Jesus’ Death and My Salvation

Ted Grimsrud—December 18, 2011

My earlier post on Jesus’ death (“Does Jesus’ Death Have Meaning?”) was rather heady and theological—grappling with this big question in the realm of ideas. This is appropriate, and I have been happy at the discussion that was stimulated by what I wrote.

One extended comment, from Philip Bender, challenged me to think about these issues a bit more personally and existentially. I understand the essence of Philip’s questions to be about how our beliefs about salvation, atonement, Jesus’ death, et al, actually speak to our lives, to our sense of assurance of our connection with God, to our on-the-ground appropriation of the Bible’s message of being reconciled with God.

These are some of the specific questions he raised:

• How do we appropriate Jesus atonement?

• How do personal, structural, and cosmic “at-one-ment” with God happen? How are these processes different and how are they unified?

• What does it mean to “trust in” the forgiving and transforming mercy of God?

• How do I know when I’ve trusted in it? Is it when I say that “Jesus (out of mercy) died for me”? When I endeavor to practice a life of mercy (“works”)?

Rather than respond to these questions head on, one-by-one, I will speak to the general thrust of what I perceive to be involved in these types of questions. Part of my concern in this discussion is that we let Jesus’ own teaching, and how he embodied his teaching, be our main guide. It seems to me that in discussions about atonement and salvation, this rarely happens. So let’s turn to two of Jesus’ most important accounts of how he understands salvation, two stories from the Gospel of Luke: the parable of the Good Samaritan (10:25-37) and the parable of the Prodigal Son (15:11-32).

The Good Samaritan story stands as one of the very few times that Jesus’ directly addresses the basic salvation question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The Prodigal Son story has so commonly been associated with Jesus’ message of salvation that it has come to be called “the gospel in miniature.” Continue reading “Jesus’ Death and My Salvation”