What is it and who needs it?
There is nothing more important to our eternal lives than salvation. Having been created in God’s image (Ge 1:27), we too are eternal spiritual beings; we will live forever. For those who have received salvation, this is great news, but for those who have not it should be frightening.
Biblical salvation is God’s plan to save man from his condition of being eternally separated from God due to sin (an action or way of thinking that is contrary to the will of God). I say, “Biblical salvation” because there are many various plans of salvation. Most all religions have one. They generally include a list of things you must do, things you can never do, as well as numerous things that you should and should not do. The lists vary from one religion to another, but being instructed to abide by a list of rules, regulation, rites, and rituals is common. Performance, religious activity, is the name of the game. The implication is: if you do the do’s and don’t do the don’t do’s, then somehow God will owe you for your proper performance, and eternal salvation is supposedly your reward. This is describing religion, man’s effort to make himself right with God, not salvation. Contrary to religion, the Bible rhetorically asks: “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” Ro 11:35
God’s plan, as revealed in the Bible is quite different. However, even topics of eternal significance are of little interest to those who believe they have no need. How interested would you be in reading about the importance of medical care if no one you know has ever been sick or injured? Before sharing God’s solution to the problem, we have with Him, I will explain the problem.
God is perfect, holy. He defines what is good and right in Who He is. God is not truthful because it is the right thing to be, truth is superior to deception because in His being God is truthful. Justice is better than lawlessness without consequence because God is wholly just. The same is true of everything He is. No part of Him can ever be less than perfect, holy.
Our being created in His image comes with tremendous opportunity as well as responsibility. Out of ALL creation we alone possess the opportunity to become sons of God. Being a child of God is not a right or something inherent to humanity, only the opportunity is. Sons are connected to, or a part of, their parents through a very special bond. To be able to take advantage of this great opportunity, we have a responsibility to be perfect, holy, or else this is not possible. How are you doing with your walk of perfection in God’s eyes? You are not alone: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Ro 3:23
I say, “in God’s eyes” because He alone establishes what is right and wrong. It is His being that defines good apart from evil. Many people today believe they can live a moral life by following what seems right to them. But again, a caution comes from the Bible: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” Pr 14:12. Having knowledge of good and evil in our hearts is not enough to guide us through a righteous life since we do not possess God’s understanding. Knowledge without understanding results in separation.
It was never God’s intention or desire for us to have instant access to the knowledge of good and evil: “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” Gen 2:17 God’s commands are not given to keep us from enjoying this life. On the contrary, they are instructions to keep us safe. This first recorded command is no different.
God’s statement “you will certainly die” was not a threat of punishment for disobedience, but rather a warning of natural, or supernatural, consequences to a poor choice. It was His plan for us to walk in spiritual experience with Him as He did with Adam in the beginning. Relationship teaches and trains, bringing understanding, whereas knowledge alone is dangerous. As with any loving parent, discipline will come for acts of disobedience, but that is not what this was.
The first recorded act of sin was disobedience to this warning of God. Through misrepresentation and half-truths, God’s enemy deceived our first parents into eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Many things happened because of this first poor choice. Some were natural: fear, guilt, and shame brought about by their knowledge of evil caused them to hide, or separate, from God (Ge 3:10). Another was supernatural, or spiritual; man did in fact die that day just as God’s warning said he would. That death was in his spirit. Since Adam and Eve, every person has been spiritually dead, without access to the tree of life, disconnected from our God and Father.
Mankind was now in a condition of imperfection and separation that we could do nothing to repair. Imagine that there is an exclusive club that you want to join for drivers with a perfect driving record. The only problem is, that one speeding ticket you received years ago for going 1mph over the limit on the way to the hospital with your sick mother. Even if you drive perfectly the rest of your life you can never regain the status of perfect. Remember, God’s standard is perfection, not because He is harsh, but because He is holy. It is His standard that must be met to join His family, to live in His house.
Immediately after our first parents fell short of the glory God intended for us, He promised One would come who would destroy His enemy and his plans. He goes on to promise that this One would be our Redeemer, that He will fix our unfixable problem of separation.
The Old Testament (the part of the Bible before Jesus came) is filled with stories, pictures, and prophecies about the One who would come. It teaches of how He would come, where He would come, through whom He would come, what He will do when He comes, and even how He would die. The most amazing thing of all, however, is that He will be called Immanuel. This is amazing because Immanuel means, “God with us”. God Himself promised to send His Son to live among us to restore our relationship with Himself.
When Jesus was born on this earth it was in the right way, the right place, of the right people. When He became a man, He did the right things and even died in the right way; all in perfect fulfillment of the predictions in the Bible from hundreds and even thousands of years before He came. Jesus came from heaven and lived a perfect, holy, sinless life on earth (the only person ever to do so).
Remember I said God is wholly just, meaning He cannot simply ignore or dismiss sin (violation of His law) arbitrarily? If He were to lovingly forgive our sin without consequence, He would be merciful (not giving us what we deserve), but not just. If He were to lovingly grant sinners eternal life in heaven for no reason, He would be gracious (giving us what we do not deserve), but not just. The problem we created for ourselves is only a problem because our God is completely loving, merciful, and gracious, BUT ALSO JUST.
Because God loves mankind He has a plan of salvation, the only one that matters. His plan includes sending His only Son to live a holy, perfect life (Heb 4:15). With the Holy Spirit delivering His essence to the virgin, He was not even tainted through ancestry by the sin of His fathers as all of us are (Lk 1:35). These two things make Him the only One who could ever be connected to the Father by His own doing.
Living the perfect sinless life was enough for Him to be connected to God the Father, but that alone only provided us with an example of how to live. For us to be saved from our sins, we needed much more. Condemned without cause and sentenced to death, God the Father placed upon His only Son, Jesus, the curse of death that each and every one of us deserved for our sin (Gal 3:13). When Jesus died, justice was served, the death sentence was satisfied, and spiritual life was again available to the guilty.
While Jesus’ sacrifice is offered to each of us, His death does not automatically apply or take our place (Jn 3:36). We must ACCEPT His offer; we must BELIEVE in who He is and what He did for us; and we must CONFESS these things (Ro 10:9). If we do so Jesus says we are born again (Jn 3:3), and our spirits come alive (Jn 3:5)! This is the gospel, the good news, of Jesus Christ. You can’t earn it. It is by faith alone (Eph 2:8&9).
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Jn 3:16-18