What is God's Gift of Salvation?
For one thing, extraordinarily wonderful! If we are to believe that God is good, then how amazing that He should offer something so good to everyone, regardless of what you think about Him or yourself, how you have lived even if totally selfishly and self-absorbed, regardless of what crime you have committed even those against humanity (and God Himself!), and something for which He had to pay the supreme price. On top of all that, God knew that most people would resist and eventually reject His gift, even those for whom He had special affection. Many others would welcome the gift, perhaps with great joy and good intent, but then live no differently, essentially carrying on with life with the only concern being, what's in it for them. Yet through all this God would patiently and graciously continue to extend His arms of love towards a broken world so that His children might blossom and flourish in their lives. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied that Jesus would "give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins," (Luke 1:77), which implies that our salvation is more than just forgiveness of sins, the removal of the just penalty for our rebellion and self-centeredness. Language of salvation for the Jew would inevitably be rooted in their corporate experience of being delivered from captivity in Egypt. In his song, Moses declared this truth, "The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation." (Ex 15:2) indicating perhaps that salvation is not just something that He grants to us but also is God Himself!
In the words above, Paul adds another dimension to our salvation when he speaks of it in the present continuous tense. It is something that is still happening to me which leads him to say, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed .. continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose." (Php 2:12-13). Again we see the ongoing work of salvation but now I see that I have some responsibility here, something I am meant to take seriously in the fear of the Lord. I get to play my part in what God is doing through a will that is yielded to His will, for His greater purpose. Salvation cannot be brought to completion apart from my "obe-die-nce" to Him ... "Yes" to God, and death to self-will.
This "work" of salvation needs to be fed in order for it to "grow" Peter reminds us, as it is not a static thing, a state that I am in, but a person I am invited to increasingly become through relationship with God Himself. There is a responsibility that is laid upon but only because of love. Even though it has changed my past (penalty for sin) and i am invited to grow in it in the present (power over sin), as I do so I know it is also something I am anticipating in the future, "The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." (Rom 13:11). Knowing what is to come is meant to awaken me to some present day realities and responsibilities, this is why "hope" is such a precious and vital commodity in the spiritual life.
Future salvation is meant to sober us up, to cause us to walk in the light and not in darkness, and to protect our minds as we live in a world still struggling with the effects of sin. Salvation speaks not only about what God had saved us FROM (the just penalty of our sins), but also what He has saved us FOR. That we would live as image-bearers upon the earth, increasingly growing into the likeness of Christ by growing in love for God and one another. In doing so, we too become the light of the world, continuing the work that Jesus began, to lead more and more into fullness of life.
Paul puts it significantly like this, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery .. do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love." (Gal 5:1,13) It seems that we can choose to put ourselves back into a place of slavery even after Christ has set us free, we avoid this by choosing to use our freedom to humbly serve one another in love. So let us avoid that most unbiblical question, 'Are you saved?', there's only one answer for everyone still living on earth ... 'Not yet!' Of course, every dimension of our salvation is based not upon our own merit or because we have earned it, but upon God's grace, mercy and love towards us. To be changed by his grace requires us to trust in His word, His promises, His very identity and character as revealed in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. "It is by grace you have been saved through faith ... the gift of God." (Eph 2:8) Much love and prayers, Pastor Mike