“Jesus saves”: more than words | Jesus’ Creed

Jesus saves: more than words

By Heather L. Hart

The United States is not a Christian nation. It’s a nation with Christians. The expression of the Christian faith has been problematic in our history. This story includes both the affirmation and the abolition of slavery. It includes freedom of conscience and manifest destiny. It includes peaceful marches and nondisclosure agreements. And now, since January 6, 2021, it includes signs during the political rally leading to the riot taking by storm the Capitol building and bearing the words “Jesus Saves”.[1]

The truth that “Jesus saves” is fundamental for all Christians. Without Jesus we have no hope. As Christians we recognize that the mess of the world is not something we can fix ourselves; God alone can do it. Only Jesus, the divine-human mediator sent by God and guided by the Spirit, undoes our mess.

Jesus shows us what loyalty to God looks like above all earthly things. It looks like a will to be born into a world of sin and death; they look like the Beatitudes on a hill; it sounds like a firm resolve to live faithfully for God even when loyalty leads directly to a cross in the hands of political and religious powers. It looks like a resurrection that promises hope for all who see it, hear it, and follow it faithfully.

So what does it mean when “Jesus saves” is invoked at a rally attempting to exercise political power? Language is never separated from context. Were these signs meant to be a rebuke to those present, a statement that political power does not save? Or were they conceived as an invocation of divine support for an attempt at political domination?

Words, the person speaking them, and the cultural context all interact to create meaning. The inability or unwillingness of American Christians to see the meaning created by words used in a particular context makes us vulnerable to manipulation and misappropriation. Anglican Priest Tish Harrison Warren describes this lack of discernment and calls particular evangelical leaders and the White American Church to account for their ability to confuse faith with world power.[2] Like Paul, she sees the corruption of false teaching and its corrosive effects.

In 1 & 2 Timothy, Paul charts a course for his successor (1 Tim 1: 2; 2 Tim 1: 2). Paul is concerned with false doctrine, truth, and imparting righteous teaching (1 Tim 1: 3-7; 2 Tim 3: 1-9, 13-17). He anticipates the end of his ministry and his absence (2 Tim 4, 6-7). Paul sends letters to replace his presence.[3] He knew that his letters would be read over and over in worship services, and he clarified his apostolic role by conferring upon them a scriptural-like authority.[4] In Thessalonians, Paul commends the church for realizing that the word of God came through Paul’s teaching; it was not just human wisdom (1 Thess 2:13).

Paul may not have directly equated his letters with the Jewish scriptures (which we associate with the Old Testament), but he was aware of their value and the importance of carrying his message (2 Tim 4: 1- 5). Relating Paul’s in-person preaching and his letters as two different expressions of his presence helps us see that churches would also accept his letters as the word of God.[5]

The United States is not a Christian nation. It’s a nation with Christians. The expression of the Christian faith has been problematic in our history. This story includes both the affirmation and the abolition of slavery. It includes freedom of conscience and manifest destiny. It includes peaceful marches and nondisclosure agreements. And now, since January 6, 2021, it includes signs during the political rally leading to the riot taking by storm the Capitol building and bearing the words “Jesus Saves”.

Paul’s method of spiritual development through presence will help Timothy when he is gone. The heart of Paul’s instruction is still Jesus as God’s redemption for the world. From this truth flows the spiritual renewal of individuals and communities.[6] The lifestyle of renewed people is culturally sensitive, always wanting others to see a reflection of Christ.[7]

Paul gives instructions to specific groups encouraging them to live in a way that is not shameful for those who lack faith and demonstrates the attraction of the gospel.[8] Paul adapts what it feels like to follow Jesus faithfully into their world and trusts in the Lord to bring greater understanding to Timothy (2 Tim 2: 7).

The gospel that Paul preaches comes from the call of God and the inspiration of the Spirit of Scripture (2 Tim 1:11, 3:16). It is taught and modeled from person to person through individuals and communities.

It brings about a renewal that Christians are meant to share with the world through their lifestyle, character, and testimony. Paul gives us the discernment to express Christian faith today as we proclaim “Jesus saves”.

[1] Tom Gjelten, “Religious leaders almost unanimous in condemning the attacks on the Capitol” NPR, January 7, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/01/07/954581163/faith-leaders-nearly-unanimous-in-condemning-assault-on-capitol.

[2] Tish Harrison Warren, “We Worship With Magi, Not MAGA”, Christianity today, January 7, 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/01/07/954581163/faith-leaders-nearly-unanimous-in-condemning-assault-on-capitol.

[3] Sidney Greidanus, “The Preaching of Paul Today,” in Dictionary of Paul and his letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 738.

[4] Grant Osborne, “Hermeneutics / Interpretation of Paul,” in Dictionary of Paul and his letters, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 391.

[5] Greidanus, Paul’s preaching today, 738.

[6] Ibid., 743.

[7] Osborne, Hermeneutics / Paul Interpretation, 396.

[8] Bruce W. Longenecker and Todd D. Still, Thinking Through Paul: An Introduction to His Life, Letters, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 270.


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