It's Not about Me
It’s not about me—salvation, that is. I don’t believe that I am individually “saved” and guaranteed a place in heaven just because I have accepted Jesus as Saviour and Lord. I do believe that I make an individual commitment to Jesus and to his Way, a commitment to work for the common good and for the well-being of all, in this life and the next. When Paul invites us to “put on Christ” (Romans 13:14), he is clear that once one does so, the focus is no longer on oneself. Jesus didn’t come live among us for his own personal benefit; he lived, died, and rose for the world.
Perhaps my understanding regarding salvation comes from the Orthodox roots of my paternal family. Within the Orthodox church, there is a belief in universal salvation; that is, the ultimate restoration of all people and the earth itself into full communion with God. Catholicism and Protestantism, which emerged in reaction to the Catholic church, are rooted in the belief that salvation is individual.
I understand universal salvation in this way: my salvation is tied up with your salvation and with the salvation of every human and with all of creation. The word salvation comes from the Latin root word salvare, which means to be made well. The word salve, a healing ointment, comes from the same Latin root. So, salvation is about well-being and healing. Once we accept Jesus and commit to his Way, we are to be a healing ointment for the whole world. We are forgiven, not so we can get into heaven, but so that we can be salt and light, working for salvation, healing, and well-being for all.
We are in this together, and none of us are saved unless we are all saved. By this, I don’t mean that everyone has to become Christian. Rather, I mean that I cannot know full well-being unless everyone else, and creation itself, knows well-being. This is emphasized over and over again in scripture. In Genesis 12, Abraham and Sarah are told that they will be blessed so that they may be a blessing for all the families of the earth. In Jeremiah 29, the Hebrew exiles who have been dragged off to Babylon are told to work for the welfare of the people in their exilic home, for in their “welfare you will find your welfare” (verse 7). When a lawyer asks Jesus to define neighbour, Jesus turns it around and tells the man to be the neighbour, in order to know abundant life (Luke 10:37). In 1 Corinthians 12:7, Paul writes that the variety of gifts given by the Spirit are for the common good. James writes that pure and undefiled religion is defined by caring for the most vulnerable (James 1:27). Hebrews 10:24 reminds us to “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” We are not in this for ourselves, but for each other.
I find myself wondering if the North American colonizers’ emphasis on individual salvation has played a part in leading us down a destructive path for people and for the earth itself. Negative behaviours are blamed on the individual and they are made responsible for confessing and rectifying them. There is no recognition that institutions and society have created the situations in which people end up addicted, homeless, depressed, alarmed, violent, or in poverty. In addition, individual salvation is coupled too easily with a materialistic, consumer culture in which we are encouraged to meet our own desires, ignoring the cost to the environment and to people who produce those goods for us. This was not what Jesus taught. In making an individual choice to give my heart to Jesus, I am committing to denying self and taking up the cross (Matthew 16:24), which is all about caring for the well-being of others and caring for the earth itself.
My salvation isn’t about me or for me. It is not about my individual path to heaven. We are in this together. The pandemic and climate change are showing us that. Until we all are saved, none of us is saved. Until all of us know well-being, none of us truly knows well-being. That’s how I see it.