What if I told you that most American evangelicals have salvation mostly right. Personally, if someone said that I had salvation partially wrong, I would be very concerned.
As Luke concludes his story of the early church, rather than maybe the introduction to the early church, he concludes with a statement in Acts 2:47 where he says:
And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
Acts 2:47 NLT
The word “saved,” particularly in an evangelical American church context, is an evocative word. When we are saved, most of us think about praying a prayer or responding to an altar call. The result of that moment was the saving of our soul; that we will go to heaven when we die. However, should it not bother us that Jesus never once said, “Raise your hand if you’d like to follow me…” That he never held an altar call… That he never invited people to pray and invite him into their hearts as their personal Lord and Savior. That Jesus never said the words, “Follow me so you can get to heaven when you die.” Yet for evangelical Christians, we have made getting to heaven our primary focus! This is surprising because Jesus’ message about the kingdom was just the opposite. Jesus came to proclaim Good News, which was that heaven was here and now. The radical news of the kingdom is that heaven has invaded earth. Yet ironically, Christians are preoccupied with getting out of here!
What is really going on with salvation? Is there something that we have missed in this story? Most of us have missed an essential part of the real Good News that we need to recapture! When Luke says the people were being saved, the Greek word that he uses of the word sozo. It’s used 110 times in the New Testament so we know a lot about what this word meant. The word “saved” English translations has two distinct biblical meanings. The first meaning of “saved” is that you have been justified by faith in Jesus. In more simple terms, we are saved when we believe in Jesus and his death and resurrection. We are saved when we accept that his sacrifice was made on our behalf. Our works mean nothing apart from God’s grace. So, for those of you who are wondering, congratulations, you’re probably partly right when it comes to salvation!
But the other meaning of the word “saved” is more nuanced, and perhaps even foreign to us as Christians. Being saved means to be made whole, to be made well or to be healed. For instance, when Jesus heals the woman who has an issue of blood, he says, “daughter, your faith has healed you.” The word “healed” is taken from sozo, the same word that means “saved!” In other words, her soul and body were restored. Being “saved” is about making you a whole and complete human being.
I would invite you to turn to Luke 13, where we see this play out beginning in verse 10.
One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!” Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God!
Luke 13:10-13 NLT
The literal Greek translation is that this woman had a spirit of infirmity. If you could just imagine what it felt like to be bent over for 18 years. Imagine the physical state that this person would be in. But more than just being physically ill, Luke tells us that there is a spiritual connotation, an undertone to what this woman is experiencing. Not only is her body sick, but the condition effected her spirit as well, which some of you today may be able to understand intuitively more than I can. If you’ve experienced a chronic illness or a chronic disability of some kind in your mind or in your body, you understand the long-term impact that that can have.
I have a question. Was this woman’s soul “saved” before Jesus got there?
Maybe she was… but if so, this raises another important question. Why wasn’t that enough for Jesus? Why didn’t he just say, “My sister, things are really tough for you now, but when you get to heaven, it’s going to be just fine.” Jesus wasn’t content with her soul being saved and her body being broken. What if she was not saved? Why would Jesus heal her first? Why does he make her body whole before he even mentions anything about her soul? It’s almost as if Jesus has a bigger, more expansive view of what it means to be saved!
But the leader in charge of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed her on the Sabbath day. “There are six days of the week for working,” he said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.” But the Lord replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water? This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” This shamed his enemies, but all the people rejoiced at the wonderful things he did.
Luke 13:14-17 NLT
Notice when Jesus addresses the crowd, he doesn’t call the leader in the crowd a hypocrite, he calls them hypocrites. There was a culture in that church that was content with a shallow religiosity that left people broken. Jesus won’t tolerate that kind of culture! When we come to a full appreciation of being saved, our mission as a community is expanded. We cannot be content to simply look after people’s souls, we’re going to look at how people are becoming whole human beings. Back in Acts 2, Luke uses a very specific form of the word “saved” that’s found only once in the New Testament; the present passive participle. This simply means something was happening. Luke says that they were being saved, not that they got saved, and then they did a bunch of other stuff to ensure that they made it into heaven.
For me, this broadens the mission and the scope of what we are about as a church, on the one hand, we absolutely we hold even tighter to salvation by grace, through faith. We understand that this life is not all that there is. You have a soul; your friends have souls and your children have souls. There will be a day when we all will answer whether we placed our hope in Jesus or if we decided to place our hopes in ourselves. The New Testament is good news, but it also has strong things to say about the consequences of that decision. We also look to create whole human beings. For me, what I’ve begun to do is to look out for three things. When I engage with people, I look for teary eyes; people who are experiencing pain and grief. I look for shrugged shoulders; people who seem to be carrying something more with them through the doors. Those who are stressed, who are dealing with anxiety or mental illness like depression. And finally, I look for the lonely loiterers. These are the people who I see occasionally; you see them walking, but they’re not going anywhere. Because they’re perhaps hoping and praying that someone in a community like ours sees them like Jesus saw the woman with infirmity.