Salvation at the Margins: An Introduction

Jenny had described the last eleven years as “falling down a bottomless pit of despair.” The recent crisis that brought her to my office, however, felt like the bottom of that pit. She had finally hit it. She wanted hope, she wanted to believe that rescue was possible. She was at the end of her rope, she said. My advice: let go of the rope. Jesus is often found at the point of hopelessness.

The much of the modern American church has attempted to pull Christ into the center of the American Dream. So, faith exists to grant us all our heart’s desires. Christianity is about a sweet, simple, happy life in the suburbs with big cars and big homes. Jesus is novelty of religious subculture – packaged as a bobble head, and a homeboy t-shirt. For those who don’t live at the center of that world, who don’t find the American dream even remotely tangible for them, Jesus too is a distant illusion.

In the Scriptures, however, we find Jesus is often bringing salvation to the margins. He came to “seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). He will leave the 99 sheep to pursue even just one who has wandered far off (Matt. 18:12). Throughout the Bible God pursues the broken, needy, destitute, abandoned, and hopeless. He goes to the margins of society to bring hope. In fact, it is at the margins that salvation truly exists.

For those who are at the center, those who have all they need apart from Jesus, there is no salvation. Think, for example, of the rich young ruler. He has much wealth and when Jesus confronts his dependence on money and his idolatry of possessions, the man “went away sorrowful,¬†for he had great possessions” (Matt. 19:22). The religious elite too, fail to find salvation for all their self-righteousness. In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, it is the “obedient” son, the one who stayed home – the one who represents the pharisees – who doesn’t go into the party (Luke 15:28). Instead, Jesus brings salvation to the outcast, the social pariah, the destitute, those at the margins. He gives hope to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), the leper (Matt. 8:3), the political traitor (Luke 19:1-10), the prostitute (Luke 7:36-50), and the sinner (Luke 5:32).

There’s a reason for this dynamic contrast. It is at the margins that people most readily recognize their need of salvation. It is at the margins that people are most prepared to respond, repent, trust, and surrender. It is in the soil at the margins of society that the seeds of the gospel most readily bear fruit. God, of course, works in all sorts of situations and we see this too in Scripture. We see politicians, religious leaders, jailers, wealthy women come to faith in Christ too, but they are more the exception than the norm. Faith requires humility and surrender, and it is much harder to express such things in the context of comfort and personal satisfaction. Not impossible, for all things are possible with God (Matt. 19:26), and yet it is the general pattern that salvation is at the margins.

It is crucial that the church of Jesus Christ remember this. We need to repeat this message to one another. We need to practice this in our own ministries and personal lives. We need to give hope to one another as we find ourselves at the “margins” again. We need to go to the margins and call into the banquet the “poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14). This is our ministry to the world, our ministry to one another. In this series I hope to demonstrate some specific examples of salvation at the margins, not just textually through Scripture but in modern-day contexts too. Utilizing modern-day situations, I want to attempt to highlight the example of God’s compassionate salvation to those at the margins. Scripture will be used to substantiate these examples, for that is our ultimate authority, but I want to highlight the continuance of God’s practice and pattern today. Salvation is at the margins! Jenny found hope there and so can others.

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