Various words are used to illustrate different truths of the gospel. The word justification comes from a law-court setting, and redemption comes from a financial setting. But salvation involves much more than those words can convey. Scripture also uses several other terms. In this study we will examine some of the other words that describe our relationship with God and Christ.
1. Before we had faith in Jesus Christ, we were alienated from God, cut off from him. Whether we thought of ourselves in this way or not, we were his enemies (Colossians 1:21). But now, as a result of Jesus Christ, what are we? Verse 22. How has this peace been achieved? Verse 20.
Comment: Reconciliation is a relationship term. It is another word-picture for the gospel, since reconciliation means to make peace between people who used to be enemies. The gospel tells us that we, who were once enemies of God, are now on good terms with him. We are more than friends—we are loved as children and heirs. The word reconciliation helps make the point that we used to be God’s enemies, and have now been set right through Jesus Christ.
2. How was our reconciliation achieved? Romans 5:8, 10-11. Does this reconciliation mean that our sins are not counted against us? 2 Corinthians 5:18-19. Does the gospel message, the good news that we preach, include this concept? Verses 19-20. How is reconciliation possible? Verse 21; Ephesians 2:16.
Comment: God made Jesus, who was sinless, to be sin on our behalf. As Paul explains elsewhere, Jesus died for us. He was the perfect sin offering, and the result is that in him, “we might become the righteousness of God.” This is astonishing news: Sinners can become God’s righteousness through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ death on the cross enabled our sins to be forgiven, for us to have peace with God, for us to be counted righteous with him, and in right relationship with him.
3. What family metaphor does Paul use to describe our new relationship with God? Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5-6. What are the implications of this status? Romans 8:17; Galatians 3:19; 4:7.
Comment: In Romans 8:15, the Greek word for “sonship,” seen in some translations, means adoption. The picture is that God has chosen us to be in his family, even though we had no right to be there. There are two thoughts here: 1) God has chosen us and 2) we will be given an inheritance from him. In the ancient world, wealthy people who had no children of their own would adopt people (sometimes adults) to be their heirs. Paul is saying that God has chosen us as his children for the purpose of being his heirs, so that we will share with him in all the goodness of the universe.
When we are in Christ, when we identify ourselves with him, when our life is hidden in him, then we share in his rights as Son. We have all the legal rights of children, and we are heirs with Christ of all things (Hebrews 2:6-11). Normally, children do not inherit property until the parent dies. But this is not possible with God, so the analogy falls short at this point. In salvation, the truth is the other way around: it is the children who must die before they can inherit the property! The old self must die, and the new person must be created in Christ. Through faith, we are united to Christ. We share in his death (Romans 6:3-4) and will also share in his resurrection to eternal life (Romans 6:5; Ephesians 2:5-6; 2 Timothy 2:11).
The word adoption points us to the fact that we have a great inheritance. It also reminds us that God has chosen us, selected us, elected us for his purpose. We are “set apart for holy use”—the meaning of the word sanctified. We are “holy ones”—the meaning of the word saints. Because of what Jesus Christ has done for us and is doing in us, our lives are different, described in new ways. Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Now let’s look at one more word-picture of how new our lives are in Christ.
4. Another biblical image of our relationship to God is not as adopted children, but as direct descendants, children born in the household of God. Did Jesus describe our need for a new birth? John 3:3-8. Has God now given us that new birth? 1 Peter 1:3. How does God give us this new start in life? 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18; Titus 3:5.
5. Do those who accept Christ become born of God? John 1:12-13; 1 John 5:1. Are we his children? 1 John 3:1-2. Does John stress that someone who is born of God should forsake sin, and live a new way of life? 1 John 2:29; 3:9-10; 4:7; 5:4, 18.
Comment: These verses use the Greek word gennao, which usually refers to the birth of a child. In a few verses, it has the more general meaning of “produce.” Here are some verses where the word clearly means the birth of a baby: Matthew 2:1, 4; Luke 1:57; John 16:21; Romans 9:11; Hebrews 11:23.
In James 1:18, a different Greek word is used, apokueo, which comes from apo, meaning “from,” and kueo, meaning “to be swollen” or “to be pregnant.” Apokueo means to get something from a pregnancy—to give birth, to bring forth. James 1:18 says that God “chose to give us birth through the word of truth.” Through the gospel, God has given us a second birth, a spiritual birth.
Jesus, John, Peter and James are using the same analogy: that Christians are born again, with a new start in life, with a family-like relationship with God, in which we call God the affectionate term Abba. Scripture describes Christians as babies and children (1 Corinthians 3:1-2; Hebrews 5:12-14). Shortly after Peter tells us that we have been born again (1 Peter 1:23), he tells us to desire milk as eagerly as a newborn baby does (1 Peter 2:2).
We are to have a new source of life and a new way of life. The stress is on newness—our new nature as children of God. Our new life is energized and guided by the Holy Spirit.
We have examined several biblical words that describe our relationship with God. But physical things can only partially describe spiritual truths. The spiritual meaning of salvation is more profound than can be captured in legal terminology, financial ideas, or friendship or family terms. All the terms describe something true about the good news we have in Jesus Christ, but the complete truth is better than any of these terms can convey. Eternal life with a perfectly good God will be better than we can currently describe.
It is sometimes said that Christianity is not a religion—it is a relationship. In sociology, Christianity is correctly classified as a religion. When people say that Christianity is not a religion, they are making the point that our faith is not just a list of things we do for God, not a series of rituals, not a set of behaviors—it is an interactive relationship with God. He has a relationship not just with humanity as a whole, but with each person.
God wants us to do certain things and have certain behaviors, but the greatest commandment of all is to love God with all our being (Matthew 22:37-38). Love is a relationship word; our relationship with God is to be characterized by love. He has already shown us his love for us; we are to respond with love for him. Our obedience and behavior should be motivated by love. We are to seek God and desire him; we are to be eager to do his will. God does not want a reluctant obedience (motivated perhaps by fear), but a willing desire to be more and more like his Son. An eternity with God, in his kingdom and family, will be a blessing only if we enjoy being with God.
Scripture describes an interactive relationship with God. He has a personal concern for each of his children, tells them of his love, and leads them in what he wants them to do. In response to God, we love and speak to him in prayer, and in gratitude, we want to please him. He responds to us, and we respond to him. It is a personal and interactive relationship for each of us.
The intimacy of this relationship is shown further by the fact that God lives within us (sometimes expressed as the Father living in us, sometimes as the Son living in us and sometimes as the Holy Spirit living in us). When we accept Christ as our Savior, his Spirit lives within us. Whether we put it in these words or not, we are inviting God to be Lord of our lives, to build a relationship that will last forever.
Eternal life involves knowing God and knowing Jesus Christ (John 17:3). To “know” a person means more than knowing about them—it is a relationship term. Faith is also a relationship term, since it involves not only belief but also trust. Our relationship with Christ is not just a servant-master relationship, but a friendship (John 15:15). God is our Father, and Jesus Christ is our Brother. Christ’s love for his people is compared to a husband’s love for his wife (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:21-33). These analogies show that God wants a close relationship with us—a companionship closer than the best marriage, closer than the best friendship, closer than the best parent-child relationship.
Everyone, Christian or not, has some sort of relationship with God. Some people are like slaves who have run away from the master, some are like children who have run away from home. Some try to act as if God did not exist; others openly resent him. For them, the relationship is characterized by the word enemies. The good news is that God does not want us to remain as enemies—he wants us to be his children, his friends, who love him dearly. He wants this so much that he sent his Son to die for us, to reconcile us to himself and give us a new start in life, in which we have invited God to lead us and reshape what we are, so that we become more and more like him, better prepared to live with him in his kingdom with joy forever and ever. This is the good news of the kingdom of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the message of salvation.