Salvation Is More than You Think

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Read John 14:23–24; Ephesians 2:8–10; Philippians 2:12–13

I was fortunate to attend a conference where Dallas Willard, nearing the end of his life, spoke about sanctification, discipleship, and spiritual formation. He said that much of the church is preaching something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Specifically, it is teaching three types of variant gospel messages that aren’t heretical so much as incomplete.

  • The Liberation Gospel. This message, not entirely unfamiliar to the Western evangelical church, focuses on freedom from bondage; not just to sin, but social, political, and systemic bondage. While God clearly opposes oppression of the poor and the marginalized, the gospel of Jesus Christ is not foremost a message of freedom from societal oppression.
  • The Gospel of How to Be a Good. (Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Member of This or That Church). This message begins with Jesus’ death and resurrection, but quickly moves down and to the right on our picture because it is all based on works and being right (theologically and morally at best, but at times even racially and politically).
  • The Gospel of How to Get My Ticket Punched to Heaven with Minimal Inconvenience. The second two are extremely prevalent in the Western church. The results, sad indeed, include stunted spiritual growth in individuals, competition between and even hatred among different churches and denominations, and an unspoken question: What is the least amount I have to do in order to escape hell and slip into heaven?

Justification, having our sins forgiven, is truly amazing and celebrated, but it is not the whole picture of biblical salvation. Saying this will put me in the doghouse with some because we have so focused on getting people into heaven that I’ll be accused of a works righteousness viewpoint. But I’ve already said we can never be righteous enough outside of Christ’s imparted righteousness. I’m not saying justification has anything to do with works; I am saying that salvation is not only justification, but also sanctification. God wants us not only saved from but transformed into; to become who we were meant to be and obediently engaged in his work.

It seems clear to me that this is true when I read the back half of Scriptures like Ephesians 2:8–10. And understanding salvation as justification plus sanctification is the only way one can read Ephesians 2:8–9 (“for it is by grace you have been saved . . . not by works” [NIV]) and Philippians 2:12–13 (“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”) without seeing Paul, the author of both, as being inconsistent or contradictory. We cannot live into God’s full salvation and continue forward in our spiritual journey toward Christlikeness without sanctification.

Closing Exercise

Reflect on the following statement: “Salvation is not only justification, but also sanctification,” and the question: “Is salvation more than permission to enter heaven?” In light of today’s lesson, what does “being saved” mean to you?

Do you hunger for more—more from life, more from yourself, more from God? So many people in our churches have not regularly experienced good news, comfort, wholeness, freedom, joyous energy, or beauty. So many have stalled in becoming who God intends them to be. Perhaps you, those you love, or those you lead feel this way. The Experience: Breaking Through the Barriers That Block Spiritual Growth is a short tool that provides a clear map of the abundant living journey, the obstacles that prevent progress, and offers fresh fuel for moving forward once again. Get it from our store here.

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After more than a decade in engineering and business—and running from a call to ministry he received in high school—Rob Mehner was hired as an associate by a local church to help with their exponential growth. While working in that church, he received his master of divinity degree from Asbury Theological Seminary and was ordained in the United Methodist Church. But it was the work of God through the Holy Spirit, after years of spiritual stagnation, that changed his life, empowered his call, and inspired the class that God has used to change many lives and from which this study is born. Rob and his wife, Kristy, have two adult children, Stefan and Casey. After twenty years of pastoral ministry in local churches, he is serving as a missionary in Guatemala.

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