Understanding purpose of salvation
Last week we discussed the idea of propitation – how Jesus’ death and resurrection cover over our sins, reconcile us to God, and free us from the powers of evil in this world.
But, we must make a cautionary comment today. Jesus’ primary purpose was the establishment of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus did not come to save your soul. He came to draw you into the Kingdom. Your salvation is not his end goal but the first step towards his kingdom coming.
The metaphor of a birth is helpful here. In John 3, Jesus has a conversation with Nicodemus about being “born from above.” In our second birth, our birth from above, we are just as passive as we were in our first birth. I offered no help to my parents when they had me! In the same way, I offered no help to Jesus when he ransomed me.
However, after my birth, as I grew up, I increasingly had a role to play, both individually, and as part of the family.
This is a helpful metaphor for us as Christians. We have no role to play in our salvation; but, once we are saved, we do have an opportunity and responsibility to respond to Jesus.
Expectation #1 – World transformation
The first expectation is that we will live into, and expand, God’s kingdom on this earth.
So what is the Kingdom of Heaven? First and foremost, it is a new way of life grounded in a new covenant community. Read the below for some descriptions of what the kingdom should look like:
Note that this is a social project, not merely an individual one. Bringing the Kingdom is about more than just individual salvation. It is about changing the way people relate to one another, to God, and to creation.
For example, see Isaiah 2:1-5 and 11:6-9.
This kingdom building work means that there are few issues where Christians can ever abdicate responsibility – there are no “secular” issues. It also means that we must recognize that the church, not the governments of the USA or other nations, has the ability to effect change in this world.
We must also recognize that the greatest errors of the church have always come when we have confused the Kingdom of Heaven with the kingdoms of this world. So often, we have tried to turn our nations into God’s Kingdom. This is the root of the Crusades, the Inquisitions, etc.
God’s final plan for everything is his Kingdom. We must work to see it grow, but also acknowledge that we cannot complete it without the return of Jesus.
Read Matthew 13:24-30.
The Kingdom of God, the wheat, is growing, and we have the privilege of helping it grow. So too, the weeds, the work of the enemy, is increasing. The world isn’t getting worse and worse and worse; nor is it steadily progressing. It is getting better, and worse, at the same time. Our job is to help the wheat grow!
Expectation #2 – Our transformation
However, although that this is a social project, it is ALSO an individual one. We are individually called to become more like Jesus.
Scripture has several challenges that say exactly this: “Be imitators of God” “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”
We call this process of reshaping our lives into the image of Jesus “Sanctification” and it is the second Expectation; we are called to become people who fit in Christ’s kingdom because we look like the King.
Unlike with salvation (propitiation), in sanctification we co-operate with God. Specifically, God the Holy Spirit.
Imagine for a moment that we are all drivers in cars with bad alignment. We have several problems. First, the bad alignment means that we couldn’t drive in a straight line if we wanted. Second, we’ve accumulated a lifetime of habits of bad driving because of our alignment. And third, we live in a society where everyone else is a terrible driver as well.
When we receive the Holy Spirit, after accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior, it’s like having God-in-us fixed our alignment. We now have the capacity, for the first time, to drive well. BUT, we still have a lifetime of bad habits to change, and we still live in a society of terrible drivers.
The process of sanctification asking the Holy Spirit in us to help us change our habits, just as the process of expanding the kingdom of God is about creating a society of good drivers.
This is why Scripture says, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come! The old has gone; the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are literally something new, now that the Spirit lives within us. The Holy Spirit within us makes us into Christians, a word that means “little Christs”. We are no longer human – we are God-and-man.
Here’s the key - God gives us the capacity and the power to change; we must faithfully call upon Him for that power in our times of need.
Much of this process comes down to habit replacement – exchanging our old patterns for new ones. (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Two last take aways
Two final points. Sanctification failings are not salvation failings. In other words, I’ve been adopted into God’s kingdom not based on my goodness, but his. If I fail to live as he calls me to live, this no more invalidates my salvation than my children getting in time out means that I no longer love them.
Second, our work of building the kingdom, and becoming like Christ, is eternally significant. We will pass through the fire on a foundation of Christ, but we may see our life’s work consumed (if it is not of Christ) or we may take it all with us as treasure in heaven. See, for example, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.