This is the ninth part of a series I’m calling Blogmatics. It’s an attempt on my part to lay out as best I can in as brief a manner as I can all the theological assumptions behind my blog posts.
If you recall, in the scene a group of dwarfs are huddled together on the ground in the new Narnia, but they don’t realize it. They are convinced they are still trapped in a dark, dirty barn in the old Narnia. Even when Aslan tries to help them see the reality of where they sit by bestowing a succulent feast on their laps, they are unable to enjoy it for what it really is.
With just a bit of tweaking, I think C.S. Lewis provides a wonderful illustration of my understanding of salvation.
Salvation is, of course, at the heart of the Christian faith. It is the good news of the gospel. And yet the church has long wrestled with not only what all salvation entails (other than a trip to heaven), but how exactly we are saved in the first place.
Yes, Jesus is the one that saves us, but how exactly does that saving work occur and what he is saving us from and what are we to do once we have been saved?
Throughout the centuries many theories have been put forth to explain how Jesus saves us, or atones for our sins. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. Though some have mistakingly come to believe that one or another atonement theory, usually substitution or ransom, is the orthodox theory of the atonement and any rejection of said chosen theory is a rejection of Christ himself. This is, of course, not true. The church, for at least as long as there was just the church and not 40,000+ churches, has never affirmed any particular atonement theory over and against all the rest.
Because the Bible uses multiple metaphors to describe salvation and the reason it does so is that ultimately the precise mechanisms of the atonement are a mystery.
So, even though I prefer the model I’m going to describe, it is no more definitive than any other. However, I do believe it captures the core essence of Christ’s atoning work and the purpose of that work, while avoiding some of the pitfalls of traditional atonement theories.
So how do I believe we are saved?
I think that humanity finds, or at least found, itself in a position much like the Narnian dwarfs in C.S. Lewis’ famous work. We are deceived by the delusion that we can be gods of our own lives, but rather than freely ruling over creation we find ourselves bound by our pride and idolatrous visions of lordship. Christ, then, comes to set us free from this prison of our own creation.
Through an act of worship.
What I believe we witness on the cross is a doxological response to our idolatry. I believe that in emptying himself,
“he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
It was this act of worship that restored creation to its proper order. By refusing the temptation to grasp at divinity, the temptation Adam couldn’t resist, Jesus placed humanity back where we belong at the feet of our Creator. Whereas the old Adam tried to steal life away from God and found only death, the new Adam freely gave himself up to death, so that all might live.
In rejecting the idolatry of Adam and Eve, Jesus liberates us from the only thing we were capable of creating for ourselves – a prison of death. So, when we walk out of the tomb with him into the resurrected life and turn to see our jailer, it is not Satan we behold, nor is it a blood thirsty Father.
When we look at the face of our jailer we see ourselves.
That is to say, Christ came to free us from us.
From our idolatrous self-love, our pride, our hate, and the self-centered path that leads to destruction.
We demanded a ransom, a tribute to our delusional glory and Christ paid it the only way such an idolatrous ransom could be paid – with a doxological sacrifice. In so doing, Christ confronted us with the reality of our sin, that in seeking to place ourselves on the heavenly throne we were in fact seeking to destroy God. But in giving himself up to death, rather than fighting back to save himself, the incarnate God met our idolatry with love and conquered our self-imposed sentence of death by giving us his life.
As followers of Christ, set free from our idolatrous prisons of death, we are called to embody this same sort of doxological sacrifice. We are called to a life of worship embodied in our sacrificial love for others. This is why we have been saved. So that as the body of Christ we might participate in God’s atoning work in the world, as God works through us to reconcile all of creation back to its Creator.
It is not that our sacrificial love is salvific in the same way Jesus’ once for all act of sacrificial love granted salvation to all of creation. It’s that our sacrificial love is an incarnate witness to the good news of the gospel, that in shining that light to the world “they may see [our] good deeds and glorify [our] Father in heaven.”
In other words, salvation is not simply about a confession of faith or a moment of intellectual assent. Our salvation is a call to live a life of sacrificial love for others. That is our true confession of faith.
This does not mean that we are saved through works. But neither does it mean we are saved by our faith alone. It’s not our faith in Jesus that saves us. It’s the faithfulness of Jesus to the will of the Father that saves us. If it were our faith alone, our simple confession to intellectual assent that forced the hand of God to save us from death, we would be back in the very same position of delusional idolatrous control that Jesus came to atone.
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, regardless of exactly how we are saved I believe this gift of salvation from death has been extended to all.
Not only does it strike me as utterly incoherent to claim that God has predestined but a few for salvation when the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Christ died once for all and that God so loved the world, not a part of it, but such a God who would create some for salvation and some for death (and no matter what ridiculous mental gymnastics you want to try if God predestines those who will be saved God necessarily predestines those who will be condemned), that sort of God is utterly abhorrent, totally perverse, absolutely contradictory to the radically inclusive nature of Jesus, and altogether unworthy of worship.
Either Christ died for all, that all might have life, or the news of the gospel is that Christ died that we might have privilege, exclusion, and death and have them more abundantly.
Grace and peace,
*For a more thorough treatment of my understanding of the atonement, as well as what I believe occurred on the cross, you can check out my master’s thesis - Idolatry and Doxology: A Reexamination of the Cry of Dereliction Through a Trinitarian Ontology of Relationship. Just be kind. I wrote it many years ago when I was wee little theologian in training.