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September 3, 2007 12:08 PM   Subscribe

In order to be saved, you must accept Jesus's salvation. Huh? Explain?

Okay, so I'm going to confine my question because there are a million directions to go on the topic of salvation. But there's the essential part:

One Christian doctrine posits the following:

1. Jesus's salvation is given freely to all

2. It is the job of the individual to accept that salvation, that they need to believe they are saved.

3. And then the individual will be saved.


1. If one needs to accept Jesus's salvation in order to be saved, then (by a pretty simple logical induction) if they do not accept Jesus's salvation, they will not be saved.

2. This means that, before someone accepts his/His salvation (in other words, before they believe they are saved), they are not.

3. Therefore, in order to be saved, one must willfully believe in something that is (by one's own belief system) false? Possibly, in some way I don't understand, it becomes true simultaneously with your belief in its truth?

Okay, so that's the essential part of it. I'm asking because it's such a simple and obvious objection to this particular doctrine of salvation that I really doubt it can stand up to real critical thinking - but I haven't heard anyone counter it or explain it away to any reasonable degree.

And this, of course, is excluding from the argument systems which have a strong focus on other sources of salvation (good deeds, cooperation with the will of Christ, etc.) And it is, of course, dealing primarily with Christian traditions. And please no bashing, generally.

Thanks for any help, it's been floating around in my mind for a while and I'd like to get some bearings on this theory.
posted by tmcw to Religion & Philosophy (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I don't see what the problem is: it becomes true simultaneously with your belief in its truth. You believe you are saved, and thus you are. If you could elaborate on why you think this is contradictory, I'll take a stab.
posted by phrontist at 12:14 PM on September 3, 2007 must willfully believe in something that is (by one's own belief system) false?

I don't get that particular assumption. Not everyone who becomes a Christian is coming from a place of actively disbelieving. Many just never really thought about it before. Many are children.

But, in answer to your question... yes. If you don't believe that, say.. the earth is round, it's not true to you. When you are convinced otherwise, your belief that the earth is round makes it true in your belief system.
posted by clh at 12:16 PM on September 3, 2007

Sticking strictly to the terms of your Q, it seems to me that believing transforms you into a saved person.

Just like you're not a vegetarian until you think/believe (slight mashing of words here) that you are one. Believing that you should only eat meat is presumably not part of your belief system until you become a vegetarian; the necessary shades of gray in-between also apply to salvation here.
posted by bonaldi at 12:16 PM on September 3, 2007

From how I parsed it, it's not that it automatically applies to everyone, but that an individual is free to accept or reject the freely given salvation. (Otherwise everyone would be saved no matter their sins, which isn't what point one is supposed to mean.)
posted by StrikeTheViol at 12:17 PM on September 3, 2007

Possibly, in some way I don't understand, it becomes true simultaneously with your belief in its truth?

Well, no. The Christian doctrine states that it is true, whether you believe it or not.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:18 PM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well there are at least a couple main ways around this: One is simply to say that Christ's sacrifice provides an opportunity for people to achieve salvation, should they chose to accept it (this is the free-will version).

Another is to say that yes, you need to believe in order to be saved, but that the fact that you do believe is merely proof that you are one of God's chosen, and not a choice for which you as an individual get to claim any credit.

The first way is more Catholic, while the second is more (Calvinist) Protestant.
posted by washburn at 12:21 PM on September 3, 2007

You're acting like belief is the only thing necessary for acceptance. But if you believe that someone loves you, you don't necessarily love him back.

ONE of the reasons I'm not a Christian is because I don't believe in Jesus (I don't believe he was the son of God). But even if I did believe, and even if I believed he loved me and died for my sins, that would not make me a Christian. I still wouldn't love him back.

For me, that second reason -- the fact that Christ's/God's love leaves me cold -- is the BIG hindrance. I've never seen any convincing evidence that Jesus was divine, but I can image such evidence existing. And I know that my intellect can be swayed by compelling evidence. But it's REALLY hard to sway my heart.
posted by grumblebee at 12:22 PM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Therefore, in order to be saved, one must willfully believe in something that is (by one's own belief system) false? Possibly, in some way I don't understand, it becomes true simultaneously with your belief in its truth?

Yeah, exactly. I think I don't understand why that's logically problematic. When you decide to accept the package, then you have the package. When you previously had not accepted the package, it was not yours, though you could have accepted it at anytime.

I don't think that it's true that you must believe in the resurrection, rather, the most important part is that you accept it. Doubt is okay. Its commonly thought in protestant circles that 'new' Christians will have more problems with doubt and falling back, etc. even if they have accepted. Belief will follow soon and solidify ones feelings.
posted by bluejayk at 12:24 PM on September 3, 2007

I think many Christians would characterize disbelief as active disbelief. They believe we are born into sin, which we need to reject in order to be saved. This means anyone above the age of "reasoning" is responsible for the destiny of his soul. Jesus is viewed as a guide, willing to help. He's waiting for you to stop being stubborn and pull over and ask for directions.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door shall be opened.

I also think "3" is false. People start believing new things all the time. I might not believe a human can throw a baseball 100mph. When I saw it happen I'd believe it. Many people don't believe they'll ever find true love. etc, etc.

nt atheist
posted by null terminated at 12:26 PM on September 3, 2007

First, Christian doctrine isn't that you must believe that you are saved, it is that if you believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, you will be saved. And secondly, belief isn't just some kind of intellectual assent to a proposition--it is deciding to follow the example of Christ. And third, it is a mistake--although one probably most Christians make--to assume that salvation only has to do with the afterlife. The idea is that those who live like Jesus did will be saved from living out the sins and mistakes that hold so many people back from a fulfilled life. So I would say that the really simplistic presentation you've made here--Christian doctrine as syllogism, isn't what the reality is like at all, and you can't boil down something like "the manner and meaning of salvation in Christian theology" into three easily digestible points you can then poke holes in. In other words: straw man.

Having said all that, I don't get why it would be a problem to discover that something is true (or, at any rate, to come to believe that something is true), and when you change your life in keeping with that information, come to understand that there are benefits to living out that truth. Obviously, no one is deciding to believe in Jesus in order to be saved, while inwardly really thinking it is all a sham. If it's all a sham, you wouldn't bother. Your number three just doesn't happen. What happens if it is rephrased "in order words, when one comes to believe in Jesus as Messiah, for whatever reasons were personally compelling, they begin a new 'saved' life that was unimaginable to them beforehand." I think that is closer to what the Bible pictures. Read through the book of Acts and I think you'll see apostles and evangelists arguing that Christ is Messiah and Lord on the basis of experience, miracles, logic, prophecies--all kinds of things, but certainly not a pragmatic "hey, you wanna be saved? You gotta talk yourself into believing this crazy thing on the basis of nothing whatsoever." Maybe some televangelists do that, but that's a different story.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:27 PM on September 3, 2007 [5 favorites]

I feel sort of the same way that you do. It seems to me that if you don't believe in Jesus then you are not saved. However- if he is all good then why would he punish me for not believing, since it is something that I can not help?
posted by thebrokenmuse at 12:34 PM on September 3, 2007

Universalists believe that everyone is saved regardless of their "accepting salvation."

Interestingly universalists show up in all sorts of interesting places.
posted by __ at 12:45 PM on September 3, 2007

if you don't believe that jesus was the son of god, then why are you worried about salvation? christianity is the only faith that i know of that concerns itself with salvation/redemption from sin. (other faiths deal with the question of an afterlife and/or eternal soul in other ways.)

so, if you don't believe that christ is your savior (and are unbothered by your nonbelief), then christianity is probably not where your religious faith will lead you. therefore, salvation becomes a moot question. other traditions have other answers.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:47 PM on September 3, 2007

Response by poster: @phrontist: well, I can't really make a metaphor because nothing I can think of actually works that way, but it seems logically impossible to go through. Like, right now, I think it's false. How do I incite a belief in myself without having some evidence as to its validity, and, in fact, tons of evidence that it is a false belief (that is, until it exists)

@bluejk: that's a fairly solid explanation of it, although, from my vantage point, it's like staring at your doorstep, and until you believe that the package is sitting there, it isn't.

@Pater Aletheias: I get your point, but you're responding to another system than the one I'm talking about. What I'm referring to is essentially Sola Fide: from wikipedia:
God declares those people obedient who place their confidence, their faith, in what God has done through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. They account Christ's obedience as their own, and the only meritorious, obedience. Their assurance is that God's work in Christ is their commendation for acceptance by God.
What I get from that is that their assurance of salvation is by faith in the deeds of Jesus, which can save everyone.

What you refer to, a combination of faith and works, is definitely a valid system, and one that I deeply respect, but it isn't what I'm talking about.

There is, say, a popular feeling that works are also necessary, but it doesn't seem to be part of the stated doctrine or philosophy of Sola Fide.

Again, what you say about people trying to just 'get saved,' sure, that's true in some cases, but, again, not what I'm talking about at all.

The core problem, really, is that basic logical quandry - that the truth of a belief (that you are saved, or, actively, that Jesus has done the works that saved you), can only exist after the belief is present, just doesn't seem possible. It's like a deadlock, just in philosophy. Is anyone familiar enough with the study of logic to tell whether this actually is a logical problem, or whether there is already any discourse about it?
posted by tmcw at 1:01 PM on September 3, 2007

I'm wondering if the doctrine you're questioning is not a little bit more complex? For instance, there's TULIP, a very tricky little summary of Calvinist theology -- which is the basis for many if not most evangelical groups.

It goes like this, if I remember correctly:

• T stands for "total depravity." Adam and Eve, forbidden fruit, yada yada. This whole scenario causes the fall of all mankind. I remember a catechism that compares the state of human depravity to a cup of water with just one drop of poison in it. The entire cup, and every drop of water from that cup, is poisoned, just as Calvinists would say that all humans are sinful.

• U means "unconditional election." God has randomly selected a group of people who will be saved. In other words, being a less poisonous drop will not help your case.

• L is "limited atonement." Jesus died for the group of people who were unconditionally elected. He didn't die for everyone's sins, just the ones on the list.

• I is "irresistable grace," which means that the Holy Spirit -- not a separate entity from God but just a separate part of God -- literally comes to individuals and makes them believe. It's not a choice, really, it's a foregone conclusion that this person will believe.

• And finally, P is for "perseverance of the saints," which just dictates that anyone who is really saved will always be saved, therefore they can never stop believing that Jesus died for them and furthermore that God chose them out of the lot.

All this comes down to predestination. If you are really saved, the argument goes, you will come to know that you are saved because of an explicit action on God's part -- two explicit actions, really: the first being Christ's sacrifice and the second being the Holy Spirit's work. And then you'll believe that Jesus died for your sins, and that you have to abide by certain rules, and you'll never stop believing that or trying to live by those rules.

In this argument, God exists outside of time and space. So the harder part for me to get is the timing of each of these events. He predestined you to be saved before the universe began, but man hadn't even sinned then. And then man did sin, although it was totally his choice even though God knew he was going to do so. And then God was like, "Okay, maybe I'll send my son, who is actually me, down to become human and live a perfectly sinless life. And then people can believe in that, and they'll be able to go to the magical flower-filled place called heaven after they die. But actually, they won't be able to believe it until the Holy Spirit (who is also actually me) goes down to them and says 'Hey you! You there! You're coming with me.'" But then person also has to choose, but they will choose, because they're supposed to choose, because it was predestined outside of time and space.

Now I've confused myself. But I think the hard part of "being saved" is not so much in the human timing but in the apparently divine timing.

I am not a Calvinist, and though I was raised a Calvinist by a Calvinist minister, you should not take my theology lecture without a grain of salt. Because every real theologian on earth will probably quibble with at least one if not all parts of what i've said.
posted by brina at 1:03 PM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

On post-view: Sola fide is also part of the Calvinist doctrine, and yes, there are quite a few long and tiresome arguments about the logistics of it all in which a lot of very smart people use apologetics or other means to suss it all out. I can't really point you to any at the moment, as I don't think there's really a sort of "Complete Idiot's Guide" to this -- there are essays and books and essays answering books and books answering essays and ... you get it.
posted by brina at 1:07 PM on September 3, 2007

Response by poster: @ThinkingWoman: Uhm... because I'm really interested in religion. It's pretty common in any other area of life to study things you don't practice, but, for some reason, people find uninvolved study of religion odd?

posted by tmcw at 1:08 PM on September 3, 2007

You could decide to believe in Jesus way of living and dealing with people and not believe literally to the theological spin doctors who wrote about him 50 or more years after his death. There are at least two Christian denominations that do this,
posted by francesca too at 1:08 PM on September 3, 2007

For god so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever shall believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

There's no logic problem here, it's a fairly simple dogma: Whether you believe or not, God gave his son, his son made the sacrifice. Anybody who comes to believe in his son and his sacrifice gets everlasting life. If you really, truly believe that Jesus sacrificed himself for your salvation, boom, you're saved.

(If you're stuck on Jesus' divinity, you ain't the only one.)
posted by headspace at 1:13 PM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know if I'm reading this wrong, but what does being all good have to do with making sure everyone is saved? Then there's no free will. I always felt like the existence of free will to accept or a not accept Christ's salvation was a pretty interesting detail to the characterization of a good god. It's easy enough to create robots that do your every will and sing your praises all the live long day because they're made that way and have to (like angels I suppose), but it's a whole other thing to create sentient creation that love you back because they want to love you back, not because feel like they have to. Yea it sucks you go to hell if you don't believe, but if you don't believe in Christianity anyway, why should that bother you to begin with? You don't believe you'll go to heaven or hell whatever the good God wants or not.

I'm not exactly sure where the confusion comes from either. Just because something is there doesn't mean you accept it. Some of the Christian faith ascribe to the idea that there just isn't the sin of comission, there's also the sin of omission. In the parable of The Good Samaritan the Levite and the priest weren't the thieves who beat the crap out of the man and robbed him, but it's the Samaritan who christ calls the true neighbor. It was "He that showed mercy on him."

I don't know, also there's just too many shades of what acceptance of salvation is to different people and denominations to really answer this question to any satisfaction. Some believe in free will, some don't. Some believe there's a set number of those meant to be saved on this earth, some believe one of the greatest Christian acts is to spread the word far and wide as possible. Someone might quote a verse like Ephesians 2:8-9 and say "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - Not by works so that no one can boast, then someone will say, then you can just be a Christian and still be an asshole, but then someone will whip out something like Galatians 5:16-25 which lists the fruits of the spirit and explain that these are characteristics of Christians who act with such fruits and not doing works shows a lack of such characteristics which may hint that the person was never saved to begin with. It's not just about saying "yea sure, I'll give this Jesus thing a whirl" and all of the sudden your ass if flame-retardant and you get a get out of Hell free card. Some would argue such selfish reasons to switch over to Team Jesus actually means you really aren't saved.
posted by kkokkodalk at 1:29 PM on September 3, 2007

I'm asking because it's such a simple and obvious objection to this particular doctrine of salvation that I really doubt it can stand up to real critical thinking - but I haven't heard anyone counter it or explain it away to any reasonable degree.

You are attempting to dance about architecture, will thinking that dancing is the only of communicating. It is not. The thinking you're applying to this is one sided and one dimensional, though you think it's multi sided and multi dimensional. You can't critically think about religion and articles of faith. It doesn't work, not fully, not completely. You can look at so many things in so many religions and say much of it doesn't survive critical thinking. And that's fine, because it's not attempting to apply critical thinking.

This is a matter of faith, of belief, and it's transformative power. Attempting to point out logical errors loses sight of the large point.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:50 PM on September 3, 2007

Your difficulty stems from applying logic to religion.

Not snarking, just sayin'.
posted by Aquaman at 1:51 PM on September 3, 2007

1. Do you take this man as your husband?
2. I do.
--> You are married.

1. Do you take this man/god to be your saviour?
2. I do.
--> You are saved.

Both instances require that you believe that it's possible to enter such a relationship (all the requirements are met, it's a real thing, the dude is willing and able), and in stating your acceptance of the offer, you change your status.
posted by heatherann at 1:56 PM on September 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

I mean, is the problem a stop-go problem in your head? Because you're not necessarily intended to go from NOT BELIEVING to BELIEVING in an instant. It's okay to learn and consider before you get there. Salvation is the end-point, not the entry gate.
posted by headspace at 2:11 PM on September 3, 2007

@ThinkingWoman: Uhm... because I'm really interested in religion. It's pretty common in any other area of life to study things you don't practice, but, for some reason, people find uninvolved study of religion odd?

not at all. i'm just not sure what the problem is here. if you accept christ as your savior, then you are saved (simplified version). if not, then according to christian doctrine, you are not saved. there's no lapse of logic there.

i think the problem may be in your wording of your question. do you mean to say: if salvation is theoretically available to all, then how can nonchristians be saved?

the (short, oversimplified) answer there is that they can't. they have to accept christ's salvation (i.e. convert to christianity).

christian scholars have long struggled over what to do about people who have not been evangelized, or who are too young, or mentally disabled, or who died before christ was born, or whatever. different denominations have come up with different answers, including baptism and other traditions, but the common thing is that nonchristians who hear the word of christ and then still refuse to accept it are damned.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:13 PM on September 3, 2007

You would enjoy and/or hate Alvin Platinga's mammoth three volume response to this question: Warrant: The Current Debate, Warrant and Proper Function, and Warranted Christian Belief.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:18 PM on September 3, 2007

Therefore, in order to be saved, one must willfully believe in something that is (by one's own belief system) false?

This does not follow from your assumptions. Properly formed, it would read: "The fact that there is no evidence for a particular sort of proposition is the best reason to believe it. In order to be saved, one must accept as true a proposition that you previously believed was false, and whose acceptance will serve as the only evidence needed or possible. "

Don't ask me how we are to separate propositions that have this status from those that do not, but that's how the argument runs.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:24 PM on September 3, 2007

Oh, sorry. It's also important (for the purposes of the argument) to alter your first assumption thusly:

1. Jesus's salvation is given freely to all who accept it.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:26 PM on September 3, 2007

Comments from some mainline Protestant bodies:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

United Methodist Church

The Episcopal Church
posted by gimonca at 2:42 PM on September 3, 2007

Your difficulty stems from applying logic to religion.

While this can be an issue in religious discussion, in this case I think the problem is that logical summary is flawed and does not adequately represent the doctrine. Trouble is, I can think of a few things that could be behind the problem, and I'm not sure which to address.

One of them is a translation issue, which I am so not qualified to pontificate on, but going by the way it was explained to me growing up bypasses the confusion. The word "believith" in this context refers to accepting him as your saviour (ie in addition to to believing in him). For example, a hypothetical devil-worshipper who rejects Jesus would not be saved, even though s/he believes in Jesus, because s/he rejects him instead of accepting him. (Side question: Do real [not re-branded pagans] devil-worshippers actually exist? Or are they all re-branded pagans and/or teens doing their rebel phase?)

Another possibility is a conflation of logically distinct elements - "believe" [B] is not interchangeable with "saved" [S], because the relationship is causal. By conflating these, you arrive at your quandary - I am saved because I am saved / I believe because I believe.

Perhaps you're thinking is that if we assume that S never occurs without B, and B never occurs without S, then S and B can be considered the same thing, and therefore it is logically legitimate to get a busted sequence of events.

But the relationship between B and S is one of causality, not equivalence, but this gets messy so I'm not going there :)

From the previous angle, does B really never happen without S? If you are of the view that the above devil-worshipper who rejects Jesus is still saved, then B seems equivalent to S and your quandary becomes a lot easier to defend. But I'm under the impression that a devil-worshipper who believes and rejects Jesus, is damned, and quotes to the contrary are likely being misinterpreted due to translation issues.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:03 PM on September 3, 2007

1. Jesus's salvation is given freely to all.
2. It is the job of the individual to accept that salvation ..
3. And then the individual will be saved.

The mistake, here, is to assume that salvation rests on an act of volition -- a conscious choice to believe and be saved. This is known as 'Pelagianism', and orthodox (Catholic) Christianity has rejected it as a heresy, partly because it leads to the logical contradictions you describe.

The standard response to Pelagianism goes something like this. God exists in eternity, and therefore he cannot 'change his mind' about you. So if you are saved, you are saved -- now, always, and from eternity. What you perceive as a freely willed decision on your part is, in fact, the effect of God's grace acting on your will to bring about the salvation which God has always intended for you.

Moreover, salvation is not just a matter of believing that you are saved. This is the Tinkerbell theory of salvation (if you believe in fairies, then Tinkerbell will be saved; if you don't believe in fairies, then Tinkerbell will vanish) and you are quite right to say that it involves a contradiction (since it requires you to believe in something in order to make it true). But belief in Christ (= faith) and belief in your own salvation (= assurance) are two entirely different things. Some people may lack faith but deceive themselves into believing that they are saved; while others may have faith but fail to recognise it in themselves.
posted by verstegan at 3:39 PM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

From the perspective of evangelical Protestantism: That's the whole point of the conversion, or "being born again." You come to believe something you did not believe before. It doesn't mean you decide to believe a lie. You have decided that what you choose to believe is the truth.

Paul's experience is perhaps the most dramatic recorded in the new testament. He persecuted and killed Christians, saw a vision of Jesus, was struck blind, healed of the blindness, then followed Christ.

On some level, some sort of "revelation" (though rarely as dramatic as Paul's) precedes conversion, causing the unbeliever to become a believer.

Does this give you the info you need, or am I missing something in the question?
posted by The Deej at 4:38 PM on September 3, 2007

As a more pragmatic interpretation, Kierkegaard basically argued that people had to make a conscious "leap to faith" to overcome the paradoxes involved in adopting Christianity. The thought was that there were just certain things that you couldn't rationalize belief in logically, so you could never slowly reach it - it was a sudden, all or nothing thing. Philosophical Fragments has a lot of this.
posted by devilsbrigade at 5:17 PM on September 3, 2007

Well, not everyone agrees on the subject, but it's really not that difficult to understand. I mean, if someone gives you a hundred dollars, you have to take it, or you won't have a hundred dollars, right? If you go "No, there's no one giving me a hundred dollars" then you won't get a hundred dollars.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:46 PM on September 3, 2007

well, I can't really make a metaphor because nothing I can think of actually works that way, but it seems logically impossible to go through. Like, right now, I think it's false. How do I incite a belief in myself without having some evidence as to its validity, and, in fact, tons of evidence that it is a false belief (that is, until it exists)

I'm pretty much an atheist, but when you're talking about the afterlife, where is this "tons of evidence that it is a false belief" come from? Do we have tons of people who have died and come back to tell us about it? The absence of evidence that it is true is not the same as evidence that it is false.
posted by juv3nal at 6:10 PM on September 3, 2007

The gospel is this: Jesus Christ died to pay for sin and to restore the elect's right standing with God. In order to be saved one must repent and believe that Jesus is the son of God and that He died for your sins. An unregenerate person is unable to believe. Therefore the Holy Spirit regenerates a person enabling them to exercise saving faith.

If a person indeed has saving faith, his actions will show it. Justification is the theological term that describes a person obtaining forgiveness for sin and also obtaining right standing with God. Sanctification is the process by which a person is conformed to the image of Christ (in other words, acts like Jesus). If sanctification isn't taking place in a person's life their salvation is doubtful-BUT remember it is NOT a person's works that saves him or her EVER. Works are simply evidence of a saving faith. Period.
posted by konolia at 6:15 PM on September 3, 2007

The issue of Pelagianism versus its opposite (called Arianism, after Jacobus Arminius, the Dutch theologian) really comes down this way:

Those who believe in predestination, as was pointed out in the TULIP example, believe in God's grace being irresistible. If God wants you to be saved, you are going to be saved. It is quite literally an offer you cannot refuse.

Arminian Christians, such as John Wesley, argued that God's grace is indeed resistible, and therefore one must make a choice to accept it or reject it (believe or disbelieve). Wesley saw it this way: if God wants to save people, it is God's prerogative, because God is sovereign. However, God is also just and merciful, and therefore the real problem is that divine election means that there are people cast into Hell who had no choice in the matter, because since they were not "foreordained" to go to heaven, they must have been "foreordained to go to Hell." Wesley likened this to "punishing a stone for falling from the air."

More to your original question, Christians generally see repentance as a key component to salvation, and the original Greek word for repentance is metanoia, which means to literally "turn one's mind around." So one simply regards truth, oneself, God, and one's neighbor differently than one did before.

Interestingly Wesley is a good example of all this lived out, because he wrestled with your question for about the first 35 years of his life. He tried to believe, served as a missionary and a priest, visited the prisoners, served the poor, reached out to those alienated by the church. Then one evening, he just felt a certain peace in his heart and said, "I believe" and that was it. No flashing lights, no voices, just peace. It was largely about searching, serving, and trusting God, building a relationship with God and others, and that ultimately made all the difference, much more than all his attempts to philosophically or theologically explain the mechanics of it all.
posted by 4ster at 6:27 PM on September 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

A couple of points.

"that the truth of a belief (that you are saved, or, actively, that Jesus has done the works that saved you), can only exist after the belief is present, just doesn't seem possible" There is no logical puzzle here. Coming to believe in one's own salvation is related to making a performative utterance (this is heatheranne's point). That is, under the right conditions and with the right intentions, smply believing in something makes it so. (Making a promise is a great example.)

It is true that right now, time t1, my left shoe has no name. Now, at t2, I believe that my left shoe's name is Charlie. Thus from now on, it is simply true that my left shoe is name Charlie. And I've done nothing but alter a belief. Or, if you prefer, I abandoned one belief in favor of an incompatible belief. (I couldn't very well believe that my left shoe does and does not have a name.)

It is true that right now, time t1, that I am not yet saved. Now, at t2, I realize that Jesus is my savior. Thus from now on, it is simply true that I am saved. (Again, I've just hot-swapped incompatible beliefs. No big deal, really. Etiher belief is basically compatible with the vast majority of the rest of my beliefs. It's like changing a single tire on car.)

In a different post you implied that there's a problem of insufficient evidence. That is, you seem to think that a person cannot abandon a belief unless they have enough of the right kind of evidence. Let us grant for the sake of argument that this is the case: we need credible evidence before we can change our minds. But who is to say what credible evidence is, let alone the problem of how much of the credible evidence is needed. For some the testimonial of an evangelist is enough, for others there needs to be a transcendent revelation, yet others need empirical evidence, etc. . Of course, there is no consensus on this. (The lack of agreement on proper evidence is in no way unique to religious problems, btw.)

So. returning to your simplified syllogism from above (with slght modifications in italics):

1. Jesus's salvation is made available to all who would accept it.

2. It is the job of the individual to accept that salvation, they need to believe to be saved.

2b. The individual feels compelled (for any number of personal reasons) to believe in salvation through Christ.

2c. The individual accepts Christ's divinity, sacrifice and teachings.

3. And then the individual is saved.

(There are some thorny issues emerging from the clash between God's omniscience, extra-temporal existence, and our free will, but let's leave that aside for now.)

Finally, I'm Catholic, but I have several Calvinist friends. I've had discussions with them on exactly what "just accepting Christ as your savior" comes down to. They have argued that it is more than simply adopting a belief. But that accepting Christ's love, entails quite a lot of work. That is, they incorporate the more Catholic belief in "faith and works" under the umbrella concept of "loving/accepting Christ." So the more simplistic notion of sola fide, may not have a lot of supporters. (Granted my circle of Protestant friends is not the largest sample group. :)
posted by oddman at 9:39 PM on September 7, 2007

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