How much attention do we give to the idea that salvation and the new birth are intended to bring about freedom from both the power and penalty of sin? To understand this it is helpful to read Jesus dialogue with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus spoke of the difference between seeing and entering the kingdom. I have been in high office towers in downtown Edmonton from where I can see great distances into the river valley. However, having entered and walked and biked in the river valley I can say from experience that seeing and entering it are not the same thing. Similarly I have driven by mountains and viewed their beauty. However, seeing them is very different from entering them and hiking up a steep mountainside with a heavy backpack on.
In a similar manner at conversion we ‘see’ or become aware of the kingdom of God moving in our lives. However, the degree to which we ‘enter’ depends upon the degree of ongoing repentance in our lives. Conversion frees us from the penalty of sin, ongoing repentance frees us from the power of sin. Look at the verse below.
21 “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 (NKJV)
How we view this verse is very important. Without thinking about it, it may seem that this is about Jesus saving us from the penalty of sin. However, what about Jesus saving us from the power of sin? Believing that may require some repentance. That is, we may need to revise our thinking about this verse.
Understanding the verse requires understanding what the angel communicated to Joseph in his dream. The angel never spoke to Joseph in English. The language of the day was Aramaic (very similar to Hebrew). Understanding this requires a little side trip to Hebrews chapter 4.
8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. Hebrews 4:8 (NKJV)
14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. Hebrews 4:14 (NKJV)
Joshua in verse 8 refers to Joshua who led the nation of Israel after Moses, and in verse 14 reference is made to Jesus the Son of God. The translators are being helpful in giving us the names we are familiar with but in Greek the words translated as Joshua and Jesus here are the same word. This is why the writer qualifies his statement by making it clear that he is referring to Jesus the Son of God. In Hebrew and Aramaic Yeshua/Joshua, means Yahweh/Jehovah is salvation. If we were being a bit more literal we would have translated Matthew 1:21 as, “You shall call His name Yeshua (Yahweh is salvation) for He shall save His people from their sins.” In fact the complete Jewish Bible translates the verse in a similar way,
21 “She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Yeshua, [which means ‘Adonai saves,’] because he will save his people from their sins.”
While the core of the NT teaches the need for the new birth and salvation, Paul in particular builds on that foundation by talking about how we get free from the power of sin. Look at the theology of Romans that goes from the foundation of conversion to how to walk in freedom from sin and encapsulates our call to be conformed to Jesus image in our character and behaviour (Rom. 6-8). If we miss that salvation from sin is a dual process we walk in half a salvation when a whole one is available.
To be clear I am not advocating some type of sinless perfection, though others have and some appeared to have walked in it. What I am advocating is that we seek to conform our lives to the scriptures rather than our culture! We will never fully arrive in this life but I think we can go much further than most of us ever attempt.
In my next post I will lay out the connection between repentance and sanctification and how they relate to our spirit and soul (which are not the same thing by the way).