Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. [Matthew 5:5 ESV]
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evil doers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. [1 Peter 2:11-12 ESV]
Is there another word used by the Church which carries as deep a meaning and as much baggage? Along the road of Church history, with centuries of use and abuse, the dust of traveling a dirty road has coated the word in a layer of grime, obscuring its meaning behind the accumulated grunge of use and misuse. What does “salvation” mean?
In the Hebrew Scripture “salvation” means something delivered, given aid toward victory or prosperity. Jacob, blessing his son Dan, declares “I wait for your salvation, O LORD” [Genesis 49:18 ESV]. Dan is declared a judge of Israel, but not always a righteous or just judge. He will deliver people from wrong but others will be delivered from him. Read the full blessing:
Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent in the way, a viper by the path, that bites the horse’s heels so that his rider falls backward. I wait for your salvation, O LORD. [Genesis 49:16-18 ESV]
In the New Testament salvation means to be either rescued from or the defender of someone who needs rescuing or defending. Jesus, passing through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem where He will be crucified decided to eat with a tax collector. For Zacchaeus, rescue and deliverance came from a man willing to associate with him regardless of his deep and grievous sin.
And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” [Luke 19:5-9 ESV]
Salvation is always the movement of a person from one place or position to another, from slavery to freedom or from sentenced to death to pardoned and given life. When God calls a person it is always from the state of unrighteousness to a place of righteousness. God moves a person from a state of sin to a state of salvation. Salvation is from a place of sin to a place of no sin.
One delivered from a place of slavery or captivity the Christian ceases to be a citizen of the kingdom of this world and becomes a citizen of the kingdom of God. Isn’t this a desirable change, a transition from outcast to belonging? Wouldn’t everyone, when given the option to move from the dirt and poverty of this world to a place in the glorious and wondrous country of God, want to?
There are those who see themselves as not needing salvation. They do not recognize sin in themselves though they may in others. They may see it in the world around them, but do not call it sin.
There are those who see themselves as unworthy of salvation. Because they can do nothing to earn their way into God’s kingdom, they don’t try. They think nothing can be done for them. So they enjoy sin, laugh at it because it is their nature, embrace it and encourage it. Because it’s sin.
There are those who see salvation as boring. Who wants to go to a place where all you do, for eternity, is sit around playing a harp while wearing a sheet? Heaven could never be as exciting as the world in which they live. It’s a downgrade.
There are those who reject the entire premise of salvation. If there is no God, there is no sin, there is no heaven. We are just animals and cease to exist at death. Live it up now. This is all there is.
There are those who have redefined salvation, making it something completely different than what God actually says. The great family reunion and picnic in the sky. I’ve worked hard and earned my place at the table. The balance has tipped toward good works and tangible rewards. Real estate, comfort, ease and pleasure. A Santa Claus father with Christmas every month.
There are those who expect salvation because of their unreasonable expectations and believes in God’s nature and character. The brotherhood of man, we’re all in this together. There isn’t a wrathful bone in god’s body, the perfect human, who excuses everyone’s imperfection because he couldn’t be a loving god and not love the way I think he should.
And so on, and so on.
We do not get to define the terms of salvation, nor the means for how God has decided to apply His decisions. We are the ones who have rebelled against Him. That He offers salvation, a means for us to return to Him, is all of Him and none of us. It is supreme arrogance for us to say to Him how it works, what He means. Nowhere in Scripture does He ever ask those who are His to do something. He commands them, the command of a Master to a servant. He is in control.
If we don’t recognize the need for salvation then whatever we think it is, it is not. If we don’t recognize who Jesus Christ is, if we reject what He has done, if there is no repentance, true repentance, then salvation is not available. We make it unavailable. When God says it is one way, we cannot make it another and expect God to honor our demands. If we do not recognize sin and turn away from it and turn toward God we reject His offer, His grace, His gift. We reject His authority when we rebel against His command. We will do what our heads and hearts tell us to do. If our heads and hearts belong to God, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, then we will do what God tells our heads and hearts to do.
Salvation is an act of God. It is His will, His strength, direction, commands, in us, under His control. Salvation changes the way we think, feel, act, because we have been changed. Salvation says we are no longer a part of the world, though we continue to dwell in the world. We are aliens and strangers, “sojourners and exiles” our every action and attitude meant to glorify God. Thus, salvation becomes a tool of faith, delivered by God to us, to keep us strong and protected against the attacks of the world.