the Messiah as you should? Living in the Bible Belt, I have been comfortable and safe professing that I am a Believer. I have never been persecuted. I have never faced possible martyrdom. Am I taking up my cross daily for Yeshua?
● ”Follow Me:” Followers of the Messiah were not originally called “Christians” (Greek Christianoi). Yeshua’s title ho Christos (“the Christ”) in Greek is the same as the title HaMashiach (“the Messiah”) in Hebrew. Both titles translate to “the Anointed One [of Adonai].” Incidentally, neither “Christ” nor “Messiah” is Yeshua’s surname, but a title preceded by an article “the.” “Jesus Christ” is incorrect, but “Jesus the Christ” is correct. “Messiah Yeshua” is incorrect, but “the Messiah Yeshua” is correct.
The Bible records the use of the title “Christian” (Greek, Christianoi) in Antioch, approximately ten years after Yeshua’s crucifixion (see Acts 11:26). “Christian” means “like Christ.” The early Christians not only followed the Christ, but they sought to be like Him as much as humanly possible. Do you follow Yeshua in your daily life’s walk? Is your life so ordered that people you meet know you are “like the Messiah?” Someone suggested a test for a Believer: “If you are indicted for being a Believer, would there be enough evidence to convict you in a court of law?” Sadly, many Believers would have such a charge dropped in court because prosecutors could find little evidence that they are Believers. Will your Divine Judge, Yeshua, find evidence that you are or are not His follower… that you tried to live like Him… that you were His ambassador on Earth?
To this point, Yeshua gave us a frightening warning. << See Matthew 7:21-23: [Yeshua said] “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, and drive out demons in Your name, and perform many miracles in Your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’” >>
Yeshua told us that acts of superficial piety, especially if intended to curry the favor of or impress fellow humans, may not be recognized as worthy. Yeshua also warned of the hardships His followers must be willing to endure. << See Matthew 7:13-14: [Yeshua said] “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow is the gate and difficult the way that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” >>
Notice in these two teachings that Yeshua’s qualification applies to “many.” The annual (2023) report of the Gordon Cornwell Center for Global Christianity indicates that there are 2.6-billion Christians/ Believers alive in the world at this moment. Have these billions of people (“the many”) fulfilled the Bible’s qualifications for entering Heaven some day? Or, have many of “the many” been taught false doctrines and will be cast into Hell some day?
Have man’s doctrines made salvation too simple? Is an infant whose head was sprinkled with “holy water” by a Roman Catholic priest and who did not follow Yeshua for the rest of his/ her life saved? Is a person saved, if his/ her only contact with God was recitation of a “sinner’s prayer” at a revival or campmeeting but who never followed Yeshua? There are other examples. The point is: Being Yeshua’s follower is a lifelong commitment to Him, not a single act. In Yeshua’s letters to the seven congregations (Revelation, chapters 2 and 3), He stipulated that only “overcomers” may enter Heaven. Is someone who was sprinkled by a priest in infancy necessarily an “overcomer?” Is someone who was caught up in the emotion of a religious service and who one time repeated a sinner’s prayer necessarily an “overcomer?”
IS THE MEANING OF SALVATION FOUND IN THE PARABLE OF THE VIRGINS? Yeshua taught this parable in Matthew 25:1-13. Please read the entire parable in your Bible. In summary:
● Yeshua told of ten virgins. In the first-century Jewish marriage custom, after betrothal virgins stayed together as a group to encourage one another in chastity, while they awaited the return of their bridegrooms. For each marriage, the bridegroom in the parable– representing the Bridegroom Yeshua– was away at his father’s village– representing God’s “village” of Heaven. He was building a home– representing Yeshua’s promise of “many mansions” (dwelling places) for his brides (representing His faithful, born-again followers). These virgins represent members of Messiah’s communities (synagogues, churches). Believers are expected to meet together in synagogues and churches for encouragement and to fight temptations of a false suitor (Satan). << See Hebrews 10:25: And do not neglect our own meetings, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another– and all the more so as you see the Day [the Day of Yeshua’s return] approaching. >>
● All virgins were given oil for their lamps. Oil has always symbolized the Ruach ha-Kodesh and the anointing of God. A Believer receives the Ruach and His spiritual gifts, when saved. Each virgin had a lamp– representing Yeshua’s commandment that we Believers spread His light to a dark world.
● Five foolish virgins wasted their oil and did not replenish it, just as foolish Believers lose the anointing of the Ruach ha-Kodesh by not seeking to replace and freshen their spiritual oil and by not using their spiritual gifts.
● Five wise virgins carefully guarded their oil and kept the wicks of their lamps trimmed to give light, just as wise Believers keep their oil (Ruach) ready for use at any time and keep their lamp wicks trimmed to spread the Light (Yeshua) to a dark world.
● When the bridegroom returned in the middle of the night when no one expected (a depiction of Yeshua returning unexpectedly at the Rapture), the wise virgins (wise Believers) went with Him to the marriage (representing the Marriage to the Lamb [Yeshua] in Paradise). The foolish virgins (foolish Believers), who had neither oil nor functioning lamps, were left behind in the darkness. The bridegroom (Yeshua) gave a response to the foolish virgins (foolish Believers) you will never want to hear. << See Matthew 25:12: [Yeshua said] “… “Amen, I tell you, I do not know you.” >> Imagine the inconsolable despair by such a devastating statement, if Yeshua looks at you and says: “Sorry, [your name], but I never knew you. Depart from Me.”
□ Application: Is Yeshus telling us that only those who watch intensely for His return and who work for His Kingdom will be ready to go with Him to Paradise/ Heaven in the Resurrection/ Rapture? What does this parable speak to you? In deciding, understand that Yeshua concluded this parable with a clear warning to always be ready for His return. << See Matthew 25:13: [Yeshua said] “Therefore stay alert, for you know neither the day nor the hour [of My return].” >> Maranatha!
Compare your involvement in social media, sports, and other diversions with your involvement in matters of the Gospel and working for the Kingdom. Are you foolish or wise with your investments of time and energy? Have these diversions become the idols you actually worship, instead of the God you should worship? When Yeshua returns, will He call you to go with Him to His wedding because you have been a faithful, watchful “virgin” (servant)? Or, will He not know you and you must stay home? Will you be with the joyous, wise “virgins” going to Paradise? Or, will you be with the foolish “virgins” who stay home?
MUST ONE BE REBORN TO ENTER HEAVEN? The short answer is: Yes. An interchange between Yeshua and a Pharisee, Nicodemus, is recorded in the third chapter of the Gospel of John. Please read the entire chapter. This chapter is crucial to an understanding of salvation.
Nicodemus inquired secretly of Yeshua how he might be saved. Yeshua answered that a person cannot see the kingdom of God, unless he/ she is born from above. Nicodemus was confused. How could he be born again? Can he re-enter his mother’s womb? He was apparently an older man, and his mother may have long been deceased.
Yeshua explained there are two births. Every person is involved in the first birth– an involuntary birth from his/ her mother’s womb. (I did not tell my mother I wanted to be born on March 29, 1941. It just happened.) The second birth is voluntary, and only some choose to receive this birth. (As a boy, I chose to be re-born in Lincoln Park Baptist Church one Sunday morning.)
Yeshua explained these two births. << See John 3:5-8: Yeshua answered [Nicodemus], “Amen, amen I tell you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be surprised that I said to you, ‘You all must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” >>
The first birth (childbirth) happens to all of us. The second birth, obtained through salvation, is experienced only by some. I could– and maybe will some day– write an entire RR (or several RRs) on this most important chapter.
CONCLUSION: I will continue this series next Sunday. Until then, Shalom and Maranatha.
<< Scriptures from the Tree of Life Version Bible. >>
Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarsson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Sun 24 Sep 2023 9th of Tishrei, 5784
Le 22:26-33 Zec 8 2 Ch 29:1-19 Rev 14 (Ac 21:1-19)