Friday, February 25, 2005
The Tao of Salvation
Ragamuffin Diva writes in "I Am Yours, Save Me" about the idea of working out your salvation. She asks what this means.
Nicodemus, the man who came to Jesus one night (John chapter 3) was basically asking the same thing. He came to Jesus at night; being a Pharisee, he'd get into trouble if he were seen fraternizing with this revolutionary.
Nicodemus wanted answers. He was a Pharisee. He was supposed to already have the answers; he knew the history of the Israelites. They'd been led out of Egypt, crossed the desert, and then God spread the waters of the Jordan so they could all walk into the new land. What answers could Nicodemus possibly need?
Looking at Jesus' answers to people's questions is fascinating. He always looks at the real question, not its surface manifestation. Nicodemus said "We know you're a teacher..." and Jesus responded by telling him about being born again. This section of the Gospel of John is an economical, succinct description of how to be saved.
Born again. How can this happen, and what's it like? Starting from scratch. You're born in Egypt, and most of us have to cross a desert before we'll listen to God. Then he, God himself, the One who made the Universe, has to take us by the hand, hold back the waters that would overwhelm us, and lead us to a new land.
Nicodemus was raised by the Jewish system of laws. He was used to performing for his living. Somehow, he was drawn to Jesus. He'd seen Jesus walking around Jerusalem, doing things. Nicodemus knew something was different. My entry to following Jesus came about because of people I met; I could see miraculous signs in their lives, and I was attracted. The Holy Spirit was working in my heart to make me receptive.
Born again, not of water this time but of the Spirit. We all start out as babies. Lots of potential, no ability at all. It all has to be learned; we learn from our parents and from other experiences over the years how to get on in the world. Unfortunately, it's not really our world. It is, for all its apparent beauty, Satan's place. We grow up learning laws and a lot of other things that go against God's way.
Jesus said he didn't come into the world to judge it, but to save it. You have to be born again because you can't see and don't understand any of God's reality.
And then, as Rags observed, you have to go on. You're born again, you're across the Jordan and can't go back. God has made promises, and he always keeps his promises.
If you want his life, however, you have to keep going. You have to work. You don't get to be good at sand sculpture unless you go out and do it, and keep doing it. You don't get good at following Jesus unless you let him take you by the hand and lead your reborn, new self in new ways. You don't know anything about his world, you don't know anything about how his life works. The only way to learn it is to, day after day, only with his help, keep following him. And keep reading John chapter 3, wherein Jesus says time after time that judgment isn't our lot.
It's easy to turn this into ritual, as the Jews did. If you do all the right steps you'll inherit the land. But God looks at the heart. He's not interested in rules, judgment and laws. Jesus has given us a new covenant. He asks of us something harder than laws: following him with open hearts and renewed spirit. Daily reconstruction, daily letting the Holy Spirit work his salvation in us.
Rags has done it again. Go and read "You Are Here" for a continuation of this story.
I, at the moment, am living what's shown in a friend's painting. The man is standing with his back to an open window in this marvellous watercolor. He's scowling. Outside is a graceful hill. Wind blows the delicate curtain. The man ignores it, just as I'm currently ignoring God's rain of love.
It falls on my hardened back. Why? I'm afraid to turn around and really see what he's doing. I'm afraid of getting soaked by his love, sopping wet and irrevocably changed.
But it's too late. I'm already changed. I've walked the path that leads away from the Jordan, the path God designed just for me, and by walking it I have been changed. I know what I'm missing.
Robert's watercolor is titled "Lies." That's what I'm believing right now: lies. I believe that I know better than God how to go about the business of life. And the love falls, ignored.