Many of us know the sweeping narrative of Scripture. Many of our congregations have done a wonderful job telling a Clif’s notes version. It goes something like this:
God created and his creation was good. Humanity sinned, a break in God’s plan. This sin changed everything and the wages of sin is death. Because of God’s great love for us, God sent Jesus into the world as a man. Even though humans were still sinners, Jesus died for us. His death was a substitution for us, so that we might be rescued from our sinfulness. God saves us through Jesus’ blood, if we place our faith in him. Through Christ we are adopted into God’s household and given eternal life with God in Heaven.
This telling is grounded in scripture; however, this short telling of God’s story is a narrow telling. From this angle, the cross is simply about individual salvation. It seems the whole story of God’s engagement with the world is about me. This is not the case. We are individually drawn into God’s saving action, but God’s salvation is not simply about us. God is up to salvation, but its shape is larger than our individual lens allows.
This short flyover view of Scripture slanted towards personal salvation is often a person’s faith beginning. It is the first thing they learn about; it is of first importance. The problem with this is the whole of Christianity then is read through the lens of personal salvation. Our morality, ethics, and justice are pulled in this hermeneutic, so as we talk about Christian morality it is weighted towards our interests. In a sense, morality becomes a process in holding our position or status. Salvation, though we have learned is not our doing, is slanted towards right actions. We learn a long list of rights and wrongs. For my heritage, we learned to speak when the Bible speaks and be silent when the Bible is silent. When our starting point is personal salvation, we often find ourselves in personal piety.
The problem with this practice is it keeps us from the fullness of what God is doing. Scripture read toward my needs and problems has a way of dulling us to the great human quandary. It is difficult for us to understand how the God’s salvation confronts the systematic injustices of the world. We cannot see how the Crucified Messiah is much more than a personal Savior, ushering in something new. This new thing is much more about a right relationship with me. It is about how God is making all things new.
Romans 8 says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
All it takes is a quick glance around us to see the places where the world is groaning. 1 in 5 children in our nation go to bed hungry each night. The space between rich and poor in our country continues to widen. We now live in a world where a small group of people has a great majority of the world’s wealth.
Racial and gender injustice rage on while we turn a blind eye because we believe these issues were solved long ago. We hold onto tired excuses and false statistics to continue our agenda. The reality is injustice reigns in many different forms in our nation and throughout the world. A kind of injustice that the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to die for, yet the lens of personal salvation holds us captive.
It is easy to lose interest in working for justice and peace if they are viewed as nice things to do once the real work is tended to. Social justice, however, is not a subset of the good news of God, it is the central work of God. A theology that dismsses this as of second importance does not understand the fullness of the Kingdom of God.
We stand in the midst of the greatest story ever told. It is a story of a God who would not let us go.. God so loved the world, not just you and I, that God sent Jesus into the world to bring about salvation. This death and resurrection is the climax of history. It changes everything because it is not just an answer to how I get saved; it is the promise of God’s new creation in every person, place, and thing.
Salvation is the work of God to make things right. The salvation Jesus describes offers a new order of things. The salvation Jesus has in mind is Eternal life, which means the age to come. The time when God would bring heaven and earth together, when Gods kingdom would come and will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.
So we have to find a way to see past our own concern. Christian morality is much more than a practice of a set of “holy values.” It is the practice of the faith of Jesus, a faith that sent him into the very depth human experience to confront the principalities and powers. The evil systems that kill, steal, and destroy. So he teaches us to love our enemies and to treat others as you would like to be treated. But this is more than the tolerance of classic liberalism, it is a call to come and die for others.
I like what Leslie Newbigin says, “It is impossible to give a faithful witness to the gospel while being indifferent to the situation of the hungry, the sick, the victims of human inhumanity.” The Gospel of God is good news for you and it is good news for the world. Christian faith is worth fighting for if it is a faith that looks like Jesus. A faith that takes up the project of putting all things right.