Storied Salvation - Part I

The phrase, “I'm saved,” the question, “Are you saved?” and the declaration, “They got saved!” are often heard within Christianity.  The word ‘saved’ is a verb and therefore communicates action, i.e. to be “saved from something.”

“The word “salvation” connotes the fact that his [God’s] people were in trouble and needed rescuing.”[1]

The modern Church has become so laden with terminology and cliché that the original message which the New Testament (NT) writers intended to communicate is obscured, if not entirely absent. While a palatable salvation makes for handy marketing, it has fostered ignorance of solid theology, exegesis, and the proper hermeneutical principles needed for interpretation. These often heard phrases are rarely helpful or accurate.

What exactly does “asking Jesus into one’s heart” mean? While some corroborate this vague notion with various “proof texts,” it is not a NT theme and is foreign to the Hebraic worldview out of which Jesus proclaimed his God-ordained message. The actual message of the NT is, “repent and believe in the Gospel of the Kingdom of God” (Mk 1:14-15, Acts 8:12).

“What then did Jesus intend to do? The alternative offered by many who dismiss the church as a bad mistake is simply that Jesus came to offer individuals a new way of salvation, or perhaps a new form of religion. This, of course, is equally anachronistic; individualism is a comparatively modern, and a largely western, phenomenon.”[2]

Phrasing the question in the past tense, “when were you saved” conveys the idea that one comes into possession of something that either can or cannot be lost. Perhaps a better question to ask is, “when are we saved”?

In the centuries following Jesus' ministry, the Greek paradigm pervaded Christian thinking, which resulted in the long-expected, God-ruled, corporeal kingdom becoming a spiritualized, internal tranquility and a kingdom of the heart.

“The call to ‘believe in the gospel,’ or to ‘believe in me,’ does not suggest that Jesus was inviting Galilean villagers to embrace a body of doctrine—not even a basic ‘theory’ about ‘salvation’ and how they might attain it, nor, again, very much of a christology (though presumably it involved recognizing Jesus as a god-sent prophet like John). Nor does it suggest that Jesus was offering them what we would today call a new ‘religious experience.’ It evokes the historical picture of one who believed that, with his work, Israel’s god was inaugurating his long-awaited kingdom.”[3]

Due to this shift, salvation was ripped from its indigenous context and meaning then placed within the framework of this alternative “kingdom.”

Passages used in support this "spiritualization" theory are sparse and gravitate toward abusing solid interpretational principles. The imagery drawn from the Old Testament (OT) and its inherent theology (as well as the worldview of the NT writers) tells an entirely different story. The soteriological foundation provided therein renders it difficult to reconcile interpretations of the kingdom and salvation as being merely spiritual or other-worldly.

Salvation, while often interpreted today as an internal, spiritual phenomenon or state of being, had a much more political and tangible meaning in the first-century. In a broad sense, salvation had eschatological overtones which drew from well-known imagery in the Torah and the message of hope heralded throughout the Writings and Prophets.[4]

Salvation was intimately linked to resurrection and parousia[5] theology. Inasmuch as salvation was an answer to sin, iniquity, missing the mark, or failure to obey the commands and statutes of the Lord, it was so on the basis of those things being one's subsequent undoing, which then culminated in separation and final condemnation. Either a person is subjected to the justice of God or is saved from it, i.e. life or death. The promise and hope of Yahweh's salvation was exemplified throughout the generations of Israel, reflecting the typology set earlier within their history.

[1] N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (Downers Grove, IL.: IVP, 2009), 71.
[2] N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. 2 (Fortress Press, 1996), 275.
[3] Ibid., 263.
[4] Tanakh (TNK) is an acronym for the three bodies of writing of which it is comprised. Torah, Nevi'im (the prophets) and Ketuvim (the writings). Using the phrase “Old Testament” has proven offensive to the Hebrew people, because in doing so Christians are stating (intentionally or not) that the New Testament is the new and improved version and they have the old one.
[5] “Coming,”  “presence” “arrival.” “For the coming [parousia] of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah” Mat 24:37.

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