The journey to new insight often follows the path of a pesky phrase. You know, that one phrase that doesn’t quite fit into your understanding of things. It’s the anomaly that suggests that things may not be what they appear. The words you trip over enough that finally you have to make sense of them and a whole new world appears.
For the majority of my adult life, I assumed that the biblical view of salvation revolved around the issue of grace or works. If the central question related to the word “salvation,” was how can an individual be forgiven and find a home in heaven, there seemed to be two options. Either it was my work, that I could be enough or do enough to produce my salvation, or it was God’s work alone. Since I came down on the backside of this binary–it is God’s work alone, and because I thought of salvation as having to do with the the status of the individual, then I tended to think of salvation as a one time change in status. “When were you saved?” was a question that made perfect sense.
But there were a few pesky passages that I kept tripping over. The worst was Paul’s admonition to the Philippians, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” That phrase fits on the other side of my binary. That sounds like works salvation. So, that’s a verse to avoid or explain in some other way.
But there were others. Three times Paul uses the phrase “being saved.” Whatever is meant by “being saved” didn’t fit neatly into my works vs. grace schema. Pesky little phrase. And these phrases were harder to ignore because they were smack dab in the middle of some pretty important verses.
“The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18).
“Now I would remind you brothers of the gospel that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which you stand, through which also you are being saved…” (1 Cor 15:1).
“For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing: to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other from life to life” (2 Cor 2:15).
Over time these verses have become the anomaly through which a whole new understanding of salvation has emerged that has moved me beyond what I now see as a simplistic understanding of salvation.
I want to write a series of reflections on these verses over the next few days. I think they hold together salvation and the practice of the Christian faith in a way that makes full sense of what Paul means by grace, and in turn what he means by salvation.
For now, let me say that it is an exciting thing to know that my salvation is ongoing. That God is involved in my life in ways that are transforming. That salvation is more than just a status or a box we might check on a questionaire. Salvation is something in which I participate and find myself caught up into something bigger, more, life-changing and life-altering. Thanks be to God.