Has Some Believers’ Focus on ‘Getting Saved’ Replaced Jesus’ Message of the Good News?

When we are attracted to Jesus and want to follow him, how do we go about doing that? Many believers would answer, “Get saved by responding to a salvation presentation and praying some form of the sinner’s prayer admitting you are a sinner, asking for forgiveness, and inviting Jesus into your life as your personal savior.” Often this is presented within the framework of the misguided theory of penal substitutionary atonement.

Billy Graham used this version:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name. Amen.

The thought is that, if you meant what you said, you are now ‘saved’ and no longer on your way to eternal hell. This pattern of following Jesus is found nowhere in the teaching of Jesus nor in the writings of his followers. In fact it conflicts with the examples of following Jesus that we do find.

Responding to the Good News of the Kingdom

Jesus never suggests that we should ask for forgiveness or pray a ritual prayer to be ‘saved’; all we must do to participate in the kingdom is to respond to the good news and identify with it. Any forgiveness needed is automatic for those who choose Jesus. In the New Testament, those who identified with the good news of the kingdom indicated their identification by being baptized.

We get a pretty good picture of how this worked from Jesus’ early preaching in Mark 1:

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Jesus proclaimed the very same message John the Baptist had preached. And for both John and Jesus the symbol indicating that a person has identified with the good news of the kingdom is that they are baptized—usually immediately. There is no additional ritual at all: no asking for forgiveness, no asking Jesus to come into their life, and no sinner’s prayer. They simply heard the message, identified with it, and indicated their identification by being baptized.

‘But wait! Doesn’t Jesus say to REPENT?’ Yes he does, but the word ‘repent’ has taken on new meaning for some of today’s believers: they think it means to ‘confess your sins and ask for forgiveness.’ But the word ‘repent’ in the New Testament doesn’t mean that. Repent simply means to ‘change your mind or direction’, and this is exactly what these people did in response to the message of the good news: they changed from their previous perspective to embrace the good news of the kingdom.

Jesus Invites Us to Simply Accept His Invitation

The simplicity of beginning to follow Jesus is reinforced by his invitation in Matthew 11:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Following Jesus is a response to an invitation, and the appropriate response to an invitation is either Yes or No. Jesus does not require anything but that we decide to accept his invitation. No confession, no asking for forgiveness, and no prayer is necessary. All we need to do is accept; it is simple as that. If someone were to invite you to go with them to Disney World, would you ask them to please let you go with them? No! They have already invited you—all you need to do is accept.

There are no requirement to following Jesus except the desire and the decision to follow him. Once we do that we can begin to learn from him and to mature as we internalize his message.

The Good News of Jesus

The Idea of Getting ‘Saved’ Distorts and Replaces Jesus’ Good News Message

Jesus preaches the good news. Is being ‘saved’ from ‘hell’ good news? No! It is bad news! The bad news begins when we think God is angry, harsh, and vindictive, and when we think that we can imagine an eternal torture in a burning hell that the Bible does not teach. This also means that even if we are ‘saved’ from ‘hell’ other people will be tortured there forever, which is contrary to God’s love.

Focusing on being ‘saved’ to avoid imaginary hell and go to heaven when we die distorts the genuine good news which is central to Jesus teaching. The good news of Jesus is multifaceted but contains at least these five elements:

God is not Angry and Harsh with Us as Many of Us Thought
God’s Love for Us Takes Away Our Fear, Guilt, and Self-Condemnation
We are not to Follow Burdensome Religious Rules
We are Agents for Expanding God’s Kingdom on Earth
Death is Not the End because Jesus Offers Us Eternal Life and Happiness

Thinking that the important point in following Jesus is to become ‘saved’ not only distorts Jesus’ good news message of the kingdom but replaces it as Jesus’ central focus. This is not good! This is a harmful, misguided belief, and it robs believers of the essence of Jesus’ real teaching.

***

This entry was posted in God, hell, Jesus, Kingdom of God, the Good News, the invitation, witnessing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to Has Some Believers’ Focus on ‘Getting Saved’ Replaced Jesus’ Message of the Good News?

  1. Anthony Paul says:

    Excellent topic… goes to the very core of who we are meant to be as believers in Jesus Christ. This subject has been on my mind for many years now and the conclusions I have drawn are very similar to your own. ( I hope to offer more specific comments at a later time.) Consequently, I have found myself moving further away from the visible church, be it evangelical or denominational. I live in a private cocoon of study, meditation, and prayer these days. The church has indeed taken the Good News of Jesus Christ and turned it into very bad news for the rest of the world. I am grateful for your small candle of light which breaks through the darkness of hundreds of years of church doctrine whose purpose seems to reflect its own political and social agenda rather than the proclamation of God’s saving work for all mankind.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Anthony, thank you so much for your kind words, and I very much look forward to your more specific comments at a later time. I think you said it very well: “The church has indeed taken the Good News of Jesus Christ and turned it into very bad news for the rest of the world.”

      Like

    • Marjorie Weiss says:

      There are denominations, Anthony, that are progressive and do not use the Repent and be saved from hell BS. ELCA (Lutheran), Episcopal are two. Rob Bell is an author you would like. check out his Velvet Elvis and Loves Wins.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Anthony Paul says:

        Thank you, Marjorie, for your comment. I have come across the name Rob Bell in some of my readings but I don’t know enough about his full position to comment at this time except to say that I know he is quite “progressive”. My problem with churches labeled “progressive” or “liberal” is that many (not all) of them have a tendency to want to deny the fact that sin is real and that humanity is both a victim and perpetrator of it. Personally I have worked my way through the spectrum of evangelicalism all the way to universalism; neither extreme is intellectually satisfying for me so I am still feeling my way around. Until I find the theological construct that works for me, I believe “church” is little more than an undefined quantity in my life at this time.

        Liked by 2 people

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Anthony, I have not read Velvet Elvis but I think Rob Bell does a very good job in Love Wins. Here is my review of his book:
          https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/love-wins-by-rob-bell-a-book-review/

          Liked by 1 person

          • Anthony Paul says:

            Thank you, Tim… excellent book review. It will be easy for me to put this book on my reading list because I believe that Bell and many of us here have struggled with some of the same questions regarding heaven and hell and I suspect that we have pretty much reached the same conclusions.

            I’ll read the book.

            Liked by 2 people

          • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

            I hope you enjoy it.

            Like

        • sheila0405 says:

          I don’t believe in sin per se, because I don’t believe in a deity to sin against. I was a born-again Christian for over 50 years. The concept of sin now makes me sad. That theology sees humanity as broken & unworthy of good. I think we all are a.mix of good & bad. Learning from those who are mostly good can help us be better. We are beautiful in our humanity, & make progress in this world by joining hands with others, realizing that we stand on the shoulders of giants. We need to be those shoulders of greatness for the next generation. I wish I knew this fact decades ago.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Marjorie Weiss says:

        Well I find the ELCA to be quite aware of sin. Lutherans are big on being sinner and saint at the same time.

        Like

        • Anthony Paul says:

          Yes, Marjorie, I’m sure you’re right about the ELCA and this is true of just about all other Evangelical churches as well. My wife and I used to belong to an EFC many years ago and I found that they freely acknowledged the sin/saint nature of man without overplaying either side. We left that church because we felt as though we lacked a human connectedness to others there. Since then, my thinking has evolved theologically in a way that I am sure does not conform to the church’s statement of faith and beliefs (i.e., Scriptures being the infallible word of God and the hell doctrine, to name just two biggies).

          Although I did say, “My problem with churches labeled “progressive” or “liberal” is that many (not all) of them have a tendency to want to deny the fact that sin is real and that humanity is both a victim and perpetrator of it.” That was not my main point in not joining a church. The thrust of what I meant was that my thinking about who God is and who I am in relation to Him is currently in a state of flux and I have found that being a part of a doctrinaire institution is not always helpful in helping me to think freely and openly about these things. For me, this forum is a church… a place where people can come and openly discuss and have their ideas and thoughts weighed by others without having to comply with a set program of theology or doctrine. Churches, and by extension church people, want to make you just like them because they have come to believe that their’s is the only true way to God. What I really like about this church (Jesusw/obaggage) is that Tim always finds something positive to say about everyone’s contribution to the forum and without sounding patronizing and above-it-all. It wasn’t always like that at the EFC.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Marjorie Weiss says:

            I get that churches can be a turn off. I retired from 35 years of parish ministry last year and took six months off from all church in any from so I could detox. My detox, however, was from the trials of managing a community. BTW, I con’t believe there is a hell and used to tell people that in my sermons. One woman came out after such a sermon and told me she still believed in it so God would get the “bad” people who deserved it. Sigh. Grace, that God just loves us not matter what we do, is such a hard concept for so many. That is by beef withy evangelical Christians that they turn God into the righteous judge who will “damn” all those “bad” people and for many it is those who ahve not accepted Jesus. It is a crazy misinterpretation. I enjoyed the book by Bruce Bauer, Stealing Jesus, How Fundatmentalism Betrays Christianity. He covers the history that got the conservatives to this thinking.
            I am glad this forum works for you. It’s great to find like minded folks.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Vince Tucker says:

    I have been troubled by the sinner’s prayer for a while. For years, there has been no part of me that has felt the need to lead someone to pray this prayer. I prayed this when I was five years old, and I had no idea what it meant. It was only when tragedy came into my life 5 years ago that I turned to God in earnest. I was overwhelmed by His love, and my decision to authentically give myself up for Jesus began at that time. My identity with Jesus is no longer shame-based, but it is love based. I am broken, flawed, and indeed rebellious at times, but my identity is as one created in God’s image. Jesus was the human face of God, and He wants us to follow His example. He must think we are pretty special ask us to do something as wonderful as that!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Vince, I am sorry to hear about your tragedy. But I am happy that you are following Jesus in a genuine way. And you seem to have a healthy understanding of what that means. I love your statement: “My identity with Jesus is no longer shame-based, but it is love based.” I think this is a solid foundation for following Jesus–much sounder than the fear-based one described in the article.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. sheila0405 says:

    Very nice, Tim. I also reject the theology of a sinner’s prayer. If one is moved by the Gospels, s/he will respond to Jesus’ words and actions. I believe this response and living a life mirroring Jesus’ positive traits is the true meaning of “following” Jesus. There are non-Christian who adopt some of Jesus’ teachings, too. (Meaning, they see Jesus as a good moral teacher, but not divine.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks Shelia. I think people follow Jesus in many ways, but I think the focus on praying to be instantly saved from hell, and all that goes with it, is harmful.

      Like

      • Anthony Paul says:

        Yes! Fear of going to hell doesn’t advance the idea of God’s Kingdom as Jesus embodies it with all of its joy and human freedom. Fear of any kind takes away our freedom… to think, to learn, to choose and to see God as so much bigger and grander than our minds can even begin to imagine. What so many people fail to see is that when we “love” God based on fear we are really no different than the primitive cultures who worship the creation around us in order to appease the wrath of unseen but fearful deities.

        Liked by 2 people

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Agreed Anthony. And I particularly like your statement that when we love God out of fear it is not different from those in primitive cultures who try to appease of unseen deities.

          Like

    • Alan C says:

      This post reminded me of a book by Robert Farrar Capon that talked about “transactional” understandings of what it means to be a Christian. The “sinner’s prayer” often leads to a view of “getting saved” as getting your ticket to heaven punched. I wouldn’t entirely discount the sinner’s prayer as a first step on the path of following Jesus, but that’s all it is, a step. A lot depends on what comes after, like, you know, loving God and your neighbor.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        “Getting your ticket to heaven punched. Yep, that’s the idea! I agree with you that there is nothing wrong, in itself, with saying the sinner’s prayer; it is the attached framework of baggage that is the problem.

        Like

  4. Charlotte Robertson says:

    Thank you once again for a fantastic article. I had come to the conclusion a while ago that the Good News is that God is with us and that if we follow what Jesus says, particularly that we have to love God and our neighbour as ourselves (hard to do at times) we are living the Kingdom. Jesus told the people that BEFORE the crucifixion. I was brought up in a lovely protestant family in Holland. No worries, just acceptance. Then I married and moved to a Scottisch island. My goodness, for the first time I came across fundamentalists, a lot of them. I also, like one of the writers here, tried out diverse denominations. It is very easy to feel good in an evangelical church where everyone is bathing in being ‘saved’. Yes, there have been moments when I was struck by what Jesus had done, but I think the fact that God raised him up is the absolute promise. I am starting to ramble now. Thanks again for this blog. My husband and I feel very blessed to have found it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Charlotte, you demonstrate so much insight! I love your statement: “if we follow what Jesus says, particularly that we have to love God and our neighbour as ourselves (hard to do at times) we are living the Kingdom.” And I can identify with some of your experience with fundamentalists.

      I agree with you that it is the resurrection of Jesus that is the absolute promise; well said! I am glad you and your husband enjoy the blog.

      Like

    • Anthony Paul says:

      Welcome to this forum, Charlotte and thanks for your comments… many of us here can certainly relate.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Charlotte Robertson says:

        Thank you Tim and thank you Anthony. It is so good to hear from people like you and to know Frank and I are not alone in this.

        Like

  5. michaeleeast says:

    Tim, I agree that concentrating on being “saved” distracts us from Jesus’ message.
    Too many people treat Jesus like a magic wand that fixes everything for us.
    It is not the person of Jesus that saves us but following his message of Love.
    If people actually followed Jesus’ teachings the world would be saved.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. michaeleeast says:

    Tim, I can’t say that I think that the kingdom of God has been established on earth.
    But Jesus did invite us into it. If that makes sense. Or do you mean the kingdom of Heaven?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Michael, I guess we understand differently about the kingdom of God being established on earth. What are your thoughts on the question? And what is your distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Heaven? I think they are two ways of saying the same thing.

      Like

      • Chas says:

        Tim, as I recall, the term ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ was used in Matthew’s Gospel in the place of ‘Kingdom of God’ in the other Gospels. Why the author chose to use this alternative, I do not know.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chas, I agree. Matthew is the one who uses the term ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, and his apparent reason for doing so is accommodating the Jewish reluctance to use God’s name and, instead, substituting the word ‘Heaven’ in place of ‘God’.

          I think if we compare Matthew with the other gospels that we will find that he uses ‘kingdom of heaven’ in the exact contexts that the others use ‘kingdom of God. I will be verifying that for an article I plan to write early next year.

          Like

          • Chas says:

            Tim, yes that was what I meant, the use of kingdom of Heaven as a direct substitution for kingdom of God in other gospels. The one that had come to my mind was: ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God/Heaven……..’

            Liked by 1 person

  7. michaeleeast says:

    I don’t think that the Kingdom of God was ever actually realized.
    Some people embraced Jesus’ teachings but it was never a kingdom.
    I don’t think that you can call yourself a member of the Kingdom of God just by acknowledging Jesus as your savior. The kingdom of God will only ever be realized on earth when the majority of people actually practice Jesus’ teachings. I think you’ll agree we are a long way from that. As for the Kingdom of Heaven that is in the afterlife. And everyone is welcome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Michael, thanks for the clarification.

      Like

      • Chas says:

        Tim, the idea of a kingdom seems to have come out of the claimed kingship of Jesus, as shown in the gospels. The Romans (Pilate, the soldiers who mocked him and the words put on the cross) are shown referring to Jesus as the ‘king of the Jews’, while the locals who are shown mocking him on the cross claimed that Jesus had said he was the ‘king of Israel’. John’s Gospel has Jesus agreeing that while he was a king, his kingdom was ‘not of this place’, from which we infer that this was a Spiritual kingdom, presumably the kingdom of God (although that would imply that the writer of John’s gospel was claiming Jesus was God, which is also implied by his having Thomas worship Jesus).

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Chas, these are good observations; thanks for sharing them. I think another contributing factor to people calling Jesus ‘King’ is that he is often referred to as ‘Christ’ (the anointed one–King) and that many considered him to be the expected Messiah who would re-establish the Kingship in Israel in the manner of the earlier Judas Maccabaeus.

          Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s