Last Sunday our pastor was sharing various details about their recent trip to Russia. Before the team left here, the church women assembled a large number of bracelets that in the order and color of the beads illustrated the Bridge Illustration, sort of like the Wordless Book idea--that is, if you know neither of these, two similar methods of describing the gospel. The Wordless Book is a book of just colored pages, with each color of which you can sing a little song (words in parentheses): black (My heart was black with sin), red (until the Savior came in. His precious blood, I know), white (has washed me white as snow!), gold or yellow (And in His Word I'm told I'll walk the streets of gold), and green (I'll read my Bible and pray, and grow in Him every day!). Anyway, they shared the bracelets and a little piece of paper explaining the colors of the beads and how they pertain to salvation in Christ; overall it sounded like the bracelets were very well received.
Our pastor told us about how the pastor from the other church shared the bracelets and papers with two Russian Orthodox women who thought the papers were wrong in their description of salvation, that it couldn't be just by grace rather than by a sacrificial gift to the church. Then one of the Russian women who worked alongside our team gave a bracelet and paper to her Russian Orthodox mother. The mother was amazed to discover that Protestant Christians believed the same thing about salvation as she did! It just goes to show, you don't know, just by the label a person has been given, who believes exactly what.
It also made me think, that little piece of paper covered all the basic essential truths of salvation, that we are sinful; that Jesus died on the cross to wash away our sins; that when He washes them because we accept His gift of salvation through prayer, then we are clean; that because He has done this, we can go to heaven; and that believers should read the Bible and pray and grow in our understanding and obedience to His truth. Pretty simple! And how much we so often add to that! It seems that we all struggle with the idea that it can't all be by God's grace, that we have to do something, be something, perform in some particular way in addition to what the salvation verses say.
I remember when I was a director of an Awana Chums group, 3rd and 4th grade girls, we were talking about reading our Bibles and praying. Just as a spur-of-the-moment thought, I asked the girls, "What would happen if a day went by and you didn't read the Bible or pray?" The resultant looks of dismay, of horror, that came across the faces of a few of the girls caught me completely by surprise--but it was clear that there were some there who thought it would result in serious trouble that they didn't even want to think about. I wasn't exactly sure, so quickly, how to handle their extreme reactions. I am pretty sure they thought their salvation would be in question. I told them that Jesus wants our continued relationship with Him, He doesn't want us to neglect His word, but that He is gracious and forgiving and it wouldn't be an extremely desperate matter--but that we should stay in the habit of reading and praying. I can't imagine how few Christians there might be on the planet who think their salvation is secure if it depended on our faithfulness rather than that of Christ!
It isn't just little girls who think we have to add stuff, works, perfection of our own to what Christ has done. There are churches that teach that if you don't speak in tongues, you're not saved; that if you do speak in tongues, you're not saved; that you have to give an exact tenth of your income as offering, that you have to attend church on Saturday, that you have to attend on Sunday, that you have to read the King James Version of the Bible, that you have to confess through a priest at church for forgiveness of sins. There are people that think that Christian women can't wear pants rather than skirts, that they can't wear makeup, that they wouldn't go to church without something on their head, that Christian girls wouldn't go to college, that women can't work outside the home, that you can't play cards, that you can't dance...with some thought I may be able to come up with some more. Now some of these may have practical application in some families, but I'd like someone to show me where in the Bible it says that they're a matter of salvation.
I agree, in reference to the matter of tongues and similar issues, that it's important for each believer to prayerfully determine what the Holy Spirit would have them believe; it's important to study the Bible and submit your faith to the whole counsel of Scripture rather than what any church or denomination or person would have us believe. "But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good." 1 Thessalonians 5:21. But don't add anything to the basics of salvation; it's a strong human tendency to think that we have to do something to earn it.
In Galatians, Paul said, "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!" Paul didn't want the Galatians believing that they had to be circumcised in order to validate their salvation. Even in Bible times, adding human works to salvation, thereby changing the gospel, was a human compulsion which Paul and his co-workers continually fought. If a person believes something other than the biblical model of salvation in order to get to heaven, he could conceivably lose out on salvation entirely, so it's vital that we express it correctly--no more, and no less. Otherwise, if it didn't matter, Paul would not have fought this misunderstanding with such passion as he did.
Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast."