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Salvation: More than a ticket to Heaven?

God Saves

When someone says, “I’m Saved!” There is always the contextual question, “Saved from what?” Except if it’s said at Church. Within Christianity Salvation has become synonymous with Eternal Life. Salvation means that if I believe, one day I will go to Heaven. Yet, should Salvation always equate to being rescued to Heaven?

There are many places in the Scriptures that Salvation is past, present, and future to the author or reader. One tricky example is Romans 13:11 the Apostle Paul writes,  “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed?” Was Paul saying that he was not “saved” yet?

Or take for instance Luke 19:9. Jesus said Salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house that day. Does this mean Zacchaeus died and entered Heaven that day?

“In the Old Testament, God’s acts delivering the people from hunger, bondage, and other difficulties are usually called ‘saving’ acts, and Yahweh is repeatedly praised as the Savior of Israel.  In the New Testament, ‘salvation’ may mean either healing or deliverance from sin-and sometimes both.  Thus, salvation has to do, not only with one’s eternal destiny, but with everything that stands in the way of God’s purposes of communion with creation-and specifically with the human creature.  Thus salvation includes both justification and sanctification.

In the Greco-Roman world in which Christianity was born, there were many religions offering ‘salvation.’  Most of these understood salvation mainly or exclusively as life after death, and often combined these notions of salvation with the ideal of escaping from the material world. Given that context, it is not surprising that quite often Christians lost the fuller notion of salvation that appeared in their Scriptures, and came to think of salvation merely as admission into heaven-sometimes even seeing such admission as an escape from this physical world.  Perhaps the most notable development in soteriology [the Study of the Doctrine of Salvation] in recent decades has been the recovery of the wider notion of salvation as including, not only salvation from death and eternal damnation, but also freedom from all sorts of oppression and injustice.  Salvation, in its fuller sense, certainly includes eternal life in the presence of God; but it also includes the process of sanctification, whereby we are brought greater communion with God; and it includes also the destruction of all the powers of evil that stand between God’s purposes and present order of creation.”

-Justo L. Gonzalez, Essential Theological Terms. pg 162-163

Salvation cannot be understood in reference to one particular saving act of God. Jesus has rescued us from many things, and will one day rescue, redeem, and renew us and creation. The one unifying aspect of Salvation throughout the Scriptures is that God does the saving apart from the help or interference of man.

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A Protestant Debate: Calvin & Arminius

It may be hard to determine whether one’s worldview shapes ones faith, or if ones faith shapes one’s worldview. The spiritualist might hope that faith is the force that develops ones worldview, leading and guiding the adherent to view the world through the lens their faith tradition. The secularist, on the other hand, hopes that it is tolerant worldview that will guide and interpret ones faith, fearing man’s long history of religious violence.

To this question I have no answer. It is but the springboard for the topic I wish to discuss.

Within the Protestant branch of Christendom there is a debate. It is a debate everyone is engaged in. It is both a public and personal struggle. It is a campaign that attracts the attention of the academic, the pulpit, and the coffeehouse thinker.  It is both pragmatic, and dogmatic.

It forms around several simple questions about God.

“Did I chose God or did he choose me?”

“Can I resist God if he chooses me?”

“Once I receive God’s salvation can I loose it?”

Now matter where you go, you will find Protestants engaged in this debate. Many have chosen a side and raised their flag. Many others are still wading through the murky waters dogging shots that the two polarized sides are taking at each other.

Many don’t realize but this is a unique debate to the protestant branch of the Christendom. The reason why it has such a polarizing effect of denominations and Church’s is because this debate represents a rift tracing back almost to the beginning of the protestant reformation.

A key figure that rose to prominence after the wake of the Protestant Reformation was a Pastor named John Calvin. John Calvin was a gifted preacher and theologian, who detailed his theological views in a work called Calvin’s Institutes. This became theological framework many adopted and taught. One of these students was Joseph Arminius. Arminius in a strange turn of events abandoned the views of Calvin, and began teaching an opposing theological view. The pupils of both men would eventually label each other heretics and part ways.

Calvin’s influence can be traced through the Presbyterian, Reform, and some Baptist traditions. Arminius influence can be traced most predominantly through the Methodist, Holiness, Pentecostal, and Charismatic traditions.

Many Protestants assume that this issue consumes all of Christendom, however it does not. Lutheranism, a protestant denomination that solidified early into the Protestant Reformation, accepts what they like to label the balance of the truth represented in the Scripture.

Below is an outline of the issues that divided Calvin and Arminius, and how Luther balances the harmony of Scriptural witness.

T: “total depravity”

Calvinism: Man after the Fall has no ability to cooperate with God’s grace in conversion

Arminianism: Man after the Fall can cooperate with God’s grace in conversion

Lutheranism: Agrees with Calvinism on total depravity

Relevant Bible passages: Romans 3:9-20; Gal. 3:22

U: “unconditional election”

Calvinism: Before the world was created, God unconditionally elected some (the elect) for salvation and the others (reprobates) for damnation.

Arminianism: Before the world was created, God foresaw those who would choose Him of their own free will and elected them to salvation

Lutheranism: Before the world was created, God unconditionally elected some (the elect) for salvation but did not reprobate (chose for damnation) any.

Relevant Bible passages: Romans 9:11-13; 1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Mat. 25:34, 41.

L: “limited atonement”

Calvinism: Jesus only died for the elect, objectively atoning for their sin, but he did not die for the sins of the reprobates.

Arminianism: Christ died to give all the possibility to be saved.

Lutheranism: Christ’s death objectively atoned for all the sin of the world; by believing we receive this objective atonement and its benefits.

Relevant Bible passages: John 1:29; 1 John 2:2; 2 Cor. 5:14-15, 19.

I: “irresistible grace”

Calvinism: In all of God’s outward actions (preaching, baptism, etc.) there is an outward call which all receive, yet there is also a secret effectual calling which God gives to the elect alone. This effectual calling alone saves and is irresistable.

Arminianism: God gives in His outward actions the same grace to all; this grace can be resisted by all.

Lutheranism: The question is not answerable; for the elect, grace will irresistably triumph, yet those who reject Christ have rejected that Grace; yet the grace is the same.

Relevant Bible passages: Eph. 2:1-10; Acts 13:48; James 1:13-15

P: “perseverance of the saints” (sort of like “once saved, always saved.”)

Calvinism: Salvation cannot be lost. Those who have truly put their faith in Christ may temporarily lose the evidence of their faith and even live for a time in grave and unrepentant sin, without losing their salvation.

Arminianism: Salvation can be lost through unrepentant sin and unbelief.

Lutheranism: Salvation can be lost through mortal sin and unbelief, but this legal warning does not cancel the Gospel promise of election

Relevant Bible passages: 1 Cor. 10:12. 2 Peter 2:1, 20-22.
*Comparisons taken from Three Hierarchies.

For many people, what they believe is more of a reflection the conflict between worldview and faith, then theology.


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