Editor's note:

Most people desire a fully satisfied life. The Bible describes this life by the fruit of the Spirit. It’s a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Imagine a life that is fully content in every circumstance (Phil 4:11-12; 1 Tim 6:6-8). Imagine a life that cannot be shaken, even by the worst tragedy and heartache. This kind of life may be hard to envision, yet in passages like those listed above the New Testament teaches that it’s possible.

In the first part of the article, “Salvation Is for Life,” Richard Foster described the zōē life, “the eternal, uncreated life that originates in God alone.” He writes that this is “a life of unhurried peace and power,” of “God’s overriding governance for good,” and of “abiding unconditional warm regard we feel for all people.” How does a person become the kind of person who experiences and lives this kind of life? In the first part of this article Foster wrote that the two dominant contemporary theologies “both fail to address the means for transforming the human personality into Christlikeness.”

The following is an edited version of the second half of the journal article “Salvation is for Life” where he describes some common ways God works together with us transforming us more and more into being like Christ.

—Marvin Norlien

The Everyday Means of Grace

While the classical disciplines of the spiritual life are the foundation for our formation, they are far from the only means. Often God uses the various difficulties and trials we face daily in life to produce in us a kind of patient endurance (James 1:2-3). At other times, God uses the interactive exchange that goes on between us and the Holy Spirit to develop a spirit of trusting surrender within us. Or to grow our faith. Then again, God will often use human beings and other physical means to mediate his life to us. All of these things shape us, form us, and make us substantively different people, to the extent we become willing participants in this work of grace. We can stop our growing conformity to Christ at any point. God in his wisdom and sovereign freedom, has given us veto power over our own transformation.

The transformation of ourselves into the likeness of Christ will not be fully completed in this life, for as [C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, 161] Lewis notes, “death is an important part of the treatment.” How far each one of us moves forward into Christlikeness here in this life depends upon a whole host of complex factors, not the least of which is the emotional, mental, and psychological package we were given at birth. Such factors can either give us a good running start or handicap us enormously. Even with all the complex interplay between heredity, environment, and other factors too numerous to mention, we still can and should expect substantial movement forward into Christlikeness in this life.

Two Contradictory Sounding Comments

I want to make two comments about this “growth in grace”; comments that will sound strangely contradictory but in fact fit together quite nicely. First, in our thinking and living, we need to make generous allowance for infusions of divine grace that produce in us quantum leaps forward. These, as best I can understand, are utterly sovereign acts of God. We in no way cause them to happen, and they seem unconnected to our efforts in any discernible way. These are glorious acts of God for which the only sane response is to fall to our knees in worship, adoration and praise.

My second comment stresses the other side of the coin. We have a part to play in this “growing in godliness,” as the Puritans are fond of calling it. Effort on our part is called for. Real effort. Graciously God invites us to work in cooperation with the Spirit through spiritual disciplines appropriate to our needs and through the various other means of grace.

Now this ordinary, everyday means of character transformation lacks the fireworks of the special infusions of grace. Also, to us it seems painfully slow, though the transforming work is always at a rate consistent with the nature of the virtue being sought.

It is easy for us to undervalue this most fundamental means of grace. It appears to be so commonplace, so quiet, so modest, so unimpressive. But it is our primary means of growth. God has ordained it to be so.

Besides, these two realities actually work hand in glove. Our bodies, minds, and souls need shaping and preparing for any special infusion of grace. On our own, we are insufficient receptacles to contain the divine blessings. We would simply burst apart, like old wineskins filled with new wine (Matt 9:17; Mark 2:22; Luke 5:37-38). Therefore, we should always value this ordinary way (this intolerably slow way) of growth, for through it God prepares us for things we can hardly imagine: heaven, for example. This is all part of the salvation that is in Christ.

Jesus the Eschatological Prophet

Put simply, [this zōē life from God] is mediated through Jesus’ active, living, functioning presence. Jesus is not only alive and present in the midst of his new covenant people; he is alive and present among us in all his many “offices.” To say this is to confess a highly functional view of Christ. At one point, the seventeenth-century Christian leader George Fox exclaimed, “Christ Jesus, who was dead and is alive again, and lives forevermore, a prophet, counselor, priest, bishop, shepherd, a circumciser and baptizer, a living rock and foundation for evermore…” This was Fox’s way of expressing Jesus’ multiple functions among his people. Jesus forgives, teaches, guides, comforts, oversees, rules, and so much more. The point is that Jesus acts and works.

John Calvin brought the threefold office of Christ as prophet, priest, and king into dogmatic theology. A good deal of theological reflection has been done on Jesus’ priestly office, and some has been done on his kingly office. However, theological reflection on Jesus’ prophetic office is nearly nonexistent. This is unfortunate, for the office of Christ as prophet has much to teach us with regard to salvation as a life.

Oscar Cullmann suggests that, in Jesus’ day, one strand of messianic expectation was of an eschatological prophet like Moses who would teach the people. The key Hebrew passage for this expectation is Deuteronomy 18:15-8 “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among your own people…” In the acts of the Apostles, both Peter and Stephen quote from this passage, identifying Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophet like Moses.

And what is the function of this “prophet like Moses?” He is to speak to and teach the people. In the great transfiguration event, the voice from the bright cloud declares, “This is my son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matt 17:5). The letter to the Hebrews which makes so much of Jesus’ priestly office, opens with the dramatic words, “At various times in the past and in various ways God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us through his Son” (1:1-2 JB) There we have it; Christ, the prophet like Moses, is to speak and teach; we, his disciples, are to listen and obey.

Meaning for Today

What does all this mean for us today? It means that Christ is alive and active. He continues to speak and teach. His voice is not hard to hear. His vocabulary is not difficult to understand. He will teach us. Now Jesus is a living Savior and the salvation that is in him includes teaching us how to live and re-forming our very selves. Dallas Willard puts it well: “I am learning from Jesus to live my life as he would live my life if he were I.”

And so, today, God is calling you and me to accept Jesus as our life. We are to trust Him for all things. We are to band together as his disciples, learning from him how to live and being formed by God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit, into the kinds of people capable of this transformed life. This is the salvation that is in Jesus Christ.

This article is an edited version of “Salvation is for Life” by Richard J. Foster and was originally published in the journal Theology Today, Vol 61. October (2004) 297-308.

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Originally published October 2004.