Do Church-goers Really Get Salvation?

If you were to ask the average church-goer in Churches of Christ what salvation is all about what do you think they would say? Several things come to mind of what the typical response might include:

  • Getting to heaven
  • 5 steps of salvation
  • Having our sins forgiven

While all of these things have scriptural merit and are not to be discounted (except some might contend salvation is not accomplished in “steps) does this really hit the bulls eye or is there more to salvation than this? Also, why is it that many who have been in church for decades are still really not that much different than the world? Could it be that we have watered things down so much that it no longer makes any more demands on their life than repentance and baptism (done many years ago for some) when the Bible clearly teaches so much more than that?

What I believe has happened over the years is we have missed much of what is really going on with salvation in order to boil it down to the steps of salvation in order to show our differences with denominations. It is easier to debate whether or not baptism is essential to salvation than it is to develop a more fully biblically informed view on what salvation itself is really all about. When was the last time you heard in a sermon or Bible class anything about Jesus conquering sin and death? When was the last time you heard any teaching on what eternal life was all about? When have you heard anything about sin other than it results in death and separates us from God? In the Churches of Christ we need a more biblically informed view of what salvation is all about and not water it down to only one half of the equation (the 5 steps we take). God is doing so much on our behalf in the salvation process and yet you rarely hear any of that in our circles. At least, that is my experience. Have any of you noticed the same thing?

The only way people in the pew are going to get it is if we start to teach it. If we are going to teach it we have to get it first ourselves. This does not mean we discount repentance, baptism, etc but it does mean we also fully endorse many other biblical principles and teachings on salvation itself.

About mattdabbs
I am a minister, husband, and father. My wife and I live and minister in Saint Petersburg, Florida. My primary ministry responsibilities include: small groups, 20s and 30s, involvement, and adult education.

22 Responses to Do Church-goers Really Get Salvation?

  1. JamesBrett says:

    i fear our misunderstanding of — or our extreme focus on one small part of — salvation reaches far beyond our churches of Christ. i think evangelical christianity as a whole has made salvation into a legal issue, and now we have a hard time seeing it as anything more. and somewhere along the way, we all decided it was a point in time issue, rather than a process.

  2. brian says:

    i plan to preach a series next spring, and I haven’t really begun my thinking/studying but off the top of my head concepts like sanctification and Shalom need to be included

  3. guy says:

    Matt,

    Couldn’t agree more. Good stuff. Do you ever read Richard Beck’s blog? He said one time that he explained it to his son this way: Lostness is how man has been alienated from the earth, from other men, from themselves, and from God. Salvation is the process of restoring and reconciling those relationships. That rang true for me.

    –guy

    • mattdabbs says:

      I really don’t think very many people get reconciliation. Again, when was the last time you really heard this explained and why it is an important concept to understand practically speaking. That is so, so important and so, so missing! Great quote. I haven’t read his blog but I will take a look.

  4. emily says:

    Hey Matt-

    I follow your blog regularly but hardly have time to comment! I feel compelled to comment on this post, though… Being a part of a church other than the church of Christ for a few years now, I have seen a striking difference in the way that salvation is portrayed in the church of Christ compared with my church. (Please know my comment is not intended to criticize the c of C in any way; rather it is to further your point and to give an “outsider’s view” so to speak… Please, please know that.) You asked, “When was the last time you heard in a sermon or Bible class anything about Jesus conquering sin and death?” Honestly, several times in each sermon and Bible class. You asked, “When have you heard anything about sin other than it results in death and separates us from God?” Several times in each sermon, each Bible class, and in every single book I read. Jesus’ death in our stead, Jesus receiving the punishment so that we may take part in His blessings… Jesus’ love for us when we are so undeserving of it… what else is there to preach about!? You also said, “God is doing so much on our behalf in the salvation process…” I would have to disagree with you there. God is not doing so much. He has done it all. He made us alive when we were dead in our transgressions (Eph 2:4ff). A dead man can do nothing. He is not sick, he is not hurt, he is dead. I am not wanting to start a theological debate here, but I say all of that to point out that foundational differences on salvation (such as what I have mentioned above) are factors in how much “air time” (for lack of a better term) salvation gets in preaching and teaching. Above all else, my worship consists of me praising and thanking our God for my salvation… for His grace and kindness toward me in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:7). I’d love to hear your thoughts….

    • mattdabbs says:

      Emily,

      I think the tone of your post came across exactly how you intended it. We are always open for honest and straight forward discussion here! I have a few comments in response to what you wrote. First, I am very happy that you are a part of a congregation where these things are consistently in the preaching and teaching. It is not like that everywhere. So that is a blessing for you to be appreciative of and also gives you a voice in the discussion because you have been versed in these things and have something to say. Now that is good news! I would bet, though, you might be exaggerating a bit when you say it is everywhere and in every class, sermon and book you read. That almost has to be a stretch but that is just me picking at you kindly more than anything else. I think we find what we are looking for and you have been trained to listen for it and are now hearing it everywhere. But that is not really the focus of my response to your thoughts as all that is pretty insignificant and petty on my part😉

      I am not sure how you can disagree that God is doing so much for us in the salvation process when God is still living and active today. God is still in the saving business. God still washes away sin. God still takes back those who have wandered away. God certainly still has much to do in the salvation process on our behalf. You would have a hard time arguing otherwise. Has he already paid the price? Yes. Does Jesus keep dying over and over for our sins? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean that all things pertaining to salvation are in the past when there are constantly people turning to God every single day from that day until this one. Let me ask you this in reference to the verse you cited (Eph 2:4), Did God make you, Emily, alive when you became a Christian? If the answer is yes then God is still very much involved in the salvation process. If the answer is no then what are you left with? See my point?

      I agree with you, salvation needs much more airtime than just a simple invitation tacked on to the end of each sermon. Thoughts?

      • emily says:

        I have been wanting to get on here all week and respond, and wow, here it is Friday, and I’m just now finding time to come back to your blog! I am so happy to say that you are WRONG, Matt!🙂 I am not exaggerating regarding the consistent preaching of our sin and our need for a Savior. That is the Gospel!! It is preached week in and week out at my church, praise the Lord. And just as an example of the books I love…. When Sinners Say I Do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage You’d better believe this one talks about Jesus conquering sin! But I’ll shut up about all that, since you were just picking at me anyway.🙂

        Matt, I absolutely agree that God is active today. I agree that people are still coming to Christ, praise the Lord! My point in disagreeing with your “God has done so much for us” statement was to say that he has not simply contributed to our salvation. He has taken care of it all. It is not God: 99% of the work, Man: that last 1%. It is God 100%! As JR stated below, it is God’s work from start to finish. We bring nothing to salvation but our sin! What do we have that makes us “saveable”?! Nothing! That, my friend, is the beauty of the Gospel. Grace and Mercy. A loving God, showing amazing kindness to those that do not deserve it.

        There is more I want to say, but my three children would like some breakfast.🙂 Hope you have a great weekend, and tell Missy I said hello!

    • mattdabbs says:

      Emily,

      A few thoughts in response. While your points are true in your particular congregation that does not mean my point is wrong across the board. My point was not leveled at your congregation individually, at which point you would be right, but at Christianity in general or at least some churches within Christianity. At which point what I was saying is correct. Not all churches do teach what salvation is all about very well. So it is really hard to say I am WRONG about that point, right?

      “What do we have that makes us “saveable”?! Nothing!” – I would have to disagree with this. The New Testament makes very clear that we do bring something to the table and that is faith. People get confused over this because there is a misconception that just because we bring something to the table means we are earning it and the Bible is very clear that we don’t earn it. However, it is true that our contribution to the process is called faith. Otherwise, salvation would be universal. I can quote dozens of verses on that if you like but they are pretty basic and hopefully you already know them.

      Hope that makes sense and hope your kids had a great breakfast!

  5. Royce says:

    Preach on brother! A completely agree!

    Royce

  6. Jerry Starling says:

    Must we sin? And if we do sin, do we lose our salvation? I see our being saved as past, present, and future tenses. I just posted a blog on this here. My conclusion? No, we do not have to sin for in every temptation God makes a way of escape. Must we take the escape He provides? No, for all of us still are aware that we do sin and fall short. Does God then snatch our salvation away from us when we sin? No, for the blood of Jesus cleanses us while we are walking in the light. I have a paragraph about why walking in the light does not mean walking without sin.

    Jerry

    • mattdabbs says:

      Jerry,

      I also wrote something about walking in the light about 2 weeks ago – https://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/sin-and-walking-in-the-light/

      John himself tells us that walking in the light is not about the absence of sin in the exact verse that talks about walking in the light, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin.” And if that is not enough he gives us even more proof that walking in the light is not about being sinless in the very next verses, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

      John lays it out very well and there is no mistaking what walking in the light is all about. In the past many have gotten this all messed up and ended up with a in/out sin/purity take on salvation. That is not found in scripture.

      I will have a look at what you wrote and get even better informed on this, I am sure.

      • Dear Matt,

        I came across your blog while seeking information about the CofC. From your kind and patient replies here, I can see you are “Christlike”. That makes me rejoice and naturally leads me to pray for you and your young family.

        It worries me that when citing 1 John 1:7-10, not wanting to express a “sinless” position, we go too far into holding a “sinning” position. i believe there is a Biblical way to avoid this. Whether we walk in the light or not, the issue is not us, but Christ. If we concentrate on His righteousness and walk in the light as He is in the light, our righteousness is guaranteed by His. We should acknowledge that, without Him, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But we should concentrate on His promise to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Being cleansed, we should acknowledge His cleansing within us. Each second after He has cleansed us, each minute without sin, is precious! It is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me (Gal 2:20).

        In so many churches we hear about our sinfulness. We need to concentrate on His righteousness! Paul said: For to me, to live is Christ (Phil 1:21)

        God bless you sir.

  7. Jr says:

    First, I believe that it must begin with a loud and clear message that the “steps to salvation” or “plan” is not how a person is saved. It is not the Gospel. Notice in Acts 2:37 those who heard the Gospel “were cut to the heart.” Something happened before they even asked “what must we do” and what happened had nothing to do with intellectual assent or anything they did. That “cut” was the Spirit’s work; and it does not happen to everyone who hears the Gospel preached.

    We are not saved by a plan; we are saved by the Godman. Nor is the Gospel about building according to a blueprint; and if you meet the specifications your building will be approved by the great Inspector. As cofC’s own G.C. Brewer put it in 1945, this kind of “plan” perverts and undermines the gospel of grace. (Thank God for guys like him and R.H. Boll in our tradition)

    It is interesting to note that Walter Scott’s “plan” was originally a six stepper that actually had God in the picture (though it was still incorrect). Man would believe, repent, and be baptized, and God would forgive sins, gift the Holy Spirit, and gift eternal life. But what happened was it turned into a five stepper and God was completely removed from the equation. Hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized. Where is God in this equation? It is completely man-centered and man-driven. God is merely an onlooker who responds to the acts of men. And this is the foundation of much of the man-centered theology in the cofC.

    We need to get to the heart of the Gospel and it begins with teaching that people with hearts of stone cannot do a thing to get salvation by following some kind of plan that owes itself to nothing more than the Baconian Scottish Rationalism of the 1800s. Salvation is an undeserved act of God, whereby he gives people hearts so that they will be clean and then obey (Ezek 36:25-27); which is what Jesus refers to in His discourse with Nicodemus in John 3:5. One must be born again of the Spirit, not of mental assent or a plan. (additionally we have John 3:7-8 and Jesus discussing the Sovereign work of the Spirit in conversion).

    You asked, “why is it that many who have been in church for decades are still really not that much different than the world?”
    Perhaps that is because so many people who go to church aren’t saved. We have many unregenerate people being told they are saved because they prayed a prayer (some Baptists) or were dipped or they followed the plan (that’s us). Instead, Jesus said that you would know His people by the fruit of their lives; and all who have genuine faith will show a life that proves regeneration and increased sanctification, which is the fruit of the final justification completed by faith alone.

    Emily said it well above: God does everything for our salvation. He not only saves us by grace alone (makes us alive when we were dead) through faith alone (also a gift), but He also works in His people through sanctification “to will and to work for his good pleasure.” It is God’s work from start to finish.

    Sorry for the length but I appreciate the discussion. Grace to you –

  8. Paul D. says:

    I’ve come to reject the traditional platonic development of Hell as unbiblical. So whenever people talk flippantly about salvation, I’m tempted to ask, “salvation from what?” It seems like not everyone actually has an answer. Not everyone actually believes in anything besides some sort of contract that trades intellectual assent for an afterlife in a mythical realm of harps and clouds.

    • mattdabbs says:

      Your comment is a great example of a misunderstanding of what salvation is all about. It is about way more than heaven and hell (although those are in the details). People make it way too much about those things, even though they are a part, and leave out what the NT writers really did focus on including reconciliation with God and man, sanctification, propitiation, and atonement, and many other things.

      It is also far more than intellectual assent. That is what many in Christianity have boiled it down to as a result of a backlash against works righteousness. That is a shame as well.

  9. jayaraj.E says:

    Dear brother Matt , Good article on salvation .

  10. Preacherman says:

    Matt,
    Great post!
    I think most church goers completely miss salvation as “Kingdom Living” now. “Your kingdom come your will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven.” I hope that ministers strive to let people know that salvation isn’t something that happens when you die but salvation is about doing God’s will now, on earth, kingdom living!

    • Jr says:

      Yes, Preacherman, but your comment is also a reductionist view of the Kingdom. Perhaps your point was that salvation is not something that “only” happens when you die.

      In other words, the Kingdom in the “not yet” is (in its perfect and complete form) something that will only happen when Jesus returns in judgment and to receive His elect and to establish the new heavens and new earth (whatever form that may be). In the mean time, in the “here,” we are told to preach the Gospel, baptize believers, and make disciples, and live lives that prove our justification in Christ.

      I think the whole “here” and “not yet” is necessary in the Kingdom discussion so as not to be reductionist either way.

  11. Terry says:

    I would love to see a survey of churchgoers on this topic.

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