When many Pentecostal and charismatic Christians use the word “salvation,” the first image that comes to mind is the gift of personal healing and “coming home” to God that he has made possible through Christ, made known to the believer through the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, when the apostle Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit he is able to proclaim, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NRSV). The change of life that comes through knowing Jesus as Lord and Savior is the core of our faith. But God’s plan of reconciliation expands beyond individuals, and even beyond human beings. So when we look to the biblical witness, we realize the question, “Is salvation more important than the environment?” actually represents a limited view. A better question is, “Why must salvation include the environment?”
A theology that views the environment as somehow separate from salvation stems from the modern Western temptation toward individualism. Many of us inherited a theology in which “being saved” seems like an entirely private affair. But we must remember that, while salvation through Christ is absolutely personally transformative, that transformation is always intended to be lived outward, in community, for the benefit of all creation.
The thread that a faithful relationship with God requires us to care for creation—our environment—runs throughout Scripture. As created beings, we are not separate from our environment; after all, God created humanity from the earth itself (Gen 2:7). Created in his image and likeness (1:26), humanity was granted dominion over all the earth (1:26, 28). We are told that everything God made was very good (1:31). However, Adam and Eve failed to trust God and instead followed a different path. When sin entered the world, our relationship with not only God, but with all creation, was shattered. The very ground is now cursed because of it (3:17). However, God’s plan of reconciliation through Christ changes the entirety of our reality. The salvation of all creation is effected through his death and resurrection, including but not limited to humans.
Paul writes that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17). Because Jesus has died for all, the entire nature of our relationship with God has been reordered, including all of creation—everything. We now live as new creations in Christ while awaiting the fullness of redemption. But this is not a passive waiting. The message of reconciliation—extending to all things—has been entrusted to us (5:19).
John’s Revelation bookends our world’s story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. His vision shows that the fullness of salvation will extend not only to people, but to the earth itself: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Rev 21:1). The “one seated on the throne” echoes Paul’s words a few verses later: “See, I am making all things new” (21:5).
As creatures, our salvation cannot be understood apart from the remainder of creation. This is part of the significance of resurrection. Our souls will not simply be separated from our bodies, swept away from the earth into a ghostly realm. That is not the fullness of God’s promise to us. We will enjoy new, glorified bodies—bodies that will dwell with our Savior in the new, perfected creation. Therefore, salvation rightly understood is truly universal; no part of our environment–God’s creation–will remain unredeemed.