The way we approach the Bible determines how we think about just about every subjects the Bible deals with. We have been presenting the idea that one cannot adequately understand any part or any subject in the Bible without an overall understanding of the story of the Bible. That is especially true of the subject we are dealing with today.
If I were to ask you, “What does salvation (or being saved) mean to you?” what would you answer? Would you answer that it means being saved from one’s sins. Would your thoughts go to the ultimate objective of your salvation – that you might go to heaven when you die? This is pretty much the evangelical view. The reason for being saved is so we can go to heaven when we die, or so many people think of it as being that.
Between our salvation and that future state of blissful eternity we just have to “be good” so we won’t go to hell when we die. For some, that time between salvation and eternity must be filled with going to a good church on a regular basis and doing “good works” of an indefinite description until we are able to go home to be with the Lord. For others it is absolutely imperative that one be in the “right church” or hell is a certainty. For these, this linkage between salvation and church leads them to concentrate on these two areas of Bible study. In technical theological jargon, these areas of biblical study are known as soteriology and ecclesiology.
Many people understand that there is the need, indeed the divinely given responsibility of sanctification – the progressive transformation of the character of the individual into the likeness of Christ. This, I believe, comes closer to the Biblical idea of salvation, but still is lacking quite a bit in terms of what the Bible actually teaches.
But what does the Bible teach about salvation? Is it just about forgiveness and going to heaven or is there more to it than that? Although the Bible actually teaches sanctification, is this the fullness of the divine intent in bringing man back to himself or is there something more – something to which sanctification is leading?
In order to understand what salvation is about we must first understand what it means to be lost – and what we have lost. And for that understanding we must go back to the beginning and see what we were meant to be from creation. I know we are lost on account of our own sin, but is it just salvation from our own sin as an individual that God is saving us, or is he interested in restoring us to our proper place and function in his overall scheme of creation – back to what he always intended us to be who were made to bear his image? How we answer these questions will determine how we will “work out our own salvation” (Philippians 2:12).
In order to understand man we must go back to the beginning – back to the time of our creation.
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
“So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27).
The two things said about man here may be summed up by the words “image” and “rule.” Man was made in the image of God to be co-rulers with him over his “very good” creation. Man was to exert the same kind of loving care for all that God had made as God had exercised in creating it. He was to extend and bring it to a state of development that would be the ideal habitat for all their descendants – those who would come from their “fruitfulness.” These were also meant to be God’s image bearers and were to continue the loving, subservient rule or dominion over creation. That role of loving care would, of course, include other human beings.
Man was made to live with God in a perfect relationship. He was intended to work in cooperation with God as he was bringing man and all his creation to such a state of development that it would reflect his glory in ever more diverse ways. We know that that objective has not by any means been reached.
When sin entered upon the scene, man not only lost his exalted position, but also lost his ability to perfectly reflect God’s image. God’s mandate to tend and care for creation was never rescinded, but because of the curse of sin it was made immensely more difficult. Because of man’s preoccupation with himself – his pride and arrogance – he has perverted that mandate in to permission to rape and pillage creation for his own enrichment and pleasure. The consequence of all this is that we live in a world that is horribly scarred by sin. Our own personal sin and the cumulative effects of the sins of nations and of societies must be considered when we think about the subject of salvation.
In our perverted way of thinking we have come to the conclusion that salvation is all about “me” being saved from my personal sin so “I” can go to heaven when I die. But the effect of sin is not on me alone. It involves the whole of creation. Paul talks about how “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” and how “the creation [is] waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” when it will “be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-25).
If this is the destiny of ourselves and of the whole of creation, then what responsibilities do we have toward God and that grand purpose in view of our own forgiveness and hope? Are we only to wait for the Lord to come and take us away from this sorry, sordid world which, according to our usual understanding, is destined to be turned into a cinder, or are we to go to work toward completing his grand purpose for ourselves as creatures made in his image and made for the work of caring for and extending creation to bear and reflect his glory?
No, we will not make all things new – only God can do that. But we are held responsible to show to the best of our abilities – individually and combined – to show the world what that new creation will be like. How does God expect us to do this?
Look for a moment at what God really expects of his people in the past and in the present…
“Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.” (Isaiah 1:17 ESV).
“Thus says the Lord: Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3 ESV).
“But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18 ESV).
Think of Jesus’ reading and comments in the synagogue. He had come to fulfill this prophecy.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV)
This was clearly looking back to the Jubilee year which Israel had been commanded to observe. It had tremendous social implications. Now, Christ is our Jubilee. Every year is the year of the Lord’s favor. Can we ignore the implications of this message?
“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24 ESV).
Justice – the Hebrew and Greek words are the same as those rendered “righteousness.” … It must be constantly borne in mind that the two ideas are essentially the same. (ISBE eSword).
Look at the nature of Christ’s kingdom as Isaiah prophesied it to be …
“Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:7).
Look at God’s standard of judgment of his people – his nation
“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,
a stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:
‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’
“And I will make justice the line,
and righteousness the plumb line;
and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and waters will overwhelm the shelter.” (Isaiah 28:16-17).
Peter quoted the first part of this passage and applied it to the church. Look at what the one who laid the cornerstone said the standard of judgment would be for his people – justice and righteousness. The refuge of lies behind which people would hide themselves would be swept away.
Consider the nature of God’s relationship with his people.
“And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.” (Hosea 2:19).
Can the Lord’s people to whom he is betrothed do less than the Lord? Is the bride of Christ expected to do differently from him?
What all these scriptures are demanding is what would be called “social justice” today. Human responsibility is to be our brother’s keeper. That applies to us as individuals and as the church as well. When we use some excuse of “silence” to justify our inaction we deny and refuse to do the will of God. We refuse to be like him.
“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:18).
We cannot argue that we are not under the Old Testament in regard to these matters. There is no difference between the demands of the Old Testament and the New Testament on matters of social justice. When we make a pretense of religion and refuse to care for the hungry, the widows, the orphans, the sick, the oppressed, to clothe the naked or whatever the need may be of those round about us we show ourselves to be something other than the people of a loving God. We put ourselves in the category of the one talent man who, for fear of doing something displeasing to his master, did nothing at all.
All these things we are saved for. These things are what salvation is about. Doing these things is doing what God really expects of us as his children. Doing these things is a living, tangible demonstration of what God is like. Doing these things reflects God’s glory into the world. He didn’t save us to sit in our comfortable meeting houses and congratulate ourselves on how fortunate we are to have all the truth on how to worship God acceptably while looking with contempt and withholding our love from those not so fortunate as we while justifying ourselves for doing nothing by a spurious hermeneutic.
Doing these socially responsible things is, as Jesus said, the basis on which we will be judged in the last day (Matt 25:31-46). I know we will not be judged as the church, but those who lead people into dismissing our responsibilities toward those who need our help or by not training and leading Christians into the fulfilling of those duties will certainly be judged with a stricter judgment. And the congregation that does not do all it can to see that the needs of both those of the household of faith and the needs of the stranger and the sojourner shows itself to not be of Christ.
More tomorrow …