As we noticed in our previous post, in three places, Paul uses the phrase “being saved.” In all three of those texts, there is an emphasis on the death of Jesus. For those being saved, the word of the cross is the power of God. Paul’s gospel, through which believers are “being saved,” announces the event of Jesus’ death, according to the Scriptures, his burial, and his resurrection according to the Scriptures. Finally, those being led in Christ’s victory procession look like their crucified leader. Those who are “being saved” are the aroma of Christ to God, for some a fragrance from death to death, and for others from life to life. It’s clear that whatever Paul means by “being saved,” it involves the death and resurrection of Jesus.
I want you to notice some things in the 1 Cor 15 passage. Notice how much territory Paul grants to the gospel. Notice the verb tenses. It’s what they received, in which they stand, through which they are being saved. Past, present, ongoing future. The gospel is not just something for outsiders or beginners. The gospel is something in which we continue to participate.
A second thing to notice here. The gospel for Paul is not a theory of the atonement. He doesn’t explain how it works to justify sinners. It is the announcement of an event. And this makes sense of the use of the word “gospel.” That’s what news is. The announcement of an event. No one lives in a theory. Theories close things down. But an event, or news, bears the possibility of being ongoing. Something happened. Now this. Stay tuned for further details of this unfolding story.
One more observation, this one from 1 Cor 1:18, then a stab at a conclusion. Paul contrasts those who are perishing with those who are being saved (this is also the contrast in 2 Cor 2). For the first group, the word of the cross is foolishness. We might expect Paul to say about the second group that the word of the cross for them is wisdom. But Paul doesn’t. He uses the word power. The word of the cross does something. It’s not just a better set of ideas or an understanding. It is power. It is, in this sense, practical. It enters the world of doing and becoming accomplishing.
So, from these three observations, this tentative conclusion. For Paul, salvation consists in the continuing participation of the believer in the event of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Ongoing participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus allows believers to participate in a new reality–a different kind of power that produces a different kind of life.
Put another way, the death and resurrection of Jesus becomes the script that a Christian performs. It is not our life that is “saving,” but our cruciform participation in Christ’s life.
These “cross as script” passages dominate Paul’s writing. “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.” “I want to know Christ and the power of his rising, share in his sufferings and conform to his death so that somehow I might obtain resurrection from the dead.” “I always carry in my body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might be seen in my body.” These passages are legion. They indicate that for Paul the word of the cross is a kind of practical reasoning, the story through which he attempts to live under a different power in all of life’s circumstances.
And to the extent that this story is becoming autobiographical, we also are being saved.