28 Apr 2016

What does it mean to be SAVED? It isn’t What the Preacher said …

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, David Lipscomb, eschatology, Gnosticism, Heaven, Salvation

FB_IMG_1461886276275Casper the Ghost Salvation

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus, ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10.25)

Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18.18)

Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16.31)

Today I want to reflect upon the “doctrine” of salvation. You would think in a fellowship like Churches of Christ that we would have “salvation” down pretty good.

I did, after all, hear probably a billion sermons on “what must I do to be saved?” growing up. Now these sermons were not completely off base, as it is true I need my sin washed away. But what did it actually mean to “be saved?”

Salvation was the goal. And we normally thought of salvation as going to heaven when we die.

The scenario as I understood it at one time went like this, “God created the world. Eve (and Adam) sinned. We were separated from God and thus damned. God sent Jesus to give us the Plan of Salvation so in doing it I can be saved from my sin. One day I will die and escape this world and go to heaven  … if good enough.”

Good, bad or ugly that is what I, and many like me, understood and understand by “salvation.”

For today, I am not interested in the question of how to get salvation today, rather what salvation is. I had no clue what salvation actually meant for many years and that summary did not help me (oh I knew it had something to do with sin and going to heaven). It did not help me actually understand the Bible, it did not provide much motivation for living in the now, and often left me wondering if the “stuff” I was made of actually was loved by God.

So I had this nebulous Casper the Ghost vision of salvation.

Salvation according to the Story

But this is hardly the “doctrine” of salvation that is taught by Moses, David, Isaiah, Huldah, Mary, Jesus, Peter, Paul or John. Salvation is a broad term for all the benefits that are graciously bestowed upon creation by the Creator God. Salvation, as defined in Scripture, is God redeeming his creation.

Salvation flows from the biblical gospel, as Peter preached in his Gospel sermon,

Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, SO that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is Jesus, who must remain in heaven UNTIL the time when God will RESTORE ALL THINGS which God announced from ancient days through his holy prophets...” (Acts 3.19-21).

Salvation is the “restoration of all things.”

So just what IS salvation? What does salvation LOOK like?

Fully Embodied

Salvation is not some future Casper the Ghost existence for anyone much less humans. It is an embodied life. Salvation is Resurrection life. When thinking of salvation, Paul declares to the Romans we who have the “first fruits” of the Holy Spirit look forward to the “redemption of our BODY” (8.23). Just as the Spirit raised Jesus’s own body from the dead so he will do the same with ours (8.11).

To the Corinthians, Paul declares that the resurrection of the body is the central tenant of the Gospel of Jesus. Jesus did die for our sins (1 Cor 15.3) but Paul does not in fact stress that in 1 Cor 15. Paul’s focus is the resurrection of the body, its redemption from death (Romans 8.23). In fact if the body (and the concern in 1 Cor 15 is our resurrection not that of Christ) is not raised then our faith is vain Paul declares. There is a non-negotiable continuity between present life and life everlasting with God.

Christians often import a great deal of Platonic dualism into this chapter that obscures its meaning. But Paul the Jew was not being obscure but rather proclaiming what he dubs in Acts, the hope of Israel. The resurrection of the body. Salvation is embodied. God does in fact love the STUFF of me, not just invisible me. Further resurrection is NOT simply about the future but about the “now” and even affects my work.

Creationally Diverse

Salvation is personal social life that preserves creational diversity. The Revelation brings innumerable biblical threads together on this very point. As the saints cried “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne and to the Lamb” (7.9-10) we see that saved life in the presence of God is NOT a melting pot. John’s vision hearkens back to the promise to Abraham that his descendants will be innumerable like the stars (Gen 15.5) and a father of “many nations” but not a single people (Gen 17.4-6). So we have people from every nation, tribe, language, etc before the throne of God. Salvation is personal (the whole me is part of it) and social (encompasses the human race in all its God given diversity) and it is social in that I am now part of the whole.


Salvation is eternal embodied life. It is not just the length of the life but the nature and quality of that life. The Gospel of John speaks of eternal life as something that begins at faith in Christ (not simply when we die) and continues on forever. This nature and quality of life is not something we human possess of ourselves but is a consequence of the resurrection.

Restored & Glorified Creation

Salvation is resurrected, embodied life in God’s restored creation, as Peter declared in Acts 3. The apostle Paul uses language like “new creation” (2 Cor 5.17; Gal 6.15) and “new humanity” (Eph 2.15; cf. 4.23-24; Col 3.9-10) and Peter uses the language of the new heavens and new earth, that they takes over from Second Temple Judaism and the canonical Hebrew Scriptures (like Isaiah 56-66). God’s renewal includes all he has made with humanity restored and glorified in that renewed creation (Rom 8.18-25; Col 1.15-20; Eph 1.10; Acts 3.19ff; Phil 3.21; Rev 21-22).

It is by Grace

Salvation, this future we have comes because of the work of God in Christ and will be manifest at his appearing. (1 Cor 1.7; 16.22; Rev 22.20; etc).

Embracing Creation explores the entire biblical canon revealing the centrality of creation and God's aim to redeem all of it.

Embracing Creation explores the entire biblical canon revealing the centrality of creation and God’s aim to redeem all of it.

Salvation is in fact the “Leading aim” of Christ’s Mission

A very insightful quote from David Lipscomb points to what salvation is. He writes with clarity and power on this theme. He says that the “leading aim and end of Christ’s mission” was to reclaim the Earth … not just human beings as God’s.

The object of God’s dealing with man, and especially the mission of Christ to earth, was to rescue the world from the rule and dominion of the evil one, from the ruin into which it had fallen through sin, and to rehabilitate it with the dignity and the glory it had when it came from the hand of God; to restore man—spiritually, mentally, and physically—to the likeness of his Maker … to displace the barrenness and desolation of the earth with the verdue and beauty of Eden … to make this earth again a garden of God’s own planting …

The leading aim of and end of Christ’s mission on this earth was not to make man religious. He was religious before Jesus came. The specific object was not to make man moral or honest; this was a secondary and subsidiary concomitant and a means to the great end … The failure to appreciate the leading idea of Christ’s mission—leads to grievous mistakes … The one great purpose of Christ’s mission to earth and the establishment of his kingdom on earth and all of the provisions he has made and the forces he has put in operation to affect man’s course of life, were and are to rescue this world from the rule and dominion of the evil one, to deliver it from the ruin into which it had fallen through man’s sin, and to bring it back to its original and normal relations with God and the universe, that the will of God shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (David Lipscomb, “Ruin and Redemption of the World” in Salvation from Sin, pp. 114-115)

This in a “nutshell” is the “doctrine” of salvation proclaimed by the whole Bible but focused in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ who not only died but was raised from the dead in his body to accomplish the salvation of our God. God the Father redeems what he has made. This is a salvation that is so incredibly exciting and energizing …

Salvation is simply God thru the incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, embracing creation in the end.

6 Responses to “What does it mean to be SAVED? It isn’t What the Preacher said …”

  1. Justin Says:

    This gets to the reason why thinking about eschatology and soteriology is important: If you know where God is going with this whole thing, then you know how your life fits in to it. If you know God’s big point and purpose, then it’s much easier to find your purpose in it and get excited about it. Thanks for sharing your helpful thoughts.

  2. Geoff Johnson Says:

    Growing up in the Church of Christ, I too heard a lot about the “Plan of Salvation,” and specifically the five steps of the Plan: Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, and be Baptized. I now believe those five things are merely my personal response to the Plan, not the Plan itself. God’s actual plan of salvation is laid out in Ephesians 1:3-14, and in five verbs it would be: Choose, Promise, Redeem, Bless, and Unite.

    This is a long plan, for it begins “before the foundation of the earth” (Eph 1:4) and ends in “the fullness of time” (Eph 1:10). Step 1: God chose us to be holy and blameless before him (v4). Step 2: Through the Law and the prophets, God promised the Holy Spirit and all that His presence would bring (v13). Step 3: God redeemed us through the blood of Christ (v. 7). Step 4: God blesses us with every spiritual blessing (v. 3). Step 5: God will unite all things in Christ, both heavenly and earthly things (v. 10).

  3. Jerry Starling Says:

    Clear and convincing. David Lipscomb taught in the late 19th century what N.T. Wright is now shouting from the housetops! No wonder he resonates with me, as I too grew up with many lessons on ‘What Must I Do to Be Saved?’ But few, if any, of them spoke much about what God has done, is doing, and will yet do to effect our salvation.

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Thanks for stopping by Jerry. And Lipscomb was not the only one. Most of the SCM leaders were on the same page on this matter. Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Robert Milligan, James A Harding, etc etc … In the 20th century we turned eschatology into ecclesiology and have suffered since.

  4. Dwight Says:

    It occurs to me we don’t listen to Jesus enough on salvation and he does speak of it in terms of entering the kingdom.
    Mark 10:17-27 “As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
    Jesus replied by giving him a list of things to do and not do, to which the man said he had done/not done. But then Jesus said to him “Sell all you have and give it to the poor and follow me.”
    Jesus was wanting to see the heart of the man in repentance and the following of Jesus.
    Faith and baptism wasn’t mentioned, but rather direction of the heart was focused on.
    This is true of what we call the Beatitudes as well.
    It is not what must I do to be saved, but rather what must I be to be saved.

  5. Dwight Says:

    Another thought. The Jews had a clear understanding of deliverance by God, which was to be reflected in the feast, etc.
    The NT saint uses the terms salvation.
    Deliverance and salvation mean the same thing and yet there is often a disconnect between our salvation in the NT and the deliverance in the OT. We think of one as physical and the other spiritual and even though this is true, the deliverance is of the person and the people in all cases. While Jesus was on the earth he brought the gospel and healed many. To prove his Godliness he needed only heal one, but out of compassion and love for man, he healed many. It was temporary deliverance leading to everlasting deliverance. We must want to be delivered. Our goal shouldn’t be to condemn, but deliver as this was Jesus goal.

Leave a Reply