Friday, December 28, 2012
What Is “Salvation”?
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."
At Christmas time we speak of the birth of the "Savior." But what does that mean? In what sense is Jesus a "Savior"? What exactly is "salvation"? The term is widely used in evangelical circles, yet the concept is not always clearly understood. It is one of those words and phrases that has come down to us from the past, and we use without really thinking about what it means. The word itself suggests some sort of deliverance from peril, but what is the peril? Most Americans today are not aware of any. They are quite comfortable living their middle class lives and pursuing the American dream. They generally cannot relate the word "salvation" to anything in their personal experience.
The word, however, is a biblical one. The apostle Paul could write, "Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" (Rom. 5:9; NKJV). "Wrath"? What is Paul talking about?
In his Epistle to the Romans Paul has given us one of the most thorough explanations of the Christian concept of salvation that we have. He begins his discussion by saying, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men . . ." (Rom. 1:18). "Ungodliness" is the attempt to live life apart from God, the refusal to acknowledge Him as Creator and Lord. The underlying Greek word ("asebeia") might better be translated "impiety." It roughly corresponds to what we think of today as "secularism." "Unrighteousness" is basically injustice and lack of conformity to God's law – our mistreatment of others in defiance of God's norms. What we have here, then, is a vivid picture of a world in rebellion against God and bent on evil. And it is this that has brought down the wrath of God.
All of this undoubtedly sounds very strange to modern ears. We are not used to thinking this way. But in our materialistic society we are not used to thinking about the larger questions of human existence. Modern western man is the proverbial ostrich with his head stuck in the sand, perfectly oblivious to what is going on around him.
Consider the facts. Human existence presents us with a strange paradox. We are rational, thinking human beings, yet we have difficulty making sense of our existence. On the one hand we live – we have life and energy, and we strive to enjoy life to the fullest. Yet death is an inescapable reality. Death seems incongruous, somehow out of place in a world abounding with life. Is there any discernible meaning or purpose to all of this? If we were somehow meant to live, why do we die?
But this throws us back to an even deeper question: is there any meaning or purpose to life at all? The answer of modern philosophy, if it is honest with itself, is "none whatsoever." If the literal truth about who we are and how we got here is evolution, if we are the result of a blind, purposeless natural process, then we are essentially an accident. There is no "design" behind anything. We simply exist, as an accident of nature, and our "essence," or distinctive identity, is something man-made and artificial, something we acquire as we go through life. And indeed this is what probably most people do in actual experience – they wrap their lives around careers, relationships, sports, politics, hobbies, you name it. Anything to give themselves a reason to get up in the morning and face the daily grind.
But in the end it really isn't very satisfying. It often disappoints us when things don't turn out the way we wanted them to, and it leaves the deeper questions of life largely unanswered. It is at the bottom of it a form of escapism, an attempt to evade the real issue. Do I have any real dignity and worth? Do I have a worthwhile goal in life? The answers to these questions provided by secular philosophy are all disappointed. To get real guidance on these matters we need to turn to Scripture.
Next: The Problem of Evil
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