My Misunderstanding

Last Sunday at Eastside, I mentioned that sometimes our understanding of “salvation” is not so much unbiblical as it is anemic.

So today I want to reflect upon the “doctrine” of salvation. You would think in a fellowship like Churches of Christ that we would have “salvation” down pretty good. I did, after all, hear hundreds of sermons on “what must I do to be saved?” growing up in North Alabama. These sermons were not completely off base, as it is true I need my sin washed away. Salvation was the goal, salvation was “going to heaven.”

But at the end of the day I hadn’t the foggiest idea was salvation was in Scripture. If I was asked to “explain” what salvation is, what it looks like, I would have struggled mightily. I might have said something like this at one time (no caricature is intended here).

“God sent Jesus to give us the “Plan of Salvation,” so in doing it I can be saved from my sin. One day I will die and perhaps go to heaven if good enough.”

Salvation, when the chips were down, meant not burning in hell. That was it. However, I was frequently left wondering if I was saved and what it was, if I had it. No joking either. And that is depressing for a Christian.

As I confessed above, I had no real understanding of what salvation meant. And whatever it was it did not help me in my daily life. It did not help me actually understand the Bible. It did not provide much motivation for living in the here and now. And I was often left wondering if the “stuff” I was made of actually was loved by God. So, I had this nebulous Casper the Ghost vision.

But what is salvation: Five Realities of Salvation

Salvation is a broad term for all the benefits that are graciously bestowed upon creation by the Creator God. Salvation, as defined in Scripture, is God redeeming his creation. What God has created is what God saves.

Salvation flows from the biblical gospel, as Peter preached in his Gospel sermon,

Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out,
SO that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,
and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you,
that is Jesus,
who must remain in heaven
UNTIL the time when God will RESTORE ALL THINGS
which God announced from ancient days through his holy prophets...” (Acts 3.19-21, my emphasis).

Peter gives us a mini-biblical theology of salvation in a very short space. Salvation is the “restoration of all things” to the communion of God as promised by the Prophets. Salvation is God’s ultimate Restoration Movement. So just what is salvation? What does salvation look like?

First, Salvation is not a future Casper the Ghost existence for anything much less humans. It is an embodied life. Salvation is Resurrection of the body life. When thinking of salvation, Paul declared to the Romans we, who have the “first fruits” of the Holy Spirit look forward to the “redemption of our BODY” (8.23). Just as the Holy Spirit raised Jesus’s own physical body from the dead, so God’s Spirit will do the same with our “mortal body” (8.11). To the Corinthians, Paul declared that the resurrection of the body is the central tenant of the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus did die for our sins (1 Cor 15.3) but Paul does not, in fact, stress that truth in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul’s focus throughout is the resurrection of the human body. In fact, if the body (and the concern in 1 Cor 15 is our bodily resurrection not that of Christ) is not raised then our faith is vain Paul declared.

There is a non-negotiable continuity between present life and life everlasting with God. This is no minor point according to Paul but the crux of the Gospel itself. We often import (even unconsciously and unaware) a great deal of Platonic dualism into this chapter that obscures its meaning. But Paul the Jew was not being obscure but rather proclaiming what he dubs, in Acts, “the hope of Israel” (Acts 23.6; 24.21; 26.5-8; 28.20), the resurrection of the body.

Salvation is embodied, resurrection life. God does in fact love the stuff of me, not just invisible me. Further resurrection is not simply about the future but about the “now” and even affects my work.

Second, Salvation is personal, social life, that preserves creational diversity. The Revelation of John brings innumerable biblical threads together on this very point. As the saints cried “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb” (7.9-10) we see that saved life in the presence of God is not a melting pot that obliterates creational distinctions.

John’s vision hearkens back to the promise to Abraham that his descendants will be innumerable like the stars (Gen 15.5) and a father of “many nations,” not a single people (Gen 17.4-6). So, we have people from every nation, tribe, language, etc before the throne of God. Salvation does not obliterate our createdness (race/gender) but redeems it. Salvation is personal (the whole person is saved) and social (encompasses the human race in all its glorious God given diversity).

Third, Salvation is eternal embodied resurrection life. The term “eternal life” is not a synonym for the word “resurrection.” Eternal life is not just the length of the life but the nature and quality of that life. The Gospel of John speaks of eternal life as something that begins at faith in Christ (not simply when we die) and continues on forever. This nature and quality of life is not something we human possess of ourselves but is a consequence of the resurrection.

Fourth, Salvation is resurrected, embodied life, in God’s restored creation. Peter declared this gospel truth in Acts 3. The apostle Paul uses language like “new creation” (2 Cor 5.17; Gal 6.15) and “new humanity” (Eph 2.15; cf. 4.23-24; Col 3.9-10) and Peter uses the language of the new heavens and new earth, that they take over from Second Temple Judaism and the canonical Hebrew Scriptures (like Isaiah 56-66). God’s renewal includes all he has made with humanity restored and glorified in that renewed creation (Rom 8.18-25; Col 1.15-20; Eph 1.10; Acts 3.19ff; Phil 3.21; Rev 21-22).

Fifth, Salvation, this future embodied life in God’s creation set free from sin and death comes because of the work of God in Christ Jesus in his ministry, death on the cross and resurrection in the flesh, applied to us in faith by the Holy Spirit will be manifest at his appearing (Acts 3.19-21; Rom 8; Rev 21-22). Salvation is by God’s never ending hesed, God’s never ending grace. God so loves, so God pursues, and the Lord saves by God’s own grace.

A very insightful quote from David Lipscomb on what salvation is. He writes with clarity and power on this theme. He says that the “leading aim and end of Christ’s mission” was to reclaim the Earth … not just human beings as God’s.

“The object of God’s dealing with man, and especially the mission of Christ to earth, was to rescue the world from the rule and dominion of the evil one, from the ruin into which it had fallen through sin, and to rehabilitate it with the dignity and the glory it had when it came from the hand of God; to restore man—spiritually, mentally, and physically—to the likeness of his Maker … to displace the barrenness and desolation of the earth with the verdure and beauty of Eden to make this earth again a garden of God’s own planting …

The leading aim of and end of Christ’s mission on this earth was not to make man religious. He was religious before Jesus came. The specific object was not to make man moral or honest; this was a secondary and subsidiary concomitant and a means to the great end … The failure to appreciate the leading idea of Christ’s mission—leads to grievous mistakes … The one great purpose of Christ’s mission to earth and the establishment of his kingdom on earth and all of the provisions he has made and the forces he has put in operation to affect man’s course of life, were and are to rescue this world from the rule and dominion of the evil one, to deliver it from the ruin into which it had fallen through man’s sin, and to bring it back to its original and normal relations with God and the universe, that the will of God shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (David Lipscomb, “Ruin and Redemption of the World” in Salvation from Sin, pp. 114-115).

This in a “nutshell” is the “doctrine” of salvation proclaimed by the whole Bible but focused in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ who not only died but was raised from the dead in his body to accomplish the salvation of our God. God the Father redeems what he has made. This is a salvation that is so incredibly exciting and energizing …

Thank God for the gift of Salvation.