As Christians, what do we mean when we say "salvation"? The word is certainly commonplace, and naturally everybody wants it, but what exactly is "it", after all. Are we all thinking about the same thing when we say that word, or is everyone's conception of salvation a little different? Of course, the most widespread notion of salvation pertains to the afterlife - heaven. "If I die today, will I go to heaven?" wonders the anxious Christian. But is heaven consistent with the biblical concept of salvation? The New Testament does talk about eternal life, but it also places emphasis on the bodily "resurrection of the dead" and "a new creation". For Paul, salvation is decidedly in the present - "now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (1 Cor. 6:2). And in the Old Testament, salvation has an undeniable "this-worldliness" that was much admired by Bonhoeffer. So does salvation encompass all of these motifs, or none of them?
Regardless, everyone desires salvation, even if they're not exactly sure what this means. Thus, the concept easily degrades into a form of wish-fulfillment and escapism. People speculate about how to obtain this incredible salvation, and they wonder about who's saved and who's not. And it's quite a conundrum, leading to really hard questions like: Is salvation predestined or do I have a choice? Do the saints persevere until the end, or will some fall away? What about those who have never heard the Gospel, and what about my uncle who never goes to church?
I don't have any decent answers for these questions, and I confess to being confused about the nature of salvation. Heaven would be nice, but I have trouble believing that this gorgeous world that God created is a mere proving ground for the afterlife. And I certainly wouldn't become a Christian just to punch my ticket for the hereafter.
Recently, I came across the following description of salvation, written in an article by David B. Hart. I don't know if I agree with it completely, but it hits close to the mark:
"Salvation was not understood by the [Church] fathers in that rather feeble and formal way many Christians have habitually thought of it at various periods in the Church's history: as some sort of forensic exoneration accompanied by a ticket of entry into an Elysian aftermath of sun-soaked meadows and old friends and consummate natural beatitude. Rather, salvation meant nothing less than being joined to the living God by the mediation of the God-man Himself, brought into living contact with the transfiguring glory of the divine nature, made indeed partakers of the divine nature itself (2 Peter 1:4) and co-heirs of the Kingdom of God."