I didn’t grow up in a church tradition that used the language of “salvation.” All I ever heard growing up is, “God loves you. God loves all of humanity.” It wasn’t until I went to college that I experienced a different form of Christianity. The first day I went to my evangelical university, I was surprised again and again by this greeting: “Hey, Mike. Nice to meet you. Are you saved?” I guess the question wasn’t meant to be a sucker punch. But it always felt like it. The question sounded more like, “Hey, Mike. I know we just met, and you might be cool, but I want to know whether you’re in or you’re out. Do you belong? Do you know the secret handshake?” The implication was that if I didn’t answer in the affirmative, I would forever be branded an outsider.
The language of salvation has too often been interpreted in Christian tradition as a very individualized marker of one’s worthiness before God, whether one is “in” or “out” in the eternal sense. Even more so, whether one is “saved” is more often used to determine one’s worthiness in the eyes of human beings…God’s faithful. I am grateful that Paul’s doesn’t use the word “salvation” in the book of Galatians. He uses all kinds of other metaphors to talk about what God is up to in the world. In Galatians, Paul talks about God’s act of “setting things right” (justification/righteousness), delivering, rescuing, emancipating, liberating, freeing,…loving. And the point of all these words? All of them point to what God is doing. Paul puts God first. What God is doing in the world amounts to a cosmic “Emancipation Proclamation.” In Jesus Christ, in his faithfulness, God liberates all of humanity from a state of slavery…and the effects of that liberation ripple throughout the world. Not everyone hears the proclamation right away. Some folks fight to keep the proclamation from taking effect. But the message does go forth…in every act of loving kindness, in every prayer of faith, in every moment where goodness remains brave in the face of hatred.
How do we know this is true? Well, Paul looks at the new reality created by the “good news” of emancipation as if the walls of separation have been torn down. People who were once forbidden to sit and eat with each other, now can come together and feast at a common meal. Anything that threatens this radical freedom, whether it comes from rules imposed from the outside, or acts of jealousy and hypocrisy from inside the community, threatens the truth of what God has achieved in Jesus Christ. At the feast God has created, all of us are servants of one another. There is no one who is in or out.
It’s about love. It’s about God’s love. It’s about Jesus’ love. It’s about us loving God by loving one another. No one is left out, and no one is exempt.
What is my response to the question, “Are you saved? “‘Saved’? Yes, thank God, I’ve been saved from having to worry about who’s saved and who’s not, and I get down to real faith: living out my radical freedom, led into acts of courageous love by God’s Spirit.”