What does it mean to be saved? Depending on your particular background, different things might come to mind. Many people think of the verse, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” but because the New Testament was written two thousand years ago, primarily to a culture which, unlike ours, was thoroughly familiar with the Old Testament, being saved means so much more than many of us today realize.
“Till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)
Salvation involves so much more than what we typically think of when someone says we are to believe something. It does not mean simply believing Jesus is an historical figure; James 2:19 tells us,“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” And while salvation does involve knowing that He died for our sins and was resurrected, that He existed in eternity past, and will come again to judge those who reject the forgiveness and salvation God has provided through Him and Him alone—salvation is not simply a “get out of hell” card.
Our salvation—the whole purpose of Jesus dying on the cross—is, in a very real and literal sense, to save us from sin. This has been described as being saved 1) from the penalty of sin, which is being forgiven for the sins we have committed; 2) from the power of sin, which is being able to now say, “no” to sin in an active and ongoing manner; and ultimately 3) from the presence of sin in our lives at all when Christ comes again.
Isaiah 59:20 tells us,
“The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” says the Lord.”
It is significant that “The Redeemer will come…to those who turn from transgression.” Once we understand that we are otherwise eternally separated from fellowship with God (in the here and now and in eternity) and agree with Him that it is only through the substitutionary death of Christ that we can be forgiven, we must turn from transgression, from sin.
Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:17-21) We condemn ourselves when we refuse to stop doing wrong even though God has made it possible through Christ.
The apostle John tells us, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him [i.e., that we know Him, that we are Christians], and walk in darkness [live a sinful lifestyle], we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light [live righteous lives through the power He gives], we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:5-7) It is really, really important that we get this point—we must turn away from a sinful lifestyle.
Further on he continues, “And now, little children, abide in Him [keep reading His Word and doing what He has taught you], that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him…And you know that He was manifested [came to earth; revealed to us] to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin [habitually, as a way of life]. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed [His Spirit] remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God. In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest [known]: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother.” (I John 2:28-3:10) Those who belong to God do not sin intentionally as an ongoing way of life.
So what is salvation? It is God’s entire program—from start to finish—of healing the damage done by sin. Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3) We are genetically infected with sin, but God wants us to know Him—to copy His holiness. Because of Christ’s payment for the penalty of our sins, we are forgiven and empowered to renounce sin and no longer be controlled by it.
So how or why is this significant? It is significant because many Christians—or people who believe they are Christians—still permit themselves occasional–even habitual–bouts of sin and believe that somehow it’s okay to keep doing it. It is not okay, however, because every bit of sin separates us from fellowship with God.
Isaiah 59:1-2 says,
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”
Intentionally continuing in sin when you know better is highly dangerous. Not only does it separate us from the pleasure of God’s company—from fellowship with Him—but it also puts us in a very risky situation spiritually.
Hebrews 10:26-39 tells us,
“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:
“For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.”
“…God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16) but He takes very seriously our “[trampling]…the Son of God underfoot…[counting] the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and…[insulting] the Spirit of grace.”
Salvation is a complete package. It is God’s process of undoing the harm that entered the world through sin. He forgives us our sins; He helps us say, “no” to sin more and more in our daily lives, and He will eventually allow His own an eternity free from even the presence of sin someday!
“And now, little children, abide in Him [keep reading His Word and doing what He has taught you], that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.
Thank You for Your entire plan of salvation, for dealing with sin in our past, present, and future. Help us “come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”–become everything You want us to be. In Jesus’ name, Amen.