The Lectionary texts for the Advent season are some of the best. Consider this one from Psalm 85.
You, Lord, showed favor to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people
and covered all their sins. …
I will listen to what God the Lord says;
he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—
but let them not turn to folly.
Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.
The Lord will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before him
and prepares the way for his steps.
(Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 NIV)
What is salvation?
One time I baptized a sweet woman who was in a panic when we met. She had been doing some Bible study and determined that her soul was in trouble. I asked her a couple of questions about Jesus, and she could barely stand for me to finish them before answering. I’ll never forget when she came up from the water and opened her eyes. As she did, she let out the deepest sigh. She was so relieved.
Is that what salvation is? Something you do not have one moment, and then do have the next?
The fact that I ask the question like that may make you think I’m going to answer it with a “no.” That’s not what salvation is. But … there is a bit of that. I understand why that sister came out of the water so relieved. Her sins had been washed away in a moment. Like Psalm 85 says, “You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins” (85:2). Paul says in Ephesians 1 that when we believed we were marked with a seal—the Holy Spirit—the gospel of our salvation. That happened in a moment. So yes, that is one of the ways salvation is described in the Bible.
But inevitably that leads us to a question: Can I lose my salvation? If it’s something I don’t have, and then do have, can I suddenly not have it anymore?
The Bible just isn’t as concerned with that question as we are. Generally the Bible does not think about salvation in such static terms.
Psalm 85 is helpful here. The psalmist says that salvation is a way. The path that God is traveling in the world. And along that path the very character of God is sprouting up—love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace. You might picture those as signposts along the salvation road. Salvation here is the way marked by the character of God.
When John the Baptist comes preaching in the desert, and baptizing, he is preparing the way for Jesus (Mark 1:2-3)
When Saul goes looking for followers of Jesus whom he can kill, he does not go looking for Christians. He does not go looking for people that have been saved. Do you remember? He goes looking for “any there who belonged to the Way” (Acts 9:2).
All this points us to a fundamentally better question to ask ourselves during the Advent season (and perhaps during every season). The question shouldn’t be: Can I lose my salvation? The question should be: Am I still traveling in the way of God’s salvation? Am I seeing the right signposts?
Remember, Jesus didn’t ask the disciples to just believe. He said, “Come, follow me” (Mark 1:17).
Jesus is not only the truth and the life. He is, first of all, the way (John 14:6).
Eric and his wife Lindsey have been at Highland Church in Memphis since 2012. You are likely to find them walking the local Greenline with their sons Noble, Foster, and dachshund Tucker. Eric cares deeply about preaching and social justice. He has a BA in Biblical Text and a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University. Eric is a board member for HopeWorks, an organization that provides hope and job training to the chronically unemployed and formerly incarcerated in Memphis.