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Romans 8 - Three-Dimensional Salvation

(This page came first from a 'Digging Deep' exposition I gave at My Father's House church, Salford in August 2011. This page gives the jist of the argument, and expands it.

Romans chapter 8 gives a comprehensive picture of salvation. In this picture we can see three distinct dimensions, which leads the author, Paul, to a paeon of praise and wonder for "the glory that will be revealed" (v.18).

Not just one dimension but three.

All three dimensions have always been there, but for a thousand years of Christendom were formalised and sterilised. The first dimension was rediscovered in its fuller meaning 500 years ago, the second, just over a hundred years ago, and the third is being rediscovered in fuller meaning today. They might be stages in a person's spiritual journey (as in mine), but do not need to be. I believe that when a person truly comes to Christ s/he can experience and begin to develop all three right from the start. Each successive dimension fills out and enriches the other two, and given them fuller meaning.


Dimension 1: Right with God: 'No condemnation'.

Romans 8:1. "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

Because of Christ's death we can be made right with God and have our future destiny secured. Think of what this means for us, if we are genuine: It means forgiveness for past sins, however heinous, and God even 'forgets' them. It means that when we sin now and admit so, "God is faithful and just and will forgive our sin ..." (I John 1:9); we need - in fact should - no longer condemn ourselves when we sin or make mistakes or fall short. It is the grace, the unmerited favour, of God, showing the deep love of God, who, though "judge of all the earth" (Genesis 18:25), has taken upon himself (in Christ) the punishment we deserved. It is what the Passover and some other Old Testament sacrifices point forward to, and is the primary meaning of the Lord's Supper. This first dimension is glorious.

No wonder, when this dimension was rediscovered by Martin Luther and others at what is now known as the Reformation, it became the keystone of the theology of the non-Roman-Catholic Christianity for five hundred years. It was worked out through many parts of society - among the theologians like Luther and Calvin and the illiterate, among church leaders and ordinary believers, among the rich and the poor, among the powerful and powerless, among all races. To each person it gave dignity before God, and turned our gaze towards the future hope with God (what was often referred to as 'heaven', though perhaps erroneously).

But on its own, 'No Condemnation' gives a rather one-dimensional experience of Christ and God. On its own, it gives no solid reason why we should become better people, it cannot point to any power to sanctify us, it gives no immediate experience of God here and now (except perhaps the relief of sins forgiven), it turns our gaze away from this world (except as souls to be saved), it reinforces the sacred-secular divide, it turns prayer etc. into a duty rather than a delight, and so on. It frustrates us because though we want to do right, we find it difficult to do so (Romans 7). It also makes conundrums of various portions of Scripture, as we will see below.

At least, that was my experience. I believed, but I had no inner assurance of salvation, and no change in my life, no real joy, and could not really love God - until I discovered Dimension 2. Dimension 1 is only one portion of the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:33-34, that of forgiveness of sins; there are other portions too.

Dimension 2: The Holy Spirit Remaking Us

Romans 8:14-16. "those who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God ... you received the Spirit of sonship. By him we cry 'Abba, Father'. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children."

"the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" Galatians 5:22-23"

If we try to be better people and try to live for Christ in our own strength we fail (this is perhaps what Paul meant in verses 2-3 by 'flesh'), but if the Holy Spirit of God lives in us and he does these things in us, we change inwardly and need no longer fail. The Holy Spirit, growing his fruit in us, changes our inner attitude and makes us like Christ. He transforms our way of seeing the world (Romans 12:2), aligns our wills freely with God's will, so we come to genuinely want what God wants. A second portion of the New Covenant comes to light: God's law is written in our hearts not just presented to us in an external set of rules. The Holy Spirit gives us a taste of life with God, and gives gifts to God's people. He assures and comforts us - but also challenges, corrects and convicts us, 'sanctifying' us. Life becomes joy, we come to love God, prayer becomes a real live conversation with God our Father, we find God active in our lives here and now. Life with God now has two dimensions; it is in colour not just black and white. At least, that is what I discovered.

It begins to make sense of some erstwhile problematic passages of Scripture. For example, in Matthew 18:23-35 Jesus tells of the unforgiving servant. This servant was forgiven a huge, unpayable debt by his master - an allegory of how God forgives our sin. But the servant did not forgive a fellow servant a tiny debt - an allegory of that our attitudes should be like Christ. So the master recalled the unforgiving servant and angrily revoked the forgiveness. "That," said Jesus, "is how my heavenly Father will treat you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Theology developed under dimension 1 alone finds difficulty here: if God has forgiven us and forgotten our sins, and our salvation is assured, then how can he reverse the decision. Since we find ourselves failing to forgive people so frequently, this story seems to completely undermine the very nature and thrust of "No condemnation". But dimension 2 makes sense of it: what is important here is not whether we are condemned or not, but whether we have been changed inside to have the very attitude of our Father. Inner attitude has echoes in dimension 1 but is not really understood from within that dimension alone.

This dimension was rediscovered by the Pentecostal movements of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and also by the Charismatic movement in the 1970s.

But on its own, this dimension lacks its full purpose. Why should we be made like Christ? Why should God be active in our lives? Why is it important to experience joy and love for God a few brief years here on earth when we will have an eternity in the Next Life to experience these much more richly? Various answers have been proffered, each containing some insight related to some piece of Scripture. We will be jewels in his crown, and jewels should shine - but that seems rather paltry even if gloriously true. God loves us, and love (as we understand it) requires and implies a desire to be loved in return - but does that make God dependent on us to fulfil his needs? We look into the face of God and love and worship him - but is that not rather like teenage infatuation in which the couple has eyes only for each other?

The 1970s Charismatic movement began to break the secular-sacred divide by recognising body and feelings as well as faith and by emphasising action in the world. Unfortunately, much of it has ossified into worship and church-centredness (with mandatory speaking in tongues in some congregations!) and an inward-looking attitude of enjoying oneself in God. Is this because of the rather weak purposes? These purposes are very good, but perhaps there is another, richer purpose.

It is good to seek God. In another page, which many find helpful, 'Hand - Face - Heart', I suggest that we should seek not only the face of God but the heart of God; we should seek to love others and the rest of creation with his love, and have the mind of Christ. That extends the two dimensions into the third dimension.

Dimension 3: God's Mature 'Sons' Bless the Rest of Creation

Romans 8:18,19 "... the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager longing for the sons of God to be revealed"

Why should the rest of creation be eager to have the 'sons of God' to be revealed to it? Because the 'sons of God' are those whose attitude is to bless the world (the creation) rather than themselves. What does 'sons of God' mean? The Greek has five words for 'child' or 'son'. The word used here is not brephos (new-born), nepios (pre-speech toddler) or paidion (youngster). Nor is it teknon (offspring, one-born), which is used in Romans 8:16 above. The word used here is huios, meaning mature son, who is so like his father in mindset and attitude that, in any situation, he will act and respond just as his father would. So the "sons of God" are those who have the attitude and mind of God the Father so that they would treat the creation as their Father would. Because of Genesis 1:27 below, I think these 'sons of God' can be female as well as male, because the word refers to mature attitude rather than gender; it so happened that in the Greek culture of the time women were seen as below men so the word would seldom have been applied to women.

Because they are 'sons of God', their blessing of the world is always done in the light of the next world, anticipating the New Creation. What we do here and now is the seed that will flower in the next. While Dimension 1 makes us forgiven and justified and Dimension 2 makes us loved by the Father and empowered, Dimension 3 makes us Meaningful - all we do and are is Meaningful in the sight of the Eternal, Living God.

Dimension 3 is being discovered by disparate people in disparate strands. By those who stress environmental responsibility linked with justice, by those who stress the future of the New Earth as well as heaven, by those who stress the importance of everyday living, by those who give importance to politics and structures of society, by those who want to bring Christ into the knowledge systems of the world, and so on. Authors that are exploring facets of dimension 3 include: NT Wright, Christopher Wright, Calvin Seerveld, Brian Walsh, CS Lewis, Tony Campolo, David Lawrence, Paul Marshall, Mark Noll, and many more.

Why is Dimension 3 Important?

Dimensions 1 and 2 have been known, experienced, thought about and discussed in the Christian community for some time, but dimension 3 is relatively new, and is still being worked out. It is clear that both dimensions 1 and 2 are important when we look at Scripture, but the importance of dimension 3 has still to be worked out (or it has to be found unimportant). This part discusses some of the importance of dimension 3 as found in the Scripture. More detail can be found in the overview of New View.

What happens when the natural creation experiences its Creator? According to Psalms and the prophets, the seas roar, the trees clap their hands: the natural creation experiences joy - the kind of joy, according to C.S.Lewis, that it could and would experience. What happens when it experiences humanity? On the whole, not joy, but terror, destruction and selfish misuse and abuse.

According the the New View, God's cosmic plan was for humanity to represent God to the rest of creation and for this privileged responsibility humanity was given 'radah' (rulership, dominion) over the rest of creation, so that, in experiencing humanity the rest of creation would experience something of God and all reality would rejoice. Humanity turned away from this role and since then the rest of creation has experienced curse.

Romans 8 shows the way back, so that humanity can once again fulfil its mandate. And the way forward, to a future New Earth in which humanity will in a fuller way fulfil its mandate of representing God to the rest of creation. And that pervades the whole of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. (e.g. Rev. 11:18).

The rediscovery of dimension 3 is timely. Humanity has a major problem in environmental and economic crises. And it is being rediscovered that these problems are important in God's eyes too. Up to now, humanity has tried to solve these problems by politics, education, economics, technology, discussion and so on. But only Christ and the Holy Spirit can solve it, with all three dimensions expressed in Romans 8. From time to time humanity knows what is wrong, and tries to change things towards the right, but is ultimately powerless. Governments legislate the right thing - but then people resist because they think it threatens their own self-centred interests. One decade there might be a fashion for the environmentally responsible thing - but the next the people aspire to destructive things like gas-guzzling SUVs. The heart of the people does not change! Politics, education, economics, technology, media - thought each of these has their place none will solve the problem.

This blessing of the world is for this life, but not just for this life only. It is linked with, and anticipates, the next life, when God brings in New Heaven and Earth, which, the Greek asserts, are new-of-the-same-kind rather than completely-different. Our blessing of this creation is like a seed which will flower in the next.

Only the Holy Spirit can change the heart of the people. When the heart changes, the thoughts, actions, words, lives, aspirations, habits, motivations and lifestyles change. People do good, active good in new ways. When revival happens, these changes become widespread. The only solution to climate change and our environmental and economic crises is revival by the Holy Spirit. Past revivals show this to be true.

Humanity and the entire creation needs the three-dimensional salvation depicted in Romans 8. There is no other solution.

Comparing and Integrating the Three Dimensions

The following table summarises the three dimensions. It shows how they are all needed, and no one is superior to the others.

Table summarising the three dimensions (Just started)
Dimension 1
'No condemnation'
Dimension 2
'Abba Father'
Dimension 3
Blessing the rest of creation
Problems addressed Guilt, need for forgiveness; need to get right with God God is seen as distant, tyrannical, demanding;
Desire for experience of God in my life
Lack of power
Inwardlookingness, elitism, selfishness;
"Affluence, Arrogance, Unconcern" [Ezek 16:49]
Why are we kept in this fallen world? To invite people to Jesus the Christ, letting them see the difference that the Holy Spirit makes. To become more like Jesus the Christ; this happens because of difficulties, troubles, persecutions, etc. [K.P. Yohannon] To be salt and light, bringing justice in the world, encouraging people towards rightness, and leading the world in opening up the diverse potential of the creation.

Three-Dimensional Salvation and Christendom

Each movement of thought and belief in Christendom has some element of some of the dimensions, but many lack one or more, or are weak in some. Nevertheless, in the dimensions they have, they have worked it out in their own specific way, contributing to our understanding of it. The following table summarises this, giving a rating of zero to five stars (good) in each dimension and a brief explanation of the ratings.

Dimensions of religious movements thought and belief in Christendom
Movement or type No condemnation
(Dimension 1)
Holy Spirit
(Dimension 2)
Blessing the World
(Dimension 3)
Traditional evangelical **** *
Focus on justification through Blood of Christ, with small doctrine of Holy Spirit as comforter, convictor of sin and inspirer of Bible; almost completely ignores good in this life, focusing only on next.
Traditional Pentecostal *** **** *
Focus on spiritual gifts so that we, as God's children can enjoy power and prosperity (d2); made possible by Christ (d1); almost completely ignores good for rest of creation in this life, focusing only on next.
New Charismatic evangelical *** *** **
Justification through Blood of Christ; gifts and enjoyment of God from experience of Holy Spirit; some charitable work to ameliorate social deprivation with sometimes a consciousness of environmental responsibility.
Traditional Roman Catholic (and High Anglican?) * * *
Has all three, but in a formalised way, hence only one star: the mass (d1), the Holy Spirit assigned to Confirmation (d2), and 'good works' done by church in world but trying to secure church's own influence in world.
Calvinism ***** **
Strong doctrines of justification (d1), and 'Christ's sovereignty over all life' (d3), but largely ignores Holy Spirit.
Celtic Christianity ** ** ****
Justification but somewhat too restricted to rituals e.g. Lord's Supper (d1), recognition of the Holy Spirit at work in us (d2), its strong point is linking this life to God (d3).
Wesleyism *** *** ***
Justificaion through Christ, the work of God effective in our lives as individuals, doing good work in society, but little interest in the non-human creation.
Salvation Army **** * ***
Focus on justification by Christ and doing good in world.
Liberal Christianity * ****
Because of demythologisation etc., d1, d2 are weak. Condemnation is anathema so assumes humans are basically good in themselves without need for atoning death of Christ; almost completely ignores Holy Spirit; focuses on good works in world, often of a social kind.
N.T.Wright, Chris Wright, Lawrence, etc. **** *** ****
Strong doctrines of justification by Christ and of responsibility to the world (social and environmental), recognising that the future destiny is not so much a Platonic 'heaven' but a renewed earth (d3), but only partial realisation of the importance of the Holy Spirit in effecting the latter (d2).
Reformational Philosophy *** *****
Though philosophy rather than a religious movement, the reformational philosophy, especially that of Dooyeweerd, seeks to understand the world philosophically in terms that are commensurate with the Bible, so is included here. It recognises the need for justification by Christ, and is excellent on our engagement in this world in the light of the next, where it will be complete in Christ. Sadly, it largely ignores the Holy Spirit (d2).
(template) * * *

This table reflects my own (mis)understanding of each movement, so is biased; where you disagree with me, please feel free to mentally fill in your own ratings. The purpose of most of this table is not to condemn or praise any movement but rather to begin to indicate that (a) no movement has the complete truth of God (b) each might contribute some insight into one or more dimensions, from which we all might learn. Please do not be angry if I have misunderstood; instead, please contact me with corrections, suggestions and questions.

This page, URL= ' romans8.html', is "offered to God" (click to see what that means) as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology and practice that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden to latest date below, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Written on the Amiga with Protext in the style of classic HTML.

Created: 14 August 2011. Last updated: 26 August 2011 blessing the world in light of the next; table of comparison. 30 August 2011 source. 4 September 2011 forgiven, loved, meaningful. 28 September 2011 table comparing them; contents. 18 December 2011 active.good. 23 December 2012 corrections. 4 May 2013 why in world (table row). 21 April 2014 verses given at start. 12 May 2019 correction huios; new.end, .nav.