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Bloggin’ the 28: The Experience of Salvation

Experiencing Salvation, Practicing Grace

By Sharon Fujimoto-Johnson

The Experience of Salvation:
In infinite love and mercy God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for
us, so that in Him we might be made the righteousness of God. Led by the Holy
Spirit we sense our need, acknowledge our sinfulness, repent of our
transgressions, and exercise faith in Jesus as Lord and Christ, as Substitute
and Example. This faith which receives salvation comes through the divine power
of the Word and is the gift of God’s grace. Through Christ we are justified,
adopted as God’s sons and daughters, and delivered from the lordship of sin.
Through the Spirit we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our
minds, writes God’s law of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to
live a holy life. Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature and
have the assurance of salvation now and in the judgment. (2 Cor. 5:17-21; John
3:16; Gal. 1:4; 4:4-7; Titus 3:3-7; John 16:8; Gal. 3:13, 14; 1 Peter 2:21, 22;
Rom. 10:17; Luke 17:5; Mark 9:23, 24; Eph. 2:5-10; Rom. 3:21-26; Col. 1:13, 14;
Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26; John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23; Rom. 12:2; Heb. 8:7-12; Eze.
36:25-27; 2 Peter 1:3, 4; Rom. 8:1-4; 5:6-10.)

Hypothesis: Adventism has largely forgotten that the gift of
grace assures our salvation. Remembering this central truth liberates us to
practice a here-and-now human kind of salvation of others.

1. The forgotten truth: Salvation is the gift of God’s

My Sabbath School class recently studied Stuart
Tyner’s excellent book, Searching for the God of
I owe much of this article to Tyner, because through that book I discovered for the first time that grace is
central to our Adventist belief system. You’d think I would have known. I’ve
been in the Adventist community all my life, after all. I took my first breaths
at an Adventist Hospital, and I’ve been through the mill—Angwin, Loma Linda,
the mission field, Home Study International, boarding academy, Pacific Union
College, and even a self-supporting institution somewhere along the way. And
yet I had never before understood grace, that essential core of our doctrine of

It’s not because I haven’t been listening all these years. I
have been listening, but grace hasn’t
been talked about much. What I heard was something else—something less
reassuring, more complicated, and ultimately discouraging. What it sounded like
was, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” or “In order to
receive salvation, we must…” For a generation or two, whether by negligence,
distraction, or carelessness, Adventism lost its focus on grace. That nucleus,
that fundamental center of our faith slipped out of its place, and some of us
grew up without it, without understanding that grace is what transforms the
rituals and laws of our religion into a vibrant faith. Grace is as essential to
our faith as water or light to life, and some of us have never experienced it.

It’s not that grace isn’t in our doctrines. It’s right
there, sewn delicately into each of our fundamental beliefs. Much to my
surprise, it’s even in our official doctrinal statement on salvation: “This
faith which receives salvation comes through the divine power of the Word and
is the gift of God’s grace.” Even Ellen G. White herself—who, for many of us,
is the patron saint of salvation by works—asserted the significance of grace in
statements such as this: “We cannot purchase anything from God. It is only by
grace, the free gift of God in Christ, that we are saved” (That I May Know Him, by Ellen G. White, p. 83).

Furthermore, according to Tyner, Ellen White distinguished
between justifying grace (the grace that saves us) and sanctifying grace (the
grace that transforms us). The grace that saves us is the gift of God, no
strings attached. The grace that moves us to strive to be like Christ and
requires something of us does not save us, and ought not be confused with
justifying grace.

The equation is not salvation = grace + x, but rather, it is
simply salvation = grace. Severing that mental link between what we do and how
we’re saved changes the entire landscape of our faith. We struggle with this,
obviously. We look often and hard for a loophole in this divine gift, for the
small print that will tell us that salvation isn’t really free. But it is.
Though Adventism has perhaps failed to emphasize this, it is.

“When the kindness and love of God appeared, he saved us,
not because of righteous things we have done but because of his mercy. He saved
us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he
poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having
been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal
life.” (Titus 3:4-7, NIV) That’s the truth that has been lost, at times, in the
debate about distinctive beliefs that are in fact animated only by grace
itself. Adventism must remember this forgotten truth, prize it, and restore it
to its central place in its faith practices, or it will have lost one of its
most fundamental beliefs.

2. The comforting truth: Because of grace, our salvation
is assured.

This is what I heard the future of Adventism—a group of
teenagers—say of salvation:

“We must strive for perfection so that God will save us.”
“God has a boiling point, after which he will no longer work
with us to save us.”
“The phrase ‘shall be saved’ means that salvation is in the
future. We are not yet saved. Being saved is an ongoing process for eternity.”
“It’s only through repentance that we’ll get into heaven.”
“God will be there for you—if you’re there for him.”

Right now, these teenagers are in that somewhat
self-conscious, impressionable, searching age during which the groundwork for
individual faith is being laid, but soon, they will be Sabbath School teachers,
church board members, conference and union leaders, parents, pastors, and
evangelists. They will be the ones passing on the Adventist faith to the
following generation—if in ten or twenty years they haven’t left the church
altogether, of course. What is the nature of the faith we have communicated to
these young Adventists? How did we fail to pass on the assurance of our
salvation? Somehow the beliefs we nurtured in these particular young Adventists
didn’t include an understanding of grace. Somehow we gave them instead a
tenuous salvation experience in which God’s grace is conditional, uncertain.
Already, there’s a hint of weariness and anxiety about their faith.

In our homes, our churches, our schools, and our
communities—from the pulpit, in Bible classes, through our faith lives—we are
passing on a spiritual inheritance. If we fail to pass on the assurance of
salvation by grace, we pass on a cycle of continual striving and failure.
Religion rewinds to a practice of sin and penance without hope, and we’re back
with Martin Luther climbing that uneven stone staircase on our hands and knees.

“Abiding in Him we become partakers of the divine nature and
have the assurance of salvation now and
in the judgment,”
our official
doctrine states (emphasis mine). Grace must reenter our lexicon and
inhabit our faith so that the spiritual inheritance we pass on is more than the
empty laws of the Pharisees or the cultural habits of a peculiar people. Why?
Grace transforms the methodical, formulaic life of faith into one of joy and
active participation in human affairs, and that is the spiritual inheritance we
ought to be passing on.

3. The liberating truth: The assurance of salvation
liberates us to share God’s grace with others for their eternal salvation and also to practice the here-and-now deliverance of others.

We have sometimes experienced our salvation as though we
were on an airplane flight facing an impending crash, as if we knew that at
some unspecified future point, the engines would fail and the plane would
nosedive to the ground. We don’t know when, but we’ve studied the charts and
timelines, and we have clues. Each time the plane hits a pocket of turbulence,
we’re certain the end is finally upon us. We’ve memorized the in-flight safety
instructions, especially that tidbit: “In the event of an emergency, oxygen
masks will be deployed. Secure your own mask before assisting children or other
passengers.” We’re concerned primarily about securing our own deliverance.

Grace liberates us from this scenario. Through grace, we
know we’re survivors. We are emancipated from the spiritual slavery of fear and
futility, and we’re given, instead, sanctuary. In the sanctuary of grace, the
locus of our existence moves outside our self-centeredness to include those
around us. Our circle of awareness widens. We awaken to the world around us and
recognize the faces of defeat, isolation, want, pain, weariness, and suffering.
We become concerned with the salvation of others—not only spiritual salvation,
but also a physical, immediate, human kind of deliverance.

“Through the Spirit
we are born again and sanctified; the Spirit renews our minds, writes God’s law
of love in our hearts, and we are given the power to live a holy life,” our
official doctrine reads. I’d like to propose that a holy life is not primarily
a life of refraining, fasting, self-preservation, or indifference to our
world. The holy life is, instead, a life of doing—not in pursuit of salvation
but in sharing salvation. Remember, the link between what we do and how we’re
saved has already been severed, and this separation allows us to both rest in
the assurance of our salvation and fully encounter our earthly community. Elie
Wiesel says, “The opposite of love is not hate; it’s indifference. The opposite
of art is not ugliness; it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy;
it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death; it’s indifference.”
Divine grace shatters the shell. Divine grace toward us invalidates our apathy
and compels us to engage in human affairs. Grace expands our experience of
salvation vertically to connect securely to our assured divine inheritance and
horizontally to meet humanity on this earth. We are no longer “neither here nor
there,” no longer suspended for a human lifetime between heaven and earth, but
are instead firmly rooted in both. It moves us from what Martin Buber described
as the objectifying, detached encounter of an “I-It” relationship to the
actualizing, alive “I and Thou” relationship in which our encounter with each
human You actualizes our encounter with the divine (I and Thou, New York: Touchstone, 1996).

Grace asks us, first, to reestablish the liberating truth
about salvation in its central place within our faith community so as to
restore the quality of the spiritual inheritance we pass on. Secondly, grace
asks us to practice an immediate human kind of salvation—the deliverance of
living beings from suffering. Barbara Brown Taylor says it much better than I
ever could: “In the Bible, human beings experience God’s salvation when peace
ends war, when food follows famine, when health supplants sickness and freedom
trumps oppression. Salvation is a
word for the divine spaciousness that comes to human beings in all the tight
places where their lives are at risk, regardless of how they got there or
whether they know God’s name” (Leaving
Church: A Memoir of Faith
by Barbara Brown Taylor, New York: Harper
Collins, 2006)

What is the shape of salvation? Is it the rectangle of
textbooks in inner city schools, the halo of mosquito nets in a Thai village,
the circle of a bowl filled with hot food, the long line of a road to safety?
What is the sound of salvation? Is it the silence of war in the Middle East,
the click of cameras for children in a Calcutta ghetto, a long-lost family
member’s voice, a choir of orphans? What is the taste of salvation? Is it the
starchy flavor of steaming rice in a Cambodian village, the bitter liquid of
AIDS drugs in sub-Saharan Africa, the taste of potable well water in a Peruvian
community? What is the touch of salvation? Is it the cool, sleek cover of a $100 laptop for every child, the crisp sheets of a clean bed in a shelter, the
rough woven patterns of a basket business built on a micro-loan in Bangladesh?

Salvation—the kind grace asks us to practice—is all this. It
is rest from violence, preservation of life, educational opportunity, human
, religious freedom, health care, financial and moral responsibility. It’s as
large as peace, and it’s also much smaller than that—the size of a word or a
coin. It’s global, and it’s local. Salvation is awareness, forgiveness, kindness, justice,
restoration. Salvation is beauty, poetry, music. Against human suffering, the
practice of salvation takes the shape of our faces, the sound of our voices,
the taste of our tears and sweat, the touch of our hands, and it is our moral
obligation to live out salvation from the corners of our homes to the war zones of Sudan,
AIDS-racked Sub-Saharan Africa, flood-ravaged Southeast Asia, and the violent
streets of Afghanistan and Iraq. Salvation—the kind grace asks us to
practice—is creating light where there is darkness.

I leave you with the voice of poet Wendell Berry (from Timbered Choir, New York: Counterpoint, 1998)

But remember:
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine

though it is also human.When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.

You do not have to walk in darkness.If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light.

(Read full poem here.)

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