Paul exhorts us to Christ’s commandment of love, telling the Romans:
And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awaken out of sleep; for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.
He tells us that the Gospel is:
the power of God unto salvation to every one who believeth, to the Jew first and also to the Greek
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells them that ‘we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.’
But if we are saved by our faith in Christ when we received him, how can be become ‘nearer salvation’? We get some idea if we look at verse 17 where we are told that the ‘just live by faith’. If we are to understand Paul, and how salvation is not a one off act, we need to grasp the difference he makes later in Romans between justification (Gk: dikiosis) and faith (Gk: pistis). We are justified by Christ’s righteousness. That puts us right with God, our sins are forgiven by God. Faith in Christ is the channel of our salvation – and by salvation Paul means being freed from the wrath of God. And make no mistake, mankind lies under that wrath. If we doubt it, we only need to see how closely what Paul says about the Jews and the Gentiles applies to our society.
How easy we find it to do as the Jews of old did, which is to confuse righteousness with a strict adherence to the Law, and to do as they did, which is to add endlessly to it is ensure that no one should inadvertently break them. That is a tendency to which those of a religious caste of mind are most prone. Nor should we think it a bad thing if done mindful of what Jesus and Leviticus tell us. But when it leads us, as it did the Pharisees, to add burdens to our shoulders we should remember we will be swallowing camels whilst straining at gnats. We shall by no wise find salvation in the observance of the Law. That, of course, does not mean we should not, through faith, keep it where it applies to us (which is the moral law), but it does mean we should recall its spirit more often than, perhaps, some of us are inclined.
If, on the one hand, we have that tendency among us, then among the latter-day Gentiles, those who do not believe, then we see the wrath of God revealed now, as it was then. “Professing to be wise’ the Gentiles become fools: they worship objects (in our case material goods and ourselves) and they are given over to ‘vile passions’. There is the wrath of God revealed to us – and it is from that which our faith in Christ has saved us. In His sacrifice we are justified – made righteous. Salvation is the work of God in us after justification. It begins at the moment we believe and continues in us until, having lived in him, we die in him, and if we die in him, we are raised with him.
Paul reminds us that we have fallen short of the glory of God, that we are all sinners. No good works, no outward show of piety can restore that relationship with God – that comes from God alone. As Paul reminded the Ephesians, and as he reminds us: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. There is the great mystery at the heart of our faith namely that ‘God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ A very good man might dies for another such – but what wonderous love is this that God, who alone is perfect, should die upon the Cross and rise again so that we sinners should escape the wages of sin?
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.