This morning, after listening to a very excellent sermon on the parable of the Good Samaritan, it occurred to me that this parable conflicts with the popular teaching among some Christian evangelicals that an individual becomes “saved” at the instantaneous moment in time when he or she confesses Christ as Savior. The “born again experience,” is incorrectly viewed by many of us as a “once-in-a-lifetime” single event. As you read the Scripture passage below, ask yourself if you have ever satisfied Jesus’ requirement at any single point in time in your life.
Luke 10:25-37 (New International Version)
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
- 25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. “How do you read it?”
27He answered: " ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"
28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two silver coins[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
I was raised in the Christian evangelical tradition and was taught repeatedly that in order to become “saved” you need to believe in the deity of Jesus, confess your sins, and ask Him into your heart. When you do this, you will be instantaneously “born again,” and receive life eternal. You instantly pass from death to life. The problem with this is that it does not square with the answer that Jesus to gave to the “expert in the law” in answer to the question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life. I don’t believe Jesus viewed the “born again” experience as something that happens instantaneously, based on a doctrinal confession of faith, and a one-time act of repentance. When the teacher of the Law asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus did not say, “bow down to me as Lord and repent of your sins.” Instead he laid down a requirement that is impossible for anyone to achieve at any instantaneous moment in time. Who of us is ever able to arrive at a state of mind in this lifetime where we can honestly say that we love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind? Who of us even comes close? Who of us even comes close to the ideal of loving one’s neighbor as oneself?
The requirement given by Jesus for inheriting eternal (aionian) life was something that we are only able to partially achieve in this lifetime and something that we “grow into” as we walk with Christ. When we enter into relationship with God through faith in Jesus, we begin a process of becoming more and more “saved.” We don’t start by loving God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves. Instead, we come to Christ “as we are,” sinners becoming saved by grace. Our salvation was initiated by Christ, and, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, He begins a process of transformation which, will not be complete until the end of the ages. We come to Christ as children, helpless and completely dependent upon Him. As we move forward in our relationship with Him, the gaps in our theological knowledge will be filled at appropriate times in the future.
The requirements for inheriting eternal (aionian) life, which were given by Jesus to the teacher of the law, are fulfilled by the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. We begin by establishing a love relationship with God, and this increases our ability to love others, as the love of God flows through us. Our salvation experience began before the world was created, when God decided to redeem His creation. The end result, the salvation of all mankind, was assured at Calvary when the ransom was fully paid for everyone’s redemption. A major step in our personal salvation occurred when Christ sought us out and drew us into a relationship with Himself. For some of us this was a single, dramatic event. For others, it was took the form of a more gradual awakening of faith. For some, it will not occur until after death. In Adam, all died. In Christ all will be “made alive.” The process of being made alive in Christ does not occur instantaneously for anyone, and this “born again” experience takes many different forms.
Jesus, in his answer to the teacher of the law, laid out the requirements for inheriting eternal (aionian) life, but he did not specify exactly when this would occur, and he never said it would occur instantaneously. He never said that we could achieve salvation through our own efforts. As a matter of fact, He set the standard so high as to be humanly “impossible.” In another place, He said that “with men it is impossible,” but with God “all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26).