Saved for Truly Human Life
To say that my brothers and I were ambivalent about heaven when we were young would be a massive understatement. Given the alternative, we would certainly take heaven over hell. But we weren’t keen to be souls who would sing and play harps forever. (Clearly it hadn’t yet occurred to us to wonder just how disembodied souls could sing or play.) And we liked our world a lot. So while we dutifully prayed for Jesus to return, we hoped he’d take his time. There was so much living we wanted to do before eternal life put an end to our humanity and to the world.
We were immersed in a church culture that drove a wedge between mind and body, spirit and flesh, heaven and hell. That gulf widened through baffling songs (“Climb, climb up sunshine mountain”; “Like a bird from prison bars has flown, I’ll fly away”?), and perplexing images (the resurrected Jesus “ascending” to heaven by dumping his body behind the flannel-graph board).
If we looked forward to meeting Jesus, we certainly didn’t expect to find him to be human, not anymore. Perhaps that’s because as far as we were concerned, he never really had been. We’d been properly taught that Jesus was fully God and fully man. We knew he’d risen with a body. Our unguarded language, however, revealed a different story. Common Christian speech, ours included, starts sentences with, “When Jesus was a man . . .” or “When Jesus was human . . .” implying he is not a human man any longer.
We sang about Jesus’ bodily resurrection at Easter, but the fact of our own resurrection had been replaced with the idea of immortal souls. Moreover, salvation came to mean trusting God to save our souls out of this world and into a spiritual realm that had nothing to do with being human beings.
Becoming renewed human image bearers through final resurrection just wasn’t in our theology, despite our Easter hymnody and our Pentecostal experience of the Spirit. Nor would we have recognized “practice resurrection now” as a description of the Christian life. I can’t speak for my brothers, but I did not know the resurrected Jesus to be, in the words of my friend Jeremy Begbie, “new creation, first edition,” precisely as the forever Incarnate Son of God.
We didn’t realize that without a truly human Jesus who lived and died in the power of the Spirit, and was raised by his Father through the same Spirit to be our truly new human Adam and divine Lord, we had no Christian story. No life. No hope. Without the promise of our final glory as adopted, human children renewed in the image of our Creator, we would never be permanently reunited with God or bear God’s perfect image in our flesh. We would never get to be God’s priests of shalom, tending the new creation and bringing forth flourishing instead of corruption.
We knew of salvation as the forgiveness of sins through Christ’s death on the cross.
Yet we had somehow fundamentally missed the good news of our crucified Lord’s authentic human life and resurrection that makes the cross so vital, and vice versa. Hence, we missed the other half of salvation; that we had not only been saved from sin but for truly human life.
The witness of the New Testament about Jesus’ incarnate life, death and resurrection is that he is the apex of all created reality and the foretaste of its future. God the divine Son, without ceasing to be so, became one with his human image bearers for their renewal and that of all creation. Hence, broken image-bearing human children and the whole created order await the restoration manifest in the risen Christ, who is the “image of the invisible God” and “the firstborn over all new creation” (Rom 8; Col 1). This life has already been realized in and is held in waiting for us by our new Adam, Jesus of Nazareth, son of God and Mary. This is the destiny for which we were loved into human being and for which we have been saved by Christ’s cruciform love.
Salvation is about new creation. It’s about God giving us our human lives back, permanently renewed to bear the divine image of his Son with unveiled faces, properly wearing the power and glory given by the transforming Spirit, who is the Lord. Because God the Spirit is already indwelling our lives as God’s new human children, our final salvation begins now. This Easter, may resurrection bring forth real life from real death—death to everything that has no place in the future kingdom that God has already brought into our midst in Christ—uniting us to the still Incarnate, forever human-divine Jesus in his ongoing ministry among us by the Spirit until we are all “swallowed up by life” (2 Cor 4-5)!