THE GIFT OF SALVATION
Wayne Everett Orgar
July 2003 (Update November 2012, April 2006)
Ever since I was a young boy growing up in an evangelical fundamental Christian home and church, the "gift of salvation" was an oft-repeated phrase. It still is found in tracts pleading with people to repent, believe, and be saved. This phrase can be heard from television evangelists as well as from the pulpit. Romans 6:23* is hurled at you over and over again : "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." This verse was even used on the old Roy Rogers TV show. It was spoken by Dale Evans at the end of one episode where a "bad" guy was killed and a baby was born into a "good" family.
One of the fundamental errors in Christian thinking is the idea that salvation is a gift. A gift is something that is given without expectation of a return favor, payment, or other obligation. It is something that is given freely. It is not something that is given only after an individual has performed work or agreed to some other kind of a verbal or written contractual obligation. Our benefits from employment are thus not a gift.
If your grandfather said to you, "mow my lawn and I will give you a birthday gift," you would easily see that this is mere payment for doing something he asked you to do. Contrast this with your grandfather giving you a CD simply because you are his grandchild and loves you and wants to make your life more en joyable. This is a gift because he has required nothing from you to receive the CD. You don't even have to believe that this old gentleman is your grandfather and you don't have to promise to love and serve him for one second to accept the gift.
If you were to tell your grandfather that you do not accept his gift, no doubt he would be very hurt and possibly angry. Although he would likely not understand, he probably would not threaten you with punishment unless you accepted the gift. If he did threaten you, we would call that coercion, not gift giving. Salvation is offered with the threat of hell if you do not accept. It is coercion, not a gift.
The concept of a gift has been greatly distorted in our society. Unfortunately, there are heavy expectations that often accompany things that are labeled gifts. A gift to charity is thus only a contribution if you receive a tax deduction in return. A gift to a political party is only a contribution because you expect that this money will be used to support a cause or candidate that will represent something of interest to you. We say that there are strings attached in such cases. If you give something to someone with the expectation that this person will return love and attention, you have only tried to buy their love and attention. This is not a gift.
You may have been told that you got the gift of life from your parents but you are only deluding yourself if you believe this. There are many requirements placed on you by your parents and society in return for this procreation. The stereotypical humor about the controlling Jewish mother who instills guilt in her children for bringing them into the world to get attention and favors is probably the rule rather than the exception for most parents around the world. We are only kidding ourselves if we view the result of the biological urge to procreate as a "gift."
I suspect that true gifts are rarely given. This certainly applies to the imaginary concept of Christian salvation. I will list some of the expectations for this non-gift.
1. You have to believe in a god.
2. You have to believe in only this one god.
3. You have to believe that Jesus Christ existed and is the son of this god.
4. You have to believe that Jesus Christ was crucified and rose from the dead.
5. You have to love this god.
6. You have to repent.
There are other expectations that some people believe are required such as baptism or performing good works but this will suffice to make the point. Clearly, there are some obligations to obtain salvation. Salvation is not given freely out of love because we are all "god's children." It is coercion. It demands service and obedience. It is not a gift.
Christian salvation is a deal with an imaginary, controlling, jealous and angry god. In disguise, it is an age-old theological and political means of controlling a human population for the gain of those in control or those who wish to be in control. They can not imagine how to control a population of humans who can not be threatened with some form of afterlife punishme nt and reward. Freedom from the need for salvation terrifies those in control.
To digress, we hear a lot about freedom these days as a justification for all sorts of political, military, and commercial action. Our country was formed to supposedly increase freedom but that depended on whose freedom you were talking about. It certainly didn't apply to Indians, women, or slaves. The flip side to freedom is not just personal responsibility but ironically it can entail the control of other humans or possessions . Freedom from the British went hand in hand with the desire to control the huge tracts of land in the New World. Freedom for media conglomerates to merge results in their having more control over the public's access to information. Martin Luther's Protestant revolution may have desired freedom from the Vatican but Protestant groups have formed organizations to control the thinking and behavior of Christians in a similar fashion. There may be only one good way to actually shear a sheep but religious groups are remarkably creative when it comes to developing ways to fleece the flock.
When you hear politicians or the clergy talking about freedom, peel back the layers of rhetoric to look for the real control issues that may be underneath. The struggle in Iraq is a good example. Consider the Iraqi desire for freedom from Saddam Hussein and the U. S. excuse of fighting for the freedom of the Iraqi people. Now consider the potential benefits for the U. S. in controlling the re-structuring of this country and the struggle to get control by the various factions in Iraq. Why else are the Shia militarizing?** We can not easily separate the concepts of freedom from the control of others in many cases. Even the slogan of the ruling Ba'ath party was Unity - Freedom - Socialism. We often wrest power from one entity so that we can wield it against another, justifying it under the banner of freedom.
To return to my main subject, the good news is that you don't need salvation. There is nothing wrong with being a human being. You don't deserve eternal punishment just because you were born a human being. The political marginalization of those who find no need for salvation demonstrates that the leaders of this country are not ready to allow the freedom from the concept of salvation. We will continue to hear unconstitutional and insulting prayers to Jesus, Lord and Savior, in presidential inaugurations and other official meetings. There are far too many religious and political strings attached to this concept for it to ever be a gift.
*I checked several translations and other related verses that described salvation as a gift, e.g. Ephesians 2:8, Romans 5:15, Acts 8:20. In some cases, it is translated as "free gift" or "freely given."
** If you think I was naive three years ago, this morning, 04/08/06, the headline on MSN was: "Shiite militias seen as top danger in Iraq. Militants threaten to further destabilize Iraqi government." http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12211883/
November 2012: I received this letter from a gentleman a couple of months ago in regards to this "gift." It is copyrighted and is located in the book Musings of a Modern Augustine by August Stine }}He is 77 years old.
My Son Thinks I Am Going to Hell!
In spite of the fact I am a former fundamentalist Christian and ex-pastor, my minister son and his family think I am headed for Hell. This is my response to him. I use the pen name of August Stine to protect my son.
Different Family Beliefs
Your faith is important to you.
My beliefs are important to me.
We pray to the same God every day
For me, He is the Caring Creator;
Who cares about my well being
To you, He is the fearful God
Who demands obedience.
I believe Jesus was a spiritual man but not God.
I believe Jesus said some great words of wisdom
And I am sorry he had to die on the cross.
You believe Jesus died for the sins of man
And his salvation is a gift from God.
I do not believe this, but let's suppose I did.
Didn't you say salvation was a gift?
If it is a gift, why do I need to do anything?
You say I am going to hell unless . . .
You even give me the words I should say - "Jesus, forgive my sins."
Do people go to hell for not saying these words?
What if I wait until just before dying and then ask?
What if I meant to ask Him for years but didn't?
You say "Too late - you missed your chance!"
This is God we are talking about isn't it?
Is God limited by time or death?
On the other hand, if salvation is a "gift"
Do I really need to ask Him for forgiveness?
The Bible says God freely gives this gift.
Where did all these attached strings come from?
Why conditions on God's unconditional love?
New converts are told their Christian duties.
Tithing is one - not too bad - it is do-able
Unless you are unemployed or on minimum wage.
But the heaviest of all these burdens is . . .
People go to hell unless we show them Jesus.
So their salvation is in our hands . . .
I thought salvation was a gift.
Why is this huge ugly rope attached to this gift?
Am I responsible for my neighbor's salvation?
Why am I involved with another man's salvation?
Why does God need Me?
Suppose I want to play golf on a nice day,
But my neighbor dies and goes to hell . . .
And it is my fault . . .
Because I did not tell him about Jesus.
Please don't tell me
God is so awful and demanding.
Why am I involved in someone's eternal choice?
I thought God loved me and my neighbor.
Because of His heavy guilt trip,
I can't even play golf without God on my back
I cannot believe God dearly loves me . . .
But loads me down with guilt trips
About darn near everything I do.
If I truly am a child of God,
Why do I have to be afraid of Him?
Why can't I enjoy God
And let Him fix the world?
I thought that was His job.
Scripture says God is with us always;
If so, "Come on God, let's go play some golf."