Years ago, my wife selected a mobile to hang in our newborn’s bedroom above the crib. I remember attaching that mobile to a ceiling which I presumed would be stared at for hours by our newborn.
Funny thing about mobiles. If you grab it by any part other than the center supporting string, such as by one of the suspended objects, the mobile will contort into another shape. What were intended to be supporting horizontal beams in the framework might now collapse into limp hanging sticks. The visual relationship of the parts to the whole can become jumbled and confused. Knowing the right question to ask can avoid creating a tangled mess. With a mobile the initial appropriate question is, “where is the center string?”
Biblical teaching can suffer the same type of distortion if we try to suspend a concept of Scripture by a key word or idea without first allowing Scripture to reveal the framework about how the parts are related to the whole. To avoid a less-than-clear understanding on salvation, the right question is essential. Two Pauline phrases have the potential to hang the theological mobile regarding salvation from its proper God-centered starting point, thus rescuing it from both an anthropological center and common distortions of Pauline teaching.
Paul wrote, “God knows those who are his” and “but now that you have come to know God, or rather are known by God.”/1 These phrases reorient the discussion away from starting with a myopic fixation upon the claims which people might make and toward the true crux of the matter: Does God claim we are his? How does God determine who belongs to him? Can we know the principle(s) by which God recognizes those who are his saved people?
When the Bible is scoured keeping these questions in view, a biblical framework clearly and cleanly arises out of the text upon which topics like salvation by faith and baptism for the remission of sins hang harmoniously in proper relationship with one another. Not only is starting with the right questions necessary for getting past what appears to be an age old impasse of two camps armed with their own self-affirming verses, it also opens the path toward enriching our understanding regarding what the biblical text was intended to communicate.
Asking the proper questions can derail proof-texting, that is, ripping ideas and phrases out of context in order to prove a point. Asking the right questions at the start of a discussion can lead to hearing God’s voice, not merely an echo of our own imposed upon Scripture. Asking the appropriate questions can lead to a theologically healthy understanding.
Just stop and listen to how people discuss salvation. It quickly becomes clear that a need for a biblically healthy reorientation exists. A theocentric soteriological framework has been largely ignored.
1/ 2 Timothy 2:19; Galatians 4:9
This is part one of a series on salvation in Christ.