The following points are one side of an amicable online conversation I had last week with some social-media friends. One is an atheist. I’m not sure about the others. You can read the whole thread at this link. The text has been slightly edited for readability.
¶ The New Testament shows a distinct line between saved and unsaved. The difference between the two is one’s reaction or reception of Jesus: “And there is salvation in no one else [besides Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” Acts 4.12 NET.
The whole Bible speaks often of the two ways. The overlap between the saved and following Jesus is pretty exact for people responsible for their choices and actions. Jesus himself explained: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven—only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” Matthew 7.21 NET. So the obedience of faith is the separating line.
¶ In some ways, Christians’ approach and interaction are determined by whom they’re dealing with, much as anyone who is a member of a group will interact with other members of that group. For example, developers and coders, among themselves, have one way of talking. To outsiders like me, they are usually kind enough not to be overly technical or use language that I don’t understand. At the same time, Jesus says everyone, whether evil or good, righteous or unrighteous, should be shown love, just as God shows, Matthew 5.43-48.
¶ Please note that I’m replying from what the Bible says Christians should teach and practice, not what denominations or some people who might call themselves Christians say or do.
¶ Are the unsaved necessarily against Jesus? Perhaps not in an active sense, such as persecuting, but in a passive one, at least. Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” Matthew 12.30 NET. So with Christ there is no neutrality.
¶ Jesus observed the Mosaic law because he was born under it and observed everything as a faithful man of the old covenant. The new covenant did not take effect until after his death, burial, and resurrection. The Greek word for “covenant” is the same one that is translated into English as “will,” so the writer of the letter to the Hebrews does a play on words, saying that the covenant/will doesn’t take effect until after the death of the one who made it. See Hebrews 9.16-17.
¶ The general principal of exegetics and hermeneutics, if you like those terms, is to take statements literally unless there are contextually compelling reasons not to. Otherwise, we’ll explain it all away until there’s nothing left.
¶ When we center on what the divine revelation says about entry into heaven, it’s a whole different ballpark. Scripture shows that God loves unconditionally, since he gives everyone the opportunity to be saved. It does not say that he extends his grace unconditionally. “Many are called, few are chosen.”
¶ As Creator, God knows us better than we know ourselves. Conversion in the biblical sense does take place, but not to convert to another person’s faith. Apostle Paul wrote that faith was (and had to be) in God. Faith is also defined and described, as far as how it is created and sustained: “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” Romans 10.17 NRSV. So, again, everything is pointed toward God and through Christ.
¶ What do you understand a follower of Christ to be? The description, to “understand Christ’s acts and intentions and apply them in everyday life,” is a great way to describe a follower.
With that, Christ does direct us and he does restrict our lifestyle in order to make possible our imitation of his life. So he restricts anger and hate, in order that love may be dilated, to include the righteous and unrighteous (see Matthew 5). He restricts acts of selfishness, so that we may be servants. He restricts running after wealth and accumulating riches in this life, in order that we may share with others and deposit our wealth in heaven (Matthew 5 again). He restricts the sexual life, so that we may enjoy it with our mates, as it was intended to be (Matthew 5 again). These restrictions (I’m borrowing the term here) are the means by which we focus on God’s holiness and goodness.
Now I have no right to restrict or impose anything on anybody, that has not been dealt with or mentioned in Scripture. And if it’s in Scripture, I don’t have the right to change that. As Paul mentioned and applied in one instance what was a saying among Christians: “Don’t go beyond what is written” 1 Corinthians 4.6 NIV.