Long ago, a believer in Jesus named Paul wrote these words: “I’m not ashamed of the Good News of what God has done for everyone through Jesus. In fact, that Good News contains within itself actual power to save everyone who believes it.” Paul also wrote: “If you honestly proclaim out loud to others that Jesus is your Master, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Okay what’s this “saved” and “salvation” stuff all about? Who needs saved? And from what?
Saved from two things: Sin and Death. Anyone who is a sinner needs saved—needs salvation. Who is a sinner? We all are. What is sin? It is choosing a lifestyle of living your life for your own self, being self-centered and self-absorbed, instead of being God-centered. We’re all sinners. We’re all going to die. God—through Jesus—has provided salvation for each of us . . . if we’ll simply receive his salvation. Salvation is a gift from God, but as with any gift, the gift is of no value unless we receive it and “open” it.
So . . . God freely saves us from sin and death. Not a bad deal, no matter how you look at it…
Street Corner Preachers
Years ago I worked in downtown Chicago and lived in one of its suburbs. I took a number of conveyances to get to and from work. Near bus stops and on subway platforms, I was often accosted by people who would get right in my face and ask almost belligerently and accusingly: “Are you saved?” I was “saved,” but grew very tired of such street corner preachers getting in my face and asking that question. They seemed to be asking the question because they felt they needed to “earn points,” rather than asking out of genuine concern for their listeners.
One time when asked the question, “Are you saved? I unhesitatingly blurted out in response: “I’ll be damned if I’m not!” Hey, I wasn’t swearing; my response was true. I just didn’t like the angry way I responded to the question. Ever since that time, however, when asked the question, “Are you saved?” I’ve responded with the same answer . . . just to add a bit of humor to the situation and make people think. Being “saved”—salvation—is a concept many people don’t understand. Salvation is a word that remains a mystery to many. For many people, it’s an old-fashioned term—this thing known as “salvation” or being “saved.” Many people would answer the question “Why must people be saved?” with this simple answer: “We need to be saved from hell.’’
But the good news about being saved by Jesus doesn’t begin with fire and brimstone, especially when we look at Jesus’ example. He began his own teaching with the tender words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The various fires spoken of in the Bible are real enough. Hell (Hades [the place where the dead go: the grave] in the Greek language of the Bible) is no myth. But Jesus didn’t start there and neither should we. If we try to base our understanding of salvation simply on avoiding hell, we will never come to understand salvation properly because we will be going about it backwards. So . . . we need to begin elsewhere.
Saved From What?
Again, the question is, “What do we need saved from?” The answer is so simple, yet we often make it so complex: “We need saved from ourselves.” There’s a little “throne” at the center of each of lives; either “self” or God occupies that throne. Salvation is simply to replace self with God on that throne. Without God, we are left to ourselves—alone. Aloneness now. And aloneness for many remaining eons of time. Many people, of course, do not think themselves alone. In the midst of an active, fast-paced, even happy, life, it is easy to succumb to the illusion of non-aloneness; and it is just that: an illusion.
You must understand I am not writing of mere loneliness. This aloneness is something much different. If one is living without a daily relationship with God, then that individual is living alone, whether he or she feels loneliness or not. You may be reasonably fulfilled and contented. It doesn’t matter. Without God in your life—living inside you in his “unbodied” Spirit form—you are alone. It’s just that simple. Some of you reading these words perhaps are lonely. Your life may be a dreary existence of enduring one day after another without much human contact—real, close, personal human contact. You need God because you need companionship. You need Him because you were created not to be alone, but for intimate fellowship with your Creator.
You see, deep down inside where no other person can go with you, in the innermost chambers of your heart, only two options exist. You are either alone, or you share that inner sanctum of your life in a family relationship with your heavenly Father. No one else can go there. Not friends, parents, husband, wife, no one. Either you and God have a vital relationship there together, or you are by yourself. And if you are alone, it is an awesome, empty aloneness that could remain for many eons to come if self continues to be at the center of your being. Here’s another way of approaching this matter of salvation. Every human being, each in his or her own unique way, is thirsty for the LIFE of God in them. That thirst is felt in different ways.
Yet strange to say, some are not aware they are thirsty at all, even though they may be dying for lack of spiritual water. Yes, every single individual on earth shares this thirst—rich and poor, young and old, men and women . . . everyone. It is what one of the great philosophers called “the God-shaped vacuum in every soul.” Hunger and thirst are practical sensations all of us feel.
That’s probably why Jesus used such terms to describe our need for God. For example, on one occasion He declared: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” The reason this hole, this vacuum, this thirst exists in each of us is that God left behind a tiny “piece” of Himself in our hearts after He created us and we subsequently struck out on our own. It is like a tiny, invisible spiritual homing device that is always pointing us back in the direction of our Maker. It is what makes us different from the lower animals. It is what is called the spirit (the spiritual “part” of our makeup as human beings).
Self Or God?
There is another myth perpetuated by “hellfire preachers” that salvation is only for terrible sinners. But what is sin other than being separated from God? Sin is not something you do at all. It is the description of the innermost region of your being. If “self” rules in that inner sanctum, and we are living our lives without a relationship with God, doing our own thing, then we’re not in a vital relationship with God. That’s sin, the conflict between self-will and God’s will. Self on the throne of life, which can be either outward rebellion against God’s ways or mere passive indifference toward God. But the result is the same.
“Good” people are sinners just as much as “bad” people. Don’t let your goodness fool you into thinking you need God any less than the most horrible bad person who ever lived. Sins (plural), on the other hand, are what we do—bad things that contradict God’s plans and purposes for us. If we’re not living our lives with God in us, we need to repent (change our minds) about those sins. Jesus-believers are not immune from sins either, which is why the Jesus-believer’s life is not a life of perfection but one of trying, with God’s help, to conquer what the Bible calls our “flesh nature.” The myth I mentioned is so damaging to an understanding of salvation because it conveys the notion that our need of salvation is based on wickedness. It implies that only very bad people, genuinely miserable sinners, need God at all. But the fact is we all need a vibrant relationship with Him.
Good? Or Bad?
Let’s be honest, very few of us really do consider ourselves quite that bad. Those of you reading these lines right now—do you honestly consider yourselves sinners? That’s the trouble with the “wicked sinner” myth—most of us deep down inside consider ourselves to be pretty decent, respectable people, certainly as good as the person next to you, or the neighbor down the street. So what do we need God for? It’s easy to shrug off the whole thing. Here’s what we need God for. We need Him not because we’re so bad—which we all are to varying degrees. Some of us are better, some of us are worse, than others. We need God in our lives because, if we haven’t invited Him into our live, we’re all alone in that innermost place deep inside our beings.
We need saving from our separation from God. We need God, not necessarily because we are going around committing heinous crimes from morning till night, but because we’re supposed to share our lives with God. So you see, we’re all sinners together—decent people, mean people, good people, bad people—until we let God into our lives. I repeat—we’re all sinners together . . . and we need God in our lives. If you are not living in daily relationship with God, you need Him just as much as a wicked murderer on death row.
Salvation does not save us just from being bad. Nor does it automatically make us good. Jesus-believers have a difficult time obeying God’s principles just like everyone else. Again, I want to make it very clear that salvation is not primarily about badness and goodness. It is about the difference between aloneness and relationship. We all need God in our lives. He intended to live in daily relationship with the men and women He created. In very simplified terms, then, that’s what salvation is—living in vital relationship with God. We need this relationship because it is how you were made to live. Without it, you will never be entirely right.
You’ve all heard the word “gospel.” But do you know what it means? Gospel means “good news.” What is this good news? It is that God not only can save us from our aloneness, but that He also loves us, wants the best for us, and has a fulfilling plan for each of our lives. He wants us to be content, full of joy and fully alive to all life has to offer. He wants to shower his love upon us and give us a rich and abundant life. In short, God is our Father. That’s what Jesus said. A good and loving Father who wants the very best for us. That is good news! That’s what life with God is—a relationship with a heavenly Father who is dedicated to bring about good in our lives to the extent we trust Him to do so.
“What we know is that when Jesus returns, we’ll see Him—and in seeing Him, become like Him. All of us who look forward to his coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.” –1 John 3: 2 and 3
“Since everything here today might well be gone tomorrow, do you see how essential it is to live a holy [wholesome] life? Daily expect the Day of God, eager for its arrival.” –2 Peter 3: 11
To Think About This Month
“This is how God shows how much He loves us: God sent his only Son into the world.” — The Bible
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Revised and Updated November 2020