That just by the way is the title to one of my favourite albums by Switchfoot. Anyway I thought it describes quite nicely the way I feel about the issue of salvation as we draw closer to Easter. I am just being honest here but sometimes I find salvation just a little disappointing. Not the salvation we are promised from the front of the church, no that salvation is quite literally out-of-this-world, it even has a line of fashionable coffee mugs to boot.
What I mean is that is that our experience of salvation seems to often fall well below what is promised – a life full of promise, direction, satisfaction, purpose, world changing power, miracles, blessing, prosperity, victory and intimacy with God so tangible you can almost touch him. This is often what is meant or understood by the Abundant Life*, but it seems to me like terms and conditions apply because for most of my christian life it felt like I was fighting just to get to the starting line (you know like in those famous ultra-marathons where it takes 10-15 minutes for everyone to get past the starting line.)
Now I don’t want to sound all depressed, I just want to be honest.
In the past I believed that pretty much all of God’s activity in the world was around the issue of getting people “saved”. However in the last few years I have realised that what God is doing is so much more than this. Yes salvation is important but as N.T. Wright says:
“salvation is like the steering wheel in a car, a very important part, but certainly not the whole car and yet this is what we have done, we have tried to tell people that the steering wheel is the car.”
That is a very loose quote but I got it from his book called Justification. The problem I encounter with salvation and justification (often they are even used inter-changeably) is that we have made it all about ourselves and so when life happens to us and it doesn’t treat us with the same favour as our ideas on God and his perfect plans for our lives, we get horribly disorientated, discouraged, disillusioned and disappointed.
The truth of the matter is that Jesus didn’t just die on the cross for your personal sins and my personal sins. He died to defeat evil, sin and death. He wasn’t running a covert snatch and grab operation. He has done it properly by defeating all the powers of darkness. What this does is start with the issue on a macro level and on a communal level, not personal one.
The issue of justification then is not simply “just as if I’d never sinned” which keeps the universe and God revolving around us, but rather that God said to Abraham that He would bless all nations through his family. Notice you have a community around Abraham which is supposed to bless the great greater community of all nations. However we know that instead of this happening Israel, using the law to define and protect it’s identity, kept the blessing of relationship with God to themselves and became an exclusive community.
What Paul explains in Galatians and Romans is that where Israel had been unfaithful to the covenant with Abraham, Jesus was raised up to represent Israel and become that faithful Israelite. He would finally fulfil the law and the covenant and by so doing he would fling the doors wide open for all the peoples/communities of the world to be included.
The reason why Jesus brings an end to the temple (the Temple became the representation of Israel’s identity with all other nations excluded from it), why the curtain is torn in two at his death, is that Jesus is opening access to God for all the communities of the earth. Not only did he do this but he gave God a new name, “Abba” and on the flipside what he is giving his Abba is a new family, Jew, Gentile, Slave, Free, Male, Female. This is also why circumcision was such a big issue for Paul because that one act separated not only Jew from Gentile, but male from female.
So this easter as I think about Jesus dying on the cross, I am not just thinking about my sins being cleaned. I am thinking about the new family that he died to bring about, those lines of distinctions, those walls and curtains that he died to tear down, the unity and fellowship he died to give us, and how by participating in this new community, this new family, this new creation, I might be saved from myself and my small individualist world.
Would love to hear your thoughts on this…