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Archive for the ‘Salvation’ Category

Leslie Newbigin in his book The Household of God describes the Church as the visible community of God’s people and repeatedly emphasizes that the Church “is as visible as the Christian man.” This emphasis is a vital one for those of us who have been trained to think of the Church as primarily “invisible.” An “invisible” Church which consists exclusively of the “whole number of the elect” tends to become, over time, the only “real” Church (since only those who are counted in the invisible Church will be infallibly saved). This perfect “invisible” Church makes the imperfect, and sometimes deeply flawed, visible Church on the corner appear as a mere shadow of (if not an outright contradiction to) the real glorious body of Christ. Consequently, we come to view the visible Church is at best a secondary and non-essential element in our salvation (and many even think of the Church as a hindrance to their spirituality). But Newbigin tells us that this is a great mistake. In the Bible, the Church, the body of Christ, is the visible body of men and women who have been called out by God’s grace, marked by baptism, and gathered into worshiping and serving communities. Newbigin observes:

“The whole core of biblical history is the story of the calling of a visible community to be God’s own people. His royal priesthood on earth, the bearer of His light to the nations. . . . There is an actual, visible, earthly company which is addressed as ‘the people of God’, the ‘Body of Christ’. It is surely a fact of inexhaustible significance that what our Lord left behind him was not a book, nor a creed, nor a system of thought, nor a rule of life, but a visible community. . . . He committed the entire work of salvation to that community. It was not that a community gathered round an idea, so that the idea was primary and the community secondary. It was a community called together by the deliberate choice of the Lord Himself, and re-created in Him, gradually sought–and is seeking–to make explicit who He is and what He has done. . . . This actual visible community, a company of men and women with ascertainable names and addresses, is the Church of God.” (more…)

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In his discussion of the Nicene creed’s statement “one baptism for the remission of sins,” T. F. Torrance explains what it means to be baptized into Christ:

“In baptism we are united to Christ through the Holy Spirit in such a way that we partake of the whole substance of the gospel, for all grace and truth are embodied in him. We may recall the point made by Irenaeus in this connection, when he claimed that the incarnate Son is called and actually is, ‘Salvation, Savior, and Saving Activity‘ and that thus he is ‘salvation made flesh.’ In other words saving grace is not something detached from Christ which can be dispensed at will, but is identical with Christ in the unity of his Person, Word, and Act. It is through the one baptism which we have in common with Christ, or rather which he has in common with us, that we share in all that God has in store for us. Because baptism is one (the baptism with which Christ was baptised for our sakes, and the baptism in which we are given to share in all that he was, is, and will be) to be baptised is much more than to be initiated into the sphere where forgiveness is proclaimed and dispensed in the Church. It is to to be ‘delivered out of the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.’ It is to have our frail, transient existence taken up into Christ himself in such a way, that without any loss to our creaturely reality but rather with its perfecting through his Spirit, it is united to God and established in union with his eternal reality.” (The Trinitarian Faith, p. 297)

So. Jesus is Salvation made flesh [all life is in Him and apart from Him there is no salvation; grace and forgiveness are found in Him alone]. The Spirit unites us to Jesus through baptism, uniting us with His body, the Church, which is the kingdom, house and family of God, the community of faith, the assembly of the saints, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. So when Peter says, “baptism now saves us” he is saying “Jesus saves us.” By baptism the Spirit of Jesus unites us to the Church. The Church is the body of Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is Salvation made flesh.

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“No hope without it.”

Reformed people are familiar with J. Gresham Machen’s quote from his telegram to Dr. John Murray, “I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.” We surely must be thankful for Jesus’ “active” obedience, but it is equally true (as Machen well understood) that this alone brings no hope. Unless our sinless Savior had voluntarily laid down His life on the cross, we would all be without hope. But if we stop at the cross, we still have no hope. What about the resurrection? Apart from it, our Savior’s life and death would be worthless to us. “Thank God for the resurrection of Christ. No hope without it.” Yes, but what about having the benefits of His work applied to us? Apart from faith, we cannot partake of the blessings of Jesus’ work. Ok, then, “Thank God for faith. No hope without it!” True indeed, but, one can’t believe without also repenting, so, “Thank God for repentance. No hope without it!” And we’re just beginning. Think of all the other things Jesus tells us are necessary for us to enter the kingdom or to see life. Here are a few more things without which, according to Jesus, we have no hope (and note: I’ve put them in slogan format, which apparently is the way to communicate effectively nowadays):

“Righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, no hope without it!” (Matt. 5:20)

“Plucking out the right eye and cutting off the right hand, no hope without it!” (Matt. 5:29-30)

“Forgiving other men their trespasses, no hope without it!” (Matt. 6:14-15)

“Doing the will of the Father, no hope without it!” (Matt. 7:21-23)

“Refusing to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, no hope without it!” (Matt. 12:31-32)

“Losing your life for Jesus’ sake, no hope without it!” (Matt. 16:24-25)

“Becoming like little children, no hope without it!” (Matt. 18:2-3)

“Serving your brothers, even the least of them, no hope without it!” (Matt. 25:44-46)

“Eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking His blood, no hope without it!” (John 6:53)

and there are many more . . . . . . .

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