What do Christians mean when they say “salvation is personal”. For the most part they tend to mean their relationship with God is purely between them and God. Which on its own is not necessarily incorrect but the kind of behaviour it tends to produce is this “only God can judge me” mentality where they could conduct themselves in any manner, dress in any manner, look any manner because they feel like it. After all, they are saved by grace not works. Some people even use this phrase to justify not going to church. “That’s not important”, they say, “What matters is that God knows my heart and sees me”. Is this correct?
There is some degree of truth in that statement. Yes, salvation is indeed personal to an extent. John 3:16 directs salvation at “whoever believes”, there is an individuality and singularity about that phrase. The whole aim of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was to provide a platform where God and man could meet. To restore as much as possible on this side of eternity that deep fellowship and intimacy Adam shared with God in the garden of Eden. This is evidenced by Jesus calling God, His Father and Our Father (John 20:17). Paul similarly writes that as many who believe in Jesus have received the Spirit whereby they call God “Abba” (Galatians 4:6). “Abba” is the most intimate term a Jewish child could call his father, it is in fact more akin to “daddy”. So yes, salvation is indeed personal in that regard.
Salvation is also personal in the sense that every believer (and indeed every person, though in a different context for the unsaved) would give a personal, individual account of his/her life to Jesus Christ at some point. As it is written,
“For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10)
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2Corinthians 5:10)
However, this is not the full story by any means. For one, Jesus did not die for any one individual human being, He died for the world (John 1:29, John 3:16, 1John 2:1–2) and the goal of His so dying was to redeem a body of people from the world. So repeatedly Paul says Jesus Christ is the head of, listen to this, not any one man, but the body, which is the church (Ephesians 1:22–23, Colossians 1:18). As if leaving nothing to chance, Paul also clarifies that as many as are saved are parts of the body.
“We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:30)
The whole of 1Corinthians 12 is about this also. The big picture here is that on being saved, we do not become “lone rangers” or isolated bits and pieces just roaming around and doing our own thing, we become part of a far bigger body of people both living and dead (Ephesians 3:14–15). This means our conduct (actions, inactions) matters and our salvation becomes a thing of interest to two sets of people; those outside the church and those in the church.
For those outside the church, believers are called to represent Christ to them in every way possible. Paul called the church at Corinth an epistle of Christ read by men (2Corinthians 3:1–3). Paul was also concerned about the impression unbelievers would have about disorder in a church service (1 Corinthians 14:23). So, although believers are saved from the world, they still owe it to the world to let their lights shine before men so that God would be glorified (Matthew 5:16).
The believer also owes an obligation to those in church who have newly believed or do not have as much knowledge of the faith as they do. So for instance in Paul’s day there was a massive debate about eating food sacrificed to idols and Paul firmly submitted that since there is one God and idols are useless, eating food sacrificed to them makes no difference(as he said quoting Psalms, the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof), but not everybody had this knowledge and some new converts would be a bit put off if they were to see somebody with that knowledge eating such food. You can read 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 for the entire bruhaha. He however made a heavy point which needs to be emphasised,
“And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:11–13)
Mind you this is not limited to food. It applies to courses of actions, choice of appearance and indulgences which are not necessarily sinful but would not be in the interest of your brother. As Paul says, all things are permitted but not all things are necessary (1Corinthians 6:12).
Finally, interacting with the body of Christ is to the believer’s benefit! Like it or not, a community of believers (and I mean, the right ones, those who believe in Jesus Christ and the gospel!!!!!) is essential to growing in the faith. This is the work of those placed by Christ in ministry (Ephesians 4:11), particularly the pastor! (Yes, I know its hard to trust them these days but hey our faith is in Christ anyway and there are innumerable fantastic, God fearing and Jesus loving, faithful pastors out there, they just don’t get as much publicity as the ones who fail morally)Hence the writer of Hebrews admonishes believers not to forsake the gathering together of themselves (Hebrews 10:25). And James admonishes to pray for one another, confess your faults to one another (James 5:16) and Paul as well as Peter admonishes believers submit to one another in the fear of the Lord(Ephesians 5:21, 1 Peter 5:5). As unpleasant as this may sound sometimes, it’s just what it is, no believer grows by being on his own or a one man mafia. We all need each other’s gifts to the body and we all need fellowship. Even God who is I AM, existent by Himself and self-sufficient is THREE PERSONS!
This leads to the question, why is my freedom determined by other people? Well Paul asks the question on your behalf and answers it for you from centuries ago,
“…for why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience? …Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” (1Corinthians 10:29–33)
So in conclusion, “salvation is a personal thing” is somewhat inaccurate because at the end of the day it’s not just about you, it’s about Jesus and if that is the case then we ought to be mindful of the unsaved and the church because Jesus is mindful about them. The law of love should govern our conducts, love for people, not of ourselves as it is written,
“We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” (Romans 15:1–3)