“Salvation” in Paul’s Letters: Restoring the Image of God
There is a whole lot that comes to light in Paul’s letters when we look at the canvas Paul writes on. Paul first paints a background theme and then writes his text of the gospel of Jesus Christ over the top of that canvas. This background to his gospel is his Hebrew faith.
For example, when we look at Romans chapters 6-8 often we see a text about our baptism, our personal struggle under the law in chapter 7, and our liberty in Christ in chapter 8. If we come through this struggle into liberty we inherit an eternal home in heaven. I guess this is a common way of seeing faith today. But when we read this portion of Romans in the light of Israel’s history and the promises of God to them we see what Paul is actually saying.
The baptism in Romans 6 is Israel leaving the bondage of Egypt and passing through the Red Sea (see also 1 Cor 10). In Romans 7 Israel comes to Mount Sinai and receives the law. But because of sin Israel cannot possess the land. Paul uses the “I” in Romans 7 as a poetic device in Hebrew literature, where the author stands for the people in narrating their story (e.g. Jeremiah’s writings). The solution is the gospel of Christ: through his grace they escape the bondage of sin and possess their inheritance.
This sheds a whole lot of light on Romans 8. The gospel of Christ is the solution to Israel’s dilemma. It is how God’s promises to that nation are fulfilled. And what are these promises? They are that Abraham shall inherit the world (Rom 4:13). Through the return of the Spirit (the temple shekinah) Israel shall be restored to their calling to renew the world. They are to inherit the Adamic calling of sonship, to rule over God-restored creation. This is the meaning of “glorification” in Hebrew faith. (Psalm 2, 8, Rom 8:30) The prophets did not promise they would go to heaven, but that through them heaven would come to restore earth.
It is through our Greek fathers that we have a different understanding of the gospel message. Coming from Plato they believed, in various degrees, that the material or natural world was evil, and salvation was escaping from our natural body to live forever in heaven. This theme was prominent in the Reformation, where the terms of this salvation were argued out between the Catholics and the Protestants.
But this isn’t what Paul means by salvation. “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Rom 1:16) So in Romans Paul narrates the dilemma both of the Jews and the Gentiles, to show we are one new body in Christ to inherit the promises to Israel: that the sons of God shall set the creation free from its bondage to corruption. This is the salvation Paul was speaking about.
A holistic salvation that includes God’s creation over which Adam and Eve were set. Shalom. Christ has come to restore to mankind the image of God, so he can rule over God’s creation with love and service from a new heart, restoring it. Christ has come to bring heaven and earth together through the gospel: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”