Christian theology in a Sudanese context. How God saves His people from their sins.
We have already seen there is a large element of mystery about exactly how salvation is experienced. Although the birth of any human baby is something all the family and their friends know about and rejoice in together, the initial conception some nine months before, is something very private between husband and wife. Even they do not know for a month or two that conception has happened. Some couples have to wait for months or even years to conceive their first child.
I am honoured to know of three Sudanese children who have been named after me, simply because I was privileged to visit their homes and to pray with the families immediately after their baby’s birth. One baby was a girl, so her name is pronounced ‘Colleen’ rather than ‘Colin’! It is possible to explain the ‘salvation process’ in different ways. But however it is explained, it is important we have a clear understanding of it. Much evangelism in Sudan (as well as in Britain, America, and elsewhere) is spoilt because of a poor understanding of the salvation process. It is not sufficient to get people to raise their hands at the end of a meeting and then to tell them (and our prayer partners) ‘they are all saved’! I believe this does a lot of damage to the overall Christian mission, because it gives people the false understanding that they have become Christians. God may not have done His necessary work within their lives. Some who raised their hands may well be being saved as they respond to God. But damage is done to others, who while sincere, are simply being carried along by the occasion. They may later conclude “I’ve tried being a Christian, and it didn’t work for me”. The truth is that they were never ‘saved’ at all. We must be careful that our methods do not give any who listen a false understanding. Evangelism must be seen as a partnership with God. God is the senior partner. We have a part to play, but unless God the Holy Spirit is at work, our efforts will not result in real conversions. We will look at this issue some more in the following chapter, 47. Here we will mention three good ways of explaining how salvation happens. The first one, (Berkhof), I was taught in Bible College. The second one, (Grudem), I used to teach my students in England and Sudan. The third one, (Reidhead), is my favourite, and I used to teach it especially to my students on ‘evangelism’ courses in England.
Louis Berkhof was a professor at Calvin Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan, in U.S.A. from A.D. 1906-1944. In his ‘Systematic Theology’, he presents “the Doctrine of the Application of the Work of Redemption”. Berkhof defines the ‘order of salvation’ as “the process by which the work of salvation, wrought in Christ, is subjectively realised in the hearts and lives of sinners”. He aims to describe events in a logical order and in their relationship to one another.
Wayne Grudem was a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois, in U.S.A. His ‘Systematic Theology’ also presents “the Doctrine of the Application of Redemption”. Grudem defines his chapters as looking “at the way God applies to our lives” the “fact that Christ died and earned salvation for us”. It is helpful to look carefully at the two sets of chapter headings, and to compare them. They are two of several equally valid explanations of how God enables us to experience salvation. The student should refer to the definitions we have given in chapter 45 to help him or her understand these suggested stages. Berkhof lists:
the operation of the Holy Spirit (in general terms);
Common Grace (what God does for everyone, not just for the ‘saved’);
the Mystical Union (between Christ and believers);
Calling in General and External Calling;
Regeneration and Effectual Calling;
Perseverance of the Saints.
Election and Reprobation (the decision of God to pass over those who will not be saved, and to punish them for their sins);
the Gospel Call and Effective Calling;
Regeneration; Conversion (Faith and Repentance);
Justification (Right Legal Standing before God);
Adoption (Membership in God’s Family);
Sanctification (Growth in Likeness to Christ);
Baptism in and filling with the Holy Spirit;
The Perseverance of Saints (Remaining a Christian);
Death and the Intermediate State;
Glorification (Receiving a Resurrection Body);
Union with Christ.
An initial glance at these lists shows that there is a lot more to salvation than ‘raising your hand’ after a sermon!
Paris Reidhead was at one time a linguist and missionary along the Sudan-Ethiopia border. I met him in Washington, D.C., in U.S.A.during A.D. 1991. We spent an enjoyable day talking about, and praying together for, Christians in Sudan. He gave me a copy of his book “Getting Evangelicals Saved”. It was written because he was disturbed by the reducing of the term ‘salvation’ to mean only the forgiveness of sins, or the new birth. Reidhead felt Christians were missing out on appreciating what the Bible calls “such a great salvation”, (Hebrews 2:3). Too many Christians, just like followers of other religions, have a ‘dead faith’ rather than a ‘saving faith’. Reidhead gave the example of: “Sahid, our cook at the mission home in Khartoum. He came to us on Sunday evening to tell us he was starting out with a group of missionaries to drive across the desert about 3,500 miles to Lagos, in Nigeria. Sahid was going to cook for the missionaries, but he was also going to his home. He had left forty-four years earlier on a pilgrimage to Mecca, but now he was going back. “I want to say ‘goodbye’ to you”, he said to me. “I’m leaving”.
“You’ve been a devoted man, Sahid”. “Yes, I’ve been to Mecca twice,” he explained. “Have you fasted every Ramadan?” I asked. “Oh yes, every Ramadan. Ever since I was a boy”. That meant for a whole month, from sun-up until sun-down, Sahid never ate, or drank, or swallowed his spittle.
“Have you tithed?” “Oh yes.” To the Muslim, tithing is not merely giving ten per cent of what he earns, but each year tithing two percent of all that he possesses.
“Have you prayed, Sahid?” “Oh yes! Five times a day”. “Sadid,” I asked, “do you have peace in your heart? Do you know, if you died, that you would go to be with God?” “Oh no! I don’t have that. I can only hope that any good works may be such that, when I die, Mohammed will reach down and take my hand and help me across the abyss, so that I will not have to suffer.”
Sahid observed rituals, rites, and taboos. There were things he could and could not do – things he could eat and not eat. He had observed them all. But his was a dead faith. If I had asked,“Is Mohammed living in you?” Sahid would have laughed at me. … Mohammed (died in Medina, A.D. 630 and) was buried”. And if I had asked, “Does God ever reveal to you that you are His?” Sahid would have laughed again.
Friends, there are multitudes who name the name of Christ, who are associated with Christian groups, but have accepted only rituals and taboos. They abstain from this and they observe that. They have been baptised and catechised. But they are unaware that salvation is not a system of doctrines, taboos or rituals. They do not know that salvation means having the life of Christin you. “He who has the Son has life;
he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). They have everything but Christ, and so they have a dead faith”.
Reidhead wrote: the meaning of salvation is ‘having the life of Christ in you’. I have used his simpler ‘order of salvation’ in my understanding and my evangelism for 13 years. I present it here, for you to consider. This is how God brings someone out of spiritual death into spiritual life through Jesus Christ. Salvation is not giving mental assent to a set of doctrines. Christ did not send us salvation, He died to become our salvation. (Exodus 15:2; Luke 2:30; Luke 3:6; Luke 19:9; Acts 4:12; Titus 2:11; 1 Peter 1:10-11). Reidhead lists eight chapter headings in defining ‘Conversion’: awakening; conviction; repentance; saving faith; new birth; the witness of the Holy Spirit; temptation and brokenness; victory through Jesus Christ. 1. Awakening is that new sensitivity God the Holy Spirit works in people to cause them to realise their need. It is expressed by feelings of dissatisfaction with life as it is, a growing awareness of an awesome God, the recognition of personal sinfulness, and the beginnings of a search for something more to be experienced. (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10; Luke 3:10, 12, 14; Acts 2:37; Acts 16:30; Ephesians 5:13-14). 2. Conviction means seeing ourselves as God sees us. God the Holy Spirit shows us that we are condemned, and deserving of God’s righteous anger. Sin is essentially anarchy, living in selfish rebellion against God’s rule. Sometimes ignorantly, other times deliberately, we creatures challenge our Creator’s control of our lives. The Holy Spirit proves to us that we are sinners in God’s sight and He encourages us to accept responsibility for our sin. This is expressed in a heavy conscience, depression of mind and heart, an argument going on within oneself over what is right and what is wrong. (Genesis 42:21; Numbers 21:7; 2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51:3-5; Ezra 9:6-7; John 16:8-11; Romans 8:6-8). 3. Repentance means a change of attitude involving a complete turn around. God the Holy Spirit helps us to change our life’s purpose from what it has been to what it ought to be. As the essence of sin is ‘I’m going to do what I want to do’, so the essence of repentance is ‘from today on, I am going to please God’. The result is being absolutely committed to the practice of pleasing God. (Luke 13:5; Acts 5:29-32; Acts 17:30-31; Acts 20:20-21; Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 7:8-11). 4. Saving faith means total personal commitment to the Sovereignty of God. Jesus is objectively ‘Lord’, whether I acknowledge it or not. He is Lord of all! When God the Holy Spirit helps me to commit myself subjectively to Jesus as ‘Lord in my life and all that is around me’, I exercise the gift of saving faith. (Genesis 22:1-19; Romans 4:1-25; Romans 10:10-11; Hebrews 11:1-2). We need to be very careful here. There is a ‘belief’ – even belief in the truth – that does not lead to salvation. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder”, James 2:19. Saving faith is a gift from God to be received and lived upon (Ephesians 2:4-10).
5. The new birth is the crisis of a changed relationship with God. It is effected by God, in the heart of a person who has exercised a heart faith (not just a head faith) in the Lord Jesus. It is something God the Holy Spirit works within a person in response to their exercise of saving faith. That saving faith must be in the finished work, and exalted Person, of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus has earned our salvation. We must accept it and act upon it. Three times Jesus said ‘You must be born again’ (John 3:3,5,7). God the Father purposed our new birth. God the Son purchased our new birth. God the Holy Spirit produces new birth within us, as we respond to his workings. Nicodemus showed this change of heart by a change in the motivating principle of his life. (John 3:1-2;John 7:50-52; John 19:38-40).
6. The witness of the Holy Spirit expresses saving faith and new birth. No-one has the right to tell another person that he or she is born of God – you cannot tell your friends that they have just become Christians – this is the job of God the Holy Spirit. It would be a terrible thing if I told someone they were ‘saved’ when they were lost! I may give them a false sense of being right with God! When a person does what God’s word commands, they will be born again. When they are born again, they will have the witness of the Holy Spirit. I listen for people to tell me they have become Christians. The truth of their testimony will become more obvious as the weeks, months and years go by (Romans 8:15-16;
1 Corinthians 2:11; John 20:31; 1 John 5:9-13). 7. Temptation and brokenness together are ongoing evidences of salvation. Temptation is a proposition, presented to the mind and intellect, to satisfy a good appetite in a forbidden way. Sin is a decision of the will to gratify a good appetite in a bad way. Friendship with God is interrupted when a child of God sins. We should come frequently to the Scriptures and allow God to show us what we are like in His eyes. Confession of sin means that we completely agree with God, and that what He sees and what He says are absolutely right. We do not need to be afraid of this, because the blood of Jesus Christ is our continuing provision for forgiveness (Proverbs 6:16-19; John 15:1-4; 1 Corinthians
11:31-32; Hebrews 12:4-8; 1 John 1:8-9). 8. Victory through Jesus Christ is a practical hope that we have. As long as we live in this life we are going to be subject to temptation. We know this. As long as we live we will be capable of giving in to temptation. We know this too. Our salvation will only be fully complete when we are taken to be with our Saviour Jesus in heaven. This is the sure and certain hope that we have. We put it into practice in our everyday lives. Jesus gives us the daily victory over sin as long as we continually choose His way rather than our own (Matthew 1:21; 1 Corinthians 10:13; Philippians 2:12-13; Hebrews 2:1-4; Hebrews 9:27-28;
1 Peter 1:3-5).
Thinking it through. (a). What is the danger for an evangelist who misunderstands, and therefore misrepresents, salvation in his or her evangelism?
(b). Grudem lists about seventeen steps in the salvation process. Which ones should you present in gospel preaching? Why?
(c). Are there any of Reidhead’s eight steps in the salvation process that you seldom hear preached in gospel sermons? Why do you think this is?