Good News: We Are More Salvageable Than We Think
In my most recent blog posts, I suggest that a good way to summarize what the New Testament writers see as “Good News” is this three-part statement:
God loves us so much that God wants us to know –
- We are more valuable than we think
- We are more broken and bent than we think
- We are more salvageable than we think
I know that the word “saved” has fallen into disrepute and therefore disuse in many circles. My personal experiences with angry and rude people shouting at me “Are you saved?” and churches with signs “Jesus Saves” on a chain across the driveway making sure you do not enter make this disrepute quite understandable. Equally negative have been the responses of people who think that saying “I’m saved” excuses them from all responsibility for serving and loving and honoring other humans. The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was certainly right to disdain this “cheap grace.”
Though we may need to use some of the other translations below in witnessing to the alienated and disenchanted, at least for our own Bible reading and wrestling with God, “salvation” represents a word group with content that needs to be engaged. Don’t skip over those promises and challenges. Some of the powerful translations of the Hebrew and Greek words for “saved” include “liberated,” “healed,” “made whole,” “rescued,” and “kept safe.” Those are contents in our relationship with God that we do not want to discard.
There is much in the scriptures emphasizing God’s past act of “saving.” This past-tense act, “saved” is about “putting us into a right relationship” with God—giving us the adopted status of “children of God” and “the people of God.” This “was saved” aspect of God’s salvation is an incredible gift meant to be an amazing step by God in directly engaging our brokenness with newness.
And, in some circles there is a great deal of emphasis on God’s “saving” acts that are associated with the future—particularly His promises of “new heavens and new earth.” This emphasis is also very important to a full picture of God’s desire to save us, and it is often at the center of one kind of evangelical preaching and teaching.
Often emphasized in the more liberal and social-action part of the church, and by some quite conservative branches of the church as well, is the equally important biblical focus on the process of “being saved” right now, through our co-laboring with God in his project of making us into the image of God, the character of God through serving others.
Any one of these biblical aspects of God’s salvation becomes an “untruth” when it is emphasized to the exclusion of the other two. Truth is always mutli-layered, and nothing is a more dangerous untruth than a truth that is turned into “the only truth.” Those tend to lead to the most dangerous heresies. One aspect of a multi-dimensional truth can never carry the weight that it is being asked to carry, and therefore becomes a caricature of the truth God is attempting to reveal to us about God’s love.
Forgiveness that leads to renewed relationship is a crucial content of salvation. The New Testament writers believed that this had been moved a huge step forward by God through Jesus’ “faithfulness even unto death on a cross.” This allowed God to forgive while maintain God’s integrity and ours (Romans 3:21-27). There’s nothing cheap about that for God or for his very human son Jesus. Evangelicals are not wrong about this. But, they often are wrong in making this the only content of “salvation.”
God purposefully moving toward a future age is crucial to a full picture of God’s purpose. The people who emphasize “the new heavens and the new earth” (the Bible actually doesn’t talk about “going to heaven” as a goal) are right—the best of this age is not enough. But, when God’s future is the only emphasis, it becomes a tragic kind of escapism and negation of all of the wonder of humanity and creation that we now experience. Even worse, it becomes an excuse for not caring for other people, for our cultural responsibilities, or for the environment. Instead of the freedom to risk everything because we are heirs of our Father’s future, it does become “the opiate of the people” and “pie in the sky by and by.”
And, of course, only emphasizing our need to put our faith into action as an experience of the process of salvation, can lead to fear, legalism, empty social activism, and hypocrisy if it is the only content we emphasize. After all, who can really measure up to the standard of being in the image of God daily and treating everyone else as a person in the image of God as well? Even people deeply moved and empowered by the Holy Spirit still do not fully measure up even for a little while, not to mention always.
In the next few blog posts, I plan to look at the biblical claim that “We are more salvageable than we think” in terms of “being saved” as a process. But, I want to be clear; it is only part of the biblical content concerning God’s salvation, not the whole ball of wax. It is however, not to be ignored or diminished, and when we do we caricature the entire picture presented in the Biblical writings. How do we “become” in character, in daily living, who we “are” as a gift—children of God.
Then, I plan to spend a little time reflecting on the importance of the future content to God’s salvation—the “Not Yet” part of the “Now/Not Yet” dynamic tension. I hope you will stay with me, and I would love to hear from you about your thoughts.
Pastor Ron Simkins