Salvation and Eternal Life

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

A lot of people scoff at the idea that salvation and eternal life are real because of skepticism about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul, for example, writes about the importance of the resurrection for our faith in these terms:  “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor 15:14) The resurrection of Christ implies that Jesus lives and will return in the future to bring us home to our true residence in heaven.

The Mechanics of Resurrection

Knowing that the future is in Christ, through faith we know that the future is secure and is good, because we serve a God who loves us and is himself holy and good. Jesus is our rock, as he reminds us:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt 7:24-25)

But not everyone is convinced. How do we know the sequence of events in our salvation and the path to our eternal life?

The Apostle Paul, who met the Risen Christ on the Road to Damascus, answered this question this way:

“that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:10-11)

In other words, I know that I will be raised from the dead because I have shared in Christ’s suffering and death.

Faith and the Soul

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes again this subject:

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body– Jews or Greeks, slaves or free– and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” (1 Cor 12:12-14)

Here Paul is talking specifically about the nature of the church, but a second interpretation is possible.

In Christian thinking, we often talk about the soul, which today we might refer to as our identity. In Hebrew thinking the word soul implies body, mind, spirit, and the people who will are in relationship with. When we come to Christ, we invite the Holy Spirit into our lives, which means that we are also from that point forward in relationship with God. Our soul has forever changed. Much like we are one body in Christ (the church), we are also one with God, who is eternal.

Being one with God implies that our identity is now held in common with the people of the church and with God. Because God is eternal, being in union with God implies that our identity is now eternal.

Example from Alzheimer’s Disease

For those of you unaccustomed to this notion of shared identity and the soul,

what happens to your identity when your mind is taken over with a disease, like Alzheimer’s? Do you stop being a person? Do you loose your identity because you no longer remember who you are? Not at all. When you meet a person with Alzheimer’s disease, their identity is retained, at a minimum, by the people around them who order their favorite foods and tell their stories. 

It is no different when we die. When we die, our identity is retained not only by all of the people that knew us, but also for the Christian by the Holy Spirit, who is eternal. God who created us from dust can easily recreate us, complete with our identity, our souls, because we are in relationship.

Salvation and Eternal Life

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2018_Lead

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2. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webAlmighty Father, Beloved Son, Ever-present Spirit,
We give thanks for the work of Jesus Christ, who lived, suffered, died, and rose from the dead that the Gospel might live to us.
May we know him and his power, share in his suffering and his death, that we might also be resurrected with him into new life (Phil 3:10-11). Break the power of sin in us, empower us to live in reconciliation to one another, grant us words to lift up in prayer to you. All the days of our lives. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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The Road Ahead

Life_in_Tension_webthat I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:10-11 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In writing about the movements of the spirit in our lives, I have used both the descriptive term, gap, and the subjective term, tension. Our minds observe an arm’s length gap but our hearts feel intimate tension because our lives require commitments—we are vested in the things we do, the places we live, and the people with whom we live. This is true even when we aspire to transform our lives and work with the Holy Spirit to close the gaps. Such is the nature of the sanctification process; such is our journey as Christians.

An important lesson that Jesus confers on his disciples in the Beatitudes takes the form of an attitude about the process—we are to be humble in all that we do. Humility is important for the Christian not merely as an outward expression but also as a character trait at the core of our being. When the onion is peeled to its core, there we find humility. Christian obedience, through persecution and even in death, is possible because we have surrendered our lives to Christ and we know in the depths of our souls that the future lies in Christ. So the onion gets peeled and its core is revealed, and we find at the core what we see on the skin—humility.

Here we also see the importance of Christian hope. We share the shalom of Christ expecting persecution and rejection. But our hope remains because we know the end of the story is with Christ. This is the fruit of the resurrection. A soldier is issued a gun and does not expect to leave the battlefield without firing it—Christ is an honest leader who shares with his disciples the unvarnished truth of persecution. We have been given the shalom of Christ and share it gladly having counted the cost.

Probably the hardest lesson for modern and postmodern people concerns our relationship with God. In our natural selves, we scoff at zeal, distain offering or requesting mercy, and think of holiness as old fashioned. After all, we delude ourselves, we have grace and have no need of law. But Jesus says otherwise. Fulfilling all righteousness is impossible without the Holy Spirit and impossible without trying. So we must place our faith in Christ and emulate his life and death so that we might somehow also attain the resurrection (Phil 3:10-11).

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Benner Points to God

David Benner, Sacred Companions
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

David G. Benner. 2003.  Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction.  Downers Grove:  IVP Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The term, soul mate, is often bantered about in the popular media without a clear definition.  Usually, a soul mate is simply a photogenic member of the opposite sex who understands you. In seminary a friend spoke intriguingly about spiritual friends who: nurture the development of each other’s soul (16). This definition sounded remarkably like the relationship I shared with my best friend in high school who went on to become a pastor. When I learned that my friend took his comments from David Benner’s book,Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction, I immediately ordered a copy.

Introduction

Some books are good for information; others offer solace in life’s journey. Benner’s work clearly falls in both camps. He writes: The essence of Christian spirituality is following Christ on a journey of personal transformation…Spiritual friends accompany each other on that journey (26). Reading along I discovered things about myself that had never previously been expressed in words.

Spiritual Direction

One such point was Benner’s comment about spiritual direction.  The objective in offering direction is not to provide counsel or even react to things said, but rather to point friends to God’s work in their personal lives.  Benner writes: spiritual direction is not primarily about theology. It is about personal, experiential encounter with God (155).  Soul care consists, not of advice or disciplining, but of compass reading.  Disciplining focuses on first steps while spiritual direction focuses on later stages in the journey (28).

Jesus modeled this focus saying: I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3 NIV). Only someone well along in the journey of life needs to reflect back on childhood experiences.  Paul likewise appeared to position himself primarily as a spiritual traveler rather than teacher.  For example, Paul writes: Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8 ESV).  As a fellow traveler, Paul’s work as an evangelist placed him in the position of a guide pointing the way to Christ.  A guide travels; a teacher waits for students to appear.

This “compass reading” objective of spiritual direction and spiritual friendship is critical in offsetting the idolatry of individualism.  Normally, a preoccupation with holiness is critiqued by our society as “navel gazing” or becoming all churchy.  While is certainly possible to become obsessed with the programs and trappings of the church, becoming sensitive to God’s work in our lives normally has the opposite effect.  God is unseen and speaks through people and things seen.  When we become sensitive to God’s work, we become more fully aware of everyone and everything else in our lives.  This sensitivity accordingly strips away the pretense of individualism.  Compass reading has the effect of providing us a better set of priorities because God moves closer to the center of lives.  Jesus focused on children, in part, because they are more sensitive, not less sensitive, to what is happening around them than most adults.

Background and Organization

At the time of this book’s publication, David Benner was a Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Spirituality at eh Psychological Studies institute in Atlanta, Georgia.  His book is written in 9 chapters:

  1. The Transformational Journey;
  2. Hospitality, Presence, and Dialogue;
  3. The Ideals of Spiritual Friendship;
  4. Demystifying Spiritual Directions;
  5. Soul Attunement;
  6. A Portrait of the Process;
  7. Becoming a Spiritual Director;
  8. Spiritual Accompaniment in Small Groups; and
  9. Spiritual Accompaniment in Marriage.

The first 3 chapters focus on spiritual friends; the next 4 focus on spiritual direction; and the last 2 focus on combining the two.  These chapters are introduced with a lengthy preface and followed by an epilogue.

Assessment

If our faith in Jesus Christ is more caught than taught, spiritual friends play a critical role in our walk with the Lord. Reading Benner’s book was a key point in my journey.

Benner Points to God

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