To some extent, we have all come to understand various spiritual concepts based on our own understanding and the way we have been taught. But we absolutely must remember, our natural mind and will is the greatest (if not the only) enemy of God, because it alone is truly opposed to Him. (I wrote about this in more detail here).
Probably the most frequently emphasized spiritual concept in modern Christianity is “salvation.” Over time, the essence of salvation has come to be understood by most as avoiding an eternity in hell and obtaining an eternity in heaven with God. How sad that the primary emphasis among believers is our comfort and security, instead of God’s Kingdom! But what is truly important is what God sees and understands as “salvation.” Everything else is a deception which will ultimately be destroyed.
The Greek root word translated in the Bible as “saved” is sozo, which is a general word for protected, kept safe, healed or restored. It can refer to anything from physical protection to a deep spiritual work. What I’m most interested in is the inward salvation that is through the faith of Jesus Christ. This salvation isn’t something we “get,” but is a process that is worked within us. Two quick places in Paul’s writings which demonstrate this are Philippians 2:12 which states we must “work out” our salvation and 1 Corinthians 1:18 which says that believers are “being saved.”
As I looked at these two scriptures, I noticed they both clearly mention salvation in the context of humility. Then I began to think: salvation is by grace, through faith,1 and God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.2 Therefore, humility–>grace–>salvation. In the beginning of Philippians 2, Paul describes how Christ, though he was God, humbled himself and became a servant of men, having been exalted by his Father for doing so. With that in mind, he then writes: “ Therefore (in the same way), my beloved…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (humility)…” Humility, fear, and trembling are mandatory for salvation to be “worked out.”
1 Corinthians 1:18-21 (NKJV) states this:
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” 20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
A very important contrast is being mad, between those “perishing” who put their confidence in natural wisdom and understanding, and those “being saved” who see wisdom and power in the message of the cross. What this means is that God chose to make salvation unavailable to those who walk in natural wisdom and understanding, which is why they’re said to be “perishing.” These aren’t just atheists and such, but devout and religious people as well, like the “scribe” Paul mentions. Scribes were extremely devoted to the God they understood, but were also among the prideful religious leaders who opposed Christ, God’s son, more than anyone else. Because the message of the cross is both spiritual and contrary to the mind and will of man, the natural mind will always see it as “foolish.”
If the natural mind opposes the message of the cross and salvation, then it is the mind of the Spirit of God which receives this message. Humility toward God, which leads to salvation, is the setting aside and neglecting of one’s own will and understanding in favor of the will and understanding of His Spirit. Pride is refusing to lay down one’s own will and understanding in the face of Truth. Scripture states in one place that repentance leads to salvation. I agree with that, but would say this: humility opens the door to salvation’s path, and repentance keeps one moving down it. Humility is married to repentance, and pride is married to a hard heart. It seems that religious people, including Christians, are the slowest to humble themselves and resist repentance the most, because they are fearful of change (which becomes more costly as one becomes more entrenched in religion) and/or are very confident in their own understanding and way.
Justification has been accomplished by Christ’s death. But the salvation available in Christ is a process requiring the losing our life in favor of Christ’s. This is how we are conformed to his image – not as a clone of Jesus, exactly the same in every way, but becoming a person of the same “kind” as him; a son or daughter who seeks, loves, follows and honors their Father, fulfilling His will for them personally, just as Christ did. If you or I are not increasingly humbling ourselves and decreasing in our life (which is taking up our cross) in order to grow in the Spirit, we may be justified, but we’re not being saved.
James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5