Whenever a professional athlete gets into a slump, the typical remedy is to go back to basics, to reinforce forgotten lessons and correct deviations that have slowly cropped up over time. Likewise, when Christianity in general has gotten into a major spiritual slump as no one can deny today, it is because we have forgotten “the height from which [we] have fallen” (Rev. 2:4-5). We have lost sight of the basics of salvation.
What are those principles?
Sin - Rom. 3:23, 5:12, 1 Cor. 15:17, 2 Cor. 5:21, Heb. 10:26, James 4:17, 1 John 1:8, 3:4, 5:17
Sin-- rebellion against God and injustice against each other-- entered the world through the rebellion of Adam, causing mortality and separation from God, as well as a cursed earth. In the thinking of the Hebrews, mankind was then “dead” to God (see Eph. 2), that is, the relationship between God and mankind was broken.
Redemption - Mt. 20:28, Acts 13:38-39, John 1:29, Rom. 4:25, 5:16, 6:7, 8:2-3, 1 Cor. 15:21, Eph. 2:8-9, Col. 1:14, 1 Tim. 1:15, Heb. 1:3, 2:17, 10:12, 1 Peter 2:24, 1 John 1:9, 2:2, 4:10
Reconciliation - Rom. 5:10-15, 2 Cor. 5:18-20, Eph. 2:13-16, Col. 1:20-22
Adoption - John 1:12-13, Rom. 8:14-23, Gal. 3:26, 4:5-7, Eph. 1:5, 5:1, Heb. 2:13, 12:7, 1 John 3:1-2
We can deduce that Adam’s sin also handed over the title deed of earth to Satan (Mt. 4:8-9), such that we were no longer God’s children and were “owned” by Satan. Why else would we have needed to be redeemed or bought back? This is the reason for blood atonement. It is not, as the critics allege, proof of God being bloodthirsty, but of the great and terrible price that had to be paid in order to rescue us from the power and ownership of Satan. This of course caused Satan no end of wrath and rage, because that which he had acquired by trickery could now be forfeited because God had out-smarted him.
So the sacrifice of Jesus was to pay for our redemption and our “adoption fee”. Any and all who willingly accept this freely offered gift-- not wage we had to earn or force we couldn’t resist-- is then reconciled or “made alive” to God and “made dead” to sin. It is a complete reversal of relationships: between us and God, and with each other. Yet since God did not force this on anyone, those who freely accept it are urged throughout the scriptures to live like we truly grasp what has been done for us, like we really do serve a risen Lord and not a dead philosophy.
Jesus’ blood also paid for all sin, for all time. But contrary to the universalist view, this does not negate justice by ignoring the wrongs people have done to each other and to God. What it does mean is that God has the legal right to grant forgiveness. And this in turn does not mean Jesus’ sacrifice was wasted on all those who reject Him, as Calvinism’s concept of “limited atonement” asserts. If Jesus’ blood had to be spilled at all, then the amount is irrelevant; the important thing is the quality. How could Jesus’ blood be limited in its power or scope? How could it have been possible for Him to pay anything less than an infinite amount? I consider it insulting to think that Jesus’ blood, even just one drop of it, would not be enough to secure the salvation of every person that ever lived. I defy any proponent of “limited atonement” to show how Jesus could have paid a higher price!
And we must not forget that we are not slaves but children, a status not enjoyed even by the angels in heaven. We are family, not employees, soldiers, or slaves, and Jesus in His humanity is our Brother. In His divinity He is indeed our Master, Savior, God, King, and Owner, but as a human, He has become our Brother and will change us to be like Him. But even that change is not forced upon us, or there’d have been no need for all the urging to strive for the prize, to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, to be at peace, etc.
Faith and Hope - Rom. 5:1-2, 1 Cor. 13:13, Gal. 5:5, Col. 1:5, 1 Thes. 5:8, Titus 2:13, Heb. 11:1, 1 Peter 1:3
What is Christianity without hope? What is it without a longing to see our Savior? Yet today’s Christians seem not only oblivious to this but even hostile to it. They do not seem in any hurry to meet Jesus and instead think they should work to build a kingdom on earth by their own efforts. They want to earn a place in the kingdom! They prefer to work for that which they could have had for free, because they have no faith or hope.
Love - John 3:16, Rom. 5:8, 1 Cor. 13, 1 John 4:7-11, 20
This is the litmus test of it all. How can anyone claiming reconciliation and adoption with God harbor bitterness and hatred toward others, especially fellow believers? Yet we see it all the time, and it seems to be worse the higher up one goes on the worldly chain of command the “churches” have always craved. Anger, rage, and bitterness (Col. 3:8) are not Christian virtues! And how can love wish to flatten the emotions of God and believers by attributing only love to God and forbidding righteous indignation in people? Those who demand only pleasant and conciliatory speech from other believers, who expect never to be offended, are in violation of 1 Cor. 13:5 which says that love is not quick to take offense and does not keep a record of hurts.
To love is to serve, as Jesus showed us. And there is no way to twist “lording over” others into a kind of service! Protecting, nurturing, lifting up-- those are attitudes all believers should have toward each other, and there is no authority attached to any of them.
New life - John 10:10, 14:6, Rom. 6:4, 14-23, Gal. 5:24
For having a new life, a lot of Christians sure seem determined to make it look like the old one, the “dead” one. We are in “jars of clay” of course, but they shouldn’t be so thick that no light can escape them and no “salt” can be shaken out of them. We want to look like the world with our sacred objects and buildings. We want nice stuff and fancy titles. We want grand projects that glorify only ourselves because they are the fruit of our own labor and not the working of the Spirit. God is glorified when things happen that clearly were not of our own power. But when we substitute faith and trust in the Spirit with plans and strategies learned from the world, all we get are institutions. Sure, some good comes from them, but that hardly amounts to an endorsement from God.
We need to keep focused on these basic principles, because everything else flows from them. They are the foundation, but even the most ornate building is worthless if the foundation is flawed. If we are hateful, easily offended, chained to traditions that the NT never endorsed, have worldly ambitions within the Body of Christ, or exhibit any other such behavior, we can be sure we have forgotten the first principles and have a very tenuous connection to the Vine. It’s about Jesus, not us, and whatever does not glorify Him is glorifying ourselves. We all need to keep looking in the mirror of scripture and measure our lives against this foundation.