GOD SAVES ! Read all about it – Exploring Salvation Theology

 

Theology Logo

SOTERIOLOGY (SALVATION)

Soteriology is the branch of theology which is concerned with salvation. The word itself comes from the Greek word soterion which translates as salvation and from soter which translates as either saviour or preserver[1] and logy which also originates from the Greek language (logia) and translates as word or discourse. [2]

Soteriology as defined by Gregory Higgins, author of Christianity 101 is the work of Jesus and is pertaining to salvation. [3] Higgins focuses attention on the soteriological concepts found in the New Testament, particularly the undisputed teachings of St. Paul. Higgins notes that the writings of Paul do not contain a wealth of information to do with Jesus’ life as in the biographical sense, but instead focus more intently on the death and resurrection of Christ.

Saul, (before the change of name to Paul,) was a well educated Roman citizen, an avid proclaimer of the Law but after his experience on the road to Damascus he no longer insisted on strict obedience to the Law as the highest authority. His metanoia (change of heart transformation) experience opened his eyes both physically and spiritually. Instead of seeking punishment for those who transgressed the Law he experienced and taught the transforming grace of God. Paul came to the awareness that the Law cannot justify; only the Blood of the Redeemer could justify sinners before God.

The price of our redemption was at the cost of the life of Jesus. Paul recognised this and taught others that they had been bought with a price; therefore he admonished them against sinning;

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and who was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourselves but to God. He bought you for a price. So use your bodies for God’s glory.’[4]

Paul speaks of the obedience of Christ to God which conquered for all time the power of sin and death. Jesus didn’t come to earth to be exalted but to be struck down, He put Himself on the cross in our place. Paul tells us that the ‘fullness of God’ [5] was inside Jesus and through Jesus God was able to be reconciled to all creation, because of the Blood of Christ that was willingly shed for all humanity on Calvary.

Higgins concludes his chapter on the role of soteriology in the New Testament and early church with a quote from Hebrews, ‘In any event, the Letter to the Hebrews presents Christ’s death as the definitive and final sacrifice and “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him” (Heb. 5:9)[6]

Romans 6:20-23

When you were the slaves of sin, you were free from righteousness. What did you gain from doing the things that you are now ashamed of? The result of those things is death! But now you have been set free from sin and are the slaves of God. Your gain is a life fully dedicated to Him, and the result is eternal life. For sin pays its wage – death; but God’s free gift is eternal life in union with Christ Jesus our Lord.[7]

In Soteriology in the Patristic Church Higgins quotes Clement of Rome (d. ca. 101) ‘Through Him the eyes of our heart were opened. Through Him our unintelligent and darkened mind shoots up into light. Through Him the Master was pleased to let us taste the knowledge that never fades.” [8]

Higgins believes that this ‘soteriolological metaphor’[9] which uses illumination helps to show that everything to do with the life and ministry of Christ had a part in the saving work that happened on the cross, and that the crucifixion alone was also only a part and not the whole saving act to set humanity free

It is hard for us to imagine how immeasurably God loves us. Yet I believe the quotation below from Saint Irenaeus, one of the Early Church Fathers comes very close to describing it.

Because of His measureless love,” [Irenaeus] writes, “He became what we are in order to enable us to become what He is.” [10]

faith reason

 

THEODICY AND SOTERIOLOGY

Aidan Nichols Shape of Catholic Theology p 66 -74

Theodicy relates to the study of God using reason to try to understand the existence of evil. I struggled with this as I had the impression that those who were quoted were blaming God for all the evils in the world. Which caused me to wonder if people start with a false concept of God how can they ever understand the existence of evil?

For example reading the quotation Nichols uses by St. Thomas:

It seems that God does not exist; because if one of two contraries be infinite, the other would be altogether destroyed. But the name ‘God’ means that His is infinite goodness. If, therefore, God existed there would be no evil discoverable; but there is evil in the world. Therefore God does not exist.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae Ia, q. 2, a. 3.[11]

This assumption borders on the childishly ridiculous, Aquinas makes the presumption that there would be no ‘evil discoverable’ if God were infinitely good. He arrogantly assumes in a perfect world there would be no evil. We would have a perfect God (okay we do have that), we would be perfect human beings (ouch not quite there yet), because of the fall of Adam sin entered into the world, an event predated by the sin and pride of Lucifer who tried unsuccessfully, to make himself equal to God. (See Isaiah 14:12-15, Rev:12:7-9) Lucifer was subsequently along with his band of equally pride filled fallen angels thrown down to earth, sadly consequently sin reared its ugly head in our once perfect world.

Is it God’s fault that Lucifer rebelled?

If free will exists on earth it certainly exists in heaven. God is always good, loving and merciful. We human beings have been told by Jesus that we are not to judge one another, (sorry Thomas Aquinas) and yet we quite freely believe we have the right to pass judgement on God. Hypothesizing that somehow with all our earthly and human limitations we could do a better job than the Creator of all that is and was and ever will be. The origin of sin entering into our world came with the rebellion of Lucifer and his angels who were cast out of Heaven. Sin originated with Lucifer and subsequently manifested itself in Adam.

Sin entered into the world and God was not surprised He already had a plan, an amazing wonderful Master plan, as Nichols states ‘if in theodicy we could clear up the problem of evil to our complete satisfaction, then there would be no need for salvation as presented in the Christian revelation.’[12]

Romans 8:28-30

We know that in all things God works for good with those who love Him, those whom He has called according to His purpose. Those whom God had already chosen He also set apart to become like His Son so that the Son would be the first among many believers. And so those whom God set apart, He called; and those He called, he put right with Himself, and He shared His glory with them.’[13]

2 Corinthians 5: 20-21

Here we are, then, speaking for Christ, as though God Himself were making His appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into His friends! Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made Him share our sin in order that in union with Him we might share the righteousness of God.[14]

Jesus is no ordinary man He is fully human and fully divine, He has a human nature and a spiritual nature. He took on the sins of humanity and His shed blood on the cross bought our redemption from our own sins. He battled satan and He defeated satan. Colossians 2:15 ‘And on that cross Christ freed Himself from the power of the spiritual rulers and authorities…”[15]  Christ battled the human rulers and the spiritual rulers and defeated both by His sacrificial and atoning act on the cross.

Sick, our nature demanded to be healed; fallen, to be raised up; dead, to rise again. We had lost the possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back to us. Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves, a liberator. Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state? 71’ [16]

Jesus

Augustine of Hippo believed that sin is the absence of good and is rooted in free will One of the hypotheses espoused by Augustine’s followers is the “principle of plenitude” [17] which ultimately sees everything good and bad, health and sickness, life and death, everything that is real and everything that happens on earth as part of the ‘universal harmony[18] and that only God can hear this harmony. The implication being that sin is the discord that spoils the enjoyment of the universal harmony.

Romans 8:18

I consider that what we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.’ [19]

St. Irenaean’s theodicy saw the world as a place of suffering where the ‘human spirit was refined by fire’ [20] He believed that there is a natural evil in the world which humans need to struggle against to grow and so come closer to God. His theodicy once again would implicate God as being responsible for the evils in the world. A belief which would seem to be at odds with his statement that certainly bears repeating because of its profundity:

Because of His measureless love,” [Irenaeus] writes, “He became what we are in order to enable us to become what He is.” [21]

Without sin there could be no salvation. Sans sin we could not know how truly loving, forgiving and gracious and deserving is the God we worship. Only a loving fully involved parent would place themselves in the way of great harm to protect their beloved offspring. To paraphrase Jesus in John 5:13 ‘There is no greater love than to sacrifice one’s life, one’s entire being for another person’. When Jesus said “yes” to the Father it was to accept the ultimate sacrifice of His righteousness in payment for the unrighteousness of all humanity. (us)

John 3:16-17

For God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not die but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to be its judge, but to be its saviour.[22]

Current Contemporary Soteriology 

Social Understanding of Salvation This can be seen as rebellion against the traditional awareness of salvation as something for each individual and something to be experienced after we die, so it can be viewed as being not really relevant or current in our day to day lives. The social understanding can be found in Liberation Theology, Black Theology, Feminist Theology etc., seeing salvation as liberation from oppression in the world. Salvation being perceived as holistic, ‘at one with the universe’ and has sometimes included the ecology of the earth.

Pluralistic Understanding of Salvation

Denies the exclusive salvation by Jesus Christ and expounds the theory that other religions have a hidden or anonymous Christ. Salvation is experienced as ‘an actual human change, a gradual transformation from natural self-consciousness to a radically new orientation centered in God and manifested in the ‘fruit of the Spirit’” [23] in contrast to the Christian belief of salvation bringing personal reconciliation with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Theological Understanding:

Some churches in the Protestant Reformation emphasized faith alone salvation Theologian, (Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was ultimately executed in a Nazi concentration camp for his unwavering beliefs in Christ’s life saving mission,) condemned the secularization of religion and attempted to refocus salvation on giving the glory to God that was due to God. ‘Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. ‘All for sin could not atone.’ Well, then, let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world’s standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin…. ‘[24]

Existentialist Soteriology

This soteriology is not based on Jesus redemption of sinners but upon the individuals’ existential decision made before God. This theory proposes that salvation is a way to live an authentic existence by self committing to God and expecting everything will come from and be provided by God with no effort from the individual. It proposes that this will set individuals free from attachments to all things material and so be detached to completely serve God with no distractions.

Secularization Theology

Secularization is as suggested by the name a way of excluding God from our lives. It wraps itself in the illusion that it is a ‘mature form’ of sanctification and emphasizes the independence of the individual. The person learns to affirm their own self worth, with their own abilities they go and serve the world on their own terms. They attempt to transform themselves into their own version of Jesus while refusing to accept the need for an intimate relationship with God. (can also be described as an unrighteous righteousness). Denying God and our need for God was Lucifer’s choice. It must never be ours.

In Conclusion

Salvation was God’s Master plan. The sacrifice, suffering and death of Christ enables each one of us who accepts this gift of salvation, to receive inside of us Christ Himself. Through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit we are transformed.

inside out

Without the cross, indeed before the cross we were removed from God, after the resurrection, ascension and descent of the Holy Spirit which was imparted to those in the Upper Room on the first Pentecost, and subsequently all those baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God came to dwell inside us. How can anyone describe God as aloof or accuse Him of participating in or creating sin? When He loves us so much He offers to dwell within us to teach us, to help us, to guide us and to love us from the inside out and the outside in? Only a truly loving parent would allow their beloved children to choose to willingly come to them or to walk away.

We need salvation because in our humanity we are incapable of saving ourselves. God saw this and created a plan. I believe it to be a very good plan.

Soteriology, the doctrine of salvation, must be the grandest theme in the Scriptures. It embraces all of time as well as eternity past and future. It relates in one way or another to all of mankind, without exception. It even has ramifications in the sphere of the angels. It is the theme of both the Old and New Testaments. It is personal, national, and cosmic. And it centers on the greatest Person, our Lord Jesus Christ ‘ [25]

 

cosmosisThere is no one greater than He who lays down His life for His friends.


[1] soteriology. (2008). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

Retrieved November 13, 2008, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/soteriology

[2] Modern Language Association (MLA):

“-logy.” Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. 13 Nov. 2008. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/-logy>.

[3] Gregory C. Higgins Christianity 101, Paulist Press, New Jersey 2007  p233

[4] Good News Bible, GNT, Canadian Bible Society,Toronto, 1994

[5] Gregory C. Higgins, p235

[6] Gregory C. Higgins  p236

[7] Good News Bible, GNT, Canadian Bible Society,Toronto, 1994

[8] Gregory C. Higgins p236-7

[9] Ibid  p237

[10] Ibid p237

[11] Aidan Nichols, The Shape of Catholic Theology, Liturgical Press,Collegeville,Minnesota, 1991 p67

 

[12] Aidan Nichols, The Shape of Catholic Theology, Liturgical Press,Collegeville,Minnesota, 1991 p72

[13] Good News Bible, GNT, Canadian Bible Society,Toronto, 1994

[14] Good News Bible, GNT, Canadian Bible Society,Toronto, 1994

[15] Ibid

[16] Catechism of the Catholic Church (quoting 1 John 4:9)

[17] Aidan Nichols, p69

[18] Ibid, p69

[19] Good News Bible, GNT, Canadian Bible Society,Toronto, 1994

[20] Aidan Nichols, p69

[21] Gregory C. Higgins  p237

[22] Good News Bible, GNT, Canadian Bible Society,Toronto, 1994

[23] John Hick  et al Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World Zondervan, 1996

[24] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship Contributor John W de Gruchy SCM-Canterbury Press Ltd, 2001

 

[25] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, Victor Books,Wheaton,IL, 1987, p. 277