Salvation

About 4 times a year I get to write the “Religion” column in our local paper, the Rome Sentinel. Below is the column I wrote for the April 29 edition.

At the end of the story of Jesus and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house.” What does that mean? How do you hear it? Is it confusing? After all, in modern evangelical culture “getting saved” means confessing your sin and “accepting Jesus as your savior.” We don’t see Zach doing that. All he does is to tell Jesus he’s going to give half his money to the poor, and then he’s going to pay back four times the amount he’s defrauded people in his tax collecting business. It’s in response to that stated intention that Jesus says Zach has experienced salvation.

Jesus is saying Zacchaeus has found a new way of life. He’s been delivered from his narrow, self-centered, greedy ways. He’s become a member of the kingdom of heaven. He has a new life that’s begun right then and there.

The word in the ancient texts that our Bibles often translates, “salvation,” can mean “delivered,” or “healed,” or “rescued,” among other meanings. Many of us are used to hearing it used to indicate some kind of transaction, as if we agree to believe a bunch of ideas and say some words in exchange for “going to heaven” when we die. As if heaven were a place. As if salvation were about some other world. I don’t believe that.

Jesus came to announce a new life under God’s rule that he often called “the kingdom of heaven.” He said it was within us, or among us. It was a way of life where God is king of our lives, where Jesus is our Lord. It’s what we pray for when we say: “…Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” It’s about the healing and restoration of the entire creation to God’s original purpose. It’s a present reality, that God means to continue forever. And one of the amazing things is that we are already part of it if we have the eyes to see and ears to hear and the faith to follow!

One of the problems I have with people who seem to define salvation only as an escape from this world, something that is only in some other place after our death, is that attitude is disrespectful of God’s creation and is an insult to the God who made it and called it good and intends to renew it and make it a place of abundant life for all. To the extent that we dismiss this world as something to be used up and left behind, we blaspheme against God and against all of life.

In salvation, we are delivered from a narrow life with ourselves at the center, and into a new life with God and God’s purpose at the center, where we are transformed, and adopted into the family of God. We find salvation when we bow to Jesus as Lord of our life, and when we welcome our new life as citizens of the kingdom, “on earth, as it is in heaven.” Zacchaeus found it. It changed his life. He began again on that very day. You and I can, too – be born again into the life of the kingdom of heaven. That’s the hope of the world – until “every knee shall bend and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.”

An essential part of our salvation is the healing of creation, and the deliverance of all people from bondage to the ways of death that threatens to destroy the earth our home.

4 thoughts on “Salvation

  1. All very true. Also essential to our salvation is the need to strive to do right, be disciplined, and show justice and compassion and the love of truth… for God demands it, because it all matters. Salvation is not Universal, in this life. On a related note, the theology of Universalism developed in the context of a response to the Calvinist fervor emphasizing sinners going to hell (in the next life), and was valid in that context. But we are not all saved in this life, as you point out, and that’s the problem.

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    1. Hi Tom.
      The point I would hope people understand is that salvation is not something we earn by complying with a “demand” from God or by being good. Salvation is what God desires for us and freely offers. It is healing from what distorts our life and is on a continuum from now into the future. It’s not a transaction. It’s a willingness to participate in our own being made well.

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  2. Retracting comments here is easier said than done : ) I absolutely agree, rephrasing your “we find salvation when we bow to Jesus as Lord of our life, and when we welcome our new life as citizens of the kingdom, “on earth, as it is in heaven.” ” in a different way. Not as transaction, or complying with a demand. As you aptly said, bowing down to Jesus as our Lord and… Savior. It just happens, it is a willingness.

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