Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Isaiah 12:2-6 Re-thinking Salvation

KEY TEXT: Isa 12:2-3 "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation." With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

KEY THOT: The Hebrew word for “salvation” (used 3 times here) is yeshuwah, from which we get the names Joshua and Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew). Yeshuwah means literally “deliverance” from whatever that threatens our well-being and is used primarily with God as the subject. It is a this-worldly deliverance, meaning divine help, victory or prosperity in this life. In KJV, it has been translated variously as deliverance, health, help, salvation, welfare. The Greek equivalent of this Hebrew word translated in the LXX (Greek OT) is soteria, the NT word used for the salvation that Jesus came to bring.

Keeping in mind the very temporal use of the word yeshuwah and translated by the Greek OT (LXX) as soteria, we should assume the continuity its meaning when adopted by the apostles to describe salvation in the NT. The other-worldly understanding of salvation as an after-life existence is not Hebrew but Greek (Platonic). We are thinking of salvation more like the Greek philosophers than Hebrew prophets when we associate it with the other-worldly existence rather than the this-worldly experience.

The spiritualization of salvation in the church history started in the second century because of the predominant Greek culture in the Roman empire. It was a result of trying to present biblical salvation in Greek philosophical categories, viz. by marrying Platonic idea of salvation as escape from this evil temporal reality through death. The fruit of this marriage of philosophy with biblical theology reached its height in the medieval period, where salvation was  primary about escaping hell to enter heaven.  Slowly, western Christianity began to replace the Hebrew idea of salvation as God's intervention and engagement in this evil temporal reality to deliver us from the present evil with an after-life concept of salvation. This theological legacy has been passed down to us modern believers in Asia through Western missionaries. In some denominations, the strong Platonic concept of after-life salvation causes them to reject outright divine intervention to save the sick and deliver those who are oppressed by evil spirits in this temporal reality.

The evils implied in the use of yeshuwah/soteria in the OT scripture are: human enemies, economic poverty, physical dangers, sicknesses, Satan and death. And this meaning of salvation has not really changed when we go from OT into the Gospels: "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me" (Mt 11:4-6). When Paul asserts that "all Scripture is God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16), he was referring primarily to OT scripture, for the NT scripture is still in the process of being written.

So, we rejoice and celebrate God's salvation brought by Jesus at his first advent which he effected for us by defeating evil and the devil at the Cross. Through his death and resurrection, we share his victory over evil in this life: depravity, diseases, demons and even death. God's salvation is more than just forgiveness of sins--it's divine intervention to save us from evil in our lives and in the world. This divine intervention on planet earth is what Jesus calls the "good news of the kingdom of God."  Of course, we only experience the salvation blessings in part now—but one day, at Jesus’ second advent, we will experience all the blessings of salvation in full forever.

So Paul exhorts us in Philippians 2:12 to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. Salvation is a gift of grace received by faith. It is not something reserved for the after-life (we don’t need salvation then because we would have nothing to be saved from in heaven). Rather, Paul implies that we are to let the salvation we have received to be worked out in our lives in this present reality: "for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). God works in us, but we must work it out in our own lives. Only then will the non-believing world see the salvation of our God in our lives in terms of God’s deliverance in our personal life (health and joy), our family life (love and the presence of God), and in our campus and work life (success with ethical integrity).

Father, what a great salvation that You have given to us in Yeshua our Saviour. May You help us to daily work this salvation out in our lives that the non-believing world may see God’s intervention in our personal, family, campus and work life. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

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