After a weekend off, I am picking up my sermon series on salvation. I decided to take up this topic because the congregation I serve was part of a study on the relationship of salvation to mission. It was a Ph.D. project, which I'm pleased to say was approved. One of the discoveries of this study was a sense of reticence within the congregation about talking of salvation. I think that we struggle with this concept because we have a tendency to think in terms of salvation as the means by which we get to heaven. I claim Jesus as my savior, and when I die, I get to go to heaven. The reason why I get this pass to heaven is that Jesus paid the debt of sin that I owe and cannot pay. Many Mainline Protestants (and probably a lot of Catholics as well) find this formula to be problematic. So we don't talk about salvation. We may ask people to confess Jesus as savior when they join the church, but we leave it at that and move on.
I believe that salvation is much more than this. The question is how do we broaden the conversation. That's been my project in these sermons, and the upcoming sermon focuses on being "clothed with Christ," a phrase that is found in Galatians 3:27. It is a passage dealing with baptism and the way in which baptism changes one's identity. Paul was writing to a church that was wrestling with whether to require circumcision as a prerequisite to baptism/salvation. Paul says no. In baptism you become children of God. Paul goes on to speak about the distinctions we make in society and how they have no place in the body of Christ, for we are all one in Christ, and heirs of the promises made to Abraham (Galatians 3:28).
With this as background I want to share a word from Michael Kinnamon and Jan Linn directed at my denomination -- Disciples of Christ. They write:
The way we live as church, recognizing an essential oneness with people who are "different," is to be a model for the way people treat each other in society -- starting with us. Racism, sexism, and classism in church and society are an abomination to Christ that we oppose, not because we are good people, but because our very identity is at stake." That's what it means to be baptized. [Kinnamon and Linn, Disciples: Reclaiming Our Identity, Reforming Our Practice, pp. 59-60]
Salvation has to do with a change of identity. We go into the waters of baptism, naked (that was the ancient church practice), having stripped off our old garments, our old identities, and we emerge washed by the Spirit of God, and given new garments, signs of a new identity. All are one in Christ. The old distinctions have been washed away. And as Kinnamon and Linn point out the way live as children of God should be a model for the rest of society. That is what it means to be baptized and it's what it means to be saved in Christ.