Excursus: Understanding of Salvation

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

It is a pity that Mr. Kluge handles such a complex topic as the understanding of Salvation with only a few very ambiguous statements.

It is correct that we reject the Satisfaction theory of Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), which has strongly influenced the understanding of Salvation of the main-stream churches.

An old Catholic work summarises his theory as follows:

“Anselm regards sin as an insult to God, because it robs God of His honour. This insult, which according to God is infinite, demands retribution, compensation for the stolen honour. If this does not occur, there must be punishment (‘aut satisfactio, aut poen’). Due to man’s inequality with God, he is incapable of achieving this satisfaction. To prevent man from perishing eternally this satisfaction had to be offered by a God-man, who, due to his divine nature was able perform a faultless, eternal, moral act, and due to his humanity was able to act on behalf of his fellow humans. This substitutionary satisfaction is effected freely by Christ, whose whole life was dedicated to the honour of God, and whose death atoned for the due punishment of sin. God accepted this act of expiation for us as a work of infinite value.”

(Dr. Bernhard Bartmann, Grundriss der Dogmatik, Freiburg i. B. 1923, p. 237)

This theory shaped theology right into the 19th and 20th Centuries, but is at present ‘strongly contested’ (according to the Lexicon fuer Theologie und Kirche). On the one hand, the description of sin as an ‘insult’ to God is extremely inadequate. Of course, every sin is directly directed against God, but we certainly cannot do God any harm through our sins. Through our sins we destroy our relationship to God, but the change takes place on our side, not on the side of God.

Comp. Isaiah 59:1,2: “See, the LORD’s hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”

On the other hand God in his Grace is in no way bound to any kind of reparation to be able to forgive. The Bible always emphasises the free Grace of God, the unconditional forgiveness (Psalm 32:5; 51:3-6, 16-17; Psalm 79:9; 130:3-4; Proverbs 28:13; Isaiah 1:18; 43:25; 44:22; Micah 7:18-19; Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 15:11-24; Acts 3:19; etc.). If anyone regrets and confesses his sins, he will be forgiven. The God of Israel and Father of Jesus must not be confused with a personification of Karma, in which every bad deed must be balanced out by something good.

What significance does Jesus have in this context? Is Jesus just one example among many (certainly the greatest, but still only an example)?

In numerous passages the NT speaks about Salvation through the death of Jesus, salvation by his blood. His death is compared with a sacrifice, there is talk of forgiveness in his blood. We agree with these statements, they are the unambiguous teaching of the Holy Scriptures. However, what is important is the right understanding of these statements, something we ourselves aim to deepen more and more through many discussions.

The following sentences can help to avoid a wrong understanding of Salvation

1. There is no passage in the Holy Scriptures that leads compellingly to the Satisfaction theory of Anselm (let alone to the false theories in which the death of Jesus was a ransom paid to Satan).

2. The Bible assumes and builds upon the historical fact of Jesus death. Alternatives are not discussed.

3. There is nothing in the NT to suggest that the very nature of forgiveness necessitates the shedding of the blood of Jesus. In fact, the death of the innocent as a condition of forgiveness is contrary to its teaching.

E.g. Matthew 21:37 “Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.'”

4. The death of Jesus was a crime committed by godless people, who expressed their wickedness out of a free will decision and were in no way compelled by God (or anyone else for that matter) to do this.

“None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:8)

“But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.

The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree.” (Acts 5:29-30)

5. The wickedness of Judas, Caiaphas and Pilate was not necessary for Salvation and didn’t advance it either.

6. Jesus came to call Israel to repentance. Had his preaching been accepted Jesus would not have been murdered, but this would not have hindered salvation, it would have been only beneficial for the salvation of mankind.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)

“Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!… For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!” (Romans 11:12+15)

If the Israelites had obeyed Jesus from the beginning, salvation certainly would not have been hindered, but the devotion of Jesus would have led the people to God in a completely different way.

7. As a result of the massive rejection by the Nation of Israel and especially by its leaders, Jesus accepted his death, demonstrating the ultimate consequence of his love and devotion.

8. The biblical term, ‘ransom’ (e.g. Mark 10:45) serves to point out the liberating character of the work of Salvation of Jesus. We were slaves to sin. Jesus freed us from this slavery just like slaves redeemed with a ransom. The question who the ransom was paid to goes beyond the scope of the picture and leads to aporias1. Both possible answers (God or Satan) are in clear opposition the message of the Bible.

9. Likewise, calling the death of Jesus a sacrifice shows on one hand the greatness of his devotion, and on the other hand (especially in Hebrews) it points to the end of the Old Testament sacrifice.

10. The usage of the term ‘blood’ should also be seen within the context of sacrifice-terminology. Moreover, the Jews themselves combined the term ‘blood’ with the term ‘life’.

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Lev 17:11a).

We are saved through Jesus’ blood. That means that Jesus laid down his life in complete devotion for us. It is not the bodily fluid ‘blood’ that saves us in a magical way, but the devotion of Jesus envelops us completely in the love of God.

“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22)

Here it is NOT talking about a principle that God’s ability to forgive is dependent on the presentation of blood. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews simply wanted to describe the situation as it was under the OT law, in order to show that the devotion of Jesus utterly surpasses all of this.

11. Throughout his whole life and in death Jesus was in constant relationship to God and was never left alone by God.

The last words of Jesus, as cited in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” must not be considered separately to the cited Psalm 22 which writes about the subjective experience of a suffering person, who, even in suffering is borne by God.

The Psalm ends with the praise,

“For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.” (Psalm 22:24)

12. The Christian understanding of Salvation is not about God being appeased (reconciled), but that we are reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:20: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

13. Salvation means more than just the example of a perfect life. Believers experience change and renewal through the power of Jesus in their lives.

2 Corinthians 5:17 “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”

1 John 5:18 “We know that those who are born of God do not sin, but the one who was born of God protects them, and the evil one does not touch them.”

14. Salvation through the death of Jesus can only ever be considered in connection with his resurrection. In the resurrection of Jesus his victory over sin and death becomes evident. Through the power of his resurrection we experience our new life with God.

These 14 points set the limits within which we can search for a biblical understanding of Salvation. We do not suppose that we have already fully comprehended everything and we want to penetrate deeper into the greatness of God’s love, which He showed us in the incarnation of the eternal Logos and his perfect devotion throughout his whole life to the point of death.

We find an important statement concerning the work of Salvation in Romans 8:3,4

“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

God sent his Son to overcome sin. By fighting against sin essentially on the same level as us, yet without sin, he conquered sin. This victory becomes effective in everyone who believes in him. By living according to the spirit we overcome sin and through the power of Jesus we are enabled to devote our lives to the brothers, just as he did for us.

“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us– and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16)

Laying down one’s life can, in some cases mean dying. But this is not generally the rule. Jesus’ devotion would have been no less significant had Israel repented and Jesus’ violent death been avoided, it would have just been different.

Some of Jesus’ own words can help us to comprehend the mystery of his incarnation for our Salvation:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” ( 4:18, a citation from Isaiah 61:1 ff)

“For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

“I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.” (John 12:46)

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)

There is an increasing number of Catholic and Evangelical thinkers and theologians who question the wide-spread theory of ‘penal substitution’. Some examples are N.T. Wright, Steve Chalke … (quotes to come)

Mr. Kluge’s comment on our definition of the Holy Spirit is exceedingly subjective. To cite the retrospective and emotionally influenced feelings of a ‘past member’ as a foundation for our teaching about the Holy Spirit is absolutely unserious and is tantamount to the lowest form of muck-raking. We never base our criticism of the Catholics or Protestants on feelings, but on historically examinable facts and written documented dogmatic statements. Every other method is unacceptable for Christians.

The subjective impressions Mr. Kluge mentions are certainly not shared by the brothers and sisters. Nor is it possible to prove or disprove anything by impressions.

Our teaching about the Holy Spirit is in agreement with the early Creeds of the church.

In many situations we have experienced the liberating power of the Spirit who sets people free from sin on a continuing basis. (John 8:36; 2 Corinthians 3:17)

In Galatians 5:19-23 Paul describes the difference between a Spirit-led life characterised by the various aspects of the fruit of the Spirit, and the life of an unbeliever, who doesn’t belong to the Holy Spirit characterised by the works of the flesh.

Life in the Spirit means victory over sin!

“Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)