What or who are we saved from: my thoughts

In my previous post I asked simply “What or who are we saved from?”, repeating a question asked by Brian McLaren. I am grateful for five comments so far, not counting my own one. Now I will move on to giving some kind of answer.

TC, MzEllen and Alastair are of course right that the question as originally posed presents a false distinction, with an implication that the answer is either/or when, at least according to these three, the correct answer is both/and. But is it really a matter of both/and? I would suggest not, at least not in the way this is sometimes understood.

So, are we saved from God? Does God hate us and want to destroy us, until Jesus somehow persuades him not to? This is how the matter is sometimes presented by popular preachers, and by the church noticeboard in my town which (I am told) proclaims “God hates you”. I am with Ferg on this:

I always found it a strange concept to think that God would send Jesus to save us from Himself.

To me, this idea is not only immoral and repugnant, it also goes against the Bible which, while occasionally (but only in the Old Testament and one quote in the New) stating that God hates sinners, consistently proclaims God’s love for the world and for humankind, and that that is why he sent Jesus.

Of course the Bible does speak of the wrath of God being poured out – but on what? Read Romans 1:18 carefully: this wrath is revealed not against sinners but against human ungodliness and wickedness. True, those who fail to heed God’s warning to separate themselves from ungodliness and wickedness find themselves experiencing God’s wrath, but they are not its intended target:

God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Thesssalonians 5:9 (TNIV)

From this perspective, the gospel is like a flood warning. God is sending his wrath as a destructive flood (now metaphorically, but the literal flood in Noah’s time prefigures this) to cleanse the world of all kinds of wickedness. Anything that the flood touches will be destroyed. But first he sends a warning to every human being (Romans 1:19,20), to flee from the coming wrath (Matthew 3:7), separate themselves from evil and find safety in Jesus Christ.

So, yes, we need to be saved both from evil and from the wrath of God. But this is not because God is or ever was against us: rather he is always for us and wants the best for us, which is our eternal salvation. His wrath is a danger only to those who ignore his warnings about what will certainly happen to those who stay in the place of evil which will be destroyed.

0 thoughts on “What or who are we saved from: my thoughts

  1. Well put, Peter. I quite like the way you put it. I agree, the idea that God somehow hates or dislikes people before they trust in Christ is rather bizarre, apart from being completely unbiblical.

    A Christian pastor once started telling me that because of Christ’s death, God loved me. I stopped him mid-sentence and interjected: “no, its because God already loved me that Christ died for me!”. But do those that are in Christ experience a different/deeper type of love, the covenant “hesed” love of God?

    Its a shame this wasn’t discussed in detail at the McLaren meeting, because I suspect McLaren would perhaps even disagree with your nuanced statement. However that’s only my personal opinion, and because McLaren asks more questions than he answers, its hard to know exactly where he stands on this issue.

  2. Thanks, Alastair. I don’t claim to give McLaren’s answer, just my own. Perhaps McLaren really just wants to make people think, and to get away from the “Reformed” idea of a pastor telling people what they must believe.

  3. Thanks for writing this Peter. It’s refreshing to see someone else sharing my thoughts. I’ve been told a number of times I don’t fully understand the gospel because i focus too much on the Fathers love. But as you say

    “he is always for us and wants the best for us, which is our eternal salvation”

    I don’t think we’re going to get to heaven and then figure that we had over estimated God’s goodness.

    Why are some Christians so vehement about the fact that God ‘has’ to dispense his wrath on people (Lets not even go down the road of people he has chosen from the beginning of time to inflict such horror upon)? God doesn’t have to do anything to ‘prove’ that he is a just God. He is a just God, period.

    I for one love being able to tell people that Jesus didn’t come to die to save them from his Father but that the Father has set his eyes upon them from the moment they entered this world and when they accept Christ they enter into the most beautiful relationship which is the trinity. The source of all beauty, joy, love, peace, laughter. What has led us to repentance? A fear of hell, a fear of the Father? Paul tells us it is the kindness of the Lord.

    He is so much better than we can ever imagine Peter. That can only bring us to our knees in worship.

  4. Peter and Ferg, What are we to do about the following NT texts:

    1. “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger” (Rom 2:8).

    Those who do evil, etc, are the objects of God’s wrath and anger, according to Paul.

    2. ” For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:10)

    What does it mean to be God’s enemies, being saved from his wrath (v.9).

    3. “without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.” (Phil 1:28).

    Those who oppose Christians will be destroyed by God, Paul says.

    4. “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess 1:8-9).

    Pauls says that some are going to be punished with everlasting destruction and so on.

    What are we to do with these statements that are found in the daylight of didactic texts.

  5. This question deserves more time and thought than I’m about to give it, but I think it is helpful to consider the many references to God turning his face away from people or turning away from them.

    Isaiah speaks of our sins and idolatry putting up barriers between us and God so that we cannot see his face.

    I wonder if God’s wrath is God giving us up (Romans 2) to the evil we embrace and the evil powers of the world because we turn from him or put up barriers to him. It is – at least for a time – God accepting our decision to reject his love and leaving us to our own devices.

    This does not answer all questions. Of course, I believe that some biblical texts are human interpretations of God’s actions, so may not be fully understanding of God’s reasons and motives.

  6. Ferg, thanks for the support.

    TC, in answer to your points:

    “Those who do evil, etc, are the objects of God’s wrath and anger, according to Paul.” Well, literally, yes, but I have no idea what “objects of wrath” means. These are people who have rejected the truth of the warning that those who continue to do evil will be swept away when evil is destroyed.

    “What does it mean to be God’s enemies”? It means that we hate God and need to be reconciled to him (as in the very verse you quote), not that God hates us and needs to be reconciled to us.

    “Those who oppose Christians will be destroyed by God”. Indeed, if they continue in this evil way and do not heed God’s warnings.

    “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel …” Well, yes, but “punish” is a doubtful translation which is more literally “give retribution” or perhaps only “render justice”. People who do not obey the warning of the gospel will receive the consequences of their disobedience, destruction along with all that is evil.

    John, it is our sin, not God’s rejection, which makes a barrier between us and him. But yes, there is a point where God accepts our free will decision to reject him and embrace evil and destruction, which is I suppose when he sees that further persuasion is useless. I don’t claim to have looked into this in great detail.

  7. I can’t remember where the line is that goes (more or less – my memory isn’t ..) ..”this is a true saying worthy of acceptance that Christ died to save us from our sins” As Peter said in his last paragraph, the issue seems to be that sin, being under the power of the devil, and ultimate destruction seem to be inexorably linked so the thing we have to be saved from is our sins. If sin and punishment are indivisible, (just as falling and hitting something when we stop are?) then the idea that sin could go unpunished would not be on the radar,so to speak. The only option then is that we must be saved from our sins themselves and separated from them by regeneration and sanctification. The difficulty in communicating the love of God in this is that our culture fosters the idea that punishment is not inexorably linked to crime but is discretional and negotiable.

  8. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Avery Dulles (1918-2008) on Jesus’ Atoning Death

  9. Peter, regarding “objects of wrath,” here’s Eph 2:3 from the NLT:

    All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

    I think we need to understand that God’s wrath/anger is a holy one, unlike ours.

    I know his love trumps his anger, but his anger against sinners is a real one.

    Paul says that we need to be reconciled to God through Jesus to avoid God’s wrath. That’s clear to me (Rom 5:9-11).

    So why did Jesus take our place on the cross and was separated from the Father?

  10. Thanks, TC. But that rendering is an interpretation, and an uncertain one. God’s anger is real indeed, but where in the Bible does it clearly say that his anger is against sinners, and not just against their sin? Yes, we need to be reconciled to God (not vice versa) because while we still hate him we cannot respond to his love and the rescue he offers from the wrath which will otherwise overtake us. I am reminded of Lot being warned to leave Sodom. If he hadn’t left he would have been destroyed with the city, not because God hated him but because he remained in the wrong place despite a warning.

    As for your last question, we need to establish the facts before asking why. Read my latest post about Avery Dulles’ view of the atonement.

  11. Duncan: are you thinking of 1Ti 1:15?

    This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – and I am the worst of them!

  12. thanks Alistair, it was bugging me. Peter’s kindly pat on the head was like burning coals…clearly I misremembered – sorry.

  13. In addition to all the other problems with it, this caricature misunderstands the nature of the Trinity. As a matter of logical necessity the three Persons are united in will. Perhaps a more nuanced account could be given according to which the Father wills to save mankind on account of the Son, but we must be careful to ensure that the wills are fully united* and that all divine characteristics can be predicated of the Father, including perfect benevolence. It is simply not the case that ‘justice’ is an attribute of the Father and ‘benevolence’ or ‘love’ an attribute of the Son: rather, insofar as they share one divine nature, the Father and the Son share all of their properties save the relational ones. (I say ‘insofar as they share one divine nature’ because the Son now has other properties, foreign to the Father, in virtue of his human nature.)

    * Perhaps, in fact, there is only a single divine will. This isn’t clear to me, and I double-checked that the Third Council of Constantinople did not address this in its definition. Christ has a human will and a divine will, but is Christ’s divine will numerically distinct from the Father’s?

  14. Thanks, Kenny. I am aware of this issue. I am also a bit confused about how far the three Persons of the Trinity have separate wills, but would insist that their wills are in perfect harmony.

    It seems to me all too common for “Reformed” theologians to contrast Jesus with the Father, in ways which don’t really align with Trinitarian orthodoxy. I accused Packer himself of this on a different issue.

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