Friday, 28 April 2017

Salvation - past, present and future Part 2

Paul in Romans 7 is referring to the sin habits that his previous life without Christ have formed in his body, his mind and his reactions to the things that haoppen to him. We too learn these habits from early on, picking them up from adults around us, later friends and peer groups, as the sin that is present in the creative order works away in us. The Bible and the Church has various ways of explaining this, the most well known of course being the story of Adam and Eve our parents.

Now bearing in mind this does not have to be read as literal truth (you can if you wish) it neverthless seeks to explain how the power of sin came into the world and links it with our disobedience of God's express command: "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Genesis 2:16-17). Please note that God wasn't wanting to deny them the understanding of the difference between good and evil - any responsible parent would want to do that - but in their original state of innocence and sinlessness they were, made in the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:27), at that stage perfect and pristine creatures. The knowledge of good and evil therefore represents the knowledge that only God possessed at that stage. Therefore to eat the fruit of that tree was to disobey God and try to become like Him, gods themselves.

Adam and Eve, so the story goes, weer however tempted to disbelieve and disobey God leading to a fall from grace and introducing the power of sin into the world - the 'Fall' - and giving it access to theri lives. The following chapters up to Chapter 6 then chart the gradual descent into darkness that this means for God's creation which, although originally good ("very good" Gensis 1:31), now became so disfigured and corrupted that Genesis 6 tells us:

"....(so) great man's (had) wickedness on the earth.....become.....that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." (verse 5)

Look how deep that goes, right down to inclinations ('natural' tendencies) and the thoughts (mind) of his heart (centre of our being) was ONLY evil ALL THE TIME. The power of sin was now so great that it had, like a cancer, completely dominated the personality of human beings, holding sway and power over everything they did, thought and spoke. The Church has called this sin 'original' sin or 'ancestral' sin. Either way it's power is present in all of us, whether we were born with it - as Roman Catholics and many Protestants believe, - or we pick it up from the 'environment' in which we live. Either way we need saving from its power or we will eventually become so corrupted by it that we will turn away from God and 'perish' (see John 3:16) in the sense that we won't be able to enjoy the life in all its fulness with God that Jesus came to bring and God originally intended (see John 10:10).

It is THAT power that Jesus came to defeat and destroy on the cross and through the resurrection. This is made plain in Romans 6 especially in this passage from the new Living Translation of the Bible:

"5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. 8 And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. 9 We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus."

So in this sense, if we put our trust in Jesus and are united with Him in His death and resurrection through faith, living under the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, then we are 'saved' and delivered from the power of sin. But - and it is a significant 'but' - we still need to go on being 'saved' by exercising our faith, and living out the Christian life. There are still significant battles to be fought against those sin habits and tendencies at work in us, and which Paul so vividly describes to us in Romans 7. And to enable us to address these we need to walk in the power of the Spirit whilst practising the spiritual disciplines which Christ has given us as his disciples (a 'disciple or apprentice is a follower of Christ who practices certain disciplines in order to live the life Christ would live if He were you and I. See Dallas Willard article in the next post).

And so Jesus teaches us how to give alms, fast and pray (Matthew 6). The Bible talks about Biblical meditation (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1) and the need for solitude (Luke 5:16) etc. These are the 'tools' of the Christian trade that help us to engage in the fight against sin and work out "in fear and trembling" what Christ has done for us (Philippians 2:12). And it is this that is sadly lacking in so many today who look back to the moment they were 'saved' but ignore the fact that the war has been won but there are still batles to be fought. How else can we obey Christ's command to "be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). In other words make perfection - to be like God - your aim or goal (telos in Greek).

And so salvation is past - and begins the moment you and I respond to the call of Christ, and trust Him as our Saviour and Lord. It continues, as we offer "the parts of (y)our body to (Christ) as instruments of righteousness" (Romans 6:13) so that sin shall no longer be our master, as we learn, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to "live no longer under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14)

And what about future? Well is the goal or aim is perfection, then when we "have fought the good fight" and "finished the race" and "kept the faith" (note all these suggest that this is our part, working with grace to grow up in our salvation (1 Peter 2:2)) there will be in store for us "the crown of righteousness, which the Lord...will award (us)" (2 Timothy 4:7-8). Then, and only then, will we be finally 'saved' in the fullest sense of the word.

So we can talk about being saved (past tense), but the Lord's work in us will not, as yet been completed. We can also talk in terms of being saved (present tense), as the work of God in tandom with the Spirit and through grace as we follow Jesus is ongoing. But still that work is incomplete. It is only when we have finished the race of faith that we can trully say that we are now saved (future tense) because like runners it is only when we have finished the race that we will be given the winner's crown.

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