What is the starting point in your understanding of salvation? For some, the starting point is sin, and that’s understandable. Without sin, there is no need for salvation. Before sin entered the world, there was no rift between God and humans, but when sin entered, so did enmity toward God. Being separated from God, humans needed something or someone to heal the rift and save us from ourselves. God therefore sent his son to become human, live a sinless life and die so our sins could be forgiven. That’s the plan of salvation.
The problem with this understanding is what it does to our view of both people and God. Let’s start with people. With sin as the starting point, people are labeled sinners. That become our identity. We come up with theological concepts such as the “total depravity of man” which says that humans are not only sinful but that sin has rendered us totally depraved i.e. there is no good in us at all, nothing to be commended, nothing worth salvaging. Now, it’s one thing to believe that about yourself, but the problem comes when we believe that about others. When you believe that people are utterly depraved, you lose your sense of responsibility toward them. You are no longer your brother’s keeper, because your brother got himself into this mess, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The poor are poor because they are stupid/lazy/alcoholic/uneducated/won’t learn our language/some combination of these plus others. It’s their fault; I’m not responsible. I’m responsible for my sin, you’re responsible for yours. I don’t bother you with my problems, don’t bother me with your problems. Except when your problems become my problems. Recently a prominent Christian blamed the Haitians for the earthquake, saying that years before they had made a pact with the devil. It’s their fault, so why should we send aid? After 9/11 another prominent pastor said that the terrorist attacks were God’s judgment on
for being lax on homosexuals. It’s those utterly depraved sinners fault! America
And that’s how God is viewed when sin is the starting point. He’s the angry judge, zapping the utterly depraved sinners for their utter depravity, and he refuses to be satisfied until someone has been punished. God is mad as heck and somebody’s got to die.
Let me make a wild suggestion. If the Bible is God’s plan of salvation, then we should we start where the Bible starts—Creation. After all, there are two accounts of Creation before Genesis ever gets to an account of sin, so that seems to make sense.
So what does Genesis 1 say? That all creation, including humans, was very good, and that the humans were created in the image and likeness of God. Whatever sin may change, it did not and does not change our origin. We are created in the image and likeness of God, and in that creation God is very pleased. We were created for relationship with God, and that has not changed.
And when we see another person, we shouldn’t see just a sinner, we should see a person created in the image of God. A poor person is one of God’s creations. So is a homeless person, an earthquake victim, and an illegal immigrant. As is a terrorist; how else could Jesus tell us to love our enemies if God didn’t find something worth loving in them?
And that is how God is viewed with creation as the starting point: he is the Creator God who loves all of his creation (and not just the humans, which is why care for the earth can’t be subject to mere political or economic concerns; it’s a sacred trust). And this God will not let anything stand in the way of his relationship with his creation. He refuses to have our sin have the last word. So he will do whatever it takes to get us to return to him, even if it means becoming one of us. Even if it means sacrificing his on Son—sacrificing himself—to win the victory over sin and death.
Whatever it takes. That’s the plan of salvation. That’s what Jesus was willing to do, and it’s what he calls his followers to do so that all of God’s creation can be restored, renewed, transformed.
Whatever it takes. You in?