How does one become saved?
This is really a tough question… for one thing, when discussing this with the cults, the concept of "saved" has to be redefined. The Watchtower and the LDS Church have different concepts of what will happen to someone who's "saved." So, again, in order to compare apples with apples, I rephrased the questions slightly for the JWs and the Mormons.
One would expect that the cults' answer to this question would be very different from Christianity's answer to the same question. Christianity, after all, is said to be based on salvation by Grace and not works. And the cults are widely known to teach salvation by works and I believe that the previous 7 questions have demonstrated that this is indeed the case.
But what happens when you compare the cults' answers to this question with the answer offered by very popular Lordship Salvation teachers? Is there a big difference? Shouldn't there be?
Latter Day Saints (Mormon):
The following quote was taken directly from the LDS web site. It is their expression of how one attains the celestial kingdom, their view of ultimate salvation:
To become worthy to live in Heavenly Father’s presence after this life and to receive this peace and strength, you must learn and follow the principles and ordinances of the gospel. The first principles of the gospel are faith in Jesus Christ and repentance. The first ordinances of the gospel are baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. After you learn and follow the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, you must seek to follow Christ’s example throughout the remainder of your life. This continued faithfulness is called “enduring to the end.”
Notice the implications here… you have to "become worthy" to live in God's presence. Hmm. And you do this by learning and following these principles. Notice that it's not enough to have faith in Jesus Christ (again, they reject Christ's deity) but you must "seek to follow Christ's example" for the rest of your life!! This takes us back, again, to the assurance issue. You can clearly see that assurance would be impossible with this view because no one ever can know whether they will follow Christ's example for literally the rest of their life. In fact, you can be sure there will be failure. I suppose that's why they provide themselves a back door when they say "seek to follow". I guess you don't really have to follow, you just have to seek to follow. The seeking is good enough. Ah, the doublespeak.
The Watchtower: (Jehovah's Witnesses)
My interview with a local Jehovah's Witness revealed that you can live forever (their view of salvation) if you meet the requirements for salvation. If we have rejected religious falsehood, repented of our sins, submitted to water baptism, are doing our best to serve God the way he outlines in the Bible we have every reason to trust that we are in good standing with God. If we continue serving him whole souled and meet his righteous requirements.
That's really not all that different from the LDS answer, is it? If we do these things, then we can live forever, go to Heaven, or whatever. If we continue serving him "whole-souled'. The first key word there is "IF." And that's a big word. As my best friend used to say, "if frogs had wings, they wouldn't bump their butts on lily pads." See, they don't know "if" they will continue to serve. How could they? Thus, they have no assurance. And what on Earth does "whole-souled" mean? What about "half-souled"? Or "three quarter-souled"? Those aren't good enough? How do you measure? And notice, once again, the escape clause: "If we… are doing our best to serve…" See, this is very much like the Mormon language of "seeking." Anyway, you get the idea. I'm sure we'll get a breath of fresh air when we ask the popular Lordship teachers, though, right?
Well, you would think so, wouldn't you? But no, sorry… Lordship teachers, it turns out, have a very similar idea about how one becomes saved. They express this in many different ways, but it boils down to commiting your life to Christ, by continual faith and complete surrender and absolute obedience. Here are some quotes:
Jesus is Lord of all and the faith He demands involves unconditional surrender. He does not bestow eternal life on those whose hearts remain set against Him. -John MacArthur
[Salvation] comes from a life lived in obedience and service to Christ as revealed in the scripture. It (salvation) is the fruit of actions, not intentions. -John MacArthur
The life we live, not the words we speak, determines our eternal destiny. -John MacArthur
How are these answers any different, essentially, than LDS and Watchtower? They're not, are they? I wonder if the "Free Grace" view has anything different to offer:
The Free Grace answer is incredibly simple. Put your faith alone in Christ alone and you have eternal life. End of story. You can go to Heaven merely by deciding to trust in Christ, realizing that He paid the price, He has made all the provision, you can add nothing to it, and so complete, so profound is God's grace in this matter that there isn't anything you can do to lose that salvation. You can know right now that you have eternal life (and eternal life lasts forever) by simply putting your trust in Christ today. And even if you fail next week, even if you become persuaded at some point in the future that you must add your works (which equates with not trusting Christ) then you still have eternal life. (eternal life, by definition, lasts forever, remember?)
Now this is not to be understood as a recommendation against performing good works once you're saved… we certainly should do good works. But even without those works, Romans 4:5 says, we are justified because we have put our trust in Christ, the one who justifies the unGodly. Therefore works aren't the issue at all in salvation in the Free Grace view. They aren't a requirement, they aren't a "necessary result" (which is the same thing as a requirement) they aren't relevant at all when it comes to whether or not you're bound for Heaven. All that's relevant for salvation is whether you have placed your trust in Christ.
This answer is 180 degrees opposed to all three other views. It is totally unique and distinct, and I think that demonstrates, especially when combined with the answers to the other 7 questions and how they compare, that Free Grace is the only view which properly separates works from grace. That is, the Lordship view is essentially based on works every bit as much as the cults' doctrines. If that's not the case, then how else do you explain the similarities in the answers to these questions?
We are so clever in the way that we constantly seek to make our behavior, our works, our morality, our obedience the issue. Somehow we'll find a way to do it, even as we deny that salvation is by works. Even as we insist that salvation is a free gift. We must check ourselves, we must examine critically what we're taught and think carefully about what a "free gift" really is, about what that really means. And we must realize that when we smuggle our works back into the equation, we are no longer trusting in Christ. That might not mean, thanks to eternal security, that we lose our salvation… salvation is not something that can be lost once it's been received. But the condition for salvation is, quite clearly, trust in Christ. Nothing is more important than this, the core gospel message.