I am grateful to God for His salvation. I grew up in Asia and became a Christian in the early 1980s. It was a genuine conversion experience from a mixture of Confucianism, Taoism and ancestral worship. It was not a one-off decision though. It took me about one year to come to a place where I knew that the God revealed in the Bible was indeed the very God I had been searching for. 

But little did I know that this journey would be so challenging. I came to Australia in 1989 and found myself in an exceedingly affluent nation. There is every temptation to pursue material prosperity rather than following a Saviour who died for our sins and demands His disciples to carry the cross and follow Him. I kept asking how I could be a faithful disciple of Jesus.

Homeless2 000

PICTURE: H Dominique Abed (www.sxc.hu)

 

"The truth is that we know little about the plight of the homeless. We rarely talk with them. We don’t really know how hard it is for someone with mental illness to find work. We know little about the dehumanising effect of Temporary Protection Visas on genuine asylum seekers, who have been persecuted in their home country and are separated from their families."

I became an active member of a local church, and eventually I became one of the pastors there. I enjoyed the contemporary worship and the wide range of programs at the church. Things were going well. I baptised dozens of people in a short space of two years. I did a lot of preaching and teaching. But I became increasingly unsettled with the fact that every Sunday there were homeless people knocking at the church’s door, and I did little for them. There were many low-income people living in our neighbourhood and I hardly spent any time with them. 

The reality is that I did not have anything to do with the poor and the disadvantaged. I felt that as a pastor I was simply making people “normal” through a process of getting saved, believing in God’s blessings, becoming middle-class, attending church, bringing up good kids and going to heaven. But that did not work for everyone. Nor was it really Scriptural.

Journeying with a friend
The truth is that we know little about the plight of the homeless. We rarely talk with them. We don’t really know how hard it is for someone with mental illness to find work. We know little about the dehumanising effect of Temporary Protection Visas on genuine asylum seekers, who have been persecuted in their home country and are separated from their families. If we don’t know much about the plight of the poor in our own backyard, we know even less about the suffering of the poor in the rest of the world - the pain of the mothers who see their children die before the age of five because of preventable diseases, the emptiness experienced by the street kids in urban slums, and the injustice faced by the poor because of the unjust socioeconomic systems controlled by the rich.

I sought counsel from a friend who ran a facility for mentally handicapped people in St Kilda in Melbourne. I went to a “gay coffee shop” with my friend, who told me that these people needed to know Christ’s love, not condemnation. Some years later my friend became a minister and worked in a drop-in centre in the CBD. I saw the homeless people at the centre with my wife and our two-year-old son. I saw the contrast between my son and these equally important image-bearers of God in terms of the prospects for their lives.

I found that my friend’s commitment to the poor and social justice is the very Gospel I found in the Bible. My friend had a better understanding of salvation than most people.

Salvation and shalom
So, what is salvation? In Luke chapter four Jesus opens the Book of Isaiah and says, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour". (Luke 4: 18-19)

Perhaps it is difficult for 21st century Christians to see the Old Testament tradition embedded in this passage. But for Jesus’ disciples it would be hard to miss the notion of shalom implied in this Scripture reading. Jesus is speaking of the in-breaking of his kingdom, and that it is in fulfilment of the prophet’s expectation of a new world in which God will come to restore the entire cosmos. It speaks of a new age of shalom, which is the Hebrew word for “peace”. It refers to wholeness and well-being in all social, ecological, political, agricultural and economical relationships. For the people of the New Testament, salvation included all these aspects of life. This is why in the four Gospels we find stories of healing, deliverance, and most of all, forgiveness of sin.

The same notion can be found in Paul’s letters. In Romans Paul says that he is not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (1:16). He then talks about the sinful condition of humanity in Adam, and how salvation is found in Christ through faith in Jesus. In Romans 14: 17 Paul says, "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit."

Paul sees Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in light of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. In this kingdom there is righteousness, peace and joy. The Greek word for “righteousness” here is dikaiosyn?, which in ancient Rome meant “justice”. Most likely Paul is using the words “righteousness”, “peace” and “joy” to speak of the Old Testament notion of God’s saving acts of justice, righteousness, joy and shalom! In other words, Paul envisions the community of Christ experiencing wholeness, safety and love-centred relationships through the outworking of the Spirit in their midst. 

In view of this, my thoughts go to the nine million children who die each year because of preventable diseases. My heart goes to the homeless people in Australia and those suffering from mental illnesses. And I keep thinking about the asylum seekers who come to Australia in sinking boats. All of them deserve the shalom of God – a salvation that includes justice, forgiveness and wholeness in every way.

To be Christ’s disciples we need to embody the Gospel in every sphere of our lives. Let us remember that Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, and let us follow His way of life.

Siu Fung Wu, theological education officer for World Vision Australia, is one of the speakers at a theological forum - What does social justice have to do with salvation? - presented by World Vision on 9th September. For more details of the event, click here...