What is Salvation--Notes From Jesus' Old Testament Sourcebook
How is everyone this beautiful Sabbath morning? We began this series on "I Want to Give My Heart to Jesus" with a look at what inspiration says about our nature as fallen men and women. We asked, What Is My Heart That I Would Give? discovering that at the fall we lost strength, but that God intervened assuring us the capacity to choose. We saw that we are not born guilty but with a disposition pulling strongly toward the evil. Through the gospel God purposes to repair us.
Our second presentation last week asked Who is this Jesus to Whom I Would Give? and learned that He became as human as we are so that we could become as obedient as He is. We saw that He lived as He did entirely by the power of His Father and that He came here with no exceptions or exemptions from our experience, overcoming through faith just as we must.
Today we take up an issue arising out of our two previous presentations: just what is salvation anyway? Now every preacher and every Christian think that they understand this topic. After all, the preachers preach about it and the Christians profess to be saved. But may I propose to you that there may be more than we've expected?
"Salvation" in the Old Testament
Can anyone tell me where the word "salvation" first appears in the Bible? How far back do you think it goes? Who can tell us? Join me in your Bible at the end of its first book. You may recall that at the end of this book Jacob calls all of his sons together to prophesy to them (Genesis 49:1). From the eldest, Reuben, on down the line he began to prophesy. And when he came to the seventh son, Dan, he said this (in Genesis 49:16-18):
Dan shall judge his people, as one of the tribes of Israel. Dan shall be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path, that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward. I have waited for Thy salvation, O LORD.
Now the first occurrence of a word or idea in the Bible is very important. It usually tells something very important about a teaching. For example, those who start in the New Testament and work backwards to understand what happens to a person when they die get to Genesis 2:7 last instead of first, and tend to read back into the Bible the pagan Greek myths about the immortal spirit and soul that entered Christendom only in the fourth century A.D. Even the order in which you study something can have quite a bit to do with your perceptions as you study, thus influencing your conclusions.
When we start here at the first occurrence, what do we find? We find the word occurring at the seventh position and we find it associated with judgment. You might have expected salvation to be associated more with Judah out of whom ultimately would arise Jesus the Messiah. Certainly it is, even while the literal word doesn't appear there, we do find reference to the coming of "Shiloh," a designation meaning "tranquil" or "peace" (Genesis 49:8-12). Jesus brings a sword because He brings peace, and evil cannot coexist with peace. There will be no peace until first there is salvation. You might be interested to know that the Hebrew word for salvation in Genesis 49:18 is yeshuah.
Perhaps we've not often thought of salvation as associated with judgment. I wonder why. Judgment means there is a boundary somewhere
The next time the word occurs we find Moses and Israel with their backs up against the Red Sea and the Egyptians closing in. "Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will shew you today," calls Moses. God parts the Red Sea and Israel goes forward, while the following Egyptians are drowned in their attempt to pass. In 1 Samuel 2:1 Hannah rejoices in God's salvation after the birth of baby Samuel. Vindication comforts her. In the Psalms salvation is spoken of over and over again as deliverance by God's power.
Consider also that salvation is something outwardly visible. Psalm 98:2-3 says: "The LORD hath made known His salvation: His righteousness hath He openly showed in the sight of the heathen. He hath remembered His mercy and His truth toward the house of Israel: all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God." Salvation is something openly shown, overtly demonstrated, visible, evident. Never is it merely a declaration apart from matching outward reality. When God saved Israel at the Red Sea the outcome was evident. The Hebrews made the passage without loss of life, but the Egyptians were drowned. What God did was manifested in time and space. Whether it is on a national level or the personal level it is the same.
Remember we said in our first meeting that God made us for His pleasure? Psalm 149:4 reminds us that "The LORD taketh pleasure in His people: He will beautify the meek with salvation." Salvation morally is very beautiful. Any salvation that doesn't do that, we would be hard pressed to call salvation.
The Old Testament likens salvation also to water. Salvation comes in a cup in Psalm 116:13 and is drawn from a well in Isaiah 12:3. Palestine is, in many areas, a hot and dry land. Even the Jordon river is more of a rivulet. Water has a ready symbolic meaning there, standing between the travelor and death.
Judgment and salvation are mentioned together again in Isaiah 59:11: "We roar all like bears, and mourn sore like doves: we look for judgment, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far off from us."
Righteousness and salvation are mentioned together several times, among them Psalm 24:5; Psalm 40:10; Psalm 51:14; Psalm 65:5; Psalm 71:15; Psalm 98:2; Psalm 119:123; Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:5-8; Isaiah 56:1; Isaiah 59:17; Isaiah 62:1.
How is it that real righteousness was ever disassociated with salvation? We'll be talking about that in a future presentation. But the result of permitting the presence of God's Spirit to manifest itself in us is that we will have Christ in us, the hope of glory. And Jesus does righteousness. It is expected, it is automatic, that the behavior of one following God will be different, will be in fact, righteous behavior. Sometime we will work on unpacking this.
Just in case anyone were to begin thinking that behavior can be disengaged from our salvation, they ought to carefully consider Psalm 50:23: "Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God." We have here a very clear condition. In order to see the salvation of God, we must order our conversation aright. The original Hebrew here has derek, as in walk-way or path. Conversation was an old English word for how one behaves, walks, or lives. So this text says that living right is a condition to experiencing God's salvation.
By no means is this the only such text. Another is found at Proverbs 28:18: "Whoso walketh uprightly shall be saved: but he that is perverse in his ways shall fall at once."
Which Comes First?
But I can hear someone say that we can't live right without God's help. And that is correct. What did we find in our first presentation in this series? We are, in our fallen state, without strength (Romans 5:6). Right here is where we get into many problems because folks insist on putting one thing before another thing, when these things go together and happen together. You cannot obey without God's strength and you cannot have God's strength unless you obey. That's why it is true that in the moment that you exercise faith you receive strength to believe and in the moment you receive strength to believe you exercise faith. Don't even try to put one before the other.
When we begin to subdivide and organize into a hierarchy that which Scripture does not, then we open up a whole new theological playground. We begin to manipulate the truth and make it useless. You begin pulling justification and sanctification apart and before long they are irreconcilable in your mind. When I was a kid I used to have pocket watches. Whenever one would get to where it wouldn't run anymore, I would take it apart and attempt to put it back together. Did this three or four times. Never got one back together mind you; and there's a lesson in that.
We cannot obey without God's strength, therefore we cannot obey without His intervention. But we cannot even believe apart from His intervention. Remember, our humanity after the fall is by nature "cold and dark and unloving." Such a nature has no interest in expressing faith. It is only because God intervenes that we can believe. So then what benefit is there to us in trying to say that obedience comes after faith, or that it comes before faith? The fact is that biblically they both have to happen univocally
Another passage here is important. Psalm 51:12 says that after David had sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband Urijah, he had no joy of salvation. "Was David saved or lost?" people ask, after he had committed these sins but before he had repented. Well, "saved and lost" really are oversimplified categories (For a discussion of those categories, see Saved or Lost). David's life experience was not ended, his probation not yet closed. We can rest assured of this though: David had no joy of salvation, and so we must conclude that had he closed his life experience after having sinned and before having repented, he would have been lost. No question. Joy accompanies salvation and he had neither before repenting and turning back to God.
A Gift From Beyond Ourselves
Psalm 85 urges God to turn us, revive us, show us mercy, grant us salvation. Its first verses speak of how already He has returned Israel from captivity, forgiven sins, expressing and then withholding His anger. Here again we see the power of choice given unto us even with the effects of the fall upon us. But in the same breath the plea goes up to heaven to turn us, revive us, and grant us salvation. The power to live a holy life is there, it is available but only from God; not within ourselves. Salvation is a gift, that which is granted from beyond ourselves.
Grace was sent out in search of us. We didn't ask for it or even seek for it; God saw the necessity and made it available to us. Salvation is all of God. And yet we have been assigned our part of the equation: to ask, to seek, to submit, to cooperate, to employ the strength that God sends to live as God directs. Is this so bad, so aberrant or heretical? That through the help that He only can provide someone might actually say yes to Him and with Him?
Salvation as a Garment
In Isaiah 61:10-11 salvation is spoken of as a garment:
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.
But is this merely a paper righteousness? A covering of people who underneath are filthy still? Context, context. The first verse of this Psalm says that Jesus is sent to "bind up," "proclaim liberty," and open the prison of those who are bound. It goes on to say that they will build again the old wastes, raise up and repair. Isaiah 62:1-2 says "For Zion's sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth. And the gentiles shall see Thy righteousness and all kings Thy glory . . ." The 12th verse says that they'll be called "the holy people."
Notice that what we don't find here is an asbestos suit for sinners, which is what some have thought salvation was. God checks out a suit to you and you just stay inside when the fire comes and you're O.K. But being clothed with salvation and righteousness by God means also healing (being bound up), being proclaimed free, and not only proclaimed, but the prison doors opened
This is the garment we must have. Notice again our Scripture: "For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations." If we wear this garment of salvation it will mean new life like a budding branch or a growing garden. Our salvation will go forth like a lamp that burns
"Being Saved" in the Old Testament
At least a few notes are in order on "being saved" in the Old Testament. Among examples of special interest to us is what we find in Judges chapter seven. Gideon is preparing an army by which to deliver Israel. But God is concerned. What does He say? Judges 7:2: "The people that are with thee are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me." And you know the story, how God helped him to sift things down to only 300 men. Thus we are reminded that even as man cooperates with the divine, salvation comes only from God and not from flesh. Our own hands do not save us. Our cooperation does not even save us. Cooperation is a condition of being saved, but it is not a meritorious cause of being saved.
You go to a store. You fill out a form to apply for credit. When they process the form they don't give you any points for having filled it out; that was a necessary condition of making the credit application but not a meritorious cause in granting you the credit line. Now your credit history, did you make your payments on time, etc., that stuff will go towards determining what credit you get. Do you see the difference?
When it comes to salvation we have to meet certain conditions, but they don't earn us any credit. Gideon's band initially had too many bodies. God was concerned that they would think that their strength had given them the victory so He made him reduce the size of his group. If you or I ever think of our role in the salvation plan as being more than we ought, rest assured that Jesus will find some way of demonstrating to us that we are overestimating ourselves. Better yet, let's not even go there. But at the same time, when the human part is reduced to absolutely nothing, not even a single condition, we also go off-course, because salvation becomes an arbitrary thing, where even the decisions are dropped onto God and then we come to that strange place where we think we cannot be lost or that our behavior doesn't matter. So we need to watch and pray and study so that we don't drop off into misunderstanding at this point.
Another passage of interest comes in Isaiah 45. There Isaiah rebukes those who "pray to a god that cannot save." God is described as "a just God and a Saviour" (Isaiah 45:21). One of the catch-phrases going the rounds today is to speak of God's "extravagant grace." Its quantity seems to be emphasized rather than its quality. God is portrayed a lavishing this extraordinary quantity of grace on people, recklessly, lavishly, profligately even. The highlight is placed on how undeserving of salvation we are.
Now it is true, we dare not remove the fact that we come to God with nothing and do not merit salvation. We would not shrink grace down in order to add even a tiny place for us to bask in the glory of achievement. Clearly, when it comes to our salvation we have nothing, absolutely nothing of which to boast. It is all of God.
But let us remember that the conflict between good and evil is very largely over whether God is fair or not. Is He just? And our text claims that He is "a just God and a Saviour." It is one thing to say that our salvation is undeserved, but it is another thing to implicitly suggest that God is unfair when He saves us. If God has no legitimate basis upon which He saves us, then He is unjust, isn't He? After all, some will be lost, shut out from existence forever, and some won't be. Then if God is indiscriminately passing out a salvation which is denied to some but indifferently given to others, can He rightly claim to be "a just God and a Saviour"?
There is a basis upon which we are saved. We are willing to go God's way rather than our own. We are willing to be made willing, willing to submit to God's ways, to participate in an eternity where unselfishness will be the mode of operation. And God assists us and helps us to become a part of that. But there are those who consent to live that way and those who do not. Those who desire to live justly will be saved, notwithstanding the fact that even their desire to live justly comes to them from God. They still freely select it. They do not deserve to be saved for anything they do; but on the basis of what God does for them. It's just that they receive what He does for them and they are changed. In eternity everyone will be running on the same program
The result is found in Isaiah 45:25: "In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory." The word "justified" there is tsadiq in Hebrew, literally, "made holy." The god who cannot save cannot make people holy. He does not exist. "There is no god else beside Me" (Isaiah 45:21). But the God we worship is a holy God and He designed His people for holiness, for His pleasure. We were made for Jesus (Colossians 1:16). When we are "in the Lord" that doesn't mean that we are wicked but covered, it means that we are made right by God's presence which we consent to, and even desire (Isaiah 63:9). But He puts the desire there. He brings enmity against sin. He provokes in us a love of righteousness alien to the heart of fallen man. In this way He is a just God and a Saviour.
Healing and Salvation
Jeremiah said, "Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved" (Jeremiah 17:14). Again and again and again we find this dual motif: healing side by side with salvation. To the Hebrew mind they were one and the same!
We are going to, in an upcoming part of this series, take some time to look at this. We are going to discover a distortion of vast proportion, a historical cleavage that has separated out internal and external aspects of salvation. Healing is surgically separated from a legal form of salvation and one is put into a box over here and the other into a box over here. Think of it this way. What if you separate the legal part of an operation at Loma Linda from the healing part of the operation? Now you have a piece of paper that says you were in the hospital at Loma Linda for your problem. You can wave it around and brag it around that you went to Loma Linda for treatment. Fine. But what if they never did the surgery? What if there was no healing? Then your problem still remains, notwithstanding the big important and impressive name you are able to broadcast about and share with friends and relatives.
How often do we as Christians fall into this same idea and subscribe to a gospel that is supposed to save but we allow some pointy-headed theologian somewhere to take the healing part, the victory part, the change part if you will, out of the gospel? How much better that we hold the same understanding that Jesus had and the same understanding that Jeremiah had: "Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved."
Salvation in Ezekiel 36
This rich passage tells us that when we are saved from our uncleanness, we also receive cleansing, a new heart, and a new Spirit (the Holy Spirit). Nothing here about some cheap mortar going in over a continuing filthy and sin-laden people. And its all done for the honor of God's name which His people have polluted. The result is found in Ezekiel 36:27: "And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them." The sweet sound of obedience rings through loud and clear here. When we have a new heart and a new Spirit, salvation is there too.
When we try to obey without God's power, our experience will be not only dry but really painful. We can't obey without a new heart and without the Holy Spirit. What is described here is a born-again/born from above experience. It is not at all unique to the New Testament. That is a fallacy. The tale of salvation that Jesus' Old Testament Sourcebook tells is filled with beauty and truth, consistency and substance. It is not at all so different from the New Testament as we have sometimes been urged to believe. What did Jesus teach from anyway? From the Old Testament!
All these attempts are made by the narrow to limit salvation, to relegate the Old Testament or a part of the New Testament to the trash bin because it cuts across us and we want to shrink salvation down and make it smaller than God makes it. God help us and preserve us from that tendency. We mustn't cut asunder what God has joined together. Some propose that there is almost a seam, a grave difference between salvation OT and salvation NT.
It is true that the Messiah comes at the front of the NT, but it is not true that we there suddenly shift to an alien way of being saved that was never heard of before. The shadows are replaced by the Shadow-caster, but reality is not replaced by a different reality. Salvation is still as it was but now Messiakh has come. Now we see Him, the Desire of Ages for whom our race has waited. But the new heart was then and is now, and heaven's salvation plan is seamless.
Salvation in the 28th Psalm
Hear also these lines from the twenty-eighth Psalm, verses eight and nine: "The LORD is their strength, and He is the saving strength of His anointed. Save Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance: feed them also, and lift them up for ever." God is the saving strength of His people, He feeds and lifts them up forever. The saints are not malnourished. They are well fed and lie down in rich green pastures. They are not spiritually impoverished, but are filled with the Word of the Lord. Therefore they are changed people. That is salvation
Now before we get too concerned because we have today only discussed the Old Testament, do keep in mind that these were the very strata Jesus worked from. Fundamentally we would not expect there to be any giant changes in how someone was saved between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Development, added detail, strengthening insights, enriching nuances
We hit the Old Testament today with a finer grain than we might have expected. The reason for this is that in all likelihood, we are much less familiar with the Old Testament materials than we are with others. Even now scarcely can we claim we've even skimmed them. There is so very much and it is so very rich! We stop here only because quantity of material forces us to. What conclusions then can we draw at this point?
Judgment and vindication, deliverance, sustenance, and righteousness are the key salvation themes of the Old Testament. Often we find these themes developed in the context of physical military operations, but not at all exclusive to them. In fact, we uncover over and over again key themes that heaven continues to unpack in the New Testament. Deliverance, a new heart, the necessity of the Holy Spirit, the reality of healing and victory over sin
O what they are missing! These are the notes from Jesus' Old Testament Sourcebook. If we want to give our heart to Jesus, then it only makes sense to take the Word of God and hear what it says salvation is. God grant us His Spirit as we proceed.
Next week we continue with Salvation From New Testament Times moving toward Our Own. We want to give our heart to Jesus. The salvation plan is His plan. So we peer closely at it in I Want to Give My Heart to Jesus #4: What is Salvation in the Gospels? Let us stand and praise God with the hymn of response.
Mentone A SDA 2001-07-28