by Femi Aribisala
The salvation popularly preached in the churches is not the salvation of Jesus Christ.
The notion that Christians are already saved is beguiling, bewitching and illusory. Paul says we are saved without works. (Ephesians 2:9). Then he enjoins us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12).
However, there can never be salvation in this world. True salvation is not attained until we arrive at the safe harbour of the Father’s house.
The Israelites celebrated their deliverance from Egypt with tambourine and dance. But, alas, only two of those who left Egypt entered the Promised Land. Like some Christians of today, if you had interviewed them after the Red Sea miracle, they would have told you they were saved.
Salvation of God
We need to understand salvation strictly from God’s perspective. Jesus provides its basic features in the parable of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-32). There we see a sinner attached to life in his “far country,” earnestly seeking fulfilment. We also see his grieving Father back at home, looking out unto the “far country” and seeing only death.
This world, represented in Jesus’ parable by the “far country,” is the abode of sons mostly lost and dead to God; the Father in heaven. The Father wants to receive us back into his heavenly home as his dear children, but he cannot do so unless and until we return to him. Accordingly, when the Prodigal Son finally returned home, the Father declared: “This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:24).
Salvation then, from God’s point of view, is the rescue of his lost children from the deadness of the world and our safe return and arrival in his heavenly home. It is therefore premature to say, as some Christians do, that we are already saved. Some even say: “Once saved, always saved.” But the truth of the matter is there can be no salvation while we are still in this sinful world.
Love of life
In the Old Testament, the Israelites were saved from Egypt. Today, we are saved from the world, which is what represents Egypt. The Israelites were not saved in order to prosper in Egypt. Neither are we saved in order to prosper in this world. The final destination for the Israelites was the Promised Land. Correspondingly, the final destination for us is heaven.
What does God require of us in the meantime? He requires that we repent and live sin-free lives. Jesus says: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7).
But this is where many also miss it. The repentance required is far more than repentance from adultery or greed. Jesus has a tendency to go to the heart of a matter by simplifying it. Therefore, he collapsed all 613 laws of Moses into two basic imperatives: love of God and love of neighbour. Once we fulfil these two commandments, we have fulfilled the law. Once we violate any of these commandments, we have transgressed the law.
The same goes with sin. Jesus collapsed all sins into one: the love of life. Once we love life, we have sinned. Once we hate life, we have obeyed all God’s commandments. Since the objective is the attainment of eternal life, Jesus tells us specifically what will enable us to obtain it and what will prevent us from obtaining it. He says: “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25).
This has nothing to do with answering some altar call and confessing Jesus as saviour as Paul prescribes: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10).
It certainly does not say salvation is a gift of God. (Romans 6:23). Neither does it say we are saved by grace through faith: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Instead, it says eternal life is attainable only to those who hate their life in this world. The reason for this is simple: the love of life is the basis of all sin. We steal, cheat, fight, kill and commit adultery in order to save our lives. But the man who turns the other cheek and lays down his life like a lamb does not sin. We overcome sin by not loving our lives.
The Father’s house
Jesus defines salvation as our rescue from this world into the kingdom of God. This is a process that is not completely accomplished here. It begins in this world but ends in heaven, in the life to come. Jesus says: “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22).
This means Solomon is right. For the faithful: “The day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth” (Ecclesiastes 7:1). The day of a man’s death is when he finally escapes from this world of sin and enters into eternal rest in the Father’s house. To this end, the Father sent his loyal and obedient Son into this lost and dead world, at the risk of his own eternal life, not to make a sacrificial offering for sin, but to rescue all who would heed and follow him back home.
Jesus shows us “the way,” back home to the Father. He provides us with “the truth and the life” of the Kingdom of God. He gives his life to us as our Good Shepherd, and requires us to follow his example as sheep follow their shepherd. He says to us: “If anyone serves me, let him follow me; and where I am, there my servant will be also. If anyone serves me, him my Father will honor.” (John 12:26).
Jesus is now in the bosom of the Father. If we follow his example, we will also end up where he is in the bosom of the Father in heaven.
In effect, Jesus provided the basic imperative of salvation when he was only twelve. He went with his parents to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. But on returning back home, they discovered he was not with them. After an agonising three-day search, they finally found him in the temple, engaged in discussion with the teachers of the law.
His mother chided him for his insensitivity. She said: “Son, why have you done this to us? Look, your father and I have sought you anxiously” (Luke 2:48). But Jesus did not admit any wrongdoing. “‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:49).
That is the imperative of salvation: we must all end up in our Father’s house. Until and unless we do, we are not yet saved.