I’m writing this post for two reasons. First, and most importantly, because I think it’s important for Christians to have a full picture of Christ’s work in salvation. (And for those who are not Christians and are reading this, I want to ensure that you have a full picture of what the Bible talks about when it talks about salvation.) Second, to address a couple of imbalances we can sometimes form in our theology.
One way we can be imbalanced is by assuming that salvation is purely personal and individual, it’s about saving souls from hell, and that’s it. If this were the extent of salvation, it would still be a marvelous gift, but there’s simply more to it than that. The second imbalance has come as a reaction to the first. That imbalance is to emphasize that God’s work in salvation is communal or cosmic and then to deemphasize the personal, by saying things like “the Bible never says God wants a personal relationship with you.” This argument, by the way, has to ignore a lot of the Bible, or reinterpret words like “personal” and “relationship” to work.
I want to argue that salvation is something that is personal, communal, and cosmic and that the three are no in opposition to one another. I addressed this to some degree in my most recent sermon on Ephesians. This post will leave out a lot of Scripture references, but Ephesians is the book at the forefront of my mind for most of it.
Salvation is Personal
Paul writes: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). Since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden – and because we each ratify that sin on our own – we all bear personal guilt before God. This makes us his enemies. We need to be forgiven and reconciled in order to stand in the final judgment. Jesus’s work is to reconcile us God by dying on the cross for our sins. We receive that gift when we put our faith in Jesus. When this happens, we are personally and individually saved. We have peace with God. In my tribe of evangelicalism, this is how we most commonly express the gospel. We should keep doing that.
Salvation is Communal
When Adam and Eve sinned not only were we alienated from God, we were alienated from one another. When Jesus breaks down the wall of hostility between us and God, he also breaks down the wall of hostility between us and one another. He does this in the church. So, when we are “in Christ” we are also in “his body”, we are part of his family, we form one single temple of the Holy Spirit. Being saved means becoming part of a community. The task of the community is to be salt and light to the world, to invite those who are outside in to experience the fullness of the love of God.
Salvation is Cosmic
The Fall had universal implications. All of creation groans under the curse. History is marked by horrendous evil. Systems, powers and authorities (“religious” and secular) often stand in direct opposition to God. Beings in the spiritual realm continue to rebel against God and do harm to his creation. God is remedying this as well. Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus he dealt a fatal blow to the powers of evil. While still wielding great ability to do harm, their end is assured, and will be complete when God makes all things new. When that happens all of creation will stand in its proper relation to Christ.
Each of these dimensions to salvation follows the same storyline. There was an originally created goodness. That goodness was marred by sin and rebellion. God overcame that evil through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. Now He is making all things new, first gradually, but someday all in a flash. In Christ, we are a “new creation,” we form a new community, and we await a New Heaven and a New Earth.