Something just dawned on me, as clear as day. At the root of the way modeled by Jesus Christ is the certainty and security about our relationship with our good heavenly father, carried into eternity. At the root of religious fundamentalism is the ever-present good old fear of death – and at its core, that fear of death is unmitigated even by the cross of Calvary. These two streams flow within the larger nominal framework of Christianity. They may employ the same terminology and the same sacred texts, but the difference is truly night and day.
Here’s what brought it to light for me. During these past few years, I’ve read theological books on a variety of subjects, and from a variety of perspectives. I’ve read much material on the subject of atonement. I’ve read entire books on some of the views, in addition to reading background material on all of the currently and historical popular views. I came away with a renewed understanding of the complexity of the issue. What’s important – awareness of those perspectives, coupled with my own in-depth research and analysis, gave me many tools to help me construct my own understanding of the meaning of the atonement.
I did very similar kind of research with the issues of “hell”, “heaven”, “theodicy” (goodness of God vs. evil that’s in the world), “end times”, and many others. Again – my awareness of those perspectives, coupled with my own in-depth research and analysis, empowered me to construct my own understanding of the meaning of the “hell”, “heaven”, “theodicy”, “end times”, etc. My understanding of these and many other subjects became much more textured, much deeper, much more internally coherent, much more resonant with the Scriptures in their historical and cultural context – and as the result, often very different from the commonly circulated pop-theology teachings.
The verb “to save” and the noun “salvation” mean “to save” or “to rescue” in the original Greek. That’s all it means. Semantically, the notion of rescue requires an indirect object (“saved from what?”), supplied either explicitly in the text, or understood from the context. The words “save / salvation”, however, became religiously loaded terms that it the minds of a lot of people, they are synonymous with most or all of the above:
- new birth
- receiving eternal life
- obtaining righteousness
- becoming justified
- becoming sanctified
- becoming glorified
- going to heaven
- going to paradise (whatever that means – paradise is simply “park” or “garden” in Greek (G3857 – παράδεισος / paradeisos))
- not going to hell (meaning either sheol / hades, or gehenna, or lake of fire, or some combination thereof, etc.)
- having a different relationship with death (whatever “death” means for the one speaking – loss of life, separation, going to hell, etc.)
- receiving eternal rewards
Incidentally, all of the above can’t possibly mean the same thing, since then why use all those different terms if they have the same meaning? Those are different concepts, and failure to study them out for yourself will simply leave you intellectually confused. You don’t want to be lifting proof verses out of context to prop up whatever doctrine may be popular it whatever circles while ignoring the rest.
Fortunately, there’s a better way of Scripture study – a contextual study, or the concordant method, as pertaining to vocabulary. This is how you acquire your vocabulary as a child. It requires more work on your part. In this study, I’ve done a lot of the work for you.
To better understand the nature of what we commonly refer to as “salvation” (when we mean “new birth”, or “being born again”), I suggest we look at the entirety of what it entails.
Normally when we use the word salvation loosely in that sense, we refer to it as a “thing” rather than a transformative series of events changed 1) the essence of who we are, and 2) the covenant basis of how God relates to us.
To give you an example – we commonly use expressions like “losing salvation” to refer to the concept of a born-again believer the returning to his or her previous, unsaved, state of being. If we view a salvation as a thing, then we are justified to refer to that concept as “losing salvation”. An implication of this, then, is that salvation is a “thing” that we “found” (since we can “lose” it). Sort of like finding a penny – we find it, pick it up, put it in the pocket, the pocket has a hole, so we lose it.