My sabbatical has ended and I am back at church enjoying the challenges and reconnections with a church of people whom I love. While the “days” of sabbatical are ended, the experiences and thoughts certainly linger.
Confident that that my blogging will become a place to further unpack what I learned, I want to begin a new series today my study and musings about the way we Christians think about that great gift of God to us—namely our “salvation.” Over the next few posts, I want to consider how our thinking about salvation effects our living out the salvation we have been given So, let’s start here.
Having started my ministry career as a youth evangelist, I learned the “plan of salvation” as a young college student. Actually I learned several of them. Campus Crusades “Four Spiritual Laws”. Billy Graham's, “Steps to Peace with God”. I learned the "Roman Road" and few others, too. I am truly grateful for them. But, as I continue to study the Scriptures I have come to believe that they quite often start at the wrong place and end up leading off in a direction that is can be tangential from the Biblical description of salvation.
Special Note here to calm friends who think I may be flirting with heresy—The plans in themselves are not misleading or wrong. Millions of people have become genuine Christians through using them. I have led people to Christ through them. I had lunch with someone just yesterday who became a Christian by looking at the diagram in one of them. God has and does use them, I am not throwing them out, but I do want to encourage us to return back to what the Scriptures say about salvation and how that “root” can lead us to much more and better “fruit”.
So lets start today by reconsidering this idea: Many of us think that the reason that Jesus came to this world was to save US. God so loved US that he sent, Jesus, right? Isn’t that what John 3:16 says? Isn't the point of the Gospel that by grace,even people like us can "accept Jesus" into our lives?
Then after we having accepted Jesus into our lives, become saved, forgiven, set free from sins and given a new nature to live with him for eternity, we think, Jesus comes to us and says, “By the way, if you are satisfied with the salvation that I have given you, would you mind telling other people? If you are happy with what you have received would you mind supporting my work with the rest of the world?"
This approach makes the point of the gospel individual salvation and everything that follows it is about "expanding the market."
But is that really what the gospel is? Look again at John 3:16. For God so loved the world…
Our starting point is not God’s love for US, but God's love for the world of which we are part. Jesus didn’t come to save us and then ask us to help him out in saving the world. He came to this world to save the world. And he saved us SO THAT we can be part of his plan to save the whole world. God saved us to become his body at work in the world, his people carrying out the plan of God for all the world.
As N.T. Wright points out, this is the biblical understanding of salvation that Jesus' own hearers would have understood when they heard him or that the early church would have assumed when the gospels were taught,
"Salvation,then, was a matter of a new world, the renewal of creation" through God's own renewed people, "the spearhead of the divine purpose." (Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, p. 338)
And grace, amazing wonderful grace--the “good news” of the Gospel is NOT that we can “accept Jesus into our lives". The good news is that Jesus graciously accepts US into his.