It is certainly and wonderfully true that many people find that their life with God starts through responding to an altar call, or praying a prayer of forgiveness, or crying out for mercy in a rescue mission. It is certainly and wonderfully true that God’s capacity to save us is not dependent on our ability to correctly define salvation.
It is also certainly and wonderfully true that the message of Jesus and his early followers is not just the forgiveness of sins that allows us to escape the bad place and go to the good place. It is newness of life. To be sure, this new life includes forgiveness, but it includes so much more. This is why the primary word used as a synonym for salvation in the New Testament is life:
- I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. JOHN 10:10
- Whoever has the Son has life. 1 JOHN 5:12
- Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. EPHESIANS 2:4-5
In the New Testament, the terms salvation and eternal life and Kingdom of God all speak to this same life-altering reality that we grasp by becoming disciples of Jesus.
We see this particularly well in Mark 10, when a rich man asks Jesus what he must do “to inherit eternal life” (verse 17). Jesus equates this with “enter[ing] the kingdom of God” (he uses this phrase three times in verses 23-25). The disciples respond, “Who then can be saved?” (verse 26).
As we see in this exchange, to have eternal life is to enter the Kingdom of God is to be saved.
When the rich man asks Jesus how to do that, Jesus does not say, “Pray this prayer, and then you can go on your way.” He doesn’t say, “Believe the right things about me, and then you’ll get into heaven when you die.” Rather, he tells the man to dethrone money and enthrone Jesus—not to earn forgiveness but to live in the reality of the Kingdom. “Your will be done . . .”
Salvation isn’t about getting you into heaven; it’s about getting heaven into you.
It’s not about relocation; it’s about transformation.
It’s not about what God wants to do to you; it’s about what God wants to do in you.
It’s about allowing Jesus’ Kingdom life to permeate our little lives one moment, one choice at a time.
John Ortberg, Eternity Is Now in Session: A Radical Rediscovery of What Jesus Really Taught about Salvation, Eternity, and Getting to the Good Place (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2018).
I have just completed a series of lessons on the theme of Eternity Is Now In Session. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year.