The Bible is replete with metaphors, images, and stories of salvation. When they are all taken together, however, common themes emerge which reveal what is most significant or necessary to understand what is taking place between God and humanity, specifically in the person and work of Jesus Christ. First, humanity is in a situation that is less than ideal. Second, there is an action of God to remedy the situation in which humanity has found itself. Third, humanity moves towards God, whether this is a response to the second, in conjunction with the second, or precedes the second can be argued. Fourth, through the process humans find themselves not only better off than they started, but actually in the best possible situation which could be imagined.
Whether it is pictured as dirt, disease, adrift, naked, guilty, poor, hungry or any other number of metaphors, what is obvious throughout the biblical story is that humans have found themselves in a less than stellar situation. Also, while there is obvious culpability on the part of humanity, pictures such as humans in bondage, specifically to Satan, humanity living in the kingdom of Satan, people at the mercy of unjust rulers, and people living in the midst of darkness at least raise the possibility that the situation people have found themselves in is not entirely or completely their own fault.
However, the picture quickly changes as we see that God is not satisfied to leave people there. God enters the world, in the person of Jesus, incarnating himself in humanity, living, healing, teaching, dieing, rising again, and ascending back into heaven. By doing so God purchases humanity for himself, takes their sin on himself so they can have new life, heals their diseases, liberates them from their oppressors, and defeats death, sin and Satan. God does this for many reasons, one of which is a simple display of power.
Humans participate in the movement from their past misery by ripping their hearts, cutting out the unnecessary pieces that hold to the old situation, drinking the cup of living water offered to them, and following in obedience. Just as a tree sucks up water and nutrients, responds to pruning, and grows towards the sun, humans participate in the work of God that takes them from a dry seed to a full grown, healthy, fruit-bearing tree.
This is where humans then find themselves. Rather than simply inhabiting the same space but with the bad gone, they find that God is creating something more beautiful and perfect than could ever be imagined. He gives them a new heart, captures them from their kingdom of darkness and takes them as spoils of war back to his kingdom of light, enfolds them into his flock, clothes them with the very best of clothing, and makes them his bride.
As we interact with seekers or non-believers it is easy to offer a synthesized or systemitized version of the gospel, such as what I offered near the beginning. You are bad and in a bad place but God has done something amazing and if you simply respond to it everything will be made right. However, it is instructive to realize that the Bible rarely, if ever, offers the call to salvation in this way. Rather, God has communicated with us through story and metaphor which can be both more inviting, easier to connect with, and becomes more deeply implanted within the heart and mind. I can still remember the presentation of the gospel that touched my heart and led to a response. It was the Donut Man talking about how we each, like a donut, have a hole in our heart that can only be filled by Jesus. While this can seem corny and elementary, this metaphor did more to build faith in my elementary heart than any systematic, theological presentation ever could or would.
This causes me to stop and wonder how we could do more to present the gospel as a story. How can our churches paint a picture, perhaps literally, of what it means to be rescued from misery and brought into intimate relationship with God? This ought to be our highest goal.