In last month’s article, I stated the following: “We are saved by God’s grace through the free gift of faith — not by our works — so that we might live repentant, God-conscious lives of good works for the glory of God and the benefit of all people everywhere!”
However, I neglected to explain what we are saved from.
We know that we are saved BY God’s all-pervading grace and all-encompassing love. We know that we are saved FOR a new life of faith, hope, joy, peacefulness, charity and service. But what are we saved FROM?
Are we saved from God’s wrath? Are we saved from a never-ending “hell” that God has built for his condemned children?
Of course, this does not make sense. If God is all-present (omnipresent) within all that is, both seen and unseen, and if God is all-gracious and all-loving, then it makes no sense to say that “we are saved from God” in any possible way.
In fact, this is one of the more ancient misunderstandings of the gospel message, and this old misinterpretation is as follows: God, like some kind of volcano deity, will destroy us unless he is appeased by the bloody suffering and death of another. And this misinterpretation, called Penal Substitutionary Atonement, originated with Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th Century, a thousand years after Jesus.
Anselm’s misinterpretation of the sacrificial rituals of biblical times meant that God demanded a “substitute” to suffer and die (lambs, bulls, etc.) or else the people would be destroyed by God in some sort of divine bloodthirsty rage. However, in reality, the truth about ritual sacrifices in biblical times is that these sacrifices were expressions of gratitude to God and fellowship with God. It was sacrifice as gift and sacrifice as meal/feast of divine fellowship.
Simply put, the ancient ritual sacrifices were understood by the ancient Israelites as gratefully giving back to God a portion of what God had first given them and as sharing in a sacred meal of fellowship with God. It was not about putting forward a substitute or “fall guy” for us.
Yes, rather than the penal substitutionary atonement theory of Anselm, we need an understanding of salvation that simply makes more sense. Consequently, it makes much more biblical sense that Jesus was God’s gift of blessing for our relationship with God, not our substitute for punishment. He was simply God’s gift of love to us and for us — a living gift whose way of sacrificial love becomes for us a spiritual feast that makes us whole and holy in God.
And rather than the concept of Original Sin that accompanies the old penal substitutionary atonement theory, we need to reclaim the biblical concept of Original Blessing as we see in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis.
So, here is a much better way of looking at all this…
- Created in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:27), our original blessing is that God is already in us and we are already in God.
- Created in the image of God, our human nature is divine, but our human condition is ignorant, sinful, hurtful and broken.
- We are fallen away from our original blessing, ignorant of our divine nature and in need of being awakened to the reality of God in all.
Therefore, we are not saved from God, but…
- By God’s grace, we are saved FROM our fallen, ignorant and spiritually broken condition.
- By God’s grace, we are redeemed to our original blessing and we are awakened to our atonement (“at-one-ment”) with God.
- And, as we inevitably stumble from perfectly abiding in our state of original blessing, we are lifted up again and again and again by God’s eternal truth and grace.
We are not saved from God, we are saved from ourselves! We are saved from our own distorted, fallen selves.
“Hell” is a state of being. It’s the state of being separated from God and spiritually broken because of our own sinful ego. But our “hell” of separation and brokenness is not forever. Ultimately, we shall all come to the joy and bliss of eternal communion with God according to the plan and purpose and process that God has prepared for each of us.
Essentially, we are redeemed from our fallen condition by God, unto God, and toward manifesting our original blessing and divine nature that is already within us. Thanks be to God!
And, through the Word and Sacraments of Christ, we are called, enlightened, made holy, kept in a life of true faith, and guided by the Spirit…
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual infidelity, corruption, vulgarity, idolatry, cursing, hatreds, strife, jealousy, brutishness, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, habitual drunkenness, riotousness, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things do not possess the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its voracious wants and attachments. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:19-25)
By God’s grace, Pastor Tim