Friday, March 12, 2010

Salvation

Those of us who are Christians are familiar with the idea of being saved, but I remain unconvinced that we really understand what salvation means. To fully grasp the idea of salvation we need to look at what God is doing from God's point of view rather than ours. While that may seem a daunting, even impossible task, doing so will help us understand what God means when He refers to saving a people, or offering salvation to us.

We often hear of those who have "come to Jesus," and we often encourage others to "accept Jesus as their savior." Neither of those are wrong as much as they are incomplete at least in the way we routinely practice them. These two phrases are often used interchangeably with "being saved" so that our salvation becomes a single point in time event seemingly divorced from anything that may follow it. We find ourselves referring to people who have been saved but who have not learned (or who are not learning) to live as saved people. Some theological ideas confuse the question further by insisting that faith is all that matters regardless of one's life style. We have successfully divorced salvation from transformation to such a degree that Christian lives do not reflect God and the public has plenty of reason to ridicule not just us, but our faith and our God.

This duality – of being saved but not transformed – grows from a misunderstanding of salvation itself. We humans like to break things down into steps, finding discrete differences in closely related concepts and statements when in fact those steps and concepts are not intended to be discretely separated.

A reading of Scripture using God's view rather than ours results in a different understanding of salvation than many of us use or have contemplated. Salvation as we see it is a discrete event that may or may not be followed by transformed lives. Such an eventuality is foreign to salvation as seen from God's view. Salvation from God's view is a gathering of people back to Him, that people being those who conform themselves to Him. The gathering and the conforming are the same thing; they speak to the same reality. It is impossible to be saved and yet not transformed, or in the process of being transformed.

Salvation is not simply a result of being baptized or asking God into our hearts even though we often individually and collectively treat it as such. Being baptized or asking God to enter our hearts represents a larger undertaking, one that surrenders ourselves to living the way He would have us live – for the rest of our lives. Salvation from God's view is a restoration of us to Him in heart, in motivation, in practical behaviors. It is not primarily a legal edict although an edict is involved.

When Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment, His response is "Love God with all they heart, mind, and strength; and the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." His interlocutor approves of this answer and says this is the greatest concern. In turn, Jesus tells this man that he is not far from the Kingdom of God. Notice Jesus does not say "far from salvation" or even "far from believing in me." Rather, this person is not far from "the Kingdom of God." This exchange gives us a good idea of what the Kingdom of God means. In practical terms it is acknowledging God, and caring for other people. The questioner asks for the greatest command and Jesus responds with two commands. The questioner accepts the two and treats them as one, approving of Jesus' answer and acknowledging his agreement that these two – together – are the most important concern for God followers.

While stated as commands, these are not performance measures, but descriptions of the kind of people in the Kingdom. These are folks who's ways of life reflect the character of God, and these folks are "saved," to use our phraseology.

Jesus' desire was not that people would "be saved" but that they would conform themselves to God. This is what is meant by "Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven." What happens in Heaven isn't the point as much as bringing that economy to Earth. Living in that economy, living out of the image of God in which we are made, that is salvation from God's view. If we are not living in that economy or at least desiring and moving in that direction, the reality of our salvation is questionable at best


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