For many Christians, salvation has been reduced to a one-time prayer where one mentally and verbally agrees to a few key theological beliefs. The Bible and Jesus’ life, however, present us with a more holistic salvation that involves wholeness, new life, and transformation. Instead of viewing salvation as a legal contract, we are invited to join Jesus in a covenantal marriage where his life is poured out for us and our lives are poured out for him.
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For many Christians today, salvation is understood as a legal transaction, where one gains postmortem fire insurance in exchange for saying a one time salvation prayer. This is an anemic understanding of salvation that has led people to have a lot of belief without any change in lifestyle. This has also led people to view their relationship with Christ as a contract rather than a covenant. If salvation is a legal contract, we naturally want to know all the fine print and loopholes of our salvation so that we know exactly how far we can and cannot go before losing our salvation.
This legal contract mindset leads us to ask a few questions:
- How is this view consistent with the revelation of God in the Crucified Christ? Jesus addresses people in the here and now. He doesn’t try to get people to sign the bottom line. The legal mindset makes God seem he loves theological correctness more than he loves people.
- Why does the New Testament never divorce “belief” from “how we live” or “Jesus as Savior” from “Jesus as Lord”? 1 John 2:4-6 tells us we are to walk just as Jesus walked. It’s not just about a confession; it’s about knowing him so that the truth is in us, which gravitates us towards truth and new life in Christ.
- Why is salvation spoken of in three tenses? Ephesians 2:5 (past tense), I Corinthians 1:18 (present tense), and Romans 5:10 (future tense) helps us understand that salvation is an ongoing process that will one day be completed!
Salvation in the New Testament is much more holistic; it’s about wholeness, new life, and transformation whereas a contract is a one-time deal. Some key differences between contract and covenant are as follows:
- Contract: a legal deal between parties; doesn’t involve anything personal; it doesn’t change you. Covenant: a commitment involving the life of both parties; covenants always change you.
- Contract: acquiring something from someone. It’s about “what’s in it for me”. Covenant: an other-oriented relationship with someone; it always involves your heart.
- Contract: always predicated on mistrust, about protecting your self interest over and against the other party. Covenant: about protecting the integrity of the relationship that binds the two of you.
Scripture describes God as constantly seeking covenant with his people. This is mostly clearly seen when Jesus on the cross reveals the beautiful heart of God as well as our worth to God! Here we are a faithless bride committing adultery and yet he pursues us and woos us. The cross is his wedding betrothal to us!
The words of our “Salvation Prayer” just commit us to something. Romans 10 are covenantal words! Salvation is about the reality of the wholeness of God’s love here in our reality. It’s a process of transformation where we’re infused with the life and DNA of God, and it changes us! And someday that process will be complete. If we work with a contract mindset, we lose the joy of covenant.
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