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 the communal or cosmic aspect of God’s salvation and then to deemphasize the personal, by saying things like “the Bible never says God wants a personal relationship with you” or by exclusively talking about the gospels political and ethical implications.
Against these imbalances I argue that salvation is personal, communal, and cosmic and that the three are not in opposition to one another.
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 (Romans 5:10). We are alienated from him (Ephesians 2:12). 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 (Ephesians 2:13). We receive that gift when we put our faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8). 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 (Ephesians 2:15-16). He does this in the church. 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 (Ephesians 2:21, 1 Peter 2:5).
When we are saved we become part of a reconciled counter-cultural community which acts as salt and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16) and is given the “message of reconciliation” to invite those who are outside in to experience the fullness of the love of God (2 Corinthians 5:19-20).
Salvation is Cosmic
The Fall had universal implications. All of creation groans under the curse (Romans 8:22). History is marked by horrendous evil. Systems, powers and authorities (“religious” and secular) often stand in direct opposition to God (Ephesians 6:12). 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 (Hebrews 2:14). 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.
Even right now, our personal and communal salvation stands as a witness to the spiritual powers of God’s ultimate victory (Ephesians 3:10).
Each of these dimensions to salvation follows the same storyline: There was an originally created goodness (Humanity in right personal relationship with God, with one another, and with the world). That goodness was marred by sin and rebellion (Humanity was exiled from God, from one another, and from the land). God overcame that evil through Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection (We can be reconciled to God and one another and stand as firstfruits of a new creation).
Now He is making all things new, first gradually, but someday all in an instance. In Christ, we are a “new creation,” we form a new community, and we await a New Heaven and a New Earth.
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