BONUS | Every Woman a Theologian Preview | Chapter 5

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Hi friends, you’re listening to a bonus episode of Verity Podcast. This episode is an excerpt from the audio version of Every Woman a Theologian, which launched into the world on February 28th. If you’d like to listen to the entire book, you can grab it in Audible or you can get it anywhere you like in your audiobooks.

Chapter 5. Soteriology, no longer a slave: The Doctrine of Salvation. There was no escaping the whirr of red and blue, the shrill scream behind me. My anxious eyes glanced at the dashboard. Too late, it was too late. Only a few weeks after moving to Virginia, I was stopped by a police officer between Appomattox and Lynchburg on my way to work, caught in the sneaky bait and switch of a speed trap. Perhaps it wasn’t so sneaky, I was flying through the 45-mile per hour zone at a breakneck 70. The officer waited for people like me, college girls in cheap red cars. He pulled me over, wrote me a ticket, and told me I could appeal it in court to have the significant points on my license taken off. I had never been to court before. The pretty brick building gleamed in the April sun, innocently peering between dogwood blooms. The only innocent thing present, I thought, clicking through the hall in my work heels, I slipped into the back of the court. 

Finally, they called my name, and I took my place before the judge, and the officer who had pulled me over. All I felt were eyes. The eyes of the others in court, the eyes of the officer, the eyes of the judge boring holes into me, the one who always had to rush, the one who was always late. Others had told me what to expect and what to do. When you go in, they’ll call your name. The judge will ask the officer what happened when he pulled you over, he’ll ask you how you plead. You’ll say guilty. I’d agreed to all of it, willing to do anything to keep the points off my license. There I stood, prim in my work skirt, staring up at the judge. How do you plead? He asked, “Guilty.” Guilty, it’s a difficult word to acknowledge. You’re probably a better driver than I am and have a lot fewer speeding tickets. It’s not hard to do. I hope you’ve never had to show up in court for reckless driving. It’s not fun. However, the experience of standing before a judge granted me a new perspective on the biblical analogies to civil law in the first century. 

The Bible frequently uses legal language to describe our salvation and the process by which Jesus bridged the gap between us and God. The Bible’s teaching on salvation is described theologically as soteriology. Scripture uses legal language guilt, payment, freedom, and judgment to tell us what salvation does. Legal terminology is used in 1 and 2 Timothy, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians and Romans to describe how the gap between us and God is closed. God is a judge. Through Christ we are justified before God. When we see legal language in the New Testament, we often imagine a criminal act, like my speeding. Paul may have been speaking to a different legal situation, the freeing of a slave. Manumissio Vindicta was a simple Roman ceremony Paul was undoubtedly familiar with. He referenced similar themes in 1 Corinthians. In Vindicta, the master and slave would appear before a Roman official accompanied by a Roman citizen. The Roman citizen would touch the slave’s head with the staff and declare him free. The Master, who until now was holding the slave, turned the slave around and let him go with the words: Hunc hominem liberum volo, meaning I want this man to be free. The fall of humanity in Genesis 3 enslaved humanity to evil. Ever since evil was chosen by Adam, we’ve experienced the pain of a fallen world. We’ve been separated from God’s perfection, unable to dwell with Him the way he intended. 

As discussed in our last chapter on Christology Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were God’s rescue plan. Like the slave before the Roman judge, we stand captive to evil, longing for freedom. Like the advocate, the Roman citizen, Jesus stands with staff in hand to appeal for that freedom and release us. To be saved is to be set free. Soteriology contains three vital elements; justification, a change of identity from sinner to saint, sanctification, the process by which we become like Jesus and glorification the final result of Christian life. Christian thought is incredibly diverse offering multiple perspectives on each of these elements. Salvation theology combines what we’ve learned about the nature of scripture, God, the universe and sin to explain God’s ultimate goal, restoring people to Himself.

In the next few pages, we will explore how Christ’s atonement grants us a change of identity. How the cross frees us from sin eternally and presently, how we can walk out our new identity with increasing holiness and our hope for future glory justified by faith. The book of Romans Paul’s great theological treatise discusses the process of justification at length, but he sums it up succinctly in Chapter 4. “To the one who does not work, but trusts God, who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness,” verse 5. It’s clear from this verse and its context that Jesus atoning sacrifice saves us not by any work of our own. Our lack of perfection prevents us from reaching God on our own strength. Our faith in Christ, our shift in allegiance, as scholar Matthew Bates puts it, “Grants us a righteousness we could not earn with all the good deeds in the world.” In other words, “We don’t work for salvation, we trust for it.” Some Christians believe God chooses ahead of time who will trust in Him by regenerating their hearts and enabling them to respond. 

Others believe God sovereignly grants his people the ability to respond to his initiative of their own accord. Either way, this trust results in righteousness and that process is called justification. But what does justification mean exactly? I love how 19th century Anglican Bishop Handley Moule described it. To be justified, he said, “Is more than being forgiven by God, it means being received by Him as if we had not grieved Him.” Christ is the catalyst to a complete identity transformation. Jesus’ death on the cross was effectual for all who put their faith in Him. The grace imparted through faith removes our past life and identity. God takes us into his arms as children as if we had never broken his heart through sin. The righteousness of Christ completely absorbs who were before we met Him. This transformative experience of God’s justice is not just a release from bondage. As Moule went on to say, “We need more than forgiveness. We need more than an escape route from sin. We need the voice which says not merely you may go, you are let off your penalty, but you may come, you are welcomed into my presence and fellowship.”

Justification is both the clang of freedom’s bell and a shout of welcome home. The atoning sacrifice of Christ gives a final verdict. Those in Christ are part of a new family, released from sin and gathered to God’s arms. Paul described this power in his letter to young Pastor Titus. When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. Whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life, Titus 3:4-7. Salvation, Paul wrote, “Is not something we receive because we’re good enough or wise enough, or fast enough, or flashy enough. Righteousness is by faith and grace, and through the justification of God, we receive eternal life.”

Here, Paul employed another strong image, that of an heir to a great inheritance. I’m a bit of a period drama guru. I eat up those masterpiece classics like North & South, Mansfield Park, and Little Dorrit. In so many of these movies and the books upon which they are based, the future of a main character depends on an inheritance. If you don’t get an inheritance, you need to marry someone who does. If you do the wrong thing, you can be disinherited. How many times is a female character passed over for the girl with a bigger inheritance? Too many. In these dramas and in Paul’s day, an inheritance was protected with certain laws and regulations to make sure the correct person received the estate. Sometimes it required a coming of age. Other times it was dependent upon their career choice. If the person fulfilled the requirements of the law, they could receive their inheritance. Not so with God.

The inheritance we did not deserve and could never earn became ours through Christ. It’s as if he, the true heir, drapes his royal robes over our shoulders and says, “She is one of mine. She is a co-heir.” The Greek word dikaioo means to declare righteous. This is exactly what Christ does for us. All the rewards of perfect righteousness, peace with God, insurmountable joy, security in God’s love, reconciliation, forgiveness of sin are accessible to us through our new identity as heirs in Christ. Let’s skip back to the Roman ceremony of manumissio vindicta. Can you picture it? The Master holds the slave, a staff touches the bowed head, and there come the words of liberty, “I want you to be free, with one turnaround the slave is a free man.” Keep this image in your mind as you read Paul’s words to the Galatian church. 

In the same way, we also, when were children were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law. So that we might receive adoption as sons and because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father. You are no longer a slave, but a son. And if a son, then an heir through God, Galatians 4:3-7. We are left to conclude what the apostles affirmed. To be a Christian is to embrace a new identity. We are completely forgiven, granted a rich inheritance, and invited into Edenic fellowship with God. We’ve been changed and this changes everything. 

Branches of Salvation theology, reimagine your faith family tree, strong and ancient with a rising trunk and branches reaching to the sky. I can almost hear the birds gathering in the branches, singing the praises of God, and the people who knew Him. Your Christian family tree is rich with history, but your Christian family tree involves more than you and more than your family. It includes the entirety of the church, every believer from past, present and future. As you may have noticed, many of those believers belong to different types of churches than you, what are sometimes called denominations. How should we understand these groups and subgroups within the church? Think of Christianity itself as the trunk. Each denomination, which just means out of the name, a subgroup within Christianity is a branch on that tree. These groups did not develop because of petty fights over the church carpet or debates about hymns. Most denominations were born because of theological differences over important doctrines like salvation.

The creeds sum up Christian fundamentals, the trunk of our family tree. The branches are formed when intelligent Christians ask how? How does baptism work? How did God save his people? How does the Holy Spirit grant spiritual gifts? All Christians agree that salvation, baptism, and the Holy Spirit are essentials of our faith. But we differ on how those essentials function. When it comes to salvation, people have theorized about its process for the entire 2000 years of church history. These debates never threatened the trunk of the tree. They just grew more branches. As long as Christians unite around the core truths, our branches can intertwine and mingle peacefully. Sadly, many Christians do not expose themselves to other branches. They don’t read material outside of their denominational comfort zone because they don’t understand how the other branches arrive at their biblical conclusions, they fight, they argue, they condescend, they lose their love. 

We can change this by understanding the soteriological perspectives of other Christians. We equip ourselves to have productive conversations and even better relationships following our four perspectives on salvation from your brothers and sisters in the faith. The people walking with you on this road to Christ. These are not specific denominations. They are views of how salvation works and they may be found in any number of denominations around the world with the exception of Roman Catholicism whose theology and church are bound together as one. By including these, I am not endorsing every single teaching of these denominational groups. Rather, I am encouraging you to begin a lifelong journey of understanding what other Christians believe. 

Thank you for listening to this excerpt of Every Woman of Theologian: Know What You Believe. Live It Confidently. Communicate It Graciously. You can listen to our two previous excerpts right here on the podcast and to listen to the entire book, you can grab it in Audible or your favorite audiobook source. You can also read the hardcover or Kindle version on Amazon or you can grab it at Christian Book, Barnes & Noble, or your local Indie bookstore. Thank you so much for being part of getting Every Woman of Theologian into the World.

 

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