LIBERATED FROM THE ENEMY
"Inconceivable!" cried the villain in Princess Bride.
Inigo Montoya replied, "You keep using that word. I do not think it
means what you think it means." Most of my adult life, whenever I read
"savior," or "save" in scripture, I always thought of the afterlife
and sin's punishment. In Inigo Montoya's words, I kept reading that
word, but it did not mean what I thought it meant. When
the angel proclaimed, "in the city of David there has been born for you
a Savior," my mind translated "Savior" into
a Rescuer from justice after death. We evangelicals have a gospel
life-after-death and an indistinct relationship-with-God before
death. If our central message is about another lifetime and about relationship,
is it any wonder why most men dismiss the Bible as lacking
1st CENTURY CONFUSION
I believe we have allowed confusion in the first century to confuse us too. Israel looked for a conquering King to overthrow Rome and establish a kingdom of this world. We have let their error move us to an opposite extreme, replacing one misunderstanding of salvation for yet another. The fact that the gospel was not about establishing a worldly king has been mistaken by many as though the gospel was not about the establishing of any king at all. Likewise, the fact that the gospel was not about overthrowing the Roman kingdom (or empire) does not negate the fact that the gospel was about overthrowing another kingdom.(eph2:2)
Mark 1:14-15 specifically states Jesus proclaimed the gospel of the kingdom and said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is has come near; repent and believe in the gospel." When King Jesus appeared to Paul, He sent him to testify of Himself so people would turn "from the dominion of Satan to God." The gospel is the kingdom of Jesus, thereby our liberation from the domain of Satan. Colossians 1:13 says God "delivered us out of the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love." In Acts 26:18, Jesus told Paul that people will respond to his testimony by turning "from the dominion of Satan to God".
1st CENTURY SALVATION
The modern Evangelical confusion of atonement-as-gospel has shaped our reading of soterian the Greek word for salvation. At it's root, soterian simply means "out." It is rescue or deliverance out of something. Having confused the gospel as if it were atonement, we then associate salvation with the atonement's provision of escape-from-punishment in the afterlife. The Bible rarely speaks of salvation as deliverance from future wrath. As illustration, the first New Testament use of salvation is found in the first chapter of Luke where salvation means liberation from enemies:
68 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74 that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might
serve him without fear,
75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days." (esv)
Zachariah was "filled with the Holy Spirit" when he said "soterian" the way the New Testament nearly always uses it: as liberating people from the hands of their enemies, not as saving them from hell or from justice's punishment.
THE GOSPEL OF LIBERATION
To read "save", "Savior", and "salvation" in their true meaning, we can substitute the words liberate, Liberator, and liberation just as The Voice translation of the Bible uses them. When we understand Savior and salvation as Liberator and liberation, we understand salvation in complete agreement with the gospel of the kingdom which Jesus preached. When we understand Savior/salvation as Liberator/liberation, we understand salvation the way it is almost always presented in the New Testament: as the liberation of humans from a tyrannical kingdom. When we understand Savior/Salvation, as Liberator/liberation, we understand it in agreement with the commission Jesus gave to Paul to turn people "from the dominion of Satan to God."
When we understand Savior/salvation as Liberator/liberation, we understand why the King's ambassadors simply preached the gospel as "God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus" in Acts 2:36. When we understand Savior/salvation as Liberator/liberation, we understand why scripture never records the King's ambassadors preaching atonement to outsiders.
GOSPEL OF CHRIST
The kingship of Jesus is God's news, yet the His ambassadors never explained to outsiders how that news benefitted them. They did not give a sales pitch proving the kingship of Jesus to be good. They simply identified His kingship as God's message (acts8:12) and proclaimed it. Similarly then, I feel no need to convince people they are living in darkness or convince people they need a liberator. I simply proclaim what the apostles proclaimed to outsiders: "Jesus is the King" and the proof is His resurrection from the dead.
The gospel of salvation (eph1:13) is the gospel of liberation, not the gospel of atonement. The good news of atonement is news for insiders, not scripturally modeled as a message for outsiders. Those who rejected the authority of King Jesus never heard from His ambassadors about the gift of justification, the cost of redemption, or the blood of propitiation. They simply heard "King Jesus is Lord" and they heard the proof of His lordship: the historically proven resurrection. We would do well to imitate the pattern of preaching laid by the first ambassadors of the King.
ATONEMENT IN LIBERATION
For those who worry that I minimize the importance of the atonement, this article will enflame their suspicion. So I invite readers to see <the centrality I place on the atonement to daily life>. Relegating the atonement to a secondary place behind the gospel enables one to embrace the atonement more passionately by elevating it from an outsider's doctrine into an insider's daily miracle. For most of my adult life, I misunderstood Romans to be a list of truths which outsiders needed to believe rather than the foundation by which insiders daily experience God's transformation, power, and victory. Rightly understanding the gospel as the kingship of Jesus enables us to identify Romans 6:11 and 6:13 the way they are written: as commands for insiders rather than doctrines for outsiders. I do not minimize the atonement; instead, I exalt the atonement by recognizing its scriptural place as the primary benefit of the gospel rather than the gospel itself.
"Liberated not Saved" by Matthew Bryan was first published at www.matthewbryan.net on May 18th, 2013 and updated as "Liberated from the Enemy" on July 6th, 2013. All rights are reserved.