WHAT IS “SALVATION”?
In response to a query from a friend, I am working through what “salvation” means. Certainly, in traditional Christian theology, “salvation” means being forgiven of sins, regenerated and being good, then in a position to go to heaven. I just attended a church service where I heard exactly that.
In the Synoptics, however, “salvation” pretty much always means “healing” or “rescue.” Even in Mt 1:21 and Hb 9:28 Jesus’ “saving” from sins may have had a primary referent to the broken covenant penalties of Dt 28, not simply going to hell, hence, the emphasis on healing in the NT “gospel.”
Since the Synoptic Gospels (Mt, Mk, Lk) were written, mostly later, as summaries and “big picture” correctives to a Christianity that immediately began to drift off course in so many ways, we ought to take these Gospels (and John) as our prime source, and not dismiss them as “historical prologue” to the “real stuff”–“justification by faith” in Paul, as Luther and Calvin taught. (Paul was more amenable to Protestant “demythologizing” of the Gospel than the Gospels themselves).
The Gospels, then, were attempts to reset and recenter Jesus’ original mission and message. Based on the direction church doctrine took after the introduction of the Gospels, it seems that this “reset” didn’t really succeed. Maybe that success would come far in the future, but certainly not from the 2nd century and thereafter, where Christianity increasingly became an exercise in human/demonic speculation and pontificating (creeds and apologetics), not revelation and power. In the NT, demons always “knew” perfect “theology”; they did not “know” God in the way of knowing that God requires.
In my view, we can’t persist in the charismatic tweaking of the Protestant ordo salutis: get “saved,” then filled with the Spirit. The NT seems to promote John the Baptist’s program of “repent and be baptized and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” It seems to me that “repent” means to move from a basic epistemology of the “wrong tree” to the tree of life: moving from the Serpent’s words to the Spirit’s. The immediate goal here is “obedience.” (Paul’s mission was “obedience from the Gentiles”). You can’t “obey” God until you, in some sense, hear his voice telling us what to obey.
There was a man who said he couldn’t become a Christian until he gave up his cigarettes. Normally, I would respond that he needed a “salvation” experience which would then empower him to give up the habit. But I wonder if this man and his cigarettes may have been God’s test to show if he was really going to obey God’s revelation: was he going to hear and obey God in this defining test or not? The cigarettes, by themselves, are trivial, the test of obedience is everything–the first step toward “salvation” that is, life in the revealing, empowering Spirit/presence of God. “Repent” means “turning in the opposite direction”–away from one way of living to another: it involves a basic decision, and action, for total change.
SALVATION IS DEFINED IN THE NT AS ENTERING THE NEW COVENANT defined in Acts 2:39, citing Isa 59:21, and 2 Cor 3, describing Jer 31:33 (also Heb 12:18-25), receiving the New Covenant Spirit of prophecy and power. THIS IS THE MISSION OF JESUS DEFINED IN ALL FOUR GOSPELS: “He will baptize in the Holy Spirit.”
I think, therefore, that the defining pattern for becoming a “Christian” is Acts 2:38-39, and its citation of Isa 59:21–a citation that traditional theology has denied: it is a single package of repentance, baptism, to the goal of receiving the Spirit (the charismatic Spirit of prophecy and power).
“THIS is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”
So the goal and expression of “salvation” is really the “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” which means, you are immersed in God’s presence, communication, and life. This is the opposite of living “in the flesh”–human weakness without God’s empowering, leading to death. A “man of the Spirit” or a “man of God” in the Bible is one who was a prophet: one who lived in the voice, obedience and power of God to heal and deliver from demonic influence. THIS is “salvation” in the NT. This essentially charismatic experience is flatly denied in traditional Protestantism (e.g., Sect. 1, Westminster Confession).
So, to “repent and be baptized” means to choose the basic way of “hearing” to the Spirit, to be “washed” of that former way of thinking/heeding (the source of all “sins”), and then entering into the realm of God’s Spirit–the power of revelation and power, “cleansed” of demonic input.
One example of how far the Protestant notion of “salvation” drifted is the case of the Philippian jailer: “What must I do to be saved” meant: “How can I have my sins forgiven and go to heaven!” Talk about “demythologizing!” What he was asking was, “The government is going to kill me and enslave my family if these prisoners escape! How do I avoid that?” Paul’s answer was the universal answer to ALL the desperate situations of ALL mankind: “Have faith (hear God’s voice and obey) in the Lord Jesus Christ–all that he taught and modeled about hearing and obeying the Father/Spirit–and you will be rescued from every evil–in God’s own way !”–including the problem of the prisoners escaping.
The basic difference between traditional “salvation” and that of the NT is as follows:
Traditional emphasis: 1) man in sinful state going to hell. 2) ordo salutis, behaves ethically, 3) qualifies for heaven
New Testament emphasis: 1) man denying revelation from God (Rom 1); life in chaos, suffering penalties of Dt 28; 2) hears/heeds revelation, repents (heeds God, not serpent), is “baptized” in Spirit, able to hear and obey and become a charismatic evangelist/disciple as per mandate of Mark 3:14-15 (actually, the mandate for Adam–all mankind), and further spelled out in, e.g., Lk 9&10, Mt 28:19-20; Acts 1:8. The NT emphasis on “salvation,” then, is not on getting “saved” from hell, but to become a Spirit-filled disciple as the NT defines it.
In both cases, of course, hell and heaven are ultimate factors. It’s just that the NT concentrates on the here-and-now and how to be “providers” of God’s “grace/charisms” whereas in the Protestant system you are “saved” to be a permanent, paying “consumer” of ecclesiastical services, including “salvation.” I realize this is an extreme caricature of these positions, but it’s to show the contrast.
Bottom line: I don’t think we should assume the Protestant meaning of “salvation” if we are to get at the NT goals for human existence.
To tradition, “salvation” was getting rid of sins to qualify for heaven. To the NT, “salvation” was deliverance from a demonic way of knowing to a life of revelation in the Spirit of prophecy and power–obedience to God and assuming the mandate of Mark 3:14-15.
Feedback appreciated !