Salvation is probably the most argued theological topic if you are a follower of Christ or have been around one and with good reason. Salvation is a big deal. The very existence of the word has huge implications. The word itself implies that the disaster and destruction that awaits can be averted.
Salvation is a big deal. People don’t just talk about it because it’s interesting. People talk about it because we need it. I know I need saving. I need saving from many things, and I need saving all the time. I’m not God. I can’t do this on my own pride. One day, I’ll die, and what will it count for?
A lot of times, you’ll hear people talk about a moment in time when they realized that they needed a savior, and called out to Jesus, believing that His story is true and repenting of a life that, without Him, had only lust and pride to show for itself, burning like embers, but unable to burn forever, unable to sustain a person throughout eternity.
Salvation often begins in a moment, but it doesn’t end there. “Now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” Not only is it a thing we experience or obtain at a certain time, but it is also a place we’re heading toward. It has a fulfillment, another side so to speak. Eventually, there will be a point beyond which we will not need saving, when anything that we or the world around us could do to harm us, will be gone.
Salvation has an end, so if it has a beginning and an end, it must have a middle. The middle is your life in Christ. He is always working for us to draw us close to Him, to perfect us, to make us more like Him, more like what we were meant to be from the beginning. His salvation is active. It doesn’t just happen once. It is ongoing. It isn’t moment to moment. It isn’t until the next sin. It isn’t until the next hardship. It doesn’t run out because He doesn’t run out.
Salvation is a big deal, but when I look at the things that the Bible says it is, then compare it to how we treat it more often than not, I become more and more convinced that salvation always had a place, and that it was always in the plan in case it was necessary (the lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world), but it isn’t actually the point. Part of it? Absolutely, but in the end, I think we’re missing something huge.
But before you go screaming, “Heresy!” please, hear me out.
It’s easy to turn evangelism into a numbers game. After all, if Jesus is really the only way to the Father, heaven, and so on, we should want everyone to know, right? But salvation is not about numbers—bluntly put, keeping a score of religious population points. Granted, we live in a world that is governed by and expressed with numbers. In the physical realm, you can quantify nearly everything; but although souls exist in numbers, you cannot reduce them to simple facts and figures. Life cannot be quantified that way.
Beyond that, salvation isn’t something that you acquire. You can’t earn it. You can’t just go out and buy it. You can’t suck up to God. You can’t trick Him into giving it to you. He can’t be fooled by false allegiance, in order to make Him give us what we want. This is why the language of “getting” saved irks me.
However, you can inherit it. That is a part of what happened with the death of Christ and comes with the territory of being God’s adopted sons. But it’s also something that even though we have it, it belongs in the family, so to speak. It’s tied to the name. What I’m saying is that God literally owns salvation. Even when He has given it to us by inheritance, it still belongs to Him.
It’s not entry into a social club. That’s not how the church actually works, and it’s not remotely what the church is, although we are a bunch of people who know we need Christ, and need each other to be strong in walking His pathways, enduring hardships, remembering who He is and why we need to be saved in the first place.
Let’s look at this from the perspective of the first church. According to Hebrews 6, there are six “fundamental” teachings: repentance, faith toward God, baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. If you think about it, and if you have read the Bible attentively, you will realize that each of these six teachings describes a different phase of salvation. Not steps (because salvation can’t be earned), but different phases, just like the moon has phases. What you’re looking at are six places where salvation takes you. But the specifics of those are besides the point.
The anonymous author of Hebrews was upset at the fact that the Hebrew church was getting stuck on these things and not moving forward, not growing in Christ. As we age in time, we learn, we expand, and hopefully we grow up. That wasn’t happening for them. They were having trouble even swallowing the basics. They were focusing on things that, once you establish them, you move forward. Like building a building, it goes up. But they were stuck picking at the foundation. Why? What was so complicated about the basic tenets of salvation that they were tearing it apart instead of building on top of it?
Maybe that isn’t the right question.
It’s hard to grasp salvation if the world is either feeding your ego or robbing you of your worth. That is what Israel faced, and what we all do. We have been trained with lies, so maybe the basic tenets of salvation being hard to grasp just makes sense given the state of our hearts.
Maybe the question is about our hearts.
Why do we even crave salvation in the first place? We treat it flippantly enough a lot of the time, so that’s really the question. If we have the audacity to behave toward a gift given by the self-sacrificial, all-sufficient love of Christ the way we do, then why do we actually seek it?
I think the question answers itself.
We need salvation precisely because of how we treated Him. He gave us life, completely pure at the start, and we slapped Him in the face. And although none of the living have lived to see perfection as did Adam and Eve for the briefest of moments before they turned, parts of us hurt at the sight of injustice, even if we are only sensitive to injustice toward ourselves. Isn’t that evidence that there is such a thing as perfect, holy, peaceful, and righteous? Isn’t that what we truly want? Yet we ran from Him.
If abandoning our relationship with God is what created in us a need to be saved, then as important as salvation is (infinitely so), it can’t be the whole point of the Gospel. It’s just the first step in renewing the relationship with the One that created us and kept us alive in the first place. Ultimately, isn’t that the point? Otherwise, aren’t we just using Him, if it were possible?
It would be really easy to write out of spite for the people who preached to me a false gospel of salvation without any other purpose than shelter from hell. I won’t lie: I’ve thought about it a lot before and during the writing of this. It’s hard to get over the selfishness of others. But it’s even harder to get over my own selfishness. I’m the same as them.
It’d be a lie of omission to say that when I sin (and we all do whether we want to or not, whether we admit it or not) that I don’t have a moment of fear for my life after death, especially given the false ideas I was fed for a long time. That’s followed, thankfully, by both the remembrance that my just Lord is also merciful and desires that I live and that I do better, and the remembrance that He is forgiving every time.
Then I feel really guilty, and not just about the sin. And it’s not even that momentary fear of destruction that kills me. It’s when I realize I’m more concerned about whether or not I will be condemned than the purity of my heart or my relationship with Jesus being in jeopardy.
He doesn’t just want to save me from hell.
He doesn’t just want to transform me into a new person.
What He wants is me back with Him.
That’s the power of His love, and I find that when I live by that, the rest of it starts to make more sense, when transformation happens, and I can calm down because my Father is good and wants only good for me. So if we’re going to talk about salvation, let’s talk about where it comes from, where it’s going, not just what it’s getting us.