THE SALVATION OF MAN
Reflections by Ardel B. Caneday
Professor of New Testament Studies & Biblical Theology
First, the statement calls for our forbearance rather than offense. We would be unwise and unreasonable to presume that the statement’s drafters were British bigots. The use of “man” and “men” in the title and the body does not exclude females from salvation. The term “man” is generic, referring to people without distinction sexually, ethnically, or socially (Gal. 3:28). “Saviour,” the chiefly British spelling, reflects the abiding impact of the King James Version upon our forebears who drafted the statement. Similarly, capitalized pronouns that refer to deity reflect language conventions of former days to show reverence. Rather than stumble over the form of the statement, we ought to reflect upon the rich, full, and dignified heritage of Northwestern College, a heritage founded upon the Word of God, through which alone we know Christ Jesus who is salvation to us.
In a statement about salvation why begin with a proposition that concerns our being created in God’s image? Within God’s created order, humans alone bear God’s image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-28). When Adam disobeyed, we who are his offspring did not lose God’s image and likeness. Yet, our reflection of God’s likeness is marred, twisted, and contorted with sin and with death because we bear the likeness of our sinful forebear, Adam (Gen. 5:1-2). We were born dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1). We chose by nature to live in sin and in spiritual death as Adam’s children who were fully deserving of God’s wrath (Eph. 2:1-3). Rather than acknowledge God, whom we knew by virtue of bearing his image, we purposely suppressed the truth in unrighteousness and exchanged truthfulness for falsehood. We chose unreality instead of reality as we traded away the glory of bearing the image of the immortal Creator for images fashioned in the likeness of images of created things (Rom. 1:18-25). We became idolaters.
God purposed to redeem us from this hopeless and godless condition. As sin and death indiscriminately corrupt every one of us, so God in his mercy and grace also does not show partiality. He did not purpose to redeem Jews alone; he redeems people from every nation who fear him and do righteousness (Acts 10:34-35). But how does anyone who is by nature living in sin and in spiritual death come to fear the Lord and to do righteousness and become acceptable with God?
Because of his great love for us, God, who is wealthy with mercy, sent his Son to redeem us from enslavement to sin and death. God’s Son became for us the Second Man, the Last Adam, so that when Jesus Christ died to sin we also died to sin, and when he was made alive, we also were made alive in him (Rom. 5:1-19; 6:1-7; 1 Cor. 15:21-22, 44-49). Christ Jesus came to restore us as bearers of God’s image and as ones to whom God had given dominion over creation. We, whom God has made alive in Christ Jesus, have put off the old human and have put on the new human that is created after God’s likeness in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:20-24; Col. 3:8-10).
Now, are you beginning to understand why the statement begins with a proposition about being made in God’s image? It is because God made mankind last in his first creation and crowned humanity with his own dignity—with glory and honor—and made humans to rule over his creation, but death came through the sin of disobedience to twist and to distort both humanity and humanity’s habitation, earth itself (Eccl. 1:15; 7:13). It is because God begins his new creation by first forming a new humanity out of mankind which he formed last in the first creation. For, as Paul says, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17). Salvation in Christ Jesus entails nothing less than the creation of a new humanity to inhabit the new creation when all things are made new (Rev. 21:1-5).
Dominion is already being restored to us in Christ Jesus. First, we begin by reigning in this new life through Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:17). The form that this dominion takes is that sin no longer reigns over us in our mortal bodies because we offer ourselves to God as people who have been brought forth from death to life (Rom. 6:11-14). For us, then, salvation in Christ Jesus is fundamentally about making us alive in Christ, restoring us to bear his image with increasing clarity as we are being transformed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).
In this way, then, we are God’s new creation in Christ Jesus in advance of the Last Day when all things will be made new. Then we shall tread upon Satan and we shall receive dominion over all God’s created order. Then creation itself will receive liberation from its bondage to the curse for sin and will be brought into the freedom of the glory that God will restore to us (Rom. 16:20; 8:21). In that day, all that is not yet ours in Christ Jesus will become ours (Rom. 8:31-32).
Salvation, from beginning to end, is all of grace. Therefore as salvation draws nearer than when we first believed, we patiently await the dawn of the Day of Salvation in hope for that which we do not yet have, namely the redemption of our bodies to inhabit the redeemed earth (Rom. 13:11; 8:24-25).
We affirm these things as children of the Reformation who believe that all these things will be ours through faith, without any merit, apart from works in which we would boast, and without attributing effectuality to ceremonies or rituals, significant as they are to nurture our faith. For this is what we believe Paul means when he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not from works, lest anyone boasts” (Eph. 2:8-9). But Paul adds a further explanation to these familiar words, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which he prepared in advance that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). Indeed, we are saved by God’s grace through faith, the whole of which is God’s gift to us. Yet this faith is never alone but invariably shows itself with good works.
If we affirm the biblical teaching concerning salvation in Christ Jesus, the ramifications for our lives are legion. Let’s consider four.
1. All that we have in Christ Jesus is ours through God’s mercy and grace. Therefore, humility and gratitude are basic character traits of God’s children. Do these characterize us? There is no excuse for sin.
2. We who trust in Jesus Christ are members of the same family twice. First we are siblings because we all came from one father, Adam. Thus, nature teaches us that we must conduct ourselves impartially toward others as members of the human family. More than this, however, we who belong to our Lord Jesus Christ are siblings because we all have one parentage by God’s grace. Because we are already new creatures, no longer are we to view others from a worldly point of view (2 Cor. 5:16). Therefore, we are obligated by grace to behave as siblings who share a glorious inheritance in Christ Jesus, whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free.
3. Because God’s salvation entails both us and our habitation, we ought always to strive against the ravages of sin and of death with regard to ourselves (our bodies, minds, talents, gifts, workmanship) and our habitation (our families, possessions, spheres of influence, craft or guild, relationships). God’s purpose is to redeem his created order and to redeem a new humanity to populate the renewed earth. Thus, the resurrection of Christ Jesus is God’s pledge that he will never abandon his created order to the ravages of sin and death or to the devil. The hope of resurrection impels us to labor as unto the Lord in the work that the he has given us to do (Col. 3:23-25). This is so whether we teach biology, music, language, Scripture, or anything else in the classroom, or whether we sweep floors, maintain structures and machines, cook food, balance books, reshelf books, or whatever we may do because we know that in the Lord our labor is not in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). “Labor in the Lord” is not a reference to Christian ministry alone. It refers to every commendable enterprise.
4. Being new creatures in Christ entails renewal of the whole person. Therefore, salvation in Christ Jesus is the foundational principle for education that refuses to be satisfied with anything less than the pursuit of thinking and reasoning rightly concerning God’s creation in every rightful educational field and discipline. For this reason, we ought daily to dedicate ourselves in the disciplines we teach, to the lofty task of assisting our students to think and to reason in the Word-revelatory dimension that is distinctive to education that is Christian and is absent from education that strives to be secular as it excludes the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.