It’s Biblical Series:
by Michael Roberts, D. Min.
Salvation does not simply mean “going to heaven.” That has been a common definition at various times in history and it still is today. There are many Christians in our society who view salvation as a ticket to heaven or an insurance policy just in case there is a heaven. Many have witnessed the scenario that surrounds this popular notion. A person walks down the aisle of a sanctuary, answers a few questions, prays, and then the preacher declares them “saved.” The person has a ticket to heaven. He/She can point to a date and say when they were saved. That is the popular understanding of salvation in our society, but it does not exhaust the meaning of this great biblical word. Such a view only scratches the surface of this great biblical truth.
In the Bible, the Greek word translated “to save” (sozo) means more than to be “delivered.” It literally means to be made whole, or healed, or restored. Sin can be described as a wound or a break that causes estrangement between us and God. It is not that we are divorced from God, but rather alienated or estranged from God. It is like being in the same room with another person, but so consumed with our own agenda that we are either unaware or uninterested in the blessings that can come from a relationship with the other. God, however, is aware of the dangers of this estrangement and, because of his great love, is interested in us. In Christ, God came to heal the wound, mend the break, overcome the estrangement, and restore us to relationship. Salvation is an act of God’s grace (Eph 2:1-10). The salvation relationship is one where we are delivered from the bondage of sin and death and set free to grow with God into the whole persons we were created to be. That’s biblical salvation.
As the Apostle Paul says, God has reconciled us to himself in Jesus Christ, not counting our sins against us (II Corinthians 5:19). Salvation, as we defined it, is a reconciled relationship with God whereby we are transformed from fear to faith, hatred to love, bondage to freedom, and death to life. The salvation relationship is one that continues into eternity to be sure, but the relationship begins now. As United Methodists Christians, we do not believe that we only grow “toward” salvation, as if it is a prize for which we have the ticket. Rather, we are bold to proclaim that we grow “in” salvation. To put it another way, we do not see salvation as a “dot,” a moment in time; it is more like a “line.” It is a process. There may be a beginning, from our vantage point, but that initial sense of salvation is not the end of the process. We are “being saved” (I Corinthians 1:18, 15:2). We are called to “work out our salvation,” knowing that God is at work within us (Philippians 2:12-13). We “grow into salvation” (I Peter 2:2). To paraphrase Jesus, “The kingdom of God (which is within you) is like a mustard seed which grows into something big, beautiful, and useful” (Luke 13:18; 17:21; Romans 14:17). Christian faith is a process of becoming the person that God created us to be. Thus, salvation is more than a decision. It is the process of becoming a disciple.
How do we grow in salvation? To answer this question we can lift up the method of Methodism. God has given us inspired tools or “methods” for our salvation journey- worship, prayer, bible study, fellowship, witness, and service. By practicing these God-given means of grace we grow in the abundant life that God desires for us all. Through the method of Methodism, we prepare ourselves for an eternity of salvation.