Tag Archives: Salvation

18 December – ‘His name is Jesus’

Take a moment today to pause and remember that in Jesus, God has come to save us. That’s behind his name, which means literally ‘God saves’ or ‘God to the rescue’.

Where in your life today do you need God’s rescue?

 

The animations in this series are by Jon Birch, and used by permission, but please don’t download them or post them elsewhere, as the copyright doesn’t allow that. Find out more at http://proost.co.uk/altadvent.

Hi Blogging the Bible 350 – 1 Peter 3-5 – 

I’m puzzled by a couple of passages in this reading.

For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. (3:18-22)

6 For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does. (4:6)

Taking these two together, and reading at face value, it’s hard to avoid taking it that Peter is writing about Jesus proclaiming good news to at least some of those who died before the Incarnation, after their death. I know there’s an ancient tradition that on Holy Saturday the dead Christ entered Hell to break the gates and set the dead free. These verses aren’t enough to back that up, but they leaf us in the same direction.

Whatever the detail, it’s clear at least that the saving death of Jesus reaches back into history as well as forward to our time. This passage doesn’t give an excuse for those who hear the good news now to put off a decision – both times it reads like an account of a past proclamation, not a continuing mission programme – but it does remind us of the breadth and depth of God’s mercy.

Perhaps the key thing for me to take on is that I have received that mercy while I’ve still got the chance to make the most of it – in this life rather than only the next.

Blogging the Bible 349 – 1 Peter 1-2 – Ransomed from futility 

Reading these chapters, more than anything else I’m struck by the excitement in Peter’s writing. Like Paul, he’s swept along by the wonder that, in Christ, the Gentiles have been welcomed into the ancient Covenant between Israel and God. 

Like Paul, again, he calls his readers to respond to God’s grace with disciplined minds and lives so that we are ready for action (1:13). He focuses on the image of Christ as the spotless Lamb of sacrifice, whose death has ransomed us from the futile ways of our ancestors. What would these mean for us?

We are invited to place ourselves within the great story of God’s faithfulness and promise, lived out through Israel and now for the whole world in Christ. Like the writer to the Hebrews, Peter tells us that the prophets of old glimpsed a future beyond their own experience of God, and even beyond the experience of angels. (1:12) This is the ground of Peter’s excitement in writing; that in Christ something beyond all that has been before has been revealed for our sake. Only now does God speak from within human experience. 

Now, though many of God’s ancient people have tripped on the new revelation of God in Jesus, we are invited to be part of the chosen race, royal priesthood and holy nation which was always Israel’s calling. (2:9)

We’re invited to take our place in God’s story, still unfolding for the sake of the world. The image of living stones (2:4-5) reminds us that we come with all our individuality, and that it is in Christ and only in him that we find unity and are built together into a living temple, a people among whom God is present.

I’ve mentioned Peter’s excitement already. As I’ve read and written today I’m aware of a lack of excitement in my own faith. I plan to spend time over the next couple of weeks reflecting on the ‘futility’ I would be living in without him. What would my life be like if I didn’t know God? 

I think that might remind me of why this all matters so much.

Blogging the Bible 331 – Colossians 1-2 – Christ in you

In Colossians 1:15-22, Paul gives us something a bit like John 1:1-18. His language and focus is a bit different from John’s, and we think he may be quoting an existing hymn to Christ the creator; but the sweep and flow of his thinking is similar.

First he celebrates the cosmic wonder of Jesus, through whom all things were created and in whom all things hold together. This same Jesus has now conquered death as the firstborn to new life, and in him by the cross God has reconciled all things in heaven and earth. This reconciliation is cosmic and universal in scope, but comes down to ‘you who once were estranged’ – it’s also personal and individual.

This wonder of the infinite becoming personal, of God watching at the same moment over the formation of stars and the transformation of a single human life, is overwhelming if we allow ourselves to step back and contemplate it. Our salvation is never separate from the reconciliation of the whole of creation to God. But that doesn’t mean that we’re absorbed into a uniform spiritual soup. God’s work with us is as individuals, and it doesn’t stop at salvation.

God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. (Col. 1:27-28)

Christ in you. This Christ, who Paul has just been praising as the author of creation and ground of being, dwells in us. It’s our work to allow God to transform us in him, to become ‘mature’ as his life shines through us to transform the world around us. Paul more usually writes of us as being in Christ; here he turns it round to write of Christ in us. Perhaps that makes the focus more individual, more personal. What does the difference of phrase mean to you?

The source of all life dwells in you and longs to work through you. How does that make you feel? How will you respond?

Blogging the Bible 315 – 1 Corinthians 4-6 – The body matters

Over the last few days we’ve seen Paul writing about the unity of the Church, overcoming divisions and differences. In 1 Corinthians 5-6 we see the boundary of this, where immorality is concerned. While Paul is careful to list other sins as requiring church discipline –

Anyone… who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard or robber (5:11)

– his writing is occasioned by a case of sexual immorality. He continues in chapter 6 to draw out why there is a particular significance to sexual sin – it’s because the body matters. This doesn’t change the fact that the church has tended to get this whole area out of all proportion. Sexual sins are not uniquely serious, or somehow in a separate category from other sins, though they’ve often been treated as if they were.

More fundamentally, though, Paul makes a point which applies to any kind of behaviour. The urgency of the problem seems to have been not just the scandalously immoral behaviour of an individual Christian but the fact that the church was proud of being so openminded that this person could still be part of their fellowship. Paul warns them that ‘a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough’, and that the sincerity and truth of the Corinthians’ discipleship was in danger.

This is one of the problems of the good news of freedom in God – of the gospel of forgiveness by grace. Hard logic too easily leads people to the belief that it doesn’t matter what we actually do, since it’s not on the basis of what we’ve done that we are saved. So long as our heart has accepted God’s love, our salvation won’t be affected by anything our body does.

This was the line followed later by some strands of Gnostic Christians – believing that the soul was the only important part of being human, they tended to go to one extreme or the other. Either they would believe that the body was a hindrance needing to be controlled in the extreme (especially when it came to sex or abstinence) or they would believe that the body was completely irrelevant to salvation, so that there was no need for control (especially when it came to sex or… well, more sex).

This came later, but Paul is alert to the dangers of distortion of his gospel. That’s probably why he stresses the importance of the right use of the body. In Jewish thinking, body, mind and soul aren’t three distinct things, but three ways of talking about one reality of being human. So what we do matters, as well as why and how we do it.

Paul speaks wisdom in this, as in so much.

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (6:12)

Or, to reference Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park, ‘you were so excited finding out what you could do that you didn’t stop to ask yourself whether you should do it.

If salvation were just about getting a ticket to enter heaven when you die, then perhaps the ‘anything goes, God forgives’ line might just about work. But that’s not the point. Salvation isn’t just about judgement day, it’s about today. It’s about living free from the domination of sin, instinct, circumstance – free to live each day with God’s help a bit more like Jesus than we did yesterday.

And in doing that, while above all we depend on the Holy Spirit, we need to recognise that we’ll also be affected by the company we keep. So perhaps we should look around ourselves and ask us who we’re choosing to spend time with (face to face or online) – those who encourage us to be more holy or those who encourage us to indulge the sides of our nature which aren’t yet like Jesus.

 

Blogging the Bible 312 – Romans 11:1-13:14 – One body in Christ

Here (12:3-8) we get the first mention of Paul’s key image of the church as the Body of Christ, which he develops in different ways in different letters.

It’s part of a wider strand of his thought. Immediately before it, he’s appealed to the Roman Christians,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (12:1-2)

Before that in turn, he’s reminded his readers that God’s ways are not the same as ours – that his purposes and wisdom are beyond our full understanding. And before that… the image of the Gentiles as wild branches grafted into the root stock of Israel.

If there’s a flow to the argument, it seems to be this – that faith is not an individualistic activity. We are saved as part of a community, both through history and around us in the church. The branches aren’t just grafted into Christ, as perhaps in John’s use of the true vine. They are grafted into the vine of God’s people Israel – and they depend for their life not only on the Holy Spirit but also upon being part of the great story of God’s faithfulness, reaching back to Abraham.

And within that stream of history, the church of the present day is part of our salvation, just as much as our historic roots. It is the expression of the life and body of Christ. Honest. It may not always look like that, but that’s the reality. We are saved and called to play our part in Christ’s work in the world, and each of us has a part to play which meshes with those of others, together to be Christ to the world in which we are set.

If that’s the case, then perhaps part of the renewing of our minds to which Paul calls us is the shift of vision from the indivdual to the shared vision of faith – to each finding our own, individual contribution to the faith, life and mission into which we’ve been called. Salvation and vocation go together. Individual faith and church life are two parts of the same thing.

To Paul, there’s no healthy Christian life that is lived alone. All discipleship is tied to being part of the renewed Israel, and to playing a part in the Body of Christ, the Church.

Blogging the Bible 277 – Luke 13-14 – Are you sure you want to follow Jesus?

If Jesus is trying to build a mass movement to change the world, he’s got an odd way of doing it. At the end of chapter 14, he warns people against following him on the spur of the moment – they need to know that the way of discipleship is risky and costly, and not for everyone.

That seems to go against our instincts in church life, where it seems so clearly right and obvious that we should be doing all we honestly can to encourage people to become disciples. 

If Jesus were telling people to hold back from being his disciples, and if that conscious, chosen discipleship were the only way to eternal salvation, and if that were the key thing he came to achieve, then his words here would be strange, and hardly kind or loving. But that seems to be a picture of discipleship overlaid with later ideas and priorities. Jesus didn’t come to fill churches – or synagogues – with worshippers. He came to announce the kingdom.

In his words to the Pharisees and his actions that go with them, he seems to suggest that the kingdom is seen in the small acts of healing and kindness which take place on the sabbath more than in the rules and piety which enforce a burden of obligation and call it ‘rest’.  In the parable of the yeast, he seems to suggest that the work of his disciples is about the quiet transformation of the world more than in big rallies and membership. 

That doesn’t mean that it’s not a good thing to get more people to church – after all, that’s the main place people learn about the Kingdom in teaching, worship, sacrament and through one another. But it does remind us that people-in-church is a means rather than an end. The end purpose is to do with the establishment and demonstration of God’s kingdom in the world – whether that’s done in a given place by a handful of people or a crowd.

So what’s discipleship all about? It’s a costly calling to answer, but it’s a way of great reward. It’s the way of living, serving, worshipping and learning alongside Jesus. It costs everything, because part of the way of discipleship is the recognition that all else, even the best of life, has to take second place. Paradoxically, many of those good things will turn out to be better and richer than ever when they’re taken up into the life of a disciple, but that’s not the point. The way of the disciples depends on absolute commitment (though it will waver, of course) to Jesus’ way. And it will cost us – in what ways we won’t exactly know ahead of time – but for those who can answer the call, the cost will be repaid many times over. Apart from anything else, it’s (among other things) the journey of finding out who we are called to become. 

How much would you be willing to leave behind for that goal, and for the life of a disciple?