Good News: Images of God’s Ongoing Salvation
My most recent post contained some of the key scriptural statements indicating that God believes that we are more salvageable than we usually think we are, and that this life is meant to be an ongoing process of healing, maturing, liberation, and rescue. As important as these often ignored statements are, the symbolic images that are used by biblical writers to describe the ongoing process of salvation are even more astounding than the straightforward prose statements.
Perhaps the most dominant image of God’s current liberating/healing/saving process with humans is the image of God-with-us on a journey. The Hebrew Bible often speaks of being with God daily as our “walk,” and as being on the right “path.” The early Jesus’ Movement was known widely as “The Way.” The American Indians saw clearly that life is a journey in which we choose various possible paths, so they often described “Christianity” as “the Jesus Way” (a label that really resonates with me).
A few of the many passages in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament that use this image include: (1) Jesus’ regular use of the invitation/command “Follow me;” (2) Psalm 119:105 – “LORD, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path; (3) Ephesians 4:1 – “1I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called….”
Perhaps we would experience quite a bit more of God’s daily liberating presence in our lives if we could just remember that each day is an important part of an ongoing journey with God.
Treasure in a Clay Pot
This image of our current reality reflects both our value and our brokenness, as well as an ongoing process of salvation. Paul worded it this way in 1 Corinthians 4:6ff :
6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus the Messiah.
7But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair….”
16So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure,
How much more of God’s ongoing healing and rescuing presence can we experience if we daily remember this truth that we so often attempt to hide from ourselves? The combination of our fragility, our value, and God’s desire to keep us growing daily is a powerful image of salvation as an ongoing daily process with God.
A Refining/Testing Process that Retains the Valuable and Lasting
1 Peter 1:3-8 — “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
James 1:2-4 2My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; 4and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.
The biblical writers do often speak of parts of human life as a “testing.” However, this image is not primarily one describing a process looking for failure, but a process determined to produce something more valuable. When I hold on to the promise that every situation in life is an opportunity for God to refine me—to move me forward in God’s process of salvation—I am much more able to relax into God’s peace, even when life is difficult, unjust, broken, and painful.
This imagery does not demand that I see bad things as good. What it does demand is that I trust that even the terrible heat of life’s tests can be used by God to retain what is most valuable about us humans. This refining image brings to mind several important truths. (1) God may allow hard times, but God is after what is valuable in us. All refining tends to look ugly and destructive at times, but the goal is always to save the valuable. (2) God’s purpose according to the 1 Peter passage above is that this will all result not in destruction, but in the praise, glory, and honor God has always intended to visit upon humanity (Psalm 8). (3) God is at work “protecting” us through the hard times and temptations that life brings. Our work is to trust this reality and hang on.
There are other powerful biblical images of this ongoing process of salvation and God’s purpose in this process. We will examine more of them together in my next post.
Pastor Ron Simkins