Lesson 2: Now and Not Yet

This should be fun! I got all sorts of responses to our first lesson. Perhaps the one to which I should respond first was the popular understanding of salvation as something that happens after death. My very intelligent class at Good Shepherd reported trouble with the author we were reading, because she spoke of the tension between salvation now and yet to come. They had always thought of salvation as entering heaven after death.

That obviously is what people mean when they confront us with “Are you saved?” Even more they speak of avoiding torture after death. Lutheran pastors are always dealing with their youth returning from ecumenical gatherings to report other participants told them they were going to hell, because they could not date a personal decision for Christ.

The emphasis is clearly on using a prescribed technique in this life to obtain a benefit in a life to come. This involves saying a Jesus’ Prayer either in private or in answer to an altar call. It cites John 3 or I Peter 1: 23 calling us to be “born again”. However, these passages clearly are speaking of baptism, and John 3 immediately makes clear this is being chosen rather than choosing. The Holy Spirit is described as free as the wind, completely out of our control.

The Bible describes baptism as entering the beloved community where a righteous relationship with God is found here and now. Rita recalls being confronted in a swimming pool many years ago by an enthusiast who asked, “Are you saved?” When she responded, “I am a Catholic Nun”, thinking that would satisfy him, he retorted, “Yes, but are you saved?” Rita reports she was baffled as she was already in a relationship with Jesus. She wondered from what she was supposed to be saved. So too, Lutheran pastors often teach their youth to respond with “Yes, I am saved; I am baptized.” If the questioner is not satisfied with infant baptism, they can describe their confirmations as personal decisions and promises made in public.

Now we can answer Bob’s question. After his usual brilliant insights, he asked if salvation as victory over the finality of death is a core element of Christianity. Although many modern Christians doubt this, Paul in I Corinthians 15 says there is a necessary link between Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and our own. But he also claims the salvation we enter and enjoy now will be complete only after death. To use Bob’s terms the availability of salvation right here and now is also a core element of Christianity.

Paul also says salvation is to be in a right relationship with other people as well as with God. One of my dearest friends responded to the first lesson with, “Speaking of salvation…” and then reported she had just been saved from a divorce she did not want. That could work, because Jesus often spoke of salvation as a marriage banquet when we experience unity of spirit with Jesus and each other.

Let me try to describe how this concept of salvation as now and yet to come developed in the Biblical history of salvation in the next couple weeks. However, if your questions and comments lead us in another direction, that where we’ll go.

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