By Joshua Jeon
Do you prefer nouns or verbs?
As Perry Link elucidates in his New York Review of Books essay “The Mind: Less Puzzling in Chinese?” which you prefer may depend on what language you speak, and your preference may matter.
This fascinating essay, which I discovered via David Brooks who commended it in the New York Times, first explores the difference in preference between English and Chinese. While “Indo-European languages (like English) tend to prefer nouns, even when talking about things which verbs might seem appropriate,” Chinese prefers verbs. As an example of this difference in preference, Link compares an English translation of Plato’s Apology of Socrates and Confucius’s Analects. While “Confucius uses slightly more verbs than nouns. Plato uses about 45 percent more nouns than verbs.”
Link mainly wonders, however, of the potential confusion and philosophical problems that can arise from thinking in terms of nouns over verbs. Foremost, there are the problems of existence of “assuming that things exist just because nouns that refer to them exist” And the opposite problem, where one begins to doubt the existence of the “thing” that would be altogether averted if it were thought as an “action.” Consider, for example, experiences such as “happiness.” While “happiness” can be described using a noun as in the World Happiness Report, it is much more intuitive to understand it as a verb as in being happy. For “What is happiness?” and “How do you measure it?” and how much more difficult is it to think “Do I have happiness?” than “Am I happy?”
Thinking in such nouns, it seems, makes murky and uncertain what should be clear and sure. While reading Link’s piece, as a Christian, I could not but wonder if this was true of how I sometimes view salvation.
I was led to wonder about salvation (Interestingly, Brooks raises up faith in his short review) because salvation is something that sometimes, like some of these confounding nouns, can seem distant and far off, abstract and lacking certain sureness. I say this for myself, as someone who grew up in church and is so accustomed to Christianity, and vaguely remembers when I got saved.
I do not remember exactly if it was the second grade or the fourth, or whether it was at church or at home. The exact place and moment when I began to believe seems like a forgotten birthday gift that I received years ago but have trouble finding, lost in the dust of time and the clutter of memory. I do know that I received it at some point, with a believing heart and confessing lips, but because I cannot find the exact moment, I am left wanting; reduced to a single experience, my salvation seems isolated, even a bit irrelevant to my life now, and certainly less certain.
So, I wonder about salvation because salvation is something that requires certainty. It is possibly the most important thing, that I must have sureness of, because my life and eternity depend on it. In times like these, I have sometimes wished that my salvation had come more dramatic; I wonder foolishly what-if my beginning had been something like that of a converted drug-addict, or after a life-changing injury, or maybe if I had come from a different faith.
Many Christians, especially those who have been Christians long enough, have probably wondered about salvation as I have done. Their salvation may have happened years or decades ago and the method of salvation, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is even more ancient, happening some two-thousand years ago. Viewing salvation as something to be haved as an object, they may have wondered “Do I still have salvation?” or as a past experience as in “Was I really saved?”
To escape such confusion, the solution seems in part to be to understand salvation as a verb as well as a noun, to transition from thinking merely in terms of “having” to “doing.” In fact, such an understanding of salvation, as a verb, is biblically accurate because salvation is the ongoing saving process of God.
Salvation is the free gift of God. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us so that we might receive this gift of eternal life. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Jesus has saved us. His work on the cross has purchased our pardon from the punishment of death, and we have been reconciled to him. In this sense, salvation is a fully accomplished and complete action: as Jesus said, “It is finished.” It is done once; it is received once. God has saved us.
Yet, the Bible makes it clear that God continues to save us: He is saving us. 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (emphasis mine). Here, Paul describes salvation as a present and continuous action. If this is in doubt, it is unmistakable because it is contrasted with the also continuous “perishing.”
Understanding salvation this way, as ongoing and current rather than a single special moment left in the past, is critical but also immensely rewarding. Knowing this, we become aware of how salvation is pertinent and relevant to the life we live now and we actively pursue the life God intentions for us. God seeks not only to, as it commonly conceived, give us heaven but to transform us into heavenly beings, conformed into the likeness of his son, Jesus. This continual and current process of salvation is called sanctification. God continues to save us, enabling us to live as free persons through his indwelling spirit, free from the bondage of sin and free to pursue righteousness. He renews us day by day and sustains the new life we have in Jesus. He helps us to obey, live according to his word, persevere amidst trial, and endure to the end when Jesus comes again.
The end is also the time of God’s final act of salvation when God will save us. For us, there is a “salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” , where God will redeem our bodies, removing all sin, and thus redeeming our whole being. This is the hope of every Christian to be fully saved and to see the glory of God: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.”
Salvation is the “doing” of God in the past, present, and future. One might call this grace because it is free and unmerited. But if it is all God’s grace, what are we to do? The proper response to grace is faith. And we should not think in terms of that we should have faith. We should exercise faith. We should live lives of faith.
Is not this the Christian life? To live by faith, where we continue to believe, trust, and act because of what we believe and who we trust. Because we know, with all our being, God’s past grace of saving us through Jesus– the Gospel — we are sure and certain of God’s future grace, that he is saving us and will save us. And in this sureness of faith, we live, walking the narrow road until we reach the end, confidently knowing that our salvation is here and near in the hands of our savior, Jesus Christ.
Want to know more about Josh? Read his bio here.
 There is unfortunately no verb for happy.
 https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/testimony.html Presents a similar story.
 Ephesians 2:8 (NKJV)
 2 Corinthians 4:16
 Matthew 24:13
 1 Peter 1:5 (ESV)
 1 Corinthians 13:12 (NIV)
 This is actually the Oxford dictionary definition of grace: “the free and unmerited favour of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.”
Additional Resource: https://www.theologyofwork.org/new-testament/romans-and-work/the-gospel-of-salvationpauls-vocation-romans-11-17/