Christians all agree that salvation can occur because Jesus Christ died for His people. The sinless Son of God died in our place, on the cross. He rose again, triumphing over death. We are sinful, but by trusting in His death and resurrection, we can escape eternal death and instead can find eternal life with God. We can’t and don’t trust in our own righteousness, but we can trust in Christ.
It therefore seems very obvious that what salvation is for is to save us from eternal death.
This I believe is true. But I also believe it is only a partial truth. In fact, I contend that the church as a whole has a very flawed and incomplete understanding of what salvation is for. And because of our flawed understanding and the flawed behavior which has come about because of our flawed understanding, the results for us and for our non-Christian neighbors have been horrific.
Before I proceed with my theory as to what salvation is for, the question may arise: who am I to criticize the mainstream position on what salvation is for? The answer is, I am a nobody, who has read the Bible a lot, and thinks he might have something useful to say. Don’t trust me. I’m just a guy, like Zaphod Beeblebrox in The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. ‘”Zaphod’s just this guy, you know?”‘ (Chapter 2) I’m just this guy. Read the Bible for yourself, and see what you think.
But don’t be quick to reject my argument out of hand. Look around you. Half of the people in the United States self-identify as Christian. Yet look at the crazy moral disaster area which we inhabit. How could this happen, when so many of the people in this country claim to be Christian? Something is wrong. I think part of the reason it has happened is that Christians do not have a biblical understanding of what salvation is for.
A year or so ago, at the church I attend a young man came forward as wanting to become a Christian. He was duly baptized. We saw him about once more after that. I happened to see him at a place of business a few months later. He wasn’t attending any other church. When I was lamenting the situation of this young man with a Christian in the church, my Christian friend agreed that it was a shame the young man was not in church, but he said, “At least he got saved.”
The person who said that was a committed (and far from stupid) Christian. But his opinion of the whole episode was, the young man had come forward, was baptized, and while it would be better if the young man were in church, “At least he got saved.” My committed Christian friend did not understand salvation. He did not understand what salvation was for. Profession of faith, accompanied by baptism, had ended all doubts about the future eternal state of the young man in question. No matter what, the young man was good to go for eternity.
This is an unbiblical understanding of what salvation is, and what it is for. My committed and intelligent friend had wrong ideas about salvation. And, I submit, the church as a whole is similarly wrong about what salvation is and what it is for.
Last week in my post entitled “The last things,” I tried to prove that God plans to build His kingdom here on earth, in history. I pictured that post as a prologue to this one–clearing the ground so that we could talk about salvation in a sensible way. However, it is not necessary to agree with my views on the last things to be see the possibility that God has big things in mind when He saves someone.
In my worst seller What Are God’s Goals? (2014) I suggested that we look at salvation from God’s point of view. What goals does God have in mind, when He thinks about the earth? I came up with eight goals I think God has. There could be more than eight! But these were the eight that jumped out at me. I will paraphrase what I wrote in the book. (Remember, I am saying in one blog post what I took an entire book to say.) As you read the eight, you will and should read suspiciously. But some points you will probably agree seem likely. I encourage you to read suspiciously, however. Anyway, here are eight of God’s goals.
1/To show the necessity of Jesus Christ’s life and death, and His power to change the world for good.
2/To show the power and usefulness of the Holy Spirit as He inhabits each Christian and enables us to grow in godliness and obedience.
3To vindicate the generous character of God the Father, whose plan for mankind has always been wise, practical, and merciful.
4/To convert millions–eventually billions–of people to become true Christians, so that in the long run most of the people living on earth are Christians. [Don’t forget, it is fine that you read suspiciously. But at least consider the possibility that this might be true.]
5/To help true Christians grow in godliness in their daily lives, to become mature, gracious, generous-spirited thinking Christians. [I spent almost two pages on this in the book.]
6/To see the earth, in time and history, move toward an edenic state.
7/To punish unrepentant evil justly and proportionately.
8/To provide an eternity of joy (and possibly useful work) for His friends and adopted family members. (pp. 43-45)
Goals 4, 5, and 6 were probably the ones that many Christians are most likely to question. And that is why we have allowed the United States to become so ungodly. We did not understand God’s goals, and we did not act to help Him fulfill those goals. We have grieved and quenched the Holy Spirit. Paul warned us against such behavior–which means he knew that it was something we were likely to do. Why warn us against something to which we had no inclination or temptation?
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30)
“Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19)
What salvation is for is certainly to keep us from eternal death. But that is only the start of what salvation is for. Salvation is the means by which God gets tens of millions of adopted sons and daughters who will be people with whom He can enjoy pleasant fellowship. He wants people who are really changed at heart, and whose behavior shows that they are changed at heart. Remember when Jesus was told that His mother and brothers were outside (Matthew 12:48)? His response was to indicate His disciples. He called them His mother and brothers.
‘”For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.”‘ (Matthew 12:50)
This is common sense on Christ’s part. What is the fun of having family members who are self-absorbed annoying people? God wants people who are trustworthy people with high principles. Aren’t we the same in our evaluation of who we want to spend time with? We interact with a lot of people, and we try to avoid the annoying ones, and we enjoy the ones who are really godly. What would be the fun of going through eternity with self-absorbed people with wobbly principles?
So one of God’s goals is to see us become really godly people. But it is important to note here that while this is of benefit to God–He will have friends and family members He need not be ashamed to spend time with–it is also of immense benefit to us. Remaining knuckleheads far longer than is necessary is what we are good at. But every time we make even the slightest approach to biblical godliness, we sense that we have been blessed. It really is a blessing to live within biblical guidelines. It is a blessing to us to become better Christian people rather than to just wallow around in the same low level of not-very-heartfelt-obedience.
There are several Bible passages that warn us that it is not those who name the name of Christ who are true believers, but it is rather those who obey God from the heart. Let’s look at just a few, very briefly.
In Luke 12:42-48, Jesus Christ points out that the slave who knew his master’s will and did not obey that will, is going to get more lashes of punishment than the slave who did not know his master’s will and also did not obey that will. In short, we Christians (who surely have the means to know our master’s will), are in danger of getting more lashes of punishment than some non-Christians. This makes perfect sense. God wants people who walk the walk, not just people who talk the talk in an articulate fashion.
Romans 2:1-16 warns us of the impartiality of God: “for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified” (v. 13). We are to persevere in doing good (v.7). There will be tribulation and stress to those who do evil (v. 9). And on and on. Surely Romans 1:1-16 is a passage which the church needs to consider a lot more often than it currently does.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 straightforwardly warns us that how we build on Christ is crucial. We need to build with gold, silver, or precious stones, or our works may be burned up. God is generous, so that even if our useless works are burned up, we might be saved “yet as through fire” (v. 15).
To tell us that salvation is to keep us from eternal death is a truth, but it is a partial truth. And it is a partial truth we have managed to call a full truth, thus harming ourselves and others. Saved people who are eager to obey God from the heart are part of the means God has chosen to clean up the earth. (Only part. He does the heavy lifting Himself, of course. And it should be pointed out that when God saves us, He is doing all the work. We are saved by grace, not by our own wisdom. So even the fact that we can serve Him comes about only because He acts to change us.)
When His saved people begin bringing forth increased godliness of behavior, that will have an immense effect for good.
Right now we can’t even get to church on time, tithe, avoid bankruptcy, educate our children at our own expense, or vote against pro-abortion politicians. Hey, “At least we got saved.” No, that is misunderstanding salvation. Salvation is only Day One of our life with God. He wants our salvation to start us on the road to becoming more and more godly, more and more practical examples of how life should be lived. When we understand what salvation really should mean to us, and act on that understanding, we will be better people. This will help our families, our church, and our neighbors. God intends to build His kingdom on earth. He plans to use redeemed and obedient Christians as a large part of the means. What an optimist! But since He is God and seems quite intelligent, maybe He knows something we don’t know but should know.