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Sunday, March 08, 2015

How Saved Are You?

Most of us associate our salvation with a specific incident: a conversation, a sudden realization, a moment in which it became clear to us that the Lord was speaking; that God was right and we were wrong; that we were sinners and that there was something we urgently needed to do about that. So in our own way we cried out to God: some with tears, some more tentatively, still not completely sure what might be involved. How much we may have fully grasped of the role of Christ in both salvation and in the government of our lives from then on almost certainly differed from person to person.

But my point is … it was a point in time. And if you say the word “salvation”, that event is primarily what we think of.

An event is good. If you have one to look back on, I’m glad.

Peter and Salvation

Still, this is not how the apostle Peter speaks of salvation. When Peter talks about salvation, he’s rarely concerned with an event. Sure, it’s likely Peter had a very specific moment in his own experience to which he could refer. He made quite the memorable statement in response to the Lord’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” when he declared, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God”.

Was that the moment for Peter when the penny dropped? Maybe. Peter’s statement demonstrates that he grasped something so fundamental that nobody in our present age is saved without believing it on some level.

But for all that, Peter is not a man occupied with particular moments in time. Where salvation is concerned, he’s looking forward.

Some Examples

Let me give you a couple of examples:

Future Salvation: Peter speaks of a salvation “ready to be revealed in the last time”. Sure, we’re “saved” now in one sense. In another sense we are being, as he puts it, “guarded through faith” for a coming salvation that will be greater still.

He revisits this future salvation a few verses later when he says:
“… set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The writer to the Hebrews connects this future event with salvation even more explicitly when he says:
“… so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Here he refers, I think, not just to a coming salvation from the presence of sin, but to the completion of the Holy Spirit’s work in the presence of Christ himself as our faith finally beholds its object. John says, “when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is”.

To think of salvation in only one very limited sense is to fail to get the message of these verses. We need to see ourselves not only as those who have been saved, but as those who look forward daily to a much greater and more complete salvation.

Present Salvation: If faith is the mechanism by which we are guarded for our coming salvation, it is also the mechanism by which Peter says we are currently being “saved” in a very progressive, daily way:
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
It is only through faith that we experience Christ in this life. Unlike the disciples, we cannot say that we have handled or touched him. Unlike Paul, we have not seen him revealed from heaven. The joy that we experience in the knowledge of Christ in this life can only be accessed through faith, not through memory. Peter says the outcome of this faith is the “salvation of our souls”.

The saving of souls is a thing often associated with an event. But that’s not how Peter is using it, is it? He’s talking, rather, about an ongoing transformation of our persons into the likeness of Christ as, by faith, we understand him and become increasingly like him day by day. This is the “salvation” of which he speaks: it is both present and ongoing.

Alliteration and Context

I’m not the first by a long shot to notice the way Peter thinks about salvation as being more than a moment in time. Someone (and if I knew who, I’d tell you) has broken 1 Peter 1 down rather well by pointing out that when we confess and believe, we are saved from the PENALTY of sin. When we live in the power of the resurrected Christ, we are saved from the POWER of sin. When he returns for us and we finally see him, we will be once for all saved from the PRESENCE of sin. Completely saved, if you like.

That’s a very neat way to remember the passage. If it helps you, great. But I’d like you to notice something about 1 Peter 1: it’s not really about sin. It’s about Christ. In fact, unless I’m blind, the word “sin” doesn’t occur in the chapter at all. Peter is far more concerned about the transformation that results from occupation with his Lord than the idea of sin and how cool it would be to be rid of it once and for all.

Frankly, I more-than-suspect that if you fill your mind and life with Christ, sin will never be a major issue for you.

‘Tasting’ the Lord

Peter is not done yet. It is by faith that we see Christ and are “saved” as we become like him. But this aspect of salvation is impossible to accomplish in this life apart from the word of God:
“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Faith is not some sort of content-less, impressionistic thing. It is firmly grounded in revelation. It is only through the word of Christ that we can know him, and it is only through increasing knowledge of him that our souls are transformed into his likeness.

It is surely this ongoing process in the Christian life that Jesus referred to when he said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” As controversial as his words seemed to many in the crowd that heard them, they are only rightly interpreted by his subsequent private explanation in the upper room, where to his disciples alone he revealed that bread and wine are “my body” and “my blood”. And so they are, when accompanied by the contemplation of the Lord as he revealed himself in his word, and as he remains today.

Remember me”, he said. A piece of bread on the lips is insignificant; a mouthful of wine no more than a habitual and pointless affectation — unless the symbolism triggers the appropriate exercise of mind and heart.

Remember me”. We can so easily do it without discernment of him and so eat and drink judgment to ourselves, as Paul warns us.

Remember me”. No mere ceremony, no ritual act — whether or not accompanied by an imagined “bodily presence” — can substitute for the loving practice of contemplating the Savior and being thereby transformed into his likeness.

Seeing Him ‘As He Is’

Remembering implies we have to know the actual Christ, not a bunch of half-baked ideas or presuppositions about him that we grew up with, or maybe inherited by osmosis from a culture that has no understanding of who he is. It is “remember”, not “fantasize about”.

I am often jolted by reading the words of so-called Christians on the internet who clearly do not know my Savior at all. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild” is only one, limited aspect of his character. Social Justice Jesus is a horrendous, whimsical media fiction. The loving, feel-good teacher who contrasts so favorably in many modern minds with the alleged “angry, Old Testament God”, as it turns out, actually displays the character of the Old Testament God impeccably. There is no jarring disconnect between Malachi and Matthew to be explained away.

But we only know these things if we read about Jesus Christ for ourselves. We have to feed on him in his word, and we need to do it constantly.

And if we have no interest in really coming to know him, can we really be “saved” in any of the senses Peter describes?

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