As one drives up from Sydney towards Uralla on the New England Highway you enter Thunderbolt country. “Captain Thunderbolt” (Frederick Ward) was a notorious Aussie bushranger in the early 1800s. A little before Uralla there is an area with many huge rocks just off the highway which is known as Thunderbolts Hideout. Years ago I travelled that stretch of road frequently on my visits to Toowoomba from Sydney.
On one occasion I noticed that someone had painted some “Christian Graffiti” on the huge rock-face fronting the highway. Among the many other things scrawled there one could now read the words, “Jesus Saves!” But someone had written underneath, the words, “Which Bank?”
That came back to mind a few days ago when I was driving past one of the Lutheran churches in town that has a large billboard on the corner of the street. They use that for displaying thought-provoking saying for people to think about as they pass by on the way to work or as they come home from the office.
On this occasion the “Church Advertisement of the Month” read, “My Future depends on my Salvation and not on my Religion.”
That’s a pretty good saying. It highlights that for us it’s not about religion but about a personal faith-based relationship with Jesus. We have heard it said often that Christianity is not religion but a relationship. That’s probably not quite correct. There are many people for whom Christianity is a religion and merely a religion. For them it consists of rituals and rules, beliefs and behaviour but not so much a faith relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
We know better. It’s faith in the doing, the dying and the victory of Jesus that gives us eternal life and that provides us with the ticket to enjoy one day all the splendour of God’s new creation. It is totally true that our future depends on our salvation and not on our religion. Jesus once said to a very religious man, “Unless you are born again you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.”
I applaud the sentiments of that church billboard. Yet I have a major concern.
How many people in our secular post-Christian society will understand what it is telling them? Doesn’t that one-liner fall into the same category as the graffiti on Captain Thunderbolt’s hideout? If the world in general does not understand what it means that Jesus saves, then neither will they understand the word ‘salvation’. The problem is that salvation is what we might label a “God Word”. It’s a well-known concept for Christians and those who are familiar with their Bibles. But let’s face it; ‘salvation’ is one of those words that is rarely used these days outside of a Christian context.
The problem is that if we want to communicate with the world around us then we need to do so in terms that speak to them. But that’s not easy. I struggled hard and long with what I would have written on that church billboard if I had been responsible for thinking of a catchy saying that would speak to the passing crowd. The only thing I could think of was to replace the word ‘salvation’ with the word ‘rescue’. That has an additional advantage in that it provides some alliteration: My Future depends on my Rescue and not on my Religion.
And yet… that doesn’t really do the trick either. It leaves the question: Why do I need rescuing? The reality is that it takes more than just a one-liner to communicate the awesome truth that my eternal wellbeing depends on what Jesus achieved for me by His life, death and resurrection.