Unconditional Salvation (Part 2)

Part 1

Everyone is saved

When I say everyone is saved, I basically mean that no one needs to worry about their eternal destiny; only love lasts forever, most importantly the everlasting love of God.

(Keep in mind, however, that this kind of “salvation” is not what the scriptures speak of when they use the same word (as I explained in the previous post). I am just speaking in terms of how the word “salvation” is currently used among most people who call themselves christians.)

Some people think that when I say that God saved everyone I am saying that God forces everyone to have a relationship with him and is thus a control freak that removes our freedom. (I would say quite the opposite, actually.)

Let me give an analogy. It’s like humanity was drowning in an ocean, some were asking God to save them, some weren’t. But God saved them all! He didn’t refuse to save some just because they didn’t ask him. But the one’s who did not ask for help now have a choice as to whether they will accept the reality that they have been saved. They can continue acting as if they are drowning (although that would be a very poor choice!), but in reality they have been brought onto the ship of his love.

Nevertheless, those who refuse to accept reality cannot remain in their delusional strike forever. Eventually, they will be brought to their senses because they will become hungry. In the same way, all people, created in the image of God, were designed with a natural desire for the ultimate pleasure, God, and a repulsion to everything opposite. Their disgust for the false and their attraction to God will eventually pull them out of their insanity and bring them to recognize things as they really are.

This analogy falls short, however, because nobody was ever really “drowning.” We never needed to be saved from an angry god. God was never required by his nature to punish people for eternity for naughty things they do or forced to give up his loving pursuit of them because, in their ignorance of what God is truly like, they “rejected God,” which, more accurately, was merely a rejection of a certain idea of God.

Not everyone is saved

Speaking in the sense that the scriptures do, however, not everyone is saved. That is, not everyone has experienced deliverance from all negativity in life.

A particularly notable topic concerning salvation in the New Testament is being saved from the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. If you have never looked into this and its relation to the scriptures, I would encourage you to do your homework. It will significantly alter the way you read the scriptures. The ignorance among christians concerning this historical event is likely the foremost reason why many confuse passages where this destruction is spoken of as a reference to being saved from eternal damnation.

There’s a difference between being saved and becoming saved. No one needs to become saved. Salvation is freely available for all to live in. But some need to be saved. That is, it would do them well to live in that salvation that is theirs already and act like who they truly are.

People can become something but not act like it. For example, if a prince thinks he is a beggar, he will go around asking people for food and money simply because he is unaware of the reality that those things are already abundantly available to him.

This is why you will read scriptures passages like the following: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Notice how both connect the experience of salvation to consciousness – repenting (changing your mind) and knowing.

God’s desire is that everyone live in and experience the salvation he created for them. This happens by believing the truth that they already have been saved.

True salvation

Ultimately, salvation is not even a status of whether someone is saved or not.

Salvation is a person. 

In the Old Testament people call God their salvation (Psalm 27:1 & Isaiah 12:2) and say that salvation is in God (Jeremiah 3:23) (where everyone happens to be). The name Jesus means “Jehovah is salvation,” and Jesus himself says that eternal life is to know him (John 17:3).

Salvation is about experiencing freedom from every negative thing and enjoying relationship with Jesus here and now.

And all humanity is saved – is able to live in the abundant life in Christ.

If you find this post hard to swallow, I think I might know why. Stay tuned for the final post!

Part 3


Also see:


Distractive Biblical Obsession (Part 5)


Part 4

Bibles are not for deriving doctrine

The way bibles have been treated over the years, and especially in modern times in which people have studied, commented, and explained every word, phrase, and expression for every possible interpretation, is enough to make one think that their purpose is to determine the right things to believe.

Yet if bibles really were purposed to tell us what is true and help us get our doctrine right, then it hasn’t done a very good job of it. Judging from the vast variety of interpretations throughout history, bibles have been the greatest source of confusion among believers since its birth.

Textual variation between accounts of apparently identical events and speeches, however, show that the purpose of the scriptures isn’t to give facts, intellectual knowledge, or historically accurate accounts.

Even assuming that the scriptures have a “purpose” at all is just that – an assumption. It assumes that “God put it together” with a purpose in mind.

So how are we to determine how to treat the scriptures? The way the authors of the NT and the believers of the early church handled them are a good place to start.

No biblical author ever emphasizes getting your beliefs right, nor do they advocate using the scriptures to derive doctrine or claim it as a source of truth. Even in the scriptures themselves we never see the NT authors exegeting their scriptures, the OT, to derive doctrine. In fact, we the opposite. The authors have something they want to say, so they take an OT passage out of context to make it say what they want to say to prove their point (I wrote about this here). They read meaning into the scriptures (eisegesis) rathe than out of it (exegesis). Ironically, this practice is widely condemned in modern biblical scholarship!

The early church considered some beliefs that the scriptures barely mention to be significant enough to put in creeds (e.g. Christ’s descent into hell; prayer for the dead, which is unheard of in Protestant circles, was a well-documented and widespread practice in the early church). Thus their thought process in determining essential beliefs wasn’t to ask “what are the clear teachings of the scriptures?” and summarize them, as many do today.

How did we end up this way anyways?

In Greek thinking, answers are good. In Hebrew thinking, questions are good. In our Western world we have inherited the Greek mindset and have used the scriptures as a tool for generating answers rather than for encountering Jesus in our questions. (See an awesome related comic here.)

Contrary to what the doctrine of sola scriptura would have us believe, the scriptures don’t contain all knowledge necessary for life. True life is knowing Jesus (John 17:3), and that is not merely knowing about Jesus factually but knowing him personally. That’s not going to happen no matter how much you read a book about him. The scriptures can help us know more about Jesus, and that’s good. They cannot, however, bring us into an intimate knowing of him. This can only take place through a direct relationship with him.

As such, the scriptures do not give us a blueprint for living or a comprehensive view of correct doctrine. All it can do is point us to the person of Christ. God’s not in the bible; signs don’t contain that which they point to. The scriptures just say “hey look, Jesus!”

Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not a manual for Christian behavior and church practice. It’s a revelation of Emmanuel—the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It’s all too common for preachers and teachers today to extract from the New Testament rules, commands, abstract ideas, theories, concepts, and inspiring thoughts, yet fail to present the glorious Person of Jesus Christ. – Frank Viola

But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as The Word, The Way, The Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ ‘in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,’ not the Bible, save as leading to Him. – George MacDonald

Knowing the scriptures does not equal knowing God. If that were so, the pharisees would have known Jesus.

The scriptures were not intended to present a rational system about God but a relational story about Jesus. – Steve Hill

Don’t read bibles to get to know Jesus; read it because you do.

I love my Bible and I love searching and studying it out. But if all the Bibles in the entire world had to be burned tomorrow my relationship with Jesus would not even skip a beat. It will go on as normal. My relationship with Jesus is not based on book knowledge. – Cornel Marais

(End of series)

Distractive Biblical Obsession (Part 1)



This is the beginning of a series on how an all too common distractive obsession of the scriptures, which are only meant to point to Christ, hinders us from the magnificent obsession over Jesus to which the scriptures call us.

I have had my fair share of biblical obsession and have experienced its negative consequences. I’m learning to treat the bible like a book rather than, as I once did, a tool for divine divining.

My purpose in writing this series isn’t to criticize the most popular perspective on the scriptures among christians. But most of what I write will be directed toward that, and this is because that perspective guides the way in which the people who hold that perspective relate with God. My primary purpose is to propose a better way of relating with God and how the scriptures play into that relationship.

Part 2

Relationships Are Easy


Relationships are easy.

I understand that people have experienced real struggles in their relationships. I am not trying to discredit those experiences or say they weren’t real. I too have experienced struggles in my relationships.

What I am saying here is that none of it is necessary.

In a previous Facebook post I wrote, “You can interpret disagreements and misunderstandings as conflict, or you can interpret them as opportunities to explore the other person.”

Couples here in Japan often talk about how they regularly argue. They seem to believe that arguing is an unavoidable reality and take comfort in the fact that other couples around them are experiencing the same quality of relationship.

But does it really have to be that way? Does true intimacy necessitate conflict?

I had a friend recommend and lend to me a book on marriage that started with the premise that marriage will be hard work, no matter how good your relationship is. That was in the introduction. I didn’t read any further.

I know people who have married believing that “marriage is hard work.” In their experience, it indeed has been hard work. I also know people who have married believing that “marriage is easy.” In their experience, it indeed has been easy.

What you expect is what you get.

The same is true for all other kinds of relationships – family, friends, co-workers, those you live with, etc.

You may be wondering how, on a practical level, I can believe this. It all hinges on the concept within the post that I quoted above.

Arguments are based on the assumption that differences are bad. Under this assumption, when a difference in opinion or action is encountered, the default reaction is to get defensive (when they don’t like what you do) or offensive (when you don’t like what they do).

When we choose to feel threatened by people who say or do something differently than we would, we will want to control them. We will try to get them to think or act like us or suppress their feelings concerning what we say or do.

On the other hand, when we choose to appreciate them for who they are, we will seek to understand why they are different than us. It will launch you into an adventure of understanding who they are and what makes them think and act the way they do. You will gain a new perspective on them and adjust how you approach them.

If agreement is the goal in your relationships, you will live in a state of perpetual conflict because no one fully agrees with anyone. There’s something about cultivating an ability to be okay with disagreement that enables you to enjoy other people for who they are, no matter where they are at in life.

I’m not saying there will never be incompatible interests. I’m saying that those occasions needn’t give rise to conflict and instead are an opportunity for love.

Selfishness is rooted in thinking that your desire and another’s, what is best for you and best for them, are at odds, that it must be one or the other. This is simply not true.

Humans are interconnected, and the satisfaction of one cannot be separated from that of another. Your happiness makes me happy, and your sadness makes me sad. Further, the greatest pleasure is found in loving others. As Jesus explained it, giving is happier than receiving.

I also recognize that people can do stupid stuff, but confronting them when their behavior persists doesn’t have to be a big deal. It feels like a big deal for some of us because we grew up in cultures and environments in which such feelings and thoughts are suppressed (unless they build up to the point of explosion). But, really, it can be dealt with easily by telling them how what they do makes you feel. If they care about you, they will change their behavior accordingly.

This is usually not practiced because of fear. People may give other reasons, but I think it boils down to this. Confronting someone means revealing that you think differently than they do, thus creating a situation in which conflict is a possible outcome.

As I explained earlier, however, it never has to head in that direction. What it comes down to is trust. Can they trust that your confrontation is not a personal affront but rather an act of vulnerability in which you open your heart up to them? Conversely, can you trust that, when you open yourself up to them, they will not judge or take offense at you?

Take the risk.

Love deeply.

And discover that it is the most fun yet least difficult way of life.

The Religiosity of Sacred Writings

scroll copy

In this post I want to take a look at the concept of sacred writings – writings designated by people as special in a way that other writings are not. For example, the Old and New Testaments in Christianity and the Quran in Islam would be considered sacred writings.

Sacred writings are usually believed to be texts that reveal truth. As such, they are also often considered to be a special way by which deities communicate with humans. This is particularly the case in the Jewish tradition and the subsequent Christian tradition.

Here are the propositions concerning the Torah (scriptures) from the Jewish “13 Principles of Faith,” which those belonging to Orthodox Judaism were obliged to believe in.

  • I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.
  • I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, was true, and that he was the chief of the prophets, both those who preceded him and those who followed him.
  • I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that is now in our possession is the same that was given to Moses our teacher, peace be upon him.
  • I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be exchanged, and that there will never be any other Torah from the Creator, Blessed be His Name.

(Note: there was and is significant variation in Jews’ understanding of what constituted revelation as it relates to the scriptures, but I think the above was and is pretty universally held among them.)

Notice that the claims above are all assumptions. They are not even statements that God made to the Jews.

The concept of sacred writings originated in the Old Covenant. It began with the giving of the Law, which, supposedly, was a word for word download from God to Moses.

Later, however, the Jews decided to add to the scriptures, not God. They created a canon (a collection of writings considered as sacred) and included in it whatever they wanted to. In other words, even if it is true that God spoke through prophets, inspired the authors of the Psalms, etc., God himself never commanded that those writings be considered inspired or be added to the canon. Rather, they were human decisions.

The closing of the canon was also a decision that the Jews made. God never said, “there will no longer be any written revelation.” Rather, some people decided to place God in their box labeled “God doesn’t speak anymore.”

M. James Sawyer nicely summarizes the Jewish view of their scriptures:

The Jews viewed Revelation as complete in Moses. The Torah was seen as having emanated in its entirety from God, every verse and letter. This revelation was complete and final; the Rabbis had no conception of progressive revelation. The Prophets and the Hagiographa were seen to add nothing to the Torah given to Moses. Rather these later writings served to reinforce, repeat, amplify, and explain the Torah.

But the Jews were wrong.

Jesus was the greatest revelation of God.

He was the fulfillment of the Torah. But their doctrine regarding sacred writings hindered them from seeing that reality.

The same is still true today. Jesus is still the greatest revelation of God, and he has made his home in us. It is the person who is the revelation, not the book about him. Yet bibles are often treated as the ultimate source of truth or the number one way God speaks to people.

Back to the Jews, let’s look at the broader perspective of God speaking in general.

God has always wanted to communicate regularly and directly with humanity. This is what he did with Abraham; he just straight up talked with him. The same way of relating continued with Abraham’s descendants until Moses came along.

After God gave the ten commandments to the Israelites, they “trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die’” (Exodus 20:18-19). Notice that the people were wrong because God had just spoken to them and yet they had not died. They chose to become afraid of direct communication with God.

jesus never saidThus, the idea that only special people could communicate with God was born.

After this incident, direct communication with God generally ceased. The people preferred to have Moses as a mediator.

Yet later in history, a few caught a glimpse of the heart of God and began communicating with God directly again. Many of these people were known as prophets (although there were others such as David as well). It is a common occurrence in the scriptures for God to speak through prophets.

But have you ever noticed how there were no prophets until Israel began to become an institutional religion instead of simply being a community of God’s people? This is because prophets are only among people who believe they cannot communicate with God themselves and need someone else to communicate for them.

Yet another shift took place after the Jews were sent into exile. This time the mediator became writings instead of people. The general idea was, “God had already said all he wanted to, so we just need to look at what he has said in the past.”

[The post-exile Jews] hung the whole weight of their identity on the text itself…The time of the Exile and afterward is most likely the period of the final editing of the interpretation of the text as the task that lay closest to the bone of their identity. Most notably of all, it was during [the post-exile] period that the Synagogue was first invented – and it was now that the Synagogue replaced the Temple as the center, for all practical purposes, of Jewish life. Tradition replaced institution as the binding force; and the rabbis, who became the expounders of that tradition, replaced the priests and prophets as the authenticating voices of Judaism. – Robert Capon

Thus, the writings became sacred, the very words of God himself (and doctrines such as the inerrancy and inspiration of the scriptures also emerged with it).

This narrative demonstrates the religiosity of sacred writings.

religious books

What I mean when I say that sacred writings are religious is that they bypass relationship. Written documents replace (or at least take precedence over) God speaking to us through his Spirit in us. Ritual replaces relationship.

Some people claim that God doesn’t speak to us through the Spirit anymore and instead only speaks through the scriptures. Others say that God still speaks through his Spirit but that what he says will always line up with what is written in the scriptures. Ironically, neither of these claims can be found in the scriptures themselves (in fact, they seem to say the opposite!).

We must stop using the Bible as though it were a potpourri of inerrant proof-texts by which we can bring people into bondage to our religious traditions…We must no longer use the Bible as the Pharisees used the Torah when they gave it absolute and final status. Christian biblicism is no different from Jewish legalism. It is the old way of the letter, not the new way of the Spirit. – Robert D. Brinsmead

The Law is now written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). Making the scriptures sacred is creating a replica of the system of Law in the Old Covenant (like has been wrongly done with the sacrificial system and the theory of penal substitution, the limited priesthood and the modern clergy, temples and church buildings, tithes and pastor salaries, etc.).

Claiming that the canonization process was valid is one thing (although even that is questionable). Saying that there should be an established collection of sacred texts in the first place (which is necessary for there to even be a canonization process) is quite another.

The whole idea of having sacred texts was born out of the human desire for a feeling of certainty. People want something absolute to believe in, something tangible as their foundation. This is also why the Israelites built the golden calf, for example, even right after God had performed the crazy miracle of splitting the red sea for them.

We have to keep in mind that the idea of having sacred writings are a Hebrew invention. God never commanded it. It is a man-made tradition. Further, the Jews were only following the pattern they observed in the a nations around them (just like they wanted a king). Indeed, this is born out in pretty much every religion (at least where its adherents are literate). Sacred writings are a mark of religion. But Jesus came not to start a new religion but to bring an end to all religion.

Elevating the status of the scriptures to “sacred” is a rejection of the mystery and uncertainty inherent in relationship. It is a return to religiosity.

Us Christians are unreservedly scared to become “free thinking” and allow the winds of the Spirit to blow where it wants. We crave a written guideline (just like Israel craved a king to rule over them) in order to prevent us from straying. We want to have a “standard” that draws a line in the sand between what we believe and what other religions or even other Christians believe. We seek a physical, tangible object we can hold in our hands and look at so that we won’t need to be utterly reliant on the Spirit. It makes us cringe to think that we can only have Christ as our Head. Christ without the Bible is a dangerous, perilous road that is doomed to lead to deception and bound to end up in a cult. I wonder what Jesus (who had no Bible Himself) would have to say about this? – André van der Merwe

Let’s not repeat the history of how Israel related with (or, more accurately, failed to relate with) God.

Don’t base you relationship with God on a book.

Let it be based on the only trustworthy foundation, the cornerstone.


A Religious God? – The Abolition of Religion

religion-is-like I remember back in one of my classes at my “Christian” high school where we compared major religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and of course Christianity. “God or divinity is like this in each religion; this is how each religion understands salvation; these are the foundational principles they require you to abide by,” etc.


Looking back, I can laugh at this way of viewing Christianity, but it also makes me very sad because it shows what most people, believers and unbelievers alike, consider Christianity to be – that it’s just another religion among many.

How dare Christianity be called a religion, as if it were even comparable to religions? It is nothing like religions. Some say, “But there are similarities, like believing in the existence of a deity or having a moral code to live by.”

Get this: Christianity is not a belief system or a way of life. And calling it a religion is tantamount to equating it to those things. Because that’s pretty much what religions are.

Here’s the first two definitions of “religion” that I came upon in my dictionary: 1. A strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny 2. An institution to express belief in a divine power.

Once more, Christianity is not theology or an institution. Let me highlight some differences between religion and Christianity:

  • Religion tells you what you have to do to be saved, the story of the Old Covenant in which it was all about you and your own efforts to follow the Law. But Jesus tells you what he’s done for you to get you saved.
  • Religion tells you to do something so that God will respond to you. But the gospel tells you what God did for you and empowers you with the freedom to respond.
  • Religion requires you to try to earn your blessings. But Holy Spirit shows you that every spiritual blessings has already been freely given to you.
  • Religion makes you strive after an impossible standard. But the bible tells us that Jesus achieved it for us and continues to do so in and through us.
  • Religion tries to motivate you through fear. But the Father motivates you in love.
  • Religion reduces knowledge to intellectual facts. But the good news is that we can have intimacy with Jesus on a personal level.
  • Religion is bad news. But the gospel is good news.

Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion but rather to proclaim the end of all religion. – Robert Capon

This begs the question – what is Christianity?

Most of you have probably heard this before, but it’s true, so I gladly repeat it: Christianity is not a religion but a relationship, namely a relationship with Jesus. And it is a relationship that affects all our other relationships with everyone and everything in the world.


So why the big fuss over this one word? For the people who don’t know that it’s a relationship. The fact that unbelievers perceive Christianity as a religion rather than a relationship with Jesus is a symptom of an underlying problem among those who claim to be Christians, namely that they themselves do not truly understand the nature of their relationship with Christ. Calling Christianity a religion only perpetuates their misunderstanding. We end up with a bunch of self-proclaimed Christians that in fact do not have a living breathing relationship with Jesus. For most of my life, I was one of those people. And churches tolerate this, acting as if “Christian” is a title anyone can give themselves (instead, in the bible, unbelievers called believers “Christians”; Acts 11:26).

Unbelievers see this toleration and conclude that anyone who says they are a Christian is in fact a Christian. Because it all comes down to having the same set of beliefs, right (cough, sarcasm, cough)?

god has no religionWhat people claim to believe is not always what they really believe. You can only truly know what someone believes by how they live. You will know a tree by its fruit. As John Crowder puts it, “Religion kills, but Jesus thrills.” The world knows and understands the first part of that phrase, but they haven’t got a clue about the second. And it’s about time we show it – not just talk about it – to the point where it’s so obvious that Christianity is not a religion but a relationship that it doesn’t need to be stated.

I am allergic to the “Christian” religion and I have two symptoms: anger and hostility toward its lies, and love and compassion toward those who believe them. I encourage you to do yourself and everyone else a favor and never call Christianity a religion again, and to not let other people call it that either.

Religion is not the solution; religion is the problem. There was no religion in the Garden and there will be none in the City. Jesus is the end of religion. – Paul Ellis

By the way, Jesus was the greatest anti-religion dude of his day (and since he never changes, he still is). You can read all about it in the bible. Sometimes you have to upset established religious orders to bring the Truth to light. Ian Thomas sums it up well:

There are few things quite so boring as being religious, but there is nothing quite so exciting as being a Christian!…Most folks have never discovered the difference between the one and the other, so that there are those who sincerely try to live a life they do not have, substituting religion for God, Christianity for Christ, and their own noble endeavors for the energy, joy, and power of the Holy Spirit. In the absence of reality, they can only grasp at rituals, stubbornly defending the latter in the absence of the former, lest they be found with neither!

Here’s a video most of you are probably familiar with, but worth posting:

And finally, for those who, like me, like long but meaningful quotes:

The entire human race is profoundly and desperately religious. From the dim beginnings of our history right up to the present day, there is not a man, woman, or child of us who has ever been immune to the temptation to think that the relationship between God and humanity can be repaired from our side, by our efforts. Whether those efforts involve creedal correctness, cultic performances, or ethical achievements-or whether they amount to little more than crassly superstitious behavior-we are all, at some deep level, committed to them. If we are not convinced that God can be conned into being favorable to us by dint of our doctrinal orthodoxy, or chicken sacrifices, or the gritting of our moral teeth, we still have a hard time shaking the belief that stepping over sidewalk cracks, or hanging up the bath towel so the label won’t show, will somehow render the Ruler of the Universe kindhearted, softheaded, or both…The point is, we haven’t got a card in our hand that can take even a single trick against God. Religion, therefore-despite the correctness of its insistence that something needs to be done about our relationship with God-remains unqualified bad news: it traps us in a game we will always and everywhere lose. But the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is precisely Good News. It is the announcement, in the death and resurrection of Jesus, that God has simply called off the game. – Robert Capon

I’m tired of religion – and to be entirely honest I know of nothing quite so boring as Christianity without Christ.  Have you ever tried to start a car without fuel, and there wasn’t a spark left in the battery?  Then you will know exactly what I mean, for there a few things more frustrating than the car that will not go. Everything is nicely greased and in its rightful place, and all the working parts move dutifully, but try as you may, there isn’t the suspicion of a kick, the tiniest evidence of life in the engine.  You might just as well dump the thing, for the chance you have of getting it to move!…Countless people have stopped going to a place of worship simply because they are sick of going through the motions of a dead religion.  They are tired of trying to start the car on an empty tank!  What a pity that is that there are not a few more people around to tell them that Jesus Christ is alive.  I spoke of nothing more boring than Christianity without Christ, but I know of nothing so utterly exciting as being a Christian – sharing the very life of Jesus Christ on earth right here and now, and been caught up with Him into the relentless, invincible purposes of an almighty God, and with all the limitless resources of deity available for the job. – Ian Thomas

Yay for the end of religion!