What is salvation?
In my last post I proposed the below chart as a way of answering that important question. In this post I will comment on the first sector (1).
|Personal||Forgiveness of Sins and Relationship with God (1)||Moral (Inner and Outer) Transformation (2)||Resurrection of the Body (3)|
|Communal||One Body of Christ: One New Society (4)||Reconciliation and Social Transformation (5)||The Fullness of the Kingdom of God (6)|
|Cosmic||Resurrection and Exaltation of Jesus (7)||Redemptive Emergence of New Creation (8)||New Heaven and New Earth (9)|
Sector 1 identifies salvation as a past, personal experience of reconciliation (healed relationship) with God through the forgiveness of sins and the imputation of righteousness.
I identify past as “Justification” because this is traditional (though western) language for the moment of conversion. It is technical theological jargon, a kind of insider language for western Christian theologians. It is helpful as a technical term because it economizes words. “Justification” is a categorical term that says alot in one word rather than mulitplying phrases to describe what happens in “Justification.”
Yet, there is a danger. When Paul uses the Greek term δικαιωσιν (justification, righteousness), it is not only used in reference to a past conversion moment but is also used as a synonymn for the present (e.g., Romans 6:13; sanctification) and future (e.g., Galatians 5:5; glorification) dimensions of salvation. Consequently, we cannot assume that every time Paul uses a cognate of δικαιος (just, righteous) that he is thinking about what theologians have called “Justification.” With that caveat, I think it is still helpful to use the technical terminology–at least in some contexts. But what is more important is to recognize the “past” nature of our salvation as a specific aspect of our rescue from brokenness.
Another important feature of identifying this quadrant is to recognize the personal nature of our salvation. I have avoided the term “individual” because I don’t want to raise the spector of individualism. We are not saved as isolated, disconnected individuals. But we are saved as persons, that is, we personally experience salvation. We are saved as persons by persons (Father, Son and Spirit) for relationship with persons (each other as well as the Triune community). Consequently, I do not have categorical problems with expressions like “personal relationship with Jesus or God” though I would have concerns about how that sentiment might be interpreted or applied individualistically.
What does it mean for persons to experience salvation as a past moment in their lives? Perhaps we have to first ask what enslaves us. From what are we rescued or saved? What is broken? What or who captivates us?
Ultimately, relationships are broken, strained and hostile. This includes relationship with the self (we are fragmented people within ourselves), community (division, war, hostility), the cosmos (hostility) and God (broken communion). The personal focus of “Justification” is healing our personal relationship with God both forensically (guilt) and relationally (restored communion) . Relationship is restored and communion renewed through the forgiveness of sins (or non-imputaton of sin) and the imputation of righteouenss (Romans 4; 2 Corinthians 5).
Abraham was justified. David was forgiven. It is personal. I do believe we have a personal relationship with God. This is not a personalism disconnected from community but it is a personalism that recognizes that a person is healed through communion with God and the salvation is applied personally as well as communally.
This gift of relationship–reconciliation–is personally experienced through the presence of the Holy Spirit. This is not merely a forensic event (a “not guilty” verdict or a declaration that we are “in the right” by God’s act), but a communing encounter with the presence of God through the gift of the Spirit. The moment is forensic but also existential; it is both legal and relational. Indeed, the forensic (forgiveness of sins and imputation of righteousness) is a means toward the relational goal of existential communion. But more needs to be said but I will leave that to sector #2.
This past act of “Justification” enables a present experience. It is not that we dwell in the past. Rather, we recognize that God’s past work in our lives empowers us to live confidently and boldly in the present. This is assurance. God’s act of justification is the ground of our assurance which we embrace through faith.
Justificaiton is God’s work–it is God’s declaration, God’s faithfulness, God’s forgiveness and God’s gift–which the Father accomplishes through the faithfulness of Jesus and applies to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. As we personally receive this gift through faith, we personally experience restored communion (relationship) with God.