Saturday, June 9, 2012

A Study of Early Christianity: Jesus is Savior

Jesus is Savior – “For Our Salvation”

 Starting from its very first sermon, Christianity proclaimed Jesus as Savior (Acts 2). Though to this day there is disagreement as to exactly how Jesus saves his people, it is an essential core belief of the church that Jesus is Savior. It has been believed “everywhere and always” that Jesus descended from heaven to earth for our salvation and that “there is no other name…whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

            The New Testament itself depicts the saving work of Jesus in various ways.[1] The very name Jesus speaks of his role as Savior (Matthew 1:21). He is the one who “will save his people from their sins,” the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He died for our sins (Matthew 26:28; Romans 4:25; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 John 2:2) as a sacrifice (Ephesians 5:2; Hebrews 10:11-14), our redeemer (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14) and the payment of our ransom (Mark 10:45; 1 Timothy 2:6; Revelation 5:9), delivering us from death and sin (Romans 6:14-18; 8:2; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 5:1), and bringing reconciliation (Romans 5:10-11; Colossians 1:20).  He was raised for our justification (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:17). He is bread from heaven – those who eat his flesh and drink his blood have eternal life (John 6:33). His life created a new path for us to follow (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 6:20; 10:20; 12:2; 1 Peter 2:21).

            The church continued to teach salvation through Christ alone.[2] In the Apostolic Fathers we see “Christ as the lawgiver, the bestower of knowledge, immortality, and fellowship with God.” Forgiveness of sins was not their primary focus.[3] They did emphasize repentance and salvation through Christ, as 1 Clement demonstrates.  “Let us look stedfastly to the blood of Christ and see how precious that blood is to God, which, having been shed for our salvation, has set the grace of repentance before the whole world.”[4] Clement also sees in Jesus the light of “immortal knowledge.”[5] For Ignatius, salvation is to “attain unto God,” and to bear the stamp of God’s character, even to the point of being willing to “die into His passion,” knowing that “by believing in His death” we may “escape from death.”[6] Ignatius insisted that salvation was given to those who endure and escape all of the enemy’s assaults.[7] These early Christians did not see salvation as something that happened to them without regard to their participation.[8] Mathetes puts it this way: “as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God.”[9] The Apostolic Fathers consistently affirm that salvation is given to us through Jesus Christ.[10]

[1] John Driver, Understanding the Atonement for the Mission of the Church (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2005).
[2] Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 163–88; Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, 141–55.
[3] Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 165.
[4] 1 Clement VII, ANF I p. 7
[5] “By him are the eyes of our hearts opened. By him our foolish and darkened understanding blossoms up anew towards his marvelous light. By him the Lord has willed that we should taste of immortal knowledge.” 1 Clement XXXVI, ANF I p. 14
[6] Ignatius constantly refers to his aim to “attain to God.” He teaches that everyone must die and go to their own place. We are like two kinds of coins. Some of us have God’s character stamped on us. Others bear the stamp of the world. His stamp is a stamp of love. We know we bear his stamp if we are willing to “die into His passion.” Ignatius to the Magnesians V, ANF I p. 61; “by believing in His death, you may escape from death.” Ig Tral II ANF I p. 66
[7] Ignatius to the Magnesians I, ANF I p.59
[8] “by thy hands thou shalt labor for the redemption of thy sins” Barn. V, ANF I p. 139; Must “torture his own soul” and “be afflicted” or sins will not be forgiven. Herm. Parable VII, ANF II p. 38
[9] Diog. 7, ANF I p. 27
[10] Our sins are forgiven through Christ’s blood. Barn. V, ANF I p. 139; “who for our sins suffered even unto death” Polycarp to the Philippians I, ANF I p. 33”; “By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God?”Diog. IX, ANF I p. 28