What is Salvation?

First printed in HAVEN NEWS September 2016

Soon after the first Easter, the apostle Peter was explaining the Good News about Jesus. His vital message was this. “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10,12)

God gives His gift of salvation through the historic events of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can only be saved through Jesus. The Bible talks a lot about salvation. We find that word in 127 places and the idea of being saved more than 300 times in the Bible. Jesus talked a lot about salvation. And the church talks a lot about salvation, because “being saved” is at the heart of the Christian faith. But what is salvation? What does it mean to be “saved”?

Salvation is an umbrella word for all wonderful blessings God gives to His people. In the Old Testament it meant rescue from slavery in Egypt in the Exodus, deliverance from evil and redemption from captivity. In the New Testament salvation embraces forgiveness of sins, escape from judgment and God’s free gift of life in all its fullness, eternal life which not even death can take away. Through the ages the church has been described as “the ark of salvation” and we find a very helpful picture of salvation in the idea of being rescued in a lifeboat.

From the safety of the shore I once watched a rescue taking place in a storm at sea. Ever since I have been especially grateful that I have never had to be rescued at sea. If you are on a ship which is sinking I can imagine what a wonderful relief it must be to see a lifeboat arrive and to climb aboard! Maybe you are already in the icy water, being battered by the wind and the waves, struggling to stay afloat. You need to be saved. How wonderful to see a lifeboat! You are pulled on board – you have been saved from the sea which was about to swallow you up. As you get out of wet clothes into a dry blanket and sip warm tea you are being saved. And when you arrive on dry land you will finally be completely safe. You have been saved, you are being saved and you will be saved. This gives us a picture of what salvation means to Christians.

We have been saved. Not from the sea and the wind and the waves but from something even more deadly – one hundred percent fatal. Saved from ourselves. Rescued from our own selfishness and self-centredness. Saved from pride and greed and self-sufficiency which drag us down to our doom just as much as any stormy sea. Rescued from all the bad things we do and say and think which the Bible calls sin which separate us from the God who made us and loves us.

Only Jesus can save us. That is what Easter is all about. They call it “Good” Friday because on that day Jesus Christ the Son of God laid down his life for us, so that we could be forgiven. Christ had no sin, but God made him to be sin for us so that in Him we could become the righteousness of God.  (2 Corinthians 5:21) Then on Easter Day God raised Jesus to life again. Jesus is alive! So when we put our trust in Jesus our sins are forgiven and through God’s gift we also share in Jesus’s resurrection life.

We have been saved, and we are now being saved. A person rescued from drowning sitting on the lifeboat headed for shore enjoys simple blessings of being alive, warm clothes, food and a warm drink So Christians enjoy God’s rich blessings here and now: God’s presence, peace and joy; the privilege of prayer; God living inside us as the Holy Spirit and the friendship and community of the church. Jesus called all these things “life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). Christians experience “eternal life”, a personal relationship with God which not even death can take away.

We have been, we are being, and the Bible also says we will be saved. The lifeboat has yet to reach the shore. When it does, the best is yet to come. Because being saved is not just for this life, but forever. When this earthly life is over, we have the happy certainty of being with God forever. We aren’t afraid of dying – our life will continue in heaven.

The starting point is for a person to realise they need saving. We all need saving. This world is a sinking ship and every one of us is adrift on the ocean and doomed to ending up sinking to the depths. Every one of us have things in our lives which we have done or said which we are ashamed of. We all need saving. It is said that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, one played a joke on a dozen influential people, businessmen, politicians, even clergymen. He sent them all identical telegrams, “Flee at once all is discovered!” The story goes that within 24 hours all of them had left the country. We all need rescuing from ourselves. And only Jesus can save us. We need to send out a call for help. S.O.S. – save our souls.

The story of the sinking of the Titanic teaches us a valuable lesson. As the unsinkable ship disappeared beneath the waves taking 1517 people to their deaths there were still empty seats on the lifeboats. Some people did not realise the danger they were facing. They did not know they needed to be rescued. Equally today, there are many empty seats in the Lifeboat of Salvation. There are some people swimming around in the water, realising they aren’t waving but drowning, yet still they do not get into the lifeboat. Other people are still aboard their own Titanic, thinking they are completely safe, eating their dinners, listening to the band, lounging in their deckchairs sipping their drinks not recognising that the ship is sinking and that unless they get aboard the lifeboat they are doomed. The Lifeboat of Salvation has room for everybody. But each person has to choose for themselves to get aboard. A simple story makes the point: the parable of the two drowning men.

Two men fell into a river. One man could swim – the other one could not. The current was strong and was carrying them towards a dangerous waterfall. One of the men drowned, the other one was saved. Which man do you think it was who survived? It was the man who could not swim who survived.  When onlookers on the bank threw a lifebuoy to the man who could not swim, he took firm hold of it. The onlookers pulled on the rope and pulled the man who could not swim to safety on dry land. But when the onlookers threw a lifebuoy to the man who could swim, he ignored it. He kept on swimming towards the shore but the current was too strong for him. Still he refused to take hold of the lifebuoy and he was carried over the waterfall. So the man who could swim was drowned.  But the man who could not swim was saved.

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