Holistic, Transformational Salvation: Perspectives from the Old & New Testaments

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:30b] And with that question, the jailer echoed the cry of people from across the ages – a question that still rings forth today. Paul and Silas’ answer to the jailer appears simplistic enough – “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” [Acts 16:31a]. And yet, a closer examination of the answer raises more questions about the meaning of “being saved”, the requirements of belief, the individual-vs-community orientation of salvation, the necessity of Jesus and even the question, “From what are we being saved?”

Soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation, is anything but simplistic and varies greatly depending upon one’s ecclesiological tradition and perspective. Ultimately what one views about how humans are (can be) reconciled to God shapes the remainder of one’s theology and orthopraxy. I have therefore chosen salvation as the final topic of my theological reflection papers, and will discuss its presence in both the Old and New Testaments, its three nuances and its breadth of application.

Salvation in the Old Testament

Some may be surprised to discover that salvation is not just a NT concept. It originates and grows out of a rich heritage of Israel crying out to God for rescue and deliverance, and God’s faithful covenantal response. Whether individuals or a nation faced a dire circumstance in which they could not help themselves – be it enemies, disasters, illness or more – they sought deliverance by a savior. While Israel’s distressing situations were typically about real-life circumstances, and less about our NT perceptions of sin and the after-life, they caused Israel to seek Yahweh, their Savior [Deut 33:29]. Israel was God’s covenant people and only through that relationship could they find salvation.

Many Psalms express Israel waiting on and hoping in the Lord. Help and protection could be found in Him alone [ie., Ps 33:20-21]. Repentance and rest in the Lord produced salvation, which offered Israel confidence, quietness, and strength [Isa 30:15]. Israel’s salvation from the captivity and oppression of slavery in Egypt, into the blessings, promises and safety of the Promised Land through the Exodus is paramount to understanding salvation in the Old Testament. It is God’s salvific actions, tearing His people from the clutches of the enemy and danger, that gets remembered, replayed and retold throughout the remainder of the OT saga. It also becomes repeated as God brings His people back from exile.

Old Testament salvation hinges on covenantal promises and relationships between God and His people. It offers holistic deliverance from a broad spectrum of circumstances, and expects trust and obedience.

Salvation in the New Testament

Jesus declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” [John 14:6]. Anyone who has inquisitive children has probably had to answer questions that arise from this statement: “Did Grandpa worship Jesus?”, “How did Moses get to heaven?” or “What about people who die in Africa that have never heard about Jesus?”. Salvation in the NT through Jesus’ atonement hardly seems to be a continuation or fulfillment of what we see in the OT. With increased emphasis on sin, evil, and the after-life, and the expansion of God’s salvation to both Gentiles and Jews, the NT initially appears to depart from its historical context of Ancient Israel. However, several consistencies can indeed be found.

Firstly, the characters and roles each play are the same. God alone is the one who acts, initiates, rescues and delivers. People are expected to trust, have confidence in and rely on God. It is the relationship with God that mediates or manifests His salvation. Although all of humanity has sinned and will suffer death as a consequence, God extends reconciliation and salvation, not wrath, [1 Thes 5:9] toward us:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. [2 Cor 5:18-19a]

The NT describes salvation as a gift of grace we receive through faith [Eph 2:8]. Demonstrating that faith takes on many different forms including washing Jesus’ feet with perfume [Lk 7:36-50], being born of the Spirit [Jn 3:1-8], sorrowful praying [Lk 18:9-14], forgiving others [Mt 6:14-15] and restoring stolen money [Lk 19:1-9]. Salvation came to those who faithfully uttered “Remember me” [Lk 23:42-43], “Say the word” [Lk 7:1-10] or “Give me this water” [Jn 4:4-42]. Salvation even came to those for whom others expressed faith, like the paralyzed man [Mk 2:1-5] and the jailer’s family [Acts 16:31-34].

Three Nuances of Salvation

Unfortunately Jesus’ gift of salvation has been reduced by some to an almost-magical, transactional “Sinner’s Prayer”. This oversimplification fails to not only address humanity’s dual nature of sin, but also salvation’s offer of three-fold transformation. Salvation rightfully involves our past, present and future.

Firstly, salvation addresses Christ’s atonement on the cross and our inclusion in His redemptive work in the past. In our present situations, His salvation liberates us from our slavery to sin, freeing us to serve Him [Phil 2:12, Rom 8:13]. And finally, His salvation represents the promise of a final resurrection.

Breadth of Salvation

Salvation is not only a three-fold process of transformation. It is also holistic healing and restoration of humanity to being untarnished image-bearers. “Salvation must address every facet of our need…because God is intent on saving the whole person” [Pinnock & Brow, 151]. This lifetime process addresses all of creation’s brokenness, including our character, relationships, societal institutions, body, mind, and soul.

Salvation reverses the devastating effects and comprehensive failures begun in Genesis 1-11, until finally the Kingdom of God is fully realized here on earth. Jesus healing the lame, sick, deaf and blind was neither accidental nor secondary to his message of salvation. Rather, it represented Jesus making peace between Himself and all of creation [Col 1:15-23], rescuing people from danger and restoring them to holistic wholeness.

Salvation comes not from meditating on ourselves or drawing truth from within, but through God’s intervention into humanity. Jesus, or Jehoshua in Hebrew, meaning “Yahweh saves,” makes possible our renewal and recommitment to God’s offer of covenant relationship. Yeshua Ha’Mashiach, the Anointed Savior, restores, transforms and delivers us – an action He’s been about throughout the OT and NT.  Salvation has a three-fold reality, and extends holistically throughout the breadth of all creation. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ….” – a phrase so aptly and simply so spoken, but yet one that expresses enormous depth and unfathomable hope!



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