December 8, 2012

A holistic view of salvation

At times, Christians reduce the idea of salvation to less than its biblical fullness. Unfortunately, this strips salvation of some of its richness and leads to confusion concerning its nature and scope. However, when viewed through the lens of a Trinitarian, incarnational theology, the fullness of our salvation in Christ comes into focus as represented in the diagram below, which likens salvation to a stunningly beautiful gem with multiple facets.
The diagram reminds us that salvation (represented by the full gem) is the sum total of its individual parts (represented by the gem's facets). This holistic view of salvation seeks to be faithful to Christ, who through his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit, is the Source of our salvation. 

Note that the diagram does not show all of salvation's facets, but lists several, including justification, redemption, adoption, sanctification and glorification. Rather than seeing these as separate parts, they should be viewed as related aspects of the one whole. That whole is fundamentally relational, for salvation is about the enduring, saving relationship of God with humanity in and through the person of the incarnate Son of God, our Savior Jesus Christ.

Sadly, salvation is frequently reduced to only one of its many facets--most commonly that of justification, with a emphasis on the forgiveness of sin. From this perspective, salvation is seen as a mere transaction, wherein our record is cleared and we stand "justified" before God as forgiven sinners. Certainly, justification (which includes forgiveness) is a vital aspect of our salvation. However, this reductionist view strips salvation of its enduring, relational fullness by locating it in a single point of time (typically the point when one comes to faith), and thus misses much of the fullness of the "gem" (i.e. the full breadth of salvation).

Another problem caused by looking at the facets of salvation in isolation, apart from the whole, is the tendency to see these aspects as separated in time and space. This leads us to line them up, thinking that one always (and only) follows the other. This approach has led to various conceptions of an ordo salutis (order of salvation), with the sequencing varying from one theological tradition to another.

Of course, our subjective (personal) encounter with Christ within our time and space involves a progression. However, Scripture indicates that this subjective perspective is not the whole story--indeed the whole story is found in the objective reality of humanity in union with God in and through the person of the Incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ. From this objective perspective, Scripture speaks of us as having "been saved," (past tense), as "being saved" (present, progressive tense) and as "will be saved" (future tense). Sound confusing? Well, perhaps so from our "lower story," subjective perspective. However, the confusion drops away when we lift our eyes to view reality through the lens of Jesus and his work (past, present and future) on behalf of all humanity (for more detail about this objective/subjective distinction, click here).

Consider something else. Reductionist views of salvation tend to understand the word "saved" as meaning merely "forgiven." However, in the Greek New Testament, the word soteria, which we translate as "saved" or "salvation," not only refers to deliverance (as in deliverance from sin) but also to the concept of healing (being made well or whole). Ray Anderson notes this in Christians Who Counsel: "The frequent association of the word [soteria] with deliverance from physical illness in the Synoptic gospels strongly points to this relationship [of salvation with the concept of healing]" (p115). Thus we understand that the biblical view of salvation is of an enduring, healing, life-giving and relational journey with Jesus, not merely a legal transaction at a given point in time. On this journey with Jesus, we are, through the Spirit, being held safe and secure and being made whole (healthy)--we are being saved by and in Christ to the uttermost.

There is no aspect (facet) of this salvation--this life-giving journey with Jesus--which we earn by our own works or receive due to our own personal merit. Salvation (in all its aspects) is God's free, undeserved gift (it's grace!) to us through Christ, in the Spirit. And all of salvation's facets, rather than being separate, are fundamentally interconnected in the person and the ongoing work of the one Savior (Soter) of humanity, the great physician of our souls, Jesus Christ.

Thus the evangelical invitation being issued by Christ, through the Spirit, in and through the church, is to "be made well"--to repent, meaning change one's thinking about God and oneself (know that you belong), to embrace and trust Christ as Savior and Lord (believe); and to take up one's cross and follow Christ (become his disciple). 

In this enduring encounter with Jesus, through the Spirit, we are "held safe," being "made whole" (healthy in the ultimate sense), until one day, through the miracle of glorification (a facet of this beautiful gem called salvation), we will find ourselves healed fully: body, mind and spirit.

Enjoy the journey! The best is yet to come.

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