Within many institutional churches the work of Jesus involves more than one aspect. In a common thread of understanding, man is amenable to three steps; salvation, sanctification, and glorification. Salvation settles one’s acceptability to God, sanctification addresses embracing the life principles of Jesus, and glorification is supposedly what happens in the future, when in a cataclysmic return, Christ confirms those who are actually saved.
In other groups I have heard a distinction drawn between a salvation which heals the rift between God and mankind and a salvation which restores our relationship with our own heart. The one addresses our God relationship; the other our relationship with each other.
My conclusion is that the issue of divine acceptance was an imagined one, not factually true, but made effectively true by human perception. This perception is deeply rooted in the account of the Fall in the Bible. Any lasting perception makes something “real” for us as humans, a problem to be resolved even if imaginary.
The second aspect of salvation is based in fact but a fact unperceived and therefore unreal for most men. Jesus dealt with both these issues through his instructions and personal life example. Through his identification of who are neighbors, his emphasis on the power of love and forgiveness, and his revelation of the unity between God and mankind Jesus taught a dramatically new vision of God, a God of not just the Jews but everyone. He emphasized and epitomized the extent of God’s regard for humanity as a whole, the object of His unconditional love and attention.
Jesus did not change God’s mind or enhance his ability to love; He instead introduced us to the real God, the one so misunderstood for so long. In this way salvation involved the sweeping away of misconception, not the establishment of a new reality in which God somehow manages to operate graciously.
In this second sense, salvation involves repentance and a symbolic death, as demonstrated by Jesus. The repentance of which I speak derives from the true understanding of the Greek word “metanoia” which translated “repentance” in the KJV. In reality, that word more properly defines a new way of thinking or a transformation of the mind, as suggested by Paul in Romans 12:2 and Philippians 2:5. Thus repentance, when properly understood, points to how we experience the second aspect of salvation, connecting with what is real but largely hidden, namely the power of love versus judgment.
The revelation of Jesus Christ was the revealing of this hidden reality. That revelation was both in word and deed, the deed being the life example of Christ and his symbolic death. Both these aspects of salvation form the basis for dramatic personal transformation. One without the other is only half the truth that sets men free.