A question often asked in our day is "Are you saved?" Men may mean different things by that question, but if we compare the way (and the number of times) the word "salvation" is used today with how it is used in the Bible, I believe we will see that a wrong emphasis is being held before us. Usually when someone asks this question, the thought is, "If you were to die today, would you be saved from eternal judgment and go to be with Jesus in heaven?" We should be able to answer that question with full assurance, but my question is this: Is this really the main thrust of the teaching of the New Testament? Is it all about "a ticket to heaven" or is the purpose of God much higher?
Let us draw upon the marriage relationship. What is more important—the wedding day or the relationship that follows? I think we would all agree that the wedding is important, as a day when the relationship is made formal and two become one in the eyes of God and man. But the wedding day is only one day, and now life is before the couple. Each day is now devoted to living out the reality that was announced on the wedding day. For the marriage to last, concentration must now be on the relationship. This relationship was proclaimed on the wedding day, but now it must be a real and ongoing experience.
Is not our relationship with Jesus the same? It must have a starting point, but the reality is in the union that is lived out day by day. The command of Jesus was, "Abide in Me and I in you" (John 15:4). "Abiding" has the main thought of continuing in an unending (and deepening) relationship. Thus I believe a better question would be, "Are you abiding in Jesus?" That is a question of present experience, not a past decision. If the relationship is present today, there must have been a beginning. If the relationship is absent today, does it make any difference what happened in the past? Can a decision save us?
Let us go back to the scripture quoted from 2 Peter 1:2-4. Peter tells us that we escape the corruption that is in the world (we are "saved") by being partakers of the divine nature. How do we do this? Peter says it is through the "exceeding great and precious promises." What are these promises? We may think of many things, but I believe we can trace all of God's promises back to two: the promise of a Savior and the promise of the Holy Spirit. All other promises are contained within these two, and both promises are God Himself.
The promise of a coming Savior is deep in the scriptures from the beginning of time. "From this man's seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus—" (Acts 13:23). This Savior was to bring deliverance to Israel and to all mankind. However, the kind of deliverance He was to bring was not clearly understood, for when Jesus presented Himself, He was rejected. Men wanted an earthly deliverance, but God had something higher in mind. The Savior was rejected according to the plan and foreknowledge of God (Jesus was the Lamb "slain from the foundation of the world"), but through the price He paid at Calvary the door was opened for us to the second promise. "Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear" (Acts 2:33). In much of the gospel that is proclaimed today, the difference between the provision of God in Jesus and that which is in the Holy Spirit is not clear; thus, many believers have fallen short of God's intention.
The work of Jesus was to pay the price of sin so that we could be reconciled to God. "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation" (Romans 5:10-11). When a person comes to Jesus, he comes as a sinner asking to be forgiven. Jesus forgives sin based on the price He paid at Calvary. A true transaction with God results in deeds of repentance. Experiencing the reconciliation with God is the result. The weight of sin and guilt that held him down rolls off and he is a free man. This experience is wonderful, more than can be put into words. The enmity is gone, and he can now draw near to God with full assurance. But unfortunately, this is where many stop. They are told that they are now "saved," and then instructed in the ways they should grow up and serve the Lord. The problem is, too often they have only experienced the benefit of one promise. They have not yet partaken of the divine nature because they have not yet received life from God. "…having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."
The scriptures are very clear that partaking of the Holy Spirit is a distinct act of faith separate from forgiveness of sin. One such scripture says, "Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet He had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:14-17). There are many today who teach that when one believes in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin, the Holy Spirit is automatically given. This teaching has left many short of God's provision and purpose. I will not attempt to amplify on this here, but simply point out that there are two promises, and we need both.
What happens when the Holy Spirit comes to abide within? God comes to take possession of that which is rightfully His. "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?" (1 Corinthians 6:19). When God comes to abide within, in the words of Peter, we become "partakers of the divine nature." A union is formed between the spirit of man and the spirit of God. "But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him" (1 Corinthians 6:17). It is this union, this "marriage" to God, that forms the basis of our great salvation. In the words of Paul: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are "in Christ" (in union with Christ) because we have been joined to God through the indwelling of God the Spirit.
God's plan of salvation is union: union with Himself by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Sin brought death, but Jesus came to give us life (John 10:10). He saves us through His life (Romans 5:10). He gives us life not as a gift separate from Himself, but by bringing us into union with God. God's life is eternal by its very nature, and the only way we can have that eternal life is by being brought into this union with God.
All of the teaching given to the churches in the New Testament is with the assumption that this union with God has taken place. This was the gospel at the beginning. The door was now open for God to come to abide within His temple. It was no longer trying to follow the commandments of God written on tablets of stone, but "Christ in you, the hope of glory." While most would agree that this is the concept of New Testament Christianity, the bigger question is whether this relationship actually exists in individuals. To admonish believers to live out of this new relationship—God dwelling within—if in fact He is not, is a setup for failure. The root problem for so many believers lies just here. They have been told that they are "a new creation in Christ Jesus" and that they are "partakers of the divine nature" but in experience they have only known forgiveness of sin. They still need to be baptized by Jesus with the Holy Spirit—brought into union with God. Only then can they live in the power of His endless life.