What is salvation to you?
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What is salvation to you? I have been wracking my brains about this question now hahah.
You and N. T. Wright have caused me to question what I view salvation to be. So, I wanted to ask you directly.
I’ve always thought it to be connected to faith in Jesus as the Son of God who lived died and was resurrected by the Spirit. In other words salvation to me is eternal life in the new heaven and new Earth.
But, honestly I’m still fuzzy on all this in light of the new information I’m receiving from you and other scholars like Wright.
I think you ask the question well. What is salvation to me? Because salvation is a multi-faceted concept in the New Testament. Your summary, “eternal life in the new heaven and new Earth” is certainly central to understanding it, in my view, but it refers to the result of salvation, rather than the cause or the process.
Firstly, I think it is important to track the use of that word in the OT. One thing that is critical in my mind is connecting the way the term is used in the NT with the way it is used in the OT. In the OT it is used often, and of course, it never means professing “Jesus is Lord”. So that’s an important start-point. I think you’ve already basically noticed that.
Second, what it does refer to in the OT is generally the concept of being transferred from a state of imminent danger, or suffering, to a state of peace/shalom. So it’s primarily referring to temporal safety. In the NT, salvation is often associated with increasing your temporal danger, perhaps even costing your life.
Third, in the OT it is often used in the context of the king, and implies the safety also of his people. So often the salvation of all Israel is at stake. The salvation is normally expressed in terms of victory in battle.
Fourth, the links between the OT concept of salvation and the NT reference to faith in Christ are not really very tight. Christian contemplation has, from the earliest times, drawn the connection, but I think that in the modern time we have lost track of just how the link really works. Isaiah 53 is not actually a conclusive link, as you will see if you listen to Jewish rabbis talking about what the passage means to them.
So we have this term which, when invoked in the NT must have be appropriating OT themes as far as the author and original readers were concerned, but our modern understanding of it doesn’t actually relate to the OT theme of salvation!
NT Wright is a really good resource for this question. A lot could (and should) be said. A quick summary of my view, however, might be:
- God created everything, and it was “good”. Adding humanity made it “very good”.
- It would be appropriate if humanity, created as we are in God’s image, would honour this fact by conforming ourselves to the likeness of a true firstborn son. We fail.
- God chose one people to pursue the specific task of being conformed to this image. They frequently failed, but God made a covenant with them in which he would forgive and restore them if they turned back to him in good faith.
- The people, having failed, often found themselves in danger. They would appeal to their covenant with God, asking him to save them from their own folly because of his covenant promise of grace. This would be, in a sense, “Salvation by faith, through God’s grace”… right?
- The rest of the world treated God’s people unjustly, in various ways at various times. They would cry out to God to bring justice in the world, which would involve a vindication of his people. This was especially true in the Exile.
- In the first century, the Jews knew that they were in disgrace with God. It was obvious because the Romans were oppressing them. They were crying out for God’s gracious covenantal provision – salvation.
- Jesus turns up and lives out the story of Israel (without the failing). That is, he remains true to God, is victimized for it, is falsely accused and condemned, does not utter a complaint to anyone but God, and submits without a fight. He dies. God raises him up, demonstrating that God’s covenant with Israel is indestructible – God will vindicate and restore those who have suffered injustice.
- This vindication of Jesus (Phil 2:9) is a message about God’s vindication of Israel because Jesus was living Israel’s story. God’s vindication of Israel is a message about God’s forgiveness of all humanity, because Israel (now represented by Christ) is intercessor for the world’s people groups (see ex 19.6, for example). In this way, we can say of the crucifixion that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 cor 5:18).
- The forgiveness begins with Israel. Notice what Peter says at Pentecost to the Jews: “Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” (Acts 2:36). This is what prompts them to ask, “what should we do?”, to which Peter replies, “Repent … so that your sins may be forgiven”. Again at the temple he does the same thing: “you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:15), followed by the exhortation, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out”. So the “forgiveness” of Baptism relates to repenting of the killing of Jesus. By this forgiveness they are saved from God’s righteous wrath. What’s more, they receive the promised Holy Spirit, making them truly “Israel”, the corporate son-of-God people-of-God whom God designed in Abraham.
- How can this apply to Gentiles? On what grounds is this extended beyond Israel? Firstly, Abraham is the father of all who believe God (Romans 4:11-12). Secondly, Jesus actually dies at the hands of the Gentiles. In fact, he died under the edict of Rome – the consummate expression of satanic power in the world, the “prince of this world”. Now, if he was put to death by the Gentiles and the Jews – all of humanity – then any forgiveness is also for all of humanity. Adam sinned on behalf of all men, and Christ redeemed on behalf of all men….
All of those thoughts combine to a concept in which “salvation” in the NT is like a consummation of all of the covenantal salvation ideas of the OT, connecting all of those ideas to the ultimate reconciliation between God and creation – fractured by Adam, restored by Christ.
But from what are we saved?
From what were the people, the kings, and the nation saved in the OT?
From what were the Jews being saved in the NT?
What is the common element?
It is shame. We are saved from shame. The reverse of shame is honour.
Adam’s actions cast a pall of shame across humanity (go back to the top of my list again and look for “honour”…). Christ redeems humanity from that shame. He redeems Israel as the people of God, and the redemption of Israel makes for the redemption of the Gentiles. “Israel”, of course, in the spiritual son-of-God-people refers to “all who believe – Jew and Gentile”. Those who are redeemed will of course ultimately have “eternal life in the new heaven and new Earth”, as you say.
Well… If you’re still reading then I’m impressed. I hope that’s not completely unintelligible!