When I was a freshman in Bible college one of my required courses was Theology I. This was essentially an introduction to Christian theology. One of the things that made this class experience unique was the fact that it was in a one-week modular format, and the other thing that made it a little odd was the fact that every single freshman in the college was in this class. Now, I didn’t go to a major university for my BTh, but there were still just a little under 200 students in that class which anybody will tell you is a lot. Anyway, during one of the sessions we were having a discussion about baptism and the nature of sacraments in the evangelical church, and the instructor seemed to be pushing on the importance of baptism to the Christian faith more than some in the class were comfortable with. It was at this point that a student raised his hand and asked, “Sir are you trying to say that if a person isn’t baptized he isn’t saved?” The professor, after a very slight pause, answered, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I think it’s about time for a 15 minute break.”
This is only a funny story if you’ve grown up in a conservative Christian community, because only then do you understand the vital code language involved with the word “saved” and it’s cognates. When the professor said this and then dismissed the class there was turmoil and anger like you could hardly imagine. People were talking and arguing and even weeping the in hall during the break, worried about whether or not they or their friends were actually “saved.” The problem was, of course, that conservative Christians (and lots of other people interacting with Christian language) very often misunderstand the depth and breadth of the concepts the surround the word “salvation.” Such people think of salvation as a cosmic reprieve from the dual evils of death and hell…like a supernatural get-out-of-jail-free card. And this isn’t wrong. The Scriptures speak many times about the destruction of death on the cross, and about the everlasting life that awaits those who know Christ. But, is this the sum total of the Christian experience of salvation?
You see this first understanding of salvation is a salvation from, but there is more to salvation in the Christian faith. There is also salvation for. You see Christianity is not about escaping from personal danger or achieving eternal wealth and power. Christianity is about self-sacrifice and submission, it is about service before anything else. Even Jesus, whom Christians think of as God incarnate, saw himself as a servant before anything else (Matt. 20:28). And this must be central to our soteriology, our doctrine of salvation, that we are saved for service to God and his creation. When we begin to think of our lives this way a great many problems with modern living begin to melt around us. The love of money and things becomes empty, the need for appreciation and attention feels mean and small, lust and hatred and self-gratification are robbed of their meaning. There are a great many people who see Christianity as stilted and weak because of this emphasis on subjection and service, or as foolish and puritanical because of the emptying of worldly desire. But when I find the core of these truths in my own life, when I feel like a person saved for service, I discover that I am happy, fulfilled and content. This is where I am most empowered to live in the moment, to drink life in, to laugh and feel as though I am who I was meant to be.
There are a great many things about the Christian faith that are generally misunderstood, and I think that beliefs about salvation and service are among the most tragic of these. Christianity should not be rule based, nor should it be a selfish way to escape pain or destruction. It is instead an opportunity, a chance to be the servant that you have always been called to be. Don’t believe that this is important? Imagine for just one moment a world where every single person willingly and intentionally worked for the good of every other person and above all for the glory and praise of God. We call this heaven.