Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Salvation and Looking to the Cross

As Christians, we often hear or say look to the Cross of Christ for our salvation. This is almost always said meaning that it was Jesus' sacrifice, death, and resurrection that has saved us. This statement references the act of God giving of Himself through the Son and the act of the Son in regards to mankind's salvation.

But what about mankind's role in salvation? What are the mechanism from our side that are needed to fulfill our personal salvation? we have much debate.

"It is grace alone--the actions of God."

"No, not grace alone. You also have to believe that Christ was the Son, that He was from God. You have to belief in the death and resurrection."

"And there must also be repentance by man."

"Yes, but there must also be baptism."

"What form must this baptism take? Immersion, sprinkling, do they all count?

"How you live your life afterwards surely cannot be ignored!" And the debates continue on.

Today while reading in Luke 23, I was struck by verses, 39-43, one of those light-bulb moments that sets the mind racing. Reading these verses, I pondered if we could turn to the Cross in a much more literal sense for insight into the debate above.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." 42 The he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43 Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

In this example we have confession: we are guilty and getting what we deserve. We have belief in Christ: ...come into your kingdom. In this instance this was enough for salvation. So can we look to the Cross for insight on this topic?

What are your thoughts readers?


Brent said...


My initial reaction is to ask, "What exactly is salvation?"

What are we saved from and what are we saved to?

Another question that is probably more in line with what you are asking is this: What does the cross of Jesus represent?

I have not come to a good answer yet to the question concerning "what is salvation?". I grew up thinking that salvation was going to heaven after I die and not getting punished for my sins. That model doesn't work for me anymore when I look at the human condition.

If the physical world is what we are saved from, I start to have even more questions. God supposedly made the world "good." If the whole goal is to get outta here and move on to a better place, I am left with a very pessimistic view of this world we live in. Hope is taken away.

If salvation is something that is for the present, hope is something that I can grasp and live for. If Jesus' kingdom is really about making this place better - I'm on board. This is where I can put my focus when attempting to make sense of Christianity. When viewed metaphorically, the kingdom becomes something hopeful. On the other hand, when viewed as an other-worldly place to go after death, the kingdom becomes something in the realm of fantasy - I'm not on board with that.

I don't know why Luke told his story the way he did. Mark says nothing about the two criminals. Matthew says that BOTH of them hurled insults at him. I would prefer to not view this section of scripture as a passage that contains a piece of the "salvation puzzle."

For centuries Christians have attempted to search the scriptures in order to put all the pieces of this "salvation puzzle" together. It can't be done. Many of the pieces are oddly shaped and some seem to be missing. I think this is why any look at the topic of salvation usually results in scrambled brains.

Tony Arnold said...

I don't know why Luke told his story the way he did. Mark says nothing about the two criminals. Matthew says that BOTH of them hurled insults at him. I would prefer to not view this section of scripture as a passage that contains a piece of the "salvation puzzle."

That is one of the things that jumped out at me Brent. Why did Luke include this part of the account and why it differs from Matthew.

It may well be that these verses should not be included in the discussion of salvation, but it sure caught my attention and raised a discussion in my brain (which is probably scrambled :-) )


JMG said...

The word "save(d)" is the Greek word sozo (#4982). Most of the time in the Gospels, the word is used to mean "to be healed" or "made whole" as in the physical healing of sickness or disease. In many other occurences in the NT, salvation seems to be something that is looked forward to, as in 1 Peter chapter one, which speaks of salvation as something that is coming.

What if , instead of thinking of salvation as being delivered from a death in a fire, we were to read every occurence of the word "save(d)" and "salvation" (which is the same Greek word) with the definition of healing becoming wholein mind? For me, this puts a whole new spin on the idea of being saved. A day is coming when we will be healed or made whole, in both body and mind--we won't struggle with disease; we won't struggle with sin.

(This comment is my preliminary thinking about a topic that I intend to blog about soon after I think about it some more.)

Brent said...

It is my understanding that the Greek word "sodzo" had more of a focus on "deliverance" than healing (I'll have to give that more thought, though). The word used in the scene of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem that we translate "hosanna" meant "oh deliver!"

The Jewish passover was a feast remembering the deliverance from Egyptian bondage. In the context of Jesus' final week in Jerusalem, the Jews were about to have this deliverance celebration. Their anticipation of the Messiah surely had deliverance (from Roman occupation) at the forefront of their minds.

For these reasons I would rather talk about deliverance instead of salvation because of all the baggage that comes with the latter. The idea of deliverance can encompass many different aspects of life. An alcoholic can be delivered from his/her addiction after working through a 12-step program - freeing indeed. The same applies to someone grieving over the loss of a loved one, etc.

JMG, I guess "healing" may be an appropriate application for today. Both healing and deliverance are tangible experiences for the present rather the "futureness" of traditional Christian salvation.

jettybetty said...

I will preface this by saying I am quite aware my brains stay scrambled much of time!

I don't have all the answers to the salvation puzzle. Perhaps the word "saved" and "salvation" are over-used by some Christians.

I am fine with using the word deliverance--but I would like to see if I'm on the same page?

"I have not come to a good answer yet to the question concerning "what is salvation?". I grew up thinking that salvation was going to heaven after I die and not getting punished for my sins. That model doesn't work for me anymore when I look at the human condition." (from Brent's first comment)

Salvation (or deliverance) to me is both for the here and now--and ultimately in the afterlife. If God "delivered" me for no other reason than to save me from punishment after I die--then there would be no real purpose to me life while I live. So, I believe salvation is something God works out in me--through the power of the Holy Spirit--day by day--to minister, reach out, sacrifice to the hurting world around me--all for the glory of God. He will deliver me after death--but I have much purpose while I am living. So, my answer to that is question is both--deliverance is for now and for later.

Brent, do you believe in an afterlife?

Brent said...


I'm sure you know that I can't answer with a simple "yes" or "no". I'll try not to be too longwinded.

I must first take into consideration the origin of the Jewish perspective on the afterlife. Initially there was none. The term "Sheol" was a metaphor of sorts used by the Hebrews to describe the condition of a person after death. It carried the meaning of "the grave" or "the depths" or "the abyss" and was a dark and silent nothingness. Basically, they didn't have any view of life after death. When you're dead, you're dead.

A Jewish perspective of an afterlife developed in the 2nd century BCE during the Hasmonean period. Jews were being murdered under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes IV. If one claimed the lordship of Antiochus and denounced YHWH, he/she was spared. If one refused, he/she was executed (Read 2 Maccabees). How could a just God vindicate those who were martyred? By vindication AFTER death rather than before. It was the only reasonable explanation. It didn't hurt that the Greeks were influencing the world with their Platonic view of the physical vs. the spiritual.

So a belief in life after death as described in both the N.T. and O.T. seem to be something that Jews and Christians developed because of the way they viewed the world and not as a result of a revelation from God.

I believe that life and reality are an evolutionary product of billions and billions of years. I don't believe that the God of the Bible created reality in 6 days approximately 5,000 years ago. I believe that everything in existence is part of a unified whole. We experience life and reality because of the conscienceness of our brains. Our brains are responsible for making sense of everything we encounter. I believe that it is our own selves who have created the god of the Bible (as well as all the other gods our ancestors had).

Do I believe in God? Yes and no. I don't believe in God as a superbeing out there who has a conscienceness similar to ours. I believe people believe in God because of how they view themselves. People typicaly can't imagine the world without believing in some grand master of it all - one who is just like us, only bigger and better. For this reason, I believe that WE created God in OUR image rather than the other way around.

Who knows what our conscience minds will discover in the near and distant future.... Much has happened in the last 10,000 years; I can only expect that the next 10,000 will be just as amazing.

I enjoy life and try to live in a way that benefits myself and those around me without robbing from anyone else's experience of life. I view everyone as part of the same whole.

Christianity is a tradition which has formed my views concerning life and death. However, I now consider that tradition as simply one way to view things and not the ONLY way. It is surely one of the best ways, indeed. However, it may be soon concluding its course through history in preparation of a multitude of ways to view life, death, the afterlife, etc.

Definitely longwinded.

Tony Arnold said...

I like the Luke scripture because Jesus tells the man, "you will be with me in paradise." A definite reference to something after death that will be wonderful. This scripture does not use the term saved or salvation.

Maybe JMG can give us a quick breakdown of the word used here for "paradise". I don't have those language resources handy JMG. Not trying to be lazy.

I definitely believe God is an entity that is seperate and real outside of my own mind, body, spirit or existence. I know I got this originally from my Christian upbringing. But my life experiences have provided me direct evidence corroborating this belief.

I definitely don't want to have anything to do with a god created from man. From what I have seen from man--and myself--, that would be a dispicable, unjust, self-serving god. That is one of the pieces of evidence in my life of God's existence and the reality of Jesus: that the nature of these entities as provided in scripture supercedes man's own nature in such way that I don't think man could even concieve of that nature as fiction.

That at least is a glimpse into some of my own reasoning.


JMG said...

Tony, from what I found in a very quick search, the word "paradise," as used in every occurance of the word in the Septuagint, refers to a garden--a fertile area with lush vegetation. The Septuagint refers to Eden as a paradise, and fertile areas such as the one Lot chose when he separated from Abraham are compared to Eden/paradise.

There two other references to paradise in the NT besides the one that you provided. Revelation 2.7 says that those who overcome will eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God. The other reference is in 2 Cor. 12 when Paul recounts his "out of body experience" of being caught up into paradise, or the third heaven.

On another note, I have noticed that when the "work" of the cross is discussed in scripture, the term used is not "saved" or "salvation" but "reconciled." The cross reconciles all sinful man to God: Col. 1.17 says that all things in heaven and on earth are reconciled to God by the blood shed on the cross. Romans 5.10 says that the death of God's son reconciled us to God even when we were God's enemies. 2 Cor. 5.18 says that God reconciled the world to himself through Christ, not counting people's sins against them. (This is not a comprehensive list.) It would seem that the cross is what makes people right with God, with no action required on our parts. From the way I read the scriptures listed above, that would include all people regardless of their state of belief. Salvation, it seems, is a more "holistic" state, a state of being sound in both body and in mind (spirit), or to use Brent's definition, a state of deliverance, or freedom. Those of us who have been studying MD have learned that true freedom from all types of bondage is found by following--and not just believing in--Christ.

Tony Arnold said...

Wow, that was a quick search? I am deeply impressed. I know it was quick since you answered shortly after I posted my comment, but the depth is amazing.

BTW, Lee Camp's class on Sunday AM is exactly about what is meant by the Cross--what was it's purpose, what was Christ's true purpose. He would love your comments.

Since your w/in driving distance, let me extend a personal invitiation. 8:45 AM, Sundays. 409 Franklin Road, Brentwood, TN 37027. I know you would love hearing the discussion.

The time above is class. Worship is after, no obligation to stay.



Brent said...

Jesus most likely spoke Aramaic and not Greek.

"That is one of the pieces of evidence in my life of God's existence and the reality of Jesus: that the nature of these entities as provided in scripture supercedes man's own nature in such way that I don't think man could even concieve of that nature as fiction."

Tony, could you elaborate on this statement?

JMG said...

Thanks for the invite, Tony. Maybe I'll show up sometime.

Brent, I agree. Jesus likely spoke Aramaic, but he also lived in a Hellenized culture. If there's a translation available from an Aramaic manuscript of the gospels, I'd love to see it. (As well read as you are, I'll bet you know about it if it exists!)

Tony Arnold said...

When I look at scripture as a whole, and especially the teachings of Christ in the gospels, it seems so far from the nature of man to do these things that it adds credibility to the assumption that God has an inspirational role in the development of scripture.

The discipleship that Christ calls us to goes against our nature so much that I find it hard to believe man alone could conceptualize such sacrificial nature. And this did not come from my upbringing. My protestant Christianity taught more of a "Christ died in lieu of our punishment" theology rather than as the ultimate example of how to glorify and honor God and how to be Holy, and how to serve the world.

Lee Camp illuminated a profoud point this Sunday (he did not say he originated it, he alluded to others over time): If Christ was ultimate love, ultimate good and man has evil and hate within him, then the interaction between the two forces could only have two consequences. Either man had to die to this evil and hate or Christ would die because we would kill him.

It was not until I began really trying to understand discipleship and until I read Mere Discipleship, that I began to see being a Christian in a totally different light. When I started trying to live this more demanding discipleship, I realized just how foreign it was to my inherent nature and to the "brain-washing" I received at the hands of society and a punishment/atonement theology I mentioned above.

Example: to be willing to let a criminal invading your home kill you and maybe your family too as you passively resist in order to not perpetrate violence in the world. There is a story in Genesis where a man offered his own daughters to the village perverts to protect angels. MLK lived this attitude and said it came directly from Christ.

Ex 2: to not support a Christian president because you feel he is wrong about war being the right solution even against a group that supposedly "attacked us and hates Christians". I was taught pacifism was bad, was weak, when actually it takes much more courage to execute.

So many other tough things arise from my growth in understanding the Gospel. I did not realize just how demanding taking up the Cross could be and how much courage it would take. More than I have of both at times I am afraid.

I just don't see man left to his own mind and heart, generating the teachings of Christ. When you really look hard at the principles, they are other-worldly. I hope that better explains my thoughts.

A note on what I mean by inspiration: I personally look to the Holy Spirit aspect of God as being that inspiration. I don't mean inspiration in the sense of directing pen or words, but inspiration as an instigation and guiding force. I find it very difficult to describe, but I can honestly say that God has inspired me to certain thoughts and actions at times. I didn't hear voices nor was I controlled, but there was definitely an outside influence that became stronger as I opened myself to it. I cannot discount these things as analyze the issue of God.

As many evil or bad things that I have witnessed that I can't explain or understand, I have seen as many good things and blessings that made no logical sense either.


Brent said...


It sounds as if you have found a new way of Christianity. Good for you (seriously). Some of them are just downright wicked.

Here's the thing, though: Do you think that your "way of Christianity" is better than some of the others? If so, that is what everyone else thinks as well.

Someone might say, "My way is more biblical!" I say, "Says who, you?"

Someone else might say, "I just want to be like Jesus." I ask, "Why is Jesus such an important part of it? Is it HIM or his WAY that is important?" Of course, everyone says that both of them are important because they don't understand the nature of my question.

Another may say, "I am truly discovering the way of discipleship of Christ." I say, "Go to Washington D.C. and overturn the tables in a congressional session stating that the United States is not part of the kingdom of God."

Tony, sounds like an interesting class you are going to on Sunday. Ask him at some point in the class why the cross of Jesus was needed in the first place. The reason that this is an important question is because all Christology makes the assumption that man could only be reconciled to God through Jesus' life and/or death.

Do you know what your friend would say?

Tony Arnold said...


Short answer: I try not to focus so much on absolutes as to focus on being a better servant to the world everyday (I fail everyday at this, but I think I am making progress).

Long Answer:

I would never classify my thoughts and understanding as a new way. I was completely surprised that my thoughts sound new. Wow.

I am just a man with many flaws and a confessed ignorance in studying deeply the historical and linguistic history of Biblical documents, certainly ignorant compared to yourself and JMG. I do use scripture as well as my life experiences to formulate my own theology.

Everyone formulates there own theology whether they admit it or not,, although via numerous influences and biases. Some may choose to rest on the beliefs of others, but it is their choice to do so and will likely cause them pain and struggle at some point when they are forced to confront what they really believe in their own heart and mind.

No way would I say my thoughts are better. I know those who I think have a much better grasp of Christianity than myself and I try to learn from them. That is the whole purpose of this blog. Several that I feel have better insight or faith in regards to certain aspects of Christianity I met through blogging and I learn everyday from them (JB, JMG for starters). I have learned from you about Biblical writings although we differ greatly in our beliefs.

I really try and want to be humble in my knowledge rather than arrogant in my ignorance (can you hear my wife scoffing in the background).

I like to think that the commonality of Christ among various denominations and theologies unites us. I don't feel that people who interpret the purpose of the Cross differently or even mistakenly aren't Christians. I got it wrong for many years (and I am confident I still misunderstand too much), but still was a decent Christian. For example, my feelings about violence, war, protecting myself, etc. have changed greatly over the last two years. However, even when I felt differently, I never had the occassion to exercise violence, justified or unjustified, against anyone. My actions weren't any different then as now although my heart and views have completely changed. I thank God that I was blessed not to have occassion to act while in my ignorance. I pray that I am now more prepared to act as a disciple if ever faced with a decision on violence. Even Peter got this stuff wrong, but was clearly a disciple in the heart of Christ.

My point is we can get things wrong in our theology and still be Christians and practice Christianity. I believe God wants our hearts, our will; not our perfection--not our perfect understanding.

Finally, the question "why the cross of Jesus was needed in the first place" is the purpose of the class. We are working toward this end and toward a transformation of behavior in our lives. But Dr. Camp feels we cannot properly get there and ask the right questions along the way until we have a better understanding of the historical perspectives of the Cross, specifically those that have directly shaped our current theology. I also don't feel Dr. Camp is leading us to a defined answer but leading us to seriously ask this question and constantly hone our understanding so that we can be better disciples.

I would never, ever attempt to tell you what I think Dr. Camp would say. That would be a disaster on my part, I promise you.
I know you have read Mere Discipleship. You may wish to revisit this book for his insights to this question. Also, if you wish, send me an email ( so I can have yours. I will see if he has a response directly at some point.


p.s. you wrote, Another may say, "I am truly discovering the way of discipleship of Christ." I say, "Go to Washington D.C. and overturn the tables in a congressional session stating that the United States is not part of the kingdom of God."

Are you kidding me! And risk being imprisoned and torutred by our Christian President? That would be too much of a sacrifice. Oops...guess I still missing the discipleship point aren't I? :-)

Tony Arnold said...

At Gethsemani Abbey there are statues of the disciples sleeping and Jesus praying in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. They were donated in honor of a young seminarian who traveled to Alabama during the civil rights movement. Witnessing an escalating argument between a young black woman and a law enforcement officer who raised his weapon to shoot, he stepped in and took the bullet for her. A plaque at the path entrance to the statues reads:

In memory of Jonathon M Daniel. Episcopal seminarian martyred in Alabama Aug. 20, 1965. Donated to the Monastery by William Coolidge of Boston, MA. Walker Hancock sculptor. May we always remember that the Church exists to lead men to Christ in many and varied ways, but it is always the same Christ.

jettybetty said...

I've followed this conversation--and though I find it quite interesting--I haven't had anything to contribute.

I think I must be simple-minded because I think I would believe there was a God even if I didn't have a Bible.

I want to have faith in something--and it's easier for me to have faith in a God that created this earth and all in it than not to believe in Him.

I'm sure I fall into the trap of making God fit into my image--and I am not proud of it.

Ultimately though--the God I choose to have faith in intellectually (I don't always live like it) is not Someone I could create. I would create a god that I could please by my behavior--a god that would let me in on the secrets of life so that I would understand everything that happens.

The God I believe in--isn't impressed by my behavior--and doesn't let me understand everything. That way I have to trust Him.

There's so much I still have to learn--and I appreciate getting to read in on your conversation here.

Tony Arnold said...

I love your thoughts JB. Been out of town, so slow to respond. Thanks for sharing your belief. You always have much to add in my opinion.