Testimony: The meaning of salvation

posted on 2012-07-05

In February 2011 I was discharged as a conscientious objector after 7 years in the Navy.  Part of the conscientious objector process is an interview with an investigating officer.  His job is to assess the “depth and sincerity” of the applicant’s beliefs.  My interview spanned three days and covered both technical legal points and broad theological concepts.  Here is a short excerpt where I we talk about the role of “salvation,” and how it led to my pacifist convictions.

The investigating officer is in bold, and I am in plain text.

Now you testify that you follow the ways of Jesus Christ, right?

I try to.

You stated on page 3 of you application, “I believe that Christ came, that all might be saved from their sin.” Is that true?

Yes sir, that is.

Have you been saved?

I have.

Do you believe you can lose your salvation?

My interpretation of being saved and salvation is that I’ve come to know God and am in a spiritual process with God. I don’t see how now that I have that how it would be possible for me to turn away from that, or something, anything, to cause that to change or that to lessen. So, for me I don’t think that’s possible, but I don’t know in the general sense.

The Israelites turned away from God several times in the Old Testament. Would you agree?

Yes, sir.

Did God ever give up on them?

He did not.

Do you think God would give up on you?


Do you think if you are somehow forced into warfare, participating in warfare, that you would lose your salvation?

If I were forced into warfare, then it would be my prayer and my goal to not participate in that warfare, so that I’m not harming somebody else in anyway. But I recognize that I am a sinner and so is everyone else and we all make mistakes. I make small mistakes; I make large mistakes. I believe God is a god of forgiveness, that if I do make these mistakes, which I know I will, he’s always inviting me to come back to him and repent and he’ll forgive me. At the same time, that’s not an excuse for making mistakes. God is always inviting me to get closer to Him and it’s always my goal to get as close to him as possible.

Edit: I should have made it more clear that I would have refused the orders to participate. I did too much equivocation because I was so nervous.

One of your witnesses said he believes there is more than one way to heaven. Do you believe there is more than one way, or do you believe that Jesus Christ is the way and the truth and the light? No one goes to the father except through Him.

I believe that those two statements—that there’s more than one way to heaven and that Jesus Christ is the way to heaven—are really two ways of saying the same thing. When Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the light,” I don’t believe that he meant that in order to get into heaven you have to say “I worship Jesus.” And that if you do say that it’s not sufficient. In the sermon on the mount, he says there will be those who cry, “Father, Father,” but God will say, “I never knew you.”

I think the basic message of the Gospel is this: God exists. Our goal in life is to draw closer to God. We do that by making our lives conform to Jesus’s life. We will fall short, and that’s where grace comes in, but we still need to make our life as much like Jesus’s as we can. It’s this desire to make my life conform to Jesus that led me to pacifism.

Also,to the extent that other people are pursuing that goal—even if they have never heard of the name Jesus Christ—I think they are acting like Christians. I still don’t believe that those two ideas are incompatible.

I am a little concerned that you don’t have a good feeling for how to define salvation. It seems to me that you’re trying to rectify your own beliefs with the beliefs of the Quakers and Pastors who testified for you earlier. I don’t think it’s so important that you try to do that if that’s what you’re trying to do. There’s nothing wrong with your beliefs. Have you memorized John 3:16?

It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whomsoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

That’s right. Do you believe that?

I do, but I don’t understand what it means.

Do you know what only begotten means?

It means that Jesus was God’s one and only son.

Okay. So when the Quakers say that Jesus was just another person like us who was a little closer to God, and that we are all children of God, do you think that we are sons of God in the same manner that the one and only son of god is. Would that make us the same physically as the one and only?

I know Jesus called people his brothers and sisters, and that I consider myself his brother in that same sense. He called other people children of God. What it means for him to be called the son of God or the only begotten son of God is not something that I can limit by giving an exact definition.

So the Bible says that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever should believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. So that’s a way to have everlasting life. You mentioned that there were other ways. Can you list those?

Because, my thought is that if there are other ways to getting to heaven than why bother following Jesus? You can just stay in the Navy and you don’t need to follow Jesus’s ways, you can use other ways to get eternal life. Why don’t you just pick one of the other ways that agrees with the Navy?

I don’t believe that there are other ways. My understanding of John 3:16 is that the sort of belief he talks about is a very deep and personal thing. It doesn’t stop and it doesn’t even start with someone saying, “I believe in Jesus.” Those words and maybe even that idea doesn’t even matter.

Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me will follow my commands.” The important thing is the internal change of “I want to be like this and I want to follow somebody who was like this and set this kind of example for me.” I cannot list other ways to be like Jesus other than to be like Jesus, and I can’t list other ways to believe in God other than to be like Jesus.

Let me just read this other verse that God presented me. Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” No other. Do you believe that’s accurate? It was written by somebody who was with Jesus, right?

My understanding of Acts 4:12 is the same as my understanding of John 3:16. It’s not the words that matter, but the alignment of your heart to God’s.

Okay, so you don’t believe there is any other way other than that relationship with God or Jesus, who yesterday you said is the same person basically. Okay. So you’re counting on Jesus as your one and only way to heaven and that is why it is important for you to follow his ways, is that correct?


Edit: My motivation for aligning my will to God’s is not to get into heaven. I really don’t care about heaven, I just want to be like Jesus. I want to make heaven on earth. I didn’t stress that point though because I was getting really sick of this conversation.

Okay. I’m glad we clarified that.