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Salvationists... our understanding of Salvation and Holiness

While the Salvation Army identifies itself as part of the Holiness Tradition within the broader church, it is wise to clarify how we understand Salvation.

 Catherine Booth - ICO Lecture by Major (Dr) John Read.pdf

Major (Dr) John Read in his book Catherine Booth: Laying the Theological Foundations of a Radical Movement (2013)(ISBN: 9780718893200)

Read has helped The Salvation Army re-visit the consequence of why Jesus died for us (Atonement) and the ongoing significance/consequence this must have upon how we live our lives.

Read unpacks atonement theology to show the biblical and yet contradictory views of substitution theory and moral obligation theory.

The idea of a wrathful Father sacrificing his loving Son undermines the idea that God sent His Son to change us by showing us how much He loves us. And yet this is the plain teaching of the Bible. 

If we think of our being, being like an instrument… an instrument with which we try to make music. We could admit that we rarely make a good job of it (all of the time) as we are not the creator and we don’t know how it best works.

You see, sin has corrupted; corroded, tarnished and warped the way God designed our nature and the way we are to be in relationship with Him, with others and our self. No amount of valve oil or polishing is going to make us sound any better. We perpetuate this self-harm by not caring what we consume … via our mouth, what we watch, touch, listen to, or think about.

If we consider ourselves to be instrument, we could then consider God as the master musician with the perfect embouchure and breath control who desires that we be restored to the original form in which we were created.

So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 (NLT)

Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. Genesis 2:7(NLT)

So why did Jesus die? So that: you may be restored to how God lovingly designed you to be…to the original image of God that you were created in. The breath of the Holy Spirit (the ruach of God) which flowed through the newly creation in the Genesis story can flow through us and we can be restored.

Through the death of Jesus, and power of God’s spirit, God IS reversing the effects of the fall and desiring to restore us, recreate us, reform us into the image of God in Christ

The instrument works best when the master musician… the ultimate creator flows through us and make beautiful sound out of our lives.

This restoration; this salvation plan is equally a work of a moment and the work of a life time (Larsson)

As William Booth said:

“This is our speciality: getting saved, keeping saved, getting someone else saved, and then getting saved ourselves more and more.”


Getting saved more and more (becoming more like Jesus) is not an optional extra… it’s not a “would you like fries with that” kind of question.

As people come to love God and love one another, the reign of God begins… the Kingdom of God begins to happen on earth.

God designed you that you could  

“love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important:
‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39 (NLT)

Becoming more and more like Jesus is this process of holiness. This requires that we are actively participating in God’s ongoing restoration of our soul. Well-known Christian writer Eugene Peterson describes holiness of life in the phrase – “a long obedience in the same direction”. This is also the title of one of his books. Peterson makes the point that Christians sometimes unhelpfully adopt an attitude taken from the world that worthwhile things can be acquired easily and rapidly.

“We assume,” he says, “that if something can be done at all, it can be done quickly and efficiently.”


This attitude which pervades our world view impacts on our expectations as Christians too, and can be harmful.

Formation in Christlikeness is not an instantaneous event; it is more like a process of steady growth and development over time.

It may have specific moments of crisis or grace, moments when we recognise significant shifts in our journey with God, but if we want to be like Christ we need to sign up for the discipleship journey, and commit to engagement in an ongoing process.

Jesus himself taught about this process in discipleship, similar to the process of growth in living organisms. He used the image of a vine to explain to his hearers what a life of intimate union with God would look like. We read about this in John 15.

John 15, selected verses (NRSV)Jesus said,

“I am the true vine and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing… My Father is glorified in this that you may bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Becoming a disciple flows from remaining in organic union with Christ and Christ’s life flowing in and through us.

We know that a vine doesn’t become fruitful overnight. It happens, if it happens, because of a process of time, good gardening and the right conditions for growth. It requires appropriate nourishment, pruning, selection and development. So it is in the Christian life. 

Spiritual disciplines are the equivalent tools for growing the fruit of God’s love in our own hearts and lives.  They provide the nourishment we need, the tools for stripping away all that is un-Christlike, and the means to focus on particular aspects of our own development.  We know they are doing their job when the fruit of the Spirit of God, the love of God, is evidenced in our lives, our actions, and our relationships. We know they are doing their job when we experience growing intimacy with the triune God and greater love for our neighbour.

In Galatians 6: 7-8 (The Message), the apostle Paul writes about the inevitability of planting and harvesting.   

“Don’t be misled”, he writes, “No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God! — harvests a crop of weeds. All he'll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God's Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.”

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