Salvation: The entire person
If you time travelled and met a God-loving and righteous psalmist and asked him, "And why are you so happy?" he might say, "Because God saved me." If you came across a lovely Christian today and asked, "What has you so pleased with life?" she might say, "Because God saved me." Same words but almost certainly meaning something different.
An ancient man of God, a psalmist, might easily say God "saved" him and think of rescue from disease or enemies that sought his life (physically or socially). This would be perfectly legitimate speech and the nation would sing that kind of thing in their assemblies.
A modern Christ could easily use the same speech and on occasions he or she would mean something similar. But almost always when a modern Christian says, "God saved me" he or she means that God in and through Jesus Christ took away his/her sins and restored them into full life and fellowship with himself.
It makes good sense that a modern Christian would do that because we tend to think of salvation almost altogether in terms of sins forgiven and hope of heaven. While it is right and proper that we should make forgiveness a central element in our experience, we nevertheless lose something that ancient psalmists possessed. We tend to draw too severe a distinction between what is spiritual and what is material but that wouldn't occur to a devout and an enlightened Israelite.
Still, it's a mistake to think that enlightened lovers and servants of God in ancient Israel thought only of material blessings. They didn't believe their relationship with God was only about the physical and earthy blessings (crops, flocks, health and material prosperity). They believed that these were the token of a relationship they had with God. Behind the gifts was God. Behind the crops was the God who committed himself to them. There was a meeting of hearts and lives! Give Psalm 119 a slow reading when you have the time. "Oh how I love your law!" he breathes. "I think about it all day every day."
Salvation from enemies or disease wasn't the whole story! These people were embraced by God and in turn embraced him in a covenant relationship. Their relationship was one of friendship (their father, Abraham, was God's friend)—holy friendship and the open-eyed and open-hearted in the nation found that astonishing! That God, the sovereign Lord of creation would commit in love to them (and see Psalms 8 and 67, which relate to humanity at large). But there it was. And when he healed their diseases or delivered them from enemies (and maybe even delivered them to enemies) he was being faithful to his commitment to them (and, of course, through them to the all nations).
This use of the word "saved" or "salvation" continues in the Gospels when it is used of healings or deliverances from death in a storm, for example.
But just as surely as the wicked and thankless get rain and sunshine from God and aren't at peace with him, so an ancient Israelite could be "saved" from disease or enemies and not have peace with God at the personal relationship level. Nevertheless, we don't need to be drawing false conclusions because that's true.
Because God's enemy gets many of God's blessings, proving that you can be blessed without being reconciled with God in its fullest sense, it doesn't follow that material blessings are mere material blessings. God keeping his commitment to his enemy is not the same as his keeping his commitment to his elect; but the elect aren't God's pets. As sinful humans they are loved and God takes them to his heart but as "the elect" they have been called to God's task of bearing witness to a world that has in so many ways given up on itself that God hasn't given up on it.
In any case, all of those who will enjoy salvation in and through Jesus will know that "salvation" is about the redemption of the entire person. And when God has completed that salvation in a coming day they will discover that nothing that was an essential part of them as humans will have been jettisoned!
[Is there a text more ignored than Matthew 8:16-17 that links human suffering to the redemptive life and death of Jesus Christ?]
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com