Do you believe in hell? The Bible talks about it, but biblical scholars disagree if those images are intended to describe a literal or figurative place. Some people say that hell is on earth. Some people say all kind of things are hellish. No matter what you believe about hell, it seems that there is a literal idea of human separation from God.
In the previous post, we learned that Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 that Christians are chosen to be saved. What does Paul mean when he talks about being saved?
I think it is helpful to point out that we can be saved from and saved for. We are saved from separation from God because of sin. That separation is both now and for eternity. Our sinfulness separates us from God, making it impossible for us to have relationship with God, and that matters for life now and eternally. God wants to be in relationship with us now and forever, because he loves the whole word. So one important way to understand salvation is that God’s work in salvation makes it possible for all humans to be in active relationship with God. In other words, we are saved from separation from God, and we are saved for relationship with him (and for the ongoing work of the mission of his Kingdom).
If all we were was saved from something, we could think to ourselves, “Whew, I am so thankful that God saved me from hell, and that is all.” It is the image of a person who is dangling over the edge of a precipice, about to fall to their death, and a person comes by, reaches down, pulls them up to solid ground and saves them. That person was saved from death. But how would it feel if the one who was saved, immediately after being saved, turned around and started walking away? The person who did the saving runs after them and says, “Wait, wait, are you okay? How did this happen?” And the saved one just keeps walking away, totally ignoring them. No acknowledgment of what just happened. No gratitude.
Once saved, do we treat God like that?
I doubt it. I think most of us at least initially feel gratitude and some semblance of a relationship with God, because he saved us! So that had me thinking of a variation to the scenario above. Think about the same situation where a person is hanging on for dear life, about to fall off a cliff to their death, and a person walks by and saves them. Once pulled to safety, the saved person embraces their savior with a bear hug. The saved person is so thankful, they emotionally gush, “How can I ever thank you?” The savior responds, “It was my pleasure, and all I ask is that you pay it forward and help others in need.” The saved one hugs the savior again, and they go their separate ways. The next day the savior is walking the same trail, and again hears a person calling for help. Astoundingly, the person they saved the previous day is in the same predicament. The savior reaches down and pulls them up, this time astounded, “How did this happen again?” The person is ashamed to admit that they did the same thing that got them in trouble the day before. And then it happens the next day, and the next. The person was saved from something, but they didn’t see themselves as being saved for something. They didn’t learn from the situation. They weren’t changed at all.
Christians, we are saved from separation from God, but is also important that we see ourselves as saved for something.
Paul goes on to say that this salvation is through two things. It is through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, and it is through belief in the truth. Both are vital to our understanding of how we are saved for something. We’re going to talk about those each more in the next post.
For now, let’s consider that we Christians are people who are loved by God, chosen along with all others who are true followers of Jesus. That’s why Paul goes on to say in verse 14 that we are called through the good news. The good news is another way of describing the Gospel. Let’s get really basic again. What is the Gospel? What is the good news?
The Good News is the story that Jesus, who is God, defeated the power of sin, death and the devil, through his birth, life, death and resurrection, so that our sins can be forgiven, when we believe and live as his disciples, giving us both hope of eternal life in heaven and the experience of abundant life now.
I remember first hearing the Good News when I was a child, maybe 4-5 years old. I was at a Sunday night service at the church I grew up in. I heard the pastor preach a hellfire sermon, and it freaked me out. It was the story of how our sin separates us from God. I was the person hanging on the edge of the precipice. That scared me, and I couldn’t sleep that night. So my mom came to my bedside and shared me the good news story of Jesus, that we don’t need to be afraid of hell. Jesus is the savior who reaches out his hand and pulls us to safety. At that moment, I was an enthusiastic convert!
But my understanding of the Gospel was understandably shallow and immature. I think most children will react like I did when they are told that when they die they will go to a place where people will burn forever. Most kids will be eager like I was to believe in Jesus.
What is much more difficult for kids, and for adults, is to grasp what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in the here and now. Believe that Jesus gets you out of hell? Yeah, we’re definitely into that. That is easily understandable good news. Even young kids know that is a deal they want in on. That is the saved from side of the story. What about being saved for something? Check back to the next post, as we’ll talk about that.