The concept of salvation – or being saved – is central to the Christian faith. It operates at both the global – or cosmic – scale, and at individual level.
For the individual, salvation means being rescued by God from the consequences of our wrongdoing. God created humanity to have a close relationship with him. And he created a perfect world for us to live in. But our relationship with God was wrecked when humanity opted to defy God. That defiance was catastrophic, bringing sin and death into the world. The word ‘sin’ means wrong actions and wrong thinking. It is as if our sin leaves us permanently stained. God is pure and holy. He cannot tolerate sin, but he wants our relationship with him to be restored, so something has to be done about the sin.
The concept of needing to find peace and freedom, and to be rescued from an imperfect world, is not unique to Christianity. What is unique is that humanity is rescued by God himself – because humanity cannot rescue itself. Salvation cannot be earned by behaving differently, giving money to good causes or a life full of good acts.
Salvation cannot be earned by behaving differently, giving money to good causes or a life full of good acts.
The Bible book, Romans, says ‘…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’. God is just and fair. For God, sin is too serious to ignore. And so, for the sake of God’s justice, sin needs to be punished. A price has to be paid. The part of the Bible before the birth of Jesus Christ – the Old Testament – tells the history of the Hebrew people. They made amends for their sin by offering animals as sacrifices. The Bible book, Romans, says ‘the wages of sin is death…’ The stain of sin on humanity is so deep no-one but Jesus can remove it. And it can only be removed by Jesus – God in human form – sacrificing his own life. It is this spilling of Jesus’ innocent blood that forgives and saves humanity. The punishment that humanity deserves because of its sin, has been taken by Jesus once and for all. As the Bible book, 1 Peter, puts it, ‘by his wounds (we) are healed…’ The Bible says Jesus was given his name because he would save people from their sins. When an angel announced his birth to shepherds in Bethlehem, he described the baby Jesus as a ‘Saviour’.
Christians believe that Jesus’ death means that salvation is on offer to everyone. It is a free gift. It cannot be earned. Anyone who puts their trust and faith in Jesus Christ, turning from their current way of life and declaring him to be the Son of God will receive salvation. As the Bible book Romans says, 'anyone who calls on the name of the Lord (Jesus) will be saved.' Christians refer to this free gift of salvation from Jesus as ‘grace’. This is God’s plan for everyone. There is no other way to be saved. In the Bible book, John, Jesus says ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me’. The Bible book, 1 Timothy, speaks of ‘God our Saviour who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’.
‘God our Saviour who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’.
Christianity teaches that there will be a day of judgement, when everyone will stand before God and have to answer for all that we have said and done. God will deal with sin. He will view everyone who believes in Jesus Christ as their saviour as innocent. It will be as if they had never sinned. They have been acquitted. They are now reconciled with God. But Christianity teaches that anyone who has rejected Jesus will not have this protection from the consequences of sin. They will face God’s judgement on their own.
However, salvation is not just something that operates at the individual level, but something that God is doing for the whole universe. The book of Colossians describes how the death of Jesus Christ achieves something that is cosmic in its proportions:
‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.’(Colossians 1 v.19-20)
This means that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ began something that will be fully realised at the end of times, when a new heavens and new earth will be established; a place where there is no violence, no mourning, crying or pain.