Salvation: Sector 1

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.

13 Responses to “Salvation: Sector 1”

  1.   rich constant Says:

    if we are being specific…
    I would object to the forgiveness then righteous faith…
    i would say a man with a good hart is recognised by the trinity (i,not sure here so i would say,the trinity i am not sure of the functional operator)
    per acts 10.
    righteous acts(this does not equate to righteous faith)to me
    then the disciple is disposed,by the spirit
    of Christ,working in the world to facilitate the redemption process.
    as peter is sent and speaks the gospel as the work
    of god

    is believed at that point the righteous faith of Abraham

    then the preaching of baptism because of the command of Christ.
    i would say john mark
    this righteous faith leads by proper preaching to our common death in faithfulness as spoken by the faithful one the author and finisher of faith and bring a quickening spirit to the now righteous member of the liveing spirit filled
    and please explain why this is wrong please

  2.   rich constant Says:

    p.s.this of as u say in your book is like the river.
    or the words of Hosea that god will not suffer one good seed to be lost. which i consider to be one of his intrinsic character attributes of goodness, and as Christ is now the reigning lord and is excising the rod of god
    on the nations psalm 2 all will at least be able to come to a knowledge of the truth of the gospel, gods completed work in Christ,to bring about the vindicating of gods very good creation,through the Spirit filled body of the lord god not willing that anyone should perish??/


  3.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    I too share your desire to avoid reducing personal salvation to an individualistic concern. With that being said, it seems that quandrant 1 should have primacy as the beginning of the salvation experience. Without personally knowing that I am forgiven and set-free from sin and all of the destruction sin brings, I can never really experience the reconciliation that allows me the communal or cosmic aspects of salvation. This is not to say that personal salvation is any more important than communal or cosmic but instead to say that should be the beginning point.

    So…is that a fair assesment? Or is the experience of salvation and the process that involves as linear as I make it sound?

    Grace and peace,


    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      As far as our personal experience of salvation, it begins in Quadrant 1 and flows toward community and personal transformation. However, salvation begins–in terms of how I am unpacking this–with the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus as head of the new creation. That new creation creates a new community into which we are personally invited.

      I imagine the relationship as reciprocal. Because God raised Jesus from the dead and set him as head over all things, we personally experience reconcilation with God through forgiveness. And this experience comes–usually–in the context of community; it is a communal witness that draws us into a personal relationship with Jesus. At the same time, our personal experience of salvation is also experienced in community through faith in the risen Lord.

      The foundation of the new creation is the headship of Jesus as risen Lord, but my experience of the new creation is my own personal new beginning as part of the new creation.

  4.   Jr Says:

    I would add to you last paragraph that faith is also something “the Father…applies to us through the work of the Holy Spirit.” Faith, repentance, sanctification, good works are all evidence of a new-birth, not the cause of it.

    In regards to the “personal relationship with God” part, Michael Horton, in a recent Christianity Today interview (Nov 2009, p46-49), made an interesting observation. He said, “…everyone has a relationship with God. In Romans 1-3, Paul says Gentiles have a relationship with God, even when they are engaging in idolatry. The question is where the relationship is with a father, who has justified and adopted his heirs, or with a judge.”
    “We don’t make God [our Lord and Savior]; it is he who makes us his people. The Good News is not that Jesus has made it possible for you to make him Lord and Savior. The Good News is that he has actually saved and liberated you, and that he is your Savior”(p49).

    In another question concerning individualism vs. communion as the Body of Christ he says, “Baptism is not only a sacrament of our union with Christ; it is also a sacrament of our communion with the body of Christ. Paul upbraided the Corinthians for their individualism by appealing to the practice of the Lord’s Supper and by saying we are all one body because we eat one loaf. The word-and-sacrament ministry [of Reformation Protestantism] is precisely what we need in order to uproot the narcissism and individualism that pervade our culture”(p49). I think there is common ground in that point.

    I have a question for you concerning justification being linked with other factors of salvation. For example, Romans 8:30 where it is differentiated from other factors of redemption: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” What of that?

    See you in the summer!

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      I would suggest faith is a means of new birth rather than cause or effect. But that is the difference between a Calvinist and an Arminian. Nevertheless, it seems we could agree that faith is a means of salvation.

      Yes, the “personal relationship” of which I write in this post is a reconciled, healed relationship. There is, of course, a sense in which everyone has a relationship with God as every creature lives and moves and has being in God.

      I agree with Horton’s point on sacraments as both personal and communal.

      “Justified” in Romans 8:30 is used, I think, in a broad sense that includes both declaration and participation (both past and present dimensions in my chart) as Paul uses the Greek cognates for both in the epistle. But I am not certain of this. It may be used in the narrow sense of what I have called the “past” dimension of salvation. All the terms are in the past tense (even glorified) in Romans 8:29-30 which I regard as a Hebraism of assurance. There certainly a sense in which “Justification” can be differentiated from “Glorification” when understood in terms of temporal sequence (our experience of them), but the semantic and theological range of Paul’s usage of these terms is also inclusive of past, present and future.

      I look forward to the summer…..should be interesting discussions. 🙂

  5.   rich constant Says:

    john mark
    if god is no respecter of persons….
    faith in / trust in god that he will pre/ did post/glorification raise Jesus from the dead because of promise, GRACE,by faith/trusting his word.
    this becomes a level playing field at the point of faith/trust in god, through hearing the gospel/post glory which brings about adherence to the way truth and life for guidance through the spirit?
    no .

  6.   rich constant Says:

    i just gota say this

  7.   rich constant Says:

    and then personal,communal and cosmic,
    would all diversify by addition of one until we come to the final number 10x10x10x12x12.
    now that might not make good nonsense.
    some times i even try that book out…
    one day i might get that other ore in the water.

  8.   WesWoodell Says:

    I like the chart … nice 🙂

  9.   Xander Says:

    So when did salvation happen?

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      It has happened, is happening and will yet happen. It is how Paul describes salvation: we have been saved, are being saved and will yet be saved. It depends on which point in the continuum you are standing or viewing the whole salvation event.


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