After over a year of writing this blog, I realize that I haven’t defined some of the most common words in Christian conversation: “Saved”, “Savior”, and “Salvation”. That’s a major oversight that needs correcting.
On one hand, those words are not terribly uncommon in everyday language. We all like stories about a hero who saves someone from drowning, for instance. That “one who saves” is referred to as a savior. When we are the one in danger of drowning, we hope for salvation; when we look back at being rescued, we are grateful for that salvation. On the other hand, though, Christians have a specific meaning for these words.
The question isn’t really what the words mean literally. Rather, the question is what do Christians mean by saying that we have been saved, that Jesus is our Savior, and that we trust Him for our salvation? Since we aren’t drowning, and Jesus isn’t a lifeguard, we first need to establish what danger we are in. Then we need to explain what He has done to rescue us from that danger.
The Danger: Death
Starting with the first man and woman — Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden — each person faces death. Each of us continues to make the same choice that they did: To do what we want at the moment, whatever seems good to us, at the expense of loving God enough to trust and obey Him 1. Therefore, each of us continues to face the same consequence: alienation from Him and the loss of the relationship that is the reason for our existence. That alienation is the ultimate death that resulted from their sin, and that results from my sin and yours, as well.
Not only that, but we face several kinds of death: physical death of our bodies, a dead lifetime beforehand without the purpose we were meant to have, and an eternal death separated from God with no hope of return. Let’s look at each of those.
We all know the saying “Nothing is certain except death and taxes” 2. We spend enormous amounts of money, time and energy trying to postpone — if not avoid — the inevitable. Still, accidents and illnesses happen, our bodies wear out over time, and eventually they stop. Those left behind feel the loss. (I described my feelings on the loss of my grandfather here.). When anticipating that end for ourselves, we often feel fear and dread as we wonder what — if anything — will become of us afterward. We aren’t confident that there is anything good to look forward to.
Life Without Purpose
Even before they die, many people have lives that are lacking in the joy that God intended for them. They grasp for the next thing to make them happy: the next job, the next raise, the next house, the next vacation, the next relationship, the next ……. They are “looking for love in all the wrong places”, anywhere other than God. But they are trying to fill a void that God alone can fill 3. They can’t reconcile with Him, though, because nothing they do can make up (or “atone“) for the way they rebel and push Him away. They’re stuck.
Eternal Separation from God
The Biblical truth is that there is something after physical death, and it lasts forever. On my own, that something would be hopeless torment and despair, locked away from God and all the good that goes with Him, with no way out…ever.
…when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power…2 Thessalonians 1:7-9
But the story doesn’t stop there! Jesus has come to the rescue!
The Savior: Jesus
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.John 3:16-17
…I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.John 10:10
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die..John 11:25-26a
There is a reason that John 3:16 is the best-known and most-beloved verse of the Bible. It tells us that we don’t have to fear the physical death that leads into eternity, because that eternity can be full of life. Not only in eternity, either: Jesus came to give abundant life now. He can do that because He Himself is life, the Source of all existence (John 1:3, Colossians 1:16).
How does Jesus accomplish that? By dying, and then by defeating death and rising back to life to prove His victory. He took my place, lived the life I should have lived, died the death I should have died, rose so that I can rise, and paid the price required to redeem me. That’s why we call Him “Savior”!
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.Hebrews 2:14-15
The Salvation: Life
Just as a drowning victim sometimes fights their rescuer in panic, or a potential victim over-confidently thinks that they don’t need help and can fight the rip tide on their own, a person can reject Jesus as Savior. Being rescued by Him is a conscious choice.
When Christians say that we have “been saved” or “found salvation”, we are celebrating what Jesus did for us. We are saying that we have accepted His rescue, we are counting on Him, and we are confident that He will carry us and won’t let us down. Leaning on Jesus, we are reconciled to God and able to enjoy our original purpose in life: a relationship that allows us to worship, glorify, and enjoy Him. We have no need to fear physical death; it is only a transition to eternal life!
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.Jude 1:24-25
Footnotes and Scripture References
- I explore a bit more of this in the article “Knowledge of Good and Evil“.
- Attributed to Benjamin Franklin
- “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?
This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
[Pascal, Pensees #425]