Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christian Believer: Week Eleven {Salvation}

I love to tell the story, ’tis pleasant to repeat,
What seems each time I tell it more wonderfully sweet;
I love to tell the story, for some have never heard
The message of salvation from God’s own holy Word.
["I Love to Tell the Story", Katherine Hankey] 

I'm so, SO behind on these.  This is from the lesson from before Thanksgiving.  Wow. The topic that time was "Salvation" (God So Loved the World).  I have to say that it was my least favorite so far, which shocked me, it being such a hugely important topic.  I think part of it was that it just seemed kind of redundant, like a lot had been covered in previous lessons specifically Sin and Grace

We watched the video first and I found it super interesting that week. First it talked about the question "What does God want to save us from?" Is it individual sin, death, oppression, injustice? Sometimes the term "salvation" implies political liberation, sometimes eternal life.  I like this line- "we cannot preach eternal life while people starve, nor can be be content with promoting economic justice while people have no communion with God". It discussed how the Old Testament view of salvation was that of the problem of idolatry and how God's solution was discipline and rescue.  Salvation at this time seemed to be mostly concerned with political and economic liberation. Salvation was often tied to obedience; if you obeyed, you prospered; if you disobeyed, you suffered.  In the New Testament, we see that the problem is a flaw in the inner being and the solution is found in God's deliverance through Christ.

John 11 seems to imply that Jesus was a political sacrifice given in order to keep the Romans from killing many of the Jewish people when they sensed restlessness among the people.  However, we see later that the deliverance brought by Jesus was much more than a political one, it was a rescue for individuals from sin and its consequences.  Paul understood salvation to be about "forgiveness of past sings by the cross of Christ, personal transformation by conforming to Christ in thought and conduct, and the promise of a bodily resurrection at the final judgment".

The early church fathers defined sin as a misplaced desire and found the solution in Jesus, who reestablishes our desire for God at the center of our life.  The Eastern church later began to understand salvation as God rescuing his people from sin, restoring humankind to original perfection, and turning us toward God.  Transformation occurs as our worst self changes into our best self as we grow closer to God.    The Western church viewed God as being angry with us and acknowledged that our disobedience deserved death.  Early on, the church thought that God provided sacraments for the forgiveness of sin.  However, the sacraments begin to take on a life of their own in the Middle Ages and created much anxiety. Martin Luther thought that "although the church retains the power to make God's presence and love real to people through the sacraments, the assurance of salvation resides not in the church's ministry but in the heart of each Christian".  Other, more radical reformers denied the church's authority totally and stated that salvation was based only on an individual's personal acceptance of Christ.  Liberation Theology returns to the earliest Biblical understanding and is interested in social and economic conditions that separate the poor and weak from the wealthy and powerful.  Salvation is a "release from debilitating social and economic circumstances". However, the traditional Christen view simply states that we are judged guiltless based on Christ's reconciling us to God by his work on the cross.

The reading from the workbook was pretty good, too.  The first thing it said was that "Salvation involves two parties, the Savior and the one being saved.  The effectiveness of salvation depends on a peculiar kind of cooperation of both parties."

The book then discussed the German word Heilsgeschichte, which means "salvation history".  This is a theological term for reading the Bible as the "narrative of God's working out redemption purposes for the wold". The book went on to summarize this history.  We were created with the chance of a problem occurring because we were created with freedom of choice.  Not only did we assert our independence, but also our selfishness. Our first instinct in self-preservation and preserving ourselves usually comes at the expense of someone else's desires or convenience.  While modern Christians often think of salvation as private and personal, the Hebrew writers tended not to differentiate between physical and spiritual matters, or between personal and community.  Later in the New Testament, we do see a stronger emphasis on individual response and a sharmper description of sin and destructive consequences.  The most important issue in the New Testament, however, the issue that "makes all other matters of preliminary consequence" is the role of Jesus Christ.  He is named Jesus because the name means "savior" and he has come to "save his people from their sins" (Mathew 1:21).

The book went on to define and describe several terms.  Soteriology is the study of salvation.  The terms new birth or regeneration have taken on special meaning because they emphasize that salvation is "more than just a matter of personal reformation; it is a radical change, so radical that it is described as the making of a new person". The term "born-again Christian" is redundant because a person cannot come to Christ without being born again.  The term adoption is also discussed, "the emphasis is on our familial relationship with God and on the necessity of God's redeeming action; it is the parent who adopts the child". Conversion is another synonym for salvation and means "turning around".  It is similar to repentance in that regard.  Justification is a more complex term that means to be justified, or made right, by faith in the work of Christ.  Redemption has an Old Testament background.  The nearest kin could redeem someone from a debt or even slavery; Christ brings us back from slavery and bondage to sin.  Commitment was the final term.  It's not a classic term, but Protestants seem to use it often.  The books says that it is a "weak term theologically, as it carries no sense of repentance...[and] the emphasis is moved from God's action in saving to the human quality of response".

It went on to talk about ideas about salvation that were made popular during the Protestant Reformation.  Salvation was a very important issue because the reformers were reacting to the idea that salvation could be gained by "meritorious actions".  They insisted that salvation was a free gift, given by grace alone.

In our discussion, the book compared the sin problem to someone drowning and in need of saving.  One of the questions was "Is that description too strong?".  I said that personally, I didn't think it was strong enough.  A drowning person is still alive and the Bible describes us as being "dead in sin".  I think a more truly analogous comparison would be a person who has already drowned and is pulled from the water with the savior resuscitating him or her.

Finally, some of my favorite passages from the textbook:
"Q60: How are you righteous before God?" A: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. In spite of the fact that my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have not kept any one of them, and that I am still ever prone to all that is evil, nevertheless, God without any merit of my own, out of pure grace, grants me the benefits of the perfect expiation of Christ, imputing to me this righteousness and holiness as if I had never committed a single sin or had ever been sinful, having fulfilled myself all the obedience which Chris has carried out for me, if only I accept such favor with a trusting heart.

Q61: Why do you say that you are righteous by faith alone? Not because I please God by virtue of the worthiness of my faith, but because the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ alone are my righteousness before God, and because I can accept it a make it mine in other way than by faith alone." -Heidelberg Catechism, 1562

"It is not something at a distance: it is a present thing, a blessing which, through the free mercy of God, ye are now in possession of...And this consists of two general parts, justification and sanctification.  Justification is another word for pardon.  It is the forgiveness of all our sins, and (what is necessarily implied therein) or acceptance with God...At the same time that we are justified, yea, in that very moment, sanctification begins.  We are inwardly renewed by the power of God...We feel the love of God...producing love to all mankind, and more especially to the children of God: expelling the love of the world, the love of pleasure, of ease, of honour, of money; together with pride, anger, self-will, and every other evil temper- in a word, changing the 'earthly, sensual, devilish, mind into 'the mind which was in Christ Jesus'." -John Wesley

"To be saved does not just mean to be a little encouraged, a little comforted, a little relieved.  I means to be pulled out like a log from a burning fire.  You have been saved!  We are not told: you may be saved sometimes, or a little bit.  No, you have been saved, totally and for all times. You? Yes, we!" - Karl Barth

"Sometimes the change is so radical that it seems miraculous.  Sometimes there is a gradual,...almost imperceptible, change in values, motives, feelings, and modes of responding to situations.  If there is no difference at all, regeneration has not occurred." -Georgia Harkness

"Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call on him while he is near...'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways'...Then you will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you..." -Isaiah 55:6, 8, 12

"Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.  The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  With joy you will draw water form the wells of salvation." -Isaiah 12:2-3

"I tell you...there will be more rejoicing over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." -Luke 15:7

"Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrated his love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ die for us." -Romans 5:6-8

"Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life to all men...For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." -Romans 5:18-19


Carrie said...

I completely agree with your analogy of a dead man being pulled from the water and brought to life by Christ. I'm confused though; from your perspective, at what point can the dead man being rescued by Christ make the decision to turn down the rescue? How is that possible for someone truly DEAD?

Sarah Denley said...

hmm...that is a tough one. I'm not sure how I explain that. I'll probably have to check with the theology buff in the house and get back to you ;)

Sarah Denley said...

Well, Peyton and I had a good talk about it. He said that he thinks that he thinks we are dead in the sense that we have absolutely no ability to save ourselves. However, he thinks that through prevenient grace, God does give us the power to make many decisions in our own free will, one of which is a salvation decision. I still need to think more about it, but it makes sense to me. It's all kind of hard to wrap my mind around, to be honest.

And I feel stupid that I couldn't figure it out/articulate it myself. He's way better on his feet than I am!

Carrie said...

Haha! I always ask David about theology issues too. You know, since he's the leader in the family and all ;) I agree that its a very hard thing to understand. I think its about time for another Howie/Herrington theology discussion!