Are you saved?
Salvation is one of those words we sing about and talk about a lot in the church but rarely define.
During my teen youth group years, salvation was laid out like some kind of religious multi-level marketing program. Get saved by saying some spiritual words during an altar call, learn the presentation with handy salvation bracelet (black, red, white, blue, green and yellow beads), and get as many others as you can to take advantage of the salvation opportunity. I think the rewards had something to do with crowns and mansions. And adding people to team Jesus meant I was accruing treasure in the right place.
I learned to define salvation as primarily a one-time, transactional process, meant to take you from death (physical and spiritual) to eternal life (that has benefits now like the ability to know more about God, but mostly to secure a torture-free, beautiful afterlife).
I was pretty good at presenting the Plan of Salvation and wore that bracelet for years…thinking of salvation as just that, a plan.
At some point I started to experience salvation as much more than a MLM plan with a beaded bracelet.
Grenz, Guretzki, and Nordling tackle it this way:
“God’s activity on behalf of creation and especially humans in bringing all things to God’s intended goal….salvation entails God’s deliverance of humans from the power and effects of sin and the Fall through the work of Jesus Christ so that the creation in general and humans in particular can enjoy the fullness of life intended for what God has made”.
The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Location 1994 of 2373).
Since Christians associate salvation with Jesus, let’s take a look at salvation [soteria – Greek] in the New Testament. We can start with a survey of Luke-Acts.
According to Luke-Acts, Salvation is
- escape (from the end of the world)
- the Holy Spirit (receiving it)
- entering God’s reign, feasting in God’s reign
- spiritual healing, physical healing, exorcism, resuscitation
- walking, sight, survival
- being a child of Abraham
- being clean
A few more things about salvation in Luke-Acts:
- It’s individual and communal
- It’s present, future and arguably past
- It has to do with God or Jesus, most of the time
According to Gonzalez, the concept of salvation was not unique to Christianity,
“In the Greco-Roman in which Christianity was born, there were many religions offering “salvation.” Most of these understood salvation mainly or exclusively as life after death, and often combined these notions of salvation with the ideal of escaping from the material world.”
Essential Theological Terms (Kindle Location 3851 of 4417). Kindle Edition
Religion that promises freedom and joy in the by-and-by and not in the here-and-now keeps today’s liberation at bay since it is only really possible in another world. As Christianity became the religion of empire, the understanding of salvation flattened into a far off promise. Salvation itself became too heavenly to be of much earthly good.
Gonzalez goes on to suggest that Christians lost touch with the multi-layered understanding of salvation of the scriptures, instead settling into the more common heaven-focused understanding. However, he points to the development of Liberation Theologies (see Bo’s ABC post on Liberation) as helping us recover the wider understanding of salvation “as including not only salvation from death and eternal damnation, but also freedom from all sorts of oppression and injustice” (Essential Theological Terms, Kindle Location 3859 of 4417, Kindle Edition),
Salvation is personal and communal, physical and spiritual and oriented in both the present and the future. It is grounded in actual events – a message delivered, the holy spirit falling on people or a place, or a body healing. It doesn’t seem to be reciting a prayer, making an intellectual decision, or even a specific rite or ceremony.
In fact, the dictionary authors seem to sum up our Luke-Acts findings quite nicely. Salvation is God’s deliverance of human beings from the power and effects of sin (sickness, pain, illness, death) and God’s activity on creation’s behalf (including humans) so that we might enjoy fullness of life now and in the future and reach’s God’s intended goal of Shalom.
It’s a messy definition. It’s certainly too complex for 6 beads on a leather strand.
So that’s why I asked some friends what salvation means to them. I asked four questions.
- What is salvation?
- Who is salvation for?
- How do you get salvation?
- Do you consider yourself a Christian (for context).
Check out the video here: Salvation. Answers range from academic to personal, from formulaic to metaphysical. Personal. Individual. Universal. No step-by-step formulas. Some might pray, “Lord, save me from the mess I’ve made”, like Nora. Another might join Anthony and say, “Jesus, make me human”. And yet another, might say, “God, give us life on earth and we won’t worry much about what comes after, “ like Jorge.
What do you say? Are you saved?