Contradictory standards for salvation?
Did Jesus Teach Contradictory Standards for Salvation?
One critic has attacked Jesus for having “contradictory” standards for salvation:
- “Love God and love neighbor” (Luke 10:25-28)
- “Sell all you have and follow me” (Luke 18:18-22)
- “Believe in Jesus” (John 3:16)
- ‘Born again” (John 3:3-8)
- “Eat Messiah’s flesh & drink his blood to get eternal life” (John 6:53-58)
- “Become like little children” (Matthew 18:2-3)
- “Righteousness must exceed the Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20)
If you are familiar with the gospel message and these passages, all these requirements are simply different ways of saying the same thing. This one basic requirement can be summarized as follows:
Acknowledging that we are sinners and cannot ‘earn’ our own way to heaven, we must repent and believe God’s amazing provision for our salvation which is Jesus the Messiah, walking in the new life he gives as his disciple.
All Jesus’ “requirements” are simply aspects of this. This is called the Gospel. Now let’s look at how each of Jesus’ “requirements” fit into this basic message:
In the first two passages below, Jesus is dealing with the first part of the gospel – realizing our own sinfulness and inability to keep the law and therefore ultimately needing God’s grace. Without understanding our own sinfulness and inability to earn our own salvation, we cannot properly accept the gift of salvation Jesus gives. In the second passage above, the conclusion is not really “sell all you have
1. “Love God and love neighbor” (Luke 10:25-28) – Since Pharisees thought they were fulfilling the law by only loving Jews, Jesus exposed the big area of sin in their lives, that love for neighbor includes enemies like Samaritans. When Jesus says, “Do this and you will live” he is essentially saying, “if you could hypothetically fully do these two commands, you would be pure and therefore have eternal life.”
2. “Sell all you have and follow me” (Luke 18:18-22) – The rich young ruler thought he had fulfilled all the commandments and so earned his own salvation, but Jesus gently exposed his area of biggest sin – greed. When the rich man realized his sin, Jesus gave the solution – “follow me”, become my disciple.
Jesus’ nighttime conversation with Nicodemus moves us on to the next part of the salvation message, trusting in Jesus and getting new life through him:
3. Believe in Jesus (John 3:16) – ‘Believe’ means accepting Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf, receiving this gift he offers, and surrendering our lives to God through Jesus.
4. ‘Born again’ (John 3:3-8) – When a person humbly repents and commits his life as a disciple of Jesus, this radical submission and change is compared to a new birth, rather like a metamorphosis. A person’s identity is changed and the Holy Spirit gives us a new heart empowered to do good.
5. “Eat Messiah’s flesh & drink his blood to get eternal life!? (John 6:53-58) – This cannot be intended literally, for no one ever did this. As Jesus does so frequently, he is using physical symbols to teach about spiritual realities. Here to “eat” Jesus’ “flesh” means to trust or believe in him, depending on his death for our sins as one depends on daily bread and water. Similarly, “drinking” his “blood” symbolizes trusting in the substitutionary atonement earned through his voluntary death. The Lord’s Supper is a symbol of remembering Jesus’ death on our behalf which uses similar symbols.
6. Become like little children’ (Matthew 18:2-3) Does this mean to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, or fight with siblings stupidly? No, “becoming like little children” means having the simple trust, vulnerability and dependence [on a heavenly father] of children. Jesus specifically points out what aspect of childlikeness he means in verse four – “humbles himself”. Elsewhere the New Testament clarifies:
“Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” (1 Corinthians 14:20)
7. “Righteousness must exceed the Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20) – According to Jesus, the Pharisees’ righteousness was a hollow, hypocritical righteousness of external details while ignoring core issues of justice, love and mercy. If a person claims to believe in Jesus but has only a hollow self-righteousness like this, his “faith” is not genuine and he cannot hope for salvation.
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