Reclaiming Words - "Salvation"

1.  the act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, loss,destruction, etc.
2.  the state of being saved or protected from harm, risk, etc.
3.  a source, cause, or means of being saved or protected from harm, risk, etc.
4.  Theology deliverance from the power and penalty of sin;redemption.

The idea of salvation often carries with it a tremendous amount of baggage that can cause a great amount of discord and disagreement even among those who come from similar theological traditions.  Salvation has been written about by some of the greatest theological minds our world has known, and yet the disagreements and debates remain.  Therefore, the goal of this blog post (or any of the other posts found on this blog) is not to offer a solution to the disagreements or end the debate once and for all.  The goal is for us to think together, to enter into a dialogue of sorts, and to agree to journey toward an answer knowing that the answer is not necessarily a destination but the journey itself. 

What is salvation?

Each of the definitions above use the preposition "from" to define salvation. Salvation is being saved "from" something in particular.  This is indeed an important part of the Christian understanding of salvation.  However, it is not the entire picture.  If it were, salvation would be nothing more than a selfish and egocentric proposition.  

This is too small.  God's salvation is bigger than that.  God's salvation is all encompassing.  God's salvation extends beyond you and me.  God does not just save us "from" something.  God saves us "for" something.  This idea can be seen throughout the stories, narratives, prophecies, and letters found in scripture.  

Take for example the beginning of the covenant with Abram (who would later be renamed "Abraham," which means "Father of a multitude").  "Now the Lord said to Abram, 'Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed' " (Genesis 12:1-3 NRSV).  A part of the covenant is that Abram and his offspring shall be a blessing to all of the families of the earth.  Abram was blessed in order to be a blessing.  Salvation did not end with Abram, Sarai, and their offspring.

Consider the story of Zacchaeus. Jesus "entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way.  When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.' So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, 'He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.' Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, 'Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.' Then Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost'" (Luke 19:1-10 NRSV).  Because of the Jesus' presence and the story of salvation that sprang from his life, actions, and words, Zacchaeus was compelled to act.  He gave of himself and his wealth.  Salvation did not end in Zacchaeus' house but extended throughout his community.

Salvation does not begin and end with being saved from something but extends to being saved for something.  Being saved from is passive.  Being saved for is active.  Salvation is what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do.  Salvation has come for us all, and we are called to be a blessing to all of the families of the earth.  

The author of Micah says it this way, 
   and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8 NRSV)

‘With what shall I come before the Lord,
   and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings,
   with calves a year old? 
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
   with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
   the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’  
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,

We have not just been saved from something.  
We have been saved for something.


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