The Bible’s Best Description of Salvation Is a Phrase We Rarely Use

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How Paul points the way to a fresh way of seeing faith.

Years ago during graduate studies at Regent College, I had a desperate talk with Eugene Peterson about how my PhD had turned the words of God into a great, big research project. I was trying to read my lifeless Bible, but I was interrupted 1,000 times by children needing to be fed, changed, read to, and more. I begged him to give me a spiritual discipline, some rope to haul me out of the hole I was in.

“Well, Julie,” he said, “is there anything you are doing in a disciplined manner already?”

I thought about my newborn daughter, Iona, and the hours that I spent nailed to our couch feeding her. She had reflux, and most of what went into her immediately came up again, which meant that I had to repeat the feed all over again. “Nursing Iona is the only thing I can count on,” I said. “She makes sure of that.”

He patted my hand, then, like a parent consoling a dissatisfied child who is not content with their lot in life. “Julie, that is your spiritual discipline. Now start paying attention to what you are already doing. Be present.”

In that moment and so many others like it, I was weakened by a very common and insidious temptation: I wanted to be for Christ instead of being in Christ. I saw my familial responsibilities as obstacles to a godly life when in fact they were the very place he wanted to meet me. Accordingly, I had to radically revise my view of obedience to include the simple act of abiding in Christ.

This idea of being “in Christ” is arguably one of the most potent—and perplexing—aspects of Paul’s letters.

Although we tend to speak of salvation as “Jesus in my heart” (a phrase used only one time in the Bible—Eph. 3:17) …

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