Storied Salvation - Part III

Identifying the Problem.

The word “salvation” has a wide semantic range, and throughout the NT the emphasis varies. In the Gospels for instance, Jesus performs miracles where he said, “your faith has saved you.” In contexts such as these, salvation has an undeniably strong physical component. Within that worldview however, the dualism of physical and spiritual which pervades modern thinking was largely absent.

Christianity - in its public forum - has seemingly devoted little energy to speaking about or investigating the political aspect and origin of salvation. Salvation is seen instead as a spiritual phenomenon, (i.e. “are you saved”) of which an individual can gain possession.

The questions then needing to be asked are:

·         From what is one saved and when?
·         How and why does salvation occur?
·         Who is the object of its action and whence is it derived?

There are, without question, numerous ways to speak about and discuss salvation. The point to be made is that salvation is most commonly described as a soul saved from sins and ultimately from eternal torment for eternal bliss.

Thus, “getting saved” is explained through the means of “confessing Jesus as your personal Lord and savior” and praying for forgiveness. If salvation is interpreted as a summation of an entire life, then this would render everyone guilty and impure. And if salvation is likened to a certification of merits earned, then no one is going to be saved. Therefore, some theologians postulate that salvation is completely a work of God, having absolutely no human involvement. It’s God who elects, keeps, cleans, and saves - end of story.

This is reinterpreted as something that happens entirely in the past and does not depend on what my relationship with God looks like today. Now, the theory goes, is never in question, nor does it matter. In this view, salvation becomes a matter of God giving soteriological tenure. It’s made into a thing that’s “mine,” I own it, my gate-pass which was provided through the cross to ensure me a place in the afterlife.

“Mention salvation, and almost all Western Christians assume that you mean going to heaven when you die. But . . . this simply cannot be right. Salvation means, of course, rescue. But what are we ultimately to be rescued from? The obvious answer is death. But if, when we die, all that happens is that our bodies decompose while our souls (or whatever other word we want to use for our continuing existence) go on elsewhere, this doesn’t mean we’ve been rescued from death. It simply means that we’ve died.[1]

The Scriptures present a different picture, one where believers are encouraged to stay strong, hold fast, pursue righteousness, endure to the end and encourage each other in “hope of salvation”[2] all the more as they “see the day approaching.”[3]

[1] N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope (London: SPCK, 2007), 206.
[2] 1 Thes 5:7-9; 2 Thes 2:12-17.
[3] 1 Thes 4:18; 5:8-11, 14; Heb 3:13-14; 10:23-25.

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