Friday, January 23, 2009

A Country Fried Parable

(Or a Lynyrd Synyrd Parable of the Kingdom of Heaven)

Appendix D from "Heaven for Skeptics"
© 2008 by Bert Gary for FaithWalk Publishing

Perhaps I should just do as Jesus did and tell a parable. And since I'm from the South, perhaps a country fried parable is called for.


Entering the kingdom of heaven is like this: You are incarcerated for life in a dark and crowded Birmingham maximum security prison when out of the blue a letter arrives containing your pardon and an invitation to a party. In the neighboring cells, all of your fellow jailbirds received the same.

Just then you hear a band from somewhere outside the prison launch into "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. And just then every prison door unlocks with a clang. The doors fly open. All of them.

You look around at the other prisoners. They're standing there rereading their pardons. They look at you and back at the papers. You read your pardon and your personalized party invitation again. Is this some kind of sick joke? Is it a test? Is it a trap?

You hold your breath and inch toward the open door. The others are watching you. You see your hand reaching for the opening like it's hot, like it's wired. But your hand goes through unharmed. Others inch toward their doors, suspicious eyes darting left and right, uncertain hands reaching out and quickly drawing back.

By now the chorus of "Freebird" is roaring in your ears, and something hopeful is growing in your heart. Without thinking, you bolt from your cell and run for your Life. Right behind you another prisoner runs for his. Then many run, tearing through the cellblock, all the doors wide open. Running and screaming like warriors charging into battle, you emerge from the prison into a green sunlit park.

You and your cellmates rush the stage where you see none other than Ronnie Van Zant himself smiling as he looks right at you. Then he grabs the mic and directs the crowd, an enormous chorus, millions and millions of pardoned cons singing,

"So won't you fly high free bird, yeah!"

Guitars roar. Apple wine is flowing. Lamb is served. And Life is good.


Pardon the interruption, but a couple of Bible verses come to mind. Jesus quoted Isaiah saying,

"He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives . . ." (Luke 4:18)

I quoted it before, but Paul's words may make better sense here:

For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. (bold italics mine) (Romans 11:32)

Oh, yeah. I forgot about hell. Hell is easy to forget at a party! My parable continues:


In the back of the prison, in the last cell at the end of a long ward, a prisoner sits in the corner fuming. "It's not fair," he says. Then he says it again. Louder. Again. And again. Like a chant. A chant that the other prisoners in nearby cells join in. "It's - not - fair," they chant. More join them. They begin banging and raking their tin cups across the cell bars. It is loud. Very loud. A multitude of freed prisoners refuse to leave their unlocked cells in protest of the general pardon of all. "It's - not - fair! It's - not - fair! It's - not - fair! It's - not - fair! It's - not - fair!"

It was loud as hell.Yet at the free-bird party in the park, Lynyrd Skynyrd was just warming up! The sound of "It's - not - fair!" coming from the unlocked prison was being drowned out by Ronnie and the boys, who were now singing,

"Won't you give me three steps, gimme three steps mister, gimme three steps towards the door?"

Ironical, isn't it?


While a Skynyrd concert might not sound like heaven to you, to a good old Southern boy, it's not bad at all. If you like, set the parable in a Detroit prison for women and let Janis Joplin sing "Bobby Magee."

"Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose."

"The doors of Hell are locked on the inside." CS Lewis

If you like this parable, try my others: Pews Stink (A Black and White Satire)What Color Is a Green Apple?The Kingdom of Heaven is Like Gravity, and A Guitar Hero Parable (Or the Gospel According to Slash).

For Jesus' parables see The Absurd Parable of the Unforgiving SlaveThe God Who GamblesParable of the Vine and BranchesThe Crooked ManagerThe Friend at MidnightHeaven Is Like a Crazy FarmerHe Speaks Of . . .Salted With FireTalking Sheep and GoatsIs Your Eye Evil?Two Prodigals and Their Strange FatherThe Lazarus Parable Is Not About the Afterlife,and Jesus Used Parables Like a Sieve.

You're Saved - Whether You Like It or Not

"the Savior of the world"
1 John 4:14

"the Savior of all people"
1 Timothy 4:10

"bringing Salvation to all"
Titus 2:11


On December 26, 1944 at the age of 23, Japanese 2nd Lt. Hiroo Onoda was sent to tiny Lubang Island in the Philippines. It was near the end of World War II. He became one of only four soldiers who survived the American landing there. They hid for years. Two of them died in 1954; that's ten years later. Still in hiding, the Lieutenant's remaining buddy died in 1972. Onoda was the lone survivor. "Despite the efforts of the Philippine Army, letters and newspapers left for him, radio broadcasts, and even a plea from Onoda's brother, he did not believe the war was over." (press) Onoda disbelieved all efforts to convince him of the war's end. He said he was waiting for orders from one of his commanders. Finally, Onoda's one-time superior commander, Major Taniguchi, was located and brought in March 9, 1974, thirty years after Japan's surrender, to deliver the oral orders for Onoda to surrender. He did. And he wept.

More on Onoda in a moment.

Salvation has three tenses in the Scriptures. The New Testament speaks of Christ's saving work in the past, in the present, and in the future.

In this brief pamphlet, let me show you how the Bible distinguishes what I will call Finished Salvation (past), Now Salvation (present), and Final Salvation (future).

To understand these three biblical distinctions is to understand the real good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. It begins with this:
When he saved the world, he saved you too. It is finished. (John 19:30) 

The Real Good News of God's . . . 
1. Finished Salvation 
2. Now Salvation 
3. Final Salvation


1. Finished Salvation - Jesus, says the New Testament, saved the world. Yes, everyone. All people.

He saved everyone

Hebrews 2:9 [B]ut we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (italics mine)

He saved the world

John 1:29 The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (italics mine)

2 Corinthians 5:19 [I]n Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (italics mine)

1 John 2:2 [H]e is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (italics mine)

1 John 4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. (italics mine)

He saved all people

John 1:4 [I]n him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (italics mine)

John 12:32 "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." (italics mine)

Colossians 1:20 through [Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (italics mine)

1 Timothy 4:10 For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (italics mine)

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all . . . (italics mine)

[See also Luke 2:10; John 1:9, 1:16, 3:17, 4:42; 6:33, 6:51; Acts 10:36; Rom 5:18, 6:10, 8:32, 11:32; 2 Cor 5:14-15; Col 3:11; 1 Tim 2:5-6; Heb 2:17, 7:27, 9:12, 9:26, 10:2, 10:10, 10:12; 1 Pet 3:18]


2. Now Salvation - New Testament salvation in this 2 sense refers to the present when a person freely trusts, lives, and rests in the acceptance that salvation in the 1 sense is already true for him. It's the present experience of a past event. It's salvation's nowness. It's discovering and trusting in the present that Jesus' universal atonement two millennia ago applies to me now.

John 10:9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. (italics mine)

Acts 4:12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved. (italics mine)

Acts 16:30-31 Then he brought them outside and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" 31 They answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." (italics mine)

Romans 10:9-10 [I]f you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. (italics mine)

Romans 10:13 For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." (italics mine)

2 Corinthians 6:2 See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! (italics mine)

2 Thessalonians 2:10b [T]hey refused to love the truth and so be saved. (italics mine)

1 Timothy 2:3-4 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (italics mine)

Hebrews 7:25 Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (italics mine)

1 Peter 1:9 [F]or you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

[See also Luke 8:11-12; Acts 10:43, 11:14, 13:38-39, 16:30-31, 26:18; 1 Cor 9:22, 10:33]


3. Final Salvation- Biblical salvation has a not-yet-ness too. Final Salvation is in Jesus' second coming, in the resurrection of the dead, and in the full arrival of the kingdom of heaven. It's salvation's future tense.

Matthew 10:22 [Y]ou will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (italics mine)

Acts 15:11 [W]e believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. (italics mine)

Romans 5:10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (italics mine)

Romans 11:26 And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, "Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob." (italics mine)

Romans 13:11 [F]or salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; (italics mine)

1 Corinthians 5:5 [Y]ou are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (italics mine)

1 Thessalonians 5:8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. (italics mine)

Hebrews 9:28 [S]o Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (italics mine)

1 Peter 1:3-5 By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (italics mine)

The New Testament affirms that all people were reconciled to God through the death of Jesus. That's 1. And 2 is faith that 1 is true. But 3 claims that those with faith in 1 naturally hope for salvation's fruit on the last day—resurrection to Life with the Lord. Those who rest in 1 look forward to being saved in this final 3 sense.


A nationally known pastor and author hosted a Christmas Special from his California mega-church. He gave the standard, modern evangelical message. First he quoted from the Bible. Then he elaborated.

Colossians 2:13-14 And when you were dead in trespasses . . . , God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.

Then the very famous preacher said to a worldwide audience:

"Jesus wants to wipe it all out. He offers you a chance to be forgiven."

The Bible is at complete odds with this modern evangelical message. The Bible says God made you alive with him already—past tense—when he forgave you of all your trespasses—past tense. He erased your record—past tense—by nailing it to the cross two thousand years ago, says Scripture. That's the good news. But what does the famous preacher do with this good news? He takes it back. It isn't true, he says. It could be true. It could apply to you. But not now. Not yet. Now it is only a "chance," he says. Now it is merely an "offer." "Jesus wants to wipe it all out," he says, but it's all up to you.

The preacher is pressing you for a decision that you can make, he says, that will make his "big if" a reality for you. You must take Jesus up on his supposed offer of forgiveness and salvation for it to go into affect. Until you do this—assuming you do it absolutely correctly—you aren't forgiven, he says. But this so-called "gospel offer" is totally distorting what Scripture says. It says that something has already happened to you and to the cosmos in Jesus. He saved all.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. (italics mine)

The good new is not that we can receive an absent Jesus into our hearts, but that Jesus has already received us all into his. This is exactly the good news that modern evangelicalism rejects. Modern evangelicalism has rejected the gospel of Jesus Christ and doesn't know it. It's both tragic and infuriating.

So what's the point here? It's that without 1, there is no 2. Again, biblically speaking, by 1 I mean the good news that Jesus saved the world including you, and by 2 I mean believing and living in 1's freedom and rest:

Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (bold italics mine)


So the peace was real, World War II having ended decades before, but Lt. Hiroo Onoda wouldn't believe it. This shows how something can be objectively true and still not subjectively believed or experienced. For thirty years this guy fought a war that was over. It's tragic, isn't it? All those hellish wasted years!

Onoda's story serves well as a parable of biblical salvation in the 1 and 2 senses. The first is objectively true. Jesus reconciled the world to his Father. The war is over. That's salvation in the 1 sense. But to believe that 1 is true is to understand and admit that the war is over. The New Testament says that you can surrender. You don't have to fight your way to God's approval anymore. You don't have to waste your life fighting a war that was long ago won. That's your subjective acceptance of an objective truth. That's salvation in the 2 sense. You can say to your heart, the war is over, thank God. This is the biblical gospel, the good news. The peace is already real, say the Scriptures. And they invite you to trust and live and rest in the liberty of that peace.

Colossians 1:20 . . . through him (Jesus) God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. (bold italics mine) (See also 2 Corinthians 5:19)

What I love about this eternally established peace, this objective good news, is that it cuts the legs out from under religious striving. The problem in modern evangelicalism is that it's based on that striving. Many don't realize they've rejected a gift in favor of trying to make a deal. They don't believe the war is over, so they continue to fight for their salvation. (You have to pray the sinner's prayer and really mean it this time. You have to stop drinking, smoking, and gambling. You have to attend a religious institution Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night. You have to tithe. You have to pray and read the Bible daily. On and on.) Salvation is made into something you have the power to make true only if you do and say all the right things just so. But if it's already true that he saved you, then all that effort not only earns nothing, it steals your freedom and Life. That's the gospel punch line:

The peace with God for which you are striving was long ago achieved for you.

Tragically, our churches are full of Hiroo Onodas. They needlessly fight a war that they cannot win, that's long over anyway, that's won for the world by someone else. This someone else is the savior of the world, Jesus Christ. Scripturally, you're saved. Whether you like it or not is the only question.


This Is Not Universalism

Whenever I discuss Finished Salvation, I usually get this question:

Does that mean that everybody's going to heaven when they die?

This question is really a theological objection to universalism, not biblical Finished Salvation. Universalism is the belief that everybody is "saved" on resurrection day without exception, with humans having no choice in the matter. Universalism claims that in the end, God's grace will be irresistible. The heresy of universalism (or apocatastasis in Greek), though embraced by some theologians as early as Clement (A.D. 150-215) and Origen (A.D. 185-254), was rejected by the church in every age. Christ's universal salvation, however, is not universalism, though many theologians who affirm Christ's universal atonement are accused wrongly of universalism, including Karl Barth.

The reason I reject universalism is because it eliminates God's loving gift of free will. Jesus is not in the business of forcing anyone to trust him. Universalism leaves no room for the freedom to say No to God's grace in Christ.

Yes, we are all forgiven and atoned for, so say the Scriptures. But some don't want to be forgiven because they are eaten up by evil, and some because in their blindness they don't think they've done anything needing forgiveness, and still others because in their scorekeeping mindset they resent everybody being forgiven. God's love graciously allows everyone the freedom to say No to the salvation they already have, and No to the grace that God has showered indiscriminately on the earth like an insane farmer throwing precious seed everywhere, even on the road, among the rocks, and in briars. (Matthew 13:3-9; Mark 4:2-9; Luke 8:5-8) His grace is like the sun shining and the rain falling indiscriminately on the good and evil alike. (Matthew 5:45; Luke 6:35) Grace is for all, but not all want grace. (Matthew 20:15; Romans 2:4)

The love of Jesus may be written on every heart, but not every heart chooses to embrace it. Some choose darkness, evil, judgmentalism, and hate. Some even kill innocent people in the name of God. Is such sin unforgivable? No. But can you refuse the forgiveness you already have? Yes.

The urgency of telling the world that it is "saved" in the 1 sense is to get people off of their self-salvation schemes. Religious programs are endless treadmills of anxious climbing, scorekeeping, performing, and posing. But there is rest if 1 is true, if Jesus saved all on the cross, if forgiveness is universally inclusive, and if the Spirit is already at work in all flesh. (Joel 2:28) So if the Spirit of Christ is at work in every person seeking to communicate this truth (that the world has been saved and all can rest in this truth), then perhaps this good news will resonate when it is proclaimed unashamedly to the world. (Romans 1:16; 2 Timothy 1:8)

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