Last Saturday I posted a response that challenges a video by a leading Christian author who said that discipleship hinges on whether or not universalism is false—as in, if universalism is true, then we have no reason to leave all for the sake of Jesus. I wanted to take the discussion there one step further into the way we discuss salvation and how it impacts discipleship.
As I said last week, most Christians agree that the Gospel is more than a ticket for us into heaven, but what is it supposed to accomplish then?
I used to think that the Gospel was only supposed to deliver us from sin. Jesus took my place, and that’s all there is. However, I still struggled with sin and living as a faithful disciple of Jesus.
When I discovered the atonement theory known as Christus Victor, I found a historically rooted narrative for salvation that tied substitutionary salvation into the entire story of scripture and gave a full picture of the Gospel.
A Gospel that only delivers us from sin without encompassing the rest of the salvation story naturally becomes our ticket to heaven. Sin is defeated, we get to go to heaven, and then we’re left to wonder what to do with the rest of the Bible and the persistence of sin.
Understanding the death of Jesus as substitutionary for us certainly captures a central event in our salvation, and I’m sure if we only know that much, God can work with us. However, that is only part of the larger narrative of God’s salvation. If God only wants to substitute himself for us, then universalism certainly is a problem that threatens a specific method of being saved by understanding something about the work of Christ.
However, in the larger narrative of salvation, universalism becomes irrelevant. While I believe universalism is still wrong because it turns God into a deity who forces himself on us whether we want him or not, we don’t need to worry about whether or not its true because we are entering the advancing Kingdom in the present and are being transformed into God’s holy people.
We follow God because he has delivered us from sin and death and is healing and using us.
In other words, God is placing his law in our hearts through his Spirit because he has defeated sin. The process by which he defeated sin was substitutionary in that Jesus took our place, but he has now defeated sin and has given us his Spirit so that we can live in his freedom and share that Good News of the Kingdom with others.
By saying that Jesus took our place, we’re only sharing half of the good news. While we need that victory, we need the resurrection and the consequent filling of the Spirit. We weren’t saved just to be saved. We were saved to be holy and to do God’s work here on earth.
I see the victory of Christ as the controlling narrative of scripture where God delivers us from our sins and the power of evil that we often submit to in this life—we are responsible for our sins and need his substitionary deliverance. The means is substitutionary, but the narrative is larger and more powerful than Jesus taking our place. We have been delivered for his holy calling.
When we find that larger narrative, we can see that Gospel does more than defeat sin, it opens us to God’s healing power in our lives and empowers us to follow Jesus as his ambassadors who are compelled by the love of God to share his Kingdom’s Good News.