Saturday, June 25, 2011

Salvation with the People of God

Remember me, O LORD, with the favor You have
    toward Your people.
Oh, visit me with Your salvation,
That I may see the benefit of Your chosen ones,
That I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation,
That I may glory with Your inheritance.
(Psalm 106:4-5)
Christians in the West often think of salvation in individual terms. When I was in Bible college, we used to hand out little leaflets that asked, “Am I Going to Heaven?” It was very individualistic and pretty much oriented to the next life. It was good as far as it went and I am very thankful for all who came to know Jesus through it.
Salvation in the Bible, however, is not merely an individual thing nor is it just about what will happen to you when you die. God’s plan has always been about redeeming a people out of all nations. God’s promise to Abram was not to bless just individuals but families and nations through him: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).
No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. (Genesis 17:5-6)
God’s purpose for the children of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, was that they would be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). The role of a priest is to represent the people before God and God before the people. Israel’s role, as a holy nation and a kingdom of priests, was to represent the nations before God and God before the nations, that all the families of the earth might be blessed.

Though Israel, as a nation, failed to do this, it would be fulfilled in the Messiah, who would represent Israel before God. In Psalm 2, God says to Messiah:
You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
(Psalm 2:7-8)
It is in the context of God’s people, then, that the psalm writer thinks of salvation.
Remember me, O LORD, with the favor You have toward Your people.
Oh, visit me with Your salvation,
That I may see the benefit of Your chosen ones,
That I may rejoice in the gladness of Your nation,
That I may glory with Your inheritance.
It is about the people of God, His chosen ones, His nation, which are His inheritance. The favor of God, the benefits and the rejoicing belong to them as a people. The psalm writer wants to participate in it all, not apart from the people of God but with them.

In the Old Testament, the people of God were identified with the Law of Moses, the Temple and the land of Israel. In the New Testament, in Jesus the Messiah, salvation is offered apart from those things. The new law is the commandment of Jesus to love one another; the new temple is the people of God, the body of Messiah; the new land is the entire world. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel [proclaim the good news] to every creature,” Jesus said (Mark 16:15). “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Now the people of God are identified by faith in Israel’s messiah, Jesus.

We were created for fellowship, not only with God but also with each other. Jesus said that all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39). So our salvation is not just as individuals but as part of the people of God. It is together that we know the favor of God, see the good He has for His people, rejoice in His glad nation and share with His inheritance — and indeed, we are His inheritance.

So these days, I do not think of salvation so much in terms of “Am I Going to Heaven?” That is really just part of a larger question and is answered within that larger question: “Am I Part of the People of God?” It is together with the community of faith, the people of the Messiah, Jesus, that we experience salvation and participate in the benefits of God, not only in the life to come but in this present one, as well.