A few years back, as I was studying and teaching through the Gospel of Mark, I learned that the Greek word for “salvation” (sozo) more literally meant “to be made whole.” That realization was a “light bulb” moment for me; forever changing my view of salvation.
Here is what I mean:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). God created everything perfect, whole, complete; including man, whom He “created in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27).
At creation everything was perfect, whole and complete.
But then sin entered the world (Genesis 3).
The result of sin was separation and fragmentation. As a result we have been separated and fragmented from God, from each other, and from the created world. This is seen by Adam and Eve’s banishment from the Garden (Genesis 3:23-24), immediately followed by the conflict between Cain and Abel (Genesis 4).
This fragmentation and separation became even more pronounced at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). In fact, the entire Old Testament story is about the fragmentation of mankind and our complete and utter inability to put things back together, once again becoming whole.
A popular children’s poem concisely explains the fragmentation and separation of the human condition:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses, And all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Here is where it gets interesting.
“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God” (Mark 1:14).
We have all been taught that the phrase “good news” is the Greek word for “evangelism.” And evangelism is all about putting your personal faith in Jesus Christ. That’s the gospel, right?
Not so fast.
Listen as Mark quotes Jesus proclaiming what the good news (the “gospel”) actually is.
“’The time has come,” (Jesus) said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1:15).
Maybe someday I will blog in detail about the meaning of Jesus’ words, but for now, suffice it to say that Jesus said the gospel was the “kingdom of God drawing near”; both a present reality and a future promise.
The kingdom of God is where God’s will is done. It is where life is what God intended it to be at creation. The kingdom of God is where all of creation is once again complete and whole. Thus, when you “repent and believe the good news” you are recognizing the authority of God’s kingdom in your life, and by faith, taking the pledge of allegiance, becoming a citizen of God’s kingdom. As a citizen of that kingdom, God begins the process of making you whole again (“salvation”). He begins the process of making you one with God, with other people, and with creation.
Jesus came to make people whole. As you read the gospels, understanding the place of the kingdom in Jesus’ ministry, you begin to notice that all of His miracles and healings and quieting of storms and resurrection had to do with making individuals, societies, and creation whole again; whole physically, emotionally, spiritually, environmentally, and socially. When all we do in our churches is emphasize individual spiritual wholeness in Christ, we short-change the width of breadth are of the gospel message.
In the Book of Acts, we see this wholeness, not only affecting individuals, but groups. One of the main things that happened on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) was people hearing the gospel in their own language. On the Day of Pentecost, the curse of Babel was reversed! In Christ, people are reconciled with each other and societies are made whole.
Then, Paul tells us that even creation longs to be made whole, and will one day be made whole again. But while creation hangs on for complete wholeness, it waits for believers to start the process, “For creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21).
Somehow, the salvation message preached by the church has got to include the environment!
This “being made whole” was not just a New Testament idea. The Old Testament uses the word “shalom” to describe wholeness/salvation.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7).
The word translated “peace” is the Hebrew word, “shalom.” But it means far more than the absence of conflict. Shalom means “complete reconciliation, a state of the fullest flourishing in every dimension—physical, emotional, social, and spiritual—because all relationships are right, perfect, and filled with joy” (Generous Justice, Tim Keller, location 1963). In other words, shalom means “wholeness” and is not only applied to individuals and creation, but also to society at large.
This is where social-justice comes into play. If my conversion experience does not awaken me to the needs and injustices of the vulnerable, something is missing.
Societies and communities are fragmented based on the haves and the have-nots; based on class, race, ethnicities, and gender. But in the kingdom of God there is no fragmentation. In God’s kingdom, all truly are equal.
Our salvation message has to include individuals, creation, and society. Anything less is not the entire gospel—the good news that with Christ comes the kingdom of God.
“Repent and believe the good news!”