Salvation in Jesus: The experience

Ninth in the "Elements of Seventh-day Adventist Faith" series

Ivan T. Blazen is professor of religion at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, United States.

Seventh-day Adventist Statement of Faith #10: "In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God. Led by the Holy Spirit, we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our transgressions, and exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Substitute and Example, This faith which receives salvation comes through the divine power of the Word and is the gift of God's grace. Through Christ we are justified, adopted as God's sons and daughters, and delivered from the lordship of sin. Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our minds, writes God's law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life. Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature and have the assurance of salvation now and in the judgment. (2 Cor. 5:1 7'-21; John 3:16; Gal. 1:4; 4:4-7; Titus 3:3-7; John 16:8; Cal. 3:13, 14; 1 Peter 2:21, 22; Rom. 10:17; Luke 17:5, Mark 9:23, 24; Eph. 2:5-10; Rom. 3:21-26; Col. 1:13, 14; Rom. 8:14-17; Cal. 3:26; John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23; Rom. 12:2; Heb. 8:7-12; Ezek. 36:25-27; 2 Peter 1:3, 4; Rom. 8:1-4; 5:6-10.)"

The salvation it is our joy to experience is made possible through I relationship with Jesus Christ. The New Testament proclaims that by faith and baptism into Christ (Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6:3) believers come to be "in Christ."

This formula, occurring over 160 times in Paul's writings, can lay claim to being the central theological datum in Paul's thought, with other key soteriological ideas finding their spiritual focus in the experience of being "in Christ." Illustrative of this is Ephesians 1:1-14, where, in the short span of just 14 verses, the "in Christ" idea occurs a surprising 11 times as the pivotal realities of the salvation theme are being expressed. Paul's thought is introduced in verse 3 where he declares that God is worthy of praise because He "has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing." Following this, in one long sentence, Paul presents a Niagara flow of ideas, with blessing after blessing cascading downward in torrential power until the climactic deluge occurs in verse 14 with mention of the future inheritance of the saints which, like the preceding blessings, happens "to the glory of God" (verses 6, 12, 14).

What meaning does "in Christ" bear? An examination of all the uses of the phrase indicates that it refers to a personal connection with Christ and not just to something that is legally true. It is better exemplified in terms of a marriage relationship than of a legal status arising from the decision of a court, even God's court.

It is an experiential reality involving the most intimate union possible between the believer and the risen Christ. Because the believer is united with the living Lord through the indwelling of His Spirit (the New Testament contains many parallels between what we experience in Christ and in the Spirit), he or she is made a part of the saving events of Christ's death and resurrection and included in the body of Christ, the church.

As a result, the believer receives all the blessings of salvation that flow from Christ and exist in the fellowship of believers.

According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, when anyone is in Christ, it is not merely that he or she personally becomes a new creation, but they become part of God's new creation. The individual is included in a reality larger than them selves. The new creation, expected by Jews only at the end of time, is an already existent reality in the here and now, though to be revealed fully at the return of Christ.

When entry into the new creation takes place through union with the risen Christ, everything old passes away, and all becomes new. In this experience we receive new lenses and begin to see others as those for whom Christ died and rose, instead of by the world's standards of judgment (verses 14-16).

Justification and righteousness

There are many terms for salvation. Drawn from various domains or experiences of human life, they present diverse nuances of the meaning of salvation as it is found in Christ. Among these are the very significant terms justification and righteousness. Though not always evident to English readers of the New Testament, these terms are intimately related.

They both begin with the same Greek root dik, which has the sense of "rightness." It would be better, there fore, to translate the Greek word behind justification with the same English root. I propose "rightification" to match the word righteousness. To be "rightified" (justified) is to possess the gift of righteousness.

The word righteousness has its domain in the covenant world of Israel. It is a term of relationship and contains within it the idea of faithfulness or fidelity. The inner connection between righteousness and faithfulness is seen in Romans 3 when, in closely knit logic, God's faithfulness (verse 3) alternates with His righteousness (verse 5).

God is righteous in that He is faithful to His covenant promise to be with His people, to sustain them, and to protect them from enemies without and within. Humans are righteous when, in faithfulness to God, they conform to the norms and claims inherent in the covenant relationship with Him.

This is what Habakkuk 2:4 speaks of when it says that the righteous or just person (one in a covenant relationship with God) shall live by (as a result of) faith, meaning faithfulness (remaining loyal to God in times of adversity).

However, humans have sinned and broken the covenant. The question that arises then is whether human unfaithfulness cancels the faithfulness of God. Paul answers forcefully, "Certainly not!" and goes on to say that God will prove to be true to His covenant word even when we have not been true to ours (Rom. 3:3-4).

This means that God's faithfulness entails grace. This accords with the picture Paul paints in Romans 1:18-3:26. He shows that the Gentile world is guilty of idolatry and immorality, and the Jewish world of self-righteous judgmentalism and hypocrisy. Why? Because there is no fear of God before their eyes (3:18).

There follows a judgment scene in which every mouth is stopped, all stand guilty before God, and there is no possibility of saving ourselves by works of law (3:19, 20). We, the human race, await the execution of God's just sentence.

Then suddenly the word "but" appears. If the rest of Romans, after the "but," was torn out, and all we had left, following the depiction of human sin and divine judgment, was the word "but," would we not realize anyway that help was on the way, and that the reality of sin and judgment was going to be reversed? "But" turns things around to go in the opposite direction.

A personal illustration

Through personal experience I have learned the meaning of "but." My first wife, after mastectomies for breast cancer, had surgery to take out a patch from her pericardium because it kept filling with fluid. The patch would halt the fluid problem so that the tissue could be examined to see what was causing the fluid buildup.

I was in the hospital waiting room soberly awaiting the surgeon's report. Finally he came through the door and announced, "The surgery is over and, to our observation, the tissue looked good." A feeling of warmth and joy swept through my body. Then the surgeon said, "But—." He didn't have to say another word. I knew my wife was going to die. It only took two days when, in an act of "severe mercy," God let her cancer-ridden body rest in peace.

Though the human "but" often turns our hopes into despair, the divine "but" turns our despair into hope. As Paul continues his presentation in Romans 3:21-26, he announces that quite apart from the law there is a righteousness that comes from God and depends on faith rather than works of law. It is a righteousness which is centered in the cross of Christ where God, in His faithfulness to us, exhibits His saving grace by offering His Son, an extension of Himself, in sacrifice.

In Christ, God bears the pain of our sin and offers us the pardon.

Another way of saying this is that He justifies or "rightifies" us, as declared in Romans 3:24. Justification has a num ber of facets which can be quickly summarized from concepts in Romans.

It means, in harmony with the covenant idea, to be placed in a new and right relationship to God, to have God's righteousness reckoned to us (4:6), to be acquitted instead of condemned by the divine judge (5:18), to be forgiven by the heavenly Father, an event in which our sins are covered and not counted (4:7, 8; cf. 2 Cor. 5:19). It further includes the exchange of lordships from sin to Christ, which leads to sanctification (Rom. 6) and the present reception of eschatological life (4:1 7 and 5:18). Finally, justification means entree into the community and unity of believers, where ethnic, social, and gender distinctions do not count (Gal. 3:28, the conclusion of the theme of justification in the entire chapter).

Reconciliation and adoption

In correlation with justification is reconciliation, which comes from the domain of war (Rom. 5:9 in parallel with 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18-21), and adoption, which derives from the area of family (Rom. 8:15, 16; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5).

The concept of reconciliation means that the warfare and alienation between us and God is over. We now have peace with God (Rom. 5:1, 10).

Years ago I read the story of a soldier left in the jungles of New Guinea who continued to prepare himself for battle every day because he did not know that World War II was over. He needed the good news of peace. In an ultimate sense that is what we have in the gospel. As to the term adoption, Ephesians 1:5 asserts that God adopted us "for himself." Incredibly, God wanted us to belong to Himself as His children. Consequently, believers can exclaim: "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are" (1 John 3:11, RSV). Our exclamation corresponds to the exclamation of the Spirit that we are God's children (Gal. 5:6; Rom. 8:16). We have the right to be called this, for we were born not of the will of man but of God (John 1:12, 13).

Our adoption as God's children has a far horizon. It will be complete when, at the culmination of all things, our mortal bodies are redeemed (Rom. 8:23), our joint heirship with Christ is fulfilled (Rom. 8:17), and our likeness to Christ is realized (1 John 3:2).

Assurance of final salvation and eternal life

Will present justification, reconciliation, and adoption be sufficient to carry the person of faith all the way to and through the final judgment? A resounding "Yes" is warranted by Scripture. Believers may know that "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6, RSV).

Romans 5:1-11 develops a meaning fullogic of assurance. Paul argues that we who have been justified may in the present have peace, constant access to grace, joy, and hope for future glorification (verses 1, 2). This hope will not let us down because it is grounded in the gift of God's love, which has flooded our hearts through the Holy Spirit (verse 5).

Present realities guarantee future hopes. And what is the content of this love which guarantees future glorification? It is that, in contrast to humans who might surrender their lives for a good person (verse 7), God has already given His Son's life for the morally weak and ungodly, for sinners, those at enmity with Him (verses 6, 8, 10).

The conclusion is that if God was willing to do what is hardest—give His Son to die for such as these, how much more, now that we are reconciled and friends of God, shall the risen Christ do what is easiest—live to save us from the ultimate wrath of God (9,10)? He inter cedes for us (Rom. 8:34) and assures us that nothing will be able to separate us from His love (8:37, 38).

Complementing Paul's message is John's of eternal life through believing. This life is an already present reality (John 20:30, 31; 3:36; 4:14; 5:24; 6:40, 47-51, 57, 58; 10:27-30; 1 John 5:9- 13). Furthermore, believers do not come into a judgment of condemnation, but have already passed from death to life (John 5:24). As recipients of eternal life, they are totally secure in the hand of Christ which is in the hand of the Father (John 10:29, 30). Finally, John writes to us that we may know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13).

Sanctification

The family of words associated with sanctification, including such terms as sanctify, saint, holiness, and holy, occurs literally hundreds of times in Scripture. Further, believers are called to be holy, as their Lord is holy (Lev. 19:2), and are admonished to pursue the "holiness without which no one will see the Lord"(Heb. 12:14, RSV). Clearly, by virtue of frequency and content, sanctification is seen to be a primary rather than secondary biblical concept, not taking a back seat to other concepts such as justification. However, if sanctification referred only to human self-effort, was unrelated to relationship with God and disconnected from faith in Christ, it would be worse than secondary—it would be impossible. Such is not the case.

At its root sanctification refers to being set apart or separated; being different from the common. In Scripture it has two major aspects, the first relational, the second moral. As to the relational, God is holy within Himself and hence is called the "Holy One" (Isa. 10:17; Ps. 71:22, RSV). As such He is incomparable, unique, and transcendent. All else, whether people, times, places, objects, or institutions, are holy only in a derivative sense by virtue of appointment by Him and relation to Him.

In terms of humans, their sanctification is relational before it is moral. They are sanctified in that God has separated them from the world to belong to Him as His people.

The relational significance of sanctification, which is foundational to all moral development, can be seen in 1 Corinthians 1:2. Notwithstanding the many serious moral problems the Corinthians had, Paul addresses them as "those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints" (RSV).

The perfect tense in the Greek word for "sanctified" refers to completed action which has continuing results. Thus, in view of their relation to Christ, the Corinthians had already been sanctified, hence were already saints. Because the words sanctification and saint are built on the identical Creek root, it would be accurate to translate "saintification" instead of "sanctification."

Understood relationally, in terms of becoming God's people, sanctification is the work of a moment rather than a lifetime. It is definitive, done, by God's action alone. This is corroborated by 1 Corinthians 6:11 which places washing, sanctification, and justification by God in the past. And because sanctification is a relational word here, as is justification, Paul could appropriately place it before the word justification.

Sanctification as a definitive event of the past is illustrated by a number of other texts: Hebrews 10:10, 29; Ephesians 5:25, 26; Acts 20:32. In Acts 26:28, the past sanctification of the believer is said to be by faith. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1 3 past sanctification by the Spirit and belief (faith) in the truth are coordinated. Accomplished sanctification is also found in 1 Peter 1:2 where it is the precondition for future obedience to Christ.

All this ties in with the second aspect of sanctification: its application to the moral realm. From the moment we are set apart for Christ to the time we come to fully reflect Christ (1 John 3:2), sanctification is a progressive process of moral change by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Out of the root of sanctification as belonging, emerges sanctification as becoming. The already of God's consecrating action leads to the present of God's conforming activity. God's will for believers is that they live every day in a way which conforms to and expresses sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3).

As a corollary of being baptized into union with Christ, the believer is enabled to walk in "newness of life" (Rom. 6:3, 4, RSV) and is transformed by degrees into the glorious image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). The sanctification of God's people is a continual movement forward, a journey without end. There is fulfillment, but not finality.

One may already be living to please God, exemplifying love itself, but is to do so more and more (1 Thess. 4:2, 9, 10, 12). One virtue is to succeed another as advancement is made into the future (2 Peter 1:5-7).

Christian love is at the heart of the moral reality of sanctification. In 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 13, love for all is correlated with our hearts being established in holiness. And this love is to abound with knowledge and discernment so that the excellent may be approved, purity achieved, and a filling with the fruits of righteousness realized (Phil. 1:9). This discernment is the product of the mind's transformation, which alone enables the believer to discover what the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God is (Rom. 12:2).

Thus, the sanctified life involves a continual quest to learn what pleases God in all the circumstances of life (Eph. 5:8, 9; 1 Thess. 4:1). This is sanctification's standard, and it calls us to ever deepening moral insight and fulfillment.

Consummation

Transformed life in the kingdom of heaven comes at the far end of salvation history when Jesus returns for His own (John 14:1-3).

As my wife, two days after her surgery, was emerging from her anesthetic and blurred consciousness, she asked her nurse, a Seventh-day Adventist, what day it was. The nurse responded, "It is the Sabbath." My wife's reply, her last words in this life, was, "Oh, Sabbaths will be nice in heaven."

Indeed! Until that time, and bearing upon the reality of our suffering and grief, we are called to wait patiently for the fulfillment of our hope (Rom. 8:25). A moving inscription I once saw on a gravestone embodies the spirit of 1 Thessalonians 4:1 3-18, that great passage on Jesus' return to gather the dead and the living to Himself: "Go home dear friends, dry your tears, we must wait here till Christ appears." In response to Jesus' message, "Surely I am coming soon," we may say with the revelator, "Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev. 22:20, RSV).

"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away'" (Rev. 21:3,4).


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Ivan T. Blazen is professor of religion at Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, United States.

September 2003

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