For the ancient Israelites, there was no bifurcation between what occurs “in heaven” and what occurs “on earth,” and neither should there be with us, if our perspective is truly biblical. We might (and must) express and apply this ancient biblical conviction in our own times by identifying and then resisting “the cosmic serpent” in the structural evil that besieges our own culture and the church of God.
Salvation…is not “going to heaven” but “being raised to life in God’s new heaven and new earth.”…the New Testament is full of hints, indications, and downright assertions that this salvation isn’t just something we have to wait for in the long-distance future. We can enjoy it here and now (always partially, of course, since we all still have to die), genuinely anticipating in the present what is to come in the future.
What Does it Mean to be Saved?
The first time I heard someone use the word “saved” in a church I had no idea what they were talking about. Growing up I had never heard of the term “saved” before. I eventually got used to it after I learned what they meant, but I never really felt comfortable with it. As I’ve grown more in my faith I’ve started to wonder if being “saved ( in the sense that most people seem to use it) is what our hope is in.
I imagine that Israel Houghton had some of the same questions when he wrote Say So:
“What does it mean to be saved? Isn’t it more than just a prayer to pray? More than just a way to heaven?”
Is the Christian hope really just to make it to heaven? I don’t think so, at least not the way that most people understand it…
All sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23) But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5)
So we are saved in Christ…but what exactly does that mean? I think in order to explain we need to elaborate a little bit…
How exactly are those without Christ dead? Death is separation from God, not being a part of the relationship that God created us to be in. This is the result of sin. Sin is self-centeredness, saying/acting/thinking that we know better than God, trusting in ourselves over what He says. Ultimately it is choosing our own way apart from God. The cross, Jesus’ death and resurrection, shows us that His love overcomes the power of sin and death, and by it we are saved (1 Corinthians 15:57).
So what does it mean to be saved? Jesus died for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God, so that our relationship with God would be restored. It’s all about our relationship with Him. We aren’t saved simply so that we can “go to heaven”, as if that is some place and God just happens to live there. Our goal is to have a relationship with God, there is no such thing as a heaven without that. To imagine heaven apart from an intimate relationship with God is to imagine something that doesn’t exist. We know we are saved not because of where we are going, but because of who we know, Jesus Christ. He is not the way to truth and life. He is the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)
“Oh that the church would arise
Oh that we would see with Jesus’ eyes
We could show the world Heaven”
(Say So - Israel Houghton)
Heaven is to live in relationship with Jesus Christ now, and in the world to come. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 10:7) At hand, is not just some future time, it is right now, wherever people are living in relationship with Christ. We bring the kingdom of heaven with us wherever we go. That isn’t to say that we cannot look forward to our Resurrection and the new creation. It will be glorious beyond imagination, but we should also not forget that the kingdom of heaven is now, along with what is to come.
It was people who believed robustly in the resurrection, not people who compromised and went in for a mere spiritualized survival, who stood up against Caesar in the first centuries of the Christian era. A piety that sees death as the moment of “going home at last,” the time when we are “called to God’s eternal peace,” has no quarrel with power-mongers who want to carve up the world to suit their own ends. Resurrection, by contrast, has always gone with a strong view of God’s justice and of God as the good creator. Those twin beliefs give rise not to a meek acquiescence to injustice in the world but to a robust determination to oppose it.