Salvation — Scripture’s Form 1040

Devotional thoughts for May 2021

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... where I discuss the thinking that led to this article.)

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9, NIV)

Peter describes our salvation as “the end result of our faith.” That’s surely one of the things it is, but that’s not the whole story. Salvation is like God’s Form 1040: some of its data is self-generated, but some needs to be gathered from ancillary forms like Schedule A (Itemized Deductions) or Schedule E (Supplemental Income and Loss). (These are federal tax forms in the USA.)

I’ve been a Christian for fifty years now, so I understand what salvation is experientially. But I’ve always had trouble describing it in writing. This is funny because I talk, teach and preach about it with ease! But I think this is because I have an evangelical’s vocabulary — and I assume that certain understandings are in place. The problem is, I never thought about it systematically.

For most Christians, a functional vocabulary about salvation is adequate, but not for me. I had been putting off an important writing project: I hadn’t published a flagship piece about salvation — and how could I? I hadn’t found a way to describe it as I needed — comprehensively yet succinctly.

I did eventually publish the article (Salvation: What it is, what it is not, and what you have to do about it), and I started it with this hard-fought statement about salvation: “Salvation is the process by which God returns people to himself.” Not only is this statement the introduction to the article, it is the entire first paragraph — and this is significant.

You see, only after I accepted the fact that salvation was a process — and not just one thing — could I sit down and write the rest of the article. But I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here. That opening line is not the whole story of salvation; it contains the whole story, though… and I needed to accept that “compromise” before I could get on with my writing.

But to see what was at issue with me, we need to compare my statement about salvation with Peter’s. Where my description contains the whole story of salvation, Peter’s does not. He described one of the things salvation is — and to that, I say, Amen! But salvation is not a single thing. It’s a process… a process that involves multiple things. I can’t list them all, but I can use the atonement to show you what’s going on.

You see, there would be no salvation without the atonement. Jesus had to shed his blood and physically die to become a propitiation for our sins. But look at what’s happening: I’m using the atonement as a contrast with the omnibus nature of salvation (Form 1040), but we can’t talk about the atonement without addressing sacrifice, propitiation, Jesus’ sinlessness, penal substitution, etc. — and the atonement is just one subsection of salvation!

Can you feel my pain? Salvation is simple to explain and to access… but it is profound and beyond human ken. This is how God does things, by the way… by teasing us… by giving us glimpses of heaven. Looking back, I see where God drew me in and saved me. And to his credit, I have never run out of things to think about!


(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20210531 Salvation — God’s Form 1040 ).

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