On Wednesday nights, some of us have been looking at how the Bible and the church talk about salvation. It turns out it is an experience even Christians struggle to describe. How would you say it? How were you saved? How are you BEING saved? What difference does it make?
The story of salvation is one the church is always telling, and it is also a power and truth we continue to experience. From delivery room to funeral home, salvation in Christ is offered—life found, hope discovered, love, forgiveness, meaning, joy. Have you found salvation lately?
It’s there at the beginning of the Christian story, of course. “For God so loved the world …” There is salvation in the Bethlehem birth. In that moment God and humanity met in a baby, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. God does not stand aloof from us and challenge us to find our way. God comes to us in Jesus Christ, revealing, embracing.
Have you found salvation in that good news? In a hospital room, a courthouse, a cemetery, God with us, not beyond the clouds but here in our reality. Jesus is with us in all of life’s realities, a strength beyond our own.
The Incarnation was central to Peter Abelard’s description of salvation back in the 12th century. Look at Jesus, he said. Jesus shows us what is true; he shows us a way that is life. In every moment—in our weakness and our strength—Christ reveals God’s truth and love and shows us what is important. Follow him. He is the ultimate example of what life should be.
I don’t know about you, but I need that help. What is God like? Look to Jesus. What does it mean to live a holy, gracious life? Look to Jesus. In his words and actions, we find eternal truth and see the power of God’s love in the world. That’s salvation.
But Abelard doesn’t get at the whole picture, does he? Our hearts tell us that Jesus is more than just an example. His mercy changes everything.
Paul described Jesus as the new Adam, and the second-century Christian father Irenaeus pursued that thought. Where Adam failed, Jesus remained faithful. Irenaeus called it “recapitulation”; Jesus sums up and fulfills the loving mission of God. Paul described a new creation, a new humanity, everything made new. Irenaeus dared to say that Christ became what we are that we might become what he is. That’s big.
There are other word-pictures to describe salvation (I know: “He died for my sins.” But even that leads to another question: “What now?”). The truth is we hear the good news of salvation differently at different times in our lives. Christ is God with us in the midst of life. Christ exemplifies the good life. Christ is a new beginning, a new humanity, and in him we find a new start.
All of our efforts to describe the good news converge like streams at the cross. No matter how you experience or understand Jesus, you have to make sense of the cross and the Sunday morning that followed.
God with us? Yes, even in death.
Jesus is an example of life as it ought to be? Yes. He was faithful and nothing could turn him from the way that was truth. He “became obedient even to the point of death—death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). The one who remained faithful, who knew no sin, was crucified. In that moment, too, especially, we see love. How can we look at him and not know that the wrong person died?
A new humanity? Yes. Our old humanity dies on the cross, and with the dawn of Easter there is a new beginning. Paul put it simply: We die with him; we are raised with him.
Have you looked to the cross lately? Have you considered Easter? Do you need a new start? Are you afraid? Are you ashamed? Do you look ahead and see only roadblocks? God desires good for you and has given you a way. The way is in the love and grace and power of Jesus. The way goes through the cross—the roadblock of all roadblocks—and on through Easter. An end? It is always the beginning.
Here’s one more way to think of salvation:
There is always more. When life is at its worst, there is more. When life is at its best, there is still more. To give yourself to that divine “more,” is to know salvation. It is life eternal. It is love. It changes everything.