It seems to me that there are 2 great storylines, 2 great lines of thought, or if you want to get technical about it, 2 great narrative arcs in the Bible.
Gospel # 1
The first one is the biggest picture of them all. It starts with creation, and it ends with new creation. And if creation was very good, and it was, then new creation is the fulfilment of everything that creation was designed and destined to be. God made the world in all its complexity, beauty and possibility to be a place of flourishing and joy. He gave material reality its own created dignity, for plants and animal and fishes and birds and great oceans and majestic forests and vast planes to sing his praises, and to be nurtured and cultivated to God’s glory, so that trees become carvings and statues and tables and chairs and houses, and minerals become metals and high rise buildings and supersonic aeroplanes.
But notice that cultivating is not the only mandate given the human beings, they are also to keep it, to conserve it, to balance development with conservation, not sacrificing either one for the sake of the other. Flourishing of culture and society, in righteousness and peace in joyful and thankful obedience to God - that is what God created the world for, with his vice-regents playing their particular role.
Of course, terribly and horribly, sin enters this big picture, and corrupts and destroys everything. Sin brings death, and so everyone and everything dies. And most destructively and most sinfully, human beings turn from serving the purpose of God for them, and instead serve themselves, turn inwards, and simply spiral themselves and the world into deeper and deeper darkness.
But God the creator will not be robbed of his world; he will not be denied the delight of his good creation flourishing and so through his Son he has announced that he is taking his world back from the forces of darkness and death. Jesus announced the kingdom of God, the reign of God was beginning in him. That the reign of death and sin was being put on notice, that Jesus was tying up the strong man, and redeeming God’s world for God’s glory. And in his death and resurrection, that kingdom is brought into being. Death is defeated, in principle in Jesus Christ, and when he returns, in the experience of everyone and everything.
Creation, fall, redemption, consummation. That is the biggest picture of them all, the kingdom of God, the first gospel.
But then, there’s a second gospel. It’s what you might call the gospel of personal salvation. It too is in the Bible.
You and I and everyone around us, and everyone who has ever, or will ever, live, is a sinner, not in the trivial sense that we all occasionally do naughty things. But rather in the radically deep sense that we are all profoundly self oriented, that we seek to make sense and meaning and significance of our own lives our own way without reference to the God who created us and sustains us, and in doing so, we invariably damage things and damage people.
And this not only has the natural consequence of death, it also has the supernatural consequence of provoking most justly God’s wrath against us. However, out of the great love with which he loved us, God gave his own son to bear his own wrath, not an innocent third party jumping in front of the train for us, but God himself bearing the pain and judgment of sin in himself for us. And the result is that we are free. We are free from a future of judgment and condemnation, we are free to relate rightly to God instead of wrongly to God, we are free to live the way that God made and meant us to live, in righteousness and holiness all our lives. And when we die, as we all still do, we have a confidence that like Jesus, death will not be the end, but we will have a life after death, eternal life.
And this seems like a second gospel, the most personal picture of them all, the gospel of personal forgiveness and salvation.
So are there really 2 gospels?
Only 1 Gospel
Here’s the point.
Of course, the 2 gospels are really one gospel, and they are one gospel in such a way that it answers the crucial question, ‘what am I saved for’.
And the reason is this: the gospel of personal salvation is for the purpose of bringing you back into playing your rightful role in the gospel of the kingdom of God.
What it means for someone to be saved by God personally, for them to be forgiven their sins and justified by faith, and adopted as a child of God is precisely that they are restored to fulfil the purpose that God gave to human beings in the first place, to be his vice regents, his image bearing cultivators and keepers of the world, for each one to play her or his part in seeing the world flourish in righteousness and peace and joy in God.
What are we saved for? We are saved for so much more than to live a good life of personal morality and spirituality, wait for Jesus and perhaps pursue others to become Christians - although we are not saved for less than those things. No, we are saved for the the hugely public function or playing your part in the biggest picture of them all, the kingdom of God. As the Apostle Paul puts it, if anyone is in Christ, there is the new creation! Right there, the creation purposes of God being re-established.
Note two quick clarifying comments about this:
On the one hand, this is terribly daunting. It’s hard enough to keep your temper in check and your words and TV viewing clean, let alone see yourself as someone who is called to play a part in the kingdom of God, the reign of God’s good purposes for the world in justice and peace. Which is why the blessing of the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, the power of the age to come, has been poured out into our hearts and lives, God’s own personal power an presence available to us and for us, as he was to Jesus Christ. This is not just a pulling yourself up by your bootstraps exercise.
Second, it is of course true to say that anything we do to promote public justice and righteousness in the world will be as incomplete as anything we do to promote personal holiness and purity in our own lives. The power of sin and death has been broken, but it has not been removed, and it still gets us. So much of the work of God is not yet. But at the same time, it is also true to say that that is not a reason to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves, or to mope about complaining how bad things are. That anything we do will be necessarily be incomplete doesn’t mean we don’t do it. It just means we do it in hope, by faith rather than by sight.
So, what are we saved for? We are saved for a life of deep holiness, and single hearted devotion to God, and to bring others into the forgiveness of sins. Yes. And we are also saved for serving the world, for bringing whatever we are able to bring in time, treasure and talents to the purpose of the reign of God in justice and joy and peace in the world that he made for precisely those things. We are made for public life, as well as personal life.