Salvation In This Life
In classical Greek thought, there was strong sense of dualism -
that the material world is corrupt and worthless, and only the spiritual
world was worthwhile. In contrast, the Bible was written from a Hebraic
perspective that said that God's creation is good, and that human life
on earth is meaningful. Our Greek background still tends to make Christians
somewhat dualistic. We sing songs with lyrics like
This world is not my home,
I'm just-a passing through,
my treasures are laid up a-way beyond the blue,
the angels beckon me from heaven's distant shore,
and I can't feel at home in this world any more.
While it is good to look forward
to heaven and Christ's return, we tend to disparage the life we have here
on earth as unimportant. We often think of our activity on earth simply
as waiting - waiting for Christ to come again, or waiting to die and go
to heaven. Re-examining the Bible's Hebraic picture of salvation may give
us a different perspective.
Salvation as a Relationship with God
Most modern Christians would define salvation as being allowed to enter
heaven after death, which of course is focused on the afterlife. It is
true that we will be saved from judgement, but the Bible also uses another
picture of salvation that we rarely emphasize - salvation as restoring
a relationship with God, in this life. An unsaved person lives a life
separated from God, because his sin alienates him from God. As Paul says,
Once you were alienated from God and
were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he
has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present
you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Col.
1:21 - 22)
Through the new covenant of forgiveness
that Jesus established, we can come into a relationship with God. Christians
often think of that only in terms of being pardoned from the judgement
to come. But each time that we take communion, we are celebrating the
fact that under this new covenant of forgiveness by Christ's blood, we
can "sit down to dinner" with God, something that wasn't possible
before. In biblical times, partaking of a meal together was only done
if people had a close relationship with each other. If there was a conflict
between two people, after it was resolved, the parties would eat a meal
together to celebrate their reconciliation. We also see this picture in
'Behold, I stand at the door and knock;
if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and
will dine with him, and he with Me.
The picture is that a person
who is saved is restored to fellowship with God in this life, as well
as the next. We also see this in Jesus' parables. he describes an unsaved
person as being like a sheep lost from the flock, or like a rebellious
prodigal son who has left his family. Salvation comes when the shepherd
finds the sheep and brings it home, or when the prodigal son is received
back into the family.
This idea of salvation in this life also allows us to understand some
texts that otherwise don't make sense. Paul says,
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have
always obeyed - not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence
- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it
is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
Philippians 2:12 - 13
If we think in terms of salvation
as a future reward, this passage sounds like we should be in a perpetual
state of worry. But if we see salvation as something that we already have,
he is talking about having awe and reverence for God who is helping us
bring every part of our lives into relationship with him. Paul also says "by grace you have been saved..." (Eph. 2: 5, 8), using the
past tense, not the future tense.
Another related idea is that eternal life starts in this world. The Jewish
people considered life in terms of its quality as well as its length.
Eternal life was life in its best sense, both now and extending into the
future. John seems to think of this when he says:
Now this is eternal life: that they
may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Many verses like these are ones
we should read in terms of salvation in its present sense. Many others
do speak of salvation in its future aspect as well. We should keep both
in mind as we read the Bible.
What are the implications of salvation as redeeming this life?
One thing is that our picture of God changes. If we only think of salvation
as escaping hell, our idea of God is mainly that of an angry judge. In
contrast, Jesus portrays God as a loving shepherd who searches for his
sheep, or a loving father eager to see his son come home. This picture
is of a God that actively wants to seek out his lost children and bring
them back into relationship with him. He loves us and wants us near him,
he doesn't just want to pardon us from our sins.
We are also forced to ask ourselves, if we are already living in eternity,
in a relationship with God, does our life show it? If we think of ourselves
as just waiting for a future promise, we can easily fall into wasting
our life here. Should a life in relationship with God be filled with mindless
entertainment or materialism? Our priorities change when we don't see
our life as disposable. The world around us is filled with people who
see no meaning in life. Perhaps the gospel would go forth more boldly
if we took hold of our salvation and started living it here, rather than
waiting for it in the future.
Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All rights reserved. This article is copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.
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